Sunday, September 18, 2016

Alaska 2016 - Day 1 (8/20/2016) - Embark

Alaska has been on my list of places to travel for a while.  After hearing of my coworker Dave Long’s enjoyable cruisetour to there last year, I decided that I wanted to do something similar.  And since I was now living in Seattle (for a while at least), I figured that this was the time to do it since I was as close as I could reasonably get.  The only company that I saw in my brief search that did cruisetours (part cruise, part land tour) was Princess Cruises.  They had some Alaska cruises that left from Seattle, but the cruisetours all seemed to start or end in Vancouver.  After a couple of false starts with potential companions for the trip, I ended up booking solo.  I selected a 13-day “Off The Beaten Path” cruisetour, which included a 7-day “Voyage of the Glaciers” cruise.

This would be my first cruise, so I didn’t know what to expect.  Since the Down Under trip in 2007/2008, I’ve travelled with just a big backpack and usually done laundry in the middle of my big trips.  But I also haven’t done any organized tours since then.  While glancing through the tour itinerary, I noticed that the cruise portion included 2 “formal” nights and 5 “smart casual” ones.  A bit of Internet research revealed that a tuxedo, suit, or dinner jacket was expected for men for the formal nights in the dining rooms.  What I stupidly didn’t realize at the time, though, was that there would be other places to eat besides the dining rooms.  So I figured that I had to pack some nice clothes (I didn’t have a tie with me in Seattle, though), and that necessitated bringing a suitcase (and not just a backpack).  Of course I went overboard (pun intended) and over-packed since I was wanted to bring enough for all 13 days and wasn’t sure what the weather mix was going to be.  And being one who doesn’t pack until the night before (or morning of) my trips, this ended up causing a very late night – I didn’t get to sleep until 2 or 3 in the morning.

Another thing had me worried prior to the trip.  A few days earlier I had picked up some sort of injury to my left ankle/Achilles area.  This had come at the end of a couple of weeks of increased soccer playing, and it marred my streak of not having any serious injuries (i.e., enough to miss a game) since moving to Seattle.  I don’t even know how I got the injury, but I vaguely remember it waking me up during my sleep the night after my Monday game (I think...).  In any case, I was set to miss games on Wednesday and Thursday due to a separate thigh/groin injury, but then this ankle one seemed to get worse and worse.  It wasn’t anything structural, since it didn’t hurt at rest and I had most of my range of motion.  However, I did feel pain when I pointed my toes or planted on that foot (e.g., just to walk).  This was usually the worst in the morning after waking up, but would get well enough after shuffling around for a bit that it was almost unnoticeable for most of the day if I was just walking slowly.  Running or pivoting on it were still not doable.  I hoped (and expected) that it would subside by the time that I left for the trip on Saturday, and didn’t do anything to treat it.  It was no better by Saturday morning, though, and it was only then that I noticed how bruised (yes, I guess my dark skin can bruise after all) and swollen the back of my ankle was.

So I departed for Vancouver a little worried, but nevertheless undeterred.  I took an Uber to the airport, checked in and dropped of my suitcase, and then eventually boarded the Air Canada turbo-prop for the short hop up the coast.  I was mildly looking forward to the flight (originally scheduled for 11:40, but delayed ~25 minutes), as I had only ridden on passenger jets - I jumped out of the only other propeller plane that I can recall riding in.  The flight was fairly uneventful, though I didn’t like having to remove my earbuds for take-off and landing - something I haven't had to do on a flight for a long time.  We were above 10,000 feet so briefly that the flight attendants only got through half of the plane (I would estimate there were 80 or 90 seats) for beverage service.  I was in the back, so I didn’t get a drink, but that’s not even worth thinking of sweating over (first world problems).

After landing and going through immigration, I found the Princess staff and handed off my luggage for transfer to the ship.  This was very convenient.  I didn’t think that I had made it onto their transfer roster per the status on my account on their website, but it looked like they didn’t care as long as you were booked on the ship.  They also provided a shuttle bus transfer to the pier, so I didn’t have to worry about making my way down there myself.  It was while getting on the shuttle that it struck me what most of the demographic for the cruise would be - lots of…let’s say..."experienced" people.  And no color (though there was a tiny bit more later on the ship).  Neither of which was a surprise - I just didn’t think about it much beforehand.

The shuttle got us to the pier sometime around 3 PM, a good 45 minutes before boarding was to end.  With the wait for the shuttle, the stop to pick up other passengers, and the questionable route through side streets, I probably could have gotten there a little faster via SkyTrain; but the convenience was pretty tough to beat.  The cruise check-in process involved a bunch of walking about (luckily with staff pointing you in the right direction), but it was pretty smooth.  After I received my room key card (which also served as my on-board ID and payment), I went through security and then US immigration.  So I guess I was back in US territory after boarding the ship, even though I was still in Vancouver?

The name of the ship was the Coral Princess.  After finding my Oceanview room (i.e., it had a picture window, but no balcony), I took a few minutes to get acquainted with the amenities.  I found it to be pretty comfortable for the size.  Soon after an announcement was made for the required safety drill at 4 PM.  When the general alarm was sounded (unfortunately, right as the Brazil v Germany Olympic soccer final was going to PKs) I grabbed a life vest from the closet as directed and left to find the Muster Station.  I find out at this time when I went to leave that my suitcase had been delivered and was waiting outside my door.  After taking it into the room, I walked up to Muster Station E.  There we went through the exercise (the assistant tour director for our station tried to make it somewhat fun, but I found her to be overly enthusiastic) and then were released.

Back in the room, I unpacked my suitcase and continued going through the introductory documents that had been left in the room.  I also registered my on-board Princess@Sea account, and purchased an Internet access plan.  After a while, and a bit of a nap, I left to go explore the ship.  Among the 10 or so passenger decks, there were various bars and lounges, a couple of theaters, a casino, a spa, a couple of pools, a half basketball court, a couple of shuffleboard stations, a fitness center, two dining rooms, a buffet, an ice cream bar, an outdoor movie screen on one of the decks, and much more.  I grabbed a slice of pizza at the pizzeria before realizing that the buffet was close by.  I ate the slice and then went into the buffet to finish out the meal.  The buffet had plenty of vegetarian options in addition to the many for carnivores.  They also had complimentary lemonade and iced tea – these are my drinks of choice, so I found an additional beverage plan unnecessary.

My activities for the remainder of the evening included attending the second welcome show at 9:45.  I didn’t realize beforehand that they would have a music and dance intro as well as an intro from the tour director and his deputies – I was only there for the comedian.  It ended up being not so bad, though - I got a bit of useful information from it.  The comedian (Derrick Cameron) was decent enough that I would consider going to his full show on the next night.  Prior to that I tried to go to a meet and greet for solo travelers, but I didn’t see anybody at the bar that looked like they were running it.

This is probably going to be by far the longest post of this travelogue because of how new the experience was for me.  The rest will probably just be little more than listings of the activities that I did.

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My favorite photos from the trip can be found here:
https://goo.gl/photos/4ikrCSuPvRpRkXTKA

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