vancouver, bc

7.29.11

As I mentioned, we had to get up pretty early since the ship docked at 7am.  Before we got off the ship, Jason and I spent some time walking around one last time.  Later, all the passengers gathered and were called out in groups to walk down the gangway and off the ship.  We lined up to have our passports checked and were asked if we were planning on visiting the city.  Because we had some time before our flight left, we were going to explore a little of Vancouver and so when they asked me, I said “yes.”  For some reason, this was not allowed without some kind of permission or somesuch so we were taken out of line while the staff member called co-workers over.  She left and while she was gone we explained our situation to one of the other staff members.  She wasn’t sure what the big deal was and told us to just say that we had changed our minds and weren’t going to visit the city after all.  By this time everyone else had left and so we didn’t have to wait in line to have our passports checked.  We told the woman we had changed our minds and were not going to visit the city, and she let us right out to board the bus that would take us to the airport.

When we arrived at the airport, we checked in, lined our luggage up against the wall like the other passengers and then went to get our rental car.  My parents had reserved a rental car but when we went to go pick it up, something was wrong and they didn’t have the reservation.  We ended up taking the train back into the city, which ended up being a great thing.  It’s funny because the other “foreign” places I’ve visited have either been in Mexico where there seems to be a lot of poverty (I’ve only ever gone there for mission trips), and Japan, where it was clean but everything was in Japanese.  So it was odd getting off the train and being able to understand what people were saying and not feeling like I was wealthier than the majority of the population.

We walked around for a bit, trying to find somewhere to eat.  After eating, we found our way back to the water, where we could see our ship in the dock.  The sun had started coming out and we enjoyed some quiet moments soaking it up.  It was a beautiful city that I would love to visit again.

Not wanting to miss our flight, we went back to the airport an hour or two before we had to really leave.  I really wanted to get some Canadian bills (couldn’t stop thinking of Weird Al’s “Canadian Idiot” where he talks about their “stupid monopoly money) and so we walked around the airport trying to find some souvenirs that weren’t to expensive.  Unfortunately they gave us back American change.  I tried to peek into the cash register but didn’t really get a good glimpse.  By the time I figured out that I could go to the money exchange booth, we had to get in line for security.

We made it onto our plane with no problems and marveled at how small our plane was.  We actually had to walk along the tarmac to get onto the plane.  We had a short flight to Seattle where we had a couple of hours before our final flight.  We enjoyed the awesome gift shop with some really fun items, ate dinner, and relaxed before taking off again.  We made it in after dark and a friend picked us up from the airport.

It was the trip of a lifetime.  I’m very thankful we could go and loved spending time in a beautiful place with the people I love.

i think he’s happy to be home

inside passage

7.28.11

This was a really relaxed day since we stayed on the ship the whole time.  We mostly sat around the breakfast/lunch dining area and played Aggravation.  We did see some whales while we were sitting there.  It was nice to just relax and spend time as a group.  Not wanting to be lazy all day, most of us wandered around the ship before lunch time.  Jason and I listened to a detox presentation that was quite compelling, though I’m not sure I’ll ever been convinced to eat seaweed on a regular basis.  We also went to the theatre deck to watch the Crew Talent Show, “Millennium’s Got Talent,” where we saw dancing, heard singing, and marveled at the talent that made up our crew.  After the talent show was a cook-off between two of the chefs on the ship.  We decided to buy a DVD from the trip, hoping that it would have some of the entertainment we got to enjoy throughout the week (namely the “Newly Wed, Not-So-Newly Wed” show).  Later, we discovered that it was basically a slideshow of pictures they had taken throughout the week with music over the whole thing.  Kinda lame.

We watched our last movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, had our last dinner on the ship, and played our last game of Aggravation.  Our next day was going to be early since we would dock at 7am and we had to be off the ship not long after that. . .

ketchikan

7.27.11

This was our last day to get to explore land in Alaska.  The first stop was another big souvenir shop, similar to what we had seen in Juneau, so we breezed through it.  We then walked along a street that had many jewelry shops, way too fancy for my taste.  Eventually Jason and I came to a shop that stood out from the rest.  It had locally made products and I found a beautiful bracelet and pair of earrings.  We wandered around a bit longer and made our last stop at another large shop filled with sweaters and all kinds of “Alaska” paraphernalia.  I found a necklace similar to the bracelet and decided to splurge (Jason was in agreement).

