Alaska Ports A Day in Sitka/A Day in Haines

When the waitresses and bar tender were matching the patrons shot for shot, around 2 PM at Mean Queen in Sitka, we realized we were probably in an authentic (wild!) Western town!

20180811 - Sitka - 360.jpg

Most Southeast (Inside Passage) Alaska Cruises include a variety of ports. Some have ports we’ve visited have been developed by the cruise line companies themselves, filled with shops similar to those found anywhere. Things can seem a little “sanitized”, even on the historically bawdy Creek Street in Ketchican. Some ports have more corporate rather than independent shops. To handle the crush of daily cruisers in the summer, those communities need to hire people from out of town. Most of the elbows you’ll rub will be with fellow cruisers and often “local” guides and helpers all seem to be from somewhere else. That is not to say those places aren’t authentic; real people live and work there, but as a cruiser, you’d have to travel a little further afield to find them!

Some communities have rejected that kind of development in order to keep their own unique identities in their ports. Our days in Sitka and Haines during our UnCruise Safari Endeavor felt like the later.

Sitka

20180811 - Sitka - 083.jpg

We arrived in Sitka and after checking into our hotel, we immediately went out to source some lunch.

 Sitka

Sitka

Totem Square Hotel, was conveniently located within walking distance of everything in town. The rooms were simple, clean and comfortable. The service was excellent, with helpful folks at the front desk who pointed us in the right direction to find what we wanted to see. A “Fisherman’s Breakfast was offered early on the first floor restaurant, but we’d recommend heading over to the Highliner Coffee Company for homemade bagels and pastry instead.

 Our comfortable room at Totem Square Hotel

Our comfortable room at Totem Square Hotel

 We decided to get some pizza at Mean Queen

We decided to get some pizza at Mean Queen

We wandered to the Mean Queen, which looks like a dive bar with a day job as a pizza joint. The pizza was excellent, and the local characters were entertaining. Our stone cold sober waitress kept downing shots with the bartender and fishermen at the bar but she didn’t miss an order! The fisherman taking shots eventually started getting profane and a local grandma, dining with her granddaughters, hollered across the bar "HAVE SOME RESPECT!” The fishermen were sufficiently cowed, and immediately took it down a notch. Then she turned to us to apologize to us for the whole scene. We were immediately enchanted with Sitka!

Without thousands of cruisers in port, we were able to wander around town, chatting with shopkeepers and artisans. We were able to walk from Totem Square and Russian Hill on one side of town, all the way to Totem Park/National Historical Park at the other end of town.

Things to do in Sitka:

Community House (Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall) and Prospector Statue in Totem Square

 Our hotel in Totem Square was in sight of the Prospector Statue and the Pioneer Home

Our hotel in Totem Square was in sight of the Prospector Statue and the Pioneer Home

St Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church

We toured the St Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral before it closed for the day, leaving time to wander by the waterfront down to Totem Park in the bright late afternoon and evening sun.

 Churches, St Michael’s in rear, in Sitka

Churches, St Michael’s in rear, in Sitka

Castle Hill

20180812 - Sitka - 561.jpg

An interesting view point in Sitka, with a lot of history. Used by the Tlingit groups, a Russian fort and later became the place where the Russians “sold” Sitka to the US.

Shopping along Lincoln and Harbor Streets

Along Lincoln Street there are several unique galleries and shops, as well as places to buy tee shirts and shot glasses. There were several fur shops, which attract attention with fur bikinis and “mankinis” in their windows! We stopped in on of many very good outdoor gear stores to pick up a few things we forgot for our expedition.

20180811 - Sitka - 019.jpg

One of the things I loved about Sitka was that there was so much more to do other than shopping, all within walking distance. We followed the Lincoln Road headed towards the Bishops House, which is part of the National Historical Park.

Walk Along Crescent Harbor

20180811 - Sitka - 097.jpg

Russian Bishops House and Museum

20180811 - Sitka - 088.jpg

Sheldon Jackson Salmon Hatchery

Part of the Sitka Sound Science Center, the hatchery provides an opportunity to learn about salmon and depending on the time of year, watch salmon in a salmon ladder swimming up stream!

20180811 - Alaska - 024.JPG
 Piers and walkways along the coast allow for a nice walk from the center of town out to the Totem Park.

Piers and walkways along the coast allow for a nice walk from the center of town out to the Totem Park.

