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JohnGaltny

Journals From Alaska in July, 2006

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I was always taught that when you go to someone's house for the first time you bring a little something for the host. Since I just found this forum and I like it here, I offer these cruise journals which were pretty well received on another board. I hope you all (or at least one of you) enjoy them.

The following entries are posts I would have made from the SUN if I could have gotten the wireless hookup working. They were written as they happened and I have not edited anything. So here we go with PART ONE.

__________________________________________________ ________

Got into Seattle on Saturday with JetBlue which is still the only airline I fly that makes me feel like they actually want me aboard, as opposed to being a necessary inconvenience to them..

On to the hotel for the night which was absolutely terrific IF you don’t mind any of the following: (1) No elevator, no Bell staff and a third floor walk up (or in our case drag up) with a week’s worth of luggage; (2) a few holes in the ceiling, (3) blood or some other red substance in the bathtub; (4) having to argue for 10 min. to get a room with air conditioning when it’s only 92 degrees outside and (5) in a part of town the liberals call “quaint†but we just call seedy. My friends and I enjoyed making fun of the whole thing and we now have another story to tell but any of you who DO mind any of those things spend the extra money and stay downtown. By the way, the ghost of the hotel never showed either and since my room had the “red†bathtub, I was kind of expecting him/her.

Sunday dawns bright and hot and we’re off to the dock. Dockside at 10:30 and the Princess staff is really good about check in and documents stuff. Relax until 11:15 when we are allowed through the gate to the mandatory photographer. From there it's into a huge warehouse which is the perfect place to stand around doing nothing which we did because the customs didn’t clear boarding for about 45 minutes. Only 6 or so people threatened to faint (remember it’s 90 outside) so the wait wasn’t really that bad on a percentage basis (this is the same concept used by the airlines since the percentages are terrific unless you’re on the one that crashes). Once cleared for boarding it was an extremely easy process right through the souvenir shops and onto the ship. Staff really does a nice job on this aspect and we’re in the Cabin by 12:30 PM.

The cabin is more than adequate for Wife & me. Whatever we had to spend for the balcony is already justified before we leave the dock. Our cabin steward (Marius) dropped by about 1:15 and he’s gonna be terrific. Had some fun with him as he tested my knowledge of European vs State capitals (he’s Romanian and I knew Bucharest – I’m from New York and he knew Albany, so it was a draw.) Anyhow, we requested robes and eggcrate and they were there within the hour. Luggage arrived by 3:00 PM so no complaints at all.

With the cabin set up it’s down to muster drill which I find interesting since it is as much sales seminar as emergency instruction. On the other hand, keeping everyone entertained is probably useful since we already did today’s stand around and do nothing drill in the warehouse. Very efficient and pretty much painless as drills go.

Time for sailaway, so I’ll pick this up later.

JG

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Here's my second journal entry.

__________________________________________________ ___________

We’ll were here (although I’m not sure where here is since the fog is onto my balcony)

First, to all those who told us to bring a power strip THANK YOU. There is one outlet in this cabin and with this computer, a battery charger, phone charger and misc stuff, six outlets are a HUGE help.

On to the “at Sea†day. I have to tell you all that in two days I have encountered only one PITA staff member. He was a dealer in the casino and as I left his table I flipped him a $5.00 chip (I had lost the other 45 in about 20 minutes) and his reaction was “there’s my new carâ€Â. At home in NY this would be grounds for a small war but I just looked at him and laughed. EVERYONE else has been courteous and helpful. I also have yet to encounter the famous rude passenger. Quite the contrary, my fellow pax have been very polite and accommodating on elevators and halls and the like. I’m really disappointed on this BUT there’s a lot of time left.

Marius, our cabin steward, continues to shine and our waitress in the Regency Dining Room, Liliana, has been terrific. Her assistant Noel (we nicknamed him “The Firstâ€Â) is a bit slower but tries like hell to satisfy everyone at our table of ten. Since I have several friends who own restaurants, I’ve learned to spot good staff and the effort exerted by the Dining Room personnel is tremendous. They don't always get it right but they do work hard to fix it. In any event, I hardly see getting the drink order wrong as grounds for federal indictment.

Saw our first show tonight “Piano Man†and I now understand why, quite apart from terrorists, they search passengers for weapons. When you remove all the grittiness from Billy Joel, all the soul (?) from Neil Sedaka, and run various others through the Osmond School for the Musically Bland, it’s a very tough sell. I was worried about my diabetic friend throughout the performance. At least they left out “Sugar Sugarâ€Â.

