Ketchikan and Totems

The last Alaskan town we visit on this cruise is Ketchikan. Before launching into this story it’s time to add a little snippet about prices, you never know when someone might want to fill up with fuel or buy a carton of milk on a trek through the Alaskan wilderness. I do know that person won’t be me!! I’m not the trekking kind!!

A gallon (3.7 litres) of milk was $6, a gallon of petrol was $5, and the town of Juneau makes 30 million dollars from tourism each year (as told to us by our guide).

Woke to a misty morning  but no rain thank goodness…things are looking up!! The sea was a little rough overnight but it didn’t disturb my sleep at all. Up early this morning as we had pre-booked a rain forest sanctuary and Totem Pole excursion. The Totems were the main interest to me and hopefully I’d  chosen the best tour to see them – so many little tours to choose from and a number of them had the totem poles.

As we walked towards the bus an amazing thing happened …….. the clouds suddenly opened  and a bright ball of light started to show itself. What is that? What’s happening here? The sky was brightening. People were looking skyward in disbelief, some were pointing, others with mouths dropped open , others smiling, but everyone staring at this faint yellow ball. Is it really the sun….yes, yes it’s the sun. 39 days of sun in Ketchikan and we managed to get one!!!!!

We had the usual stragglers but they’re not worth mentioning really so let’s just move on. The entrance to the rain forest was about a 20 minute drive from the centre of town. Our driver was a young female college student on a working holiday. As was usual the driver/guide imparted information about the town and the area, pointed out bald eagles nesting in trees and drove the bus very competently.

There were about 40 people on this eco  tour  so the national park rangers/guides spilt us up into 2 groups. Guess they wanted to make sure the bears didn’t attack everyone – if they happened to pop out to greet us. We were given strict instructions before venturing through the pergola and into the forest. If we had food we were to throw it away now, if we didn’t throw it away we must keep it in our backpacks, handbags or pockets. No eating on the trail because the bears would smell the food and attack us to take the food. I had placed 2 apples in the backpack this morning, along with camera gear, wallets, anti bacterial hand wipes, tissues and a plethora of other bits and pieces….good luck on sniffing out 2 apples Mr Bear!! The ranger continued on with his spiel, “stay close together”, “don’t wander off on your own” he was saying but my mind was trying to move into sleep mode except it couldn’t, it was freezing standing on the spot whilst his mouth continued to move. “Is he ever going to stop talking and start this tour, I want to see the totems” I whispered to Ty, of course I’m standing on his deaf side so he couldn’t understand me!!! I wasn’t going to yell out “get on with the tour”  we hadn’t moved more than 2 feet from the starting point in almost half an hour. There were some photo opportunities whilst standing there…a photo of a skunk cabbage, a sign telling us this is a bear habitat, a couple of odd-looking pieces of flotsam hanging from a tree…. OK  time to move on I’m ready!!! “Oh no”, I hissed to Ty as the guide asked if anyone had any questions, “Someone will ask about snacks”. No, not a mention about snacks this time – hmm perhaps the fear of a bear rushing up and snatching it had stopped them in their tracks. They’d just have to go hungry, I’m not offering our apples….although, should I? It could make for an interesting excursion and some great pics if a bear strides out and snatches an apple off someone – other than me of course!

Finally we stepped onto the trail, although still stopping every couple of  minutes, as Mr Ranger pointed out where a bear had been, or pointing out a hemlock or spruce tree. Tall cedar trees reached for any available rays of sun. Strange growths of varying designs and shades of green hung off tree branches. There was an amazing cedar tree standing by itself so tall and majestic, it was one of the highlights. Mr Ranger pointed out where mother bears had taught their young cubs to climb trees. The ranger was very exuberant,  passionate and extremely knowledgeable about the rain forest. He told us how he grew up in Ketchikan, loved the rain forest and all the ecosystem that sustained life for the many animals, birds and insects in and around it.  No Totem Poles though.

Unfortunately our meander along the rainforest trail was uneventful – we didn’t see any bears or wolves. The sun was still filtering through the trees and as we left the rain forest and entered a large open space it became much easier to soak some rays. Ahh, the warmth of the sun felt like being in a loving embrace, so comforting. The only wildlife on offer to us were reindeer, a bald eagle and an owl at the sanctuary. A bucket of lettuce leaves stood far enough away from the reindeer pen so they couldn’t reach them but the humans could feed them. The owl was a huge grey bird and a little scary as it seemingly glared at you intently when anyone spoke. Beautiful, though, with its large yellow eyes and grey feathers.

As we left the sanctuary we ushered into a room where a native Indian man was ruling up a totem pole before commencing to carve the pattern. It was a 9 foot totem pole and would take him 2 months to carve. He told us he would earn around $1000 for this intricate totem. Leaving the woodwork room we stepped into the bright sunshine again, no trees reaching for the sky here, we could soak up the full warmth of the suns’ rays. Bliss….

As is usual in these touristy places the gift shop is strategically placed between the attraction and the bus/car parking area.  The Totem Poles were also in front of the gift shop….4 intricately carved Totem Poles of various heights stood in all their glory posing for that fabulous photograph we all strive to take. I certainly wasn’t any different – I’d endured a 2 hour walk (stroll probably more fitting word) through a dark, damp and extremely cold rain forest to get my photo of the Totems…I would take my time to get as many shots as possible.  “Ty come and stand over by the Totems”.  “No, not there, move over a bit more so I can get them all in”.  “Oh, now you’re in the shade, move a bit further this way” And so it goes on trying to get a good photo, just lucky I have an accommodating husband…..although let’s not hold him up too high he does throw the very occasional wobbly.

All up we had five and a half hours to spend in Ketchikan which certainly wasn’t enough in this interesting town.  Perhaps a walking tour of the town would have sufficed because as the tour bus ferried us back into town…what do you think we passed???  A whole street of Totem Poles, research was clearly lacking on this one!!!  Time would not allow a visit to historical Creek Street, shop and a wander back to the street of Totems.  Oh well, can’t miss out on shopping.

Probably should have chosen to miss the shopping…..a jeweller had earrings to match the ring I’d purchased in Skagway, naturally one had to have them.  So the bargaining commenced, a cliche, I know, a purchase was made……totally blew the budget for this holiday.  “Get me back to the ship”.  “Oh, no, wait, not till we’ve visited the souvenir shops, then get me back to the ship”!! Ty laughs and says “my wife is a nut”!!

Once back on board it was time to relax and what better place to relax than the main bar area.  A cocktail was the drink of choice, we sat and chatted to a couple of American women and as we chatted we watched fellow passengers having their photos taken in front of various backdrops.  Backdrops of sunsets and snow-capped mountains, one backdrop was an ornate room with a chaise lounge in front. The people having photos taken were all dressed for the occasion; gentlemen in black tie outfits and women in their evening gowns, some women changing outfits several times.  It was a great talking point over cocktails.

Given 2000 passengers were on board it was only natural there would be extremes of dress and behaviour. People either totally dressed down (badly designed/ill-fitting tracksuits, even bib and brace overalls) or dressed over the top (glittering, strapless evening gowns) for photos in front of a fake picture – standing as if on the bow of the ship (as in the movie “Titanic”).