Sitka National Historical Park

The Sitka National Historical Park manages several buildings and parks in Sitka, including the Bishops House and there are also several National Historic Landmarks in Sitka. You can find a list of these at the visitors center or the Bishops House.

20180811 - Sitka - 246.jpg
 The visitor center features displays and films as well as studio space for working Tlingit artisits.

The visitor center features displays and films as well as studio space for working Tlingit artisits.

The visitor center is the trail head for several trails through Totem Park where we were able to use our phone to read about each totem displayed. We also visited an area where you could clearly see huge schools of salmon heading upstream to spawn.

20180811 - Sitka - 286.jpg
20180812 - Sitka - 460.jpg

During our hike around Totem Park, we were treated to a dramatic mid air battle for territory by a pair of bald eagles!

20180811 - Sitka - 344.jpg

Alaska Raptor Center

The Alaska Raptor Center, just outside the town, is a rehabilitation center for raptors. Injured and abandoned birds are taken here with the goal of being released back into the wild. Many are treated, gain strength in an indoor open air flight training center where they have almost no contact with humans, and are released. There are also some resident birds that cant ever be released. They are named and come out on display occasionally for educational purposes.

20180812 - Sitka Raptor Center & Fortress of the Bear - 053.jpg
 Dozens of eagles live in the Flight Training Center for a short time after being treated to strengthen their wings and prepare for life outside again. The windows are all soundproof and one way glass so birds don’t get habituated to people. The roof is open allowing them to experience the elements and rehabilitators provide food in a way that allows them to hunt and seek food rather than being hand fed.

Dozens of eagles live in the Flight Training Center for a short time after being treated to strengthen their wings and prepare for life outside again. The windows are all soundproof and one way glass so birds don’t get habituated to people. The roof is open allowing them to experience the elements and rehabilitators provide food in a way that allows them to hunt and seek food rather than being hand fed.

Some raptors, including owls, are permanently injured and unable to be released. These residents birds are used for educational programs and live out their lives at the Raptor Center.

Further Afield:

Fortress of the Bear

20180812 - Sitka Raptor Center & Fortress of the Bear - 352.jpg

See our post about the bears we visited at Fortress of the Bear with photos and videos HERE: Bears Of Southeast Alaska

Fishing Charters and Kayaking

Stop at the Sitka Visitors Information Center at 303 Lincoln St to find fishing charters and kayaking guides.

Hiking and Biking Trails

There are several hiking and biking trails around Sitka. A free guide from www.travelsitka.com offered in many shops and restaurants and online, shows many trails. Locals also use bicycles as transportation around town.


Haines

20180818 - Haines - 0857.jpg

Things to do in Haines

 Ft Seward

Ft Seward

Ft Seward

This former US Army Fort was sold after WW2 to a group of veterans who established an art colony. We enjoyed seeing the interesting architecture of the former officers homes and reading interpretive plaques on the old barracks building up on the hill and visiting the Alaska Indian Arts.

 Officers Housing converted to private homes and galleries

Officers Housing converted to private homes and galleries

Alaskan Indian Arts

20180818 - Haines - 1067.jpg

Alaska Indian Arts is a non profit dedicated to preserving Northwest Indian art forms located in the old hospital in Ft Seward. During our visit, we were able to meet and cat with Lee, one of the original founders of the world famous Chilkat Dancers, and see a totem laid out for preservation.

Visit DownTown Shops and Museums

See the Haines Visitors Center for a walking tour or wander this small western town on your own. We wandered a bit on our own, exploring the local grocery store to get an idea of the high cost importing food into remote areas. (the “road” to the lower 48 is a 7 hour detour through Canada, so most goods arrive via boat or plane)

20180818 - Haines - 0944.jpg
20180818 - Haines - 0849.jpg

We also enjoyed that “town” was set up more for local use than cruise ship passengers, including this fellow getting “stocked up”!

 A local “resident” gets stocked up on food while in town

A local “resident” gets stocked up on food while in town

Haines was very concerned about salmon, the life blood of the town, fishing, touring, all of it revolves around the salmon.

20180818 - Haines - 0898.jpg

Hammer Museum

20180818 - Haines - 0807.jpg

Hammers from all over the world, including, according to our guide, some the Smithsonian sent to AK!

Haines Brewing Company

 There are plenty of places to relax with a local brew in Haines

There are plenty of places to relax with a local brew in Haines

Some of our fellow passengers decided to while away a few hours here, enjoying local brews and spirits here.