The photo ops are stunning. I wish I was talented enough to do them proper justice. By the way, I’m new to cruising but an old hand at boats and the SUN looks to be in fine shape. I get the feeling the Captain and his department heads take pride in their ship.

The variance in food quality is pretty wide already. Horizon Buffet is more or less a chaotic fire drill with traffic patterns similar to a European traffic circle. You also run the risk, as I did, of standing behind a woman trying to communicate with the prunes before she picks a few. No big deal and she may be right to ask which ones want to go with her. The quality is basic office cafeteria, but it’s by no means horrendous. The Regency food has been a pretty consistent two to three stars but we don’t expect Le Circe or 21 and none of my party has indicated any real dissatisfaction nor has ANYBODY missed a meal. We have sent some stuff back and the wait staff has not given us any attitude at all.

Now it’s Ketchikan in 7 hours and I need to hit the bed. More to follow soon.

AND ON TO THE THIRD JOURNAL<]

When we went to bed last night (actually about 2:30 this morning) we were sailing along the middle of nowhere. When we woke up, there was Ketchikan staring us in the (admittedly bleary eyed) face. For us (being noobs) it was the first time it hit that we’re actually in Alaska.

Ketchikan presents an interesting question to me. Is it strange to fly 3,000 miles and cruise another 600 or so to get off the ship in Frontierland at Disneyworld? Honestly, that’s what it reminds me of. Still the stores are kind of funky and there are actually two or three non-jewelry items available that are not made in China.

First tour is the Wildlife Rainforest. On the way up the road we saw a sign saying “Bear Left†and it must be true because he wasn’t anywhere we could see him on the tour. He did however leave signs of his existence, including several neatly piled forensic clues on the trail. At least we definitively answered that age old question. The highlight of this tour is the eagles. Like pigeons at home, they are all over the place but unlike pigeons they are incredibly majestic sights. I do suggest a high zoom camera though since they are not at all interested in posing closeup. I’m not sure this tour is worth the money unless you are really into botany, as opposed to wildlife, but a bit of different luck may be all that's needed to change my mind.

Back in town the women in our group had a fine old time in the jewelry stores. At least the stuff they bought is easy to pack. Besides, if anyone really needs a 6 foot stuffed bear in your living room, most stores will do shipping and save you all those explanations at the airport going home.

Next up was a chance to prove that even past 50, I can be truly stupid. Take one middle aged man with hypersensitivity to motion sickness, stick him on a chair in the cargo hold of a ten seat plane and fly for an hour in areas where he is looking UP at the trees about 100 feet off the wingtips. Throw in two short take off and landing procedures and by the time he gets back to the ship, he’s not overly worried about the service in the dining room. The thing that makes him truly stupid is he knew all this would happen before he got on the plane but the trip was so gorgeous and so much fun (except for the tree off the wingtip thing) that I'm thoroughly glad I went. Would I do it again? Probably not but I absolutely recommend it to everyone at least once. By the way, we were late getting back to the ship so booking through Princess was worth whatever extra it cost us. Once again, thank you for the tip.

As I write this we are leaving Ketchikan but I’ll skip the sailaway until the room stops spinning. While rooms have done that to me before, it usually involved Jack Daniels at some level so I feel kind of cheated. After that it’s on to the Casino and whatever else.

See you in the morning.

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JOURNAL 4<]

Out of Ketchikan bound for Juneau and the first lost stop of the trip. We spent all morning underway in the middle of a giant cotton ball. Every so often the fog would lighten up and I could see my balcony railing, but that was about it.

We lingered around outside the Tracy Arm for a while to see if things would improve but no dice. The Captain let us know that we were not going into a very tight area full of rocks and ice when he couldn’t see 50 feet off the bow. When he put it that way, any disappointment at missing the glacier was well balanced out by my desire NOT to do a lifeboat drill for real. I didn’t really hear any pax getting testy about it and none of my travel party (all of whom have been on my boats) was upset at all. It's just part of boating at any level and at least this time I don't have to be the one sweating the helm.

After cruising around some other inlet for a bit, we arrived in Juneau about an hour early and I can see why schedules are so big in this industry. The Juneau port had five ships in and two of us waiting for them to get out. It never occurred to me we could travel 3,000 miles from New York to get stuck in the waterborne equivalent of the Cross Bronx Expressway. On the other hand it’s really fascinating to watch them play chicken with 70,000 to 100,000 ton chunks of metal that have no brakes and still get it all right. Nicely done captain.