A number of people had their mobility scooters on board and managed to navigate passengers, lifts, narrow hallways and gangways without having to alight from them. For anyone with a mobility problem a cruise is certainly the way to go.  Although navigating some of those dining areas could be a bit tricky.  The guests in the cabin next to ours never surfaced.  We could hear them talking and their cigarette smoke wafted to our balcony. They had their meals delivered to their cabin and sat on their balcony most of the trip. Perhaps that’s not an unusual thing to do when cruising what does everyone else think?

When we entered Canadian waters the ship’s casino and the duty-free stores closed.  Canada doesn’t allow gambling or duty-free sales in their waters.

As the ship sailed towards Victoria, BC, we sat on deck until 8.30 pm to soak up the last of the sunshine. There was a bit of excitement as a whale passed by very close to the ship.  There had been a little more excitement earlier when the water slides on top of the ship  were open for a short time.  Amazing how many people donned their bikini or swimming trunks and rushed up to use the slide.  Yes, the sun was shining, no, the temperature hadn’t reached more than 20 degrees Celsius – it was lucky to have reached 15 and there was still the wind chill factor to consider.  Brrrrrr, they made me colder just watching.

Time to change for dinner and later a session at the Piano Bar with Keith.  It was “Name that Tune” tonight! Not a lot of choice with the Casino being closed, we went to a comedy show then the Piano Bar.

Victoria,BC, is a day and half away.

                                               

Juneau

It’s a wet, dreary morning as we sail into Juneau, the capital of Alaska.  I had hoped for a little miracle, that the weather would be cold but dry….possible slight snow wouldn’t be too bad.  Oh well we were told to expect rain as it rains all but 40 days a year and Juneau wasn’t about to disappoint!

Juneau became the Alaskan capital in 1906, Sitka was the capital up to that time. 1880 gold was found by a Tingit Indian and after the find 2 prospectors arrived however they failed to find any substantial amount of gold until their second trip when gold was found in the Gastineau Channel. Within a month hundreds of prospectors arrived and the  Alaskan town established.  One of the original prospectors were Harris and Juneau. The town was originally named Rockwell after the Naval Commander whose men had been sent to keep law and order in the mining town. However, Juneau threw (what I choose to describe as) a “hissy fit” over the fact that he was one of the original finders of the gold and nothing had been named after him.  So they changed the name from Rockwell to Juneau – obviously the hissy fit was of gigantic proportions!!!!

Today Juneau is built around federal, state and local governments and it we’re told these departments employ one out of every two residents.  Tourism is the largest private employers in Juneau with commercial fishing and mining also playing a part in the economy of this region.

One last piece of information before I launch into our visit….there are only 2 ways out of Juneau……sea or air.  There are no roads out…not one….does that make you feel just a little isolated???  It did me….imagine not being able to take a road trip out of there!! What if you wanted to shop at a nearby city with a different choice of shops?  Anchorage is 600 miles away by air….instead of freeways or normal highways they have a marine highway system with vessels that travel these waterways!! So want to go camping?  Pop you car and trailer on the vessel and off you go to your preferred camping ground.  “Where there’s a will there’s a way” the saying goes and it’s especially true for this wilderness area. So if you fancy freewheeling Alaska check out the Marine Highway!!! Also, a store similar to Walmart only recently opened in Juneau.

Back to us ‘cos it’s about us with some history thrown in!  Not history with a of us thrown in……..

After venturing out to the balcony and, facing the windchill factor, we decided to wear our thermals.  Time to undress and redress again. Getting dressed is very interesting, it’s definitely a “sara lee” experience.  So is going to the loo when you’ve got all these clothes on! For those of you who don’t know the grocery brand Sara Lee or the jingle I don’t want to go into lots of detail but – the adverts for this company mention” layer upon layer upon layer” of pastry make their goodies taste great.  So it has become a term for explaining that you have lots of clothes on. Sitting down was very difficult whilst wearing layers but taking the layers off was the most challenging. We were falling all over the cabin trying to get leggings off!! Doing the one-legged hop around the room!! Not one for wearing large amounts of clothing these garments felt very restrictive.  A necessary restriction to stay toasty and warm and not face the alternative – freeze to death.

We chose to wander around Juneau today rather than join any particular tour the cruise company had organised.  That way we could step off the ship at our leisure and decide what to do. The rain was  heavy and the wind was freezing as we walked down the gangway of the ship. “What a day” I mentioned , mostly to myself. We got to the bus shelters outside the cruise terminal area and added waterproof pants to our extensive array of attractive clothing!!!  This would be the most uncomfortable day of the cruise although the amount of wet weather gear we were wearing should keep us dry.

Setting off again, with a slower stride than 5 minutes ago, lo and behold we come across a souvenir shop. Stepping in, can’t pass a good souvenir store, Ty brings to my attention  the barrel of plastic  ponchos…I had been worrying earlier that if my waterproof jacket get too wet in this prolonged rain it could fail me. “Why don’t you buy one of these to put over your jacket and camera, it might help” Ty said to me and seeing the look of horror on my face he continued “well, you wanted to stay dry and no one knows you so just buy one”.  Ok, why not, so I purchased a white plastic poncho with “Alaska” in blue writing all over it.  Ty was not to take any photos of me in this outfit and I said that to him in my most threatening voice.  Would he listen? Of course not!!!  The poncho cost the princely sum of $1.98 plus tax.

Next door to the souvenir shop was a tour desk offering 2 hour tour of Mendenhall Glacier and an all day pass for the Mt Roberts Tramway for $34.  This also included the $3 admission to the Glacier visitor centre. There is a shuttle bus for $8 (assume it was each way) that would take us to Mendenhall Glacier but we decided to take the 2 hour tour to the Glacier instead knowing the bus would be waiting at a set time to return. For that price we received a teaser tour of Juneau and some interesting pieces of information along the way.

We still had an hour to kill before the bus left for the Glacier so coffee was now high on the list.   Crossing the road was different in Juneau, they had two lollipop men, well, one was a woman, who stood out on the crossing as pedestrians walked towards it. There didn’t seem to be much traffic in Juneau, a truck, bus or possibly a car intermittently but never saw more than two at any one time passing by the crossing whilst we were in the area.  Certainly not enough to call for lollipop men…..perhaps I have it the wrong way round and it’s the number of pedestrians crossing the road that tend to be troublesome!?  Who knows….it’s keeping people in employment and that’s a good thing.

There are plenty of touristy type shops in town, including many jewellery shops, all owned by the cruise companies no doubt. Opening in tourist season only! We purchase the obligatory fridge magnet, t-shirts and key chains.  This holiday I haven’t purchased a single shot glass. I’m sure I’ll regret this decision once we arrive back on Australian soil.  Shot glasses from almost every town I have visited, have been the one constant throughout my years of travel, oh, as well as my travel diaries of course. After our shopathon we’re heading further into town when we meet fellow sailors, a young couple from Kansas. They’re on their honeymoon. They showed us a loose diamond they purchased and plan to have set into a ring when they return home. They explained how to find the jewellers but we steered clear lest I find a loose diamond or two that I could bring home.  I’m already wearing the Skagway purchase (you’ll have read Bordello blog to know what I’m talking about) and prefer not to be tempted any further.

