Cruise to Alaska: Skagway

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


Skagway - Welcoming Rainbow

“Looks like a storybook picture.”

Cousin Jeremy nailed it in the Facebook comments. A rainbow waiting for us in port! Laa-aa-aaa-aa-a!

We’d cancelled our tour with Norwegian because I got the idea at some point that I didn’t want to take the train up in the middle of the day. You know who else might take the train in the middle of the day? Everyone else. Going on the train first thing in the morning sounded better. I really liked the idea of knocking out the “must do” first then having the afternoon to explore in the town.

Even if the morning train was busy, I couldn’t ignore that Chilkoot Charters offered a similar tour for almost half the price. (Chilkoot was repeatedly recommended on the Cruise Critic forums. I don’t get any kind of kickback for linking to them.... good heavens, who would pay to be linked from this diatribe?) Although we tend to book with the cruise line for peace of mind, that’s the uncertainty of Mexico talking. (That said, one of our most recent cruise line tours was a dodgy disaster... although we still fared better than the people robbed at gunpoint on the same tour a few months later. Carnival had no reply when I pointed out that they perhaps should’ve taken our complaints more seriously instead of giving us a partial refund. They did permanently pull the tour, though.) Here, all tours would be riding the same train and taking the same well-traveled American highway. Why not go with a third party?

Alas, Chilkoot’s rail-then-drive tour was at 7 a.m. Did we want the drive-then-rail instead? For the price, and the morning slot, I decided that we did.

Time for a zoom in on that rainbow.

Skagway - Rainbow Zoom

We didn’t really have time for breakfast, and Mike isn’t much of a morning eater, so we skippity-do’d out to the pier a bit early.

Brrrrrr! The wind found us easily, but everything was too clear and beautiful to mind.

I wondered if the bridge crew on the Jewel was as fun (or as decorative) as Pearl’s:

Norwegian Pearl - Bridge (in Skagway)

I don’t know if it’s always this way, but Norwegian Pearl definitely got the best berth today.

Norwegian Pearl - Best Berth in Skagway

(Left: Diamond Princess, Radiance of the Seas. Right: Norwegian Jewel.)

The train loads right at the dock. So cool.

Norwegian Pearl - Tours Loading in Skagway

But of course we were doing the drive first. None of the tour drivers pulling up in shuttles had a sign for us, understandable as our tour was still half an hour away, but then...

“Chilkoot van!”

Tour guide Dave checked his list. “Oh, you’re with Mike. I’ll let him know you’re already here. Feel free to wait inside the van.”

Darn, this Dave guy seemed really nice. So did the heat coming from the van, but we chose to stay outside and stare at all the prettiness.

Driver Mike (as I will call him to differentiate from Husband Mike) was along in another van in just a few minutes. Yay! We were first! We could pick the best seats!

“You guys are the only ones from Pearl,” Driver Mike said. “We have another couple to pick up at the Jewel, and that’s it.”

A tour of four plus an early start! Color me rainbow-happy.

Driver Mike checked our passports and we were on the way around the corner to Jewel. The other couple, retired folks, were already waiting. Perfect!

Driver Mike was full of facts and anecdotes for every second of the drive. (I liked it when he explained that he’d stopped spending the winters in Skagway as soon as he realized the only payoff was “bragging rights.” Perfect term. We've all had our pointless winters in Skagway.)

Skagway - Mike Taking Pics

(Before we were far along in the main street, I asked Mike, “Did you see it?” He saw it. The Indian restaurant. Lunch plans, sort’d.)

Skagway - Former Brothel and Bakery

Former brothel and bakery.

Skagway - Apartments and Peaceful Chilkoot Tour Bus

I don’t know if I meant this to be a photo of the one apartment complex in Skagway or the beautifully empty bus. The other couple soon spread out, too, and we all moved side to side depending on where the sights were. Absolutely great. I felt a little bad for Chilkoot that they didn’t have more people on this tour, but if all their guides have Driver Mike’s laidback patter and knowledge of the area, I’m sure they don’t hurt for bookings. Although I would’ve liked to see the Yukon Suspension Bridge (on the Norwegian tour), getting to make so many impromptu stops in a really comfortable shuttle was thumbs-up-and-above.

At our first stop, the scenic overlook of the town, Driver Mike told us about the outhouse. Specifically, the $10,000 Outhouse.

Skagway - 10k Outhouse

The funny thing is, when I came home and looked this up, all I could find is that another couple also documented a $10,000 outhouse on their Alaskan cruise. And there is also a story about this $10,000 outhouse, which may or may not be the same one.

So, Alaska may have up to three $10,000 outhouses. Or more! Or fewer! I just don’t know.

It was a pretty outhouse, though. Not stinky at all.

