Haines, Skagway and Juneau


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North America » United States » Alaska » Skagway
July 18th 2012
Published: July 24th 2012
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18th July ’12 Haines and Skagway

We had decadent breakfast in bed this morning! It also served as our wake up call for our first port and the chance to get off the ship. We were moored at Haines but this also served for the town of Skagway where most of the excursions went from.

Thanks to research by Howard before joining the ship we were able to do our own version of the ship’s Whitepass Summit Scenic Railway with shopping time in Skagway trip and so save ourselves $100. We were even on the same ferry and train as the people from our ship, although they had priority boarding the ferry and the first 4 train carriages.

We had checked with the ship’s Travel Guide where to catch the fast ferry from so we got off and picked up our trip tickets from the local booth and then had plenty of time to look around Fort Seward in Haines.

The fort was built in the 1800s in response to the gold rush, but now of the two original buildings one is just a few burnt stumps after a fire and the other was a large derelict
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Clan House
building. There was a large parade ground behind the buildings which had a flag, cannon and plaque on one side and a clan meeting house with great artwork and totems on the opposite side.

On 3 sides of the ground were the original houses built for the officers and their families, the post office and the hospital. They were beautiful large, white washed houses with long porches, which were now private houses and a guest house.

Following Patrick the Travel Guide’s directions we walked down to the jetty for the fast ferry only to find it was all shut up, with no sign of life! Aaaaarrrggghhh we now only had 5 minutes before we were supposed to board and so had to leg it back down the road to the ticket office, only to find out we boarded from the same dock our ship was moored at!!

By now there were masses of people milling around with different coloured stickers on, so we joined the queue and waited for ages until we were told we should have been standing in a different one – for those without stickers!!

So we joined the other short unstickered queue
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Clan House
and waited and waited. Eventually the ferry arrived 15 minutes after it should have left, we then had to wait until all the stickers were boarded before we could finally get on and hunt out the last few remaining seats.

The journey took about 40 minutes and was narrated by a local lady who was entertaining and pointed out things of interest.

When we arrived at the port everyone piled off and walked along the walkways up to the road. There were no signs to the station so we walked in the town direction which was luckily the right way. So if you ever go, get onto the road, turn left and head towards the town, it only took about 10 minutes, we came to a railway line crossing and once over that followed the road left and you are in the station (or depot as they call it).

Here it was manic! People were everywhere, we managed to find someone who took us to the station controller, she looked at our tickets, decided we were in the green group – wrote it on our ticket and told us our train would be the second one to
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Our ship
arrive.

We sat on the platform watching hordes of people forming queues and wandering around in confusion – all with stickers on! Announcements were made with a mega phone so were not that clear and were really confusing even if you could hear – this group go here, wait there, about which coach was for which coloured sticker, if you have tickets for the 12.45 this is not your train, would the missing husband hurry up and board…. Organised chaos springs to mind! Eventually the earlier train left and ours arrived and being unstickered we just walked to the very last carriage, got on and found we had lots of spare seats. You could go out onto the foot plate to take photos, but the windows were really large, clean and clear so it wasn’t really necessary.

The best views are on the left side going up, but at the top they make everyone switch sides so you can all get a chance to see the views which was a good idea. There was a free All Aboard! Magazine with lots of history and a map of the route with all the points of interest marked and a
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Officers houses
free bottle of water.

One of the first things we passed was the cemetery where the town hero and the town villain are buried. Soapy Smith, the villain who was a con man and swindled lots of the prospectors and town folk and was eventually shot by the hero who in the process was also shot and died 12 agonising days later from his wound.

In 1896 gold was found by George Carmack, Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie, it wasn’t a lot of gold but it triggered the stampede. The railway was built in response to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897 as an alternative easier way of getting to the gold fields of the Yukon river. Previously there were only 2 ways to get there, the steep Chilkoot Trail or the longer but less steep White Pass Trail. Both trails led to the interior lake country where the stampeders then began a 550 mile journey to the gold fields. Both trails were hazardous and extremely difficult, in White Pass 3000 horses died leading to the name Dead Horse Gulch in one section.

100,000 men and women headed out but only 30-40,000 actually reached the Klondike Goldfields and out of them only 4,000 found gold but only a few hundred actually became rich!

The railway was narrow gauge and in 20 miles it rises from sea level to the 3,000 foot Summit with steep grades of 3.9%. It was an amazing feat of engineering and was built with British financing, American engineering and Canadian contractors.

The line passes great scenery, mountains, steep valley gorges, a waterfall, crosses trestle bridges and goes through 2 tunnels. It takes about 3 hours to do the round trip and was a good experience, but even doing it by ourselves it was still an expensive train ride and I’m not sure it was really worth the money.

Skagway historic town looked like a real old wild west town, I’m guessing it was mostly reconstructed though. However it was FULL of jewellery stores – incredible! We had vouchers to collect free souvenir coins and charms but had to go through a whole sales rigmarole and try on $1000 rings before collecting our freebies – it was all a massive farce.

