Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cruising in Alaska

Steve and I returned home from our Alaskan cruise last Tuesday. We had a really good time, but if I were to go back, I'd go later in the summer. It was chilly! Beautiful scenery, glimpses of wildlife, fun activities, lots and lots of food (if you've cruised, you know this to be true!), new friends, and lots of time with my best friend made this trip a wonderful vacation.

Note: I did take pictures but not nearly enough. I'm just not a picture-taker. We'd be enjoying a view or an activity and completely forget the camera in our bag. No, I'm more of a wordsmith that a photog. Below are the best of the pictures that we managed to capture. Also, it's a lengthy post. Just so you know.

Tuesday, June 5
We woke up at 3:45am in order to be ready to go when the airport shuttle picked us up at 5am. Our flight to Seattle was at 8:30 and we arrived there at 9:00 Seattle time. We had forked out for the Carnival transfer and I'm glad we did. They took our luggage at the airport and we didn't have to worry about it again, it just showed up in our room later that day. I wish we would have done that on my other cruises. Oh well. We got to see a little of the city on our way to the ship and I liked what I saw.

We arrived at the ship early enough to avoid most of the lines involved with embarking. However, we were a little too early - they hadn't finished cleaning the ship, so we had to wait for 45 minutes before we could get on. I was soooo hungry and tired and was trying really hard not to be ornery. On board, we headed right for the lunch line. I was a much happier person with food in me! We went to our room and I was really happy that I had upgraded it to an ocean view room a few days before our trip. It was a cheap upgrade and totally worth it! It was a little strange to share the room with just one other person - I once shared a cruise ship room with four other gals! It was relatively spacious with just us two, especially with one of us a male. :)

Steve as we left Seattle

I like me in glasses - who knew?

We rested a bit while waiting for our luggage. When it came, Steve was sleeping so I hurriedly put my clothes away. I loved getting so much space just for me! I left Steve in the room to go to my Disco Dance Class. On a previous cruise, my friends had attended multiple dance classes that had looked really fun but I hadn't participated because of my weight. So, when I saw it on the schedule, I wanted to do it this time. It was a blast! I met a few people that I kept seeing throughout the cruise. And, it was good to be active after so much traveling. I had really hoped that there would be more dance classes throughout the cruise, but nope, this was the only one, which makes me even happier I did it.

That night, we met our dinner companions for the week. I was really glad that we were seated with another couple instead of being seated by ourselves. I love Steve but we get to eat alone together all the time. I really enjoy meeting people on cruises and dinner time is a great opportunity to do so. David and Gladys were wonderful! He's a chaplin with the Army and she's from Peru. They are older than us, probably late 40's. David was hilarious! Told great stories. And Gladys was a hoot as well. We really lucked out to be seated with them. Throughout the week, we'd also run into them in ports or around the ship. It was perfect because we were always happy to see each other but we never expected to hang out with each other except for at dinner. The perfect cruise friends. :)

Wednesday, June 6
Our first full day "at sea", meaning no port stops. We traveled from Seattle the night before and started heading up the coast of Canada. We slept in really late! It's amazing how much I slept on the trip. I think it was the rocking of the ship that kept lulling me to sleep. Thankfully, with the help of the dramamine I took throughout the trip, I never felt sick, a first. We got up and had breakfast and toured the ship. The weather made it not so fun to be out on deck - cloudy, windy, and intermittent rain. Oh, and cold. We realized that we needed warmer jackets and happily discovered a great deal on some in the ship shops. In fact, I got two new jackets on the trip! I ended up using all the jackets I had at one time or another and they'll be great here at home, too.

We didn't really do anything until after lunch. I dragged Steve to the art auction. I'd attended one on a previous cruise and had ended up winning a $650 print (that still needs to be framed!). I like seeing the prints and discovering new artists to like. I also like seeing what other people end up buying. We both signed up to be able to bid on works, though neither of us expected to buy anything. Boy, were we wrong! We walked out of the auction the proud new owners of three Itzchak Tarkay prints (see below)! They were for an amazing price and we decided they'd look good in our sitting room along with the Emile Bellet I'd won before (first picture below).

