Cruise to Alaska: Ketchikan
(Just landed on this page out of nowhere? You’ll want to start with Cruise to Alaska: Before We Begin.)

Ketchikan in the morning. Lovely.

Ketchikan - Docking

Our only plan today was to walk around and enjoy it, although we wouldn’t mind finding a good place to eat. No Indian in town, but there was a Mexican restaurant a short cab ride away. We’d have to see how time went. Unfortunately, the ship would be leaving in a few hours.

Ketchikan - Duck Tour Bus

Norwegian Pearl - Dappled in Ketchikan

To get into the town, you pass through a large souvenir store. As with every tourist shop, we were delighted with the sight of bear (baaar) merchandise. This store had the best bear.

Ketchikan - Mike's Bear Hug

Ketchikan - Big Sign

Across the street from the water and along the main drag were all of the usual jewelry businesses. Skagway had scarred me, but Mike suggested I try again. In each place the people were nice and really didn’t make me work for it at all. Almost as kind as Juneau and heads and shoulders about the shops in Skagway. One place even gave me a flyer for another location so I could pick up a gift there. At the last store, though, I was amazed to find one of my former students working there.

No, not really, but this young woman was truly her doppelganger. I was taken so off-guard that I actually ended up in a discussion about having some jewelry designed/made. Clearly, arcane forces were afoot!

See, when playing the game to get the charm, I started asking the clerks if they had anything with white sapphires and blue topaz. Sapphire and topaz are our birthstones (mine and his, respectively), but I find topaz to be a bit tricky aesthetically. (Yes, I actually have opinions about gemstones. Don’t let the naked face, hands, wrist, and neck with the dumpy wardrobe fool you.) I don’t care for yellow topaz (or almost anything yellow/orange except for daffodils), and white topaz, unless it’s a large stone, can easily end up looking like a grimy diamond. (My “pre-wedding but not engagement; it’s a long story” ring is white topaz.). Blue topaz is nice because it tends to be irradiated to the shade of blue that Mike really likes, plus it’s the state gemstone of Texas, so there’s another layer of symbolism.

As for the sapphires, I grew up disliking traditional sapphires, but now I find them very lovely... but their deep blue doesn’t go well with blue topaz (to me). White sapphires make for a nice metaphor: here is something that has a label (sapphire), but that doesn’t mean it’s limited to what you expect (blue).

So, I would genuinely like to have something with these stones. Ideally a round/oval/teardrop pendant, for reasons too complicated to describe. (This is my lame euphemism for “has to do with our pets, but I’m trying not to appear obsessed with critters.”) Actually, if an opal could be worked into the piece, that would be great. (For the same reasons.) Therefore, I wasn’t leading anyone astray when I asked for such a thing at a jewelry counter, but I was also very confident that it wouldn’t exist, either.

And I was right, but this student-lookalike was so disconcerting that I ended up in a big discussion that led to us discussing the possibility of the store creating a piece for me, and you know what? I haven’t ruled it out.

(Oh, it will probably never happen - this year and next will be spent financially recovering from the move, and then after that I’ll no doubt decide to work with someone local if at all. But they did get me to seriously consider it. Wily!)

(Here I stopped typing to try Googling for such a thing. After about eight seconds of research, I discovered that blue topaz/white sapphire pendants now exist in droves. When did this become a thing?! Furthermore, I saw a pendant with a snowflake design. A snowflake! Did I ever tell you the story of “Snowflake and the Christmas Miracle?” Snowflake was one of our pets back in Texas.The Christmas Miracle was the freak snowstorm that came out of nowhere and covered southern-and-nearly-coastal Victoria, Texas, in a over a foot of snow on Christmas Eve, 2004. [That photo was taken in my backyard the next day.] The snow came the day after Snowflake died. This is the part where you raise an eyebrow over the coincidence or my craziness or just because you’re one of those people who does that kind of thing well and likes to show it off - like Mike and tongue rolling. But it's a beautiful tale for Christmas, no?)

