The first big cruise ship of the 2015 tourist season arrived in Ketchikan Friday.
In its inaugural visit to Alaska’s First City, the Ruby Princess brought more than 3,000 passengers and about 1,200 crew members.
Lewis Banda is from Los Angeles, and had just gotten off the 952-foot-long cruise ship. He was snapping photos of his traveling companions as they waited for their tour bus.
“I came with my best friend and my wife,” he said. “We were actually interested since I was a kid, going to the Klondike, Jack London and all that stuff. It was one of my bucket list things to do.”
Banda said he’s excited to finally be in Alaska, and remarked how clean and crisp the air felt compared to L.A.
“I was a weirded out a little bit with the sun going down at 9 o’clock, and then it was 4 o’clock in the morning and I could clearly see outside. That was great. It was mind-blowing, actually,” he said.
When asked about the cold, not-quite-rainy weather that morning, he said, “This is
what I wanted. I didn’t want anything sunny. I just wanted to feel the moisture in the air, I wanted to see the mossiness of it. It’s really breathtaking. I told my friend like three times, I couldn’t believe how beautiful it is.”
Banda and his friends were taking a five-hour tour through some national forest land, and then they’ll watch the popular Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show before getting back on board the Ruby Princess to leave by late afternoon.
In addition to cruise ship passengers, tour representatives were on the dock, selling tours and rounding up clients to make sure they get on the right bus.
Joe Linehan works for Lighthouse Eagles and Totems Excursions.
“I’m here as a dock rep today, but that’s not my normal function,” he said. “I’m a captain, (and) I usually skipper the Totem Princess.”
Linehan and his wife are longtime seasonal residents of Ketchikan. They come back every year to work in the tourism industry.
“This is our 12th year, my wife and I coming up here to work,” he said. “This is our second home. As a matter of fact, we spend more time in Ketchikan than we do at our home in Florida.”
A little ways away, but within sight of the big ship, Jai Mahtani was standing in the door of his Salmon Landing jewelry shop, Gold Rush. As he watched the first flood of cruise passengers disembark, he was cautiously optimistic about this year’s tourist season.
“It’s a beautiful day in Ketchikan. Hopefully, it’ll bring finances and money into the coffers of the town, too,” he said.
When asked if he was excited about the start of cruise season, Mahtani said, “It’s my livelihood. It’s everybody’s livelihood. Of course I’m excited about it. This is my 20th year. I’m one of the oldest stores here.”
And what does he like about tourism season?
“People from all over the world, the interaction, the town is lively, people are happier,” Mahtani said.
Judging from the smiles on the dock, people were pretty happy, especially when the morning sun peeked through a break in the clouds. A good omen, perhaps, for the busy summer season.
The Ruby Princess is scheduled to dock in Ketchikan 20 times this summer. Cruise season will start slowly over the next week, with just a single ship visiting most days. May 9 is the first multi-ship day for Ketchikan.