 D'or et de Reve by Emile Bellet
(Of Gold and Dreams)

Bayside Evening by Itzchak Tarkay

The Look of Love by Tarkay

Tall Ships at Port by Tarkay

After the auction, we grabbed a snack then took a LONG nap. I normally don't nap at all and certainly not for a couple hours. We got ready for the Captain's Night - the first of two elegant nights. I like getting all dressed up, especially now that I have pretty dresses, and Steve was a good sport and put on a nice shirt and tie. We got our pictures taken at one of the dozen photo places but ended up not buying it because it was expensive! For dinner I ate lobster and loved it! I'd never dared order it before because it's so expensive and what if I didn't like it? On previous cruises, I always wanted the prime rib instead, so this was my first time eating lobster. I was surprised by how sweet it was. That night we went to the show and I tried to stay awake even though it was really good. Seriously, I spent most of the time on the ship either trying to stay awake or asleep. :)

Thursday, June 7
At this time, we had left Canada and passed into Alaskan territory. At some point we turned into the Tracy Arm Ford, a narrow passage that ends at a glacier. 

We had discovered where the gym was the day before and were both committed to going as often as possible. I woke up at the decided upon time of 6:30, but Steve didn't, so I left without him. I rode the upright bike for 20 minutes then switched to the treadmill. It was at this time that I saw my first whale! I was daydreaming when I saw what looked like a water fountain shooting out of the sea. I stared at the spot until I saw it again. I was so excited I pointed it out to the small chubby man walking next to me. Suddenly I saw a fin and back of the whale! I was definitely more excited that Manuel, the guy next to me. The whale dove (I saw its tail!) and disappeared from view. Manuel and I started chatting and became fast friends (not really, I didn't see him ever again). Steve came to the gym finally and was disappointed that he had missed the whale sighting - blaming me for not forcing him out of bed. He denies that he told me to go without him when I shook him awake before I left. 

After the gym, we had breakfast and walked around outside on deck for a bit. It was chilly, but we were nicely bundled. Michelle, the ship's naturalist, would get on the sound system periodically and announce whale, bear, eagle sightings. Then everyone would migrate to a window to try to see them. Steve bought us binoculars after we had rented a pair and then could barely see the brown bear on shore. Now we both have a pair of our own. Don't ask me when I'm going to use mine, but that man sure is a sweetie. We saw several whales throughout the day and about 4 bald eagles. Our window in the room came in handy a few times because we were able to see whales a couple times from the comfort of our own room. 

In between the mountains you can see the Tracy Arm glacier

Our cabin window - pretty nice, eh?

After watching a hilarious live version of The Newlywed Show with three couples from the cruise (one couple had been married 5 days, one couple for 7 years, and one couple for 50 years), we discovered the game room and played Trivia Pursuit pretty much every day from this day on. We have a really old version at home, so it was fun to play a new version. We actually knew most of the references even if we didn't know the answer to the question. We eventually bought a deck of cards so played cribbage (there was a board in the game closet but no cards) and Rummy along with Trivia Pursuit. Usually, we played while drinking a mug of hot chocolate. On most of my cruises, ice cream is the treat of choice because it's available 24/7. Well, hot chocolate replaced ice cream on this trip. I probably had 5-10 small mugs a day!

