Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Teelside Log, Friday, September 11, 2009

“Plan for flexibility” being the motto of standby travel, we did so by heading for Seattle a day sooner than really necessary, just in case. We lifted off from CRW @ 7:00AM and arrived at SEA @ 10:20AM without a hitch. Before noon we had been shuttled from the airport by the motel and were settled into the Rodeway Inn – not the most luxurious accommodation on the block, but certainly adequate. As Denny’s restaurant was within walking distance; we opted for a mid-afternoon meal there then took a very warm stroll up the hill and around the block.

Bedtime could hardly come soon enough and we slept well. I was up at 6AM and we tootled over to Denny’s again for an 8:30AM breakfast. The air was pleasantly cool so we took a long walk down the hill – just hangin’ out for the morning, awaiting the Snow’s arrival. DSIL & Co. arrived early afternoon and we were off to Denny’s again. We took another walk to the near 7-11 store for sodas and then on the way back to the motel hand-picked dessert: fresh blackberries on vines in the alley. Our bodies were on the west coast, but heads were still on eastern seaboard time and bedtime seemed tardy … we slept very soundly again.

Cruise Log: SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2009
12:00nn Weather: Wind 8kts, Cloudy sky, 20°C / 68°F
3:15pm Passenger boat drill
3:45pm Let go all lines, commenced sea voyage

After Sunday services, two private carriers transported us to the dock. Our great adventure was underway. Tagged luggage was whisked away from the trunks of carrier cars and dock to mysteriously reappear in our stateroom later in the day. Registering online made the check-in process brief and painless. We were assigned a group number and waited in a large area to be called for boarding. There were two ships boarding at the same time, but somehow they managed to steer us to the right one. There were cookies and lemonade on the sidelines – the first of seemingly infinite food offerings. We waited our turn for all aboard. Rooms weren’t ready yet, but the scattered boarding meant the Lido Deck (9) with myriad late lunch buffets would not be swamped by 1,500+ guests in one clump. Having already determined this would be my chance to try dishes never before tasted, the first thing on my plate was sushi, rounded out with a small bowl of oriental chicken/rice, then a plate with grilled salmon and spinach. YUM!

Sharing room 4016 with the DBIL/DSIL was easy … like their company. Friends had the cabin next to ours. Tight quarters, like all ships, but we managed to stash clothing in closets/shelves and hide the suitcases under beds. We had a nice veranda and spent some time there every day. Before leaving dock there was the obligatory boat drill at a near station, but were instructed over the intercom to leave life vests behind. Was that because after donning the vests (stored in the bottom of our closets) we’d be too wide to get out the narrow cabin doors? Those in charge were wearing their life vests and could count heads per station which must meet drill criteria. I was feeling uneasy about being in front row separated from Wayne until Bob reminded me of the rule of the sea: “women and children off first.” That done, we returned “home” to watch from the veranda as the ship “let go all lines” and sailed forth from Seattle’s harbor.

The six of us sallied forth about 5:30 for our evening meal in the Vista Dining Room. We were seated at table 189 and introduced to waiters Reza and Agus. After a delightful ‘supper’ (though I am sure they would never call it that – a meal where the waiter puts your napkin in your lap for you must have a fancier name!) we left a request for the same time, table and servers for the week. Our ears were greeted with chamber music as we left the dining room. A nice string quartet was playing in the sidelined Explorer’s Lounge … so there we stood – Wayne with his eyes closed soaking up sound, me watching the sea waves pass hypnotically to the strains of Vivaldi – enraptured!

The evening filled out with a mini-show in the Vista Lounge to give us a sample of programs, music and comedy to come, then it was back to our room. Beds all turned – Wayne had the bunk that dropped down from the ceiling (over Dot and Ken’s poor heads) and I had the sofa, turned out by the veranda doors. It had been a long day and we were ready to turn in. That’s when I fell in love – lying in the bed, rocking to sleep with the waves. Better than codeine, it was a wonderful sweet-float sensation, with no diminished senses. I’m surprised they ever got me to move!

Cruise Log: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2009
12:00nn Position: 51°30.9'N 1130° 32.3'W
Weather: Wind 6kts, Cloudy sky, 13°C / 53°F

The next meal pattern was established by DBIL/me leaving a bit early for Lido deck coffee (breakfast to follow). We are typical earlier risers and so could claim a table for siblings DH/DSIL to join us. Of course they were well ensconced in conversation as they arrived and we were on our third cup of java. DBIL favors eggs Benedict; I tried eggs Florentine the next day. Generally, I settled on fruit (ate my weight in apricots) cheese and a hard dark “peasant” roll for the day’s first meal. When spouses/siblings arrived I sometimes switched from coffee to Earl Grey tea. Obviously the supplies of food and drink were endless!

