Monday, September 01, 2008

Alaska

I picked Brent up at the airport in Salt Lake City after work (and kayaking) Thursday the 7th of August, and we intended to take turns driving through the night and maybe take a short nap at his friends' home in Snoqualmie, where we planned to leave Puck while we cruised. The problem was that neither of us slept much during the drive (B for 20 minutes, me for maybe 5), too wrapped up in sharing the car, the contents of our iPods, and the road. And when we got to Snoqualmie, Brent's friends (who are now mine!) were so delightful and the town so charming that neither of us wanted to sleep then, either. We made it to Friday night and both crashed, but we felt great Saturday morning, having been dined, lodged, and chauffeured into Seattle like royalty. (It was inexpressibly lovely to wake up in the night to rain on the pine forest behind the house.)

At the dock we had hardly gotten over the imposing, impossible presence of the Norwegian Star when I recognized the back of Mom's head in the crowd, and just like that we got checked in and deposited our baggage. We felt it was too soon to board, so we ran up to Pike Place Market (literally- we climbed the stairs) and got beverages at the original Starbucks, which was Saturday packed. We finished our coffee on the dock and boarded, and just like that the adventure began.

Quarters: As Brent blogged, our stateroom was nicely appointed for two. There was plenty of storage (drawers, shelves, hangers) and just enough room to maneuver around together to keep us from getting short tempered when we were in there. The linens were delightfully smooth and fluffy, and the bed was nice despite being two cots pushed together. We were so tired by the end of the day that we probably could have slept just fine on straw mats on the floor, and the only time I have been in a darker space was at the very bottom of Utah's Minnetonka cave (when, at the end of your long hike down, they shut out the lights to disorient you). Two cheerful fellows saw to it that we had all the ice our hearts desired, clean towels when we wanted them, and daily newsletters.

Food: I gained 5 lbs., so clearly the food was edible. We found that the best way for us to manage meals was to wait, on the four out of six days we had "shore leave," until most people were off the ship and then go to breakfast at the Market Cafe, which was a buffet that changed modes throughout the day. There was enough bacon to satisfy Brent and enough syrup to make me happy, but the coffee was heinous. (Luckily, the only thing Alaskans [and we found this to be true in Seattle and Prince Rupert, too] love more than dogs and books is coffee. Brent sniffed out independent coffee houses wherever we went like Dad used to sniff out car museums.)

Lunch, if necessary, or an afternoon snack that usually took on a life of its own was also convenient and enjoyable at the Market Cafe if it wasn't too crowded, which made me homicidal and also made finding seating difficult.

Dinner was usually with family and was usually at one of the restaurants that charged a cover charge, which might seem ridiculous on a cruise that's supposed to be all-inclusive, but was totally worth it, and here's why: the $20-per-person cover charge at Cagney's Steakhouse on deck 13 procured us a meal that would have cost $50 or more per person at our local Evanston steakhouse, Bon Rico. The Italian and sushi places were good, too. We bought a few overpriced drinks in the Red Lion Pub, one of which I've tried to recreate at home with a fair amount of success: the Dirty Banana. It's probably a good thing I discovered those the last night or I would have gained more than 5 lbs.


Entertainment: I could have stared for hours at the scenery, even when there was no land in sight. Neither of us ever opened the books we brought, and I only vegetated and sipped alcoholic coffee concoctions while Brent surfed the 'Net, even though I had sketchbook and pens with me. Mom and I snuck in a quick game of Scrabble with Nancy and May, which I lost by a wide margin. I'm out of practice. People-watching strangers would have been more fun if we weren't so stuck with the same people, but we had fun trying to spot the locals were during our time on shore. (We did actually see some bearded, booted, crazy-eyed prospectors making their stereotypical ways through town.) And since so many of the people on the ship belonged to our group, it was just a matter of walking in any direction for a while and you'd bump into family or friends, but they were never the people you set out to find. And that made it fun and interesting, unless you really did have an objective.

Wandering around the ship hunting private pockets of space was a rewarding activity since we found such locations to exist in far greater numbers than we expected. There was a room off the Spinnaker Lounge called the Port Room (we called it the Port Hole) that had comfy club chairs and floor-to-ceiling windows. It was often deserted, looking from the hall like little more than a broom closet, and made for a great escape that felt rather exclusive. (Yay for the Omaha crew for discovering it!) And the topmost open deck looking out over the prow of the ship was almost never occupied, although I can't imagine why, because it was one of our favorite places. We did discover that it was not the place to be during periods of fog, however. The first time the foghorn went off, we all shrieked and jumped and cursed, and even though after that we knew it was coming every two minutes, it still made us twitch. And, being just a few yards away, it was loud.

B napped while I shopped one afternoon and blogged while I spent an hour and a half at the spa the day we visited the Dawes Glacier (I got out of the jacuzzi and down to deck 7 just in time to see it come into view), and at night we watched The Prestige, Penelope, and The Bucket List on our tiny cabin TV. Also entertaining was the station that broadcast the view from a webcam overlooking the lowest open deck and the "report from the bridge," a station that relayed the ship's speed, position, and distance from our destination, the weather and pool temperature, and other pertinent information 24-7. One channel played pre-recorded informational videos about the ship's energy and waste processes, which was fascinating, although I still would have liked a tour. We just never got around to it.

Kelly and Cordale had good luck salmon fishing in Ketchikan but no luck halibut fishing in Prince Rupert; they intend to go back and try again. Kelly wants to live there.

And there was plenty of sightseeing, although the areas around the docks in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway have been neatly engineered to part tourists from their money. I've never seen so many jewelry stores (except maybe in the Black Hills), and there are plenty of T-shirt and souvenir warehouses, too; you can buy all manner of authentic reproduction totem poles, from hand-carved beauties to knobby resin figurines for your Christmas tree. Prince Rupert is still a little more authentic, but the fact that our ship was the only one in port that afternoon didn't make the crowds seem thinner. There we enjoyed some very tasty suds and pub grub at Breaker's and caught up on the Olympics on the CBC.

We never did kayak on this trip, which I had been looking forward to; for one thing, it rained the entire time we were north of Vancouver. For another, at some point we remembered that I live in Wyoming, and it might actually be more enjoyable to rent a second kayak for Brent and go up to Fremont Lake or Middle Piney Lake, which both offer stunning scenery, and we wouldn't have to share the experience with another hundred people that want to do the same thing at the same time. The chilly weather made the pool less than appealing, but we did get a hot tub to ourselves the last night on the ship.



This is really just the tip of the iceberg; it's not possible to describe the experience concisely. It was just too overwhelming. It was, perhaps, two days too long, although I think we were just beginning to get the hang of it. Perhaps if we'd known at the beginning what we knew by the end, I wouldn't have been so worn out by the end of the week. Or maybe that's what vacations were made for; if you want a restful vacation, stay home and sleep. I'd do it again tomorrow.

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