I zoomed in on the ships in port. Beyond, the mountain at Haines, another port stop for some ships.

Skagway - Ships in Port

Skagway - Ships in Port in Pespective

There was something interesting about Skagway’s runway. What was it? That the biggest plane allowed on it will fit 12 passengers and the mail? I guess that was it.

Across the way, by Diamond Princess, the bottom of mountainside is covered in cruise line logos. The whole mountain used to be covered in advertisements. The one showing a watch, from Kirmse’s Curios, has been up for over 100 years.

Skagway - Kirmse's Curios 'Billboard'

(I should have some built-in image app that lets you zoom and zoom, but instead I’m lazy and simply link to where they are on Flickr. Or maybe I’m being resourceful and integrated. Sure. Anyway, if you click on the image, click on View All Sizes, then click on View Original, you can better see the watch. Or you can just look at someone else’s photo. Ta da!)

Ah, clouds and mountains.

Skagway - Clouds and Mountains

Da plane!

Skagway - Largest Plane Allowed

The pipeline going up the mountain is a bit ugly, but the waterfall it creates is well worth it, right?

Skagway - Goat Lake Hydroelectric Project

Driver Mike had the wife of the other couple going for a bit. It’s actually the Goat Lake Hydroelectric Project. From APTAlaska:

The Upper Lynn Canal's cornerstone is the Goat Lake Project, a 4.0-megawatt hydroelectric facility located seven miles north of Skagway. The 204-acre glacially fed lake has the winter storage necessary to sustain year-round hydro generation.

Goat Lake Hydro became operational in December 1997, and was interconnected with Haines via a 15-mile submarine cable in September 1998. The submarine cable was laid in Taiya Inlet, a fjord with depths up to 1,500 feet. This project allowed diesel-powered generators at both the Skagway and Haines plants to be quiet for the first time in nearly 80 years.

Look closely, and you can see a bridge:

Skagway - Bridge and Falls - Goat Lake Hydroelectric Project

We waited a few minutes, watching the train make its way there.

Skagway - Train over Bridge - Goat Lake Hydroelectric

(Little did we know that we were watching Phil and Carol go past.)

Soon after we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls. Look, our entire tour (with me behind the camera):

Skagway - Our Entire Tour

Instead of just point and shooting, I actually bothered to fiddle with the camera’s shutter speed. Go me!

Skagway - Bridal Veil Falls - Close Up

(But otherwise pretty much just pointing and shooting.)

Skagway - Bridal Veil Falls - Roadside Stop

At each stop, the weather was pleasant because the shuttle or mountains sheltered us from the wind. Just before we left Alaska for British Columbia, though, we of course had to stop at the Welcome to Alaska sign, aka The Chilliest Stop on the Tour!

Alaska-Canada Border - Mike and the Rest of Our Tour

Driver Mike took pics of each couple. Oh dear, I can’t seem to find the one of us. OH DARN.

We were lucky to be the only group there, although a bus left as we arrived and a van arrived as we left, so timing was perfect. Husband Mike pointed out that someone could make a killing selling cocoa up there.

Near Fraser BC - Inukchuk (sp)

As we neared Fraser, where we’d go through immigration and catch the train, Driver Mike stopped for us to look at a lake and the “inuksuks” people like to make. (Pronounced “ih-nook-shook” but I heard “ih-nook-chook.” The obligatory Wikipedia link.)

Driver Mike’s timing was perfect. I keep using that word, but it’s the, um, perfect word. Perfect. Within a few minutes, this was the scene behind us at Fraser’s immigration station:

Fraser BC - Long Line Behind Us at Customs

A few minutes later, we were across the street at the rail station as a train pulled away. (Not ours.) Driver Mike went to find the conductor so we’d know which train car we’d be on. We busied ourselves around the little station.

A plaque!

Fraser BC - Sign at Train Station

Stamp your own passport!

Fraser BC - Stamp Your Own Passport

(Hint: if the ink is dry, moisten the stamp. Who knew we would each be witness to the traditional Canadian spit-brother ceremony that day?)

We watched the checkpoint traffic. Mike made too much talk about maybe walking across the road for a little something from the Pepsi machine. (“Pepsi, Mike? Really? Pepsi?” “Maybe I want to see if it’s made with cane sugar. This is Canada!” The spit-brothers initiation makes some parched, I s'pose.)

By the way, the agents’ faces are blurred in the photo below (when enlarged). Driver Mike warned us as we approached that photos of the agents were absolutely not allowed.

Fraser BC - Customs Across From Train Station

Fraser BC - Train and Conductor

Another train came. Here was the conductor. Where was Driver Mike?

No worries. A moment later he started walking toward us, beckoning us to come to the other end of the train. We all started trotting.