(So, anyway, because my mind started wandering while typing this post, this happened. Sorry, Alaskan doppelgangers, but when a girl has Amazon reward points to spend...)

We chose to walk under the sign and toward Creek Street but were quickly waylaid by “Ketchicandies.”

Ketchikan - Ketchikandies

Ketchikan - Cacao Pods on Display

”We’re coming back here later,” said everyone, ever.

We felt the same way about this salmon place with the open, inviting front. But later, when we did pop in for a look, the sales guy was so aggressive and hovering that it was like being back in Mexico. Plus, their shipping rates were astronomical compared to elsewhere (the big shop on Creek Street and Salmon Etc.).

Ketchikan - Where Not To Get Salmon

Cute stall, though.

Ketchikan - Inside a Salmon Stall

They also had kelp marmalade, which I resolved to get (elsewhere).

Ketchikan - Kelp Marmalade

Ketchikan - Totem Pole in Median Park

Alaska is so lovely, the air so clean and crisp, blah blah blah - but it’s all true. A friend told me she could never live there because “they only get two weeks of sunshine.” “What? That’s not true.” I then realized that she meant two weeks of sun-glaring sunshine, uninterrupted. (Well, I think that’s what she meant. She was repeating what her local tour guide told her.) If I can see my hand in front of my face, that’s enough sunshine for me. Anyway, other than the drizzle in Juneau, we saw nothing but sunshine on this trip.

Ketchikan - Left Entrance to Creek Street

Creek Street is notable because it was full of whorehouses (let’s pronounce that hoorhouses) until prostitution was banned in the 1950s. The 1950s. The 1950s. Also, men who didn’t want to be seen patronizing such irreputable places could arrive via the creek by boat and enter through the bottom of the houses, which are elevated above the water. A trail behind the street is called “Married Man’s Trail,” for obvious reasons.

Ketchikan - Mike Stares at Creek Street Creek

Ketchikan - Funicular Base

The funicular will take you up the hill to Cape Fox Lodge, but we wanted to wander.

Ketchikan - Creek Street Water

Ketchikan - Salmonberries

Salmonberries are delicious. Well, I don’t actually know if the berries are delicious, but the jam we bought inside Sam McGee’s was. Luckily they had a big tasting cart with many of their products because we definitely preferred one jam over another brand, and that other brand was the one I’d originally planned to buy, as it had a cuter jar. (I forewent the kelp marmalade to get ginger birch mustard instead.)

Sam McGee’s is probably the coolest place on the Street for souvenirs. In addition to the thoughtful decor, they don’t have the traffic flow problems of just about every other shop on Creek Street. Here’s my Yelp review:

If you look closely at your cruise ship contract, you might note a subsection that says, "All passengers will be expected, upon arrival in Ketchikan, to emulate local salmon and travel upstream to Creek Street." (Spawning is optional since prostitution was outlawed there in the 1950s. Yes, the 1950s. I know.)

You will pass all kinds of worthy shops selling local goods on the way, but try to leave a little shine on your Visa card for Sam McGee's. Of all the shops we stepped in and out of between the furthest berth at the dock and Creek Street (and I think I mean ALL the shops), this was the most attractive and fun with a selection varied enough that I ran out of energy to point at stuff.

One of the advantages of Sam McGee's is the layout. With multiple entrance and exit points, you can move through the store and linger at displays instead of shoving your way in then craning your neck around other visitors. (There were three ships in port that day.) Especially attractive is the back verandah (again, with two exits) where you can leisurely stand and look over the creek. There's even enough room to step aside for a phone call. ("Dad! I'm calling from ALASKA!" Those of you born back when long distance was a thing saved for calling grandma on her birthday can appreciate this.)

The wares themselves are not much different from what you will find elsewhere in town, although it's a lovely problem to have to choose between so many different brands of salmonberry jam. Luckily the store had a tasting cart set up, so we were able to make an informed decision and not just give in to my first impulse, which was to grab every adorable little jelly, cookie cutter, or knicknack and scream "PRECIOUSSSSS!"

