Alaska Cruise Part Two: Juneau, Skagway, and the White Pass Railway

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At the port of Juneau, there was a touching memorial to the USS Juneau, which was sunk by the Axis forces during WWII.

As noted in my previous blog post, our first two port stops in Alaska were Ketchikan and Juneau. That post concluded with the first half of our day in Juneau. Once we were done kayaking, we returned to the ship. I was pretty wet from all the water that had sprayed on us during our kayaking adventure, so when I got back to the ship, I showered and put on a fresh set of clothes and ate a late lunch in the buffet-style cafeteria.

Then, I met up with my mom, who had returned from her helicopter ride with my dad. We decided to join up with my brother Tony and his girlfriend Ann and go explore Juneau a little bit. It was a nice little “downtown” and we were able to walk around it right from the ship. During the entire afternoon it was raining steadily, mostly lightly, with a couple of stronger downpours.

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Me and “Mama Bear” shopping in downtown Juneau.

 

We went in and out of a bunch of shops and then made our way to the state capital building. We arrived there about twenty minutes before 5:00 P.M. and they let us take a self-guided tour. I believe the building was only about six or seven stories tall. We took the elevator to the top and then walked around each floor, including seeing the very small legislative chambers. Alaska’s population is right around 750,000 people. Huge geographic area, very sparsely populated. Juneau is its biggest city and it’s maybe the size of Tallahassee.

We even stopped by the Governor’s office (former office of Sarah Palin). We saw all the photos of all the Governors of Alaska (there haven’t been that many, since Alaska just became a state in 1959). It was also neat to see all the historic front page newspapers about Alaska’s role in various events over the past century, including a few that celebrate their relatively recent statehood. After leaving the capitol, Tony and Ann continued exploring a few blocks in the opposite direction of the ship, and my mom and I headed back in the direction of the ship, stopping in a few stores.

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The Hall of Governors at the Alaska State Capitol Building features the most popular person ever to be from Alaska, Sarah Palin.

Everyone had to be back on the ship by 9:00 PM, when we departed out of Juneau and set sail toward Skagway! We were back well before then, probably by 6:30 PM.

The next day, we arrived in Skagway and also had a full day there. A bunch of us split up again for various excursions. My mom and I joined my friend Jesse and his dad on a four-hour journey on the historic and scenic White Pass Railway.

Skagway is a town that was made popular during the Klondike gold rush days in the 1890s. During that time, a railway was built up the mountains so that the gold rushers could more easily get up and down. Those railways later carried soldiers after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, as the Alaska territory was a key area of defense for the U.S. and Canada during WWII.

The White Pass Railway was absolutely scenic. As a person who doesn’t like heights, I handled this very well. This railroad was skirting the sides of mountains, going over very high bridges, and overlooking some of the most scenic views imaginable. I took a ton of photos, but the pictures never do it justice. We just took it in. I believe it was about a 41-mile round trip.

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Alaska’s State Capitol Building in Juneau.

While we were on the train, Tony and Ann had been doing a bike journey. I believe they did about 20 plus miles or so, mostly all downhill and mostly along the same scenic views the train had gone on.

I had also walked around Skagway a bit in the morning and after we got off the train. Skagway is a neat little town. And it is very small. There are about 800 people that claim residency there, while only about 300 people live there year round. It is particularly lively in the summer months, as the cruise ships come in. There were a total of three ships in port (including ours) while we were there. Each ship brought in roughly 3,000 people each. The tourists just take over the town during those hours.

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Some great views on one of the world’s most scenic railways, the White Pass and Yukon Railway.

Jesse and I were walking around the town and returned to the ship around 7:00 PM, for the 8:00 PM departure. As we walked back to the ship, the town of Skagway felt deserted. The thousands of tourists that were wandering in and out of all the shops and restaurants earlier in the day had left and it had become the sleepy little town that it must look like when the tourists aren’t there in the non-summer months. One of the on board entertainers, a folk singer from Alaska, told us later that evening that Skagway was where the most popular person to ever be from Alaska, Sarah Palin, spent the early part of her childhood. Her parents later moved the family to Wasilla.

Our ship departed Skagway on Wednesday night and we were on our way. That would be our last port stop before we got off the ship in Whittier on Saturday. However, the real adventure was to come on Thursday and Friday when we went through the most scenic parts of the cruise in Glacier Bay National Park and College Fjord. More on that in the next blog post.

On Board Entertainment

Before I move on, however, I should say something more about the entertainment on board the Crown Princess. Previous to this, I had only been on three cruises and they were all The Rock Boat (a cruise with a floating music festival and nonstop concerts and entertainment). Those cruises are also filled mostly with people between the ages of 20s and 40s. Not this one. The Alaska cruise is different because it’s a bit more expensive to get to and people are there for the sightseeing, not the entertainment.

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My mom and I before boarding the train.

The vast majority of the cruise was filled with people over 60 and I’d say many of those are even older than that. There were some families on board with little kids, but very few people in the 20s-40s age range. So, those lounges and nightclubs tended to be dead after about 10:30 PM. Most nights, we called it in early.

That said there was some decent entertainment, including comedian Phil Tag, who was quite entertaining. There were some other theatrical performances made up of entertainers who were part of Princess. Their opening night show was okay, but the “Disco” show we saw later in the week was pretty good. We also found some decent entertainment in some of the smaller lounges, including a jazz band, some line dancing, a cover band, and some decent karaoke nights. But other than that, I would say this cruise was not about the on board entertainment.

That said it was a very nice ship.  There was an outdoor sports court (we used the basketball court once to play a game of “Horse”) and there was a very nice gym on board with an incredible view at times. The dining was also mostly very good. Some nights we ate in the dining room (two of those nights were formal wear) and other nights we just did the buffet-style cafeteria. We ate pretty well. But we also did a lot of outdoor activity and hit that gym a few times.

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The beautiful little town of Skagway, Alaska.

If you’re coming on a cruise to Alaska, sign up early for some excursions (many sold out, lucky for us we booked them early). And get outdoors when you stop in port. Almost the entire time on the cruise, there was beautiful scenery all around us. My next and final blog post about this trip will detail that. Stay tuned.

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2 Comment

  1. Everyone should see Alaska! Worth the trip. Beautiful and scenic. And The Crown Princess was an awesome ship with a very attentive staff. Best part was spending time with my hubby and two of our sons and getting on know Ann more! Pleasant meeting Jessie and his parents also.

  2. […] noted in my previous blog, our cruise ship departed from Skagway on Wednesday night and set sail north towards Glacier […]

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