Despite rain and construction, South Franklin Street in downtown Juneau was more alive than it’s been for months. Storefronts and tour buses came out of hibernation as the first cruise ships arrived.
Two cruise ships arrived in the capital city on Monday, marking the beginning of the tourist season. Cruise Lines International Association estimates a record number of cruise visitors will arrive in Juneau this summer, and Monday’s mob of visitors got the season off to a crowded start.
The scene at the Cruise Ship Terminal downtown was wet, chilly and a bit chaotic. Disoriented cruise passengers poured out of the Holland America vessel, looking for the right tours or shuffling toward the Mount Roberts Tramway station. Dozens of vendors and tour brokers greeted the passengers, offering chances to see whales, the Mendenhall Glacier and other popular attractions.
Just prior to the flood of visitors coming off the boat, the vendors stood at their booths, waiting. Ralph Villa, who has been a seasonal tour broker in Juneau for the past four years, paced around at his Capital City Sightseeing booth as he awaited the onslaught of potential customers.
“We’ve all got the first-day jitters right now,” Villa said, smiling. “We’re trying to get our pitches right, trying to get all the information flowing just right, trial and error. Hopefully there are some people who want to go on some tours.”
There were plenty, both at the Cruise Ship Terminal and at the Alaska-Juneau Dock a bit further south.
Some cruise passengers had already purchased tours on the boat, but Villa pointed out that tour reservations usually cost more on the ship and the money doesn’t go to local companies. For the most part, visitors were looking for the same basic tours — a trip to Mendenhall Glacier, a whale-watching excursion, a ride on the tram, a search for authentic Alaska seafood.
Randy and Gina Sprenkel were two of the very first passengers off the ship, disembarking just after 1 p.m. Monday. The two are travel veterans, having taken cruises in Mexico and the Caribbean in addition to trips to places such as Cuba and London.
The pair, hailing from Houston, Texas, were bundled in brand-new coats for their trip to Alaska as they took their first look at Juneau.
“It’s a lot warmer down there,” Randy said of their home in Texas. “We didn’t know what to do about dress. We bought everything online that we could purchase.”
Passengers followed the Sprenkels in a steady stream, as the flow of humanity continued for the next hour or so. Equipped with thick coats, warm hats and a variety of selfie sticks, the newcomers sought to document the cloudy, misty city as quickly as they could.
While many of the visitors had their phones constantly in their hands to either take photos or call friends and family back home, Blake and Kristina Weeks from North Carolina marched quickly past. Blake pushed their small child in a stroller while Kristina walked alongside. Blake has wanted to visit Alaska for a while, and was brief when asked why he wanted to come.
“To get unplugged,” Weeks said. “To get away from everything.”
The Weeks were in the minority, as very few children were present and the average age was much higher than that of the young couple from North Carolina. They quickly disappeared into the throng of people on the boardwalk as lines formed at the tour booths and buses.
The sound of numerous other languages filled the air, as the crowd that had boarded a couple days earlier in Vancouver hailed from all over the world. One of the major attractions for coming to Alaska for the Sprenkels, however, came down to a desire to further explore the far reaches of their native country.
“We’re American citizens,” Gina said. “We need to see Alaska. There’s no excuse.”
Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at email@example.com or 523-2271