For one who loves warm weather, why, oh why, would I ever want to go to Alaska in May? Because, I'm crazy... sometimes.
Flying via Alaska Air was a breeze. We flew first to Seattle from Las Vegas and had an hour layover. So we went for lunch. As we were walking through the terminal, I hear our names being paged. Seems like that hour went by so fast that the plane was sealed and our luggage was being taken off. Yikes, wait, it's me! Fortunately, they let us on. Walking into the main cabin of the full aircraft, everyone was staring at me. "Oh, I know, you all hate me. But I don't care. I'll never see you again in my life anyhow." They laughed.
Princess Cruise Lines has it down to a science on moving people and luggage. After getting off the plane, we were whisked off to the Crown Princess where it took all of 5 minutes to check in. The ship sailed in 3 hours, and we were invited to board at anytime, have some lunch or just walk around the ship. I found our travel companions in the pizzeria. We traded the proverbial travel stories. Why is it we only point out the glitches?
The Crown Princess is 8 years young and is in excellent and lovely condition. It has a modern decor with shades of Art Deco. Our stateroom was nice, and big by ship standards. Aloha deck...2nd from the top, However, we paid for this. And the bathroom is huge with a shower from heaven with great pressure and endless hot water.
Sail On! At 6:30 p.m., in a rainy and dreary Vancouver harbour, the ship sails off, with people on the top decks waving to imaginary relatives on shore. Staff members had trays of Piña Coladas for all to celebrate.
Dinner in the main dining room was sumptuous in a lovely setting. Afterward, it was showtime. I'm not going to get into this in any depth. Third rate vaudeville is how I would describe it. A Cruise Director tells lame and tired jokes and then introduces a magician who performs his endless trick of doves appearing...endless...filthy disgusting birds. I walked out when he set his fingers on fire the second time. Mind you, the audience enjoyed the show. It just wasn't my type of entertainment.
However, I discover the Intermezzo lounge and a very talented piano player, David, who plays tons of Broadway material. He plays everything and has a marvelous set of pipes.
Up to the Casino, and surveyed the joint. Blackjack, Let it Ride, Caribbean Stud and Craps were the table games. Standard fare here. Slot machines were n o bargain, especially for video poker players, same payouts as Las Vegas; however, 6 coin machines should be paying much higher than the standard 5. Someone understands math and odds, but it's not the players...that's for sure. Goodbye casino, hello nightcap and off to bed. I'll try my hand at Blackjack and give them a run for their money. And, dear readers , ol' V.J. is an expert Blackjack player, but more on that as the cruise progresses.
Day two - Tuesday - At Sea
While having breakfast and dying for a cup of coffee, I notice whales jumping in the water in the distance. I take a look at the ship's informative newspaper. It's all about events scheduled for the day at sea, and it's all a big push by the ships retailers to sell you either T-shirts, Lladro porcelain, or an auction of fine art. Samples of this art are shown in various places. It's laughable, and definitely the kind of art one buys for size rather than content. "It would be the perfect size for over the living room sofa, n'est ce pas?" I can't imagine who would buy it. Half of the 1,500 passengers are over 70 years old and they don't strike me as collectors of anything except social security checks, well, maybe Hummel figurines. On second viewing, some of this artwork is quite nice. Wonder which one I'll take home. I believe my sofa is mauve.
Lounging the afternoon away on a deck chair taking in the scenery as we head to Alaska via this inland waterway. At Bella Bella, we see Bald Eagles perched in the tree tops. It's majestic, but would be nicer if the sun would come out.
I can't find my toothbrush, so I head to the ship store. None to be had, not even for ready money.
Okay, I had to check out the Lladro shop. Two porcelain Alaskan bears, lovely. There goes $160.00. Time for a Bloody Mary and watch more of the scenery passing. Still, I long to brush my teeth, with the aid of a brush and not my fingers. I'm told they sell toothbrushes in Ketchikan, wherever that is. But we'll be there tomorrow.
Wine tasting at 3:15 P.M. Oh my, this could be the beginning of a binge.
The Princess Theater is the movie house and I caught a really bad "B" film s tarring Hoffman and DeNiro. z-z-z-z-z-z-z However, during the week they showed some first rate films in this gorgeous and comfortable theater.
Tonight is the big formal night, meeting the Captain, and then dinner follow ed by THE show of shows in the showroom. This I've got to see. However, I'll g et an exit row seat just in case it's the Chinese water torture again.
The wine tasting was just fine, swirling and sniffing 5 different wines and learning more about wines - probably a little more than I should know. Afterward, to the Jacuzzi on the fantail.
The Captain's cocktail party and formal dinner were nice affairs, and the Princess Cruise lines pulled all the stops out for this. Candlelight and caviar - the whole nine yards. Afterwards, I headed to the Intermezzo lounge and listened to David play a game of Broadway trivia on the piano. Afterwards, caught the show in the showroom, a fairly good Pirates of Penzance type of show. Off to the casino to finish out the night.
