Alaska Cruising

16 to 23 May 2017
Seattle, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay National Park, Ketchikan, Victoria BC, and Seattle (Home) Again

My sister has dragged me down into the bowels of the ship, into the overpowering darkness of Medusa’s Lounge, the sea siren’s sinister glowing eyes and tentacled hair glaring at me from every wall (do ships have walls? maybe that is not a proper nautical term), to dance to a late-night hour of 80s. Her skills being far more honed than mine after having taken the afternoon’s Disco Class and appearing as a VIP in the evening show, I do my best to keep up. I find that it helps to sing along and not focus on one’s feet, because clearly they have a mind of their own that may or may not have anything to do with the actual beat. It also helps having tossed back a daily Drink Special, chased by a few other adult beverages. The great thing is that no one really cares what you look like out there on the dance floor. We are all adults at Day Camp, feeling like kids again.

We are on an 8-day round-trip cruise to Alaska with our mother. I initially typed our “XX-year-old Mother” but I thought she might not appreciate that so delete delete delete. It’s been on Mom’s bucket list to boat this far north and since she no longer has one of her own and there are so many big ships that head this way every summer directly from Seattle, why not hitch a ride on one of these instead? At least on this cruise she doesn’t have to make her own bed (er, berth?) or slice a single cucumber. This is the life.

For those who think the cruising life may not be for them, I would suggest that if you haven’t yet, give one a try. Being someone who prefers to travel by bicycle or foot, I admittedly had my doubts. But when I started eagerly anticipating the delivery of the daily FunFacts – our day camp schedule for the following day – and chastised my sister for reading it before the “scheduled time,” which obviously is early enough in the evening to properly plan for the next day but late enough to not cloud the current day’s activities with anticipation of tomorrow’s, I knew something had changed. Had I become an official “Cruiser”?

I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I sure was enjoying this one. And for that I must give credit where credit is due. The company I was keeping (shout out to Ginger and Mom for bearing with my inability to start the day without first seeking coffee preceded and perhaps also followed by a lap or two around the ship), Mother Nature for her delicious and inspiring scenery (um, Glacier Bay National Park, seriously?), Carnival Cruises for the top-notch entertainment that infused everything with a healthy dose of FUN (and daily Drink Specials – we were on holiday after all), sled dogs and puppies in Skagway (the world is a better place with canines in it), and a fabulous cruise director (shout out to Jen Baxter) for keeping us in stitches with her wit, her infectious energy (seriously, when does the woman sleep?) and her otherworldly flair for all that is bedazzled.

How to tell the tale of 8 days at sea? Keep it brief, the little voice inside my head is whispering, especially since this blog is a few weeks past due and let’s face it, you’re a little out of practice. Not that we haven’t gone on some amazing trips since my last Germany post in 2014 (where has the time gone?) but clearly this author has gotten a little lazy around her blogging responsibilities. Given how many words I’ve already typed just to get to the start of the trip, keeping it brief might be a serious stretch …

Day 1 – Seattle to Somewhere North

I should know better by now than to mix champagne with, well, anything, as (spoiler alert) my half-day headache on Day 2 could attest to … but I jump ahead. Ginger has surprised Mom with the Bon Voyage Package, which means cake (CAKE!) and champagne … the latter of which she brought on board. We’re about to spend 7 days at sea and there are bars and lounges everywhere, so it’s important we keep our Booze Budget in mind. We wait on the cake but pop the champagne and voila, we have officially started our adventure! I’d like to type that as we departed Seattle and steamed our way past Sunset Park in Ballard, Gina was standing there waving goodbye, a small tear trickling down her right cheek. Yeah, right. She was at Happy Hour with a friend, possibly toasting to the fact that she now had the house to herself for 7 days – 7 WHOLE DAYS. This is a rarity given that I work from home so how could I fault her for being a bit giddy over getting some alone time? Only she wasn’t going to be completely alone. She had little Rusty to take care of. Since I’m the primary caregiver for our rescue dog that she picked out, I said a little prayer as we passed our local beach, wishing Rusty luck in the food and water department.

This Day 1 on the ship is mostly about: (1) figuring out where our stateroom is and doing so after a glass or two of champagne is perfect because we need to ensure this is possible in what will likely be the New Normal state of being, (2) getting unpacked, during which I learn that Ginger has brought 6 pairs of jeans, a fact I find hard to comprehend given that I only own 3 and I’M the one who never wears dresses or skirts, (3) eating and drinking, it’s a cruise, remember?, and (4) getting our first silly photos on the trip.