That night's show was The Blues Brothers. The cruise director was one of the guys (the chubby one) and he did a great job. The other guy was okay but not as good. It was a very entertaining show and I managed to stay awake the whole time. :)

Friday, June 8
Finally! Our first port! We were as far north as we were going to get on this trip, Skagway, Alaska. It's a really small town and can only be accessed by boat or plane. Having learned from my Caribbean cruise, Steve and I had booked shore excursions through Carnival instead of waiting to get to the port and just seeing what was available. In the Caribbean, that led to lots of time in a truck/bus driving around to look at pretty scenery that ended up blurring into oblivion eventually. 
Our excursion wasn't until 10am, so we were able to sleep in a bit, go to the gym, and still eat breakfast before leaving the ship. We met our tour group on the pier and then loaded into a bus and headed into a beautiful forest. We drove about 15 minutes to our site. We hiked a bit and then the real fun began! After getting suited up with all the safety stuff, we got to go on a short ropes course - four different types of rope bridges. I hadn't looked forward to this part, but I ended up really enjoying it. I wasn't scared because I was securely fastened and safe, and it was kind of trippy going across the bridges. The trippiest one was just a narrow plank fastened to ropes. It was swinging like nobody's business!

After the bridges, the best part - the zip lines! The first zip line (out of 6 total) was a baby line, a good way to start, especially for those of us who had never done it before. Steve and I had purposely been the last two in line to go across the bridges, so were also the last ones down the first zip line. I was so scared, it's silly. I've gone sky diving and wasn't so nervous! I had to have Steve help me count down from 5 in order to finally get myself to jump. It was soooo fun! The other 5 lines were longer and faster. Each time, Steve and I were the last two, so we were able to see how other people jumped and did tricks (if they did) so were able to do different things that we wouldn't have otherwise. Each time I jumped, my heart leaped into my throat, but it was thrilling! I managed to take a few pictures, here are some:

Us in our safety gear (and one of my new jackets)

Steve crossing the first bridge

Me crossing the loop bridge - each step is a loop of rope


Me - daring to go no-handed! Sorry, Steve doesn't zoom.

Zip-lining was definitely my favorite activity. It wasn't hard but something I've never dared do before and it was thrilling! I'll do it again if ever given the chance.

We walked around Skagway a bit after eating at a pub but there really wasn't much to see (though we did stop at a fudge shop and buy yummy fudge!), so we headed back to the ship and took a nap. Shocker. We played games then got ready for dinner. I had a yummy lamb dinner that was my favorite to-date on board, even better than the lobster. I don't know what we did after dinner, maybe saw the show? Anyway, I'm sure I was tired and happy to finally get to bed.

Saturday, June 9
We docked in Alaska's capital, Juneau, early that morning. Our shore excursion was at 8am, so we didn't go to the gym, just had a quick breakfast and went to the pier. As usual with me, we reached the meeting place really early, so we walked around town for a bit. There was a huge celebration going on that day and the day before with all the native tribes in Alaska meeting in Juneau. That morning there was going to be a parade, which we were going to unfortunately miss due to our excursion. This was our "down day", since the day before was an active excursion and the next day would be too. It was a mistake, we should have done something more active all three days. Oh well.
We got on a tour bus with 60 or so old people and drove to the salmon hatchery for a quick tour and free samples of smoked salmon jerky - I didn't love it. It was interesting to learn about the hatchery, how they try to recreate the salmon's natural spawning as much as possible while making it a little safer. And, a bald eagle flew right over us, just a few feet above. It was really neat! After the hatchery, we went to the Glacier Gardens, a beautiful garden/forest that someone had created after a huge landslide. It was gorgeous, but boring, and I was disappointed that we didn't get to see the famous Mendenhall glacier from it - I had assumed that we would, which is one of the reason I had chosen this excursion. After exploring the gardens/forest for a bit by jeep and getting a little snack, we drove to a salmon bake. This was definitely the best part of the excursion. The salmon wasn't quite ready when we got there, so we hiked the short trail to a pretty waterfall. By the time we returned, the food was ready. It was delicious! On the menu were cheesy potatoes, baked beans, salads, corn bread, glazed grilled salmon (sooo good and I don't love salmon), and marshmallows we could roast over one of a couple fires. 

Us waiting on the pier in Juneau

Upside down tree in the Glacier Gardens

Heart-shaped pond in Glacier Gardens

No, I didn't gain 50 lbs, just a bad angle.

Steve at the waterfall by the salmon bake

Am I trying to model?? Weird.

