Note: I am currently sailing on a 7 day cruise to Alaska aboard Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas. Every day I cover the experience, giving you a taste of what it’s like to sail an Alaska “to do list” cruise.
You can see the other days here:
On Day 4 of this cruise, Quantum of the Seas called at Skagway, Alaska. This represents the most northerly point our cruise will sail…and marks the most northerly point on Earth that I have ever sailed. For that reason alone, I won’t forget Skagway. But even if you’ve been to more remote corners of the globe yourself, I doubt you’ve seen more spectacular scenery.
If you’ve ever sailed in the Caribbean, you know that when you’re on board, it’s all about doing things on board until you get to port. When you sail in Alaska it’s a little different because you’re not in the middle of the open ocean. Instead, there’s always land around you, giving you great sightseeing opportunities.
In the case of going to Skagway, I woke up this morning, opened the curtains and my jaw dropped. Just outside are mountains. I’m not talking about seeing mountains in the distance. The ship sails through a channel lined with snow-capped peaks sticking out of the water.
In other words, it’s not just about the port – there’s plenty to see in Alaska even while cruising between ports.
While I thought the mountains surrounding Sitka yesterday were amazing, it really pales in comparison to what you’ll see in Skagway. The narrow channel brings you closer and closer to the towering peaks all around. As you’d expect, the pictures don’t do it justice. You have to see it yourself. I have seen many mountains, but never a scene like this.
Visit Skagway, starting point of the Klondike Gold Rush
Moored at the port, we were lucky to have another day of good weather. There were a few clouds, but mostly sunshine. In fact, sometimes even the light jacket I was wearing felt like too much. But when the wind rises from the water, it blows very cold.
Today, three other ships were in port (Discovery Princess, Nieuw Amsterdam and Disney Wonder). As expected, the city was busy.
At Skagway you can get off the boat and walk around the main town, meaning you don’t need to book a tour to see things. It’s a decent walk – about 15 minutes – but there are also city shuttles that can take you around town for a few dollars.
So what does the port look like? Well, if Sitka was a town that was also a tourist destination, Skagway is a tourist destination that also has a city. It was built around the Klondike Gold Rush which began (then ended) in the late 1800s. Today it is largely a tourist destination with a small downtown area home to a number of historic buildings and museums about life at the turn of the century.
But in reality, the focus is on a number of boutiques and small shops aimed at cruise passengers. The town is cute and set in some of the most spectacular scenery you’ll ever see, but definitely has a touristy feel to it.
Although I haven’t planned an excursion, whenever I return I will definitely do so. One of the most popular reservations is a White Pass train ride that takes you on the historic railroad to the White Pass Summit, with great views of the mountains and waterways that make this place so unique. Talking to some passengers who have done this they said it was mind blowing.
So what did I do? I first made the necessary souvenir purchases for everyone at home, going in and out of the shops. Many offer similar items, but there are definitely some unique places showcasing local artwork, photography, and jewelry.
Then I started walking north. The downtown stretches over several blocks. Pass that and it turns into a quiet Alaskan town. I wasn’t going to look for anything in particular, just wanted to get off the beaten path a bit and see the rest of this little town outside of the tourist area.
But more importantly, I knew that every time I stopped walking, it would be the northernmost point on Earth I had ever been to (the southernmost is Wellington, New Zealand).
My hike ended at a small stream running along the side of the road in a wooded grove. From there, it was time to head back down south and back to town.
As I had already traveled the main road, I started to explore some of the side streets. Here, Skagway has a little more character. I browsed a fantastic hole-in-the-wall rock store with some amazing pieces. If I hadn’t had to figure out how to get home with them, I would have bought several.
I also found another unique place called Alaskan Fry Bread. The main item they sell is the Klondike Doughboy ($7). It’s a plate-sized piece of dough fried, covered in cinnamon and sugar, then served on a few paper towels. No tables, no seats, not even a paper plate. You just pick it up and walk down the street as the local crows flock together hoping you’ll give them a bite.
Wondering about the taste? It was basically a huge donut… with no hole in it. So yeah, it tasted amazing. I literally had to stop myself from eating it so as not to abuse it. A single one would easily serve three adults.
So while I really enjoyed my time in Skagway, if I could do it again, I would have booked a trip to the mountains instead of just exploring the town.
Oh, just random whale sightings…and an appearance by Elton John
Back on the boat, we set off slowly from Skagway, through the beautiful mountains I saw on the way this morning. I took in the view on the back deck, watching brave souls brave the cold Alaskan wind and ride the Flowrider.
Suddenly, looking outside, I see mist sitting in the air just above the water. I wonder what it is and then I see something break through the water and shoot a jet of mist into the air…then another…then another. I small group of whales was crossing the channel. The news spread like wildfire and soon the whole stern of the ship was looking for them. Only in Alaska.
After a wonderful dinner in the dining room with good company, I headed to Andy Elton’s show. It’s a tribute to Elton John with a performer who looks, talks and sings like Elton…but adds commentary and jokes between songs (imitating Elton John) about life on the cruise ship.
It was such a simple show – a band, a piano, a singer, a shiny sequined jacket – but that was all that was needed. He played all the hits and got the audience singing and clapping. Even if you only happen to know Elton John’s songs, this is a must.
Tomorrow we sail the Endicott Arm and then dock in Juneau, Alaska.
- If you are wondering about the Flowrider or other pools on the ship, they are heated. In fact, dipping my hand in them makes them feel fantastic. What I don’t know is how people can handle the cold and the wind when they’re out of the water and soaking wet.
- One thing that struck me about the beauty of Alaska is how “unspoiled” it is. There are no major highways intersecting this and that. There are no clearings in the mountains for ski runs as seen in some places or many houses built in the hills. Looks like centuries ago.