Seriously, this shop is as cute as can be, with the train running along the ceiling and the vintage gold rush-era glass bottles (for sale!) and who knows how many other things I missed while trying to choose the perfect mustard. (We went with ginger birch Moosetard.)

Oh, and if you missed the Glacier Silt Soap shack while in Juneau, you can get it and many other local soaps here, although my husband was trying to steer me away from the display so I can't report further on this. (Probably because the Glacier Silt Soap shack in Juneau went into extended operating hours when I visited. I have a wee fondness for the suds.)

(I did have one criticism about Sam McGee's, but then I looked at the map and saw that what I thought was the mineral "area" of the shop is actually a different store entirely; it's just connected to Sam McGee's. Anyway, beware of the very pretty gold leaf sold in bottles at the adjacent shop. They look like nice Alaskan souvenirs, but the gold actually comes from Brazil. Pft.)

I know Sam McGee's is "just" a souvenir shop, but it's an attractive, fun place that sells just about every goodie you might want except for T-shirts and possibly salmon. (For T-shirts, there is the rest of Creek Street. For salmon, there is the rest of Ketchikan.) They even have a corner just for dog lovers, and be sure to note the many signs reminding you of how easy it is to ship stuff home.

(In other words, don't be like us and remember those signs after being pulled over by the TSA at the airport. I'm pretty sure Sam McGee's would've cut us a better deal than twenty bucks' worth of panicked FedEx from the airport all because I forgot it was 2012.)

Ketchikan - Sam McGee's Entrance

Ketchikan - Inside Sam McGee's

Ketchikan - Sam McGee's Soap Selection

Ketchikan - Sam McGee's Jams and Jellies

Ketchikan - Souvenir Gold Pans and Unpunctuated Sign

Ketchikan - Pretty Rocks

(See how I cast no reflection? None!)

Ketchikan - Gold Flake Bottles... from Brazil

The gold flakes looked like a perfect trinket... until I saw that they’re made in Brazil.

”Oh hey, the Oosterdam is in port.” That ship follows us everywhere.

Ketchikan - Oosterdam, from Creek Street

Near the end of Creek Street we ran into Phil and Carol, who were working the town in the opposite direction. Carol recommended the Christmas shop. After chatting a bit and having an insider’s laugh over a sign (which is only funny if you’re familiar with the West Coast Eagles football team and standing in front of the sign at the moment), we carried on.

Ketchikan - Other Entrance to Creek Street

Ketchikan - Flowers

Ketchikan - Alaska Highway Sign

Ketchikan - Mike Before Flowers

Ketchikan - Foxglove, Maybe

Ketchikan - Coliseum Twin Theatre

The movie theatre was across from Salmon Etc., where we decided to get a case of salmon for Dad. Part of the deciding factor was that I’d had my eye on a cap for him (he collects them) - an understated one with a suede brim and dark blue top - and of the small selection of caps available at Salmon Etc., that was one of them. Also, Salmon Etc. had competitive prices and shipping and the people were friendly.

Ketchikan - Salmon Etc

Ketchikan - Where We Got Dad's Salmon

Mike’s casino winnings paid for the gifts - yay! We got Dad a selection of different tins, with half being their high-end product and the others a mix, including “pepper garlic.” I can’t recall the price offhand (and may forget to look it up later), but it was significantly less expensive than what’s listed on the website, even with shipping and tax. So, if you’re keen for Alaskan salmon, perhaps don’t use online prices as a guide, and maybe don’t plan to buy it from the company online later, if you want the best deal.

Prices for everything were pretty reasonable, actually. I expected things to be expensive because a) Alaska and b) cruise ship tourists, but nah.

Ketchikan - Ketchicandies Box

Ketchikan - Trolley by Regent Seven Seas

The joy of meandering meant that time was getting too short for a lunch somewhere away from downtown. Unfortunately for us, what was available tended to be either fishy (understandable) or rib-sticking. But, I was very hungry, and the odds of a good meal were better on land than on the Pearl’s lunch buffet, so we had to pick something. Even if it was fishy. Even if it was a tourist trap.

And so, I hereby justify our visit to the Fish Pirate’s Saloon.

