Observations on Cruises

Yes, I just now remembered I’d promised you this post.

Well, since it was our first cruise, we really had no idea what to expect.  Because we purchased the tickets so close to the date, we were able to get a room in The Haven (the upper-deck poncy areas with butler and concierge service) for a reasonable price.  The butler idea worried me before we even got on board.  More on that below.

There were a couple of little things, little niggles, not really problems.  On a ship called the Norwegian Pearl (or Norwegian anything), you’d expect a lot of the crew to be Scandinavian, right?  But no.  Most of the crew we encountered was Asian or Indonesian.  Our butler had such a thick accent that most of the time we couldn’t even understand what he was saying!  But in the end we all did manage to communicate when needed.

What bothered me most about the butler is that he would randomly stop by and ring the doorbell, either to see if we needed anything, or to give us some information about some activity that would be happening later.  We’d be leisurely enjoying the view from the balcony, and then the doorbell would ring; I would hop up to open the door, and the butler would push past me into the main living area so he could speak to Chris.  Nine times out of ten this conversation could have taken place at the door, without the butler entering, but he always came right into the room as soon as I opened the door!  Once or twice I tried to block his passage but he just made some foreign-word remark (that I didn’t understand) with a smile and pushed me aside.  So in that respect I was extremely uncomfortable with this high-level cabin.

Water:  supposedly the tap water on the ship is no good for drinking; we had to purchase bottled water if we wanted to drink water in the room.  This was an annoyance, especially since we were in the high-profile room.  And of course it was more expensive than at Safeway or similar.

Elevators:  totally crowded all the time.  Our deck was only accessible by putting our keycard into a slot in the elevator and then pushing the button for 14, and a lot of times we really had to struggle to get near the button panel to do this.  And then of course there was commentary from the other elevator people:  “I didn’t even know there WAS a 14th floor!” and similar.  There were a lot of wheelchair patrons on this ship, and we almost always had a wheelchair in the elevator also.  We ended up taking the steps a lot, except when we came back to the ship and embarked on deck 4…I was not about to walk up 10 flights after roaming around town all day!

Spruce beers in Skagway.

We are not big drinkers anymore, but we’d paid for the unlimited drinks package just because we thought it would be worth it.  It wasn’t.  Chris and I kept forcing ourselves to order beer and wine just because we knew we had the drinks package.  So there’s that.  Next time we won’t bother with it.

Oh, internet.  Alex and Chris are pretty addicted to it, and even I am falling into that trap sometimes.  We got one “250 minutes free” package with the booking, and had earmarked that for me, and then we purchased the “unlimited internet” package for the boys.  It took us nearly 24 hours to sort it all out, but ultimately we did.

The food was fine, the drinks were fine, the staff was at least all pleasant.  Views were excellent, no matter where on the ship we were.

I found it frustrating that the Norwegian website was lacking in a lot of information.  It seemed that they could have a webpage about this particular cruise, indicating the times restaurants were open, or what activities were taking place at what time, and things like that – but we only got this information on a printed daily newsletter.  Chris pointed out that if you are charging people for internet access, it’s hardly fair to put the information on the internet for them to hunt down!  Which makes sense.  But there were screens all over the place in the common areas, directing people to various locales, and showing cutaway views of the ship to indicate which places were on which deck…etc.  So we got through it, but I still feel the Norwegian site is lacking.  They have a community Q&A page for each ship and I posted a lot of pre-travel questions there, which were answered by people who had traveled before on this ship.  But they were all common sense questions (like, do you need to have your TSA liquids in a clear pouch and accessible before boarding?  A:  No, they can be packed in your check-bag).  There should be some page with all this kind of info for people who have never cruised before and don’t know the protocols.

So, because we liked the cruise, but because some of the Norwegian stuff made us uncomfortable, we will be investigating other cruise lines for our next sea adventure.  Got a recommendation?  Please let me know!


Victoria and The End

I’m so out of practice with this blog I keep forgetting there’s more to tell you!

On our last full day, we sailed to Victoria, BC.  We’ve been there before, and like it.  The ship would only be in port for a few hours, so we decided on a 1-hour horse-drawn trolley tour that left as soon as possible, so we could safely come back and bunk down (the ship docked at 6pm, tour started at 6:30).

