Cooling off in gold-rush central

//Cooling off in gold-rush central

3shipsjuneau.jpgWell, the weather has reverted to the wind and rain we had expected from Alaska, but although it has become cooler, it’s far from chilly. Before the rain arrived in Juneau, it was still warm enough for a room service breakfast on the balcony prior to a turn around the souvenir shops and a $27 trip up the Mount Roberts aerial tramway.
From viewpoints along a nature trail 2,000 feet above Alaska’s state capital, we could look along the Gastineau Channel, and down on the Diamond Princess, Radiance of the Seas and Norwegian Pearl – three cruise ships which had delivered about 7,000 passengers to town for the day (above).
If that made the streets and shops busy, then the following day in Skagway was even more hectic. This gold-rush town at the head of a fjord called the Lynn Canal has a resident population of just 800 during the winter, and maybe 1,200 during the cruise season from May to September.
The same three ships that had been in Juneau were joined by the Norwegian Star. So there were perhaps 9,000 tourists streaming from the docks and into town – heading for the White Pass Railway, a “ghosts and goodtime girls” walking tour, a salmon bake lunch at Liarsville, a helicopter flight to land on a glacier, or just to wander round yet more shops and to grab a sandwich and a drink in the Red Onion Bar.
The town was founded by adventurers fighting their way north in the 1890s in pursuit of gold. It survives today as a retail theme park, funded by thousands of cruise passengers determined to divest themselves of their dollars in the same jewellery stores that can be found in any popular cruise port – and no doubt some of the summer population of Skagway spend their winters behind cash tills in the Caribbean.
One shop unique to the area, however, is devoted to Sarah Palin memorabilia, T-shirts, night-shirts and even “lipstick on a pig” cosmetics. It was all done with a straight face as well – Americans aren’t particularly strong on irony.
The cliffside beside Skagway’s cruise quay is another piece of history, adorned with a sophisticated collection of graffiti in the form of cruise logos and the names of ships and their captains, together with the date of their visit. It’s a record of the development of cruising in Alaska going back more than 40 years, but it’s beginning to fade because some years ago the local authorities banned crew members from adding new paintings.
captalbertsmaller.jpgAmong the surviving pieces, there’s one special item (left) – marking the fact that my friend Captain Albert Schoonderbeek, now writing his daily blog as master of Holland America’s Prinsendam, has not always been a captain.
It records the visit of MS Noordam on September 15, 1994, when P.E.W. Kievit was captain, and Albert was merely chief officer; but I’m guessing that Schoonderbeek was held in high regard by his crew even then in order for him to have been named.
I won’t be able to post this blog until after Diamond Princess pulls out of Skagway and the satellite shadow that has prevented internet access. We’ll be in Glacier Bay next, a 60-mile inlet with a dozen glaciers which reach the sea and another 30 valley and mountain glaciers which stop short.
I’ve been promised a champagne breakfast on the balcony, so I hope we’re on the right side of the ship to see all the action.

By | 2017-06-15T16:00:23+00:00 20 August 2010|Cruise Destinations|0 Comments

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.

Leave A Comment