Finally it’s time to head back to the pick up point for our tour to the Mendenhall Glacier. As with all tours to anywhere in Alaska the buses don’t move off until every seat is taken.  Our bus is now full so we move off, the driver is also our guide and gives a commentary as we drive through Juneau – we’re passing the streams where they fish for salmon, see the tree with the bald eagles nest, this road bridge joins Douglas Island to Juneau.  Our guide continues on, Juneau has both black and brown bears, yes, we did notice all the bins in town have a little sticker that says “bear friendly”.  I think the bears might say they’re bear unfriendly because they have a special latch which bears have not mastered that yet.  Having said that I couldn’t open the bin either.  The guide pointed out the State building and made mention of Sarah Palin.

Arriving at Tongass National Park we synchronise watches to ensure we’re all back at the bus within 2 hours then the bus door opens and we all pile out. It’s a short walk from the bus stop to the first view of the glacier.  It’s quite an amazing sight, even though light rain is falling, the scene is spectacular.  concrete paths that lead to the lake bordered by trees, a carpet of grass merging into the river rock and then the slowly moving stream that winds its way over and around the rocks until it joins the lake in front of the glacier. Do you remember the icy mints we used to buy once upon a time (I haven’t seen them for years) they were a really pale blue, almost clear with a tinge of blue in them, well that’s the colour of the lake. Quite striking with the icebergs a shade darker than the lake floating slowly by as if they had all the time in the world to get where they’re going. To the right of this scene is a waterfall crashing down the rocks and into the lake, how do I photograph this scene and do it justice, I try to remember pointers given to me by one of my friends, Alan, he has way more experience.   Click, click, snap, snap, I take so many photos trying to get “the one”.  Did I get it?  Who knows, it’s all in the eye of the beholder!!!

Mendenhall Glacier is 1.5 miles wide and 12 miles long, it is part of what is known as the Juneau ice field that covers 1500 miles to the Canadian border. The glacier is still increasing in size.  There are several pathways and hiking trails available but we chose to stay around the visitors centre and the lake area. Love a good walk and we probably would have taken a hike but not in the rain, I’m a fair weather walker I’m afraid. I don’t like to become wet and bedraggled. So we probably missed more of this amazing scenery but I was happy with the views we saw.

Amazing how time flies when you’re having fun or enjoying a view! We just had time to wander into the visitors centre and buy a couple of items…..hey, you know by now, if you’ve read other blogs of mine, that shopping is what I do best!!  The large floor to ceiling windows added another view of the glacier and its surrounds.  As I looked out across the lake I noticed something red skimming across the water.  Moving closer to the window for a second look, “Oh, my goodness, it’s a two-man canoe”, as usual no one was listening to me…looking around for Ty who’d wandered over to the telescopes.  When he returned I pointed out the canoe, the red really stood out in this pale blue water….

As we left the visitors centre and the glacier the sight of the red canoe in the ice blue waters dwarfed by icebergs stayed with me.

The bus and our guide/driver was waiting.  We didn’t have any stragglers on this trip, everyone was well-behaved and turned up on time. The trip back to Juneau was uneventful, except for a couple who didn’t get their “right” seat back for the return trip.  They were a little put out. We weren’t allocated seats so it always amazes me why people assume they must be seated in the same place for the return trip.  If they chose to leave a piece of clothing or a bag on the seat to assert their rights then that’s ok, you’d expect people to pass the seat by but if it’s an empty seat – first in best dressed!!!!

After returning to Juneau we decide to take the Mt Roberts Skyway, oops, sorry, the Mt Roberts Tramway.  Why it’s called a Tramway is beyond me….it most certainly doesn’t use tracks to get to the top of the mountain, it uses cables, it does look a little tram-line so perhaps that’s the reason..  No part of this mechanical people mover touches the ground at all.  Anyway, we take the next cable car to Mt Roberts.  The views over Juneau would be  spectacular on a fine day but today was not a fine day!  By the time we reached the top the rain had increased.  We walked to the look out and took a couple of photos, our ship through the rain, Juneau through the rain…..rain, rain, rain……oh and there was quite a large amount of snow up on the mountain and avalanche signs strategically placed behind plastic strips stretched across walkway.

There were a couple of highlights on this mountain other than the amazing views (if it was a fine day), the two gift shops and the resident bald eagle. There is also a theatre and a large restaurant. We sloshed across to the first gift shop….yes, sloshed, there was no covering over the walkway, it was raining and the snow had turned to a slimy slush which, given my habit of breaking bones whilst on holidays, meant slow steps to stay upright!!!  Did not want to go back to the ship with muddy clothes or a swollen ankle.  How embarrassing would that be?? Nor did I want to give Ty a photo opportunity, although by the time he stopped laughing he would probably forget to take the photo.

Making my way from the little gift shop to the main lookout I realised  there wasn’t going to be any “wow” photos up here today.  Looking down through the rain and trees  I could just make out the blur of our ship, what a shame, this would be a fabulous place to get a sense of Juneau.  Oh well have to leave it to someone else. There was  a bear viewing platform but couldn’t see the platform and, if the bears had any sense, they’d be sleeping inside a cosy hole in a  tree somewhere.  Oh well there’s still the bald eagle to visit.  As I turned to make my way to the bald eagles house the ranger came along and closed the shutter to the eagles house and unhooked the donations tin and walked hurriedly away in the other direction.  The note on the shutter said something like ” the eagle is resting for the next 2 hours”.  “Damn, how disappointing”, I murmured.

Time to head back down to the ship, we were cold and a little damp, my lovely plastic poncho was not holding up very well in this wind and rain, it was starting to rip in places making it extremely difficult to take on and off.

Naturally we made our way to the rest of the souvenir shops we’d ignored earlier in the day, these towns need our dollars given they only operate in the summer months and we were happy to oblige. Although Ty would remind me about the airline weight restrictions….always someone there to burst that spending bubble!! We had a flight from Seattle to Hawaii so we thought we had strict baggage limits and wouldn’t have extra baggage limits until we were coming home from Hawaii.

Arms full of shopping bags, we waddled back to the ship.  Ahh, warmth of the ship and our cabin was very welcome.  Off with all the clothes, shedding layer upon layer until I was finally naked and able to step into a lovely hot shower.   I left Ty still hopping around the room trying to remove his thermal pants….

This evening we dined at the Nouveau Steak Restaurant at the very top of the ship.  Glass stairs  led to this restaurant and suffering a little from vertigo I chose not to look down but to look skyward keeping fingers crossed I wouldn’t miss a step and fall.  Made it…..but we’ll take the lift down!!  The meal was very good and the service was great, restaurant was quiet though, it was the only restaurant where you needed to pay…the cost was $30 per person.  We thought it was well worth it.

The evening closed with an hour at the Casino, a drink at the Piano Bar before retiring.  The ship was a little wobbly tonight…nothing to do with the wine I had at dinner either! On that note it’s goodnight.

Bordello breakfast and White Pass

May 11th. This morning Carnival Spirit docked in Skagway, light snow is falling and it’s freezing.  A very amusing guide mentioned that Skagway is the sunshine capital of Alaska…..looking at the bleak skies and the grey, snow-capped mountains  surrounding the ship.  The trees standing meekly in the gloom, devoid of leaves, it’s very hard to imagine Skagway bathed in the warm glow of sunshine.

