Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Alaskan Adventure--Part I

In order to begin our Alaskan Adventure, we had to endure something of a hostage crisis: a full day of air travel. No cruise ships board at the shores of Lake Erie, so we had to fly from Cleveland to Seattle, with a plane change in Chicago. We rose at the ungodly hour of 3 AM on Sunday 7/16 in order to get ready and arrive in plenty of time for our 6:30 AM flight, the admonitions of "arrive at least an hour and a half early for your flight" ringing in our ears. Well, no one managed to tell us that the American Airlines counters don't even open until 5:45. The line was long and full of irate Princess, Norwegian, and Holland America cruise passengers, all grumbling about getting up in the wee hours to stand in line when we could have gotten more sleep and fretting about the signs we had all seen telling us that Sunday mornings between 6 and 10 were the busiest getting through security. There was a palpable sense of doom among us.

Finally, the doors behind the counter opened and the inappropriately cheery agents stepped up. Things moved quickly, and we anxiously walked to the security area. No lines! Again, a quick process, and soon we were in our terminal, on our tiny plane, and headed to O' Hare.
I won't bore you with the details of each flight, except to say Why do they allow reclining seatbacks in coach? Is it to prod you and punish you into paying the exorbitant First Class ticket rate? The lack of legroom was difficult enough for my 6' 3" husband, but to then be further crippled by someone's seatback in his face and lap was excruciating. And we were on a Boeing 777 to Seattle; this is the plane that now offers luxury economy seats with increased legroom for a 68$ upgrade from regular coach. Please.

After our flights, we shlepped our luggage the length of the airport through some double doors, were met by Princess Cruise Line staff, whisked aboard a shuttle, and taken to the dock.

(click on any photos to enlarge)
(I tried to get a picture without all those people in the way, but they kept on coming!) That is the ship we sailed on. I almost threw up, it was so big. I was getting excited. And a bit scared.
Plus, we were both exhausted. And confused. We had lost like 3 hours somewhere, but we were so tired. It was about 2PM Seattle time, and we had started our day at 3 AM Cleveland time.

Here is the view of Seattle from aboard ship that day. Can you believe the weather?

After a passenger muster exercise drill, we cast lines and set sail for Alaska. Rick and I met our cabin steward, Artemio, who filled us in on the pampering we'd receive from him: turndown service, fresh fruit in our room, a selection of spa shampoos, lotions, and conditioners, and how to reach him if there was any little thing we needed from him. We poked around our stateroom a little, unpacked, and then got ready to explore the ship. Rick got out the camera, and...!!!! Oh no! Suddenly, our digital camera was not working. The lens wouldn't move and the shutter wouldn't open! It had been fine just hours ago and had taken the pictures you see above. Now it just kept clicking and jamming. This was a tragedy. We had two 1-gig memory cards, 6 days in Alaska, and no camera, and we were already at sea! Our first job in exploring would be to see if there was a photography shop with a digital camera that would use the cards we had. Luckily, they had one--and only one--model that took SD cards. It became ours.

The girl at the photo shop advised Rick to take a lot of photos to run down the little bit of charge on the new camera's battery, then charge it overnight. That way, he could also practice with the unfamilar camera. Here's my favorite of Rick's practice shots: I think that's a Coors Original, by the way...

Cruise ships are one big feeding trough. A 24-hour buffet, a hotdog and hamburger patio grill on the pool deck, an Italian trattoria, two dining rooms, a steakhouse, an ice cream bar, and 24-hour room service. It's always feeding time on a cruise ship. Rick was in heaven, and I knew the boys would have been had they been invited on this extravaganza. Everyone was either on their way to or from a meal, it seemed. Oof.

And cruise ships are very international. The staff are from Romania, Thailand, England, Australia, VietNam, Singapore, Philippines, Poland, India...and those were just our waiters or bar stewards or cruise directors. There were passengers from many parts of Asia and Europe as well. I heard many languages, but the one language I didn't hear--at least in English--was any profanity. Honestly. And I have a theory about this. Everyone on the ship was treated with incredible politeness and respect by all staff. Consequently, the passengers treated everyone, including each other, this way. I never heard anyone become rude, nasty, irate, snotty, or anything like that the entire cruise! I found that truly extraordinary. Customer service people in stores and businesses everywhere, and customers too, I suppose, could take a lesson.

I promise to get to the really good stuff--the Alaska stuff--starting tomorrow. We dock at Ketchikan, the Salmon Capital of the World.

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