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Sitka Alaska Cruise Port Tips

Sitka Alaska harbor
Sitka Alaska harbor. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
The Sitka cruise port stands out from nearby Juneau, Skagway and other Inside Passage communities for its strong Russian heritage. It also is the only one that faces the Pacific Ocean.

This sprawling city and borough of 9,000 people also is known for a pretty harbor and the nearby dormant volcano Mount Edgecumbe. It has more attractions and a wider variety of them than most Alaska cruise ports.

Russian history is dominant here. It was the Russian capital of Alaska when that country owned and controlled the land before selling it to the United States in 1867.

Ships usually disembark passengers at a pier about five miles north of the downtown area. Free shuttles will take passengers downtown and drop them off at Harrigan Centennial Hall between the library and small boat harbor. Other ships anchor closer by Sitka and tender passengers from the ship to the docks.

Harrigan Centennial Hall is the community’s civic and convention center. It also has a visitor’s center with maps, tips and other information for visitors who want to tour the city on their own.

Attractions


Lincoln Street, just a one-block walk from Harrigan Centennial Hall, is where cruise visitors will find plenty of shopping, restaurants and attractions.

Some of the most popular attractions on Lincoln Street are Russian and historical. Sitka has 22 buildings on the National Register of Historic places, according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association. Many of them date back to Russian control of the territory.

The most noteworthy is St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, 240 Lincoln St. Known for its green dome and gold crosses, it is the earliest Orthodox cathedral in the New World. The cathedral, which was built in the 1840s, was destroyed by fire in 1969 and rebuilt. It still contains some icons that date back to the 1600s.

Other Russian historical sites include the Russian Bishop’s House, 510 Lincoln St. It is the home of the first bishop of Alaska. The two-story log building, which is now a museum, is one of the oldest surviving structures of Russian America.

Sheldon Jackson Museum, 104 College Drive, is one of two official Alaska state museums. The museum, a half mile from Harrigan Hall, has what it describes as an “exceptional collection” of Native American artifacts.

Sitka Sound Science Center, 834 Lincoln St., is an aquarium with touch tanks as well as a hatchery, marine research and educational facility. The center’s website says the facility has 200,000 visitors every year.

Baranof Castle State Historic Site was the location of Tlingit Indian and Russian forts. This National Historic Landmark has an exceptional view of the city is where Russian formally gave ownership of Alaska to the United States in 1867. It also is where the first 49-star U.S. flag was flown after Alaska became a state in 1959.

Sitka National Historical Park is the site of a battle between invading Russian traders and indigenous Tlingit Indians. Today it is known for the Tlingit and Haida totem poles that line the park’s scenic coastal trail

Alaska Raptor Center, 1000 Raptor Way, is a 17-acre rehabilitation center about one mile east of Harrigan Centennial Hall. The center provides medical treatment to more than 100 bald eagles and other birds each year. Guided tours are available during the cruise season. The cost is $13 for teens and adults, $6 for children 5 to 12 and free for kids under 5.

Fortress of the Bear, 4639 Sawmill Creek Road, is a haven for coastal brown bears that lost their mothers when they were young. Visitors can go within 25 feet of them in their enclosed habitats. Tours last 30 minutes. The cost to visit the facility, which is five miles east of Harrigan Centennial Hall, is $10 for adults and $5 for children 7 to 18.


Excursions


Larger ports with more to see like Sitka have city tours that cost between $50 and $100 per person. Excursion operators in Sitka include visits to Sitka National Park, Sheldon Jackson Museum, Russian folk dance performance and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Other tours include some of the attractions on the outskirts of the city such as the Totem Village, Alaska Raptor Center or Fortress of the Bear. These land tours are a better value than visiting each facility separately.

Otherwise, most of the excursions are either whale watching or kayak excursions.

Getting Around / Transportation


Most of Sitka’s attractions are within walking distance of the cruise docks or the Harrigan Centennial Hall drop off point for shuttles.

The city has a public bus service known as RIDE Sitka that travels throughout the city as well as roads outside of it. Go to ridesitka.com for more information about schedules.

Free shuttles will take cruise visitors who disembark at Old Sitka Dock five miles outside of town into Sitka.

Taxi companies and at least one car rental company also serve cruise visitors. Go to visitsitka.org for more information.

Weather


Unlike the smaller ports, Sitka is big enough that the U.S. National Weather Service tracks the weather for the city.

A 30-year history shows that the best month to visit Sitka is June when the average rainfall is about three inches a month. May and July average four inches, while August jumps to six and September is a very wet 12 inches.

The actual rainfall will vary somewhat from year to year, but the long-term averages will give Alaska cruise planners a chance at improving their odds for good weather.

May and June are usually the driest months, but July and August are warmer.

The average high temperature in May is 53 degrees Fahrenheit. It climbs to 58 in June, 60 in July and 62 in August. The average high then drops to 58 in September.

So the best months to visit Sitka are June for drier but cooler weather, July for wetter but warmer and August for even warmer but much wetter.

September is by far the worst month to visit because of the risk of heavy rains.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Cruise Ports   

September 17, 2018

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