Our day commenced with breakfast at a bordello, namely the Red Onion Saloon circa 1897.  Who could resist such an invitation, a look at an essential part of town life, essential is probably the wrong word, so maybe it should read “necessary part”.   A town burgeoning with itinerant men focused on finding their own gold nugget and, hopefully, their fortune but who still took the time to seek out the women working in the oldest profession in the world. So curiosity, if nothing else, deemed we should have breakfast at the bordello.

Apparently the Red Onion Saloon (Heritage listed) was the most exclusive brothel in Skagway, the saloon served alcohol on the first floor, as it still does today, so nothing has changed on there.  They even have trivia nights once or twice a week!  Whilst the floor above quenched a different thirst. The Saloon had a unique way of checking which girls were “busy” and which were available – the bartender had a number of dolls – one doll represented a girl.  When the girl was available the doll was standing but when the girl was unavailable her doll was laid down.  That way the bartender kept an eye on the girls and the prospectors knew which girl was available.  Another innovation we saw on our tour of the upstairs rooms was the copper pipes that fed from the rooms to the bar below.  The girls would place their payments in the pipe under the floorboards and the money would drop into the cash register below.

Around 1899 the Red Onion’s business took a dive as the railway came to town and  towns closer to the goldfields sprung up.  Gold was never found in Skagway it was a “through” town on the way to the goldfields. Dawson had become one of the main towns with bigger saloons and casinos so the Red Onion eventually closed.  However, the building had several other uses, these businesses appreciated its previous history and didn’t make many changes. It was restored in 1980’s, approved for a liquor licence and reopened as a saloon.

Oh, I know, get on with what we had for breakfast enough about the history…..right o!!

We met at the entrance to the saloon by the madam (would you expect otherwise?) and presented with a garter…red with black lace.  Once in the bar we chose a table and sat down ready for whatever was going to happen next.  A musician sat in the corner between the stairs and the bar playing guitar.  He, as with the girls,  dressed the part with his scraggy beard, hat and typical clothing of the late 1800s.

We were offered straight orange juice, no vodka in the orange juice, or a bloody mary, before having a dish of scrambled eggs, bacon and sausages placed before us….oh, and a biscuit…..can’t forget the biscuit!! The biscuit was in fact a scone….we have learnt over past visits to the US that when a biscuit is offered with dinner it is a scone….but no ordinary scone.  It looks like a scone, tastes like a scone but is hard as a rock…I’m sure it could give somebody a nasty injury if it was thrown at them.  After the meal the madam offered  plain coffee or coffee with an added liqueur – similar to Bailey’s.  Of course I chose the latter, have you tried the filtered coffee generally served in the US?? Who cares if it’s only 8am…as Jimmy Buffett says in his song..”it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” so hand me that drink.  They weren’t stingy on the Bailey’s either….a very tasty drop. During breakfast the brothel members regaled us with tales from the past.  Of ghostly madams and girls with names such as Klondike Kate (one the most famous whores, “with flaming red hair and amazing green eyes”), Pea Hull Anne and the belle of Skagway, Kitty Faith, to name but a few. Stories told breakfast finished it was now time for the upstairs tour.

The rooms were tiny, as were the beds, we have to remember that 100 years ago we human beings were also shorter! But still there wouldn’t have been much room for 2 – they were mostly single beds! Even though the ravages of time had affected the upstairs rooms the original wallpaper could still be seen. Cabinets held some of the girls’ possessions, including hair curling irons, hair clips, garters, lipsticks and so on.  Several dolls were still there too,  a blonde, a brunette and a redhead….hmm, the black-haired doll was lying down – did here living doll go missing? They had withstood the ravages of time…I wonder how the live “dolls” held up?

Breakfast and tour completed it was time to head back to the ship to ready ourselves for the next tour. However, before I mention the next amazing tour of the day I really must note the interesting characters on this tour.  There’s always one that makes you cringe and he was on our bus this morning.  He was an elderly gentleman who thought he had a fabulous sense of humour and insisted on making silly comments or asking dumb questions each time the guide told us about Skagway or the tour. Everybody would groan when he opened his mouth to put one or both feet in it. We decided to stay clear of him and so chose a table at the other end of the room for breakfast, unfortunately they found their way to our table and sat down.  He continued to heckle and carry on through breakfast to the point that the actors used him as their scapegoat.  He still didn’t get it!

Although it was the gateway to the Klondike, apart from brothels and no gold Skagway had nothing much  to offer the prospectors.  It pitches itself to tourists these days as a place where the romance and excitement of yesteryear is found on every street. I have no doubt that’s true, it’s a wild, desolate place with wide streets and mostly, neat, timber cottages in various colours.  The last census listed  the population as 900 – more in tourist season. Sheer cliffs surround the town, which was once a city, making for a very picturesque scene.  It’s just so cold, so quiet and so far from anywhere!!

This afternoon we’re taking a train ride along the White Pass and Yukon route.  The railroad is a historic civil engineering landmark and was poo pooed as an impossible task.  It took 26 months to build and rises over 2800 feet taking it into northwest Canada.  This White Pass and Yukon railway became the main transport link between the port of Skagway and the goldfields of the Yukon.  This train was in service until the early 1980s when the mining industry in the Yukon collapsed.  It was resurrected as a tourist trail in late 1988 and has become the number one tourist attraction in Skagway…except for the jewellery shops!!

Our tour was due to start at 1pm and the weather was deteriorating so after lunch we went to our cabin and added our thermals to our winter attire…..thermal pants, thermal tops and thermal socks..gloves, ear muffs (love those ear muffs) – felt a bit like the Michelin man…..probably looked like him as well!!  Fully dressed and barely able to walk properly due to all the extra clothing we headed down the gangway for the bus which would take us to the railway station. People had already boarded the bus but we certainly weren’t the last – still 10 minutes before the bus was due to leave.  Our guide  is apologetic, says we have a schedule to meet and we’re already 10 minutes late….we’ll wait 5 more minutes then we have to leave. Doesn’t get any argument from all of us already on the bus – we agree with her. It was 10 past 1 and we’re still waiting for 6 passengers.  Ahh, here comes 4 of them and it’s only 1.15….our guide closes the door behind these late comers and we leave – guide says we must leave for the tour.

As we leave the dock and head through town the bus radio jumps to life although we can’t make out everything the operator has said to the guide we do get the idea that there is a problem with the train.  We drive around several streets with the guide giving us little insights into what we’re seeing.  Then we’re told there has been a snow storm at White Pass and the train before us had to turn back.  We’re now waiting on confirmation that the snow cat will be able to clear the tracks for our train ride.  The guide was requested to take us on a tour of Skagway whilst we wait further information.  We drive slowly around the same streets, stop at a lookout which gives a view of Skagway and it’s harbour,  return to the bus and the bus moves off slowly.  The guide says ” I’ve shown you all I can of Skagway as buses are only allowed in 4 streets, there’s nowhere else to go so I’m going to call into the depot for any news and I hopefully there is good news because I don’t know what else to do with you”.  We pull in at the depot, no news yet….we wait, what now? Minutes pass by then the radio comes to life…..”track is clear, train will be leaving”. Our bus pulls out and we head to the railway station to board the little old train.  We hear our driver/guides’ sigh of relief.