After returning to the ship, we hung out a bit before getting ready for our family portraits.  This was the night that the ship had photographers who would take group shots on the fancy staircase in the “lobby” of the ship.  We had agreed to all wear white tops and black pants and so gathered around the staircase after we’d changed into our outfits.  I’m sure all the others who were waiting for their shots weren’t happy with all the different combinations we wanted.  With so many family groups it took a bit of shuffling around to get what we wanted.

After the pictures, it was time to get ready for our second and final formal dinner.  Towards the end of dinner they had music and all the servers came out while the passengers cheered for them.  It was so nice to honor the men who served us throughout the week.

We took more pictures after our dinner on the staircase inside the dining room (apparently this was the night of pictures on staircases).  Once we had finished the pictures and changed out of our formal wear we watched the last Broadway show of the cruise, iBroadway.  Our customary game of Aggravation ended the night.

icy strait point

7.26.11

We didn’t dock at Icy Strait but instead took “tenders,” the boats also used if there’s an emergency (otherwise known as lifeboats ;).  They shuttled us to and from Icy Strait, though our group didn’t go back and forth between ship and land.  When we did arrive on land, we were greeted by a group of red buildings housing different shops, like a little indoor mall.  Micah and I had decided we wanted to do the ZipRider excursion.  Icy Strait is home to the world’s longest zipline, measuring 5,330 feet, a little over a mile, where the rider goes 60mph while getting a spectacular view of the surrounding area.  Not long after we arrived on shore, we had to get in line to board the bus that would take us up the mountain to where the zipline began.  The drive took about an hour and it was awesome to see all the natural beauty.

When we arrived at the top, we had to hike a little through the trees before we got to the platform where we would “take off.”  They took people in groups of six and we were part of one of the last groups.  I started to get a little jittery as it got closer to our turn.  Finally, we were ushered from under the awning we had been waiting under (which was nice to have since it was quite misty) and got strapped into our harnesses.  We were just hanging there, in a weird suspended swing, with our feet up against the gate that would soon swing forward to begin our free fall.  They counted down and then the moment came.  Like riding a roller coaster, my stomach dropped at the initial lurch as gravity was given free reign.  Eventually it settled and I was able to really enjoy the view.  It was so amazing to see all around, here’s the video I took:

Cool, huh?

Anyway, after we landed, we walked around the small  garden path outside and the shops before heading back to the ship.  We enjoyed another movie, The Last Three Days, and had our regular game of Aggravation to end our day.

skagway

7.25.11

This was a special day because we got to spend time with Grandma, just our family and her.  We decided that since we were so close to the Canadian border we should take a drive and explore the area a little more.  We rented a car in the small town and made our first stop at a little cemetery outside of town.  It was so beautiful, all the little wooden markers amongst the trees and moss.  The trail led us through the cemetery and then to a beautiful waterfall, where Micah, Jason, and I hopped around the rocks, exploring the base of the waterfall before heading back to the van.

Before we reached the Canadian border, we stopped along the windy road to take pictures of the scenery that surrounded us.  There was a deep valley between the road we drove on and a train track, one that looked precariously close to the edge.  As we drove on, I watched it wind its way through the trees.  We passed the boarder and after we made it passed the zenith we pulled over to explore some more and take pictures; we did this a few more times, admiring the rugged beauty.  We had lunch at the Carcross desert, considered the smallest desert in the world, only about one square mile and took some sand (because it’s what we do, apparently).  It was nice to have a quiet afternoon with each other and explore the land a little more.

Before dinner we had our nightly movie, enjoying The King’s Speech.  After our dinner we saw another Broadway dance show, this time themed around the disco theme.  Again, it was so fun to see the talent and really creative and colorful costumes.