Bike or Hike Out along Front St to the Ferry Terminal, Portage Cove Wayside

 A view back to the cruise port and Fort Seward from a view point along Lutak Road

A view back to the cruise port and Fort Seward from a view point along Lutak Road

We were comped bicycle rentals at Sockeye Cycle, by UnCruise. The shop is just a few steps from the cruise ship dock, and within minutes we were outfitted with bikes, helmets and locks so we could explore the down town and areas around on 2 wheels.

Watch for Bears On Chilkoot River Bank

20180818 - Haines - 0120.jpg

Taking care to follow the important local rules about living in bear country, including not bringing food or fishing on the “bear side” of the river bank, late summer when the salmon are running is the best time to try to spot bear on the shore. Ask about this at the Visitors Center or engage a professional guide to stay safe! To see more about the bears we saw during our AK trip Click Here

Hike Battery Point Trail or Mt Ripinsky

The Haines Visitor Center can provide directions to trail heads within easy walking distance of town.


Further Afield

Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

A pair of eagles with a huge nest in the Bald Eagle Preserve

We had an excursion from Haines, driven by mini bus to the put in, we were treated to river float on the Chilkat River through the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

20180818 - Haines - 0434.jpg

This section of the river stays warmer and attracts thousands of breeding eagles every spring. During our late summer visit we were able to see enormous eagles nests and many birds that inhabit the area surrounded by dramatic peaks and glaciers.

20180818 - Haines - 0213.jpg


Chilkat Pass

 A drive along the Chilkat Pass, despite ongoing construction, allows alluring views of mountains, eluvial river, and glaciers that define Southeast Alaska.

A drive along the Chilkat Pass, despite ongoing construction, allows alluring views of mountains, eluvial river, and glaciers that define Southeast Alaska.

Renting a car (recent construction work on a controversial new highway here makes biking a little more risky) you could drive the pass, stopping along the way to enjoy scenic views of the area.























Crushing Boarding Day on an Ocean Cruise

Today's mass market cruise ships are huge floating resorts with dozens of venues; restaurants, shows, water slides. It can be overwhelming when you board!  If you have an ocean cruise in your future, follow these tips to crush boarding day!

20180306 - Cozumel - 023.jpg

Tips Before Boarding

  • Check your documents about when you can check in at port, and where the port is, it varies based on your loyalty with the cruise line, the port authorities and what time your ship departs. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to arrive well before the check in closing time, which is often an hour or more before the ship sails, in order to allow officials to approve the passenger list before sailing.
  •  
  • Sign any waivers or online permissions for activities.  This way your kids can participate without you needing to be there to check them in and sign once you board. 
  •  
  • Carry your required IDs and set sail pass in your hand or a super accessible pocket on your carry on...DO NOT leave these in your checked bags at the pier, because you can’t board without these and they may not be able to locate your bags quickly! (And do not let them fall out of your pocket and fall on the family room floor in the predawn darkness, miss your flight and wake your parents with a frantic 3 AM call...oh wait, maybe that's just our kids!)
  •  
  • If you want to change into your bathing suit or out of your travel clothes, pack those in your carry on too. On most cruise lines your room won’t be available till after lunch, but you’ll be able to change in one of the rest rooms and hit the pools or hot tubs right away!
  •  
  • Don't pack your medications or valuables in your checked luggage, keep these with your hand luggage in case your check luggage takes a while to arrive (or very rarely, gets lost all together. This is very, very rare, I've cruised so many times and never lost a bag on board for longer than it takes security to determine that all those bottles in my bag are IN FACT sunscreen. Hey, I'm Irish!)
  •  
  • I like to carry on something I wouldn’t mind wearing to dinner on day 1 just in case luggage is delayed. This has almost never happened to me in 25 years of cruising, but it’s a habit that makes me feel better, just in case!
  •  
  • Check your cruise line's rules about what is allowed on board and what is not, you'll know the obvious stuff, no weapons, candles, or illegal drugs, but some might surprise you! Many heat accessories, like clothes irons and hair dryers are banned, and lines have their own rules about bringing alcohol on board.
 To find all the places to go, check daily ship's program

To find all the places to go, check daily ship's program

 

Where to Go After Boarding

Got kids? 

Get them an arm band right away. Should your kids be in a children's program and the emergency alarm sounds, that band will ensure the staff gets your children to you at the muster station. You go there, they go there, everyone is together, no hysterical, frantic searching.