In Juneau itself we actually saw a strange round yellow thing in the sky. The captain announced that it was indeed the sun and almost all of us believed him. Since it was finally sunny out, wife and I were scheduled for the perfect tour --- dropping into an underground gold mine. The tour was OK and panning for gold made me wonder if all those prospectors couldn’t have come up with a less frustrating way of life. Putting toothpaste back in tubes comes to mind.

Back in Juneau we hit the Tramway and to me it was the best thing we have done so far. Getting in a cable car for a 1500 foot ride straight up a mountain allowed me to indulge all of my other strong response –acrophobia -- without any of the motion sickness, a real win/win situation. The view from the top is tremendous, even near the edge of the platform where adrenal terror joins the mix and makes the whole thing spectacular. I absolutely consider this one a must do for Juneau no matter how often you get there.

One other thing we learned on this leg of the trip was don’t use Horizon Court for lunch. There is some real talent involved in making fifty different colors, textures, food groups and presentations ALL have the exact same taste - which is none. I had the steamed veggies, wife had the pasta and friends had other combinations but we could easily have switched at random with no change in the outcome. Another lesson learned at Sea.

Haven’t recovered enough from Piano Man to go to the shows again yet but we’ll try tomorrow. It doesn’t really matter because there’s more than enough to do and places to hide on this ship and we’re having a great time with pretty much all of it.

On to Skagway.

JOURNAL 5<]

Skagway is a really interesting place. A lot of history going back WAY before the gold rush. Actually, the Indian history is more interesting if only because we didn’t have to memorize it for fifth grade finals.

The White Pass RR is everything the people on here say it is. For scenic vistas and absurdly beautiful landscapes, Alaska is amazing and the White Pass is the best we’re gonna do on this trip.

Time for another thank you to those who recommended touring thru Princess. We were ten minutes late getting back for the dogsled tour which was my wife’s primary objective for the whole trip. The Princess rep radioed the bus and had them wait while they drove us out to it, and off we went. I think missing the dogs would have been much worse than missing the glaciers so the Princess efforts were HUGELY appreciated on this one.

We didn’t get a lot of time in the town itself and I think we may have made a rookie mistake of overbooking on the tours. On the other hand, I don’t see how we could have skipped the railroad or the dogs so maybe we just need to come back someday just to visit the town. For sheer numbers of things to see, Alaska is hard to beat. We could easily stay onboard on a B2B of the same cruise and never do the same thing.

Back in the cabin I decided to recover from the day and then call room service at about 8:45 PM. The staff was proper and courteous and the food came up right at the time they gave me. Unfortunately, we had two completely different meals and both of them were like biting into a dry sponge. This is the first time we have gotten something truly inedible on the ship and it wasn’t a tough order or weird hour. One of my friends pointed out that you should definitely not be able to wave goodbye with a potato chip that flaps in the wind. Oh well, another lesson learned I suppose.

It’s now Friday and we’re into the long cruise back to Victoria. I'm beginning to think all the chefs got off in Juneau or Skagway because the Horizon Court has now become the equivalent of the enlisted men's field mess at Parris Island. At this point it’s our place of last resort. The 24 hour buffet really should be called “Leftover and Unwanted†since that’s what’s there at 1:00 AM. It’s kind of like a Humane Society for third generation soup and sandwhiches that were previously used as paper towels.

The day at sea can really be terrific if you make it so. None of our party was bored for so much as a minute with the day’s activities and pretty much everybody found something that really interested them. One of the highlights is seeing an old joke come to life. Remember “How do you make an 80 year old woman curse at you? -- Yell BINGO!.†Definitely some truth behind that one but it’s great fun to watch.

Lobster night in the Regency tonight and the dining room has stayed pretty constant. It’s never anything great but it’s never bad either. Besides, we've all gotten to really enjoy Lillianne.

Off to the club after dinner for the talent show and Karaoke finals -- THEN hit the theatre to catch the screamingly funny comedian at midnight and THEN hit the Casino till 2:00 AM or so. I'm afraid Wifey is now a devout cruise addict. She absolutely LOVES the idea that she can do all of these things on board and never have to leave the ship or repack a bag. For myself, I’m thrilled with the idea that there’s no chance for a DWI going home from any of it.

So that’s it for Friday. Will sum it all up tomorrow.