That night they were having a game show called the “Newly Wed, Not-So-Newly Wed.”  Jason and I put our names down, along with our cousins who had just celebrated their 1 year anniversary.  They told us that the couples would be randomly chosen, but we’re pretty sure they hand-picked the couples.  They picked our cousin and his wife and three other couples, with wide ranges in length of marriage.  I think Jason and I would have done really well, maybe even have won, but I’m also really glad we weren’t picked since my parents were in the room.  Almost our whole group was there to enjoy my cousins’ embarrassment as they had to answer some pretty intimate and uncomfortable questions.  It was so fun and Ian did a great job as a host of the game show.

Another great day came to a close as we played our nightly game of Aggravation.

juneau

7.24.11

This was our first opportunity to explore the land after we left the port in Seward.  There were different opportunities for “excursions” and a group of us decided to go on the kayak excursion.  Even my 92 year old grandma decided to go!  We took a bus out to the beach where we paired off and determined who would be in the front and who would be in the back.  Before we could board our kayaks we had to put on waterproof gear.  We each donned a pair of water pants, boots, and a jacket, over which a lifejacket was snapped on.  My grandma is very short and so they had to fold up the legs and sleeves, which made her look even shorter.  It was very misty as we got ready and so I was thankful for the waterproof gear.  I had decided that the photography opportunities would be too great to pass up so I put my camera into a Ziploc back, taking it out when I was sure it would not get submerged or damaged by water.  We paddled around the area, coming to a bank across from where we took off and got to see a lot of eagles take flight.  The gray, misty air lent itself to a sense of mystery and wonder and we had a great time exploring.

After we got back to the shore, we took a group picture that remains one of my favorites from the trip.  I only wish the whole group could have gone.

When we got back to town we decided to explore Juneau, walking up and down the main street and enjoying all the local shops.  I would have loved to be able to really explore Juneau, without the limits of the ship’s departure.  My cousins, brother, Jason and I had decided to participate in the Battle of the Sexes game that was going to take place on the ship before we were going to leave the dock.  It was fairly informal as we were sitting in a lounge area, seated in a semi-circle.  Ian was the host of the game and we had a good time at the friendly competition.

Before dinner we watched the movie The Conspirator in the theatre.  Again, there weren’t many people and we established that we liked sitting in the front row.

After dinner we ended our day with a game of Aggravation.  Ah, good day.

hubbard glacier

7.23.11

Because our room had no windows, it was pretty dark once the lights were turned off.  When we did get up, it was already quite bright out (sunrise was at 6:22).  We made our way to the dining deck where they had a wonderful spread for breakfast.  After getting our food we found our way to the stern, where they had nice outdoor seating.  So while we ate our breakfast we had a magnificent view of the ocean, spread out before us as we traveled to our next destination.  This was the one day we had sunshine (besides our journey to the cruise ship on the first day).  It was amazing to watch the wake left by the ship as we cut through the water.  While a cruise ship is large, it can move pretty fast and it was a little exhilarating to see how quickly we moved.  There was something so beautiful and relaxing about enjoying the sun and the sea amongst so many strangers, all of us enjoying the beauty of the moment.

After breakfast we decided to explore the ship, get a “lay of the land.”  We walked through the casino, saw a few jewelry shops, checked out the outdoor and indoor pool, sat in the bar/lounge area on the bow, and walked around the outside deck, where they had a walking/running track.  If we went to the starboard side, we could see nothing but ocean, though on the port side we were only miles from land.

One of my biggest fears is the open water, there are just too many unknowns under the surface, and it makes me shudder to imagine what dark creatures I’m not seeing.  I know there are a lot of beautiful things too and I really don’t mind the beloved sea creatures (dolphins, whales, turtles, etc.).   I have loved swimming from a young age, but if I go into a pool that has a very deep end, I grow fearful and weary of what might be lurking in the depths.  I know this is ridiculous, that there’s nothing in there that possesses sharp teeth or could do me any harm.  But I think it’s a slight phobia, and those are not rational.   All that being said, one of my “bucket list” items is to go into the middle of the ocean where I cannot see land in any direction.  I just need to do it once, and we just need to go far enough out that the land is no longer visible on the horizon.  I image what that would be like and am both a little apprehensive and a little awestruck.  I think the reason I want to do it is multifaceted.  I would like to, in a small way, concur my fear, though I would not be willing to go into the water at that point.  I also know that it would be so amazing to feel the smallness of myself amongst the vastness of the ocean.  I think it would be a nice change in perspective, to realize how small my problems, my life is in comparison.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the drama of day-to-day living and I know that I need wake up calls.  That’s not to say that those wake up calls aren’t possible without traveling to the middle of the ocean, I just think it would be a nice time of reflection.  Also, I know it would be a beautiful experience, if I could get past the fear of the moment.  We live in such beauty and the ocean is pretty magnificent.

