Trip log, day seven. Sitka.
9-Night Alaskan Cruise from Vancouver
July 14, 2019
Personal Navigator – Day 7
Guests Ashore: 8:00 am Guests Onboard: 3:00 pm
Sitka, a new port to explore! The Disney Wonder docks about 10 minutes from the downtown area. There is a complimentary shuttle that runs from the dock to the town. We were up, at the gym and out of Cabanas somewhat ahead of schedule.
There isn’t much at the dock except for a family owned restaurant and gift shop which had a jewelry store, shocking, I know.
We normally start at the furthest point and work backwards when exploring ports. So, we headed to the shuttle and figured we’d have some time to explore the terminal offerings when we returned.
The shuttle transported us from the terminal to downtown in the advertised time of about 10 minutes.
We had an independent tour set up with our friends. We were instructed to check in for our tour at Centennial Hall in town. We did not know it at the time, but this is the same spot the shuttle from the dock uses. In the same area is the Sitka Public Library, which may or may not have free WiFi. It was Sunday and not yet open when we were walking around.
Perfect! We were there ahead of our 11 o’clock departure. This gave us time to walk around taking pictures of the boat harbor and do some window shopping in town.
The church is under renovations right now, but we had the opportunity to walk around the building which is no doubt a Russian design. Sitka is a big deal; this is the location where the United States through the Alaska Purchase squired the land in 1867 from Russia for the low price of $7.2 million.
My last stop before heading back to Centennial Hall was a thrift shop, Tongass Threads Consignment, because why not? I scored an awesome deal on a Norwegian sweater a few years ago in Stavanger, so why not press my luck in Alaska? Isabelle found a table full on comic books, and I spotted something truly amazing, but I did not want to carry it around all day on our tour. I told myself, if we have time after the tour to return, and it was still there I’d buy it…
It was almost time for our tour. Centennial Hall offers public restrooms and information guides and maps for places around Sitka. It is also the home of the Alexander Baranof statue. Baranof was the chief manager of the Russian American Company and First Colonial Governor of Russian America from 1790 to 1818. The island which Sitka is location also bears his name.
We met up with our driver and loaded in the van.
Along with our friends, we were joined by 3 others for this somewhat private tour of Sitka. Our driver was also our guide for the day, and she was fantastic. We’d book a tour with her again in a heartbeat. She works for Sitka Wilderness Tours, a tour operator that is locally owned and operated.
The tour hit most of the hot spots in town, the lone exception was the brewery, but she was willing to stop, but time did not permit and the other family was not interested. The points of interest on our tour included the Raptor Center, the Fortress of the Bear sanctuary, and the National Park to see totem poles.
Our guide gave us the option to select the order we visited the various sites, but we all agreed to have her determine the best order based on her local knowledge to best avoid other coach bus tours.
The tour started out right away with a drive through downtown around Saint Michael’s Cathedral along with some background information on Sitka and we stopped along a channel which was originally an airport that has since been converted into a boarding school for rural Alaskans to attend high school.
We drove by Castle Hill, the location where the Russia formally transferred Alaska to the United States, as we headed to the Raptor sanctuary.
The Alaska Raptor Center is a rehabilitation facility for not just Bald Eagles, but other birds including some really adorable owls. The facility offered an up close view of these larger birds who are in various states of rehabilitation, some however, are permanent residents following their injuries that prevent them from returning to the wild.
Back in the van to the Fortress of the Bear, which is housed in an old pulp mill. Back in the day, Alaskan banned logging in the area and thus made it very difficult for a pulp mill to sustain business. The area has been reclaimed for industrial storage and in this case the water treatment tanks made of concrete are being used to house brown and black bears which have been orphaned.
Alaska has a law that basically kills off orphaned bears. The state does not allow the rehabilitation of bears at this time so this sanctuary is saving the bears that would otherwise just be killed. Harsh reality, but it is what it is. The facility was a great way to see bears if you are dead set on seeing bears during your time in Alaska. It was not nearly as cool as seeing bears in the wild like we did at Mendenhall Glacier in 2017, as it was more like visiting a zoo, but still awesome to see these magnificent creatures.
Up next was a stop at the Sitka National Historic Park where we saw some replicas as well as some original totem poles which are being kept in a covered area to protect them. It turns out that it not uncommon for old totems to be recreated if they start to degrade.
