June 26, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Ketchikan, First Port on Inner Passage Heading North

After our first cold and rainy day at sea, we docked in the morning at our first landfall, the town of Ketchikan. It was cool and cloudy at first, but it turned warm and sunny.

Sometime during the night we had sailed across the Canada/U.S.border and picked up an extra hour of sleep. Frommer's guidebook says Alaska spans five time zones. I keep forgetting that the Aleutian Islands extend so far out into the Pacific that "you can see Russia." I seem to remember some politician saying that.

To keep most of the state in the same time zone, officials came up with "Alaska time" -- one hour earlier than Pacific time, and four hours earlier than my Eastern time.

Ketchikan in Brief
Ketchikan is the first port of call for most cruise ships heading north to Alaska. As they disembark, passengers see the "Liquid Sunshine Gauge" that records each year's total rainfall. The annual average here?  Over 13 feet!

On this day and for the rest of the cruise, we lucked out. Locals told us it had been raining for several days. But the sun came out and we had a fine day.

According to the Chamber of Commerce, Ketchikan is known as the "Salmon Capital of the World." During spawning season, the creek that runs through the town is brimming with salmon. I'm sure the streets around the creek are also filled with tourists taking pictures . . . not just of the salmon-packed creek but also of the bears that come into town to feast on them.

That's why Ketchikan's Creek Street is considered as the most photographed in Alaska:

In the late 1890s, during the Klondike Gold Rush, more than 30 brothels lined Creek Street. A small sign at the head of the street marks the place where both the fish and the fishermen went up stream to spawn.

Today, the street is lined instead with funky restaurants, boutiques, and craft shops catering to a different lust -- tourist shopping. But the street does have Dolly's House, named after Dolly Arthur, the longest-surviving (but not the prettiest or most successful) of all the girls who plied their trade here.

Tourists can pay $5 to tour her house. They may not exit quite as satisfied as earlier patrons.

Ketchikan is also known as the "Totem Pole Capital of the World."

The town remains an important center for the Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida cultures. These Alaska Natives recreate clan houses and totems, which become damaged by exposure to the elements.

My Tour Choice: Misty Fjords Flightseeing
On any Alaskan cruise, passengers can choose among several tours at each port. Some tours are included in the cruise package; others cost more. I paid extra for a floatplane tour of the Misty Fjords National Monument -- at 2.3 million acres, about the size of Connecticut.

Misty Fjords doesn't have the ice fields and glaciers we'd find further north. But it features sparkling fjords, cascading waterfalls,and heavily forested mountains that effectively hide the abundant wildlife from view.

Eight of us enjoyed window seats aboard the floatplane. It was a spectacular ride.

As we came in to land on a fjord, some of the passengers accepted our pilot's offer to come out of the plane and stand on the pontoons. I didn't.

Then, back to Ketchikan and our ship.

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