As we approached Victoria that evening.  Both the boys referred to this as a computer game landscape!

I have no pictures for you from the tour.  Chris took a few, but he was seated in the fourth row of seats (behind me and Alex) and so the picture is mostly rows of people in front of us, and horse butts.  The tour was informative, but chilly since it was taking place in the evening.  Afterwards we did indeed hasten back to the ship.

The ship as we approached it that night in Victoria.

We did drive past a home with a For Sale sign on it, so Chris snapped a pic of the sign information.  (I looked it up when we got back to the ship.  Small townhouse.  $2 million.)

For the rest of the evening, we organized things, packed, had our last onboard meal, and wandered around out on the deck for an hour or so, preparing to end this great adventure.

Sunday morning the ship docked in Seattle around 7:30 and we departed (in the priority disembarkation group, of course).  Our shuttle was waiting right outside the terminal building, and we were whisked home to the familiar comforts and the very anxious cats.

Overall, we really did love the experience, and are already investigating other destinations for 2019!



Ketchikan and Beyond

Sorry.  Lost track of things and forgot there was more to post about.

On the way to Ketchikan we cruised through Glacier Bay.  The ship did a lot of idling to allow passengers to take good photographs.

A big glacier! This was the kind I’d been hoping to see. While we were watching, a big chunk did indeed fall off. Didn’t get a pic of it, though.
A more distant view of the glacier and mountains behind, and the bits of ice in the water.
This view shows detail of how the terrain was carved out by ancient glaciers. We discussed how difficult it might be to hike up that ravine.
These may seem kind of same-ish to you (and honestly, by the end of this day they were looking same-ish to us), but the clarity of the pic was so good I had to use it.
Looking back at Glacier Bay as we depart.
Just magnificent. The blue tone is due to the distance haze, I guess.

By the way, none of these pictures have been retouched.

The next day we docked in Ketchikan.  This was kind of a difficult day.  The ship started allowing people to leave at 7, and our excursion (to a nature sanctuary) didn’t depart until 9:30.  We weren’t sure whether anything in the town would be open to visit, except maybe breakfast restaurants.

Well, surprise, whaddaya know, in a tourist town, the shops all open early.  We wandered around, got me a brimmed cap to keep the sun out of my eyes, and a pair of reading glasses for Chris.  Then we wandered around and poked into a lot of Alaska souvenir stores before heading to the departure point for the excursion.

Hah!  No drama here.  A director looked at our tickets and told us to get on Bus A.  The driver of Bus A looked at our tickets, tore the stubs off, and told us to get on board.  We sat near the back of the bus, settled in, and then a guy came on board and said, “Pick family?  You’re on the wrong bus!”  So we had to get off and go wait in line until our actual bus was ready.  But we made it.

A sculpture on the dock at Ketchikan.
Unfortunately due to the zoom, this picture looks a bit like a watercolor, and not too accurate. From our nature walk. In the center of the picture, the black blob is a bear. The white flecks are seagulls.
Ditto here on image quality. This is a seagull and a harbor seal. The seal and his buddies spent a lot of time catching salmon in the stream and fighting over them, and the seagulls kept hanging around to try to steal the salmon.
River otter on the bank. Again, zoom has lost some clarity. We saw a LOT of wildlife on this walk. The bear, seagulls, salmon, an eagle, heron, river otters, harbor seals!

At the end of the walk, we went to the Raptor Center (which is a sanctuary for three specific birds that are too injured to live in the wild).  Here are two of the three.

Bald eagle. (“An anti-American eagle? That’s diabolical!”) This bird has a hole in its wing from getting electrocuted, and it can’t fly.
“Hi, Nana!” This owl broke its wing. A vet repaired it with steel pins, and the owl can fly, but it makes a noise “like a helicopter” according to the Raptor Center girl. Since owls rely on stealth to catch their prey, this wasn’t doing him much good, and so he lives here now.  Looks a bit like Max (our Maine Coon cat).

Of course there was drama on the trip back to the ship as well, though we did see a whale on the ride back.  We thought the ship was departing at 1PM.  The bus got us back to the dock at 12:48.  So we had to run, and then…wait in line to get back on the ship.  The actual timing was that people had to be back on the ship by 1, and it would depart thereafter.  So we were safe, but I think in the future we won’t cut it so fine with our excursions.