The cool part is when they raise a new totem, they use original techniques with ropes to raise them instead of modern machinery like a crane.
Our tour started about 15 minutes late and our guide was cool, she’s like ‘we started late, we will finish late, you will get your full tour time in.’ In fact, she was still willing to take us to the brewery, but we read the room if you will and didn’t bother to even ask the other family. I’m just saying this a positive note of our guide and tour company, not a negative. Its always awesome when we stumble upon a guide who is willing to go off script if time permits.
We returned to Centennial Hall with just under an hour to go before the last shuttle back to the Disney Wonder. Yippee-kay-aye, blog readers!
I returned to the thrift shop and it was still on there, the Nakatomi Plaza Die Hard Blu-ray collection! Yes, the special limited edition model of Nakatomi Plaza that I came really close to buying on Prime Day a couple years back. Not sure if the digital copy code has been redeemed or not, I’ll investigate this when I get home.
Anyway, last year, I just bought the movies for $18 figuring I didn’t want to pay that much more for a dust collector. Well, $10 was worth it just for the model and we arrived in Vancouver with near empty carry on bags. To my surprise, the price was only $5.99 as the thrift shop lowered the price on items after they are in the shop for a certain number of days.
With my prize in hand, I rejoined the gang at Centennial Hall and loaded onto the 2:30, the final shuttle back to the port.
We had about 20 minutes before all aboard time.
Emily and Isabelle picked up some souvenirs at the port gift shop while I headed down to the family run restaurant right off the pier, Crab & Brew.
In the morning when I first walked around the port, I saw they had some beer from the local brewery. I headed down to enjoy a 20oz sample of their local Spruce Tip IPA. The brewery pays local kids something like $5 a pound for the spruce.
We’ve cut it close before, but today was the first time ever that we were still ashore past all aboard time. Well, technically, we got in line to board the ship around 2:55, but we were still on the gangway waiting to go through security at 3 o’clock.
We were not the last aboard either. Sitka had more to offer and not nearly enough time ashore. We already have a good excuse to book another cruise with a stop in Sitka.
Back on the Wonder, Isabelle went to make crafts before we all met Remy.
We still had time before dinner and it was a lovely day which meant it was time for deck 4 and shuffle board.
As we sailed away from Sitka, we were given a nice view of Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano. The volcano is somewhat famous due to an April Fool’s day prank back in the early 1970’s. A guy dropped tires into the crater and ignited them to generate a plume of smoke on April 1, 1974.
Tonight’s dinner was back in Tiana’s Place for the Mardi Gras party!
Tiana and Louis made the rounds and we all joined the kids in the conga line around the restaurant after getting hopped up on beignets. Even with the timing of the show, our serving team continued to impress.
We had more than enough time to get over to Crown & Fin for 90s Music trivia.
While we were waiting for the trivia to begin, I noticed someone interesting on the wall. It was a framed copy of Marvel’s #1 Captain Britain and a Captain Britain mask. To be honest, I never really noticed this before, but afterwards, I read up on Captain Britain and there may have been a mention in Endgame.
Buckets N Boards was onboard for our evening entertainment. Matt and Gareth put on a really energetic show that is not to be missed. Grandpa, hippie, cheeseburger, squirrel <— inside joke for those on the sailing, not a crazy Winter Soldier reference.
After an exciting day, my eyelids were unwilling to stay open any longer. Thankfully, tomorrow is a sea day.
Last night during turn down service, the following letter and Canadian customs declaration form was left for us to complete and turn in today.
I once met a young adventurous couple from Sitka (at a Club Med in Mexico) and learned a bit of the place and its early Russian history. They didn’t mention the over-supply of “Die Hard” memorabilia!
But this port is another reason, why we must put the Alaska 9-day’er on our list of Disney-Cruises-that-will-are-unique-and-interesting-and-we-want-to-go-on. We did the 7-day (Skagway-Juneau–Ketchikan), but this cruise is different and interesting and justifies another trip. Thanks for all the details.
My wife’s most recent employment ended, but if she finds something soon, we may do one of the upcoming (non-TCM) NY-Bermuda runs. I have been to Bermuda >10 times (in a previous life), but we live close’ish to the NYC docks and well, it is The Disney Magic.
I hope the flight back is as easy as going!
Sitka is my absolute all-time favorite port! Beautiful, super easy, and the local excursions are all top-notch! So glad you enjoyed it too!