We took a shuttle back to the pier and walked around a bit but found the same shops that had been in Skagway (later learned that the cruise lines own most of the shops at ports) so didn't spend much time in Juneau. I had really wanted to see the glacier and we contemplated taking a tram ride up to the top of a mountain even though it was expensive and we didn't have a lot of time up at the top, until I learned that we still wouldn't be able to see the glacier. Ah well. It wasn't the most exciting port, but we still had fun together.

Once again, we took naps (short ones this time) and played games before dinner. I ate a fabulous filet mignon with wonderful cheesy potatoes! It overtook the lamb as my favorite dinner on the cruise. We skipped the show because I was so tired. I should mention that in our normal lives, we go to bed around 9:30pm. I usually read for awhile and am asleep by 10:30 typically. Well, our dinner time on the cruise was 8:00pm and we'd get done around 9:30. Alaskan time is 2 hours behind Utah time, so it was way past my bedtime! Alternate reason for my sleepiness: I'm actually 80 years old.

Sunday, June 10
Our shore excursion in Ketchikan started at 7:00am, so we were up early and on the pier on time (okay, early). There weren't a lot of people signed up with us, maybe 14 others. We drove in a bus about 30 minutes out of town. There we geared up. Steve and I had bought waterproof jackets and pants before we left on our cruise but we hadn't needed to, they had some there we could have used. However, I was glad to have my own because mine had little things that made me more comfortable, like ties to tighten my hood so it didn't blow off. After gearing up, we took a motorized raft ride across the sea to a secluded little cove. The weather was cloudy but not too windy and had stopped raining once we got out of town. At the cove, we received a lighter life jacket and got into our kayaks. All the kayaks were two-person, or I wouldn't have let Steve talk me into doing this. I had convinced Steve to get into the back seat since that was the steering seat but the guides told us to change places since women are more flexible and that's needed for the steering. It was easier than I thought it would be but by the end of the voyage (about an hour) my legs were getting tired of being in the same position. 

This is where I really dropped the ball with picture taking because we saw so many cool things! When we got out of the cove and into the sea, we saw a whale in the distance - close enough to be cool and exciting but not close enough to be scary. We also got pretty close to some sea lions and seals. In fact, we got really really close to the seals. At one point, I could have reached out and touched one if I wouldn't have been too scared about tipping over. The sea lions swam away as soon as we got too close, which was good because the guides said they are territorial and will attack if they feel threatened. The seals, on the other hand, were very friendly and curious. They swam around us and would pop up quite close to our kayaks. They kind of looked like dogs with just their heads popped up, and I kind of missed our little Sadie.

Sea kayaking was remarkably easy and lots more fun than I thought it would be. Steve picks it when asked his favorite part of the trip (I still liked zip lining better). We were lucky because the weather held the whole time we were out so the water wasn't too choppy. Our rain gear was awesome so we stayed really dry and warm. I had no trouble rowing and surprised Steve by not resting as much as he thought I would (I had joked that I would make him do all the rowing since I was steering). I probably only rested a couple short moments, mostly because it was fun and easy. When we got back to land, we ate cookies and hot chocolate and watched loons swimming in the cove while waiting for the motorized raft to come back for us. It came with another group of kayakers (from a different ship because ours was leaving in a little bit). The ride to and from the cove was a blast. It bounced around a lot and we caught a lot of air several times. Also, we saw a billion bald eagles. I amazed everyone with my eagle-eye (teehee), always seeing them before anyone else, including the driver. 

We got back on land just as it started to downpour. The driver said we were lucky to have had such perfect weather. The other group was going to be in for a hard ride with the rain and the wind picking up. Whew! Lucky us! We bought t-shirts and a hat for Steve to commemorate our good time (we also bought zipline shirts).

