Alaska Cruise

It started on Sunday morning 26 Aug. No problems getting to the airport, parking in long term lot, shuttle to the airport, check bags, pass through security (we were TSA Pre so went quickly) and at the gate in plenty of time. Uneventful trip, fortunately, non-stop to Seattle. Arrived about 1300, got a shuttle to a motel and got checked in to wait for Bill and Maggie. They arrived a few hours later and we all went out to dinner.

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Next morning we caught another shuttle to the port and went through the boarding process. It was quite efficient. The ship arrives on a Monday at 0700, unloads all passengers by 1000 and starts loading a new group starting at 1100. They have the process down to a fine art. Fortunately, they mailed us the bag tags so when we arrived, they whisked the bags away and delivered them to our stateroom while we were processing. They checked our passports and boarding passes and sent us to a long line to complete check in. They created a credit card pass key that functions as a room access key and credit card. Obviously we had to give them our Visa card number and they put $1,000 on it to start. That should have been my first indication of what was to come.

Our stateroom was so small I couldn’t walk beside the bed. Had to side step as the bed left only 10″ space to the wall. The bathroom had a small shower that was barely large enough for me to turn around. I guess when I made the reservations, there were very few rooms left. Certainly a learning experience. I mean, the room was adequate just very small and located in the bow of the ship. During the cruise we experienced some serious rock and roll. Whenever we docked, we were entertained by loud noises from chains and motors. I didn’t like that much. At one point we arrived early and had to anchor to wait for our turn at the docks. When they dropped the anchor, we thought the ship was ripping apart…same thing when they retrieved the anchor. So, no more bow rooms.

The food on board was spectacular. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style and dinner was in the main dining room. We had an assigned table. We had the option for more private dining for a cost, of course, but we never did. When I say buffet style, I mean there were servers to dish out the food. People serving themselves tend to overload their plates and waste a lot. Servers never denied anyone wanting more. You could return as many times as desired. Dinners were extravagant affairs. Appetizers, main dish, dessert, wine, etc. Waiters were very professional, funny, engaging, and good at their job. The wine steward was excellent. Maggie and Susana drank a lot of wine whereas Bill and I stuck to ice tea. There were 3 days of cruising at sea and each of those days was a gala event where it was a full dress up….tux or suit/tie, long dress, etc. Of course there were photographers everywhere, more on that later.

There was a gym and they offered spin classes on days that didn’t interfere with onshore excursions. So Tuesday, I did the first spin class. The guy leading wasn’t that good. The sound system didn’t work so it was OK but not like most classes I’ve done. Like everything, you get out of it what you put into it. I left a large puddle of sweat. Overall, I did 7 spin classes and I also used the weights. There was a large walkway on deck 3 that folks could walk around. 3.5 laps per mile and NO RUNNING! I made sure and did 3-6 miles a day. No hills….bummer.

They offered excursions at every stop but they were so prohibitively expensive that we didn’t use them. Nothing under $100 each for even a walking tour and up to $2,000 each for a plane trip to Denali! There were taxis and other vendors available that we used.

We departed Monday 27 Aug at 1600 and cruised by Vancouver Island in British Columbia Tuesday. Didn’t stop, just spent the day traveling towards Ketchikan. Arrived there Wed at 0800. It was rainy and the first thing I saw was streets lined with jewelry stores. There were blocks and blocks of them. My shopping obsessed wife visited almost all of them along with the souvenir stores. She spent almost all her time in port shopping. I waited and waited until I got pissed and took off walking. I hiked up over a hill into a residential area with schools and a park. There were streams full of spawning salmon. That was consistent at every stop. Wherever we found a stream, it was full of salmon. Salmon lay their eggs, the males fertilize them, 23 days later the eggs grow into tiny fishes. Once big enough, they head for the ocean. They spend 3-4 years at sea then return to spawn. Takes about 6 months for them to transition from salty sea to fresh water during which time they stop eating and their body transforms, head and skin color changes. They find a flowing stream, and the spawning begins. Once the eggs are laid and fertilized, the salmon just hang around protecting their eggs and dying of starvation. Streams choked with spawning/dying salmon attracted all kinds or predators, mostly seagulls and bear. Fishermen hang around trying to catch them but the fish normally won’t bite, sometimes they hit a shiny lure. They most often get snagged due to the density of bodies. I got some awesome photos of streams full of salmon. Ketchikan is also the entry to the gold fields so miners and prospectors populated the town in the late 1800s during the gold rush. Of course they attracted whore houses among other things. So, there is a walkway dedicated to all the hookers and their actual homes, now restored. Lots of old photos.

