Gold Rush Fever in Skagway, Alaska

Holland America’s elegant ms Zuiderdam towers over the Broadway Dock in Skagway, Alaska on an unseasonably warm day. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

I have to wonder what Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith would have made of Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam towering over the Broadway dock in Skagway, Alaska this morning. After all, it’s only a few steps away from our berthing location where the infamous criminal huckster who arguably ran Skagway was killed in July of 1898.

Skagway came about as a result of the Gold Rush in the latter half of the 1800’s. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Skagway was a major player in the Gold Rush that took place during the latter half of the 1800’s, and the town itself literally sprang up from nothing in less than a decade. Throngs of would-be gold seekers made their way up the Pacific coast and stepped ashore where I did today. But unlike modern-day Skagway, the Skaguay that greeted prospectors in 1898 was a veritable den of thieves looking to pull unsuspecting patrons into rigged table games or convince those who struck it rich to spend a little (or most) of their winnings on the “Good Time Girls” that worked in brothels lining both sides of the street.

Jeff Smith’s Parlour, the hangout of Soapy Smith, Skagway’s most infamous citizen. Today it has fallen into disrepair, though is looking markedly better than earlier years. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Soapy Smith, being the enterprising fellow that he was, even started up a telegraph office within Jeff Smith’s Parlour. He managed to save a substantial amount of money on his investment given that the wires went no further than the far wall of the building.

After an early breakfast in Zuiderdam’s Lido Restaurant, I disembarked the ship in order to take photos of the town before the four cruise ships in port today effectively doubled its population.

The scenic White Pass train pulled right up to the foot of the Broadway Dock for Zuiderdam’s passengers. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

A side note – I have to say how impressed I am with the disembarkation procedures in port on the Zuiderdam; everything moves like clockwork, and I’ve never had to wait for more than a minute or two in line in order to disembark or re-board the ship.

Train cars awaiting passengers for the climb up to the summit, over 2,000 feet above the town. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Easily the most popular excursion for passengers today was the historic Yukon & White Pass Railroad. For $119 per person, the train takes you up the historic White Pass route that was pioneered by the earliest settlers that came here in the hopes of striking it rich. It’s a spectacular journey that shouldn’t be missed if you’ve never done it before, and one that really pays to book through the cruise line; in Zuiderdam’s case, the train pulled right up to the dock for those guests who had purchased tickets through Holland America!

Getting Busy: the sun rises on Skagway, bringing with it an influx of cruise ship passengers like myself. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Having done the train on a previous trip to Alaska, I opted instead to explore Skagway. I was impressed that the town seems to be doing better than it was when I last visited back in 2006; few buildings sat vacant and several new shops had opened during the intervening years.

In just an hour, the White Pass platform would be packed with tourists. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

But because it doesn’t take very long to cover most of the town on foot, I set out to explore some of the many trails that surround the town, heading out past the Ore Dock and across a narrow footbridge spanning the Skagway River to Yakutania.

My destination: Smuggler’s Cove.

Crossing the Skagway River via metal footbridge. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

While it sounds like something to have come out of Prohibition in the 1930s, Smuggler’s Cove actually dates back to the Gold Rush, when it was illegal to import booze into Alaska. No doubt this beautiful cove situated just a half-mile from town has seen its fair share of close calls, drunken brawls and illegal contraband.

Today though, Smuggler’s Cove is a must-see for anyone into nature, hiking or photography. It’s just stunning.

Carve Me A Trail: Skagway boasts numerous trails, scenic routes and even the remains of the town of Dyea. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Prelude to a Cove: It’s easy to imagine what the first pioneers must have seen here, well over 100 years ago. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Smuggler’s Cove enabled liquor to flow into Skagway during the gold rush. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Of course, all this walking worked up an appetite – and a thirst – so I made my way back to the Zuiderdam after spending five hours ashore. For guests who have been to Skagway before – and there are many of us – Cruise Director Kieron Buffery and his staff have put together a great array of activities for passengers to take part in throughout the day. A few highlights:

  • 8:00am: Morning Tai Chi with Lifestylist Nick – Poolside, 9 midship
  • 9:00am: Creative Crafts: Travel Journals – Explorer’s Lounge, 2
  • 9:30am: Introduction to the Cloud with Techspert Tricia – Digital Workshop, 2
  • 10:00am: Gen Next: Golf Putting Challenge (18-25), Northern Lights, 2
  • 11:00am: Foodie Fight – Ocean Bar, 3
  • 4:30pm: Team Trivia Challenge – Crow’s Nest, 10.
  • 8:30pm: Champagne Sail-away – Crow’s Nest, 10
  • 9:00pm: The Marriage Game Show – Queen’s Lounge, 2
  • 9:30pm: Gold Rush Party – Casino, 2
  • 10:00pm: Showtime, “Dreampark” – Vista Lounge, 2
  • 10:00pm: Line Dance Party – Queen’s Lounge, 2
  • Midnight: Club Hits with DJ Reggie – Northern Lights, 2

Should none of that appeal, you can always retire to your stateroom for a little R&R. Every stateroom aboard Holland America’s ships includes a flat-panel television and a DVD player. Didn’t bring any DVD’s with you? No worries. The line’s ShipFlicks program offers over 1,000 DVD titles ranging from Airplane to Zodiac, and they can all be rented free of charge by dialing 90 from your stateroom phone. Someone will even bring the movie right to your stateroom; now that’s video on-demand!

Zuiderdam’s designers peppered her general arrangement plans with sweeping walls, curving ceilings, and ever-changing decor, providing a sense of exploration at every turn. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

I don’t normally watch much TV to begin with, but they’ve been running Deadliest Catch on the TV in my stateroom, and I have to admit to watching an hour of it every night before I go to bed – and I go to bed quite late!  It’s a nice touch to see some itinerary-themed programming work its way into the lineup.

One of the lightboxes inset into the walls outside the Forward Elevator Lobby on Deck 3; this particular one remains my favorite. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Speaking of staterooms, I really appreciate the tub included in nearly every stateroom here onboard the Zuiderdam; it’s nice not to have to dance the soapy tango with a wayward shower curtain every morning! The high-quality Elemis toiletries are as good as ever, though I do miss the little bottles (pump-dispensers are mounted to the wall now for all but the body lotion.)

Did you know that the Zuiderdam has “Happy Hour” every day? I didn’t – and I’ve been reading the daily program all week! Today, the Atrium Bar on Deck 1, the Ocean Bar on Deck 3, and the Crow’s Nest on Deck 10 all offer a “buy one, get the second for just $1” offer between 4pm and 5pm, or 6:30pm to 7:30pm for the Atrium Bar. Not a bad deal!

A few people asked when the pools and hot tubs are open until. Here onboard the Zuiderdam, pools opened today at 7:30am and closed at 9:00pm, while the hot tubs opened at 9:00am and will remain operational until 10:00pm. Keep in mind, these hours change for each port, so be sure to consult the Holland America Explorer delivered to your stateroom each night for the most accurate times.

Speaking of exploration, it seems only fitting to close our report from the Gold Rush town of Skagway with a few more photos of the beautiful Zuiderdam, my home-away-from-home for a week.

Zuiderdam’s sweeping atrium spans three decks in height, and is seen here from the Deck 2 landing. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The midship elevator lobby features both standard and glass-walled elevators, coupled with a soothing dark-blue theme. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Wines, cocktails and light bites are on offer in the Pinnacle Bar on Deck 2. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The stunning weather continued well into our evening here in Skagway, Alaska. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

With weather this good, a light dinner taken poolside on Deck 9 aft was the perfect cap to an adventurous day both ashore and onboard the Zuiderdam. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Tomorrow promises to be a very special day indeed, as we visit Glacier Bay, Alaska for a morning and afternoon of scenic cruising, Holland America-style.

A ‘dam’ good day, in my opinion!

Our Live Voyage Report from aboard Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam returns tomorrow with a spectacular day of coverage from Glacier Bay National Park (internet signal permitting).


3 Responses to Zuiderdam Live Voyage Report – Day 4

  1. Kim says:

    I am absolutely amazed by how wonderful your pictures are. The Jeff smith parlor looks better then it did 6 years ago. Smugglers Cove looked really neat and I think it would be neat to do some more hiking around there. I feel like I am in Alaska with you even though I’m at home in Vancouver. As always wonderful writing and beautiful photos. I cannot wait to see the rest when you get home and cannot wait to read the next blog post 🙂

  2. […] that hasn’t already been said? With two Live Voyage Reports that visit this fascinating town (see Zuiderdam, August 2012 and Norwegian Pearl, June 2013), finding new and interesting things to report on can be a bit of a […]

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