Monday was the day to find a way around the ship. DH’s first forage was sick bay – poor baby does not like motion (does not do carnival rides, either). They fixed us up with some meclizine, enough to carry us through the week as half doses were best. Morning weather was lovely and we started our exploration of the ship with a few rounds of Deck 3 where outer decks allowed full circle walking. We made no use of some onboard facilities – casino, bars, swimming pools (for obvious reasons); little use of others, because some amenities get pricey. But it was interesting to browse the shops (whoever could use that much jewelry?), sample the scents drifting from the spa, and check out décor of gathering areas on decks 2-11. You had to go through the casino to get to the dining room (planned, no doubt); the Vista Lounge was really a theater area and aside from stage acts, it also served for several naturalists/natives educational talks and other meetings. There was a nice library; several computer classes offered. A studio-type kitchen arena featured cooking and later cute towel design demonstrations, daily mass for those interested and evening movies. All of this did not mean we never got lost – it’s pretty easy to lose your bearings on a moving target.

Cruise Log: TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2009
12:00nn Position: 58°50.0'N 1136° 32.8'W
Weather: Wind 19kts, Overcast, 100C / 500 F

This was by far our favorite part of the trip. I’d say second only to Niagara Falls “Maid of the Mist” excursion. We did not disembark, but the ship wended its way through several inlets close to high walls of glacier ice, brief beaches and towering mountains. It was cool with some rain, but the rain did not dispel the beauty. To some the dirt and gravel moving along beneath and before the ice may have lessened the splendor of the glaciers, but not to me. Towers of blue ice formed like 100-foot crystals atop layered sand-sculptures of brown, gray and black. The scenery behind the glaciers was equally breathtaking. At John Hopkins glacier we heard ice calving like great claps of thunder. There were seals on floating ice, but my vision did not stretch that far. We saw whale spouts, but no breaching mammals; a brown bear trotting along the shore at some distance; bald eagles in tree tops. I spied a brown seal very close to the rail of our veranda. Another world….or rather, the same majestic world of our Great Creator!

Cruise Log: WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2009
5:18am Safely docked
12:00nn Weather: Winds 5kts, Overcast sky, 12°C / 52°F
6:39pm Let go all lines, commenced sea voyage

First day in port. It seemed strange to be docked at land again. You wake up and there you are – quite still beside a dock bedecked with bus stops where guides were preparing to hock their tour tickets; tram lines that disappeared in the fog at the top of the high slope and, beyond the parking lot, shop after shop after shop. End of season sale signs proclaimed: The tourists are coming, the tourists are coming!! But before shopping, we did a bus tour out to Mendenhall Glacier. The bus driver’s dialog wasn’t much aid behind fogged windows, but I did catch a glimpse of the sign and building for the Juneau church which heartened me somehow. From the bus stop, we walked a trail where bears had been but were no longer expected, since there was a lull between salmon runs. Something had left behind some pretty foul fish remnants. The bears' absence could be a good thing; it was crowded and escape routes were few – it was hard enough to leave the rotten fish odor behind. At the top of the hill, there was an odd familiarity about Mendenhall; probably because photos of the site are so common. A waterfall adjacent to the glacier was nearly as impressive as the moving ice. Both would have greater impact with closer observation. It was raining again, but we were told to expect that in this tropical rain region. That must be what makes the evergreens so lush.

Interesting facts about Juneau – the only way to get there is sea or air; most buildings (all buildings of any age) are wood; the capitol building is small, has no dome and made of yellow brick; and I missed the perfect chance to photograph Wayne with one of several a life-sized cut-out posters of Sarah Palin. Politically astute or attuned, we must not be.

Cruise Log: THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2009
7:51am At Anchor
12:00nn Weather: Winds 9kts, Overcast sky, 12°C / 53°F
4:42pm Commenced sea voyage

The bay at Sitka is too shallow for docking the cruise ship, so we were taken ashore by lifeboats put into service as “tenders.” This charming city likely claims second place among favored spots. The cameraman had far more shots of this area it seems. Perhaps this is what was in our minds eye view of Alaska. Shore-side cabins among tall pines, boat docks and wooden wharfs, lots of Russian and Indian influences about. Very historical on the surface – ranging from totem poles and stone fort walls to mid-1900 shops along the street. We visited a very nice quilt shop and a Ben Franklin five-n-dime. The latter had front shelves and sidewalks piled with tourist items, but the back of the store was like walking into Charleston’s 1950 version complete with yard goods and craft supplies. I would think there would be time for lots of winter handwork in Alaska, but they say the coastal regions are pretty mild and so may have little need of cabin fever relief. Walking through town we also discovered a grocery store where DH found some caffeine/sugar free cola. [Isn’t it funny how we tend to lean toward home patterns even on distant shores? We lugged those slowly diminishing cokes back to Seattle and left half of them in the motel there as they wouldn’t fly – hope someone found use for them.]

We re-boarded ship in time to get ready for dinner…eating again. By now or soon hereafter (so much eating – it’s all a blur) we have lots of new dishes under our belts. Escargot, calamari, prawns, fillet Mignon and lobster, tiramisu, coffee cheesecake, lemon and mango sherbets, assorted European breads, leafy green salads with exotic dressings, lamb chops, lobster bisque, French onion soup (the only thing I ordered twice), salmon galore, and on and on and on. My favorite appetizer was a spring roll nesting in a luscious (hot) puddle of Thai sauce; my least favorite entrée was the lobster. It was good, but I still like shrimp better. As for escargot – you can eat anything drown in butter and garlic.