More later!


Alaska, Continued

We left you somewhere in the US, halfway towards Canada on the White Pass & Yukon Route, heading towards the Klondike Gold Fields.  Let’s pick up from there.

A beautiful view backwards looking at some of the mountains. The snowy bit is a glacier, and this photo is pretty representative of all the scenery around here. Bald rock with small patches of trees in crevices.
Now THIS is a rickety bridge! I was completely terrified, until they soothed us by stating that the train does not cross this bridge…because it really is too rickety. We passed by it and breathed more easily.
These little glacial lakes were all along the train tracks at the top. Beautiful, pristine, makes me want to live there. And surprisingly, it was not that cold!  Our sweatshirts were quite adequate for warmth.
Suspension bridge. This is in Canada, and I already forget the name of the town. But we did cross it…
Looking down the river from the suspension bridge.
We are so brave.
One last glacial lake before heading back down.

Anyway, after the suspension bridge excitement, we boarded a bus to go back to Skagway, and spent the afternoon exploring the town.  We found a yarn store!  And after 20 minutes of dithering and a generous “spare no expense” from Chris, I left without a single thing.  They had a neat yarn made from silk, merino wool, and…the fur of the Arctic Fox!  It was really yummy but I decided against it.

This is the amazing Skagway “Arctic Brotherhood Hall,” which was a fraternal organization set up in 1899. The building is covered with small pieces of driftwood arranged into patterns (see below for close-up).
The man who decided to do this embellishment put out a request for people to donate driftwood. Many people then volunteered to help.

One of the fun facts we’d learned on the railway tour was regarding why some of the lower-down lakes and ponds had a blackish appearance to them.  This is due to the spruce needles that fell into the water.  Apparently spruce-infused water contains a lot of vitamin C.  Gold miners would brew it into tea to stave off scurvy, until someone realized you could brew beer from it.  So we visited the Skagway Brewery and had a pint of Spruce Beer (just so we wouldn’t get scurvy, you realize).  Unfortunately they do not market it outside the region, and nobody else seems to make it (based on a quick web search).  Guess we will have to go back to plain old orange juice with vodka.  Ha ha…

After the beer we went to the Skagway Museum, very small (ground floor of a small building), and pretty much entirely focused on the era from 1897-1910, which were the boom years for the area.  But Chris and I love museums so we were happy to wander through it.

An engine from the WP & YR.

After this, we left Skagway and headed towards Ketchikan, spending another fun night watching the stars and daydreaming from our balcony.

(Later that evening, I regretted not buying the Arctic Fox yarn, so I went online and ordered it.  It should get here tomorrow.)

More later!

Alaska by Big Giant Boat

Having lived in Seattle as long as we have, it recently surprised us to realize we’d never investigated Alaska cruises.  So we took one!  This was the first time any of us had cruised, and the first time any of us had gone to Alaska.  Following is a travelogue of the trip.  After the final trip post is up, I will be posting a sort of overview/observations of the cruising experience.  We sailed on the Norwegian Pearl.

Day 1:  Cab ride to the docks (and wow, was it nice not having to go to an airport!).  Our stateroom choice got us priority boarding, so we skipped the lines and went right inside.  But our stateroom wasn’t cleaned up yet from the last cruise, so we were invited to sit in a restaurant and have some lunch.  I had shrimp cocktail, which I haven’t seen on a menu in years.  I don’t remember what Chris and Alex had.  Sorry.

All these pics were taken by Chris with his phone.

Inside our stateroom. Alex’s bedroom/bath is behind the mirrored area; Chris and I are sitting on the couch, and the sea/balcony is behind Chris as he takes the pic. Our bedroom/bath is through the door you can see off to the left edge.
Seattle skyline before departure.
Seattle skyline, other direction, with a nice view of the fringe on my jacket.
Seattle skyline, on-ship basketball court.
As we begin to pull away from the dock.
Someone likes the high winds.

So that first day, we were simply sailing, and the scenery got pretty plain, pretty quickly, because we were on the port (seaward) side of the ship.  We saw the San Juan islands and then it turned into flat, featureless sea.

