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Ward Cove, Ketchikan: 
How to Successfully Sell It to your Clients as a Travel Agent

NCL’s Private Port in Ketchikan, Alaska is Unique and Informing your Clients will Benefit You, and Them


Written By: Tom Ogg, Co-Founder and Co-Owner – 


With Ketchikan’s finite ability to accept more ships due to limited dock space, it made sense to explore for solutions to the scenario. Ward Cove is a natural inlet located near Ketchikan, Alaska. It has been historically significant as a hub for various industrial and commercial activities, including logging, fishing, and maritime operations.


The history dates back to the late 19th century when it was used as a logging camp and a base for the timber industry. It provided a sheltered harbor that was convenient for transporting logs and other goods. The area was also important for fishing activities, with salmon canneries and other seafood processing facilities established along the shores.


Over the years, the cove underwent changes due to industrial activities. Logging and fishing industries played a significant role in the development of the area, but as the demand for timber decreased and environmental regulations changed, the industries in Ward Cove declined. The main pulp mill was center stage in the Ward Cove complex. It was a high building which opened in 1954 and finally ceased operations in 1997. 



NCL and the owners and management of the property formed a partnership to turn the old mill and Ward Cove into a cruise destination and port. The partnership built a two-berth floating cruise ship dock that could accommodate 2-major cruise ships. The first cruise ship to port at the new destination arrived on August 4th, 2021 and the port has been visited since then.



The Mill at Ward Cove

Located approximately 7-miles from downtown Ketchikan, the Mill at Ward Cove promises to evolve into a destination in its own right. With 200 acres to develop and the Tongass National Forest adjoining the property, Ward Cove promises a lot of new and exciting things to see and do in the Ketchikan area. 


The pier is quite long and offers secure dockage for two large cruise ships. There may be a steep climb up to the Mill to accommodate the large tidal swings in the area. However, there is a cart that goes back and forth from the ship to the Mill for those that would find walking up a steep incline challenging. 



There are free motor coach transfers into Ketchikan from Ward Cove. The transfers operate about every 20-minutes, or so. It is about a 20 to 25 minute ride into berth 4 in northern Ketchikan. Upon arrival it is about another 15-minute walk into the main shopping area of Ketchikan and berth 2 where most third party tours would operate from. 




As it currently exists, the old mill has been transformed into a huge souvenir venue full of everything anyone could want for gifts, trinkets, clothes, toys, collectible local art and tons more. There is also a small snack shop that seems like an odd inclusion. For those that have booked the ship’s shore excursions, there is a separate waiting area for each tour. However, those that have booked their shore excursions outside of the ship’s will need to make their way into Ketchikan to meet up with their provider. This is problematic for those not knowing that they will need to do so. Here is how long it will take on average.



10 min Walking from the ship to the Mill
10 min Waiting for a motor coach transfer (Buses run every 20-minutes)
20 min Transfer from Ward Cove to N. Ketchikan (Berth 4)
15 min Walk from berth 4 to berth 2 where tour operators are


55 mins Total time from ship to meet tour operators in Ketchikan 


This is the best case scenario, as during my four different visits to Ward Cove it was different every time. On one visit I was on the Norwegian Jewel and the Norwegian Sun were in port arriving within 30-minutes of each other. It was complete chaos not only getting up to the Mill on the dock, but there was about an hour’s wait to get to a bus transfer into Ketchikan. I will share that there was a lot of grumbling from passengers who missed their ship tour and there were no refunds.I took some passengers over 2-hours to get from the ship into downtown Ketchikan. I am including a video of the people waiting in line to get to a bus just so no-one will say I am making this up.




Note that the last motor coach returning to Ward Cove generally leaves Ketchikan 2-hours prior to the ship’s departure from Ward Cove. This makes for a short day in downtown Ketchikan. All in all, if a client is wanting to port right in Ketchikan, a cruise that does not port at Ward Cove would be the best decision.




