Haines, in southeast Alaska, is described in local publicity as "a small town enveloped by mountain range, steeped in history, abundant with wildlife, and teaming with outdoor adventure". That's a pretty good description. Haines doesn't seem to show up that often on cruise ship itineraries, although the townspeople of Haines say they expect more than 100,000 cruise ship visitors during 1998.
As far as my wife and I were concerned, Haines got off to a bad start. On the particular itinerary of our cruise ship, Galaxy, we had already spent a busy day in Skagway before coming back on board and taking the brief 15 mile cruise back down the inlet to Haines. As we arrived in Haines at 6:00 PM, black clouds were hovering over the backdrop mountains, and our first view as we approached the dock was less than impressive. We had already seen pictures of the town, and knew that the buildings we could see were part of the historic Fort William H. Seward, but an abandoned dock and other junk at the waterfront spoiled the image. We almost opted not to go ashore; as it turned out, we were glad we did go.
Fort Seward is only part of Haines, and the main downtown area is actually half a mile or so away to your right, as you are facing the dock. A free, friendly shuttle service operates from the dock to downtown, and we took advantage of it. Hopping off the shuttle bus, we jumped straight into a - llama ride! A local couple had a collection of llamas, and offered tourists a ride - not on the llama itself but on a little carriage pulled by the llama. We didn't go anywhere particular on our ride, but we laughed thinking about having gone all the way to Alaska just to ride on llamas. The delightful couple explained some of the history of Haines and the surrounding glaciers while they guided our llamas, and told us something about their raising.
From there we adjourned to a tavern called the Fog Cutter on the main street, where there was a welcoming sign for passengers from Galaxy. It was fun to have a drink with the locals, and see some of the historic photos that are mounted on one of the walls. We reluctantly left to catch our shuttle bus (the llamas weren't in sight) although my wife did insist on allowing a modest amount of time for shopping. We visited one of the nicest tourists stores we have ever been in, The Far North, run by the very friendly and knowledgeable owners, Fred and Sue Folletti. My wife purchased an Eskimo mask made out of Alaska wool for a nominal sum, and arranged to have it mailed to us at home. It was there waiting for us when we got back.
Part of our enjoyment of Haines was actually looking back on it from the ship when we re-boarded. We sat in Galaxy's Stratosphere Lounge, which gave us a nice protected view of Haines and its surrounding mountains. The clouds scudded by the mountains at an amazing rate, completely covering the mountains at one moment, and showing them in all their snowbound glory the next minute.
Little as we did in Haines, we enjoyed it, and found the people very friendly. If you would like to do a lot more than we did in Haines, then I would suggest that you obtain a copy of the "Visitors' Guide to Haines - The Valley of the Eagles", from the Chilkat Valley News, P.O. Box 630, Haines, AK 99827, ahead of time. Among other things, the guide has complete details of a do-it-yourself walking tour you can do of Haines (including the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Centre), and a comprehensive map of downtown and the Fort Seward area.
Haines (which seems a very "flat" name in comparison to other southeastern Alaskan names of Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway), was named after the secretary of the national Presbyterian Women's Missionary Society. The society gave part of their land holdings (which they had received from the Tlingit Indians) to the U.S. government which built Fort William H. Seward on the site (subsequently renamed "Chilkot Barracks") in 1903. For nearly 20 years, Chilkot Barracks was the only army post in Alaska, and had an important role during World War II. The post was deactivated in 1946, and the fort's well constructed and attractive buildings have now become private residences and business establishments.
Haines, and the nearby Chilkat Valley, have a population of about 2,600.
Despite arriving at Haines at 6:00 PM, and only having a three-hour visit, there were a surprising number of shore excursions scheduled by Celebrity, and these excursions are likely to be similar to those offered by other cruise lines. Those excursions included:
Haines is clearly a starting point for outdoor adventures. If you don't manage to get to the Bald Eagle Preserve, the best place to see the eagles is when your ship is coming into port at Ketchikan. The eagles hover over the local cannery, and you can get reasonably good views if you have a good set of binoculars.
For any of our SeaLetter readers who will be visiting Haines on an Alaska cruise, I hope you have good weather, and time to do one of the shore excursions AND enjoy a walk around downtown Haines. Watch out for llama crossings!
Alan Walker is quite an experienced cruiser and is a regular columnist and reviewer for The SeaLetter.
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