To start the day, Jeff and I dropped Cassidy and Jayce in the Oceaneer Club and set off to explore the streets of Skagway solo. The ship docked very close to town; a five-minute brisk walk was all it took us to get there. Unfortunately, though, there wasn’t much to see or do in town. The shops were very touristy, full of kitschy stuff. There were a few spots to grab a bite to eat, but considering the amount of food available on the ship, we didn’t see the point in spending extra for similar pastries. We ended up walking back to the ship, but not before snapping a few quick photos.
Our real excursion for the day was to come later. Lucky for us, the weather would clear and we’d enjoy a sunny–albeit cold!–day in Skagway’s neighboring town of Haines. We signed up (and paid a pretty penny) for a Disney Cruise Line excursion: the Takshanuk Mountain Trail 4×4. Having only experienced a ship-sponsored excursion once before, I was tentative. The first one didn’t go so well. We would have booked on our own, but this particular tour company doesn’t allow for that, so we were forced to go through Disney if we wanted to participate. And that, I did. The Tripadvisor reviews rated this as the #1 activity to do in Haines.
One of the reasons we avoid ship-sponsored excursions is because–believe it or not–we have an aversion to being herded like cattle with every other JimJoBob on the cruise. My fears were alleviated when we met for the excursion and found a small group of maybe thirty other guests. The morning was off to a great start! After a brief wait, we were ushered to a nearby dock to wait for our catamaran. As we were leaving the ship, Gramps remarked that Grams insisted he wear his heavy coat and-for the record-he thought she was being ridiculous. Ten minutes later, after facing a bitter wind chill, he recanted.
The ferry to Haines was the nicest I’ve ever experienced. With plush, spacious seats and a toasty warm on-board heater, we were all kept cozy as we enjoyed a scenic, narrated ride to nearby Haines. Along the way, we spotted bald eagles and kept a close eye out for seals, though we never saw any. Upon our arrival to Haines, we were greeted with a lovely view of the quaint little village.
Next, we boarded a bus for a ten-minute drive to the base of the mountain where our adventure would begin. The bus driver, Suzanne, and her assistant, Ron, entertained us along the way with tidbits about life in Alaska. We learned that produce like bananas and oranges are delicacies in Haines, whereas fresh Salmon and Halibut are as common to them as an apple would be to you or I. Pantry staples are expensive there, too; a loaf of bread runs about $4 while a gallon of milk is close to $6. Oh, another thing we learned? It’s not terribly uncommon to wake up to a bear in your front yard in the morning. That is exactly what had happened to Suzanne that day. En route to our destination we passed by her house and saw that same bear, still grazing on the strawberry plants in her front yard.
Once we arrived to the mountain base, we found the Kawasaki mules ready and waiting in a line. Here’s one of the best parts of this tour: there was no paperwork or boring training required. They simply told us to pick a mule and buckle up. Our party of eight (including Grams and Gramps) split between two mules and set off.
The trip was so much fun. As we climbed up the mountain in our respective mules we were treated to gorgeous views and a fun, bumpy (though not obnoxiously so) trip. At the halfway point, we stopped at a rustic lodge for freshly-baked cookies and hot cider.
From there, we continued up the mountain, stopping at two scenic overlooks for photos.
On the way back down the mountain, we stopped again at the lodge for a late lunch. On the menu was dill beer-battered Alaskan halibut, roasted potatoes, cole slaw, and a sweet pistachio concoction eerily reminiscent of Watergate salad. Lemonade and hot drinks were also available.
Once we were finished eating, we loaded back into our mules and continued down the mountain back to our starting point where the bus was ready and waiting to deliver us back to the dock for our fast-ferry back to Skagway.
All in all, it was a really, really great excursion that lasted the better part of the day. We departed the ship right around 11:30 and didn’t return until 6:00. It was well worth the price we paid. I wouldn’t hesitate to highly recommend this adventurous excursion, should you ever find yourself in Haines.