 Water slides aboard Liberty of the Seas

Water slides aboard Liberty of the Seas

Got drinks? 

If you want a package, there are plenty of opportunities to do that as soon as you board, you literally cannot walk 5 feet without a table, a tee shirt, a server, tent card, billboard, or airplane trailing a banner offering you the opportunity to get your beverage package (ok. Maybe those last two are slight exaggerations) Hint hint, if you can, you should be buying it advance online at a discount. Wait till you get an email offering a percentage off the packages before your cruise and then take advantage of the sale)

Got reservations?

If you want to make dining reservations for specialty restaurants, go to any of the restaurants or dining rooms and you can sign up there. You can also go see your table if you have traditional dining. If you would like get spa appointments, go to the spa and talk to staff there. Some ships have Broadway style shows and might require tickets, even if the show is free, stop at the box office and make those reservations. Lastly, if you haven't planned your activities for the port days, visit the Shore Excursion Desk and talk about what what might interest you.  Some ships will allow you to fill out a form for excursions, or reserve on line in your cabin.  Hint hint, discounts are often offered online before sailing for all of these reservations, and will save you time on board making reservations!

 A specialty restaurant aboard Rhapsody of the Seas 

A specialty restaurant aboard Rhapsody of the Seas 

Hit the buffet!

Ahh, now you are ready to relax, and possibly eat. The buffet will usually be open and very busy! If other venues are open, they might be less crowded. Another option is to put lunch off until the time cabins open up.  Everyone will be going to see their cabin and the buffet should be quieter. 

 Buffet aboard the Rhapsody of the Seas

Buffet aboard the Rhapsody of the Seas

Get a towel!

Not all towels will be made into monkeys. You’ll need a couple of pool towels for your deck chair, and excursions. Get a couple per person now, checking them out with your sea pass and you’ll have them when you need them. When they get drippy, change them out for fresh ones at stand at the pool deck. Some lines keep these in your cabin and will change them out regularly, others require you get them on the pool deck.

 Towel monkey

Towel monkey

Grab a deck chair!

...and relax! Pick one by the pools if you have kiddos, in the adult area/solarium if you don’t. You don't need to hold it all day! There are loads of chairs everywhere, no need to hosey one with your towel, when it's so easy to find another later! Also, if you have kiddos, do they EACH really need a whole chair? Especially when they spend so much time IN the pool that they turn pruney and the pool turns yellowy? Really, I found one chair for me and one for the "kids" to dump there stuff on and for hubby to perch on while watching them in the pool was plenty, I couldn't get them out of the pool anyway!

 Solarium aboard Rhapsody of the Seas

Solarium aboard Rhapsody of the Seas

Hit the bar!

If you’ve purchased an all inclusive drink package, you can get started, otherwise, you can just hand over your sea pass card and start imbibing!  Just remember all those drinks do end up on your bill at the end of the cruise!  Also, be aware of the "souvenir" cup- a drink will cost more if it comes with a cup you can keep...if you don't want the cup, do't grab one off the tray, instead ask the waiter to bring you a drink from the bar in a regular cup.  

Get a room! 

An announcement will be made and you can hit your cabin. Your attendant probably will stop by, to make sure you know when the muster drill will be held. This is a good time to make any special requests you have (mini bar, ice, extra towels, etc) and I always like to let them know when they can expect me to be out of the cabin for dinner, so they can plan out their time to freshen up your cabin each evening.

 A cabin aboard Rhapsody of the Seas

A cabin aboard Rhapsody of the Seas

Get your @&$ to the muster! 

Come on, no one loves muster, but it’s a must, (which is maybe why they call it muster? Or maybe not!) and everyone hates waiting for that one person who shows up late and makes everyone else stand in the blazing sun single file waiting for them. Go on time, you only need your sea pass in hand (which tells crew where your life boat is) and to shut your yap, put your phone in your pocket and listen, the rest is easy and it's over quickly, so you can get back to the fun!

 Most ships no longer require you to wear your life vest to muster, but its a good idea to know where they are in your cabin before you go to muster.  

Most ships no longer require you to wear your life vest to muster, but its a good idea to know where they are in your cabin before you go to muster.  

After this bit of compulsory activity, the rest of the cruise week is yours. Do, or don’t do, there is no required, just this Yoda-like advice!