Anyway, I was able to pretend starboard side, that I was nowhere near land.

Going to the same dining deck as dinner, we had a nice lunch with other cruisers where we sat at a long table and got to chat with people we didn’t know.  It was really neat to see and eat with people we wouldn’t have had the pleasure of meeting otherwise.  There were a lot of people milling around, always with the beautiful scenery out of the floor to ceiling windows.

As we approached the small bay we leisurely walked the length of the deck.  Jason and Micah found a shuffle board next to the walking track and we took lots of pictures as the ship pulled into the bay and got closer to the glacier wall.  It was amazing to see as the ice slipped off the face of the cliff and fell into the ocean.  We weren’t very far away but the delay in the sound of the crack and crash was unexpected.  The press of people against the railing made it difficult to see everything but eventually those people moved out and the view opened up.  We could see seals lounging on floating ice and would watch as they would lazily slip into the water if their ice got too agitated.

As the ship slowly turned to leave the bay, our group ventured up to the outdoor pool area to enjoy some of the activities going on (and the hot tub).  They had an ice sculpture demonstration and it was amazing to see how quickly the chunk of ice turned into recognizable shapes.  Afterwards they had a “polar bear plunge,” where they put ice into the pool and had people jump it, some were prepared, some jumped in with their clothes on.  It was fun to see the spectrum of ages that decided to join in.  Even our MC, Ian, ended up in the pool.

Before dinner we decided to take advantage of the movie theater and enjoyed Source Code with Jake Gyllenhaal.  The theater was cozy and not too crowded.  We ended up watching a movie every night the rest of the cruise.

This was a formal dinner night so Jason and I had to get ready, exchanging our t-shirts and jeans for a dress (for me) and button up and slacks (for Jason).  As we made our way to the dinner dining deck, we saw my aunt and uncle on the dance floor on the deck below.  A group of us gathered around the railing and watched as my cousin and his wife joined them.  It was fun to see how everyone dressed up and see the more elegant side.  We had fun at dinner and then took pictures on the beautiful curved staircase in the different family groups.

At 11 we went to the “Celebrity Theater” to watch a Broadway show called Simply Ballroom.  The dancing and the costumes were beautiful; it was wonderful to see the talent of each couple.

After the show a group of us decided we should get together and play cards.  Grandma enjoys a card game called Aggravation and so we agreed to meet in the small game room and play through a game.  We ended up staying up until about 2am and we had a great time playing and laughing together.  This ended up being a nightly ritual for the rest of the cruise and my favorite thing to do with the group.  We had a lot of the same people join every night though somewhere along the way my uncle and cousin joined.  Almost every night a few of the wait staff would come in to play with my cousin’s companion dog, Cody.  They would bring him meat from the kitchens and play with him, explaining that they don’t often see dogs on the ship and it was always a treat.  Another gentleman would come in and watch our game.  We think he was one of the night guards and while he never played with us, he understood the rules of the game and sometimes would point out options we couldn’t see.  Like I said, it was my favorite thing about the trip, being able to spend such quality time with each other, without the distraction of the food or the different activities available on and off the ship.

anchorage/seward

I figured it was about time that I made good on my promise to post about our cruise. . .two years later.  Yikes.  Better late than never, right?

7.22.11

We arrived as the sun was setting (?) on the horizon.  It was difficult to tell which way it was headed, but it was just peeking over the layer of clouds that was dark and thick.  We landed at about 2 in the morning and set out to find our baggage and a place to rest our heads.

