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Carnival Spirit: Alaska
Day 1: Embarkation: Whittier/Anchorage
Day 2: Cruising the Fjords
Day 3: Sitka
Day 4: Juneau
Day 5: Skagway
Day 6: Ketchikan
Day 7: Cruising the Inside Passage
Day 8: Debarkation: Vancouver
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Day 6: Tuesday, Ketchikan
KetchikanMy legs are still sore! But I can't wait to get outside. Erin and I slept in a little because our arrival in Ketchikan wasn't until 11 a.m. And when we pulled open the curtains it was to bright sunshine, this in a town known for its high rainfall (more than 160 inches annually). We had signed up for a kayaking trip and were a little worried the weather wouldn't cooperate, but it sure did. Temperatures were near 70.

We just made it to the dining room for breakfast (Erin had a hankering for eggs benedict, which you can't get at the Lido buffet, but you can get every day in the dining room). Because the port arrival was later than on other days, the dining room stayed open anextra hour for breakfast (until 9:30 a.m.). We arrived at 9:25 a.m. and were graciously seated and not at all rushed during our meal. It was open eating and we were seated with others, but they were pretty much finished by the time I had my two cups of coffee (a requisite before good morning conversation can ensue).

The little community of Ketchikan used to be scenic. It was where Tlingit Indians spent summers fishing for salmon. It's now home to 50 jewelry stores and dozens of what the locals call "trinket shops" catering to cruise ship passengers. In the dozen or so years I've been cruising in Alaska, it just keeps getting uglier. All the mini-malls near the huge cruise ship pier don't help. But it's understandable. The economy here has moved from fishing, canning and lumber to tourism. You can still visit Creek Street with its colorful, little wooden houses -- in the early 1900s this was the town's red light district (Dolly's House there is open as a museum, and the other buildings now house shops and restaurants). The Tongass Historical Museum is worth a peek for its Alaska history on display including Native cultural displays and the bullet-ridden scull of a brown bear that had taken to attacking humans (he was shot in return), and the Totem Heritage Center has a fine collection of 33 totem poles from the 19th century. The Alaskan Lumberjack Show and Duck Tours (on vehicles that can traverse land and sea) add to the touristy character.

But with four big ships in town -- ours, the Norwegian Spirit, the Coral Princess and the Volendam -- we decided to get out of town and into nature. We booked the Tatoosh Island Sea Kayaking shore excursions ($134 per person) which took us a half hour (14 miles) by bus to Knudson's Cove for an inflatable boat ride to the gorgeous, uninhabited Tatoosh Islands, which turned out to be little, green, tree-filled (some of the trees quite tall) wonderlands. Launching our two-person kayaks from a beach into dark water, glistening in the sun, we paddled in the serene setting between the tiny islands, spotting more than a dozen bald eagles including a squawking pair that may have been in the midst of some sort of mating ritual (as one of our 20-something guides quipped, "Hear freedom ringing."). The going was easy even for the few novice kayakers in the group (Erin and I are old hands). There were two guides, one in the front and the other in the rear (I like to see that for safety reasons) and we were all required to wear life jackets. The islands are part of the Tongass National Forest, protected land. Sometimes whales, seals, sea lions and other marine creatures are spotted in these waters, but not today. Still, we enjoyed a peaceful trek of nearly two hours. Cookies and water were served on shore before we headed back to the marina and our bus. Once again Erin enjoyed chatting with people in their 20s about college and so forth. The other 12 passengers on the trip were also a young set (it seemed to be everyone young on the ship) including a brother and sister pair (he a teen, she 20-something) and a pair of college students from Miami who'd come on the cruise together.

After our excursion (four hours in total), Erin and I walked through Salmon's Landing (one of the mini-malls) finding little of interest (it's so touristy they even have gumball machines, and the one bar that had been recommended by locals, Fat Stan's, had an obviously tourist crowd). We walked the few blocks up to historic Creek Street (just to glance at the buildings; we didn't go inside), which used to be more visible from the ship pier but is now blocked by the mini-malls. Then we walked a few more blocks to seek out the tiny Salmon, Etc. (322 Mission St.), one of the few original, locally owned tourist shops (it opened in the 1980s) where we bought a 24-can case of locally canned smoked Coho salmon to bring back home. Price: $138.65 including tax, or about $40 cheaper than they were selling a comparable product in the mini-malls near the ship pier. And the service at Salmon, Etc. was friendlier too. Ask for a copy of the shop's special salmon dip recipe. It's a big hit with my family.

Back onboard the Carnival Spirit the Internet was back up (yeah!) and fresh king salmon, steamed in pouches, was the featured dish in the dining room. It was delicious. Before dinner we joined a big crowd for a 7:30 p.m. show by comedian Tom McGillan, who we thought was more cheesy and offensive than funny (he does a lot of midget and ethnic jokes). His R-rated show for a smaller crowd at 11:30 p.m. poked fun at, well, practically everyone.

More entertaining was the guest talent show, in the theater at 10:30 p.m. One guy doing Elvis was downright painful, but the little old lady singing "Second-Hand Rose" was adorable, and the magician pretty good too (all got a bottle of champagne and a "24-carat plastic trophy"). If you miss the show it's repeated several times on the in-house TV channel in your cabin.

Tomorrow, the girls enjoy a day at sea (including full-body massages), try to recoup lost bucks in the casino and do some last-minute onboard shopping before it's time to pack up and go home.
Day 5: Skagway red arrow Day 7: Cruising the Inside Passage

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