"Someone’s waving at you."

I looked up. Carol!

Fraser BC - Carol in the Lake Kathleen Car

Or, in the photo above, the back of Carol’s head. We waved at her as we rushed behind Driver Mike. Were they riding the train back? Would we be able to walk through the train to their car to visit?

We tipped Driver Mike and said good-bye. He was a great tour guide and we were very pleased. I was resolved to write a glowing Yelp review on Chilkoot as soon as we came home.... and which I’m sure I’ll do as soon as I finish this trip report. (Ahem.)

Oh heavens, did our twee tour mean we’d get our own car?!

Fraser BC - First Ones in the Car

(Car 366)

No. About ten minutes later more people arrived, although luckily Mike didn’t have to move back to share the last seat with me. (I wanted to be close to the platform.) Could just be the portable chub-rub talking, but these seats were straight out of Michigan, 1975, on the days when we’d get an old school bus. Some couples did not look particularly comfortable sitting shoulder-to-shoulder. It would’ve been tolerable if we’d had to sit together, but definitely not desirable. For most people, though, I don’t think there was any problem:

White Pass Railroad - Through the Rocks, People on the Train

Fraser BC - Outside the Train Window

Outside, tour groups took in the lake. We weren’t sure if they were boarding or just exiting. (I left the fancy circular polarizer in the cabin, so all these train pics will have reflections in them. Oops.)

Fraser BC - Me, Bundled, and the Conductor

Maybe in 2013 I’ll start moisturizing. I can’t remember if I’d already started developing a cheek rash at this point as covering my multi-chins is a standard look. At least I had an excuse; the train was quite nippy as we sat and waited, but the wait wasn’t very long. Soon we were on the way, passing lovely scenery and the occasional landmark.

White Pass Railroad - Mountie Cabin

Everything was gorgeous and it was great fun to be on this historic train. You can’t pass between cars (just as well, Phil and Carol’s tour had disembarked), so no dining car (that clifftop cocoa idea had planted urges in my head), but each car has a bathroom, and everyone picks up a guide from their seat. There’s even a SkyMall-type section, if you’d like a White Pass hat or pin (or train set or tote bag or...).

Some people say there aren’t any bad places to sit, and while that could be true (as the windows are very large), we definitely felt like we had the advantage by sitting on the right for the ride back to Skagway. On the round-trip tours, supposedly people are asked to switch sides so everyone gets a shot at getting to look across the valleys and such, which is nice.

As charming and fun as the train was, though, I don’t think I would do the round trip. Maybe if you’re a hardcore train enthusiast or you just hate roads. I’m just not the type to be interested in covering the same scenery twice in a short timespan at a pokey pace.

Still, it was a wonderful experience and one I recommend. Very relaxing, other than the cranky face I allowed myself to stew under for a minute when I realized that the German tourist on the platform was never going to leave. He also was never going to let someone else have a turn standing on the “good” side. (When making announcements, they told people to share the platform, but I don’t think he understood English. Half of the car was German tourists who needed quite a bit of translation help, as we discovered when one unknowingly dropped his glasses.) At one point there were three of us on the platform, leaning way over the guy to try to take a photo, and he just leaned back a little, not taking photos, and not giving up his spot. Oh well. I could’ve gone up to the front of the car if I’d really wanted to try for a windowless picture, but it was also very busy up on that end, and I guess I was happy enough with what I could see from inside.

Later Mike would remark that the second half of the journey seemed to go quite a bit slower. Ahem. Here’s a photo of Mike from the first half of the trip:

White Pass Railroad - Mike Remarked on How Fast the First Part of the Trip Went

He even missed the tunnels. I have no idea why, but everyone stood up the first time we went through one.

White Pass Railroad - Stand Up and Tunnel!

Even I stood. It was odd. I think aliens run the goofiest experiments sometimes.

Train Photography Law dictates that everyone must take a shot of the other end of the train coming (or going) around the bend.

White Pass Railroad - Around the Bend

(Here I spent two minutes trying to decide whether to include a clip of CCR’s “Up Around The Bend.” Guess I still haven’t recovered from all the John Fogerty overplay in 1985. Or maybe it was just all the baseball songs from that year, of which his “Centerfield” was one. Post-traumatic music/sports connotations: I suffer from them.)

White Pass Railroad - Scary Bridge

”Wake up, Mike! It’s the bridge where they shot Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter!”

It’s not. I just like to try out lies sometimes. I also didn’t say anything aloud to Mike, but he happened to wake up right about this time. “Wow... were we just ON that?” “Yes!” “REALLY?” “... no.”

Actually, this was the tallest cantilever bridge in the world when it was built in 1901. It has been unused for 45 years. (You can see a photograph of it in use on the WPYR website.)