Cruise Log: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2009
6:45am Safely docked
12:00nn Weather: Wind 4kts, Overcast sky, 13°C / 53°F
12:50pm Let go all lines, commenced sea voyage

What’s to catch in Ketchikan? Salmon, crabs and tourists. B/S left ship early for a zip line adventure, but by the time we were up ‘n at ‘em there wasn’t a lot of time for visitation of the real city. Like Juneau and Sitka our first glimpse of Ketchikan was tourist-ville. I left a bigger dent there than intended, but not in shops. I moved backward off an unseen wharf step and landed (rather hard) on my backside – only real harm was embarrassment for DH – still sore, but recovering well enough with time. You’d think with all this padding…no, don’t go there. We became accustomed to the tourist trends and jewelry shops. Surprises me that gold and diamonds and semi-precious stones are so plentiful in such a sparsely populated state. And then there’s all those “yours from Alaska” trinkets that read “made in China or Philippines” on the reverse of label. But I digress. There are plenty of nature/outdoor activities available earlier in the season, so the case is (again) made for a road trip with more control of a schedule. All of our ports could have used double time for exploration it seemed.

Dinner routine was a bit different this day, as service personnel took a turn at entertaining along with food service. It all began with tossed napkins (versus tossed rolls) to the tune of Blue Danube waltzing; veggie juggling before serving salad and a more fixed menu. The guys had fun and so did we. Baked Alaska was the slated dessert – and who takes an Alaskan cruise without trying baked Alaska??
Another aside about food (since we’re never far from the subject), though supply and variety were endless, it was quite possible to eat reasonably on a cruise. Dinner courses were small proportions and always included whole grains, fruits and no-sugar added ice cream as options. I did say quite possible, not likely. You’ve already noticed that several of my choices were neither sugar nor fat free.

Cruise Log: SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2009
12:00nn Weather: Wind 7kts, Partly Cloudy Sky, 15°C / 159°F
6:20pm* Safely docked
11 :30pm* Let go all lines, commenced sea voyage
*Times are estimated

Main Street Victoria was a short taxi trip from the dock. We were not far from nightfall when we hopped out in front of the Empress Hotel, then took a good walk down Government Street and over to the Wharf Street. By the time we circled back to the hotel, darkness had descended and the hotel was lit with lights like a fairytale castle. I like the feel of Victoria and probably would have really liked the botanical gardens had we been early enough in the day or season to take that route. Again, back for our last supper – er, dinner on board and adieu to the sweet serving crew.

As to servers the vast majority were Indonesian “youngsters” – some looked no more than twelve. They work 10-months a year on the ships to support themselves and their families. Perhaps that disconnection makes them more interested and attentive to guests, or perhaps they are just sweet and friendly. Whether by training or nature, they were very pleasant and polite, without exception.

Tired enough to turn in early, as usual, we packed our bags and left them outside the door for transfer to the dock in the wee hours. I don’t know when we left dock to head for Seattle, the dream coming to a close; but I am sure it was after the projected hour before midnight. Or maybe not … I didn’t turn into pumpkin before departure.

Cruise Log: SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 20,2009
5:30am* First line ashore
6:00am* Safely docked
*Times are estimated

There was a full afternoon of sightseeing in Seattle on Sunday’s log. We walked over to the Space Needle and finding long lines, hopped on the monorail to downtown Seattle. Talk about culture shock! I would never have imagined such a sea of people on a Sunday afternoon. For you Sleepless/Seattle fans, we went to the waterfront market, lunched at the Athenian; saw the stools with brass “Rob Reiner/Tom Hanks sat here” tags attached and very recognizable piers outside our window as we ate fish/chips. Then on to an underground tour of the original Seattle street level – so close to sea level that sewers worked backwards (gross) at high tide. Consequently, they redesigned streets by building stone walls, filling them with nearby hillside dirt to bring road and sidewalk levels up one story. The original sidewalks remained in use for some time, then the first floors became basements and the second floors were street level. Pretty ingenious. Present streets are bustling, noisy; a Starbucks on every corner (no surprise); a complex bus system, a big city contingent of homeless street musicians (some sad, some scary), unusual architecture and big spattering of ‘the arts’ throughout. Bus and monorail got us back to the Needle, the large crowd had moved on and we went up to view the city and, of course, Mt. Rainier. Been there, done that and I’m glad for the memory.

Six or seven hours afoot tired tourists make … didn’t take us too long to rearrange for next day travel home and hit the sack. I awoke in the middle of the night and had to giggle. Three tired puppies snoring to beat the band (for the first time in our week of rooming together). I’m sure I joined the chorus when I fell back asleep. Whipped, we were, for sure!

A long day in the airport on Monday and the trip of a lifetime ended Tuesday – wheels down in Charleston just after noon; feet across the threshold of Teelside about 2:30. Time to thank God for the good company, an indescribably wonderful time, absolutely Awesome sights and Providential protection that guarded our journey start to finish.

Signing off …