As the train departs the station the conductor comes in to tell us about our journey and gives some historical facts.  At the end of his delivery he asks if there are any questions, a man puts his hand up and gives us the quote of the day “Are there snacks on our tour?” he asks in his best drawl……”no” is the quick reply. It’s a 2 hour journey do we really need snacks……

We are slowly making our way along the tracks and the steep grades, the scenery in Skagway was a little like a washed out green olive , spindly trees had a tinge of yellow and lots of rocks, small rocks.  As we progress up the mountain the scenery changes, there are more pine trees, large boulders, steep cliffs and we’re starting to see a smattering of snow on the ground. The cliffs are very steep and the train is travelling on the edge of these cliffs most of the time.  This leads me to wonder how on earth they built a railway in this harsh and foreboding landscape.  My thoughts then go to the pioneers, those prospectors that had no railway, who came to Skagway by boat with their supplies and gathered horse or mules to carry their good and chattels along these dangerous mountain trails.  The large numbers of men and animals that were lost as these prospectors, heads filled with stories of gold and vast riches, made their way gingerly along cliff edges in freezing conditions in the quest for a better life.  We pass Dead Horse Gulch and hear the tales of the horses that toppled off the edge fully laden most of the time with way too much for a pack animal to carry.  On one hand I take my hat off to these men for their spirit and resilience through all kinds of adversity , although I’m sad for the way they treated their animals.

Oh dear, another person asked for snacks….Ty had a packet of mentos in his backpack and we were just opening the wrapper to take one when a woman asked about snacks.  We could have offered one although I have the feeling a single mentos would not suffice for this hungry woman….best hide the mentos and chew very quietly. We didn’t want to get rumbled for a small pack of mentos.

Our train was heading to Fraser in British Columbia. When we reached Fraser we would alight and return to Skagway by bus.  The weather was closing in now, the cloud becoming lower and the cold was biting but I just had to stand at the back of the caboose and marvel at the ever-changing scene as I took photos.  My hands were numb with the cold, every other part of me was warm – the thermals were working a treat.  Oh, well, my face was a little exposed to the elements so I had the runny nose happening….I had plenty of tissues at hand so no worries there.  The guides would wander from caboose to caboose giving out pieces of information and they would pass me as they moved between carriages. On one of those passing moments, as the snow was falling heavier than before and visibility was almost nil, one of them commented “you’ve been out here the entire trip in these freezing conditions you’re very keen”she said. “Or very silly” I replied.  How could you sit in the warmth of the carriage to view the scene?  Outside was the only place to be – luckily no-one else thought the same thing as there was barely room for Ty and I out on the back landing.  Although he wasn’t outside the entire journey.  We had climbed higher and higher heading into this amazing landscape of pure white with blue tinges, the pine trees almost hidden by the snow and the occasional massive boulder encircled by snow.  I’ve seen masses of snow before but none so dense that it was blue. The scene was different to what I had seen in the Finnish part of the Arctic Circle, there the pine trees held the snow on their branches, here they were sometimes covered by the snowdrifts with just the top few branches visible.  Beautiful…..

We reached the Canadian border and had to hold our passports up near our face whilst the customs officers walked through each carriage.  This took about 10 minutes then the train was off again.  By the time we reached White Pass summit  we were in a snow storm and nothing was visible past the edge of the caboose. Another short while and came to a stop, we were now in Fraser and had to alight the train and return to our bus.  The driver/guide had driven from Skagway to Fraser to meet the train. The drive back to Skagway was a little scary, we drove back into the snow storm and the road disappeared, the bus slowed to a walk and everyone was quiet.  Funny how that happens at times like this, isn’t it?  Just as people started to chat again the driver explained how the area we were coming to was in an earthquake zone and had at least 3 earthquakes a day.  The driver told us they only found that out because many years ago they built a bridge over the gulch and within a month it fell down, so they built 2 more and each time, after a month,the same thing happened.  Eventually they decided to employee a geologist before commencing the next bridge and he discovered the problem.  “We’re about to cross that the bridge shortly” she said “as we do cross take a look down and to the side and you’ll be able to see the splits in the rocks from each earthquake”. Great, yes, really needed to know that right as we’re heading for the bridge…..silence on the bus again – I’m sure we were all thinking “had they already had the 3 earthquakes today”???

What a day this had been and it wasn’t over yet.  It was around 5pm when we returned to Skagway.  We had a choice of staying on the bus and returning to the ship or getting off the bus, exploring the shops and walking back to the ship.  Naturally being the shoppers we are we chose to get off and wander the streets.

We wander up one side and down the other side of the “ain drag” or main street of Skagway. There are a number of gift shops, selling all manner of souvenirs and clothing appropriate for a frozen Alaskan winter. The number of jewellery stores doesn’t go unnoticed either. We have to have a peek….there are stores on the ship but only one that sells jewellery so there isn’t much choice for comparing prices.  We look in several and there is a ring that takes my fancy.  It has two rows of white diamonds with a row of blue diamonds in the centre. Now, this was not on my list of purchases for this trip so do we move on?  No, certainly not, we go ahead and haggle, hmm, still not sure so we move on – to the next jewellery store and see a similar ring.  “How much is that ring?”  “Ahh, is that your best price?” we receive a discounted price.  “Hmm, not sure, it’s still quite expensive”.  “Just a moment I’ll speak to the manager to see if we can better the price”.  Ok, thank you.  We’re given the amended price but it’s still not as low as the guys up the road.  We say thanks and wander off to buy some souvenirs, we discuss the ring, it’s getting late, the shops close at 7pm…it’s almost that now.  “What do you want to do?” Ty asks as we stand in the middle of the pedestrian crossing discussing where and whyfors…..it’s ok, we’re not going to get run over a car hasn’t passed for an hour at least.  “well, I really like the ring and it does seem a reasonable price” I said.  “Ok go back and get it then….so I do.  Along with the valuation certificate and the managers email address.  Don’t know what good the email address will be if I’ve bought a dud, like that’s going to help!!!  I now have a couple of weeks of doubt before heading home to get it valued!!!  The customer representatives in these stores told us that most of the jewellery stores in these towns are only open during the tourist season and the cruise companies own them. Can you imagine what these towns would be like in winter – ghost towns all around with shops shut up tight. No fear of graffiti it would be too cold for the spray cans to work!!

A few interesting snippets about Skagway….

  • There is no doctor in town only a clinic run by nurses.
  • They had electricity before New York
  •  Jewel Gardens are the pride of Skagway – they’re the only organic garden in US
  • Skagway has at least 17 hours of daylight in May.  During the cruise it was daylight from 5am and not dark until after 10pm.

After the shopping experience we headed off to the ship, sleet was tumbling down again and so cold we walked as quickly as our layers of cold would let us.  After spending all that money I was starving!!!! Ty was amused probably because he didn’t have to pay for the ring. So to pay for his amusement I had him stand on the dock in front of the ship so I could take a photo….he was very reluctant because, even though we’d walked half an hour back to the ship, we hadn’t warmed up at all.  “Too bad, it will take one second….just stand there” I said.  The picture turned out quite nicely and he’s glad he stood there now!!  A man should know that his wife generally knows best and on that note it’s time to go.