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FRIDAY

We’re due in Victoria in a couple of hours so the main mission for me today is Verdi’s Pizzeria which has been unapproachable so far. Think of the old Yogi Berra line "Nobody goes there cause it’s too crowded".

Our cabin steward Marius is truly a great kid. He’s Romanian with a neat accent and he’s always semi-apologizing for it. I keep reminding him that an accent means he speaks AT LEAST two languages, which is one language (some would say two) more than I speak and he just laughs. Anyway, I convinced him to take a five minute break on our balcony and he spotted more whales in that time than I saw on the whole trip. I don’t mean to sound trite but maybe some of the complainers might try treating the service staff as people instead of equipment. They might have fewer issues and a lot more fun. I see Marius and Lilliana as extremely valuable resources (they know so much more than I do about this ship and itinerary) and they have definitely contributed to my enjoyment of this cruise.

GOT INTO VERDI’S for lunch today and it’s great. Trust me, as a 2nd generation Italian from New York, I am not all that enamored with pizza in the hinterlands (which in this context includes Connecticut) but this stuff is really good. PLEASE Princess, consider making Verdi’s a 24 hour location and flush that horror show upstairs on Deck 14. I’ll even pay for it after 10:00 PM and be very happy. Make it 24 hour room service and I’m yours forever.

Victoria is a neat little city of 400,000 ( to me that’s 48th Street between Madison and Park Avenues). We’re only here for 5 hours under the Jones Act but that’s enough for me to determine I’m gonna return to visit by car on my own time.

We took the Ghosts and Graveyards tour. The first hour is the graveyard where, of course, everyone is dead. About halfway through it, I wished I was too. Things got better in the second hour visiting a maritime museum and the old Fort Victoria courtroom which is supposedly haunted by the two Chief Justices of the Fort. I figured that if anyone could bring them out I could ( if only as a professional courtesy ) but no dice. I even stayed behind, alone in the Courtroom and sat on the bench thinking they’d at least throw something at me but the old buggers never showed. Oh well, maybe next time but I’m 0 for 3 on ghosts on this trip.

Back at the SUN at about 8:45 and NOBODY in my group wants to face the 14th Deck for dinner so with a little talking, and 5 bucks each, we got shuttled back into town. I really like it here. There’s a hundred restaurants and some truly interesting crazy people wandering around Bastion Square. We have GOT to come back.

Back aboard just slightly ahead of the brow (by about 2 minutes) and it’s a final check of the baggage and then off to (you guessed it) the clubs and casinos. By now Wife is talking about selling the house and moving into B-508 full time but I think she might not mean it. The again, she might.

Disembark in about five hours so this is my last on board live post. I will come back and write up the disembark process once I get home

EPILOGUE<]

The subtitle of this section will be the title of my new book, "HOW TO PLAN, IMPLEMENT, AND ACHIEVE TOTAL DISASTER" which will be dedicated to all those for whom business travel is a normal part of their existence. I’m sure every one of you can top this story but I cannot imagine why you would want to.

Back in March, having no idea about the logistics of getting off the ship or how things work in Seattle, I booked our return to New York on the midnight red eye out of SEATAC rather than the 1:00 PM flight. I figured that no matter what went wrong, I would have enough time to get it corrected. What I learned is what happens when the plan IS what goes wrong.

Saturday night we find that we are scheduled to leave the ship at 8:40 AM. I immediately initiate PLAN A which is to book a cheap hotel room to store the baggage while we explore Seattle. WRONG. It seems there are 16,000 Microsoft employees in town and the nearest open hotel room is back in Ketchikan. Since that seems a bit extreme, we nimbly divert to PLAN B which is to store the luggage at Terminal 30 for the day and proceed with the Seattle exploration, then return about 8:00 PM, pick up the bags and head for the airport. With this plan in effect we go through the Princess disembarkation procedure which is both super efficient and painless. Really well done Princess BUT also an hour early. We are off the ship with bags (all of them) in hand by 8:30 AM. We now have only 16 hours to get to the airport and I can feel the clock ticking.

Plan B works great for ten minutes until the Concierge at Terminal 30 informs us that she is closing at 3:30 PM and all luggage that isn’t gone will remain a guest of the facility until Monday at 9:00 AM. Given our options, we take the deal and set off for Seattle Downtown but instead of one long block of time, we now have until 3:30 PM for exploration which, if all goes well, will allow us to check in at the airport a mere 8 hours before our flight.

