Note: I am currently sailing a 7-day Alaskan cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas. Each day I cover the experience, giving you an inside peek at what it’s like to sail on a “bucket list” cruise to Alaska.
You can view other days here:
- Live Blog (Day 1): Boarding & First Impressions
- Live Blog (Day 2): Wet Weather Doesn’t Spoil the Fun
- Live Blog (Day 3): Sitka, Stunning Peaks, and Skydiving
- Live Blog (Day 5): Glaciers, Gold, and Juneau
- Live Blog (Days 6/7): A Beautiful Canadian City and Wrapping Up My Alaskan Cruise
On Day 4 of this cruise, Quantum of the Seas called on Skagway, Alaska. This represents the farthest point north that our cruise will sail… and marks the farthest point north on Earth that I have ever traveled. For that reason alone, I won’t forget Skagway. But even if you’ve been to more remote corners of the globe yourself, I doubt you’ve seen more spectacular scenery.
If you’ve sailed the Caribbean before, then you know that when you’re on the ship, it’s all about doing things onboard until you get to the port. When sailing Alaska, it’s a bit different because you’re not out in the middle of the wide-open ocean. Instead, there’s always land around giving you some great sightseeing opportunities.
In the case of heading to Skagway, I woke up this morning, opened the curtains and my jaw dropped. Right outside are mountains. I’m not talking about seeing some mountains in the distance. The ship sails down a channel lined with snow-covered peaks soaring out of the water.
In other words, it’s not just about the port — there’s a lot to see in Alaska even while sailing between ports.
While I thought that the mountains surrounding Sitka yesterday were amazing, it really pales in comparison to what you’ll see in Skagway. The narrow channel brings you up close and personal with towering peaks all around. As you might expect, pictures don’t do it justice. You have to see it yourself. I’ve seen plenty of mountains, but never a scene like this.
Visiting Skagway, A Starting Point for the Klondike Gold Rush
Docked in port, we were blessed with another day of great weather. There have been a few clouds, but mostly sunny. In fact, at times even the light jacket I was wearing seemed too much. But when the wind picks up off the water, it blows very cold.
Today there were three other ships in port (Discovery Princess, Nieuw Amsterdam, and Disney Wonder). As you would expect, town was busy.
In Skagway, you can get off the ship and walk into the main town meaning you don’t have to book an excursion to see things. It’s a decent walk — about 15 minutes — but there are also city shuttles that can give you a ride around town for a few bucks.
So what’s the port like? Well, if Sitka was a town that also was a tourist destination, Skagway is a tourist destination that also has a town. It was built up around the Klondike Gold Rush that began (and then ended) in the late 1800s. Today it’s largely a tourist destination with a small downtown area that features a number of historic buildings and museums about life back during the turn of the century.
But really the focus is any number of shops and small stores catering to cruise passengers. The town is cute and set in some of the most spectacular scenery you’ve ever seen, but definitely has a touristy feel.
While I didn’t have an excursion planned, whenever I return I definitely will. One of the most popular bookings is a White Pass train ride that takes you up the historic railroad to White Pass Summit, with great views of the mountains and waterways that make this place so unique. Talking to some passengers that did this, they said it was stunning.
So what did I do? First I did the required souvenir shopping for everyone back home, ducking in and out of stores. Many offer similar items, but there are definitely some unique spots featuring local artwork, photography, and jewelry.
Then I started to walk north. The downtown area is several blocks in length. Get past that and it turns into a quiet Alaskan town. I wasn’t going searching for anything in particular, I just wanted to get off the beaten path a little and see the rest of this small town outside of the tourist zone.
But more importantly, I knew that whenever I stopped walking, that would be the northernmost point on Earth I’ve ever been (the southernmost is Wellington, New Zealand).
My trek ended at a small creek running by the side of the road into a wooded grove. From there, it was time to head south again and back into town.
Since I had walked the main road already, I started to turn off on some of the side streets to explore. Here, Skagway got a bit more character. I browsed a fantastic hole-in-the-wall rock shop with some amazing pieces. If I didn’t have to figure out how to fly home with them, I would have bought several.
I also found another unique spot called Alaskan Fry Bread. The main item they sell is the Klondike Doughboy ($7). It’s a piece of dough the size of a dinner plate that’s fried up, covered in cinnamon and sugar, and then served on a couple of paper towels. No tables, no seating, not even a paper plate. You just take it and walk down the street while the local ravens group around hoping you’ll give them a piece.
Wondering about the taste? It was essentially a huge donut… with no hole. So yes, it tasted amazing. I literally had to make myself stop eating it so I wouldn’t overdo it. A single one would easily serve three adults.
So while I definitely enjoyed my time in Skagway, if I could do it over I would have booked an excursion out into the mountains instead of just exploring the town.
Oh, Just Random Whale Spotting… and an Appearance by Elton John
Back on the ship, we left on a slow sail out of Skagway, through the gorgeous mountains that I saw on the way in this morning. I took in the view on the back deck, in between watching some brave souls brave the chilly Alaskan wind and ride the Flowrider.
Suddenly, looking out I see mist sitting in the air just above the water. I’m wondering what it is and then see something break the water and shoot a jet of mist in the air… then another… then another. I small pod of whales was heading across the channel. Word spread like wildfire and soon the whole back of the ship was looking for them. Only in Alaska.
After a wonderful dinner in the dining room with some great company, I headed to the Andy Elton show. It’s an Elton John tribute with a performer that looks, talks, and sings like Elton… but throws in some commentary and jokes in between songs (impersonating Elton John) about life on the cruise ship.
It was such a simple show — a band, a piano, singer, a brightly sequined jacket — but that was all that was needed. He played all the hits and had the audience singing and clapping along. Even if you only casually know Elton John songs, then it’s a must-see.
Tomorrow we are cruising the Endicott Arm and then docking in Juneau, Alaska.
- If you’re wondering about the Flowrider or other pools on the ship, they are heated. In fact, dipping my hand in, they feel fantastic. What I don’t know is how people are able to stand the chilliness and wind when they are out of the water and soaking wet.
- One thing that’s struck me about the beauty of Alaska is how “unspoiled” it is. There are no big highways cutting this way and that. There are no clearings in the mountains for ski slopes like you see in some places or lots of houses built in the hills. It looks like it would have centuries ago.