The guide over the PA would point out sights along the way, although the map in the guide was also quite good. I took this picture after she pointed out the sheep.

White Pass Railroad - Sheep Dots

Then later, on the iPad, back on the ship, I was able to enlarge it and say, yes, there they are - slightly less fuzzy creatures that, honestly, look to me more like bears. Polar bears on vacation in Alaska. Cool!

White Pass Railroad - Outside the Car

I took this one from the platform, looking back into the car. You can see that the people on the left side had the greatest interest in going to the platforms. (And the person across from me came over to my seat after I left.)

My pic from the platform - Bridal Veil Falls in the distance:

White Pass Railroad - Bridal Veil Falls and Bridge

Note also a bridge on the left. I came back into the car to hear the guide point out Bridal Veil Falls and say something like, “You won’t get that view if you’re on the highway!” Well, no, but you don’t get to see the close-up beauty, either. Again, I recommend traveling both ways.

Hey, Mike is fully awake.

White Pass Railroad - Mike Is Awake

White Pass Railroad - In Which I Manage to Capture Earth -and- Sky, So Rare

White Pass Railroad - More Views From the Train

White Pass Railroad - More Green and Blue

White Pass Railroad - Another Train Wrap

White Pass Railroad - Black Cross

White Pass Railroad - On to Alaska With Buchanan

On to Alaska with Buchanan!

If I were an outdoorsy person with a night to spend in Skagway, I’d do it at the Denver Caboose:

White Pass Railroad - Caboose for Rent

Meanwhile, have you seen Mike’s Alaska socks?

White Pass Railroad - Mike's Alaska Socks

They have wolves.

The train stopped near the start of downtown (and near the train depot). As we disembarked, I noticed a conductor taking luggage down from the car behind us.

White Pass Railroad - Posh Luggage Car Behind Us

This car was definitely more posh. What was up with that?

But we were quickly distracted by looking at the coupon book map for the best route to where we thought the Indian restaurant was. Should we hit a few free coin/charm places on the way or no? What did the Yelp reviews say?

The one review on Yelp was a well-reasoned four stars, and, being rather hungry by now, we cut a direct path to Bombay Curry. And here is most of my Yelp review (omitting the intro):

We crossed our fingers and stepped into the little dining spot just off the main drag.

"Well, it smells great," Mike said.

Skagway - Bombay Curry Interior

The waitress gave us paper menus, and we reluctantly dragged our eyes away from the many exciting dishes on the "Dinner" side to contemplate our lunch options.

"Hmmm, I can't tell from the description if the 'Bombay paneer' actually has a sauce." "Ditto on the 'Bombay chicken," Mike agreed. We were a little dismayed by the generic "Bombay (name a protein)" descriptions on the lunch menu, but the friendly waitress assured us that all of these were served with sauce, so we decided to stay and try it. (Note that the Bombay paneer was the only vegetarian option for lunch.) We also ordered garlic naan.

"And could we get a couple of samosas from the case?" Mike asked, gesturing to the area by the counter. Samosas weren't on the lunch menu, so we weren't certain if they were being saved for dinner patrons, but again the waitress was agreeable. "Sure!"

Skagway - Bombay Curry - Samosa

The samosas were tall and crisp and oh-so fragrant. "Kamal Palace?" Mike asked me, shorthand for our favourite place for samosas in Southern California. "Getting there. Definitely." We were already glad we came.

Skagway - Bombay Curry - Garlic Naan

Then the naan arrived. "That is some of the best-looking naan I've ever seen." (See my photos.) Buttery, soft, flavourful... and the garlic pieces weren't acrid at all, as they can be. "And it's delicious, too." And now our happy moods flickered with sadness, knowing we'd have to eat ship food again for lunch tomorrow.

Finally, our curries came out on divided Stryofoam-style plates. I gave both the plate and the plain-looking rice a skeptical glance. I'm such a snob, but luckily I'm an open-minded one because, shazam!, another high-five in the nom-nom-da-bombdiggity department!

Skagway - Bombay Curry - Bombay Paneer

This was Alaska. You know, Alaska, where it's all about the seafood. And we were in a town catering to daytripping tourists, which is usually a call to arms for the mediocre in an attempt to please everyone. Who expected to get such delicious Indian here?

And I definitely didn't expect to have to keep wiping my nose as the heat of the food opened my sinuses. (I usually order "7" on the 1-to-10 scale of heat, so I'm not exactly a wuss.) Not complaining, just amazed that the chef was willing to be so bold. We spoke with what seemed to be the owner/manager just before leaving. He was quite nice and eager to make sure we'd enjoyed the meal. So, if you don't like your food so hot, or want it hotter, or have any other requests, I don't think it would be any problem to ask.