The ship left around noon, so we rushed to get back on board once we got back into Ketchikan. We had lunch, and yep, a nap, before heading to another art auction. Steve had surprised me by agreeing to go, even saying that maybe we could get something else if we saw something we liked that was within our price range. Well, within minutes of getting to the preview before the auction, I found two Emile Bellet prints that I really liked. Bellet is known for his paintings of women without faces and his colors. Well, I spotted these two prints that didn't have the women but I knew before seeing the signature that they were done by him because they still had his style. I showed them to Steve and he liked them, so we asked what the pre-bid prices were. They were excellent, so we put in the pre-bid. This means that we get a better price and that anyone who wants to bid on them has to pay the full, much more expensive price, which never happens. It also gave us more tickets in the raffle and I ended up winning a mug! Well, we settled down to watch the auction, happy with our two Bellet prints. Before they came up for auction, a mystery print came up. Every so often throughout the auctions, the auctioneer would bring up prints and face them away from the audience. We'd all "bid" on them but no one actually had to buy them - we were just "giving ourselves the chance to buy it if we wanted to when we saw the print and learned its price". Really, it's a way to get everyone involved in the auction. Well, imagine my feelings when the print was finally turned over and it was an Emile Bellet! Have I mentioned how much I love Bellet? By this time, the gallery workers knew us and knew my liking for Bellet so they looked at me when they turned it over. Steve groaned. We waited as the auctioneer told us the value then kept going lower. He announced that they only had 5 prints so only 5 people could get it, then said the price. It was low! Three paddles immediately went up. I looked at Steve, one gallery worker looked at me and said, I know you want it. I kept looking at Steve, it was up to him. He gave me a short nod and my paddle went up so quickly I'm surprised my wrist didn't audibly snap! One other person bid on it just after me. This is how sweet my dear husband is and how much he must love me. We ended up buying 6 prints (for really good prices) when we hadn't planned on ever buying any! Below are the two prints we pre-bid for and the one I ended up bidding on.

Les Tournesols (Sunflowers) by Emile Bellet  

Infini Rouge by Emile Bellet

Lumiere d'Ete (Summer Light) by Emile Bellet

At one point in the auction, they brought out some really neat prints that we probably would have bought had they shown them in the first auction before the Tarkay prints. The painter is called the chocolate painter because his paintings look like he painted with white, milk, and dark chocolate. I love the Tarkays, but I think Steve would have enjoyed these other prints more - less feminine and visually stunning. Oh well, he says he has no regrets and that maybe some day we'll get the chocolate prints. It was really exciting for me to acquire three Bellets and they'll all go in the sitting room with my other Bellet. The Tarkays will find a home in our home, we just don't know where yet.

After the auction, we played games in the game room and read for a bit. No nap, surprisingly! Tonight was the second elegant dinner night, and I ate what ended up being my ultimate favorite dinner of the cruise - chateaubriand, ultra tender beef loin in a delightful sauce with veggies and scalloped potatoes. It was divine! We went to the show after dinner but left after 10 minutes because we were both so tired. Such old fogies!

Monday, June 11
I woke up ready for the cruise to be over. We would be spending most of the day at sea, docking in Victoria, British Columbia around 7pm, but since my passport didn't come in time, we planned on staying on the ship the whole time. Honestly, I was done with being on the ship. The scheduled activities weren't interesting to us (why didn't they have any more dance classes???) so we played our own games, went to the gym, and wandered around the ship. We realized a slight problem with our Seattle transfer excursion, so we went to the Shore Excursion desk to fix it (we had overpaid). While there, we learned that I didn't need a passport to go on shore in Victoria if I were on a cruise excursion because the authorities would know where I was going and when I'd be back. We discussed it for a bit then decided to sign up for the excursion to Bouchardt Gardens. I'd heard about the gardens when a coworker had gone there and had been told it was gorgeous. I'm really glad we decided to go. It made the rest of the day easier to handle because I knew we would be getting off in the evening. 

