We made it across nine states and two time zones, through several national parks and monuments, navigated a couple of hotels that could flatteringly be described as fleabag, and yet none of that was as daunting as getting on the boat.
First we had to make our way from our hotel in SeaTac to the pier in downtown Seattle, no easy task. Shuttles have been set up for this purpose and make a tidy profit, none of which goes to put seatbelts or shocks in their vans. Then you arrive at a giant terminal where—for a fee—a kindly porter will take all your luggage and make it disappear. Next you step inside the vast building, and that’s where the real fun begins.
We were herded; we were prodded; we were swiped and searched. It was all very Ellis Island.
Finally we were urged onto the boat and like the cattle we resembled, we settled in at the feed trough while our rooms were prepared. There were people, so many, many people. By this time we were so overwhelmed and desensitized that we may have been strip searched and de-loused. I don’t recall. All I know is that there were cookies, and they weren’t very good; if the lunch buffet was any indication, things didn’t bode well.
They picked up a little when we were allowed to go to our rooms. You know that scene in Titanic when the boat starts filling with water and the peasants are locked in steerage? Our room was a floor beneath that one.
Actually, it was quite cozy. The bed was king-sized and it had some clever storage so that our suitcases remained out of sight. The lack of windows made for excellent sleeping conditions to those who are averse to having any light in the room. (If you’re like me and light bothers you, take some tape to put over the tiny lights in the room and the peephole. They’re more apparent and distracting in the otherwise pitch blackness.)
The first night and all of the next day, we were at sea. For someone who has never been on a cruise and may be wondering if you would enjoy it, here’s a handy test:
If you’re an extrovert who loves to meet people and enjoys food, then a cruise is your Utopia.
If you enjoy being pampered by a staff of 900 men and women whose only purpose is to serve you round the clock—including twice daily room cleaning and 24 hour room service—then a cruise is for you.
If you’re the type of person who hates to plan vacations and would prefer to have someone tell you when and where to show up, then a cruise is for you.
If you love alcohol and gambling, then a cruise is for you.
If you’re an independent introvert who doesn’t drink or gamble, like strangers, crowds, being touched, served or waited on and finds great joy in planning vacations, then a cruise might not be for you. (Guess which one I am!)
Despite the fact that a cruise might not be a great fit for my particular personality, it was a great experience and quite possibly the best way to see our particular portion of Alaska. Some of the things we saw are only accessible by plane or boat. And after an initial adjustment, I really began to warm up to the resort-like atmosphere of the boat. After a while, you begin to resent anything you have to do for yourself. It’s a good thing the cruise was only 7 days. Much longer and I might have started to refer to myself in the third person like the queen. “We would like our water refreshed now. We are ready for our turndown service.” But I digress…
The “fun day at sea” was made difficult by the ever-present yet low-grade nausea some of us experienced while we adjusted to our sea legs. The day was foggy and cold, not ideal for relaxing on a deck (something unheard of with a 5 year old anyway.) We attempted to fill our day with fun ship activities. Carnival offered a lot of them, as well as a camp for kids. We took advantage of that for a short time here or there. They did a good job stocking the room with toys and planning games and activities for the kids. One day our daughter had her face painted like a tiger; another she was wowed by a magician.
The employees were wonderful. Most of them were Asian, some were from Eastern Europe and a smattering were from the UK or US. All of them were kind, warm, helpful, and friendly. They made the journey pleasant and joyful, even if it was a strange adjustment to be waited on constantly. Even though we saved for the vacation for a long time and tried to budget carefully, the solicitousness of our servers often made me feel excessive and frivolous. This was made worse when we found out that many of them were highly trained professionals in their own countries–doctors, lawyers, etc. Our waiter was an electrical engineer, and yet he served us with professionalism and good attitude. It was an unexpected lesson in humility. And there was this.
On the second full day of the trip, we cruised into the Tracy Fjords.
The water is jade green from silt deposits. (Jade is coincidentally the state stone of Alaska.) The white chunks are chunks of ice.
We saw humpback whales, orcas, eagles, goats, and this glacier.
As beautiful as the fjords were, we were ready to get off the boat. The next day was our first stop at Skagway. It was adorable! The town is home to only a few hundred fulltime residents but full of charm. It still looks like a Wild West frontier town with wooden boardwalks and wooden buildings.
We took the Yukon Gold White Passage train, retracing the steps of the old gold seekers. The scenery was beautiful.
Clearly, we were all spellbound.
Next up: the capitol and more naps, many, many more naps.