Alaska cruise on the Chichagof: Our first full day is in Skagway

ABOARD THE CHICHAGOF DREAM – Rainy, windy, cold. Did I mention bring lots of warm clothing? Really warm clothes. Yes, it’s summer. Yes, the long range forecasts said temperatures in mid 60s. But the forecasts didn’t mention the wind! And the forecasts didn’t take into account that we were coming from Florida.

We are picked up at the gangway with a bright yellow vintage bus operated by Skagway Street Cars. Whitney, our driver/guide, takes us on a short tour of the town of Skagway. She relates, in what I can best describe as an exaggerated New Jersey accent, the sometimes tawdry history of Skagway.

We transfer to other buses and head up to Fraser, Canada, making short stops along the way to take photos.

Locomotives from the White Pass Railroad

We are brought to the train station in Fraser and board the narrow gauge train of the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. Though the train cars are vintage, you train buffs among us will want to know we are pulled by two fairly modern diesel locomotives.

I was happy to find there is a platform between cars where we are allowed to stand to take photos without having to shoot through glass windows.

We see expansive vistas of old growth forests, rivers, waterfalls, and something else I hadn’t seen in awhile: snow. (Hey, I live in Florida.)

Something we Floridians rarely see — snow!

Important thing to note at this point! There are two ways to do today`s excursion. You have the option of taking the train up and back, or you may take the bus up and the train back. If you choose the later option (bus and train), you MUST have your passport, as you will be passing through a Canadian border checkpoint. It’s a fairly casual checkpoint. The border patrol officer passes through the bus and you hold up your passport for him to see.

If you choose the train only option, you will not need your passport for any other part of the trip, unless you are from a country other than the U.S. After all, Alaska is still part of the U.S.

The train excursion, which would have cost $125, had you done it on your own, is is included in our cruise costs.

Now, back in Skagway, we have about two hours to wander around. The entire town is only about six blocks long, so two hours is about adequate. Many historic buildings from the late 1800s gold rush days are now storefronts for what is apparently a tanzanite rush. I believe tanzanite and the jewelry made from it, are products of Tanzania, Africa, so I’m hoping one of you readers will explain to me, the significance of tanzanite as a souvenir of Alaska.

One of the local sights

Back on the Chichagof, dinner time is the usual 6:30. More great options: fresh Alaskan salmon (of course), sweet tea brined pork tenderloin, and sundried tomato pizza. I didn’t come all the way here to eat pizza, so I opted for a combination plate of the first two. Both were excellent decisions. This way of combining selections is making the dinner dilemma easy.

After dinner, many people drift into the forward lounge to socialize. We were encouraged, early on, to wear our name tags, at least for the first few days, until we got acquainted. It seems to work. People are talking to each other and the group seems quite social.

If you are looking for the Broadway extravaganza, like on the big ships, you’re going to be disappointed. But if your enjoyment in traveling is meeting people of diverse cultures and interests, you are in for a treat. The passengers seem largely more like what I might expect on an expedition cruise. Based on the discussions and questions overheard, I would say it is an erudite group.

I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath to hear the outcome of the saga of the errant luggage. Well wait no more. Alaskan Airways came through. Though I’m pretty sure they were not responsible for the deviation in the route of my luggage, they were instrumental in its joyous reunion with me.
The first two legs of the journey were on American Airlines. The third leg was on Alaskan Airlines. The folks at Alaskan were diligent in tracking down the luggage and keeping me posted on their progress. Utilizing a wing (literally) of their corporate structure, they received my luggage in Juneau and flew it to Skagway by Alaskan Seaplane. Through some additional magic by Alaskan Airways and the Alaskan Dream Cruises crew, the luggage was waiting for me in my stateroom. Points for Alaskan.

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