Judging by the number of locals dining there, the people of Skagway know good Indian. The lunch menu may be small, but the food is tasty by any standard and service is friendly. The next time we visit Skagway, it will be on another cruise line with better food, but we'll still look forward to leaving room for a meal at Bombay Curry.

(Would I seek out Bombay Curry for lunch if it were in Las Vegas? Well, no. The menu is limited, and we have some rather amazing Indian buffets here. But I’d definitely like to see what they can whip up for dinner.)

Skagway - Bombay Curry

Skagway looks a little fake, like a movie set, with all the false-fronted buildings associated with the Old West. But Driver Mike told us that since Skagway has never had a major fire, all of the original buildings had survived. Incredible. (You can see that the Bombay Curry building goes back to 1897.)

Even though our bellies were sated, we couldn’t help but pause when passing the restaurant across the street. The food on the plates looked pretty damn delicious. As our pause turned to a full-on gawk, one woman dining inside pointed at her plate and gave us a huge grin and thumbs up. So, if you’re not so into the Indian, maybe try Gold Digger, where you can “Mine and Dine Like It’s 1899.”

Skagway - Gold Digger Menu Looks Good (As Did The Food)

(It is torture typing this up months later, on house arrest with a meh-spoon’s worth of energy while my ankle heals, and Mike’s culinary acumen is thousands of miles across the sea. As I contemplate what boring crud I’ll be assembling for lunch, assuming I don’t just nuke up another can of soup or grab a tub of yogurt and a spoon, my lips actually moisten with drool as I reread about the “Grilled Cheese and Pesto Sandwich with Jarslberg, Cheddar, and Pesto on Sourdough with a Tomato Bisque.” Bisque! Maybe I’ll get out a Sharpie later and relabel all the soup cans in the pantry. But that still won’t get my lazy, cripped self some “Fresh Heirloom Tomatoes with Balsamic Reduction, Rosemary, Olive Oil and Parmesan Crisps.” Wait, are those “Olive Oil and Parmesan Crisps,” or is there olive oil in the salad, which is served with Parmesan Crisps? The Oxford comma matters, people!)

(Oh good, grammar nerdrage has me all het up to where I think I’ll make some not-as-boring tacos for lunch. Anyway, the only review of Gold Digger is for their root beer float and service, but the photos back me up.)

Speaking of mining, we didn’t do any gold panning at all on this trip. Other excursions called to us. (As did not getting chilly hands.) Most places looks pretty cheesy, but my friends who went before and right after our cruise (shout out to Riana and Hilary, who hopefully have no idea that this self-indulgent crap-ramble of a blog exists - like most of my friends), both did panning excursions and had a lot of silly fun. No regrets, but I’d put it on my list for a second trip.

Our only plan now was to wander around downtown Skagway, maybe picking up some of the free charms and coins, just like every other cruise ship visitor not on a tour.

Skagway - Side of Corrington's

Corrington’s was on the corner, with a wide-open entrance, so we started there. But then, as we entered, one foot still beyond the entrance, I saw some interesting art and snapped a photo.

“No! No!” It took me a moment (and Mike’s “Honey...”) to realize a woman had stopped her conversation with another customer about five feet away and was pressing through the very crowded area at the front of the shop to address me. “No photos are allowed. It is the wish of the artist.”

”Oh!” I felt really bad. I hadn’t meant to break a rule, and I’d been very mindful of the shops in Juneau with signs saying photography was prohibited. And this woman wasn’t being nasty, just informing me. I lifted my camera without being asked, deleted the photo, and showed her that it was gone. “Thank you,” she said, then told me I could take all the photos I wanted in the museum, but their agreement with the artists meant that no photos could be taken of the merchandise. (Eventually I was able to see the small sign prohibiting photography that wasn’t visible until a break in the crowd appeared.)

The store was a jumble of people and the doorway to the museum was packed. We decided to make our way across the store, where there was another door to the street. I wasn’t really interested in the merchandise now, or more accurately, wasn’t interested in supporting artists who don’t allow photos. If I wanted to steal the idea, I could just stand there and stare at the pieces and take notes. I also can’t be sympathetic if the artist is concerned about a poorly taken tourist snapshot making their art look less than glorious. Somehow the pieces in world-class museums that allow photography get by.

And if the artist believes that me taking a photo (instead of buying the actual piece to take home and look at all the time) means a lost sale, then they’re just stupid and I can’t be responsible for financing that.

It’s 2012. If a tourist wants to take a photo of your art, they’re putting it on par with other sightseeing attractions (hooray), and they might be planning to share it through social media, meaning exposure for you. (“Did you SEE that photo of the knickknack in Skagway, Madge? We need to check that out when we go on our cruise!”)