Tomorrow we arrive in Juneau, the capital of Alaska.  Hopefully the weather will improve but Murphy’s law says it won’t!!

Tracy Arm Fjord

Did I mention that an elephant was sitting on our bed when we returned to our room last night? Yes, no, maybe?? Well, there it was sitting up staring at us as we walked in.

Clocks also went back an hour! A bit of trivia you may need to know at some point in time – or not – it’s just for reference.

Where did the elephant come from? The cabin stewards on cruise ships make animals out of towels so we had a different animal greeting us every night. I think they’re cute and this must be a very popular art as they even have lessons on board and sell books on the subject. I chose not to attend a lesson or buy the book, I’m happy to have someone do the hard work for me.

Ty’s first words this morning were ” I haven’t slept a wink all night”. He’s a funny man – he’d been snoring through the night. Do people normally snore when they’re awake? I think not……

Ship is still on the rocky side……this morning we sail into Tracy Arm Fjord.

As we enter the Holkham Bay toward Tracy Arm the water becomes calmer and the ship stabilizes, thank goodness. I have seen so many people wandering the corridors and common areas with a little round band-aid placed strategically behind their ear…..wonder if it works? I have a friend, who, on a Greek Island cruise placed a band-aid over her navel to stop sea sickness. Unfortunately it didn’t work very well even though we were in very calm waters that trip!!!

Opening the curtains we’re greeted by a spectacular sight of mist and snow-covered peaks rising above low clouds. Needless to say it was very, very cold but the views made the cold bearable.

We chose the Empire dining room for breakfast this morning, I like being served my food, rather than wandering around the big buffet/restaurant areas on Deck 9. They’re ok if you have limited time because of an early excursion and need to rise at an ungodly hour, but there’s nothing better than a nice leisurely breakfast being served to you! So we took the lift to Deck 2 and were shown to our table. We have a choice each meal time to either sit on our own or sit with others….we chose to eat breakfast on our own. Indepth conversations with strangers at breakfast is something to be avoided.

I have to mention our breakfast choices this morning because it amused me. Poached eggs were on the menu and I hadn’t had an egg for a while so “one poached egg please” I said to the waiter. Breakfast arrived, cereal, juice, a Danish, Ty’s healthy breakfast of eggs, sausages, bacon and hash browns and my poached egg…….looking very lonely on a half a slice of sweet toast!!!! We both looked at the large plate with a small slice of toast and a perfectly formed poached egg sitting on the slice of toast. “Hmm, wonder what they did with the other half of the toast” I mused, mostly to myself. Don’t know about you, reader, but my egg needs to be slightly runny to allow me to dip a portion of my toast in the yolk…..a little hard to do when you only have a half slice of toast………

After breakfast its time to give my nails a manicure and add nail polish…..Ty was eager to get up on deck. Off you go then, my nails are coming first today, come back in an hour ….. They’ll be dry by then. Off he went, all rugged up, camera slung around the neck just the way I hate cameras being worn!!!! I know we’re tourists but I still don’t like looking like a tourist.

Ty returned with coffees, ahh, something hot to warm us up. The coffees cost $2.95 each and tasted much better than the drip coffee avalable 24 hours a day. The ship was moving closer to the entrance of the Fjord so it was time to go up on deck. The rain had started again but we were all rugged up and warm standing on the deck until 15 minutes later the wind chill factor kicked in and we started to feel the freezing winds through our pants. The wind was so strong it was almost blowing us over it was….thank goodness for the railing around the edge of the deck. Ok, time to get out of this wind, but where, we didn’t want to miss the spectacular scenery. Oh, of course, how silly are we, our room has a balcony.

Whilst we were heading back to our cabin two things happened.
Firstly an announcement came over asking all passengers to view the Fjord from the balconies of our own cabins, not to move the chairs from the dining areas to the windows for viewing as passengers would be dining throughout the day. I think the announcement was way too late as people and their chairs were already jockeying for position along the window edges. You’ve got to love human nature and our rebel element.

Second thing to happen was Ty spied the ice cream maker….I saw a man the night before with a very large plate of ice cream, after all the food areas had closed, so I assumed there must be a self-serve ice cream maker somewhere around. I didn’t mention it to Ty or porker (as I sometimes call him) ‘cos I knew he’d head straight for that machine as often as possible and he shouldn’t be eating too much of the sweet stuff. Bit silly to think I could have kept any sort of food from him, he spied it and off he went, like a bear following a honey pot!! “Would you like some ice cream?” he asked heading as quickly as possible to the machine. “No thanks, my sensitive teeth hurt just thinking about ice cream” was my reply. Now that he found this and the one at the other end of the dining areas he had it after lunch, dinner and in between. strawberry was the flavour of choice today! For me there were other, more, delicious dessert morsels to try.

Another announcement came over the intercom about towels on deck chairs. The announcement cautioned against guests placing towels on or over deck chairs at 7am, or any other time, to reserve them for later in the day. This practice wouldn’t be accepted, the announcement went on to say, and if a chair hasn’t been used for 30 minutes the towel would be removed by the attendants. Need this little rule in European hotel pool areas.  Those of you who have travelled in Europe will know exactly what I’m talking about.

After the Porker devoured the ice cream we retreated to our balcony and set up the tripod. Step out take photos, step back into the cabin to warm up, back out to the balcony, take photos – this was  the modus operandi for most of the day. The ship gets very close to the mountain walls in some parts of the Fjord, it’s such a narrow waterway.

A couple of hours later we see a huge field of ice dead ahead and we could hear lots of voices coming from the forward main deck. The ship is moving quite slowly, closer and closer to the ice flow and as we wonder whether our Captain is Italian the ship starts to move very slowly sideways. Still heading for the massive ice flow. We rush up stairs and outside to the main deck to get an amazing view of the Sawyer Glacier. The blue hues throughout the glacier are amazing and it is so big, just incredible.  We’re only seeing a small part of this glacier. There are varying degrees of blue in the glacier and the iceberg  going by. The shades of blue denote the density of the iceberg…..more blue more dense. So hard to imagine that the pieces of ice berg we see floating by make up only 10% of the actual size and that 90% is still under the water.

The ship is still turning and an announcement tells us the captain is going to turn the ship 360 degrees so every balcony has a view of the Sawyer glacier, which is situated at the end of the Tracy Arm Fjord. That was our cue to go back to our balcony because, as you can imagine, there were many people on deck trying to get that special photograph. The tripod was already set up all Ty needed to do was attach the camera as we waited for our balcony to face the Glacier.

Manoeuvering a ship this size in the amount of space available in the Fjord was a feat in itself and the Captain and crew should be congratulated for, what I think, was an amazing skill. Given some drivers can’t even park a small car in a normal car space…..yes, I’m sure you see them every day…..reversing back and forth several times and still not getting the car straight!!! So that was one of the highlights of the day as was the spectacular view we had from our balcony when the glacier was facing us. We were freezing cold, misty rain was falling at intervals and my gloves were not keeping my hands warm BUT we would never see this view again so freezing was worth it.

