Today (finally!) we fly to seattle to board our Alaska cruise with CruiseWest. Preparation for this trip has been, well, interesting.
Marian, my mother, arrived in San Jose two days ago. Other than a minor luggage-struggle, she seems primed and ready to go. (The airline agent leaving Texas jokingly told her she couldn't check anything bigger than SHE was.) Meanwhile, Mike and I only started packing yesterday. This is very different from a dive trip, where beach clothes for both of us only take half a suitcase!
And then there's the camera story...
We decided the time was right to take the digital plunge. After waiting three weeks for a discounted, web-ordered camera to arrive (promises, promises) we despair of getting it in time for the trip. In a nutshell, don't EVER order anything from a web store called The Digital Dog - is it ever well-named! We are forced to bite the retail price bullet; Mike buys a top-flight Olympus at the local store, one day before our trip. His retirement just got postponed - hope it's worth the bucks!
On Saturday morning, we load our sweater-stuffed, bulging bags into the van of an obliging neighbor. After shooting our first-ever digital photos, we're airport-bound at last.
Our flight to seattle is short and uneventful, unless you count a slight pilot miscalculation on the seattle runway -- ba-da-BOOM, ba-da-BING. As we make our descent into seattle, we get a sudden breathtaking window view of Mount Rainier, poking its snow-capped head five hundred feet above the cloud layer. I later learn that I should have taken a photo; this peak is almost as elusive as Mt. McKinley.
CruiseWest provides us a shuttle from the airport. The driver, whom I dub "Chatty Cabby", regales us with everything you never wanted to know about seattle, including a long convoluted tale about the historical seven-hills-of-seattle-made-six, so as not to rob the glory that was Rome. Veni, vidi, verbosity.
Our route to the ship's dock takes us through seattle's downtown, which is fresh and charming with beautiful pastel buildings. This is what San Francisco would look like if rebuilt from scratch.
A quick left turn, and we're at a portside building. Employees direct us thru a covered walkway, and as we emerge we finally see our floating destination.
At first glance, the ship looks a bit run-down. Later we learn it is only 16 years old, but was originally built as a replica of an old-time riverboat. Marian is surprised by how small it is. This is not your mother's cruise ship; this little chugger only holds 96 passengers and 25 crew members. No bloat boats for us! CruiseWest's claim-to-fame is intimate, small-ship cruising and that's why we're here.
We are the last passengers to board the ship. As we navigate the zig-zag gangplank, my inner ear whimpers a bit, but my Scopolamine patch (donned this morning) is doing its job so far. Go, drugs!
Crew members meet us as we board; the red-carpet treatment begins immediately. We are escorted to our cabins, which are on the lower deck at the bow (that's front of ship, you landlubbers). Our luggage has already been delivered! Marian's cabin, presumably a double, is quite snug even for one. Our cabin has plenty of space - we have paid extra for the privilege - but our position at the bow gives the floor a 5-degree uphill slope. The head (bathroom) has a six-inch floor lip for tripping over, and the wall around the toilet is sprouting significant rust spots. Ah well, we came for the sights, right?
One bonus is a small trundle bed which we extract from under the (undersized) double bed, and stash in our extra floor space. Mike will have a separate sleeping space if needed.
We make our way upstairs to the lounge for an embarkation orientation and, more importantly, a free bon-voyage cocktail. The lounge is a pleasant old-fashioned room furnished with cocktail tables, overstuffed chairs and sofas, a gleaming bar, and a player piano. We strike up conversations with fellow passengers; one of our first meetings is with a couple from a small town in Texas! Marian won't need to worry about having the only southern accent on board.
Speaking of accents, we also meet Mal and Karen from Brisbane, Australia. Mal is quite a kidder; I enjoy watching him pull Marian's leg a bit.
Members of the crew are introduced and we get a brief safety orientation. One crew member, Philip, is especially entertaining, introducing a cabin device called the "knock-knock-knot". His entire speech is worth immortalizing - see how fast YOU can say this:
"The knock-knock-knot is not only nautical, itís a notice to the crew not to knock. So if youíre nodding off, put your knock-knock-knot on the knob and we wonít come a-knocking. But if youíre not napping and your knock-knock-knot is on the knob, youíre gonna get service - NOT - cause weíre not napping. So if you were naughty and your knock-knock-knot was on the knob when you were not napping, come up to a crew member and say, 'Iím sorry I was naughty but my knock-knock-knot was on the knob when I was not napping and now my nook is not neat'; and now a crew member will neaten your nook nicely." (pregnant pause for applause)
Or, in other words, "Do Not Disturb".
We will later enjoy much more from Philip, who is our delightful waiter at meals for much of the voyage.
After our orientation, the captain fires up our magic (water) carpet and we bid seattle farewell. We have hit a lucky day, no rain, scattered colorful clouds forming a perfect backdrop for the seattle skyline. We get a wonderful view as we pull away from the dock, sipping our welcome-aboard drinks.
Dinner is simply spectacular: the challenge of this cruise will be not gaining weight!
At dinner, we meet more new friends: Dave and Marcy from Tampa, Florida. Mike was attracted to their table by Daveís baseball cap, bearing the inscription "Middle Tennessee Scuba Divers". They are celebrating their 25th anniversary. Dave entertains us with tales of a cruise they took on a Russian ship, with nude sunbathing hairy women and tic-tacs instead of mints on the pillows every night.
A perfect blazing sunset ends our first on-board evening. As night falls, Mike and I explore the ship. The main deck, where we are cabined, is close to the water line; the dining room is also here, at the stern. The second deck has the forward lounge, where people gather to drink, snack, and watch the scenery; and more cabins to the rear. The third level is mostly cabins with outside doors onto the deck, and the top or Sun Deck hosts the bridge, lounge chairs for sunning, a large covered area with many patio tables, and "the gym", a well-used stationary bicycle and a stair-stepper. Thinking of the calories I just consumed, I give the bike a try in a freezing wind.
About 9 p.m. we hit a stretch of very rough water. Everyone staggers around like drunks, without the alcohol. Descending the steep stairwell to our cabin is quite a challenge; I've never been attacked by a banister before! My drugs are protecting me from inner turmoil, but Mike starts to look a little green. We lie down in our cabin; the rocking and rolling is less noticeable when horizontal. In about two sleepless hours the chaos subsides and we drift and dream in calmer waters.