Our trip got off to a bad start thanks to Delta Airlines. Last May, when we were on our Yosemite trip we had also flown Delta out of New York and our experience then was not too bad . This time it was horrendous : a mob scene at the check-in counters and interminable Disney World type lines that seemed to wind around and around. No wonder Delta has the most passenger complaints of all the major airlines. Luckily, this was the last bad experience we had, and the rest of the trip was a dream. Arrived in Seattle and stayed overnight at the Ramada near the airport , dined at the Pan Asian restaurant on the first floor ( pretty good and their Asian Style Garlic Chicken Wings were great) before leaving for the ship the next morning.
This was the first time we had been to Seattle and the city lived up to it’s reputation for rain. It was cold and rainy but that did not deter us from a quick tour of the city prior to boarding our ship.Seattle is a beautiful city and we saw Safeco Field and the adjoining Soccer stadium, the original Starbucks and , of course, Pike Street Market. We were blown away by the quality of the produce displayed there: luscious strawberries and cherries,huckleberries and blackberries,all kinds of vegetables including purple potatoes, rhubarb ,and a couple of items I’d never seen. The seafood was even more remarkable: King Crab Legs, Dungeness Crabs, giant Shrimp , Oysters, and glistening salmon . Got a chance to see ” Flying Fish” in which whole salmon are tossed from one part of the shop to the other.Also got my first look at halibut. I had known it was a large flat fish but was still astonished at its size. I could have happily spent another hour there but we had to leave for our ship, the Celebrity Lines ” Infinity”.
The Infinity is one of the newer ships( built in France in 2001) of the Celebrity Line and has accomodations for about 2100 passengers, a number which doesn’t seem too large until you are waiting in line with them. Then you begin to appreciate how large a number it is ! Still, the counterpersons were efficient and courteous and we negotiated the crush in quick time , boarding the ship well in time for the 4 PM sailing.
The Infinity took the Inward Passage, a coastal waterway that starts in Puget Sound and goes past British Columbia to the Alaska Panhandle. Since it runs between the mainland and the coastal islands, it offers some protection from heavy seas. Consequently, we experienced only one day of rough weather during the seven days of our trip. Our itenerary took us to Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway and ,on the way back, Victoria, British Columbia.
Ketchikan , a town of about 8000, labels itself ” The First City of Alaska ” presumably because it is the first port of call for most tourist ships. It also is (was) the “Salmon Capital of the World ” having been at one time famous for it’s salmon canneries. A heavily forested area, it was once noted for its logging industry but today the mills have all shut down and salmon fishing is in decline. Tourism is Ketchikan’s mainstay with as many as five or six cruise ships putting into port each day and disgorging a total of almost one million passengers during a season that runs from May to September. The main street is lined with shops selling gold jewelry, diamonds ( ‘ genuine Alaska diamonds’) and semi-precious stones and all manner of souvenirs such as T-shirts, miniature totem poles, artwork, carvings , keychains etc. We Americans must have a “shopping gene ” in our DNA ; most of the passengers made a beeline for the shops , spending all their shoretime there in a hunt for ” bargains”. We ourselves took a brief look at one or two of the shops before walking around admiring the many totem poles ( some of them fifty feet tall ) scattered throughout town. We learnt that , contrary to the popular perception, totem poles do not have any religious significance. Rather , they illustrate clan history or lineage or commemorate local legends. Many of the totem poles in Ketchikan were carved with raven and eagle symbols, representative of the two main clans. We strolled through the former bordello district on Creek Street , a relic of Ketchikan’s boom days when there were bawdyhouses on every corner ( 30 in all ) and the cannery workers dropped most of their earnings there or in the town’s many saloons. One blue colored house known as Dolly’s still stands though it went out of business as a bordello long ago. The original owner bought it for $ 800, a sum she realized within two weeks even though a ‘trick’ in those days was only two bucks.Dolly herself had a long career and was active , we were told , when she was well into her seventies !
The random things that one remembers… In a building across the street , three white colored dogs in adjacent windows, paws on the windowsill, looking out at passersby with an air of relaxed contentmentand reminding me of old men on a park bench watching the passing parade. As I looked a man came up behind them and scratched one of the dogs behind the ears and I thought to myself ” Those dogs are loved”.
We then took a funicular up the hillside to get a panoramic view of the harbor and the cruise ships before rushing back down to take the “Duck Tour”, a ride through town and then a tour of the harbor in an amphibious vessel known as the Duck. The driver , Captain Mike, and his guide whose name I forget, had an amusing line of patter that kept us entertained as we took in the salmon fishing boats, the canneries ( many of them defunct) and the other sights. It was a pretty good tour except that it went on a little too long and it got infernally hot under the perspex canopy of the Duck. We then boarded the ship to go to our next port of call, Juneau.
Juneau, Alaska’s capital, was the largest and most built-up of the three ports we visited. Bypassing the ubiquitous shops , we took a cable car ride( $ 27 ea.) up a 1,300 foot hill to enjoy a panoramic view of the Gastineau channel and the harbor. On top of the hill was a restaurant , more shops and a little theater where we watched an enthralling documentary about the original inhabitants of the area, the Tlingitts . It was an excellent presentation that gave us a capsule history of the Tlingitts , particularly their interactions with the early Russian fur traders and , later, the American settlers . A very moving experience it was , to hear about the reverence for the land which these ” savages” felt and which is now a thing of the past. Also got a peek at a captive bald eagle , Lady Baltimore, and understood why it is our national bird ; so proud and fierce and untamed. Had ourselves some fish and chips and they were excellent , the fish being halibut, a luxury back East but more plentiful and affordable here.
There were a few hours before we had to re-board the ship so we hired a van to take a tour of the area . All these land excursions advertise a tour of the local sights, a chance to see wildlife ( golden eagles, bears etc ) and a trip to the glacier. The reality is less than advertised. Our van driver a middle-aged lady named Anne wasa pleasant enough sort who talked non-stop . An interesting character , who has been in Alaska at the age of 19, she told us she has seen first hand the effects of global warming as the glacier has receded almost three miles in the thirty-five years that she has lived there. In consultation with her, we decided to skip the tour of Juneau and wound up driving about an hour away to see a chapel dedicated to St. Theresa ( neat but not worth the drive) and on the way back saw the glacier as advertised but it was on the other side of a lake and about 3or 4 miles away… nothing more than we’d seen from the deck of our cruise ship. As for the wildlife , we did see some golden eagles but nary a glimpse of bears though Anne claimed to have seen a bear cubby the roadside the previous day. Wiser but lighter in our pockets, we returned to port and embarked for Tracy Arm Fjord and Skagway.