The biggest cruise ship to sail Alaska waters made its first stop in Skagway this week. The Explorer of the Seas carries nearly 5,000 people. KHNS took a tour of the floating city.
“Ladies and gentlemen, good morning everyone and welcome aboard the Explorer of the Seas for this momentous occasion,” said Captain Rick Sullivan. “It’s not just welcoming the ship, but it is also welcoming the largest cruise ship that’s ever been to Skagway. That is history today. Thank you for increasing the length of the dock so we could fit here. It’s kinda tight right?”
The Explorer tied up at the end of the railroad dock, right behind another massive ship – the Celebrity Millennium. White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad had to build some additional infrastructure to accommodate the 1,000-foot-long Explorer.
“You know, we have a new mooring dolphin, we’ve done some other things for this and just the sheer volume that comes with it,” said Tyler Rose of White Pass.
So what’s inside such a colossal ship? Well, if you’ve ever wondered where you can find a shopping mall, ice skating rink, rock climbing wall and casino all in one place, floating on the ocean, this is it.
“So this is one of our entertainment venues,” said Miriam Palomares, the ship’s group coordinator.
She led representatives from Skagway’s government, White Pass, and the National Park Service through a gleaming, shop-lined hall called the Royal Promenade.
“The Royal Promenade — we have lots of stores…you have the sensation that you’re in New York. When we are in port, all the stores are closed of course. But at night or at sea, all the time they are open. So you don’t feel like you’re in the middle of the ocean, you feel like you are in land. Like you are home.”
That is, if your home includes a theater, arcade, casino and more.
“Royal Caribbean [ships], we have so much stuff to do,” said Michael Rasmussen, the Explorer’s hotel director.
He enjoys the ‘Flow Rider’ surf simulator, basketball court and array of restaurants and bars.
Rasmussen oversees the majority of the ship’s 1,200 crew members. He says it’s eye-opening to work with people who represent around 60 different countries.
“Where in the world would you sit down for dinner with people from the Philippines, from India, from Croatia, China, Australia, Canada, Russia? We sit down, talk about the same issues, the same concerns in life and we’re growing and learning as people. You get a better understanding of where you sit in this thing called life.”
“We meet people from all over the world,” said Corey Freeman, a passenger on the ship. He was hanging out in one of the lounges with his wife, Patty.
“Look around, [Alaska’s] just beautiful,” Patty said. “What else would be more beautiful than here?”
The Freemans go on two cruises each year, one in May and one in September. This is their first time on the Explorer. It’s the biggest ship they’ve ever been on. And Patty says, there have been some challenges because of that. She says they got special tickets which were supposed to help them avoid long lines. But that promise hasn’t played out.
“We’re supposed to go ahead of the line. What is this?” Patty said.
The ship is so big, that even our tour guide gets lost showing us around.
To find a way off the ship, we end up walking through a less luxurious area – the crew deck.
When the tour is over, Skagway tourism director Cody Jennings reflects on what she saw.
“It’s pretty stunning,” Jennings said. “The casino, the ice skating rink, the theaters, all the various dining and other entertainment options. It’s a little floating city.”
A city with a population about five times the size of Skagway’s.
The Explorer will be back at the railroad dock every Monday until the end of the summer.