We departed Ketchikan at 1700 and headed for Tracy Arm. Mostly cruising up to the twin Sawyer glaciers. The ship went up this fjord towards the glacier but encountered too many large icebergs so turned around before the glacier…still we could see it. Mostly we saw the incredible colored icebergs. We spent 5 hours transiting that waterway then continued north to Juneau.

Juneau is the capital of Alaska and we had another rainy day. After months of no rain in SoCal, we got our fill of rainy days up north. We took a bus up to the Mendenhall Glacier which was pretty neat. The water below the glacier was muddy with silt brought down by the ice. The ice takes hundreds of years to transit from the top of the mountain to the water and as it moves, it grinds up the underlying soil which becomes embedded in the ice and is released when the ice breaks off and melts. We saw lots of bald eagles. They were as plentiful as seagulls on the beach. Their head doesn’t turn white until they are about 5 years old. We went whale watching there and, while we saw some, it was rather anti-climactic. About all you saw was a dark line in the water and a water spout. The whales are in Alaska feeding after transiting from Hawaii. They take 3 to 4 big breaths, then dive. When they dive, they flip their tail in the air. That’s how they are identified. Each tail has different color markings. So, about all we could see was an occasional tail flip…which was cool but maybe not worth the $315 fee. On the way back we stopped at a buoy where a bunch of seals were hanging out. We made our way back to the ship for dinner then returned to town to visit the famous Red Dog Saloon where we had a drink. Sawdust on the floor, dark inside but interesting stuff on the walls. Then back to the ship for a 2200 departure.

Next morning 1 Sep at 0700 we entered Icy Strait Point and visited a fish processing plant. Native American Indians populated most of Alaska before trappers, miners, and fishermen came. So there is a huge Indian culture on display. There was a small town near the processing plant that burned to the ground in 1943 from some careless person starting a fire. The whole town was destroyed and the chief committed suicide out of shame. The US Navy helped rebuild the town but the processing plant moved to another location. Nearby was the village of Hoonah. We walked there in the rain. Neat little place with mostly Indians and fishing boats. They did have a high school. Interesting place. We left there at 1400 and spent the next day at sea. Had our 2nd gala dinner and arrived in Anchorage at 0800 Monday 3 Sep.

The weather cleared up and it was beautiful. Anchorage is the largest city in AK with over 50% of the population (>350K people). It is most famous for the 1964 earthquake measuring 9.2. We stood on the spot where the earth shifted 17 feet and ripped the city streets and homes to pieces. Photos all over the place showing the destruction. Tsunami’s up to 60′ high simply washed away many villages and towns near the coast and deposited boats miles inland. That earthquake is in the top 5 in recorded history. Being a full blown modern city now meant so many places to shop, we never made it outside of town. There was however, a small stream running right through town with nasty muddy banks. That mud is actually silt from the glaciers that piles up during high tides. It is like quicksand but fishermen wearing high top waders wallow through it to get to the water. We encountered a fisherman walking back carrying a 15lb salmon. I got a photo of him. We had a great lunch downtown and Susana shopped until she dropped. We departed there at 2100.

Next stop was Homer where we arrived at 0800. The dock is actually 6 miles away from town on a spit of land. Nothing much to see there so Susana shopped while Bill and I just hung out and waited. A bus dropped us in town and we walked the one mile circuit where 4 bus stops were located. At the last one, I was so frustrated from doing nothing, I just walked back to the ship. Way more exciting than shopping and I got some exercise. We departed
there at 1800.

Next stop was Kodiak where we arrived at 0700. Now that place was way cool. The docks were one mile from town with canneries lining the road. Intense fishy smell permeated the air. Not much in the town but we hired a taxi to take us bear watching. That guy did his best but we only saw one bear way out in the marsh. He took us multiple places and we saw lots of bear sign but no live bears. When he took us back, he pulled out his cell phone and showed us videos of bear he had taken previously. He texted them to me and they are pretty awesome. There were eagles everywhere. Also some very nice
mountains to climb but we had very little time. I’d like to go back there and spend some time hiking. We departed there at 1400.

