July 18, 2022 9:11 PM   Subscribe

Going on an Alaskan Cruise. Help us plan all our time OFF the boat? Also, Vancouver BC.

Will be stopping in Vancouver, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Whittier. Looking for places we can get to relatively easily from the boat that are not just the cruise-associated excursions.

Very open to hearing about whatever you define as cool stuff in any of those places! I am especially interested in history, books, food, normal people doing normal things, walking around old neighborhoods, cool parks, art.

We are flying into Vancouver and will have an afternoon/eve/night and then get on the boat the following day. So I am also wondering what neighborhood to stay in in Vancouver that won't be too big a pain in the ass to get to from the airport and the boat. Also, would love recommendations for a fantastic place to have a nice dinner that night. We are queer, middle aged, lefty people who are used to city life.

If it's not obvious, neither of us has ever been on a cruise so I don't really know anything but I'm sure the actual boat part will be self-explanatory once we're there.
posted by latkes to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Coal Harbour is a good neighborhood in Vancouver for getting to the ship. It’s also right by the seawall and Stanley Park, which is truly wonderful and worth walking as much as you can if you like that sort of thing. The west end neighborhood is also walking distance - I think it’s the best neighborhood in North America. Extremely dense, but quiet and full of trees, and with all the delightful shops and restaurants on bustling Denman and Davie streets edging the neighborhood. If you aren’t comfortable with much walking though, bear in mind that the West End is purposefully difficult to navigate by car.
posted by congen at 9:31 PM on July 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Oh, and you can take the train from the airport to within a 5-20 minute walk of pretty much anywhere in Coal Harbour.
posted by congen at 9:33 PM on July 18, 2022

Alaska is a big place. Where do you disembark and how long are the port calls?
posted by woman at 10:04 PM on July 18, 2022

Response by poster: Vancouver, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Whittier. Basically like 9 AM to 8 PM.
posted by latkes at 10:18 PM on July 18, 2022

I recently stayed at the Sylvia Hotel in Vancouver. It's near Stanley Park across from the seawall. Old school hotel close to Robson Street.
There's an amazing Indigenous restaurant, Salmon n' Bannock, fantastic owner and delicious food. The UBC Museum of Anthropology is wonderful, filled beautiful displays.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge exceeded my expectations. Well worth the cost of admission.
posted by jennstra at 10:31 PM on July 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

I can’t imagine you’re staying in Whittier. It’s the transfer to Anchorage. Most of the population lives in one building, no joke. It has 2 nice hikes, one at Portage Pass and one to a falls. But there is no real shopping or downtown.
posted by kerf at 11:02 PM on July 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah true that's the end of the trip.
posted by latkes at 11:55 PM on July 18, 2022

In Ketchikan, visit the Misty Fjords. There will be choices to do that via boat or plane. Boat is less likely to be canceled due to low-lying clouds. In Juneau, go on a whale watch boat trip. In Skagway, go on the White Pass Railway. In Alaskan cruise ports (at least in my experience) there are not cool underground things to do. Take the ship-sponsored excursions, because that way if they run late the ship is required to wait for you to get back before they leave.
posted by Daily Alice at 1:16 AM on July 19, 2022

Yes, these places are very small - unless you have access to a private car or boat the things you can do during your shore time are all very much on the beaten track/are excursions. And if you're going to do excursions, do ones that is affiliated with the cruise so you are protected from delays and such. To put this into context - you can hit the highlights of Anchorage in a day with time to spare and that is the biggest city.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:34 AM on July 19, 2022

The SE Alaska Discovery Center in Ketchikan is worth a visit. It's in the middle of town so easy to see if it's a short day. The website sucks, otherwise I'd link to it.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:32 AM on July 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

You also might try the Cruise Critic message boards to see if there's a Roll Call for your cruise. We met some interesting people that way.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:36 AM on July 19, 2022

Ketchikan and -- particularly -- Skagway are tiny. Unless you are going on a very small ship, way more people will get off your boat than actually live in Skagway. Ketchikan, too, can end up with more tourists than residents when a couple of ships are in at the same time.

It will not really be possible to go to places that aren't filled with tourists, because those places essentially don't exist when a boat is in port and to the very limited extant that they do, you going there would make them full of tourists, which is pretty unfair to the locals.

There is usually a shore excursion available at Skagway that includes the White Pass railway and a show at Liarsville Camp that we found pretty entertaining. It's very touristy, but still fun if you let yourself feel that it is. My Dad didn't even want to be on the cruise and he was grumpy the whole time, but he liked that bit.

