It was a relatively short stop so we decided to split our time between a brief trolley excursion and simply walking around downtown.
We once again awoke in town and had an ideal spot overlooking the city, which was quite colorful and calm that morning. There were several other cruise ships on either side of us as well so we had a feeling it might be a busy day full of lots of people– we weren’t wrong! The cities and shops fill fast when there are multiple ships in port!
We caught our trolley as soon as we disembarked the ship and headed out of the city, past the boat harbor and city park to Saxman Village. Our first stop focused on local customs and culture, specifically people indigenous to the area and the meaning behind and manufacturing of totem poles.
There was a carving center were students could learn about and make their own totem poles, which was closed that morning, as well as a sample pole outside where our guide spent some time talking about the meaning behind the different animals and symbols, the order of those symbols, and the significance of different paint colors and how those were achieved.
Just behind the shop was the Saxman Village Totem Park, which features 25 authentic replicas of totems from the area as well as a clan house for the local Tlingit tribe.
I was particularly interested in the history behind an unusual totem pole featuring an odd little man in a top hat on the top. According to the Alaska Historical Society:
The original pole at Tongass was a shame pole, erected in the 1880s to ridicule Secretary of State William H. Seward for failing to repay the gifts he had received from Chief Ebbits, clan leader of the Taant’a kwáan Teikweidí and one of the most high-ranking men at Tongass Village. According to oral histories among the Taant’a kwáan Tlingit, Seward stopped at Tongass Village on a trip to Alaska in 1869 and was welcomed by Chief Ebbits with all the gravitas and gifts befitting a fellow high-ranking leader. But after several years went by and Seward “did not repay either the courtesy or the generosity of his hosts, the Seward shame pole [was erected] to remind the Tongass people of this fact.”
We had some time to walk around before boarding our trolley and heading over to Creek Street, Ketchikan’s historical red light district. We had the option of staying and enjoying the area or taking the trolley back to the ship so of course we decided to explore!
I was surprised how many people opted to simply head back to the ship—we only had a few hours, but it was plenty of time to squeeze some sightseeing in!
Our first stop was Dolly’s House, which operated from the early 1900s until 1953 when the city outlawed prostitution. We were greeted by some friendly older women in period clothing who shared a few highlights about Dolly before setting us loose to walk around her house.
The various furnished roomed offered stories and information about Dolly and the women who worked for her, as well as tales of how the local men would make their way to her house.
One oddity that the women pointed out was the shower curtain upstairs—they told us to pay close attention to the flowers adoring the top of the curtain. See if you can discern what they used to make them!
After touring Dolly’s we continued down the boardwalk until we reached the small funicular running up the hill to Cape Fox Lodge. Despite being a relatively small climb and short ride, we could in fact see the city unfolding beneath us and view our ship across town.
The tram opens into the Cape Fox Lodge where both guests and visitors can explore the commons areas, including a restaurant, coffee shop, and second floor gallery of local artifacts and museum-like displays. I bought a coffee and we spent some time reading and catching views over the town.
We took the Married Man’s Trail we learned about at Dolly’s through the woods and back down the hill to the fish ladder to see if there were any salmon making their way upstream. Sure enough, there were quite a few fish relaxing in the small pools in between the levels of the falls. While we didn’t see many actively making their way up, it was clear they were on their way!
We followed the trail along the creek and crossed over from Creek Street to downtown so we could slowly begin making our way back toward the ship. We took some pictures, Brian bought a shirt for his dad at the fire department, and I popped in a Christmas store to get an ornament for my travel-themed tree!
As we approached the docks, the stores and streets became more and more congested with people who wanted to shop and didn’t want to stray too far from their ships. It was not our scene—we navigated around the chaos and popped into Annabelle’s Keg and Chowder House for a snack and drink.
The drinks were fine but the food was terrible—the one dish was so undercooked we actually had to send it back to the kitchen! It was really disappointing after our amazing experiences at SALT in Juneau and the Bayview Restaurant in Sitka—I don’t recommend it.
We wound our way back to the ship, enjoying the sea creature-inspired statues and final sights along the smaller docks on our way.
Once on board, we chilled out on our balcony until it was time to depart. It was mid-afternoon so we had a clear view of the city and shore as we departed. There was lots to see—from seaplanes to marine life. We snapped pictures and waved goodbye to both Ketchikan and Alaska.
It was fun seeing parts of the state from the water, especially the incredible beauty and vastness of Glacier Bay, but we both agreed that experiencing a handful of tourist ports didn’t give us a true flavor of all that Alaska has to offer.
We will definitely be back to explore the interior and the wilderness—maybe by train or bike next time!