Fortunately we were able to find a few rows of seating that did not have armrests, and used those spaces to stretch out and wait for the train that would whisk us away to the ship.  Rest was fitful and fleeting as we were right underneath a speaker that continuously played music or made announcements for the time and other things I would have preferred they kept to themselves.  I probably woke up every hour to shift from one side to the other and finally stopped trying around 9am.  I was pleasantly surprised that it looked sunny and warm outside, as we were expecting it to be overcast and raining the whole time.

After Jason got up, we went upstairs to get some breakfast and wandered outside where it was a perfect, warm, summer day.  We enjoyed our breakfast and read a little as the time to departure drew nearer.  Finally, we made our way across the street to the train station (how fortuitous that they were so close!) and waited for the train to board.  That’s where we were finally connected with the rest of our 20 member group.  Our numbers were called and we shuffled with the crowd, amazed at the beauty of the train.  The top halves of the cars were glass, allowing for a wonderful – and almost 360 degree – view outside.  They were also tinted so that it was pleasantly toasty inside.  Each group of four sat at a table, facing each other and awaiting the real adventure.

As the train pulled out of the station, our hostess, a wonderfully friendly and funny woman, came around and got our orders for drinks and food.  We all marveled at the beauty of our surroundings, twisting around and craning our necks to get the best views.  Cameras were constantly going off and some people even went in between the cars where it was possible to lean outside and get clearer shots.  We rolled past mountains, valleys, and rivers, all breathtaking and lush.  We even saw a few eagles and a moose.  It seemed that everywhere I looked was untouched beauty that could not be ignored.

The whole train ride took about 5 hours and when we pulled into Seward, where the ship was docked, I was still sad to leave our glass-topped vessel.  But the magnitude of the ship was another kind of beauty.  We lined up to get our documents check and our room cards and made our way to the dock.  It was difficult to believe, once we stepped inside, that we were on a ship, on the water.  The lobby had a stunning, white marble staircase, and we were given delicate flutes of sparkling cider as we stepped over the threshold.  Decadence was the name of the game, from the carpets, to the furnishings on the windows, to the elevators.

We made it to our room, our luggage rolling along behind us down the narrow hallway.  Our room was quaint, with a mini fridge, bedside tables, a queen size bed, an itty bitty bathroom, and closet space and drawers.  They had placed chocolates on our bed, along with the scheduled of the day, though it was late afternoon by this time.  While in our room, we heard our first shipwide announcement as the (very Australian and very funny) Ian, our MC of sorts, welcomed us onboard.  We were also advised that an emergency drill would be commencing shortly and we were to make our way to the designated area, which for us happened to be the art gallery.  Having barely been able to change, we made our way down to the art gallery and squeezed in with all the other passengers assigned there.  They showed us how to use the life preservers and some such and we happily made our way back to our room once the information was given.  After taking our showers we got ready for our first cruise dinner.

This being the first night we did not have to dress up as we would for the rest of the trip.  We saw a lot of people in very casual attire, flip flops and shorts and the like.  Because of the large amount of passengers, dinner was served in shifts and we had the middle shift.  The first night, our party was split between two different seating areas.  The dining room was two tiered, with the second tier wrapping around the outside of the first tier, allowing those on the second to still see those in the middle of the first.  The whole dining room was situated at the end of the ship and the floor-to-ceiling windows allowed a magnificent view as the ship made its way out of the dock.  It was a little disconcerting to see and feel the ship sway as we slowly turned around to head out to sea.

Our party on the second tier was split amongst three tables and we had two different servers who would be waiting on us every night.  I was told that by the end of the trip, our server would be able to tell us what we would most like, talk about great service!  I decided to be bold and try escargot, since I don’t plan on spending money specifically to try snail.  It wasn’t bad, actually, but knowing what I was eating did not encourage me to do it again.  Fortunately they had a vegetarian option every night (ignore the fact that I ate a snail first thing) and I could also make some dishes vegetarian, though I didn’t discover this until about half-way through the trip.

As the sun slowly set, and the light turned golden, we made our way out of the dining area and some of us decided to take a walk outside.  We got the pleasure of seeing the setting sun dip over the glaciers at about 10:30pm and watched as the sky magnified its beauty.