Still, it’s a private shop, and of course I respect that artists have the right to prohibit photography.

Outside of Corrington’s, I said, “Hey, Mike, I want to take your photo here in beautiful Skagway!” “Over here by this shop window, perhaps?” “Good idea, maybe right next to it?” “How’s this?” “Great!”

Skagway - Forbidden Art

Whew, good thing I forgot to bring the polarizing filter with me, or we’d have a crystal clear photographic record of the merchandise at Corrington’s... taken from outside the shop, where no signs are posted.


(Upon reflection - ha! get it? - I don’t even know why I wanted to take that photo when we walked in. Maybe that’s the real reason “the artists” don’t allow photos; the goods for sale are far less interesting when removed from their sparkly shop context.)

This dog agrees:

Skagway - Dog

Brief moments of rebellion and snark aside (and really, they take longer to write about than to live), we enjoyed just looking at things downtown.

Skagway - Alaska Liquor Store

Skagway - Skagway Outlet Store

Skagway - Olivia's Restaurant and-or Maria's Bistro

Skagway - Russian Nesting Dolls, Half-Price at $3999

Russian Nesting Dolls, half-price at $3999. (Photo allowed!)

I wanted to get some kind of Russian-made souvenir on this trip, but the shops here and in Juneau boasting Russian goods seemed to cater to bigger budgets (or those with a love of hats), and I just wanted a trinket. (I’m sure there was something, but nothing jumped out at me.)

Skagway - Skagway Bazaar

In our wanderings we popped into a couple of places for the free coins and charms. The mood wasn’t as relaxed as at Juneau, but people were nice enough, and we dutifully traversed the “No, thank you” (repeat, repeat, repeat) script until getting what was advertised. “Maybe we won’t bother with any other places,” I said.

Skagway - Kirmse's Curios Sign

Kirmse’s wasn’t participating in the free coin scheme, but it attracted us with a sort of museum-vibe that encouraged looking, so in we went. By this time, I’d decided that I wanted one of the ubiquitous “bear holding salmon in mouth” pieces that were competing in shop windows with Ulu knives for the top souvenir spot. (I’d already forgotten that our tourist book advertised one for $12.99. Just as well - the coupon was for Corrington’s.)

In the front of the shop were several sales people. “Oh noes! A gauntlet!” But they let us pass with few come-ons into the more kitschy, fun-looking back room full of little doodads. (The front room is also full of little doodads, but the way people stood manning the glass cases, it didn’t look like we’d be able to browse in peace.)

There was just something about this shop. I liked it. It had character. Maybe because it’s been in operation for over 100 years? I wanted to get my salmon-catching baaar cub (that’s how we say it) here.

A very nice woman started talking to us about the items we were looking at. (She came out of nowhere! There’s just no escaping salespeople...) She explained that the “jade” was Alaskan, but that the carving was actually done in China.

Oh. That was disappointing. I had hoped for an Alaskan-made souvenir. I said as much. “There’s no one to do it here,” she said.

She was, like I said, a very nice woman, but I felt skeptical. And as much as I liked the pieces, I felt like I ought to get something made completely in Alaska.

We exited and, after we crossed the street, I turned back to take a photo.

Skagway - Kirmse's Curios - Side of Building

We probably got another five, maybe six, steps before I started sighing.

“What a shame. I really liked those baaars.”

“Do you want to get one?”

“SIGH. Why do they have to be made in China? Are all of them made in China? Can you even get a carved bear holding a salmon that’s made in Alaska? Kirmse’s looks like such a good shop! They have all kinds of stuff from local artists? Why not this? Is it too cliche? SIGH.”

“Should we go back?”

”I just wonder if this is the only way to get a little baaaar cub. Can we even trust those other shops to tell us the truth? Do we want to go interrogating everyone with a salmon-bear for sale?” (If you’ve ever seen the episode of Friends where Phoebe works to create a situation where she must shop at Pottery Barn despite its perceived evils, this is the same territory.) “At least this is actually Alaskan jade.”

”Do you want to go back and get the baaar cub?”

SIGH. One last fake stall. “Yes!”

And so back we went, terrible people buying an Alaskan souvenir carved in China. A really, super-cute souvenir.

On the way out, I spotted the big dog in the front of the shop again, this time stopping to give him a few pats and read the sign saying his name and a bit about his life.

As we made it to the front door, a man asked if he could help with anything. Happily swinging my wrapped baaar cub, I felt chatty. “Yes, we just got a little figurine. That’s a great dog,” I gestured. “How old is (dog’s name)?” (I’d already forgotten what the sign said about his age. Also, I’ve since forgotten the dog’s name and whether it was male or female, so I’m just guessing.)

