A Fun Cruise to Alaska with Friends

I'm starting this blog entry on the bus riding to work on Monday, Aug 4th... it's taken all the bus rides until today, Thursday, to finish.  There's NO computer stuff in this post... This is a vacation travelogue!

Wow!  We had a good time in spite of Lisa being seasick for 1-1/2 days and the weather in Alaska (mostly) sucking...  Still, it was FUN!

First of all, it was lame of me to think that I was going to exercise every day on the ship... the exercise room was small and had no water or music.   I worked out one day and went to the buffet lines the rest of the time.   I am back in Seattle now and working hard to get rid of the two or three pounds I packed onto my butt...  I weigh within two pounds of what I did three years ago (but more is muscle so I am in 36 inch pants for the first time since the 1960s).  Giving away clothes when you get smaller is an important trick!   When the clothes get tight, STOP EATING SO MUCH...  My clothes are a little too tight after the cruise!

I did, however, succeed at my other goal of reading all 750ish pages of the last Harry Potter book.  JK Rowling is VERY creative and the book held lots of surprises!   I have a lot of respect for her work and enjoyed it immensely.

So, we started off Friday by meeting up with the other two couples, Bob and Rita and Kirk and Kathy, at our condo for brunch and then we caught cabs to the cruise ship dock which is TWO MILES from our home.   It was literally a 10 minute cab ride.   We can see all the cruise ships, including Rhapsody of the Seas coming and going from our living room.   There are two or three cruise ships in Seattle every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday each week from May through September.   Frequently, I am up at 5AM (at least on Fridays) to watch them arrive.  In the evening, at around 5pm, it is normal for them to all pull out within minutes of each other.   Most of them back out of the Port of Seattle and do a 180 degree spin right in front of our home.  I call it the cruise ship ballet!   Here are a couple of photos of the ship we took (Rhapsody of the Seas), taken from our home as it departed the evening after we arrived back in Seattle.

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So, Friday (July 25th) was the day to arrive and unpack.  We got on board at around 1PM and started exploring the boat with our friends.   The luggage arrives over a few hours so you need to kill time a bit and then unpack.  So, we discovered the Windjammer Cafe.   This is the place where there are GOBS and GOBS of mediocre food, crowds of people jostling to pack their plates, and then (at some times of day), seriously insufficient tables to sit down and eat.   Now, here and there, you can find something really good in those buffet lines but it is VERY hard to do appropriate portion control because you think you've found the right stuff and the right amount of food but then you walk over to the next stuff and there's something else you want to slap on your plate!  Still, there is always something there and that's kinda' nice when you're locked up on the ship, you can always get something to eat.

Shortly before departure, we had the mandatory lifeboat drill... we all have to practice getting on our life preservers and going to our muster station where we can look at the 150 person lifeboats.   It is a necessary hassle.  Here's my wife, Lisa, looking beautiful in her life preserver!

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Here is the view of Seattle as we were departing Seattle.  This photo includes the building with our condo.  It's the shorter one which is darker on the top half in the center of the photo.

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Next year, we're moving to a different building only one block from Pike Place Market.  Here's the view of it under construction with the yellow crane in front.  Both of us LOVE downtown living and it was pretty darned cool to only take a 10 minute cab ride to catch an Alaska cruise!

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I mentioned the "Cruise Ship Ballet" from Seattle.  Three ships set off at basically the same time that Friday.  Here is a Celebrity ship in from of us and a Holland America ship following behind us!

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We went to the opening show and had a great time!  Dinner was fun and we met one of the singers at the next table having dinner with her mother and aunt who were cruising that week.  This set a pattern where we made a big point of sitting in the front row every evening and cheering on the performers... it was a blast!

As we cruised up the Pacific on the outside of the British Columbia and Southeast Alaska islands, the weather got a bit rougher... our stateroom was quite a bit forward and Lisa got seasick.  Consequently, she stayed in the room on the second dinner (which was the first formal dinner).  So, there were only five of us at dinner that night.  Here's Bob and Rita (all dressed up)

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and Kirk and Kathy (all dressed up)

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and me (in a tux) posing with Kathy since Lisa was upstairs in the stateroom being miserable.  She made it clear to me that I should go to dinner since if I stuck around while she was sick, I would annoy the heck out of her and make her MORE miserable... she was right!

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On the third day, we pulled into Juneau and saw that it was in a beautiful location but it was POURING rain... Other than Lisa, none of us brought rain gear.   It turns out to get to town you need to board a bus but the line was outside in the rain.   We waited for a while and then set out to get onto the bus.  Standing (and freezing), we decided to bag it and go back into the ship... That was NICE and WARM.  I found time to read that last Harry Potter book!

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Again, we very much enjoyed dinner and the show in the theater on the boat as we were getting underway from Juneau to Skagway.

The next day, we went to Skagway.  It is a cute little tourist town which will get between 5000 and 10,000 tourists every day of the week during the 5 month season.  We spent a couple of hours walking through the shops and exploring.   It was a nice break getting off the ship.

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Again, we really enjoyed dinner (casual attire) and the show... it became a lovely rhythm as we met each day to spend the evening in the dining room with friends and head off to the show!