That afternoon, we went to the final art auction, only because the winner of the "Guess How Much This Painting is Worth" contest would be announced and you had to be in attendance to win. The gallery workers gently tried to get us to look at more prints but we politely refused saying we had bought all we were going to at the previous auctions, reminding them that we had been good customers. Well, we didn't win the contest but David, our dinner companion, did! We were pleased for them. At this point, we hadn't decided whether or not we'd be getting off in Victoria. One of the reasons why I didn't want to was that we'd miss the final dinner with David and Gladys. However, at the auction, I gave them our contact info (they had already given us theirs) and we learned that they would be missing dinner because they were going into Victoria. That made our decision easier and we ended up going to Victoria.

Shortly after docking, Steve and I were seated in a tour bus and driving through beautiful Victoria. We drove through downtown and our delightfully Canadian guide gave us excellent information. We drove out of town to the Bouchardt Gardens. Steve and I, seated in the front of the first bus to get to the Gardens, were the first people in the gardens. By this time it was after 8pm and the garden was closed to the public, so for the first few minutes, we got to see everything with nobody else around. That made seeing the Sunken Gardens for the first time really special. It was beautiful! It was dusk, so we had enough light to see by, and was really romantic. All the gardens were pretty and the temperature was comfortable, so it was really pleasurable walking around. However, my favorite part of the gardens, and of the day, and really high up there on my list of favorites for the trip was the Rose Carousel! I love love love carousels and will ride them whenever possible. When we got to the carousel, people were walking around inside the enclosure but not riding it, so we assumed we couldn't ride it. Fortunately, I asked how much it was to ride it then lamented that we couldn't ride it. Well, the man said, you can! Steve paid the man the money and we hopped on. Miracle of miracles, Steve actually rode an animal! Usually, he just stands by me refusing to mount up. It was probably the second best carousel I've ridden. It was pretty, it was fast, and it was a long ride. I had a blast! To top off the entire evening, I found maple hard candies and maple cookies in the gift shop! Yay!

The Empress Hotel

Me at the Bouchardt Gardens - my other new jacket

Some government building in Victoria

Tuesday, June 12
Since our flight back to Utah wasn't until 4:30, we opted to go on the Seattle Essentials tour through Carnival. It made getting off the ship the easiest I've ever experienced! We grabbed our luggage (having left it outside our rooms the night before like normal) in the building and gave it to our bus driver. Didn't have to worry about it again until the airport. Nice! Again, we sat in the front of the bus (my preference) as we drove around Seattle. I like Seattle and could live there although Steve doesn't believe it - he says I would get too cold. He might be right. Anyway, after a while, the guide's voice lulled me asleep for a 15 minute nap. I woke up a few minutes before we got to the Space Needle. It was fun to be at the iconic site and we went to the top and looked all around. We were surprised the hour went by so quickly. Then we were driven to Pike's Market where we were given 90 minutes to explore. It started to drizzle, so we went inside the market and ran into David and Gladys! I was so happy to get a chance to see them one more time and to tell them a proper goodbye. We bought lunch at a greek shop David recommended, mmmm, it was good! We saw them toss fish (I tried to capture it on camera) at the iconic fishing-tossing place. We bought big chocolate chip cookies - which reminds me that I failed to mention that after hot chocolate my treat of choice on the cruise were the small crispy chocolate chip cookies. I got kind of addicted to them. Again, time passed quickly, and we headed to the airport. 

At the top of the Space Needle

David and Gladys!

We still had lots of time before our flight so we read and napped. Our flight arrived in Salt Lake around 7:30 Utah time and our shuttle came an hour later to take us home. It was a great trip but it felt soooo good to finally be home. We slept like the dead that night and first thing Wednesday morning we picked up Sadie from the boarding kennel. I was relieved to hear that she had behaved well and had seemed very at ease the whole time. Yay!
Well, congratulations if you made it through this whole thing. What a novel! I trimmed it a bit, but in the end I decided to keep it fairly lengthy because I'm writing this more for my own memory than for the reader's comfort. Sorry. :) I would totally recommend an Alaskan cruise, just be prepared for cold and rain and lots of old people. :)

P.S. I've been getting ads as comments so I'm not allowing comments. If you'd like, comment on my fb posting that will go with this or email me. Thanks for understanding. :)