A Day in Alaska’s First City

Welcome to Ketchikan, Alaska – the first port of call on Seabourn’s 11-day Ultimate Alaskan Sojourn itinerary. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Seabourns Seabourn Sojourn quietly maneuvered past the Dixon Entrance in the wee hours of the morning, trading the coastal waters of British Columbia for Alaska as we crossed the Canada-US border just north of Prince Rupert. By the time I had awoken just after six in the morning, Seabourn Sojourn was already in the Tongass Narrows on the approach to Ketchikan, Alaska.

Approaching Ketchikan…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…aboard Seabourn Sojourn, which towers over the town. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This is my 10th visit to Ketchikan, and I never tire of stopping here. With a population of roughly 13,500, the self-proclaimed “Salmon Capital of the World” is also known as Alaska’s First City thanks to the fact that, geographically speaking, it was the first place in the State to receive mail and supplies coming from the south. Its name is derived from a native Tlingit word, the exact meaning of which is debated to this day.

Like many places in Southeast Alaska, Ketchikan has reinvented itself several times over. Besides acting as a major outpost for goods and trade coming and going to places further afar, Ketchikan was once a saltery, then a major cannery town. In its heyday, over two million cases of salmon were packed here each year.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Today, the big business in Ketchikan is tourism; specifically, cruise ship passengers arriving on ships of all sizes. The local Ketchikan Daily News – a 14 page newspaper available next to the piers for $1 – shows in its printed cruise schedule that between our call and Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas, 2,550 guests are descending upon Ketchikan today. That’s nothing compared with tomorrow. On Thursday, June 29, four ships (Ruby Princess, Eurodam, Star Princess, and Nieuw Amsterdam) will bring 9.882 guests to Ketchikan. That doesn’t count the crew that will disembark for a few hours, either.

Arrival into port on Seabourn is as painless as you might expect. No sooner had we tied up than the ship was cleared for guests to disembark at their leisure. Unlike a large cruise ship, there are no lines and no waiting here. Complimentary bottled water is yours for the taking as you exit the ship. And your included Seabourn jacket is there to keep you warm in any weather condition.

A few rays of sunshine even came out today…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…for our call on Ketchikan. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Today we lucked out, with a pleasant day that was mainly overcast with a few brilliant sunny breaks. This is pretty darn good for Ketchikan, which gets about 150 inches (3,810mm) of rainfall annually. To put that in perspective, Seattle gets just 38 inches (965.2mm) of rain per year.

Seabourn offers a total of 14 shore excursions here in Ketchikan, from the affordable and fun Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show ($39 per person) to the six-hour Hunting for Halibut fishing excursion that will run you $359 per person. Generally speaking, excursions in Alaska are expensive, and you should be prepared to spend a bit of money on them, particularly with the big bucket-list items like flightseeing tours.

Getting around Ketchikan is a snap. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Personally, I’d recommend the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show or a city tour coupled with a visit to Saxman Village or Totem Bight State Park for the first-time visitor looking to get a taste of the city’s Tlingit history and frontier ways of life. The other thing I’d recommend: walk. Ketchikan is a superbly walkable city with plenty of great, locally-owned shops, bars and restaurants, and a stroll around the city shouldn’t be missed.

That’s what I did today. I no longer feel compelled to do far-flung excursions here, since I enjoy the city so much.

Parnassus Books: one of my favorite bookstores in Alaska, with an amazing local interest section. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

To start, I paid a visit to my favourite local bookshop, Parnassus Books. You can find them at the corner of Totem Way and Steadman Street, in a little rose-coloured building next to the Chief Johnson Totem Pole replica. I’ve been going to Parnassus for a decade now on my visits, and I love the shop’s selection of local interest books, both new and out-of-print.

Strolling along, I stopped in at the New York Café (inside the New York Hotel) just down the street for a pint of local beer. This is one of the city’s nicer watering holes and still retains it’s 1950’s-era charm.

Creek Street, Ketchikan. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Once the city’s Red Light district, Creek Street is now a major tourist attraction. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Next, it’s a stroll along Creek Street. This used to be the brothel epicentre of Ketchikan, so much so that an adjoining trail was named “Married Man’s Trail” due to the fact that the town’s spoken-for men liked to sneak out the back way so as to not be seen associating with the Madams of Creek Street.

Today, the prostitutes are gone, but one house in particular – Dolly’s – has been preserved as it was when it was ran by Dolly, one of Ketchikan’s most successful madams. It’s all very G-rated and Disney-fied now, but do expect to have women in period garb teasingly invite you in “for a look.”

Dolly’s, once the most (in)famous brothel in Ketchikan, is now a museum. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Lastly, I found some souvenirs that are locally-produced and made. I personally feel this is very important when visiting Alaska, which has – for reasons I still can’t comprehend – some of the most lowbrow souvenirs around. We’re talking about candies fashioned into droppings of all kinds, or keychains with animals that “defecate” if you squeeze them. But Alaska has some real gems, with locally-produced goods and locally-owned shops that are there year-round. It’s good to support those kinds of businesses over the more transient diamond shops, which all shutter for the winter season.

Seabourn Sojourn stayed in Ketchikan until 10pm – a nice, long call that gives Seabourn’s guests a really good shot at getting to know this port. The weather cooperated to the extent that I could even sit out on the Pool Deck, without a coat, and enjoy a casual lunch. And after another elegant dinner in The Restaurant on Deck 4, I went up on deck to watch as Seabourn Sojourn, elegantly illuminated, slipped away from her berth.

Great weather made today the ideal day to sit out on the pool deck…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and enjoy some light fare from The Grill…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…or to take a dip in Seabourn Sojourn’s bow-mounted…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…hot tub. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

We’re headed to Misty Fjords for our adventures in Rudyerd Bay tomorrow. Tonight though, the cocktails, conversation and music are flowing up in the Observation Bar on Deck 10 – as comfortable and relaxing a place as I can think of, and one enjoyable way to end another great day aboard Seabourn Sojourn in Alaska.

Late this evening, Seabourn Sojourn slowly let her lines go…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and turned around in the channel, bound for Misty Fjords. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from Seabourn Sojourn’s Ultimate Alaska voyage continues tomorrow as we spend a day of scenic cruising in Misty Fjords. Follow along with our latest cruise adventures on Twitter: @deckchairblog.

Seabourn Sojourn - Ultimate Alaskan Sojourn

Monday, June 26, 2017Vancouver, British ColumbiaEmbark Seabourn Sojourn1700
Tuesday, June 27Cruise the Inside Passage; Seymour Narrows; Queen Charlotte Sound
Wednesday, June 28Ketchikan, Alaska08002300
Thursday, June 29Scenic cruising Misty Fjords
Friday, June 30Wrangell, Alaska07001600
Saturday, July 1Scenic cruising Glacier Bay National Park10002000
Sunday, July 2Cruising Tracy Arm and/or Endicott Arm
Monday, July 3Haines, Alaska07002000
Tuesday, July 4Juneau, Alaska08001700
Wednesday, July 5Sitka, Alaska10001900
Thursday, July 6At Sea
Friday, July 7, 2017Seward (Anchorage), Alaska0700Disembark

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