fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

cruising to Alaska, part one: getting up steam

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There are a few notable things about taking a cruise that make me feel good: massages, a disconnection from everyday demands and the fact that it’s relatively certain I’ll be part of the younger crowd. Lump in the fact that your hotel room is hauled from port to port while that someone else does the driving, often while you’re asleep, and it’s a pretty sweet deal.

Fueling this allure of cruising is the old-school mode of conveyance, a reminder of less hurried days. The big ships today don’t move any faster than their counterparts of the early 1900s.*

One has to step away from the food, onboard boutiques, entertainment and the Internet café to truly experience this timelessness of travel by ship. My wife and I found ourselves relatively undisturbed during a long, afternoon walk on a lower deck, much of that time watching the ship’s prop wash disappear over the horizon.

Leaving San Francisco Bay

We embarked in San Francisco after a short ride from home, courtesy of the in-laws. One overriding factor in choosing this longer cruise — my dear wife will tell you I wasn’t initially convinced it was worth the extra cost — was that it didn’t require violation screening by the TSA or limits on luggage…we could’ve have taken a ferry across the bay, then walked from the San Francisco Ferry Building to the cruise terminal.

Checked in and familiar with our stateroom’s location on Aloha Deck (11), we familiarized ourselves with the ship courtesy a scavenger hunt. It was helpful to my waistline that our stateroom’s location would require going up or down at least two and often four or five flights of stairs to reach most destinations.

The weather was fantastic for our departure; a bluebird sky, sunshine and wisps of clouds over the bay…at least until we got to the Golden Gate Bridge. Very little of the bridge was visible, but no matter how little of the bridge we saw, it was from a unique perspective. With the ship headed out to an overcast sea, we unpacked, settled in and prepared for dinner. My wife was most excited that evening to receive her Princess Patter, the ship newsletter, which offers a list of shipboard activity the next day and a column written by various ship’s crew.

Our first two days would be at sea, something that’d be unremarkable without knowing that I’ve been prone to seasickness. While Sea Princess — with a length of 856 feet, beam 106 feet and gross tonnage of 77,000 tons — is big ship, 11-foot swells can give a slight pitch to the deck. My apprehension faded away the morning of the second day, when I seemed to have gotten my sea legs. Even so, I still find it a bit disconcerting to jump on a treadmill in the morning to see the sea go by in a direction perpendicular to the direction you’re walking.

That second day I planned to meet with the maître d’hôtel in the morning regarding our dining arrangements. Our original reservations provided for anytime/flexible dining, but before embarking we had requested a switch to traditional dining. The first evening we were reminded that anytime dining really isn’t that flexible, not being served until well after 6:30 p.m. Apparently I made the maître d happy. My request to change to traditional dining came without caveats and with a willingness to share a table with others. Yes, my wife and I dine well with others.

We filled that second day visiting the gym, learning the ship’s layout, confirming spa appointments and attending seminars; some informative, others part of the up-selling that comes with cruising.

During a visit to the cabin in the late afternoon it was learned that I’d be wearing long pants to dinner. We had been moved to the first seating (5:30 p.m.) in the traditional dining room. We didn’t know that fate had a surprise in store.

Sunset somewhere along the California coast…

We were seated at our table, with room for six, before anyone else. Eventually, a couple sat down with their daughter and son-in-law, and introductions commenced. Shortly, however, it grew clear that they had expected another daughter and her husband to occupy the seats now filled by us. Speculation that the daughter hadn’t been able to get her dining assignment changed was soon rendered moot when she appeared, revealing that she did secure a change to traditional dining but hadn’t been able to get an assignment to their table. With a little push from my wife and I, and agreement from the head waiter, the daughter accepted our offer to switch table assignments.

We were presented to our new tablemates, among whom, as luck would have it, was a gentleman my wife had come to know on cruisecritic.com. It quickly became clear we’d all get along when John commented that had he seen us coming, he’d have said “no” to new tablemates. We’d end up spending every dinner and many evenings with John and his wife Connie, and Gene and his wife Maydean.

Our third night was a special occasion: it was the first time in years I’d worn long pants, much less a suit formal night. Adhering to tradition, it was suit and tie for the men, a dress or nice pant suit for the women. Well, some of the men and some of the women. There was a mix of attire, with tuxedoes at the top, plenty of suits, a smattering of polo shirts and khakis, and others who just should’ve order room service in. (This is one of those times that I tend to show my age, expecting that honoring a tradition means making a real effort.)

That was also the evening that we began an eight-night tradition of evening entertainment courtesy of cabaret singer/pianist Sammy Goldstein.

With an excellent start to this cruise, I was looking forward to our first stop: Ketchikan, Alaska.


* There was a contest among ocean liners to capture the trans-Atlantic speed record that led to a top speed of 43 knots (held by the SS United States), but the line is now blurred between ocean liners and cruise ships, and most maintain a cruising speed closer to 20 knots. The only ship comparable to an ocean liner of yore is Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2, which has a top speed of 30 knots but typically cruises at 20 to 26 knots.

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2 thoughts on “cruising to Alaska, part one: getting up steam

  1. Hey Patrick. You have got to LOVE those cruises. The last one the wife and I went on was the 7 day to Mexico. Alaska is the next one we want to go on. Glad you had a good time.

    Mark

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