Ketchikan's Queen

It’s showtime aboard a classic paddlewheeler

By: Christopher Batin

Starting in 2007, Alaska Travel Adventures will be showcasing Ketchikan’s colorful past and present-day scenic splendor aboard the Alaska Queen, a turn-of-the-century, ocean-going sternwheeler that is the largest steam-driven paddlewheeler west of the Mississippi. With its Alaska Queen Paddle Wheel Adventure, a 2½-hour narrated cruise in the waters near this coastal city, the company will reintroduce the charm and excitement of steam-driven paddlewheeling that has been lost to a generation of Alaska tourists.

“Our goal is to provide customers a fun and festive 1890’s Alaska gold rush experience,” said Kelli Dindinger, president of Alaska Travel Adventures. “The combination of an authentic steam-driven sternwheeler cruise with period entertainment and costumes amid a background of the beautiful Ketchikan-area scenery is sure to please our guests.”

Paddlewheelers were the first cruise ships sailing these waters, and the vessels, destinations and passengers were quite a bit different from today. At that time, Ketchikan was a wild frontier town that gold seekers, con men and ladies of the night called home. It was also a base for rampant booze smuggling during Prohibition. The city’s Creek Street was its famed red-light district, and since no self-respecting citizen would be caught openly walking into the area, men used a path through the bushes behind the houses. This later became known as the “Married Man’s Path.”

Alaska Travel Adventure’s new show will try to recreate the bawdy Alaska of those frontier times. Boarding passengers will be greeted by a steam calliope, enticing them into a world of saucy characters, saloons, parlors and plush furnishings and comforts. The steamboat even has its own signature drink, the Calliope Cocktail, a frontier blend as bubbly as the surrounding atmosphere. Passengers can expect skits and narration about the deeds and misdeeds of the area’s early settlers. Also, festive, live entertainment will consist of banjo players and/or honky-tonk piano and other staff decked in 1890’s dress, including fanciful parlor girls in a swirl of gold-rush-era feathers.

Interspersed with narrative on the landmarks and the area’s history will be stories of the Klondike and Robert Service poetry.

The cruise will depart from the Ketchikan waterfront just north of downtown near Silver Lining Seafoods and head south as far as Saxman Village. En route landmarks include New Town, Thomas Basin, Creek Street, Dolly’s House, Deer Mountain, Tongass Narrows, Pennock Island, Gravina Island, Stairway Streets, Whiskey Cove, the U.S. Coast Guard Base and the Saxman totem poles.

According to ATA’s Gary Odle, the Alaska Queen is undergoing major modifications and retrofitting, including larger windows, for her debut in May. She has four decks, both interior and covered exterior viewing areas, and will have a capacity of 350 passengers. Her twin steam engines, built in 1884, have been rebuilt and are visible from the cabin area.

This tour dovetails well with the 1½-hour Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show as well as the hour-long Ketchikan By Horse-Drawn Trolley tour.

Rates are $59 for adults and $39 for children 12 and under. Local sales tax is additional.

Most major cruise lines will be featuring the Alaska Queen Paddle Wheel Adventure on their 2007 day-tour lists, so agents can make arrangements for their clients directly with those lines. In the event the cruise line is not offering the tour, or for those clients traveling independently, make reservations direct. Agents receive 10 percent commission.


Alaska Travel Adventures

Ketchikan Convention and Visitors Bureau