The next day, we got up at 6AM...  The original itinerary had us seeing the glacier in Tracy Arm Fjord.   The Captain announced that we would not be able to get very close (like 2 miles away) from that glacier because there were so many icebergs floating down the fjord that he would need to stay way back for safety...  Instead, he would take us down Endicott Arm Fjord and we would see a different glacier (Dawes Glacier) much closer up.   To make that happen, the visit would need to be much earlier so... we all got up!  Lisa and I met up with our friends in our stateroom to hang on our balcony... I didn't see it but I understand there were hoards of guests (many in their pajamas) on the 10th deck (with no wind protection).   We had a great view from our balcony.   Here are shots of the approach up the fjord and of the glacier as this huge ship did a 180 degree turn only a few thousand feet away.  Our stateroom happened to be on the port side and so it had a magnificent view!

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While in front of the glacier, the crew lowered a lifeboat so they could capture some pieces of floating ice.  It just so happened that the boat they used was directly below our balcony!   One of the pieces of ice was later carved to become a salmon and put on display.

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We were right behind the bridge and saw LOTS of fun stuff with the glacier...

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So, later that day was the second formal dress night.   Lisa loves getting dressed up and (with her help), I think I am doing OK at it!

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There was a very cool drum and dance act from Argentina and we had a blast with Bob and Rita at the show.

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At the end of the evening, we found a cute folded towel puppy with Lisa's reading glasses on the bed in the stateroom.

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The last stop on the cruise was Prince Rupert, British Columbia (necessary so that the ship makes an international stop).   It was a pretty town but there's not much to do there...  Lisa was thrilled to find a sushi restaurant, though!

So, this takes us to our last cruising day home through the inside passage.  It was mostly a quiet and uneventful day (as captured in this photo):

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We were taking the inside passage (going South or home to Seattle).  This winds its way between Vancouver Island (which is about 400 miles long) and the mainland.   There are beautiful views and narrow passages between the various islands.  Coming home was the top line in this chart:

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At lunchtime on that last day (Thursday), the ship was heading through a narrow passage while we were sitting down and eating.  Now, Bob and I have done quite a bit of boating in our day (especially Bob who is a licensed captain).  We were fascinated (but not worried) when the boat started listing to the starboard by what we thought was about 8 to 10 degrees.  This went on for a minute or two and LOTS of desert plates fell, carts went rolling, and people were quite surprised!  A couple of minutes later, the ship's captain announced that the ship was fine and not to be stressed.

Now, there is quite a difference between a roll (where the boat goes back and forth) and a list (where is stays for a while in one direction).  When the seas get rough, everything gets stowed and you may get a roll (or a pitch) motion which can involve a lot of motion.  When the seas are calm (like in the inside passage), stuff comes out from being stowed and it will fall if there's too much movement.

So, this was an UNUSUAL event!   The cruise ship company doesn't like to have this happen.   Both Bob and I could tell from the motion that we had been moving through a pass with a following current.  The islands and other geography in the inside passage are a special area.  As the tides change, you can have large bodies of water a few feet (or more) higher than what is lying on the other side of the narrow passage.  Consequently, the water squirts through one way (landing onto some calm but lower water) for a few hours and then when the tides change, it squirts through another way.   We could feel this in the motion of the ship.

Now, when a 79,000 ton ship does this, normally everything is lined up, it runs through the shoot and people barely feel a thing.   Both Bob and I (sitting at lunch) notice the slight variation and were chatting about it.  When we listed to the starboard (right), that got our attention as we could feel the rudder had gone over to make a turn to the port (left) and the following current was pushing the ship on the port side causing her to lean (or list) to the starboard side.   This lasted only a minute or two and the ship recovered nicely.

Later that day, Lisa and Rita went to a Q&A with the captain and his senior crew.  He described that he was definitely responsible (and on the bridge) while the pilot (a fellow NOT with the cruise line but who knows the local waters) was at the helm.  As the Rhapsody of the Seas was shooting through the pass with a 5 knot following current (which is a very noticeable but reasonable current to sail through), a couple of fishing vessels cut in front of the Rhapsody of the Seas and the pilot needed to take evasive action to avoid hitting them.  That caused us to make a slightly uncomfortable maneuver.   He claimed we listed 5 degrees (although it seemed like more to Bob and me).  Also, the captain said that was the worst unexpected listing in his 47 year career.  Anyway, for a couple of boat-geeks, it was cool!

Finally, on the last night, we had a Las Vegas style juggling and balancing act (Justino and Daniela) who were great!  It seems that the singers in the theater group set me up...  I could tell that Justino normally doesn't call on someone from the audience but he was clearly looking for the bald headed guy in the front row.  He came and shook hands.  Then, a few minutes later he made a comment and asked me my name (and I told him "Pat").  Again, a few minutes later, he asks me to stand up and hands me three juggling balls with the comment "Would you please hold my balls?".  Of course I said yes at which time he produced a long-haired wig for me to wear... I kept it on for the next 45 minutes since I certainly am not going to back away from a good joke (and I was VERY glad I didn't get asked to help juggle).   When the singers came on about 15 minutes later, they were only a few feet above me and struggling VERY hard not to bust out laughing!   It was fun!

Here's some pictures of me with Justino and Daniela after the show but before I returned their wig to them...

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And then, the last evening's dinner and a goodbye to Rocky from Beijing who brought us cocktails with a warped sense of humor ("I'm the 'Boozer', not the 'Loser'!").

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That night we packed and set the suitcases in the hallway.  We awoke the next morning to see the Holland America's Amsterdam backing into her berth right in front of us and then a very familiar view of the Seattle skyline.   It was GREAT to be back home!

I spent the rest of Friday, August 1st, reacquainting myself with my laptop and deleting most of the 538 messages in my inbox!  

Saturday was the office move to building 35 and the SQL team (more on that soon).

It was a LOT of fun to just goof around for a week!

- Pat