We walked back to the dock via the riverside footpath and discovered an extra boat had been put on and as they told us the ferry was still running late we got on board. At our table we were joined by an American Dad and his 2 sons (11 & 10) who were from Milwaulkee, they were all lovely, they produced a pack of cards and taught us how to play Kings in the corner (like solitaire but for more players) and then Old Maid. They were on vacation and were on our ship, the lads were saying they got 3 months off school in the summer and looked really shocked when we told them in England children only got 6 weeks off!! So the journey back passed really quickly.

Back on board and yet more food, but still no sign of a chocolate fudge cake!

Not being able to face any of the night’s entertainment delights it was back to the library, feet up and a good book. They even had some new books on the shelves including the new Stephen King and the offshoot from the Dark Towers saga. I was gutted, there just wasn’t enough time left to read the new book and I know I will want to own the Dark Towers one so I reluctantly left them on the shelf – if only they had been there at the start of the cruise!!

19th July ’12 Juneau

We were once again woken up by breakfast arriving at the cabin door and looked out of the window to see we were docked in Juneau – right next to a multi storey car park ha ha.

It was great that we were actually in the town, we got off and walked up to the Tram Station – which is actually a cable car up to the top of Mount Roberts which looked like a very small mountain. We didn’t quite believe the ship’s excursion list when it said the cost was $29, but it was right. So having been on one up to a much higher level we decided to give it a miss. We then commenced the free coins and charms palaver and much to our surprise, here they only asked if you were interested in seeing anything and when we said no they just handed the freebies over! We did have a really long chat with one of the sales ladies who wanted to hear all about our travels and then told us about her 12 week ‘taking off into the wilderness on a bicycle’!

We made our first souvenir purchase in one little shop we discovered – a brilliant HISS magnet, 4 cats faces with all the Kiss makeup on, loved it!

When we had got off the ship we had run the gauntlet of small stalls advertising various tours and buses to the Mendenhall Glacier. I was reluctant to pay to go and see yet another glacier but Howard was keen and we had plenty of time, so we bought our $8 each way tickets (once again MUCH cheaper than on the ship) and caught the bright blue glacier express. It took about 20 minutes to get to the National Park and on the way the driver played songs of the 50/60 and 70s to keep us entertained, in between pointing out eagles (loads of them sat on rocks by a stream), leaping salmon (loads of them in the river) and yet another hanging glacier.

The bus stopped up near the Visitors Centre and only a short distance from where the tour coaches stop and it runs every 30 minutes, so it’s a good way to get there relatively cheaply.

I have to say I am feeling a bit glaciered out by this was a truly impressive sight, made more so by the fact that there were giant icebergs floating about in the water and most spectacular of all – Nugget Falls, a huge, pounding, thundering, beautiful waterfall, which was incredible.

We did the hike to the waterfall, walking along the pebbled banks of the river flowing out of it, with lots of small pink flowers growing in clumps amongst the scrub grasses and bushes – again it reminded me of a geography lesson. Once we got to the waterfall I have to say it was pretty special - to be standing in the waterfall spray, looking beyond it to the massive glacier, surrounded by mountains and with ice bergs in front of you – I don’t think I will get an opportunity to be in such an amazing setting again! I was so glad Howard had pushed me to come!!

Back in the town we went back on board for some lunch, Howard ate too much and we then left the ship again. This time to walk into the part of town which was away from the dockside and where we had been told the shops were owned by local people rather than the cruise line companies. It was all quite quaint and still had that wild frontier feel with lots of old style saloons and shops with clapboard frontages. A good look around followed by a free 30 minute internet session at the local library and we headed back to the ship.

By 5.30 pm it was up with the gang plank and goodbye Juneau. Tonight is another Formal dress code night, oh dear. Still feeling full from lunch we delayed dinner for as long as possible before heading up to the Lido restaurant – the only place that scruffs are allowed in. The place was heaving, we gave up and tried again later and finally managed to find seat, we had no idea what was going on. All the toffs in tux and gowns were also lining up for the food and it was only when we got to the counter and saw giant crabs legs were on the menu that we realised. Americans REALLY like their crabs legs!! And they certainly weren’t shy about asking the staff to pile them high. It turns out word about the crabs legs had got to the Rotterdam (posh) dining room and the buggers were eating there and then invading the scruffs to get some of our goodies. Well I know we did a similar thing on the first night, but honestly!...... there should be a dress code NOT allowing formal dress in the Lido!

I am now back in the cabin writing the blog and have just been out to take the air on deck (have a fag) and came back in to the sight of a young lad approximately 13 years old in full tuxedo with a white jacket chasing his younger brother who was probably about 6 and wearing a full dark suit, up and down the stairs!


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All aboard
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Nugget Falls


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