Cruising in Skagway
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In 1897, gold stampeders from all over the world arrived in Skagway by steamship, bound for the Dawson Gold Fields in Canada's Yukon Territory. It wasn't long before the rough-and-tumble tent town was festooned with boardwalks, dance halls, inns and saloons.
More than 100 years later, Skagway still retains the feel of those Gold Rush days, though most travelers now arrive by cruise ship and follow part of the original Gold Rush route by tourist train. The immensely walkable and historic downtown has also largely been restored to its roots, complete with false-fronted buildings and wooden sidewalks. It's an utterly charming place -- if a tad precious.
Skagway ranks as one of Alaska's most popular ports. It's not unusual to find four ships docked there on the same day.
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Other Alaska Cruise Ports:
Anchorage • Glacier Bay • Haines • Icy Strait • Juneau • Ketchikan • Petersburg • Prince Rupert • San Francisco • Seattle • Seward • Sitka • Skagway • Vancouver • Victoria • Whittier • Wrangell
Hand-painted gold-mining pans are great souvenirs.
English is spoken there.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Currency is the U.S. dollar. There is an ATM at the Wells Fargo Bank at 6th and Broadway.
Where You're Docked
Ships line up at one of three deep-water docks, all an easy walk from the heart of town. Small ships may dock at a fourth location, the Ferry Dock, also a few minutes from town.
The port doesn't offer a cruise terminal or facilities. Cruise ships share the port with industrial traffic. Inexpensive municipal buses run from the dock to town. Skagway Visitors Center, 245 Broadway, is about an eight-minute walk.
On Foot: Skagway is an easy walking town. Most shops are on one street -- Broadway.
On a Bike: You can rent a bike at Sockeye Cycles, 381 5th Avenue, 907-983-2851.
Renting a Car: To explore outer reaches of this region of southeast Alaska, you can certainly rent a car through Avis, located at the Westmark Hotel, Spring Street near 2nd, 800-331-1212, advance reservations highly recommended; Sourdough Rentals, 351 6th Avenue, 907-983-2523), but you're better off signing up for a tour of some sort -- whether through your ship or via the handful of independent trip companies. Tour companies that serve cruise ships' shore excursion departments typically will refer you back to the ship -- or charge the same fee as the cruise line. Smaller, independent operators, many of whom have storefronts in town, may net more personal tours with fewer people -- and the prices might actually be lower.
Watch Out For
Given that most goods and foodstuffs are flown or shipped into Alaska from the "outside," you might be a bit surprised by the higher-than-average costs of food and other essentials.
A ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. This was created as a result of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, though it wasn't completed before the rush ended. The narrow-gauge train follows the path that pioneers in search of Klondike Gold climbed in order to get to Dawson's Creek in nearby Canada. The tracks wind around granite mountains, trundle across steep gorges and pass through two tunnels. Virtually all visiting cruise lines offer the train ride.
Historic walking tour of Skagway. Pick up a map at the Skagway Visitors Center (Broadway between 2nd & 3rd), which, in itself, is distinctive because its builder collected more than 8,800 sticks of driftwood -- and then nailed them to the building's front.
Historic driving tour of Skagway. Fast-talking guides in period garb lead the Skagway Street Car Tour, a two-hour look at the port's Gold Rush history onboard a restored yellow Mac Model B.
Learn about the Klondike Gold Rush at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Visitor Center (2nd and Broadway).
Shopping in Skagway. Nestled between totally touristy "outlet" stores and shops full of cheap tchotchkes are veritable gems. For books, try the Skagway News Depot (Broadway between 2nd & 3rd). For high-end crafts, ranging from made-in-Alaska jewelry and pen-and-ink prints to turned-wood vessels, try A Gathering of Spirits (Broadway between 4th & 5th). Lynch & Kennedy (Broadway between 3rd & 4th) has exquisite (yet not necessarily local) fine crafts, including hand-painted ceramics and hand-knit woolen sweaters. The Quiviut Store (in Skagway Bazaar between 5th and 6th on Broadway) sells fine muskox yarns and fibers. The Train Shoppe in the White Pass and Yukon Route Depot (2nd & Spring) has tons of choo-choo souvenirs.
Hang out at the touristy Red Onion Saloon (2nd & Broadway), a Gold Rush-era gathering point (and former brothel).
Gold-panning at Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp. A stop at this recreation camp, which was set up by press men who were supposed to be reporting from the front lines of the Gold Rush (thus Liarsville), is often packaged with the train tour if you go one way by rail and one way by bus. As part of the setup, today's Liarsville also features a campfire, salmon bake and musician playing instruments of the time.
Been There, Done That
The Dog Sledding and Glacier Flightseeing combo tour is a budget-buster, but it's a unique way to experience the glaciers. You'll get a turn at mushing the dog team. It's available onboard, as well as through Temsco Helicopters (907-983-2900).
Take the passenger ferry over to Haines. It's an easy way to go whale-watching and visit the American Bald Eagle Center downtown.
Play golf on a nine-hole course set at 60 degrees north latitude.
Ride a bicycle downhill along the White Pass Klondike gold route (Sockeye Cycle Co).
Casual In-Town Joints: Stowaway Cafe (205 Congress Way, daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.) has wraps, soups and fresh-baked breads. For a locals' haunt, check out Sweet Tooth Cafe (315 Broadway, daily, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.) for "home cooking." Skagway Fish Co. (near the Railroad Dock, daily, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.) has terrific seafood and a great marina view.
Gourmet Dining: Bistro at the Skagway Inn (7th and Broadway, daily, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) offers local fare with a nouvelle twist. Trademark dishes include Alaskan king crab and strip loin of elk.
Staying in Touch
Seaport Cyber (336 3rd Ave.) offers Internet access. Buy a time card that's good for online use in three ports -- Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan.
Skagway Float Tours: Hike the Chilkoot Trail (two miles), and then float the tranquil Taiya River. The tour takes about four hours.
Rock-Climbing Tours: Professional mountain guides take you on the smooth granite walls of White Pass. The day-trip, good for both first-time and experienced climbers, includes transportation, all climbing equipment, a guide and a snack.
Chilkoot Horseback Adventure: Tour Skagway, and then take a nearly two-hour horseback ride through Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. The ride ends with refreshments around a fire. The 3.5-hour tour includes transportation.
Beyond Skagway: A guide will take groups of six or seven just about anywhere for anywhere from three to 10 hours.
For More Information
Skagway Convention & Visitors Bureau: 888-762-1898 or 907-983-2854
On the Web: www.Skagway.com
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--Updated by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief, and Jodi Thompson, Cruise Critic contributor