The man’s tone turned icy. “Didn’t you read the sign?”

”Um, yes, but I’ve forgotten.”

He blurted the dog’s age and walked away. Wow, good thing Kirmse’s Curios already had my money. (Although both of the women we spoke with in the back more than made up for this guy’s ill manners, so I’d have no qualms about shopping there again. He was just a bizarre dickhead. I wonder if he’s ever considered a career in food service on Norwegian Cruise Lines?)

Skagway - Pony Limos

We went back to enjoying the main street of Skagway, clueless that we had a few retail encounters far worse that that guy to get through before we returned to the ship.

Skagway - Native Plant Garden

Skagway - I Understand The Sofa Ladies

The title of this one is “I Understand the Sofa Ladies.” In every jewelry shop, you’d see the poor souls dragged along by their gem-minded friends and kin. I thought this shop was very kind (and smart) to provide a sofa for them. We were in here picking up another charm and coin, getting our discount book signed, our ship and cabin number noted, and the number of people in our party counted to make sure it equaled two or more. That’s the protocol.

Across the street, we saw a jewelry store not in the book but advertising free train charms. Mike (it was Mike, I swear), suggested that we might as well do a trick-or-treat stop there, too.

Skagway - Loose Diamond Center Lies

Even at this small size, the photo clearly shows the banner in the window. “FREE TRAIN CHARM. JUST WALK IN.”

The Loose Diamond Center of Skagway tells lies.

There is no “just walk in” if you want a free train charm. There isn’t even a sales pitch to get through. There isn’t even a mandate to try on something (as we’d already encountered in one Skagway shop).

Skagway - Loose Diamond Center Interior

I don’t know what you have to do to get the charm. We stood in the back of the store as instructed for ages, and each person who came up to sell us “chocolate diamonds” and “ammonlite” suddenly backed away when they heard what we wanted, telling us to wait, that it wasn’t their area. Eventually no one came near or made eye contact.

We waited. And waited. Finally we started approaching those with apparently nothing to do. But even people standing around, doing nothing, told us brusquely that they couldn’t help us. Like these two:

Skagway - Loose Diamond Center Employees - Not My Fave

So, that was unpleasant. And really sleazy. (Darn, they don’t have an entry on Yelp.) I want to say “what idiot buys jewelry from a place called ‘Loose Diamond Center’ anyway - that’s not even trying,” but the shop was busy.

“Clearly, they don’t need our business. Why should they make good on their signs and bother?” Mike said.


I hope anyone reading this will choose to patronize any of the other approximately 887 other jewelry ships in port instead.

Skagway - Jewelers, Jewelers, Jewelers

We had one more shop to visit for a free coin and charm, but I was sick of these places. In Mexico, it was a dance. In Juneau, it was a breeze. In Skagway, it was a trip to the dentist, ranging from “friendly if tedious check-up” to “root canal.”

But, after some discussion, and a stop to pick up another free necklace (from the same chain store as the one in Juneau where the process was so easy), we did find ourselves in the last shop, the one closest to the piers and near the train depot. Mike was reluctant by now but agreed to hang nearby. (These shops offering the coins insist that at least two members from the cabin be present. I did see one person get away with a solo grab, but she had to beg. Also, she was very pretty and the salesman was a young guy. But still she had to beg. It’s all such a racket, but we were having fun with it... until the end.)

We ambled around, looking in the cases, waiting for someone to be free. Eventually we spotted a well-coiffed woman standing in the back. She reminded me a bit of a haughty Nora Dunn character. I headed that way.

“Hi!” I smiled. “I’m here about the charm and coin?” I had the book open and pointed.

She didn’t look at me. “You have to walk around first.”

“I have.” I kept smiling.

“You have to walk around the store at least once.”

“I’ve been walking around for a bit now. Then I saw you and came over here.”

“This is the rule. You have to walk around.” She finally looked at me.

“Where is this rule in the advertisement? I don’t see it.” I dramatically squinted at the guide book.

“We aren’t actually affiliated with that book. We don’t have to follow their rules.” The woman actually sneered.

“You aren’t affiliated with this book?”


“This is not your shop being advertised?”

“We are not affiliated with the book.”

“So, you’re refusing to give me the charm and coin.”

“Ma’am, I am not refusing you anything. But you have to walk around first.”

“And I have already walked around. Look, I’m just trying to have a Positive Customer Experience here.” I looked at her meaningfully.

She sighed. “You have to try something on. That’s the rule. Why don’t you walk around and when you find something you like, let me know.” She started to walk away.

Oh no. We weren’t going back to that rodeo. I was going to win.

“I like this.” I pointed blindly at the case.

I could picture her lips parting in a “Fuck” as she turned around.