Day Three - Wednesday - Ketchican
Rise and shine at 5 a.m. We are approaching Ketchican. The scenery is spectacular as we get nearer to this sleepy fishing village. Sipping coffee, we watched as the ship docked from the upper decks. The breakfast buffet onboard is great with all kinds of homestyle cooked things. What's best though is the coffee! Thank God for little things.
Ketchican village is just a cluster of shops for tourists, and one can walk anywhere and see the entire town in 5 minutes. Some went kayaking; others went on city tours, though I can't imagine where. I found a drugstore, but it was closed and would open in an hour, so I did a little window shopping. Before reboarding the ship, I bought the toothbrush and some cigarettes ($4 a pack) so the whole ordeal in getting a toothbrush cost me $89.50. Couldn't resist a pair of Dexter boat shoes!
Underway again at 2 P.M. Dinner was an Italian fiesta. Our group of 5 normally has 2 bottles of wine with dinner. We're now up to 3 and by time dinner is over we're giggling like high school kids. See what that wine tasting party did? After dinner, a visit to the casino brought me back to even. I'll get them yet.
Day four - Thursday - Juneau
Rise and shine, 6 a.m. to watch our arrival in June au, the capitol of Alaska. The cruise line provided bus transportation to the charming little village with its myriad of shops and pubs. Many purchased tours onboard but I set off on my own and within an hour I was gazing at the wonders of Mendenhall Glacier and then a visit to the Chapel By The Lake where one can also view the glacier through its glass front facade (photo). A fine lunch on the Fisherman's Wharf and then a stroll through the town eventually brought me back to the ship.
The crew of the Crown Princess are very accommodating and friendly. They work very hard, seven days a week and have very little free time, although they get 4 or 5 hours here and there to visit the ports of call or just relax. Many are from Romania, the Philippines and other economically depressed areas, so the pay is good and much of that money is sent back home to their families. It's interesting that each crew member carries around a little plastic card with the cruise lines credo which lists the 10 rules of working for Princess. Of course it's all about catering to the passengers; however, I got a kick out of one particular rule which states: "The word NO does not exist on Crown Princess." And indeed, it doesn't.
We are now up to 3 bottles of wine with dinner, which is no mean feat for the 5 of us, but we found a perfect Red and White wine that we enjoy. We're all dying for the Opus, but we'll save that for the final dinner.
The tour of the Bridge was amazing to see all the navigational equipment. T he ships officers were more than willing to discuss and demonstrate the electronic systems that keep the ship on its course.
It's off to bed early because I have to get up at 4 a.m.
Day five - Friday - Skagway
Roaming around the ship at 4 a.m. is an odd thing to do, but I was not alone as a handful of the regulars meet each morning at the fantail restaurant for our morning coffee. The sun begins to rise around 3:45 and now we are in the center of the inside passage channel with majestic snow capped mountains all around us. The bald eagles perch in the trees watching us. Occasionally, one spreads its wings and takes flight. The ship slows down and we just sip our coffee, hardly a word spoken as we simply admire the wonders of God. It's truly awesome. The tugs meet the ship at 6 a.m. for our entrance into Skagway.
Skagway is famous for one thing, the Gold Rush of 1898. This sleepy little village which once had a population of over 25,000 crazed Americans with gold fever, now has a population hovering around 1,000. The village is charming and looks pretty much like it did 100 years ago. The tour to the Yukon showed us wonder after wonder, and I would just bore you with superlatives. A little lunch in the Bonanza Restaurant and the purchase of a porcelain sculpture of a wolf's head howling completed this sunny afternoon.
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
The dining room ran out of our Chianti, so we switched over to Jordan Cabernet ... 2 bottles of that and a Kendall Jackson Chardonnay. My friends gave me t he check to sign for. The ship is cashless and you just sign for everything and pay for it on departure. Our dinner this evening was entirely French cuisine and was scrumptious. We have so much fun in the dining room with our wines, food and chit chat. Many tables eavesdrop on us, wondering what all the fun is about. The five of us can become as rowdy as drunken sailors, and our sixth at the table is a guy from Long Island named Joe Arrighi. He's in his early seventies and at first he didn't know what to make of us. But, by now, he's one of the crew and is crazy as we. Actually, if it weren't for Joe, we'd probably be banned from the dining room for having too much fun. Our waiter, Manuel, is from Portugal and treats us like Royalty as do his assistants Ion and Jose.
Finished the night off in the Casino. Up $225.00 at Blackjack. Why some people gamble is beyond me. They play Blackjack backwards. When they should hit, they stand, when they should stay pat, they hit. Sometimes it's infuriating except when they make me win when I shouldn't have. Another peculiarity is that many of them go to the lounges where the entertainment is and order hot water from the waiters. Now the waiters make their money from the checks which have an automatic 15% added, which is very fair for the service you're getting. However, there is no charge for hot water and once it's placed on the tables, you see these people pulling teabags out of their pockets. Frugal is hardly the word. I'd charge 'em a buck if I were Captain. Back to gambling ... blackjack, to me, is a game of math and not a game of chance. And that's how I play it. After a period of time, it just gets boring. A little money management and you can watch the chips grow. Did I say boring? So boring, in fact, that I never gamble in Las Vegas. But, on a cruise ship, it's fun, and I'll give all the money back one way or another.
