Port Comparison of Seattle vs. Vancouver Departures for Alaskan Cruises

Anne Vipond and William Kelly of the Vancouver Sun compare the experience of a Seattle departure vs. Vancouver:

It’s worth taking an Alaska cruise from Seattle if you would like to spend a day or two in Seattle and would like to visit Sitka. However, if you want to see all of the Inside Passage and visit the Klondike Gold Rush town of Skagway, take your cruise from Vancouver.

There is little or no difference in cost between a round trip cruise from Seattle or one from Vancouver, although the best prices from either port are usually offered on the May sailings. According to Harvey Strydhorst of Sea Courses Cruises, good pricing is still available on Alaska cruises, comparable to the bargains that were offered last year.

A Tale of Two Port Cities

Seattle Skyline view from Harbor Avenue, West Seattle Photo by Daniel Schwen

Seattle Skyline view from Harbor Avenue, West Seattle Photo by Daniel Schwen

A Morning in Haines, Alaska – Fort William H. Seward

Our next port of call was Haines; another small, historic fishing town along the inside passage. Haines is also home to Fort William H. Seward, a military post that was officially deactivated in 1946. Although known as ‘Fort Seward’, this army post should not be confused with the town of Fort Seward located in California or Seward, Alaska.

A building in Fort Seward; Haines, AK

A building in Fort Seward; Haines, AK

Its buildings still stand and have other uses, such as a hotel, a bed & breakfast, the community arts center and several private residences. These white buildings are situated in a rectangle around a grassy lawn and are quite easy to identify from the ship. Haines is also home to the largest concentration of bald eagles in the world and we could see them overhead as we came into dock.

We planned no sponsored excursions for our day in Haines, wanting to explore at our will and on our schedule. We did however wanted to make sure we had time to get to Skagway, a port just a few miles up the coast, accessible to us by ferry. We bought our tickets for an afternoon departure.

Dutch Sailing Canal Barge in Haines marina

Dutch Sailing Canal Barge in Haines marina

Setting out in Haines started with a walk up Front Street, visiting their marina first and find ourselves on Main Street. Our first goal was to find a great cup of coffee and we did so at a little coffee shop just past the curious Hammer Museum we had heard so much about. http://www.hammermuseum.org

We didn’t make it into the museum while we were there but apparently it houses over 1,500 hammers from around the world, dating back to Roman times.

Carving Crow totem pole, Alaska Indian Arts, Winter 2007-2008 Project

Carving Crow totem pole, Alaska Indian Arts, Winter 2007-2008 Project

We stopped at the Rusted Compass Coffee shop for a real latte, baked goods and some local conversation. The coffee on the ship was fine, for all intents and purposes, but freshly ground does add something.

Most of the morning was spent exploring the streets of Haines, working our way back to Fort Seward. There honestly wasn’t much to see in or out of town, but it was quiet and beautiful. Entering Fort Seward felt a little like stepping back in time. We traveled across the green and found ourselves in the fort’s old hospital, now the Alaska Indian Arts gallery and studio. The walls were lined with black and white photographs and vibrant Tlingit prints. In a large room off to the right, we found a local man working on an actual totem pole. He wasn’t a man of many words, any words actually. But it was very meditative to watch him at his work.

Haines, Alaska Map Sign

Haines, Alaska Map Sign

We finished our morning walking through some of the local shops along the edge of the Fort, we found an amazing flower garden and visited Dijon Delights right across the street for some smoked salmon.

Skagway Alaska

Taking the ferry to Skagway from Haines was approximately a 30 minute trip. We were surrounded by beautiful landscape; mountainous mostly, a peek at a glacier and keeping our eyes peeled for bear and sheep made this an enjoyable trip. We docked at the end of a very long walk-way, two larger cruise ships were in the harbor as well. At this time of our trip, Holland America Line did not have permission to dock at Skagway, thus the stop in Haines. This is no longer the case and Skagway is a port of call on many of their cruises.

Ferry from Skagway to Haines

Ferry from Skagway to Haines (Leaving Skagway)

The Arctic Brotherhood Building in Skagway, made of driftwood

The Arctic Brotherhood Building in Skagway, made of driftwood

Skagway was once the site of a bustling community, at the time of the Klondike Gold Rush. The height of of the gold rush was at the end of the 19th century and only lasted a few years past, but at one time Skagway boasted a population of 10,000 permanent residents, 30,000 if you count the prospectors passing through. Skagway now is home to less than 2,000 people year round, but brings in close to one million tourists during the summer season.

This town is also the starting and ending point for the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, once an active line for prospectors and Skagway residents. The WPYR is now utilized entirely by tourists, a great experience for those interested in the breathtaking landscape or the remarkable engineering feats of the railroad itself. Several trips are offered every day, from short to long, one-way to return fares.

White Pass and Yukon Railroad passing through Skagway

White Pass and Yukon Railroad passing through Skagway

The WPYR can take you into stations in the Yukon or even British Columbia, it also offers a service to hikers, dropping them off at various points along the rail so that they can hike one of the several passes east of Skagway. The train will pick hikers up along its return trek, or you can stay the night in the wilderness. The US Forest service even offers a cabin along the Laughton Trail or a caboose at the end of the Denver Pass, should hikers wish to stay in more of a comfortable environment overnight.

Ryan and I took our time walking the streets of Skagway. We peered in “Soapy Smith’s” Saloon, bought our son an adorable train engineers outfit, appreciated some local artwork at a gallery and wound up at the Red Onion Saloon.

Piano Player at the Red Onion

Piano Player at the Red Onion

The Red Onion Saloon is a bar/restaurant, known historically as being a famous Alaskan brothel. The waitstaff still play the character (legal activities only), and tours are available of the rooms upstairs. It was a really fun lunch. Simple sandwiches, salads and pizzas yes but they had some great beers on tap, wonderful entertainment on the piano and everyone was getting into the spirit. Including the long line of people winding out the front door. We arrived as an opportune time and grabbed a table immediately but it was obvious that wasn’t typically the case.

We ended our visit to Skagway with a visit to the train station, a trip to the original White Pass engine and an out of the way walk back to the dock. Great photos, perfect gifts for our little boy and sunny 60 degree weather.