I suppose we could have travelled to Alaska in their summer (June/July) when the scenery would be lush and green, temperatures would be warmer and probably more wildlife around. Except Alaska, to me, is cold, misty, with snow-covered peaks peeping through that mist and freezing cold. We were prepared with all our thermals and wet weather gear.

For those of you who may not know, Tracy Arm Fjord is in the Tongass National Forest. It is one of two very deep, narrow fjords.  The other Fjord being Endicott Arm and as we sailed into Holkham Bay it still wasn’t certain which Fjord we would be entering.It depended on the weather and the amount of floating ice.

Our on board naturalist, Michelle,  explained that the area was abundant in wildlife.  Brown and black bear, as well as deer seals and wolves lived in this wilderness area. Also mountain goats, although we didn’t see any wildlife, well, not off the ship anyway.

We spent the whole day in the Fjord and as there’s only one way in and one way out which meant we got to see both sides of this beautiful place. I’m not sure the photos I’ve placed below do it justice but I did try to capture the beauty and serenity of the place.

After a full day of oohs, ahhs and oh my god look at that or those (talking about icebergs and sheer cliffs now) we decided we couldn’t take anymore photos. If we didn’t have that fabulous picture now we were never going to get it and besides, we’ll drive friends and family nuts with the number of photos we have to bore them with already. Not only that but a sister and her husband are doing a similar trip to us in a couple of days so they’ll also have copious photos to show. Yes, I can hear the sounds of running footsteps as I write this….everyone’s trying to find a hiding place in the hills for a couple of months. It won’t work you know, you’ve got to come out eventually….you aren’t bears that can eat sticks and rocks to help you survive hibernation…..explanation on rocks and sticks when Juneau blog is published!!!!

Hmm, looking forward to dinner, all that freezing cold weather makes a person hungry. Tonight we’re going to dine in the Empire Room and, as we have “anytime dining”, we can turn up for dinner in the restaurant whenever we’re ready. When you go to the restaurant you get a choice of seating…….sit at a table for two, join others or have others join you. We choose to have others join us so we were the first people seated. That way we get to meet and have a conversation with different people. It’s a good way to mingle, we hear about the place they live and work and, if they’re interested and people generally are,  we tell them about Australia and the area where we live and work.

Tonight two couples travelling together joined us, they live in Georgia. Conversation tonight centred around farming, places to visit in Australia and the usual general snippets of life in two countries. The women would love to visit Aus but travelling from US to Aus for a holiday when you run a farm could be very difficult. We hope they make it one day.

After dinner we went to watch a show but everyone in the audience was talking to someone or other which made it difficult to listen to the people on stage. Best to  head to the coffee lounge and relax whilst watching people wander by.

Tomorrow we hit the streets of Skagway………

Fun Day at Sea ….

Fun day at sea. Well, that’s how the cruise daily newsletter described Wednesday 9th May.

Sometime during the night we hit rough seas, with the ship being forced sideways and then dipping nose down into the sea. Is went on all night and when we awoke next morning it was still shake, rattle and rollng. We got up and showered, struggling to stay within the confines of the shower cubicle as the sea continued its game of toss with us. After dressing we were going to breakfast when we both felt a little ill and unsteady on our little legs. We went back to bed. Woke again at 11.30 headed to breakfast but by the time we got their my stomach was lurching in the opposite direction to the ship and I couldn’t eat. Ty felt the same but, being a diabetic, he needed to eat, so he struggled on but I went back to the cabin. When he came down a little later, I was already lying on the bed, he joined me and that’s where we stayed till 4pm!!!!! When we woke at 4 the sea was calm again and we were starving….off we went to the restaurant area and had breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea…..in the form of a sandwich. Then we went shopping because that helps revitalise the spirit, well, mine anyway.

Hmm, they have blue diamonds (quite like blue diamonds) in the jewellery shop so I had to try on several rings, very pretty rings, unfortunately, or fortunately for Ty, the ones I liked were a little small for my finger. What a shame but probably a good thing as my budget for this trip is limited. Remember this sentence if you read further blogs based on the Alaskan cruise.

As I said above I resisted the diamond rings but not so the Guess handbag and the Chanel atomiser with 3 vials. Well, let’s face it Guess handbags are a litle expensive in Australia so $88 was a good price and the perfume @ $69 was considerably cheaper than $134 at Sydney airport – what’s a girl to do? Snap it up for the cheaper price of course!!!! However, I’m not at all impressed withour tax free shopping in Aus as I purchased one of these at Sydney airport in the tax free as we left for the trip. So, how can the price for the same product be so much dearer supposedly tax free at home? Does anyone have an explanation …. love to be enlightened.

After the shopping experience it was time for coffee, there were 2 coffee shops on board, one on deck 9 and the other on deck 2. Deck 2 coffee shop also serves monster slices of cake. As we sat sharing a very large slice of strawberry cheesecake it felt like the middle of the day, even though we hadn’t risen until 4pm, it was hard to comprehend it was now 7.30pm and so light outside.

Later that evening we wandered into the casino and found they still have smoking areas on the ship. Even though there was one section deemed non smoking it didn’t make much difference as it’s hard to keep cgarette smoke confined to one area in a large room. There was also a smoking area at the back of the Deck 9 eating area. I’ve got so used to being in non smoking environments that it surprised me to have smoking areas inside on the ship.

I had planned to take advantage of a day at sea and do lots of thngs like paint my nails, huh, didn’t get round to that today, check out some of the happenings around the theatres, didn’t get round to that either!! We did sit on deck for an hour or so….until our noses turned red from cold and our fingers froze (yes, we had gloves on). The pool wasn’t seeing any action however the spa had a couple of people in it but unless you were an eskimo rugged up was the order of the day. The water slides were closed and the entry gates locked although I have no dea why, did they think someone would be brave enough in these icy conditions to go for a water slide???

We took a walk around the ship eventually pulling up a stool at the Piano Bar. The pianist, Keith, was playing and singing 60’s tunes so we sat for an hour, had a drink and sang along. After which we headed to an adults only comedy hour. Doug Williams was the comedian. We sat next to a couple of ladies one from Seattle and one from LA. We chatted for awhile before, after and during the show.

Time now to say goodnight…….ship started it’s dance routine again although not as violent as last night. As I drift off I imagine the ship to be a paper boat floating in the bathtub with a large hand thumping the water every so often to make the little paper boat tip every which way.

Tomorrow we reach Tracy Arm Fjord a place I’m very much looking forward to.

The photos below are of our cabin and the water slides on the very top of the ship.

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North to Alaska and the Embarkation Rituals of Cruises .

North to Alaska and the embarkation rituals of cruises.

It’s a short walk from the taxi stand to ritual number one – the luggage drop off. We crossed the pavement to the main terminal entrance and stepped inside. We weren’t late as embarkation was from midday till 3pm and it was only 12.30 however the luggage drop off line was already weaving like a giant conga line through two halls, Ty and I made up the tail. Of course, people were arriving all the time so it wasn’t long before we graduated to the middle of the line.