We also liked visiting a dog sled camp, which is an option available in a couple of ports of call. And even if you aren't naturally outdoorsy, many of the shore excursions like hikes or canoe trips are meant for people with fairly limited athleticism or outdoors experiences, so they can be fun and safe even if they seem like things you wouldn't normally do.

In Vancouver, the cruise ship docks are right downtown, and directly on the main public transit line, so they are easy to get to from a lot of places. My personal recommendation, based on the prevalence of protests on Vancouver bridges recently, would be to stay downtown so that you don't have to cross any bridges to get there in the morning, but downtown hotels don't come cheap.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:45 AM on July 19, 2022

I am from Vancouver (but currently live in Ottawa) and we did this cruise in 2013. We were a lot younger than 90% of the people on the cruise (my partner was middle aged and I was younger; we're both middle-aged now) and not cruisers and felt pretty out of place, but it was worth it for what we saw. There was fundamentally no one else our age or demographic on this cruise.

Vancouver: I recommend you stay in the West End - it's the residential area adjacent to the downtown area and Stanley Park and the traditional gay village of Vancouver. You can easily take the bus/Skytrain to the cruise ship terminal. I like the Sandman Davie and stay there whenever I am in town. Do be warned that there is visible homelessness in this area that can seem a bit dodgy but it's safe here because there is a strong community. To get there from the airport, take the skytrain to Yaletown/Roundhouse, then exit the door and catch the #6 bus and ride it like 10 blocks to Davie/Thurlow and the hotel is halfway up the next block on the opposite side of the street. To get to the cruise terminal, do the opposite (6 to Yaletown Roundhouse and then Skytrain to Waterfront Station). You can pay on all buses and Skytrain fare gates with credit cards.

For dinner, I would go with an international cuisine that Vancouver does well - I would recommend Chinese, sushi, Korean or Indian. My suggestions near the hotel I've recommended are Downtown Sushi (casual), Kinara (Indian, fairly casual) or any of the Korean restaurants that suit your fancy over on Robson between Nicola-ish and Denman Streets (Vancouver's sort of Koreantown). If you want to go to a fancier/destination place outside of the neighbourhood, I would recommend The Eatery (casual inventive sushi) and Vij's (more upscale Indian). The best Korean is still going to be in that section of Robson. For Chinese, I unfortunately don't have any recommendations because I can't eat gluten and it's a very gluten-y cuisine.

Juneau: we just wandered around downtown because Juneau is a reasonable size city and is interesting in its own right as a place (and not simply as a cruise ship destination). We checked out the (touristy) Red Dog Saloon and it was cool and then we had dinner at the Rookery Café and it was excellent, though I think food options have increased a lot since then.

Skagway: This is less a town and more a gold rush museum town. It's cool, but it's not really normal people doing normal things in the way Juneau is. We did an excursion here where they drove us up to White Pass with bikes and we biked down and it was not great. I wish I had done the White Pass train excursion. We also went to the Skagway Brewing Company for lunch and it was great. That part felt more like real people doing normal things.

Ketchikan: The part they drop you off at is basically a cruise oriented tourist-trap town. It's not great. We did a kayaking excursion and it was fantastic and I would totally recommend it. I think the real town is north of where the cruise ships drop you, but we didn't find our way there.
posted by urbanlenny at 10:54 AM on July 19, 2022

The best Thai food I have ever eaten was at Starfire Restaurant, 230 4th ave in Skagway. Amazing Pad Thai. My wife had yellow curry and it was excellent, also.
posted by gnossos at 11:05 AM on July 19, 2022

If you do the White Pass train excursion and you can afford it book the VIP option. You will have comfortable, swivel chairs (vs. wooden benches), air conditioning (instead of open-air), food and open bar (none in other cars), and a guide who is exclusive to your car. Also, you will be on the final car on the train, which has an observation deck that you can use for views and photos of the gorgeous scenery.
posted by John Borrowman at 11:49 AM on July 19, 2022

If you have the means, a helicopter ride up to Mendenhall Glacier. (Juneau)
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:50 PM on July 19, 2022

Seconding jennstra’s recommendation of Salmon ‘n’ Bannock in Vancouver. I took my mother there after seeing the recommendation in this thread and it was fantastic! Great food, lovely servers…we had a terrific time and I definitely plan to go back.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:30 PM on July 22, 2022

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