Day Six - Saturday - Glacier Bay
Up at dawn to watch our arrival in Glacier Bay National Park. At 6 A.M. Park Rangers boarded to guide the ship into the park. What on earth can I say about standing on the bow of this magnificent ship just 100 yards away from an incredible blue glacier? We watched as it calved and hundreds of pieces of ice crashed into the water making its eerie glacial sounds. As we cruise through this park surrounded by snowcapped mountains and glaciers, there is only one way to describe it - breathtakingly beautiful.
I've made all kinds of friends onboard with the crew. Susan, the manager of the Intermezzo lounge where I hang my hat to tip a few pints, has a lovely Irish brogue and is so charming. We trade stories of Ireland and our ancestry. In Skagway, I had to pick up a copy of "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt for her. Her Granny "lived" that book and I just had to get it for her. During the cruise she is reading it and reports to me daily on where she is in the book. I can't wait until she reads the chapter on the "pissing contest". Oh, how I shall scream with laughter over that. If you haven 't read "Angela's Ashes", you're missing one of the best books ever written.
I walk all around Crown Princess with my Talkin' Broadway jacket on and many have approached me. One couple I heard say, "Oh, he must be with the show."
Now, I have to tell you about a practical joke the crew let me get away with. My old high school friend, Jim Mullay, is traveling with us, and he is a cracker. During the Vietnam war, we got separated and I hadn't seen him since, and only found out that he was living only 5 miles from me in Nevada in the last year. So we had a 30 year reunion and decided on this cruise. He has the most insane sense of humor of anyone I know. That's why it's difficult to put us in the same room, let alone a dining room. Anyhow, when home and he calls the house, I never answer the phone, and each time he calls I run over to the piano as Rolf picks up the phone and I play one song incessantly just to drive him nuts. He hears it in the background and simply says, "Oh dear Lord, when will he learn another song?"
Last night, I told our group to meet us in the Intermezzo lounge a half hour before dinner for cocktails. I got there early to set up my practical joke wit h the crew. When the group arrived, there I was on-stage sitting at a gorgeous white grand piano and I began to play "Ach, Du Lieber Augustine" and everyone was singing. I even hit a few bad notes on purpose. Howls of laughter from the group, and I then went to the bar and laughed..."Gotcha!" God bless Jim. I believe he ordered a double from the bar after hearing this song one more damn time.
Speaking of the bar, we marvel at the wonders of the glaciers and the power of nature, but one thing we fear more is our bar bill at the end of this cruise. It should be as awesome as any glacier on earth. Tonight it's Opus 1 Cabernet..."2 bottles please, and the Chardonnay, of course." Jim's paying tonight and this will give me the ultimate pleasure to zing him. He got me with the Jordan check last night. Opus is only twice the price. Of course, he'll get me back tomorrow night with God knows what's up his sleeve. (Oh, and the chips are piling up!)
Day Seven - College Fjord
On this, our final day of this fabulous cruise, we are headed to College Fjord, where the glaciers have names like Harvard, Yale, and Vassar. It's kind of hard to describe without going overboard on the superlatives. Just try to imagine that you're in the middle of this fjord with snow-capped mountains and seven glaciers surrounding you. Small icebergs drift aimlessly in the water while sea otters float on their backs cleaning their fur. So much wonderment you hardly notice the whales.
We enjoyed our last supper, and both Jim and I were outdone by our newfound friend, Joe. It was Dom Perignon, and goodness me, I never knew Champagne could be that good. Final goodbyes, hugs and well wishing to the crew in the form of gratuity envelopes. I took care of all the fun crew people that I met during the week, even those not expecting it. I had to give back to Crown Princess what I was making at their Blackjack tables. How much did I win? I ain't tellin' but it was enough to take care of some serious tipping and quite a few bottles of Jordan!
We got the bar bill and nearly went into cardiac arrest, so we did the only thing one can do, pay it, and laughed ourselves silly, for we had a fantastic time on Crown Princess. I've heard horror stories about other cruise lines and even from my own experience years ago on the Bermuda Star, I know how bad cruises can be. However, rest assured that Princess is first class all the way and enjoys many, many repeat customers.
And yes, the Crown Princess is the "Love Boat", as attested by the fact that many singles meet on board and return for their Honeymoon cruise. Why, even 3 crew members fell in love with passengers in the last few years, and wedding bells were on the horizon. Cruise ship passengers are getting younger now with the success of the film Titanic. Cruise lines are almost overbooked and ships can't be built fast enough. If you're looking for "Some Enchanted Evening", you'll find many of them aboard Crown Princess as she sails to this even more enchanting place...Alaska.
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There's a land - oh, it beckons,
And I want to go back - and I will.
(Verses from "The Yukon Poems" of Robert W. Service)
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