- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

11 July 2019; Juneau, Alaska.

Juneau is the capital of Alaska and is so because of historic reasons as the city of Anchorage is much bigger and it could be expected that that was the capital. Every so often there are voices heard that call for making Anchorage the capital but thus far all change has been resisted.

Alaska cruising the early days. Follow the Totem pole route.

Because of having the State legislative buildings and operations there, the town was never reliant on the Tourist Industry as such. It had the politicians, it had a gold mine and there were the canneries for the salmon fishing. That does not mean there were no tourists coming here and also that there were no cruise ship passengers. From as long as there have been steamships involved in regular ferry service to the various ports of Alaska, they brought with them passengers who were on sightseeing adventures, then called excursions. The name cruise came only later. Operators such as the Alaska Steamship company or the Canadian Pacific Railroad brought early travelers to Alaska and even provided “cruise excursions” by sailing to Glacier Bay.

The ferry companies have all gone or merged in the Alaska State Ferry service called the Alaskan Marine Highway and Cruise ships have taken their place. A pattern that really starting to set through after the 2nd world war. Holland America traces its presence in Alaska back for more than 70 years as the company’s subsidiary Westours started operating here in 1948, all be it on a very small scale. The first excursions in Juneau were carried out by one 4 seater taxi. Our Holland America Ships presence started with the Prinsendam I in 1975 when it was chartered by Westours then still an independent company. With only 400 guests it was a small ship and very often the only passenger / cruise ship in port.

How things have changed. Also in Juneau. In the recent years the old docks from the Alaska Steamship Company have been transformed into dedicated floating cruise docks and the daily visitor totals have gone up from 400 to 9000+ as we saw today. All berths were full today, although the Norwegian Jewel left early and the Amsterdam arrived in early afternoon but is staying late. There are many things to do in Juneau and thus it can handle these numbers of visitors but the town has the challenge that eventually the roads run out. People cannot spread out too far. To the west it stops at the airport, to the east at the end of Gastineau Channel (the entrance fjord to Juneau), to the north there are only mountains and to the south there is the town of Douglas but that is situated on an island so it does not go on forever either.

Tent camp on the Alaskan Ferry. I hope that these travelers realized that steel is very hard to sleep on and brought good airbeds. (Courtesy to unknown photographer who posted on the internet: thank you)

The only way to get here apart from with a cruise ship is by Air, Ferry or Barge. The Alaskan ferries run up from Seattle in a regular service and in places like Ketchikan you can transfer to smaller ferries which service the smaller communities. In the winter there is a reduced service schedule but in the summer it is all full with campers (RV’s) but also travelers who prefer tents; and they can even pitch their own tent on board the Alaska State Ferries deck if they do not want to invest in a cabin to travel in more luxury. Not my style of going around the world but you are close to nature, I suppose, especially when it rains.

The way the ship turned in the basin.

This morning when we came in, we were the first ship and that made life very easy. The whole bay to use while swinging around and going to the Cruise Terminal or Ferry dock. Also a name from the bygone days.  Until the 1980’s the 2nd dock in downtown was the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry dock. To reduce congestion they moved their operations to Auke Bay to the South West and the cruise ships started using this dock. It was renamed into the  Cruise Terminal but all the marine people, traditionalists as we are, kept calling it the ferry dock. And we still do, even while the last proof of the ferry dock, the car ramp, has long since gone. Same for the dock behind us: the Alaska Steamship dock. Alaskan Steam stopped operating in 1964, and the dock is a complete new floating dock but the name remains.

Aerial view of the new docks. To the right the Alaska Steam Ship dock. To the left the Cruise terminal or Ferry dock. To the top right the much coveted USCG dock.

With the four main docks full, there is only one space left for a larger ship and that is at anchor in the middle of the bay. For the rest there are only some small docks available sometimes taking up by a small cruise ship but mostly by private yachts. For further expansion (the principle is subject to much local friction) everybody has been eyeing the large USCG dock at the North End of Gastineau Channel as it is often under used. But the Coast Guard is guarding its dock very closely and thus far nobody has been able to touch it.

Tomorrow we are in Ketchikan where will arrive at 11.00 in the morning. Earlier is not possible as it is a full speed run from Juneau through the Inside Passage. Weather for Ketchikan: Overcast with a chance of showers and temperatures around 18oC / 65oF.


  1. Alaska State ferries sails from Bellingham not Seattle.They are considering cancelling the ferry run from late October to early April.

  2. Surprised, you did not mention Alaskan Brewery they make the Alaskan Beer that Holland America has on board. We took the local bus in 2005 while in Juneau. Great people and lots of free samples. They even have Root Beer for those who don’t drink beer.

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