Skagway Welcomes Annual Tourism Gold Rush

Skagway’s modern gold rush – the cruise ship season – has begun. The town of around 1,000 people expects almost 800,000 cruise ship passengers this summer. And the first 2,000 of those passengers had the chance to explore town on Tuesday. The Celebrity Solstice sailed north from Vancouver, with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway.

Southeast Alaska residents are reveling in the warm, sunny May weather. But some cruise ship passengers are confused.

“I was gonna say I was expecting more snow, not realizing how temperate it really was,” one passenger said.

“And there’s no snow on the ground, we expected at least two foot of snow,” another said.

But the snow-less sidewalks aren’t a big deal. Not for Floridian Martin Levenson, at least. Alaska? He says, there’s nothing like it on earth.

“I visited all the other 49 other states and this is the last one,” Levenson said. “Save the best for last.”

This is Levenson’s 19th cruise, but he’s never been to Skagway before. David Freeman and Denise Gunn from Victoria, BC are repeat visitors to Skagway.

“We’ll probably go to the purple onion, is it? The Red Onion.”

This is their sixth time here.

“Skagway’s just beautiful, I really enjoy it. If Skagway wasn’t on the itinerary I probably wouldn’t do it.”

David and Denise head to the Red Onion on Broadway, and Eric Hauck from Alberta heads to the, “train ride, choo choo. Be a kid again.”

“It’s quite an interesting operation to see, moving so many people around,” Tyler Rose, the HR director at The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, said. “We haul over 400,000 passengers a year.”

The railroad takes passengers on scenic rides to destinations like Carcross and Fraser. It’s also the biggest summer employer in Skagway, with 175 people working the train, the gift shop, the ticket booth.

“It’s unreal, it really is. All the people coming in, it’s almost like a homecoming. Employees and friends you get to see, the shops open up. The ships start coming in. I know for the businesses the cash registers start to ring.”

“Caribou and a buffalo burger! Ok that’ll be $27.20.”

Bob Gibson is owner of the Barbeque Shack.

“We do caribou burgers, caribou and elk and buffalo burger,” Gibson said. “And my baby back ribs, the meat’ll just fall right off the bone.”

Bob just sold a couple burgers to Laura Everitt and her husband. They’re from England and it’s their first time in Alaska.

“We’ve traveled and we’ve done Juneau and Ketchikan,” she said. “And Skagway, and Skagway is so beautiful. It’s so pretty. The buildings are stunning.”

Laura says they wanted to come to Alaska because they watch TV shows that take place here. Like the Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers.

“We’ve seen it television, but it just does not do it justice,” she said. “It really doesn’t. It’s beautiful.”

Laura says they’re also enjoying learning about the history of Skagway, the gold rush days.

“Well, the celebration didn’t last long, three days later, everything took a turn for the worse. A man named JD Stewart strolled into town with $2,800 worth of gold dust in his poke,” Allison Graham said. “Jeff’s men were still riled up from the fourth. I guess they must’ve felt untouchable because the lured poor JD into Jeff’s parlor and right into a trap.”

She plays Belle Davenport in the Days of ’98 show, which she says is a mostly true story.

“It’s a vaudeville style show all about Soapy Smith and the events the led to his tragic demise at a shoot out down on the pier on July 8th, 1898,” Graham said.

Down the block from the Days of ’98 show, is a much different business – a jewelry store.

“Ooh, I have a really cool one I can show you too,” Jennifer Ozuzun said. “This is amethyst. Still in rock form.”

Jennifer and her jeweler husband, Murat, own The Local Jeweler shop.

“Are you feeling really excited about the start of the season? Uh, can you tell? (laughter) I’m really excited, I waited 7 months for this. And having your own, it’s our baby so it’s a big deal.”

Jennifer says she’s been back and forth between Skagway for 8 years. Her friend Letishia Moore, who works at the Milano jewelry store, says she feels drawn to Skagway. And apparently so do the cruise ships. According to the Skagway Visitors’ Bureau, there will be 402 port calls this summer.