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The Towns of Alaska’s Panhandle


The vastness and diversity of Alaska simply can’t be captured in a few words or images. Even the relatively compact southeastern portion of the state – a 500-mile-long panhandle nestled between British Columbia to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west – defies easy description. This is where cruise ships sail the calm waters of the Inside Passage during the summer months, gliding past scenery that ranges from a verdant rainforest to some of North America’s largest glaciers.

The towns of the panhandle are diverse as well, each with its own unique history and character. Royal Caribbean’s Alaskan cruise itineraries include fascinating ports of call like Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, Hoonah and Skagway.

Ketchikan’s natural resources have taken the town through several boom cycles: it was a gold rush boomtown, then a logging center and then a hot spot for salmon fishing. Salmon still swim up Ketchikan Creek, but today the town is most noted for an incredible collection of totem poles at Totem Bight State Historical Park, Saxman Native Village and the Totem Heritage Center Museum. Cruise passengers can also stroll and browse the shops along Creek Street, where the buildings are raised on stilts. The nearby Tongass National Forest and Misty Fjords National Monument offer exciting shore excursions, too.

Once the capital of Russian America, Sitka’s Russian colonial past is still evident in historic landmarks such as St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, the Russian Bishop’s House and the Russian Cemetery. The Tlingit Native Village showcases the lifestyle of the area’s native Tlingit people, who battled Russian colonists for control of Sitka. The military, the Klondike gold rush and the fishing industry also influenced the development of this town, which faces the North Pacific from the western edge of Baranof Island.

Juneau, now Alaska’s capital, had humble beginnings as a gold-mining camp. The city lies beneath steep mountains crowned with an ice cap from which dozens of glaciers flow. Steps away from the cruise ship dock is the Mount Roberts Tramway, one of the world’s most vertical tramways. A six–minute journey takes passengers 1,800 feet up 3,819-foot Mount Roberts, providing photo-worthy views of Juneau and the water and mountains that surround it. While docked in Juneau, Royal Caribbean guests can also visit a salmon hatchery, a glacier or a gold mine.

With about 900 residents, Hoonah is the largest Tlingit village in Alaska, offering a close-up look at an authentic Alaskan lifestyle. Legend has it that this coastal village on Chichagof Island was created when the Huna tribe of Tlingits was forced to move south of Glacier Bay to escape advancing glaciers. Royal Caribbean’s guests can tour an old growth forest along the shores of Icy Strait; immerse themselves in local culture at the Native Heritage Center; or explore the island on a bike or an all-terrain vehicle.

Skagway is often described as the best-preserved gold rush town in the U.S. The downtown, with its restored historic buildings, is part of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. During the late 1890s, thousands of prospectors poured into Skagway to prepare for the 500-mile journey to the gold field of the Klondike. Visitors can retrace the prospectors’ steps over White Pass or the Chilkoot Trail.
By 1900, the gold rush was almost over, but some residents of Skagway had the foresight to preserve the town’s buildings. Thanks to their work, today’s visitors can take a historic walking tour that recalls many of the notorious characters attracted to Skagway by the promise of gold.

The historic towns of Alaska’s panhandle, captivating in themselves, are also set in some of the most breathtaking scenery in North America – and, you can see it all on a cruise ship vacation! At Cruise Holidays, we can help you select the ship and itinerary that are best for you.