Alaska Autopsy

AUTOPSY: a critical examination, evaluation, or assessment of someone or something past

We had fun on our cuise to Alaska.  I don’t think I ever need to do it again, but it was fun.

Meals

It’s possible my expectations were too high for cruise food.  I’d heard people rave about it and I wanted to do the same.  In hindsight, I think people may have been raving more about the quantity than the quality.  I can give the food a thumbs up, but not a rave.  Perhaps expecting a rave review was unrealistic.  After all, the kitchen staff is preparing nearly nine thousand meals a day on a boat.  Their performance was significantly better in the restaurants than at the buffet.  How do heat lamps manage to transform what should be savory and delicious combinations into one plate of homogeneous airline-casserole-tasting mush?

Other than one particularly disappointing encounter with dry salmon (maybe the folks from the Midwest don’t know any better, but any self-respecting Seattle girl knows that eating salmon shouldn’t exhaust your jaw), the meals I ordered in the restaurant were good.   The vegetables were crisp, the seafood tasty, and the vegetarian options flavorful and creative.  I liked being encouraged to eat my meals in courses and having each item artfully plated and presented by attentive waiters.

I’ve never liked someone else putting my napkin in my lap and I found it painful to watch the waiters attempt to supply Daughter with her ketchup, when required (there is simply no dignified way to do the vigorous shaking required to extract Heinz from a glass bottle), but I was pleasantly surprised by my children’s ability to endure, and perhaps even enjoy, leisurely meals. 

I chose to deny the existence of a kids menu for the majority of the trip, forcing them to select from the real food choices – (unfried) vegetables and meat without a nugget middle man.  Son may have adapted too well to the adult portions and multi-course meals.  I had to move the button in the elastic waistband of his jeans. 

I’m not looking forward to the cold-turkey withdrawals my children will experience tonight when dinner is precisely one course, with no coconut tarts or chocolate mousse with berry reduction offerings afterward.  But, it was worth it. 

While my children mourn the loss of daily dessert and waiters who are able to fold napkins into cartoon characters, I’ll mourn the loss of cooks and dishwashers.  It was lovely to delegate the meal planning, cooking and cleaning to others for a week. 

Absolutely lovely.

Room Service

Speaking of delegating…I haven’t made a bed, laundered bath towels, or emptied a waste basket in a week.  Sure, I threw the duvet over the top of the sheets each morning, but I didn’t smooth or tuck or straighten.  Ara, our Room Steward, took care of all that.  She was diligent and thorough with a side of whimsy. 

The children’s stuffed animal “lovies” were routinely posed on the shelves mid-day and tucked in under blankets as if sleeping in the bunks during the evening turn-down service.  A tidy room with a moose resting its head on a pillow is a delightful discovery.  That, and chocolates, never failed to make me smile. 

Forget pillow talk.  Pillow chocolates are what speak to me.   I’m misty eyed just thinking of the loss…

Entertainment

Admittedly, because I turn into a pumpkin after 9pm, my sampling of evening entertainment was limited.  However, Husband and I enjoyed a child-free night out at one of the comedy shows, another with the kids at a magic show, and a couple of lectures with the on-board naturalist. 

For me, the highlight was the magic workshop where the illusionist taught a room full of wide-eyed kids and grown-ups a few tricks with everyday objects.  I’m going to be a hit at the next party I attend.  Pay no mind to the lady discreetly slicing drinking straws with a razor blade….   

We learned early on that many of the daytime “program” options were sales pitches by another name.  A photography class was really a pitch about the features of the cameras for sale on board the ship.  A lecture about relieving back pain was just a guise to measure folks for orthotics available for purchase.  With practice, we learned to discern between information and infomercials.    

We wanted to like the swimming pools more, but they were all too deep for the kids (or me) to touch the bottom, leaving Husband as the only person who could catch jumping children or assist our not-quite-there swimmers without treading water.  The only pool with stair entry (vs.  ladder) was designated adult only, meaning there was not a single pool on ship where our kids could enter the water and stand with their heads out of the water.  The choices were either pool-side or deep end.  No in-between.

Mostly, we enjoyed the informal entertainment offerings of the ship.  Bocce courts, ping pong, shuffleboard, giant chess board, etc.  We were glad we brought our own card games to play and made use of the onboard library that had a charming selection of children’s books.

Excursions and Port of Call

Unlike some of our fellow passengers, we didn’t fork over the money for helicopter tours of glaciers or off-road jeep adventures and salmon bakes.  But, we did enjoy our ports of call: Ketchican, Juneau, and Skagway. 

Ketchican exceeded my expectations.  Clustered at the bottom of a hill, it was walkable, compact and had the form and function of a town that I find so appealing.  The streets were narrow, the buildings old.  There were enclaves and clusters of buildings that had their own distinct character and somehow the town seemed able to absorb all the obnoxious tourist trinkets required of a cruise port without giving up all of its grit.  Admittedly, we arrived on one of the fifty non-rainy days they get a year and the blue skies (and caramel corn store) may have worked like rose colored glasses, but I found Ketchican charming.  The bus ride to Totem Bight State Park was long and crowded but worth it.  Daughter was so tired afterward that she fell asleep in the arms of the stranger on the bus who was kind enough to make room for Daughter to sit while the rest of us stood.  

Juneau was rainy but we made the best of it.  We enjoyed the short walking trails and interpretive displays at Mendenhall Glacier and road the Mount Roberts Tramway, where we got up close and personal with a rescued bald eagle and learned a few Tlingit words before making use of a clearing in the clouds to look down at the harbor and town. 

In Skagway, we splurged on a scenic WP & YR railway excursion.  The historic narrow gauge railway was built in 1898 and is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark (a designation also bestowed on the Panama Canal and Eiffel Tower).  Built too late to really help anyone seeking gold, the railway is still beautiful, interesting and inspiring.  

Scenery

The whole point of the cruise was to enjoy Alaska’s scenery. And, we did.  The glacial fjords are an impressive site, the floating icebergs a range of colors and sizes that look perfectly placed as if by an artist in a painting, and the receding masses of glaciers a good reminder of our changing world.

There is something positively majestic about the infinite…or seemingly infinite.  Looking out over water that extends farther than my eye can see has always been a balm of sorts for me.  The sea, together with the vastness of the glaciers was a powerful combination.  The glaciers – huge masses of seemingly stagnant snow and ice, slyly moving at a pace imperceptible to the human eye in the moment but striking through the lens of decades.  While I wish my kids had witnessed a glacier calving, I’m also glad they experienced nature refusing to accommodate human wishes.  There is power in the lesson that some of the wonders of nature are only revealed to those willing to watch and wait with no promise of reward for their attention and time. 

Conclusion

I’m glad we went.  We relaxed, we recreated, we ate.  We saw countless humpback whales, dozens of bald eagles and arctic terns and one bear.  We were wowed by magicians, entertained by singers, and informed by naturalists.  We discovered a lot about Alaska’s beauty and history. 

We also discovered something about ourselves – we are not cruise people.  So, we’ll go back to our typical modes of travel: an over-packed Honda and hiking boots.

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