Day 2 – Somewhere North to Somewhere Even Farther North

There is a serious gale-force wind blowing into me this morning as I attempt to run around the Sun Deck (Level 10), which is a bit of a misnomer given that we’re on a mid-May cruise to Alaska, so sun might be a word we don’t use all that often. Ginger is a level below in the safety of the fitness center, although she did admit to holding onto the treadmill rails for the first time ever. Meanwhile, I’m thinking that that deck railing looks a little low should we hit a big swell and a gale all at once. I feel a bit like a warrior (or maybe just plain stupid) a few hours later when I see that all of the outdoor spaces have been closed to guests, the crew preferring not to practice any water rescues today.

Today is a Day at Sea. We are motoring our way past Vancouver Island only you can’t really see Vancouver Island which is cool and at the same time not. But fear not, Carnival has a full agenda in store for us in the FunTimes, a hundred ways to keep our minds from dwelling on throwback images from the Poseidon Adventure, a terrifying movie I watched as a child that still haunts me and, in a pre-cruise conversation with Ginger, re-surfaced my night terrors when she reminded me that it’s not the holidays so there will be no Christmas tree for us to climb to safety. Poor Shelley Winters, she almost made it.

Today’s Dena-starred FunTime activities include the Alaskan Adventure Talk, where I am reassured that signing up to pet the Iditarod puppies in Skagway was a good move; the Disco Dance Class, where Ginger is the first out on the floor and Dena should have paid more attention given that Medusa’s was looming; the 50s and 60s Music Trivia Party, which the three of us pretty much sucked at but the music was fun; the Captain’s Toast Celebration, for which we dressed up in our finest – Ginger with one of her 6 pairs of jeans and Dena with her one pair and Mom in a clean shirt; and the Studio VIP show, in which Ginger sprang up from the audience and onto the stage to Do The Hustle and a pair of cute Angel butts danced in our faces. Wait, are we in Vegas?

Day 3 – Juneau

Six enormous, gaping mouths break the surface at the same time, these humpback whales circled together, sucking in tons of water and fish they have teamed up to push to the surface. Everyone on the boat screams like a little girl. We have just witnessed bubble-netting, the first of the season, and now I know for sure we won’t be getting our money back on this see-a-whale-it’s-guaranteed shore excursion out of Juneau. This amazing phenomenon is witnessed after we’ve already spent 30 minutes trailing alongside an Orca pod soon after we left the dock. Being a bit of a wildlife nerd, I agree that indeed, we have gotten our money’s worth. And there’s still an hour to go! The only downside to seeing so many whales continuously popping up into view? I was too busy to make it back to the snack counter for the free donut holes. Good thing there’s dessert with every meal back on the ship.

Ginger, not content to simply watch the wildlife, felt the need to sample some for dinner. Mom and I abstained, having more common sense to order meals that required less work to consume.

Day 4 – Skagway

Now who doesn’t love puppies? Especially puppies on loan. No cleanup, no training. Just cuddle, coo, and repeat.

We have come down from the ‘real’ mushers camp, where we sped around a dirt course behind 16 fantastically fit and frenetic Iditarod dogs, to the slightly more touristy camp, where we learn more about this famous sled dog race and then get the chance to meet a litter of future contenders. Rusty won’t like it if I come home smelling like puppies, but if I air my jacket out over the rail for a few days, maybe he won’t notice.

On the drive out to the musher’s camp, our hard-working tour guide informed us that (1) yes, the wind nearly always blows through Skagway at the gale force speeds we are currently experiencing and (2) if we’re enjoying that to the point we want to move here, better spend a bit more time in the ship’s casino, as a trailer home will cost you $400K and a 2-bedroom house with a proper foundation, over $1 million. Imagine that, real estate actually more expensive than Seattle. I also learn about Spruce Tip Beer, which I absolutely must sample since it’s full of Vitamin C and it’s the responsible thing to do to prevent contracting scurvy while we continue our journey at sea. Ginger and Mom are willing to indulge me with lunch at the Skagway Brewing Company where the Spruce Tip definitely delivers.

Day 5 – Glacier Bay National Park

I’m flying through the showering process, which is not easy to do in a 2 x 2 ft stall with, let’s face it, not the best ventilation, but I must hurry as it’s 7:45 am and I absolutely cannot miss the Park Ranger talk at 8 am. They boarded our ship about 30 minutes ago, pirate style, and since we are on our way into Glacier Bay National Park and I have been well-versed in how to “do” national parks by both Gina and Cousin Cynthia, I know I will be in big trouble if I don’t get myself to that Meet the Park Rangers event on time. It’s a successful endeavor except for one small problem – the other attendees are now crowding the table, keeping me from accessing the Passport Cancellation stamp. This small problem is exacerbated by the fact that one of the Park Rangers is attempting to explain, with infinite patience I might add, that No, you should not stamp your actual Passport with the cancellation as the Federal Government will then invalidate your passport; these stamps are for your National Parks Passport book, which, if you would kindly step to the left, you can purchase at the next table over. Yes, people, kindly step aside so that those of us who have been properly educated by Cousin Cynthia can get what we need. After a few minutes of hearing this same explanation being given to the next 6 people in line, I decide that bacon is more important. Ginger ultimately comes to my rescue, doing a pretty good job of stamping for a newbie.

