KETCHIKAN, Alaska – The three Alaska towns that we have visited on this cruise have very distinct personalities.
Juneau, the state capital, is more of a business center and once you get away from the tourist shops at the cruise pier you are in a rather ordinary town – although the Red Dog Saloon remains a perennial visitor favorite. There is more to do out of town than in town.
Sitka has an entirely different personality. It is a center for culture and wildlife. The culture is an interesting mix of Russian (it was settled by Russians) and Native Alaskan. There is a boarding school here for Native Alaskan high school students from all over the state. There are many cultural activities. On the wildlife side, there is the Raptor Center and the Fortress of the Bear, both which are dedicated to saving injured or orphaned animals.
Ketchikan, our last stop, looks just like you think an Alaskan town should look – that is, it has personality. During my first visit here about 25 years ago, it was a small village with steep hills, built largely on pilings. We took a flying trip to the Misty Fjords so saw little of the town. Today, it is town that caters heavily to visitors but in a very charming way.
The day we visited there were three large ships in port and one more sailed in during the day. That is a whole lot of folks to dump into a small town but they seemed to evaporate. I have no idea where everybody went because while town was busy, it was not jammed.
We had two circumstances hampering our visit. We were only in port from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and it rained steadily throughout our time there. Of all ports we visited, this one certainly deserved longer. There is one major attraction that I thought the children would like, the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. I could have bought tickets online some months ago (www.lumberjacksports.com) but I dawdled and when I finally decided to get them they were sold out. (They are also sold through ship tours.) They do feature covered, heated grandstands so were definitely an option for many in this weather.
So Jennifer went for option 2. We saw the Duck vehicles were running about town so she decided to try to get on those. She was able to book her family for the 10:30 tour (www.akduck.com) and they took off on that adventure. Although pricey ($42 for adults, $25 for children) they declared the trip a rousing success, largely due to their enthusiastic guide.
In the meantime, Chet and I explored the various buildings in the port area, all of which are designed to look like an old cannery. As I said, the effect works and is not too cheesy. We stopped in for a bowl of chowder at one of the many seafood restaurants … and were impressed that some folks were enjoying king crab legs at 11 a.m.
Ketchikan has much to offer and is worth a visit of several days if you ever return to Alaska by plane or car ferry. There is zip-lining, kayaking, fishing, off-road adventuring and many museums and art galleries. There is a fine collection of totem poles at the Totem Heritage Center.
For more information, go to www.visit-ketchikan.com. Many of the activities here can be booked on your own in advance of your cruise. Just be sure you know when the ship sails!