I’m sure Plan C would have worked better than this but we didn’t have one at this point. Anyhow, we did the Space Needle, once again satisfying my periodic need for acrophobic tachycardia (translation: extreme fear of heights) and then took the duck boat tour. Completion of these tasks left us with just enough time to do absolutely nothing but have lunch and stare at the space needle from every conceivable angle, which we did until the rain started. I used this rain delay to develop Plan B2 which was to go back to Terminal 30, get the luggage (remember this is 6 adults and 2 kids), get to the airport, check in, check the luggage through and grab a cab into town for some fun and dinner in a restaurant. Not great, but not bad as a THIRD backup plan and it beat standing in the rain looking up at the Space Needle.

Plan B2 went down the toilet when we arrived at SEATAC at 4:00 PM and realized we had gotten there before the JetBlue staff. Since they had no flights until 10:30 PM, there was no reason for them to assume some knucklehead would get there FOUR TIMES earlier than necessary for an international flight. I had never before beaten the airline to the airport so I guess it’s worth doing for the experience but this meant we were NOT checking the bags and we were NOT going into town. What it did mean is that we were going to sit in the OUTSIDE area (remember we have no boarding passes) of the airport until the JetBlue people showed up. Not knowing when that would be added a certain suspense to this little adventure. Thus commenced "The Great Wait"

Along about an hour into the Wait, we realized that with six adults, 2 kids and a serious bunch of luggage, we pretty much owned our little ten seat section of SEATAC’s departure area. Given that we would be in residence so long, we declared our area a sovereign nation, immediately naming our new country "Frank". Things went along quite well in the new nation until discussion arose as to whether it should be an Athenian Democracy, a Jeffersonian Democracy or just the Federalist style bureaucratic madness which we already know so well. Being founding fathers in the 21st rather than the 18th century, we made no decisions except to table discussion until a committee could be formed to study the issue and report back. In the meantime, we would engage in debate as to whether our priority should be (a) securing our new borders, (b) establishing formal relations with the Gate C crowd or © going downstairs for coffee. Given all these weighty problems and our ability to fight about them at great length while accomplishing nothing of any real consequence, I really did feel like a Senator. Maybe being in the Congress or a state legislature is really nothing more than perpetually sitting in an airport with eight hours before your flight. That would explain an awful lot.

Anyway, once Frank was up and running we still had 6.5 hours to go. We used this time to memorize the entire Arrivals and Departures board. I can now speak with absolute authority on almost all of Air Alaska’s weekend routes to Anchorage, Juneau, Ketchikan, Nome and Fairbanks. For a while, three of us actually toyed with buying round trip tickets to Juneau just to see if we could get back in time for the flight. If the kids hadn’t been there, we might have done it and I think we would have made it too.

At the halfway point (8:00 PM) there was cause for joy and celebration throughout the nation of Frank. The JetBlue gate staff showed up. They were, as always, terrific but when they found out we had arrived at 4:00 PM to check in for a midnight flight, at least two of them looked like they were seriously considering calling the local mental hospital to check for escapees. I would not have blamed them. In fact, had they come for me at this point I would have gone along quietly.

With bags checked and boarding passes in hand we could now enter the inner ring. I have always admired the Disney World method of having people pass through stages while waiting incredible times to get absolutely nowhere and I now understand it fully. Just the ability to get from outside to the gate area made us feel like we had really accomplished something. I felt like I was almost home despite the fact that we still had four hours to go before the flight.

The second half of The Great Wait passed by in a blur of food court items, reading $150.00 worth of newspapers and magazines, almost all of which were in English, and entertaining the 2 kids, who were in much better shape (and probably better behaved) than the adults. By the time they opened the jetway door for boarding the feeling was something like standing on the shore of the Red Sea and having Moses say "OK everybody, shake a leg".

We’re home now and I’m glad but I would turn around and do it all (well maybe not all) again next week.

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John, I really enjoyed your journal entrys. Thanks for the housewarming or hostess gift. We're so glad that you found us and so glad you've joined right in. Hope to see you posting on a regular basis. Welcome to our CruiseCrazies family. :biggrin:

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Thanks for sharing. I've been taking notes on Alaska for about a month.I'm going in 2008 and I want to soak it all up!

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John - First of all Welcome to Cruise Crazies. It is great seeing you posting already and becoming an active member of our Crazies Family.

You have a way of transporting the reader right into your adventure and I really enjoyed reading your journal. Thanks for sharing it with us and keep posting.

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Welcome to Cruise Crazies, John! I'm still catching up on my posts but am looking forward to reading your journals!!!

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