The Skagway Travel Experience

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6/11/19 Westmark Inn, Skagway, Alaska

I’ve already commented about the effect of the cruise ships on Juneau – the town really exudes an unseemly  dependence on the thousands of cruise ship tourists who arrive there daily in the summer months.  But Juneau is a town of 32,000 people.  Imagine the impact of the same number of tourists on a town that is only 5% of that size!  It is telling, I think that when we arrived, via Ferry boat (the Columbia is the largest ship in the Alaskan Ferry Fleet) we were already the fourth ship in the harbor and were dwarfed by the likes of the Orion of the Seas which we had seen at Juneau, a ship that has 18 decks and a capacity of 4500 passengers!  

That’s a Cruise Ship at the End of the Street

I recognize that I am a tourist too and just because I don’t travel by cruise ship doesn’t mean other people can’t.  But the effects of temporarily increasing the town’s population by a multiple of ten on the town’s infrastructure cannot be underestimated.  Restaurants have very long lines, sidewalks and stores are very crowded.  Skagway businesses have also recognized the opportunities and so prices are high.  After all, they have to earn a year’s worth of living in just one season!

As one example, I was interested in the railroad trip up to White Pass, a trip with historical significance.  I was interested, however, only until I discovered that it would cost me $134 per person for the two hour trip.

I do have to give some kudos to our hotel.  Perhaps because cruise ship passengers don’t compete for hotel space, we found the Westmark Inn here to be a precious find.  They have recently upgraded all the rooms and it shows.  The Alaskan-gold-rush influence on furniture and decoration design is obvious and very well done.  Everything is clean, neat, and functional, as well as attractive.  Our room came with a king-size bed and a gorgeous bathroom.  What a huge step up from our experience in Juneau, even at the same price.  

Like Alaskans in general, the staff here has been exceptionally pleasant and friendly.  I need to give a shout out to Yari at the bar who, with a smile served perfect drinks.  But especially, Alyssa, who I think is the front-end manager of the restaurant, was terrific recommending things to do in Skagway with an envious enthusiasm.  She works hard but seems to enjoy her job and is interested in her customers – we need more people in the industry like her.

We also found the food in Skagway to be a better deal than in Juneau.  We’ve eaten two meals here at the hotel, (the Chilcoot Cafe).  For dinner last night I had the special, shrimp in a creole sauce over pasta that, while maybe not New Orleans perfect, was a good second.   Breakfast is a buffet with things like Eggs Benedict, sausage and biscuits, and pancakes.  There is more than enough of very tasty food for $17.  

Duck Farts at the Red Onion Saloon

Except for seafood and some game, I think that Alaska might be most noted for drinking – that might be a key factor in how Alaskans get through their winters.  Furthermore, a way to get cruise ship tourists to spend more money is to fill them with alcohol, so getting a drink in either Juneau or Skagway is really easy – there are bars everywhere and the prices aren’t too bad, at least compared to the food.  I think our best drinking experience in Skagway was at the Red Onion Saloon a place that, in its time, was a brothel as well as a bar.  There we had some special mixed drinks like a Madame Marie’s Martini, made with raspberry flavors, and a Lavendar Mist.  But they also offered, and we drank, the Alaska unofficial state drink, a Duck Fart, which is a layered drink of Kahlua, Bailey’s, and Royal Crown Whiskey.  Joan and I both thought they were terrific.  They are even better served by flirting waitresses dressed in tight corsets, and a madame who invites people ‘upstairs’ to have the special privilege of her company for just $10!  (Oh, for the days…)

Above the bar at the Red Onion Saloon

If you are interested in shopping, it is all here in Skagway like it was in Juneau.  There are jewelry stores, but it seemed to me, there aren’t as many, the hawkers aren’t as aggressive, and they seem to sell more genuine Alaska stuff, but I’m not exactly an expert.  A lot  of the art work was interesting, although I don’t tend to buy that kind of thing, Joan was interested in several items.  Trusting her judgment, they seemed to be slightly better bargains, than in Juneau.

Skagway and Tourists

One of my difficulties in writing these posts is that I seem to have two different missions.  One is to help people in their trip planning by talking about practical stuff like hotels, restaurants, and transportation.  And that is, of course, important stuff to know if you are traveling.  But, it seems to me, the more important question, is why do you travel at all – what is there to experience that is the reason to come here in the first place?  Here I am almost 900 words into this post, and I haven’t gotten around to talking about that.  So, I’m going to break this up into two posts, or else this would become much too long for anyone to read.