Ketchikan - Mike Inside Fish Pirates

FPS, despite the cool name (available on mugs, hats, and T-shirts in the adjoining gift shop), wasn’t very fishy. It was more of a “Carlos ‘n Charlie’s of the North,” catering to the type of person who wants to drink with a table of friends within sight of the ship, with a “something for everyone” menu at hand and live music in both ears. (We asked to be seated in a corner by the kitchen.)

Don’t believe the Yelp entry that, despite numerous reviews and tips saying otherwise, claims FPS is closed. Perhaps the Community Manager for the area has some kind of hate-on for the place. It’s not great, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you like seafood/fish or are in the mood for the cafe up the road, but my five-cheese pizza was fine. (Dig the gouda circles!)

Ketchikan - Five-Cheese Pizza at Fish Pirates

Plus, plenty of leftovers to eat later, just in case. (Seriously, I know I’m going on and on about it, but the food/service on NCL - except for the specialty places - was simply that bad.)

We resumed our wandering and gazing and pointing and smiling and chatting until we were back on board just ahead of the 1 p.m. curfew, enjoying the view of port from the balcony.

Not Feeling the 4G

The 4G was playing up, making photo uploads to Facebook dodgy. Usually it worked well enough to do that, but not so well that I could get sucked into FB itself. It was always better in the morning than in the afternoon.

The view when looking to the right:

Ketchikan - Where Norwegian Docks

As we sailed away, we went past the ships with “premium” dock locations. (Ours wasn’t bad, though. Much better than the spot behind us that was left to the Statendam.)

Ketchikan - Regent Seven Seas

Oosterdam had already left. This is the view from her berth:

Ketchikan - Where Oosterdam Docked

See the Fish Pirate’s Saloon? (Sometimes it has the apostrophe; sometimes it doesn’t. Usually it does. I like to think that there are multiple fish pirates, but I guess a lone fish pirate with a diverse crew of sea creatures is appealing, too. Or is it a fish pirate with a human crew? Or even a ragtag wharf cat crew? Interesting.)

Farewell, Creek Street.

Ketchikan - Creek Street From Ship

Farewell, Statendam.

Ketchikan - Statendam

Bye-bye, Guys Jumping in the Water.

Ketchikan - Guys Jumping in the Water

And goodbye “signs of civilization in Alaska” - this was it! We’d be in Alaskan water for a while, but our next stop was Canada. Nooooooo! The cruise was winding up!

We enjoyed our scenic downtime, as usual, even though it meant missing napkin-folding class, the Family Feud gameshow, Pictionary, the crew talent show, and “fishy fish” trivia, which Mike would probably have done decently at. (I mention these things because they all interested me, and I do want Norwegian to get credit for offering them.) We didn’t spend all that time on the balcony, though; we finally made our second visit to the spa.

Aaaand, it was worse than before. More crowded than ever (but still the weird staring and silence in the thalassotherapy pool), including the co-ed hot tub and the personal hot tubs in the locker rooms. We stayed awhile, but it was a little forced. We couldn’t make it into something it wasn’t.

I had a quick shower. As I exited, a woman was standing right in the doorway, waiting. There were two other shower stalls, but I guess she liked mine. (They could add a plaque: “Shari showered here.” Growl it like Sean Connery.) I carefully slid on my cheap thongs, smiling apologetically as I tried to get out of the way as quickly as possible. “I don’t want to slip,” I laughed nervously, as I dried my feet before putting on the shoes. (Also, I didn’t want a flare up of athlete’s foot, but in real life I tend to apply heavier TMI filters.)

The woman stared me down in the way that casting agencies probably describe as “practical African-American matriarch of a Certain Age.” It wasn’t an unkind look, but it didn’t brook much nonsense. “My sister had shoes like that. She fell. You want to watch out with shoes like that.”

I looked at her shoes, strappy sandals with two-and-a-half-inch cork heels. “Oh, I know!” I said, which is probably why people underestimate me, the way I’ll sometimes agree with total crap because I’ve already dismissed the situation as insane, so instead I’ll just have fun playing along.