Day 2 was another at-sea day, so we explored the ship, tried the butler service; Alex swam in the private pool and took a dip in the hot tub.  Then we all went up on the upper deck again (shown in the Alex photo above) and enjoyed the stiff breezes and expansive views.  Nobody wanted to climb the rock wall, go to a show, or play basketball, so we explored some more.

View in the evening of day 1.
Here we begin to see Alaska’s glaciers.

On day 3 things started to get exciting.  First of all the view started to improve simply by having things to look at!  Then, Chris and Alex had a zip line excursion planned.  This is billed as the “World’s Longest Ziprider,” but Chris later told me they fudged the marketing to get that name.  It is not the longest zipline in the world, BUT, because they have six people zipping at once, they added up the amount of cable they have in use, and that is the longest amount of cable in use at any zipline place.  But they got off the ship to go investigate, and I went to the forward deck to see if I could watch them, and to knit.

Before they went, he was happy and excited.
This is a view Chris took while walking across the platform from the ship to the excursion meeting point.

Oh – forgot to mention that this stop is in a place called Icy Strait Point.  There are a few souvenir shops and a barbeque restaurant at the foot of the mountain but otherwise the zipline appears to be the only reason to stop here.

As they ascend the mountain to ride the zip line, looking back across the bay.
Here is the top of the zipline ride. I don’t know who those people are.
Alex after the zipline ride!  Reports of “jelly legs” were constant.
This is the ship. Look at the dark blue funnel with “NCL” on it. There are 5 sets of windows on the deck below that – a skinny one next to a big square one – ours is the center of the 5 groupings shown. The only one without a little roof over it.

On day 4 we arrived in Skagway, Alaska, where our excursion was a ride on the White Pass and Yukon Route railway.  We enjoyed this bit, even though we were right next to a REALLY SHEER dropoff (I sat towards the inside of the train car so I didn’t have to see this, but Alex kept poking his head out to look at the drop).  For souvenirs, we purchased a bundle containing a new baseball hat for Chris, a region-free DVD about the railway and history of the area, and some brochures.  The guide was knowledgeable and we enjoyed the scenery as well as the talk.

From the White Pass and Yukon Route train trip.
This bridge really looked too rickety to go over, but we did. (I held my breath.)

This is where I’ll stop for now because WordPress is giving me some grief.  We are halfway to the Canadian border…more to come!


Summer Vacation!

You know, I wasn’t even sure whether I should blog about this or not.  Everyone who reads the blog was on the vacation!  (Except possibly Ant.)

So, we got the parents together with us and the Young Master for some hopefully quality time in Washington DC and Tysons.  Ha ha.  I can always find quality time at Tysons.  Anyway, temperatures were pretty blistering hot, so we didn’t get to do as much as we’d planned (e.g., the zoo, although I’m not even sure if the zoo opens on the really hot days for the sake of the animals).

We had a Kennedy Center brunch, one museum day, a private tour of DC and monuments one evening, a dinner cruise on the Spirit of Washington’s Odyssey.  These are the things we managed while staying in Georgetown.  I also bought a pair of Fluevog Givers, but ended up returning them because there was a long blue ink mark on them!

We kept calling this “Alex’s Thing” because he was intrigued by it but we didn’t know what else to call it. Maybe someone else found out. I still don’t know what it is.


WWII Monument. This was the first time I’d seen this one. Very elegant and moving. Despite my attraction to organic forms in my own art, the stern regularity of this monument impressed me a lot.
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MLK after dark. You would not believe how many bus tours were swarming around him. There must have been 200 people milling around at the base of the statue.
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I’m amazed we got him to pose (even though it’s an “I’m not happy” pose). He really doesn’t like having his picture taken!

Thanks to Mom and Dad for emailing all those pictures.  Unfortunately all the ones Dad sent are crazy-blurry, so I am unable to use them.

After the DC portion of the trip, we moved out to Tysons for a week.  Most of our activity during this time was (a) mall trips and (b) looking at apartments.  We needed to stay cool!  We looked at Adaire (nice but the feeling was very cold, clinical, Scandinavian, which is not our style), and The Lofts at Park Crest (which was my #1 choice as far as atmosphere), and BLVD Reston (ultimately won because of location near a metro).  However, we are sternly debating whether we want to live in that area again because of the summer heat.  Right now we are investigating New England.

Thanks to everyone who went, and I hope you all enjoyed it!