Life

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing"
- Helen Keller

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Janie's Big Rip

Dining on a cruise ship is one of the main events, so I guess it’s not surprising that there were lots of options on how and when you wanted to eat. With traditional dining, you dress up and eat at the same time and with the same people each night. We selected the “anytime dining” option when we booked the cruise. This means you still have to dress up (mostly), but you select what restaurant you want to eat at each night, and go when you want. Usually you’re seated with other “anytime” diners who just happened to arrive at the same time you did. That was the case for our first dinner on the ship.
We looked good. I couldn’t even remember the last time I wore a suit coat and tie to dinner, but it still fit. We were seated with three other couples, introduced ourselves and ordered drinks. Conversation was easy and we were both enjoying ourselves. Just like it was supposed to be. Then Janie had to sneeze. Of course, she knows the current best way to sneeze: you sneeze into your arm so you don’t contaminate your hands or your immediate surroundings. Works even better if you wearing long sleeves, but Janie wasn’t that lucky. So she sneezed into her bare arm and ripped off a classic arm fart. It was sweet. No twelve year old could’ve done it better. It was also a great conversation stopper. I think we were all in awe, but after a brief silent tribute to a great performance, we just picked it up as if nothing had happened. Probably another advantage to not dining with the same people each night.

The Glacier Tour


There was plenty to do and eat while we waited for everyone to get on the ship. We found the work-out center. It was very well equipped with machines and free weights. It was the last time we would see it. There must’ve been a dozen bars and almost as many restaurants and cafeteria’s. We would eventually experience them all. Plus room service. Twice. There were multiple pools and several hot tubs, but it never really got warm enough for that to seem like a good idea. The one time we jumped in to one of the rearward pools (that would be the stern) we had it to ourselves. Could’ve been because it was midnight.
This boat is big enough that it came as a surprise when I realized we had actually pulled away from the dock. I was watching the shore guys cast off our anchor lines but then got distracted (had to find another beer). No tugboats. This ship can go sideways and backwards by itself. Probably steer it with a joystick. First chance I got, I would talk my way onto the bridge and see how they did it. Maybe they would let me steer.
Before you go too far on a cruise, you have to have life boat drill in case you ever have to abandon the ship. That would be a bummer. For the drill, you grab your life vest from your room and go to your designated bar where you learn how to put it on. You never leave to bar, so I didn’t get a chance to check out the lifeboats.
The reason big cruise ships come this far North is because a lot of people will apparently pay to see glaciers. I actually wasn’t real sure what a glacier looked like, but we passed one on the way to Whittier so I was looking for a big white thing. We were surrounded by glaciers. Fortunately, this cruise included a naturalist and her naturalist son who would point out the real glaciers and explain things like the difference between a glacier and big pile of snow. We could even catch all the scenery from the deck off our room. Occasionally, the ship would do a 360 so everyone could get a view (the ship could turn in its own length). The glaciers, of course, don’t look anything like big piles of snow, and they’re not just white; some are a deep blue. When glaciers meet the ocean (which would be a costal glacier) they become giant walls of ice. As the base melts in the salt water, the face collapses in huge chunks accompanied by what sounds like thunder. It was awesome.
There’s really no point in gushing about the scenery. You’ll just have to go there. Get a room with a deck.
Meeting the captain and the senior staff was cause for big party with lots of (free) champagne. We went or course, because I was still thinking I could talk my way onto the bridge and because what else are you going to do on a ship? But check this out: when they introduced the captain, he looked just like Jean-luc Picard, captain of the Starship Enterprise. Sort of. We didn’t get a chance to talk, but I have a completely different idea of what the ship’s bridge looks like now.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Whittier

Anchorage was fun, but after a couple of days we were ready to get on board the ship and do some cruising. Too bad cruise ships didn’t dock at Anchorage. No problem; the cruise people had arranged for a bus to take us and a couple thousand other people to Whittier, where the ship could dock.
You began to get an idea of how big this ship was by the size of the staging area for the bus trip to Whittier; they used a local convention center for collecting our luggage and assigning us to a bus. We were staying just a few blocks from the convention center, so we checked out that morning and walked down the street to see if we could get in early. It was already busy when we got there (apparently lots of people were ready to get started), but we didn’t have to wait long before they took our luggage and gave us a number for the bus.
Alaska is so scenic that even the bus trip to Whittier was amazing. It was only a couple of hours, but we stopped on the way to gawk at a glacier (the first of many) and wait our turn through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, a 2.5 mile tunnel shared with railroad traffic so it’s a single lane road with a railroad track converted from a World War II train tunnel (http://www.dot.state.ak.us/creg/whittiertunnel/index.shtml). Whittier is a tiny town with a deep harbor; not nearly big enough to justify a 2.5 mile tunnel, but apparently it was considered strategically important to the war, so it got a tunnel.
We were encouraged to board the ship directly from the bus, so I’m not sure what the local bar in Whittier is like. There was a line forming to get through the security check point before being allowed to board, so we were passing the time and Janie mentioned a chance meeting we had with a fellow passenger on this cruise we ran into after visiting friends in Minnesota. We had stopped in a small town on our way back to Iowa to get some breakfast and Janie had mentioned the pending cruise to our waitress. Turns out the pastry chef at the restaurant was also leaving for an Alaskan cruise around the time we were going. So we ended up talking to the pastry chef and it was the same cruise. No sooner had Janie reminded me of it, than I looked up and there she was, just in front of us in line waiting with her husband to go through security. We ended up running into each other a few times during the cruise; small world.
We made it through security and were welcomed on board the ship. We had a sweet room with a balcony and a great view. It was five flights of stairs to the main deck, and we quickly learned it wasn’t worth waiting for the elevators. No problem, the calories were already paid for. The first order of business was getting our cruise credit card for all the things we would need during the cruise that weren’t already paid for, including all our drinks. Great, just what I needed: a drink. Lots of bars, or if you sat still long enough, someone would come by and offer to get a drink for you. This was going to be a great trip.