Important Information to Give Your Clients About The Mill at Ward Cove

Since very few cruisers are aware of this new port and the impact it has on their ability to use third party shore excursions, travel agents need to disclose this information to their clients in order to make sure they have a great time in Ketchikan. Here is what needs to be disclosed.



Full Disclosure

Full disclosure is important when selling a NCL Alaska cruise that includes Ketchikan in the itinerary. If your client has some reason that they want to be docked in downtown Ketchikan, then possibly NCL is not going to be a good choice for them. It was my experience during the 4-cruises I took this summer that no one really cared that they were at Ward Cove rather than docked downtown. 


Tour Waiting Pic Here



Sell the Ship’s Shore Excursions if Docked at Ward Cove

Because of the time it takes to get to and from Ketchikan tour operators, booking third party tours is quite risky. The ship’s shore excursions will all operate from the Mill at Ward Cove and this eliminates the need to commute to Ketchikan proper. Clients can sit in a nice warm seating area drinking coffee, or whatever and board their tour nice and toasty. This really beats standing around in the cold.



Disclose the Reality of the Ship’s Location

Most cruisers will assume that the ship will be docked in downtown Ketchikan. Be sure to disclose that Ward Cove is 7-miles from downtown Ketchikan and will take approximately an hour to get from the ship to where they would have to meet local tours. 



Stress the Importance of Making the Last Shuttle Back to Ward Cove:

Unfortunately, with a population of roughly 8,000 residents the availability of taxis, Uber and Lyft is quite scarce. If clients miss the last bus returning to Ward Cove, they will be on their own to get back to the ship.


Half or Full Day in Port

NCL ships may offer a half day or full day in Ward Cove. It seems that the southbound Alaska cruises tend to only be in port for a half day arriving around 2pm. Half day visits are challenging because of the transfer issue. The best solution for half day visits is to sell a ship’s shore excursion. If the client desires to visit downtown Ketchikan, they should be prepared to be one of the first passengers off the ship to catch the first shuttle into Ketchikan.


Selling the Positives of Ward Cove

While it is always easy to take the negative road about new ports and experiences, Ward Cove does offer several positive experiences. Here are just some of them.



The Shopping is Insane

The Mill at Ward Cove is the largest souvenir shopping center in Alaska. It offers every kind of item you can imagine and with great variety. Whatever you are looking to buy as gifts or for yourself as a memory is here in great quantity. While it may not be as competitively priced as some of the shops in downtown Ketchikan, one stop shopping in a comfortable environment is quite a benefit.


Shore Excursions From Ward Cove are More Convenient

Since the Mill is where the ship’s shore excursions will operate from, clients can shop, drink coffee or get a snack while they wait. They will not have to wait standing up in the rain and cold. NCL offers basically all of the same shore excursions as the ships docked in downtown Ketchikan. Excursions into Tonga’s National Park departing from Ward Cove will shave almost an hour the tour compared to those on the same tour originating in Ketchikan. 


Book Third Party Tours with Ward Cove Pickup

Once clients understand the location of Ward Code they can shop for third party shore excursions that will pick them up. If you sell a bit of NCL in Alaska, this opens a huge opportunity to create an inventory of tours and negotiate a higher commission because of your specialty.


The Future of Ward Cove

While no one can predict the future, it seems logical that the 200 acres that make up Ward Cove will be developed into its own destination much like Icy Strait Point has over the years. The big bonus is having the huge Tongass National Forest right at its back door. This access almost guarantees new and exciting tours and experiences. While it is not there yet, it is conceivable that Ward Cove could emerge as a totally new destination and ships could both visit Ketchikan and Ward Cove. It will be interesting to watch over the next few years.


Ketchikan is certainly one of the best ports in Alaska with how unique and inviting it is. People will always want to visit Ketchikan. This is why selling Ward Cove to clients is so important. Good luck selling Alaska.