Waddling around the drippy city of Ketchikan, where webbed feet definitely put one at a decided advantage, Alaska Amphibious Tours is showing visitors the backstory of this southeast Alaska town. I’ll offer up a disclaimer right here: I usually don’t like guided tours of anyplace, finding my own guidebook and sense of direction to do just fine, thank you very much, especially with young children who get bored fairly easily with grownups talking, talking, and talking.
However, Ketchikan is one of those cities where weather can play a major role in deciding how much and how far one will go for a walkabout. We were on the tail end of two weeks ferrying around southeast Alaska courtesy of the wonderful hostpitality of the Alaska Marine Highway System, we were pooped out, and it was, of course, pouring rain. So we took a Duck. What the heck.
Alaska Amphibious Tours operates four “Ducks,” vehicles scientifically called Hydra-Terras and manufactured in New York by the “Cool Manufacturers International” company. With an aluminum hull and polycarb enclosure, the Ducks are seaworthy, roadwise, and ready to show visitors the side streets and waterways of Ketchikan during a 90-minute tour, complete with the cheesiest narration I think I’ve ever heard from a guide.
AK Kid was practically jumping out of his XtraTufs to climb aboard the Duck, which stands pretty high off the ground and requires a ladder to ascend to the 43 seats inside (so this means no strollers or wheelchairs, btw). Comfy double seating with fleece throw robes were available for warding off the summer chill, and that poly carb enclosure came complete with portholes for easier photo ops.
The tour is divided into two sections, aptly named “land and water.” The first 35 minutes take visitors around the downtown area and provides a nice capture of the main streets and important buildings one should visit post-tour. Our guide passed around historical photos that added to the story, a nice touch, especially since Ketchikan’s landscape has changed significantly over the years. Quacking on his duck lips (buy some for $3 and quack your own), our guide schitked his way around town, kibbutzing and joking about Alaska, its people, and the state’s history, not missing City Park, Deer Mountain Fish Hatchery, Whale Park, and the infamous Red Light District. With thoughtful pauses at photo hotspots, guests appeared happy with the information and opportunity to gaze at highlights without having to stand in yet another rain squall.
Our water portion of the tour commenced near Bar Harbor boat launch, where, according to AK Kid, the fun really began. Pausing only a minute before plunging right into the chilly waters of Tongass Narrows, kids squealed with delight to all of a sudden be floating instead of driving. Pretty neat. Bobbing like a, well, rubber duck, our now-boat chugged along the waterfront, showing off Ketchikan’s stilt-like system of construction, the offloading of fish at the docks, and a gaze or two across the narrows to Gravina Island and the Ketchikan airport. Eagles soared overhead, float planes roared up and/or down with passengers going or coming from fishing trips or wildlife adventures, and cruise ships loomed large in front of us.
A spin around the water took up the majority of the tour’s time (40 minutes), and AK Kid didn’t flinch once, entranced by the mechanics of it all, and I’ll take that as a success. Upon emerging from the harbor, a 10-minute break was necessary to wash the saltwater off the wheels in order to ensure proper braking once on the road again, and off we went to disembark at the cruise ship dock.
It’s not the best motorcoach tour I’ve ever taken, but it was the most unique, and it did manage to keep AK Kid happy while we learned a bit more about Ketchikan. The tour is $38/adults, $24/kids 3-12, and free for children under three. Take small books or quiet toys for the little ones, however, as the 90 minutes probably won’t hold their attention, and walking the aisles is rather difficult due to the rocking of the vehicle on the road or water.
In my humble opinion, this tour is best taken before embarking upon any other activity, walking around included. The Duck vehicle hits the high points in a dry manner, thus providing opportunity for further, deeper exploration once finished. Plus, it’s a kitchy way of seeing the sights. The Ducks are funny-looking and funky, the jokes bad, and sometimes that’s sort of fun on vacation.
Alaska Amphibious Tours can be reached at 866-341-3825 or via their website HERE.