It’s always an interesting pastime to people watch and today was no exception. The couple in front of us were mid to late sixties and their luggage tags were a rather pretty shade of purple, a colour that always attracts my eye, and one of my sisters for that matter. We often turn up tp lunch or family gatherings dressed in the same shade of purple. Back to the luggage tags, apart from being a pretty colour the tags also had the follwoing letters on one edge….VIP. The gentleman was very much aware of his VIP tags and the status that came with those 3 letters. A representative of the cruise line walked by and he called them over and pointed to his tag and asked “Where is the VIPs luggage drop?” “This is the only luggage drop off, all luggage must be scanned” said the rep. “Oh” our VIP uttered. The rep carried on about their business. A short time later, the conga line had moved and we were now closer to the xray machine, a customs officer came by and asked everyone to ensure they had their passports out to be checked. Our VIP instantly pointed out the the customs officer that he and his wfe were VIPs and was there another line to hasten their luggage drop. “There is only one line, sir”, she replied and carried on checking passports.

After placing our luggage on the conveyor belt we stepped up to ritual number two – another long queue for passport and ticket formalities. We last saw the VIP asking another customer service person whether there was a special line for VIPs, only to be told they had to join the main US and Canadian citizens queue. Mind you we also joined that queue before realising it was the wrong queue and we hastily retreated to non citizens queue….this queue was a lot smaller for which we were thankful. Just as we wandered up to the queue a cruise representative came to us and asked for our passports and then ushered us straight to a window…….took us past the other non citizens lined up before us. We became queue jumpers by authority….loved it, now where was VIP man….I wanted to wave my passport at him!!!!! But wait that wasn’t all, the customer service woman came back to us and gave us…..wait for it……. a VIP card to walk past the queues embarking the ship! We laughed, we had completed ritual number three with ease, and looked around for VIP man, typical he wasn’t there for us to also wave our VIP card at him. He still had to line up with everyone else to board the ship. So our assumption was that VIP status must commence when you actually get to your cabin on the ship and not before. An interesting people watching episode!

Of course between the formalities of embarkation and entering your cabin there are a number of photo opportunities that cannot be avoided. Eventually we’re able to make our way to our cabin on Verandah Deck, only took an hour and a half after joining the conga line to opening our cabin door. Probably could have taken longer had we not got the VIP treatment…..hahahaha!!

Our stateroom cabin was spacious enough for the two of us, there were three wardrobes, Ty had a wardrobe and I had the other two plus a couple of drawers as well. The was also a king bed and a lounge with table. The balcony wasn’t huge, it held 2 chairs and a little table, there was room to set up a tripod and still plenty of standing room. The bathroom was compact, as they are on cruise ships. No one spends all their holiday slothing in the cabin so they don’t need to be huge just comfy and our cabin was.

Our luggage wouldn’t be delivered for a while so we headed up to the Promenade Deck for a very late lunch after which is took up a position aft (see I know the lingo) to watch the Seattle skyline fade into the distance as the Carnival Spirit set sail for the wilderness of Alaska. It was cold and the wind was increasing in intensity but I had to stay glued to the spot for the best photo opportunity of Seattle and the Space Needle. Becoming obsessed with this photography thing methinks……

People were on deck relaxing on the sun lounges, swinging slowly from side to side in the hammocks. Some were huddled in blankets sith just their heads exposed, most of us wore hooded jackets and scarves to keep warm against the icy wind whilst one brave man sat on a sun lounge naked from the waist up. Possible causes for this nakedness could have been either his internal thermostat was not workng very well or he’d had a bottle of rum. Although my theory is he ,as many men do, left his packing to his wife and, she, being fed up with having to think for him as well didn’t pack his shirts.

The ship was supposed to set sail at 4pm, but didn’t leave Smiths Cove until after 5pm. Let the cruise begin!!!!!

Our first night on board was spent unpacking and familiarising ourselves with the ship. We had cruised the Greek Islands on smaller cruise ships so the Carnival Spirit had a lot more common areas to explore, not to mention the shopping precinct held more shops to tempt us. It’s well known that I do not need any tempting to spend money!!!

We decided to have an early night, as it had been a long day, and we had another full day of sailing before we reached our first stop. The bed was comfortable and we were in “lalala” land before we could count to 3!!!

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Cruise Day – taking us North to Alaska

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Today, Tuesday 8/5, we board the cruise ship. ….Carnival Spirit…embarkation is from 12 noon. After showering and repacking it’s time to head out to find somewhere for breakfast. We wander round the corner past the cafe offering southern dishes such as jambalaya and gumbo, the bagel shop doesn’t inspire me either. Funny how you crave a simple breakfast, “hmm, let’s head back up the road and see what’s on the other side of the hotel” I say to Ty. He’s so very patient with me the poor man, he would find something to eat wherever we went. Not so me, a fussy bum (his words)!!

We wander into the Bacco cafe, adjoining our hotel, Inn a the Market. The breakfast menu is comprehensive and they have oatmeal and fresh fruit on the menu….yum, just the thing for this chilly morning, it’s quite a bit colder than yesterday. Ty chooses the big breakfast with eggs, bacon, hash browns and rissoles.

It was just a small cafe which filled up fairly quickly. A couple of people came in with a child of about 3 and sat at the table behind us. Everyone in the cafe could hear their conversation or should I say, his conversation! He was quite loud and complaining about a number of things including the way his wife fed their daughter each morning and how bringing her to a cafe such as this “allowed her to eat the food slowly insead of it being forced into her”. He was telling the woman with him about where they lived and how far the park was for exercise. All this in between making baby noises to the little girl. You know the ones, goo goo, ga ga, yummy yum and so on. I can’t elaborate on these any further as I’ve never been into baby talk. Meanwhile the woman is telling the little girl to “eat more food for grandma”.

I was bemused when he got up and told the cafe he was going to the mens’ room. Ahh, peace and quiet for a couple of minutes was my immediate thought. Everyone was enjoying their breakfasts when he burst back into the room telling all and sundry how there was only one toilet and he had to line up and wait his turn. This was not a satsfactory situation for him and the cafe should do something about it. Luckily we had finished breakfast and chose to have coffee elsewhere!!!

We headed to Starbucks on 1st Ave for coffee but it was standing room only and we needed to sit for me to write and publish the blog, luckily there are dozens of Starbucks in Seattle. We headed to the 4th Ave shop and found a seat. We perched here for an hour, I wrote as Ty read the news and people watched. Seattle has a wide variety of cultures, it reminded Ty a little of San Francisco.

It was now 11.15am time to get back to the hotel to check out and irganise a taxi to the port. Ty had thought we might walk to the port, I didn’t find that statement at all amusing or even sensible. Was he going mad with cruise fever before we’d even got on board? Is there such a thing as cruise fever or did I make it up?? He has thought the peer was in walking distance, hmmm, the ship berthed about 4 miles further north of where we were…..he could walk if he wanted but I was not.

I had promised to send postcards, yes there are people out there in the world that still like to receive the good old fashiond postcard to stick on their wall or fridge and I’m very happy to oblige. So there were 3 postcards to send but no post office in sight when enquiring at the desk the concierge told me the hotel has a complimentary postal service for guests. How good is that!

The taxi arrives and we commence our ten minute drive to the Smith Cove pier for embarkation.