Princess Cruises has unveiled a special exhibit aboard its seven Alaska ships that takes passengers back in time to the early days of cruising in Alaska. Developed in partnership with Princess and the Alaska State Museum, the show, entitled “Then & Now: 100 Years of Cruising Alaska’s Waters,” gives cruisers a glimpse of Alaska and the Inside Passage as it was a century ago, as experienced by early steamship “excursionists.”
Displayed in the atrium of Princess ships during the port of call in Juneau, the exhibit features a selection of 30 historical photographs and artifacts largely from the collections of the Alaska State Library and Alaska State Museum, both in Juneau.
The images, taken in the early 20th century in Vancouver, Victoria, Ketchikan, Juneau, Glacier Bay, Skagway and the Inside Passage are paired with premier historical artifacts from the museum’s collection. Most of the places in the photos are still traveler destinations today, so cruisers can learn the history of places they’ll visit during their vacation, and see how these places have changed over the past century.
“Although certainly Alaska has changed since these photos were taken, the essence of the state passengers visit today has its roots in the past century,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president. “This is a fascinating opportunity to learn a bit about those who made Alaska journeys before them.”
Alaska tourism had its beginnings in the late 1870s, not long after the United States purchased Russia’s claim to Alaska in 1867. “The steamships of the era were tiny compared to the cruise ships of today,” said Steve Henrikson, senior curator of collections for the Alaska State Museum, “and carried cargo and passengers, visitors as well as locals.”
Steamship accommodations were cramped and visitors were treated to, for better or worse, a “real Alaskan experience,” which could include visits to Native villages, big game hunts, wading through muddy streets, and frequent groundings. The early tourists didn’t just learn about history—they lived it. They encountered U.S. Navy ships practicing “gunboat diplomacy” with Alaska Natives, rubbed elbows with miners heading to the Klondike Gold Rush, or were even swindled by criminals such as Skagway’s Soapy Smith.
“Then & Now: 100 Years of Cruising Alaska’s Waters” will run through the summer Alaska cruise season.