The woman was actually quite nice - we saw her and her friend a few times around the ship later that day. But my shoes, while cheap, had grippy, textured soles and were as flat as could be. I don’t know what she was talking about. In fact, after my ankle was torn up, they were the only shoes I could wear for two months because they were the safest. (And I’m a woman of strictly sensible shoes.)

Spa clothes hung up on the bathroom line to dry, we went in search of Phil and Carol. Even though it was the middle of the afternoon, the elevator rails had just been varnished. Everyone who entered the lift complained about it being done during “prime time.” (So, it’s not just me who complains, and I’m not even complaining the varnishing. It did seem odd, though.)

Norwegian Pearl - Wet Varnish in Elevators

Norwegian Pearl - Sanitizer and Show Ad

We planned to watch one of the production shows later that night. These are always hit or miss with us. (“The Big Easy” on Carnival Spirit being the only one I could watch over and over.)

Norwegian Pearl - Stardust Theater Sign

In the theatre entrance we could hear the a capella / barbershop-style singers, which we only knew about from word of mouth from Phil and Carol, who’d apparently met one of the singers in a bar, I think. P&C said later that most of the audience was somehow attached to this group, so I think it was a private function. It definitely wasn’t advertised in the Freestyle Daily, nor were their signs outside. Inside was an unattended booth with CDs. We lingered a bit there before going in to look for P&C, and if I’d known then what I’d find out 20 minutes later, I would’ve been tempted to steal a CD. (With a note with our cabin number, of course. I’m impulsive, not immoral.)

The singers were outstanding. The finale number of “Good Vibrations” was perhaps better than the original.

Oh wait! Here are the guys!

The video doesn’t do justice to the fullness / purity of their sound, and you had to be there in the moment to feel the happy energy of the crowd responding to the little hijinks, but live, I promise, it was more layered and eerie than the Beach Boys’ version, and I really like the BB version.

And look, here is the page on their site advertising the “Smooth as Ice” cruise. Click on the “Store” link to buy their CDs (physical or digital, whole or by the song). I wuvs the internetz.

(This is why I’ll never be able to monetize my blog, even if I ever get my act together and post regularly and/or proofread a bit. If I like something, I’ll talk it up for free.)

After my indulgence in the rum cake martini, I decided today I’d try “Margarita Madness” - $5 margaritas offered in the (empty) bar between Blue Lagoon and the churruscarria.

A note on Moderno, the churruscaria: it was not at all vegetarian friendly or interested in accommodating vegetarians, despite what meat eaters on Cruise Critic claimed. Mike stopped by there earlier in the week to look over what was on the salad bar, since people on the forums said the salads and bread alone were worth the price, but either those people were blinded by the meat or something has changed. The salad bar was generic at best, according to Mike. He asked the host if they offered a vegetarian option, like at the other speciality restaurants. “We only serve what’s on the menu,” he was told. Certainly a world away from the eager-to-please service at the steakhouse and Le Bistro. What a pity, considering that some of the churruscarias here in Las Vegas do offer ample vegetarian items on the salad bar that make the cost worthwhile, so it’s not the craziest idea that Moderno could have pulled this off.

Norwegian Pearl - Margarita Madness

Carol ordered a margarita made with kirsch and I went with a strawberry concoction. Phil was sticking to beer, and Mike doesn’t like the taste of alcohol at all. Sometimes, though, I can get him to taste something, just to see if there’s a “gateway drink” out there for him after all.

Norwegian Pearl - Mike Tastes My Margarita

Nope. Big face. Bleh!

Mike did offer to carry my drink down the steps to Bar City, though, where we would wait for Name That Tune trivia.

In the meantime, Phil shamed the whole of Australia by ordering a Foster’s.

Norwegian Pearl - Mike's Dad With (GASP) Foster's

Everyone knows that Aussies don’t drink Foster’s. Everyone. I don’t know what happened here. I guess we were all doing crazy things.

