Our first port of call was Juneau and we came to learn about dockside spruikers. Some were quite rude when we declined their services and certainly wouldn't have encouraged us to enquire further. We enjoyed a self-guided walking tour of the Capitol (maps available from the visitors centre by the dock & it's signposted) along with a ride on the Mt Roberts Tramway and a short hike around the top for fantastic views. We had independently pre-booked all our shore excursions prior to departure but had a couple of ports of call open for options in case there was something we particularly wanted to do or had missed out on during our 2 week driving tour of South Central Alaska prior to the cruise. Otherwise - we were happy to just wander about & explore.
Whilst the YWPR is the major attraction out of Skagway, we choose the Dyea Dave Tour based on recommendations in the TA forums and didn't include the train in our trip although DD Tours will collect or drop off passengers to include the train one way. Right from the start, we knew that we'd made the right choice for our style of touring. While all the other drivers were hustling their guests onto buses to get started, Cathy leisurely directed the DD guests to their small buses to start their day.
We began with a visit to the cemetery and heard the tale of the infamous standoff between Soapy Smith & Frank Reid who are both buried there. We also had time to hike out to the falls above the cemetery which are quite pretty. Our guide, Shelby, then started off a long the road to Carcross. We had many stops along the way with informative commentary. We saw the train at many points and even with all our stops including a couple of U-turns to go back & see bears, we still arrived at the rail head about the same time as the train. Collected some passengers off the train & proceeded into BC Canada then on into the Yukon Territories. Lots of opportunities for stops and photo ops continued together with continued commentary. On arrival at Carcross, we first visited Carcross Desert before stopping for lunch in the town itself after a brief tour. DD's recommends the bakery but we walked across behind the visitors centre to the cafe in the colorful building which offered fresh toasted sandwiches & coffee. After lunch, we had time for a quick walk around and a visit to the SS Tutshi. Unfortunately we had passengers who were anxious to get going in order to meet the train which cut short our time in Carcross. We made the train in plenty of time so had more opportunities to stop on the way back including going out to a lookout above the town for a birdseye view.
We are glad we took a small group tour for the extra opportunities to stop as we watched the large coaches whizzing by to take their passengers to the Disney Like Caribou Crossing theme park near Carcross. Would have preferred a little more time in Carcross itself however but overall a good daytrip.
Booked a Bear Search trip with BBL after I found them on the Hoonah website whilst trying to avoid cruise ship charters. What a treat and delight to have such an avid & enthusiastic guide as Phil who is just so passionate about all he has to share with his guests. It wasn't the best weather on the day of our visit however we did a brief trip around town, had to stop & chat to a couple of locals along the way, visited the nearly complete lodge and then headed out of town on our search. We'd mentioned to Phil that we hadn't seen any salmon on the run during our entire 3 weeks in Alaska - we just kept missing them. Well - were we in for a treat. Not only did he do his very best to search out some bears for us (we only saw 2 but we DID see them and quite up close & personal with one......) he then took us out to the mouth of a river on Freshwater Bay to not only SEE the fish - but also try & catch some (we had licences....) And did we catch them! All catch & release but soooooo much fun hooking these cranky monsters who are just trying to get upstream & spawn!
If I ever have the opportunity to return to SE Alaska, I would definitely come back to Chichagof to try and make the most of this rich & diverse part of the state. If the hospitality shown to us on our daytrip is anything to go by, I would LOVE to stay at Brown Bear Lodge once it's ready as these guys are the best!
Final Stop - Ketchikan. Another free day and the visitor centre again provided us with a map for a self-guided walking tour. Ketchikan has so much to offer the visitor and it can be done very economically. We visited the SE Alaska Discovery Centre, Salmon Hatchery & Totem Heritage Centre and Creek Street - all within a short walk of the cruise docks and enjoyed the quirky architecture of the city along the way. You really don't need to spend your money on tours out of town to see the same things you can see right within the downtown area.
Utterly sick of all the "gift shops" by now - same stuff, different port. If Ketchikan is your first port of call - don't buy up big as you could be disappointed by the time you've been to all the others. Icy Strait actually had the most unique gifts and Skagway and some different offerings.