Next stop was Hubbard Glacier. This was probably the highlight of the trip. The glacier is 7 miles wide and 300′ above the water. Ice goes down an additional 900 feet below the water so the ship can drift almost upon it. However, it remained about .3 miles back. It was frigid cold and windy and, unfortunately the glacier was not doing much calving. You could hear what sounded like a rifle shot and see ice crumbling into the water but it happened so fast, I couldn’t get pictures. We stayed there for a couple hours. It was spectacular. The surrounding mountains were beautiful. There were two above 18K covered with snow and ice. Obviously not within my ability to climb but awesome to look at. You would need mountaineering equipment and heavy duty winter clothing for those climbs. We stayed there until 1800.

Next stop was Sitka where we arrived at 0800. Another rainy day! Sitka is the place discovered by the Russians in 1790 and declared they were going to strip the land of valuable resources, furs, fish, timber, minerals, etc. and send it all to the motherland. However, the Tlingit Indians already lived there and decided they would defend their land against the Russian invaders. A battle ensued in 1802 and the Indians defeated the Russians. Two years later the Russians returned with warriors and Aleut Indians to fight. After a 7 day battle, they beat the Tlingit and established a colony. They also brought all white man diseases with them and the Indians died like flies. The town still has original buildings constructed by the Russians and we visited the actual battle locations. It was way cool. We departed at 1600 and spent the next day at sea. That meant the 3rd Gala dining event.

We arrived next in Victoria BC at 1300 Sep 9. Susana and I have been there before. It’s a very modern, well cared for city however we did see a lot of homeless begging on the streets downtown. We never saw any beggars in AK. Mostly we walked around in the rain and didn’t see much except the government buildings, harbor, and some nice homes. We departed there at 2300 and docked back in Seattle at 0700 Sep 10.

The debarkation process was again, well-orchestrated. Prior to leaving we set up our return shuttle to the airport. On board, they checked us in to our outgoing air travel and took care of our baggage. The best part of that was, we had no weight limit. We still paid $25 per bag but, since the ship delivered the bags directly to the airport, we didn’t have to stand there and see if we exceeded 50 pounds. With all the stuff Susana bought, both our suitcases weighed at least 80 lbs each. We had breakfast at 0800 and sat around waiting for them to announce our departure. We got off about 0900, boarded the shuttle and were delivered to the airport at 1000. From there, we waited until 1730 for our departing flight. Bill and Maggie left at 1430 for Houston and on to St Louis. We were late departing but arrived within 20 min of schedule in San Diego. Retrieved our bags, caught the shuttle, found our car, and drove home. Got there about 2230. Next morning I departed at 0400 for the gym and work.

There were some drawbacks about ship board life. First, they allowed smoking in the casino. That was nasty as the smoke permeated up a deck and down a deck. We had to walk through the 2nd hand smoke en-route to dinner. Couldn’t sit in the casino w/o being subjected to someone sitting beside you smoking so needless to say, I didn’t frequent the casino. I notified customer service that smoking ruined my experience and they went….meh! Tough! So, I said well, don’t expect me to be a returning customer. Everything was so EXPENSIVE! They charged us $27 a day for gratuities. I argued that a gratuity was for good service and we did get exceptional service but I don’t want it forced upon me. If it becomes a mandatory charge, then make it part of the fare.  Also, drinks were expensive and included a service charge. Again, why? Drink packages were available for purchase and Bill and Maggie paid over $1,400 for drinks not to exceed $9 each. I only had 2 drinks total but Susana liked her wine. Photographers were everywhere and they posted your photos all  over the place. But they were EXPENSIVE. We did buy a package and had another photo shoot done but they wanted $500 for a single photo!! Forget that. No laundry on board, had to pay $20 a bag. Not bad. Lots of gift and jewelry shops aboard. The most egregious expense were the excursions. They were ridiculously expensive. We didn’t use ships services for any of them. I felt like I was being nickel/dimed to death. Only free drinks were water/ice tea/coffee but you had to go to the dining hall to get them. In room mini-bar services were available for $5 a can of coke. So, overall a very good trip. Really enjoyed spending two weeks with Bill and Maggie.

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