Glacier Bay National Park is superb. It’s hard to gain perspective on the size of the glaciers as we pull up near them, given our own massive size. But you know they’re big. We won’t worry ourselves too much about all of those smaller bergs surrounding us, since Titanic was already made and James Cameron can’t possibly be King of the World again (term limits).

Day 6 – Ketchikan

Room service is at the door, holding high a tray of chocolate-dipped strawberries with a side of bottled champagne. The sweetly smiling attendant must think I’m a total idiot as I stand there staring at her, the words about to spill out of my mouth “… but we didn’t order anything,” when she hands me a little pink card informing me that what she’s about to deliver to our cabin is a treat compliments of Jen x, our lovely Cruise Director who continues to entertain us, even when we’re not at one of her events. But if you think, oh, that’s nice, and then move on to other thoughts, I say slow down there, because the best part is yet to come. And that would be this – we also received the coveted, gold-plated Ship on a Stick:

Not just everyone can get ahold of one of these babies, no sir. You have to be a genius at trivia or be able to deliver an acceptable British accent or have the blind luck to win an onboard raffle, none of which anyone in our group had yet been able to accomplish and, let’s face it, the odds weren’t looking good. I won’t divulge what we did to deserve this special trophy from Jen x, but what I will tell you is this: be kind to one another. If you see something, say something. And I don’t mean in the homeland security sort of way. I mean in the job-well-done sort of way, or the hey, thanks for what you do sort of way, or in the wow, how do you do it sort of way. The ways in which we too often don’t say anything, too preoccupied with the things that we think aren’t being done right to bother acknowledging those that are. It takes but one moment of our time to be kind to another, and you never know what a difference that might make to them, and to you.

This gold-plated Ship on a Stick has capped off a day in which Ginger and I nearly drowned like baby ducklings while trekking around Ketchikan in the pouring rain, while Mom, being infinitely more wise than either of us, took a short spin around town and went straight back to the ship for a Bloody Mary.

Day 7 – Victoria, BC

I can hardly contain my excitement this morning, as the day ahead is full of more activities than I can stand and on top of all that, the sun is shining. SUN. Hello sun, it’s been awhile. Our schedule is so full that Ginger has even taken separate notes on a pad of paper to keep track of things (although that might be partially because I have an iron grip on the FunTimes). Here’s what we had in store for the day (plus highlights):

  • Coffee, Dena’s random ship laps, readying for the day (Ginger pulls out final? pair of jeans): 7 – 8:30 am
  • Breakfast (must go bacon-free after this) 8:30 – 9:30 am
  • Packing (Ship on a Stick carefully attached to backpack) 9:30 – 10:15 am
  • Debarkation Presentation (Do these elevators take us to the front of the ship?) 10:30 – 11:15 am
  • Guess That 80s Song With Jen (our highest score yet thanks to being Products of the 80s) 11:30 – 12:15 pm
  • Lunch (must go dessert-free after this) 12:15 – 1:00 pm
  • Groove for St. Jude Charity Event (accompanied by Berry Blast drink specials) 1:00 – 2:00 pm
  • Q&A Fun with Carnival’s brand ambassador John Heald (that gal asked for more TV stations? really??) 2:00 – 3:00 pm
  • Studio VIP Party (thanks to Ginger’s VIP disco dancing) 3:30 – 4:30 pm
  • [we missed the Magic Mystery Show at 4 pm !!]
  • Karaoke with our new friend Phil (no, we didn’t’ sing, but he did) 4:30 – 5:30 pm
  • Dinner (renew lunch time vow to go dessert-free after this) 5:30 – 6:30 pm
  • Watch the ship come into Victoria (the pilot boat was a little bit James Bond) 6:30 – 7:30 pm
  • Victoria Double-Decker Bus Excursion (too bad that kid barfed) 8:00 – 10:30 pm
  • Final packing (Ginger might have one more pair of jeans left after all) 11 – 11:30 pm
  • Collapse at Midnight (but don’t worry, you still won’t sleep)

  • We’ll all need a vacation after this one.

    Day 8 – Seattle

    I open my left eye and see the hint of a morning sunrise. It’s shortly after 5 am and I can make out the silhouette of the lighthouse at Discovery Park. I take these few remaining quiet moments for myself, stepping out onto the balcony to watch the Magnolia shoreline slip by and our beautiful city come into view. It is a picture-perfect morning in Seattle, a lovely welcome home from our travels up north. One more coffee walk around the Lido deck, one more pastry from the breakfast bar, and one more look around this ship that has been our home-away-from-home for the past week. She’s a good ship, this Legend, staffed by a top-notch crew. Thanks for the memories.