Name That Tune was fun because a pianist played bits of songs which we then we guessed. We lost by one point, although possibly we actually tied. What happened was that we didn’t raise our hand when the host asked “Who has 21 right?” but instead started to ask him whether we would get credit for writing “I Can’t Help Falling in Love” instead of “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Unfortunately, the host completely ignored us, proclaimed another couple the winner, and in a manner of seconds it was a chaos of people getting up in leaving. What the...?

The reason we couldn’t ask while doing the marking was because we’d all switched papers, as was the norm, and our markers took away the point for including “I,” which we didn’t expect them to do. On the one hand, while I wouldn’t have counted it off myself, the Elvis version doesn’t have “I” at the start. On the other hand, the UB40 version is written as “(I Can’t Help) Falling in Love With You” - which is funny because I kept urgently whispering, “I think the first part of the title is parenthetical” although I’m sure I’ve never heard UB40’s version. Yeah, I prefer Presley to UB40, but the point is that sometimes the “I” has been included in releases of the song. (Including in the CD single/remixed versions of Presley’s version, if Wikipedia isn’t lying.)

So, I think our answer was right enough, and we could’ve made a decent case for it. It’s not like we were writing some “Napsterized” version of the title. (Like, say, the people playing who wrote down "Starry, Starry Night" instead of "Vincent" when the McLean song was played.)

Not that it really mattered, but even though the host (a musician, not one of the usual staff) was quite nice when we talked to him after the show, it was kind of shoddy to be more about wrapping up the contest than getting into the trivia. We’re used to fun discussions over the finer points of trivia questions. (If you’re ever in a game that asks you to name the City of Light, watch out!)

Like I said, I don’t think we deserved the point (because we should have included the parentheses if using the “I”), but I’m not so sure that other people weren’t getting points for similar boo-boos just because they had easier graders.

The short version is that Mike kind of mortified his Dad by trying to have a discussion about it with the host afterward. Not everyone is used to how we like to talk about all kinds of minutia. It doesn’t mean we’re upset or wanting some corrective action to take place. We’re just nerds!

Norwegian Pearl - La Cucina Entrance

We had early dinner reservations for La Cucina, perhaps the second-most booked restaurant after Teppanyaki (if the boards each night were to be believed).

I’m going to say something right up front: La Cucina was Absolutely Delicious. I want to add an f-bomb in the middle for emphasis, but I respect our experience there too much to risk putting people off with profanity. If you’re sailing Norwegian, don’t miss Le Bistro, the steakhouse (so say P&C and Mike), or La Cucina. If we weren’t spending the last evening in Victoria, I think we would’ve come here two nights in a row. It was that good. And only $10/pp. It was so good that Mike and I both wish the restaurant had a land location.

Norwegian Pearl - La Cucina - Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

The meal began with a bread basket and small platters of olive oil dressed with dollops of vinegar.

Norwegian Pearl - La Cucina - Bread Cone

I was able to get a chopped salad without the salami. It was fine.

Norwegian Pearl - La Cucina - Chopped Salad Without Salami

But this tortellini with creamy pesto? Divine.

Norwegian Pearl - La Cucina - Delicious Tortellini With Creamy Pesto

I don’t even want to think about it too much right now or I’ll start missing it.

We really savoured this meal. The informal atmosphere made it easy to relax and talk. Phil and Carol enjoyed some wine, and we spent over two hours talking about all kinds of things. My photo of the flourless chocolate cake with amaretto cream came out too blurry for even my standards, but it was very satisfying. (Not on par with Le Bistro, but still a joy to nibble.)

From dinner we strolled down to the Stardust Theatre to see the tribute to Broadway musicals: “Encore!”

Norwegian Pearl - Stardust Theatre Curtain

I think we made it through four songs. Maybe it was only three. It was probably our fault because we haven’t seen Wicked or The Producers. We do both like musicals (Mike will whip out bold renditions from Cabaret or Camelot with very little encouragement), but this just wasn’t our thing, so we said good night to Phil and Carol and ducked out early. (They didn’t last the whole show, either.)

Early to rise, early to bed.

09 December 2012 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)