“This ring. It’s very pretty.” (It was, actually.)

She took it out of the case and stood there.

“I guess I’d like to try it on, please.”

I could almost see her grit her teeth. The ring didn’t come all the way down my finger, which is odd because I do have small hands despite the rest of me. Maybe my gloveless fingers had become puffy in the cold. It just added to her distaste, I’m sure.

“Oh, it doesn’t fit. But it’s so lovely. I guess I could have it sized.” She said nothing. I let the moments tick by, delighting in all this vengeful time wasting. “How much is it?”

“That ring is eight thousand dollars.”

“Oh rats.” I put on a Gosh Darn face of such proportions that Gomer Pyle would accuse me of overacting. “That’s out of my budget, I’m afraid.” I slipped the ring off and held it up between my fingers, admiring it.

“Still, it shows it have good taste, eh?” I smiled broadly. She had clearly given up and now was simply waiting for the charade to end. Ah, the shoe fits both feet.

“Oh well.” I shrugged.

She wordlessly put the ring away and, from a drawer next to the case, pulled out the charm and coin.

She still didn’t say anything as I volunteered our cabin number. “And that’s my husband over there. He can come over if you like.”

“No. It’s fine,” she muttered.

I took the items. “Thank you SO much. Bye!”

She slipped into a back room.


(But I was shaking from the tension, and I resolved to never go into another jewelry shop for a freebie again.)

Skagway - By the Tracks

Skagway - Obligatory Driftwood Building Photo

Supposedly this is the most photographed building in Alaska.

Skagway - Alaska Shirt Company

Near the start of downtown is a National Park station where you can pick up a stamp for your National Park passport. (There’s also a “Junior Ranger” station further along the opposite side of the street, but we didn’t find a stamp there.) We did that, but then the kind and sweet ranger I blew off with small talk while getting our stamps begged me into answering a survey about the park, and I didn’t feel I could admit that I didn’t even actually know where the park was. I just like collecting stuff (obviously).

It turns out that preserved downtown Skagway is part of the Klondike Gold Rush Historic National Park. Ooooh. Good. We weren’t cheating with our stamps, then.

We passed the snowplow that (is? was? can be? used to be?) attached to the front of the train:

Skagway - Train Snowplow

We were ready to go back to the ship now, feeling like we’d seen plenty, and it was getting to be that time. The walk back couldn’t have been more pleasant.

Skagway - Walking Back to the Ship

Back up in the room, something unexpected happened. I actually managed to grab the camera while gasping:

Norwegian Pearl - Surprise Balcony Traffic

Talk about surreal. You’re just sitting in your cabin and, hello, a guy steampunks past your balcony.

I could point out that Carnival always leaves a note in the cabin when they will be washing balconies, but I’m not sure what this contraption is for. He was just rolling past. It happened later in the cruise as well. I suppose they don’t leave a note about keeping your curtains closed if you want privacy because anyone with binoculars on shore could already peep right in.

We settled in for a nap around 2-something... and I just kept napping. Ongoing mono recovery or just being puny from the extra-sedentary months before the trip, I don’t know. We missed Pub Trivia, the Folkloric Show (I can hear Mike say “whew!”), and the Second City performance. Mike went to dinner in the MDR with Phil and Carol. I kept sleeping. We missed Early 80s Music Trivia (aaaaargh!) and the 55-to-Stay-Alive Game Show, whatever that was. (I definitely would’ve liked to have found out.)

I remember thinking at the time that I could’ve tried harder to get up for dinner, but the thought of bad food, indifferent service, and the din in the MDR made it to easy to give a depressed shrug and go back to sleep.

(I really was tired, though. I never would’ve let the cloud of another subpar MDR experience damper my enthusiasm for early 80s music; 1983 is my jam!)

Mike took advantage of my downtime to hit the casino with his Dad. In retrospect, I must stroke my chin and wonder whether he slipped me a Mickey, for only a snoring Shari would be unable to say “but we LIVE in LAS VEGAS” if the phrase “ship’s casino” was mentioned. In fact, I think I remember mumbling something about this as Mike’s gleeful shadow slipped out the door. (In response to “Howareyoufeeling?I’mjustgoingdowntothecasinookay?bebacklater!smoochsmoochsmooch!”)

Sometime before 2 a.m. I woke up for keeps. Thoughts: “Did I just sleep nearly 12 hours?” “Is Mike still in the casino?” “Damnit, I’m starving!”

I stumbled onto the balcony with the camera.

Not Quite 2 a.m. in Alaska

Moon From The Ship

Mike came in minutes later and after some chatter about his time in the casino (he won) and dinner (he lost), fell asleep. I - amid playing with my toys and staring at the night now and again - started counting the hours until breakfast.

09 December 2012 |






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