Alaskan Cruise, Days 10 and 11 – At Sea

If a cruise is going to suck, it will probably suck on the days you’re at sea. You paid to visit fascinating places by ship. When you’re not at the fascinating places, you’ve just got ship. I grant that it’s a marvelous ship, with liquor near the hot tubs and pizza a short walk from the string quartet. But in the end it’s a hotel full of strangers you can’t get away from. The cruise line tacitly admits this by packing each day with entertainment and educational opportunities. But at some point you’ll want to choke the hillbilly at the next dining table to death with his own beard, and no number of cha-cha lessons will change that.

However, the ocean offshore of Alaska is more fun than any of the places you might visit on shore. The ship has a guy whose job is to look around for cool things, such as a sea lion climbing the face of a glacier (just as an example). Then he tells everyone to look off the port bow for this amazing thing. After half a dozen people are trampled to death while everyone tries to figure out where the port bow is, people pack the railing four deep to collectively snap a quarter of a million photos of one perplexed sea lion.

It’s great.

Rather than babble about how great it is, I’ll include a few of the 5,000 photos I’ve taken over the past couple of days.

To start with, here’s a glacier. Yes, I know it’s just another wall of ice, but I think the picture is pretty.

Glacier In The Mist

I’ll follow that with a couple of humpback whale shots, one jumping around like a dachshund, and two more just hanging out, wondering where to go for dinner.

Whale Jumping

Two Whales

I happened to catch a glacier calving, which means a hunk of it is falling off. Look for the red circle on the first shot—that indicates the hunk that falls off.

Calving Frames 1

Calving Frames 2

And I’ll finish with a traditional farewell whale shot.

Whale Butt


Alaskan Cruise, Day 9 – Whittier

Ninety-five percent of the people on this ship disappeared this morning. The ship has reached its northern-most port of call and will begin sailing back to Vancouver tonight. Most people travel just one direction on this trip, but the cruise line doesn’t object to selling you a more expensive ticket if you want to go both directions. My wife and I are among the few who thought that would be a keen idea.

In the past week we’ve frequently heard the question, “Why do you want to turn around and spend another week seeing all the stuff you just saw?” The people asking this have a point. We will now be forced to once more look at all those mountains and glaciers and whales and sea otters and other stuff we may never see again. Watch us suffer.

By the way, here’s a sea otter we sailed past yesterday:

They don't have blubber on their paws, so they float on their backs with their cute little paws in the air to keep them warm. And to keep them poised to tear your liver out if you get too close.
They don’t have blubber on their paws, so they float on their backs with their cute little paws in the air to keep them warm. And to keep them poised to tear your liver out if you get too close.

Hanging in there for the return trip is benefiting us in a way I never expected. A whole ship-full of new passengers came aboard today, wide-eyed and anticipating their passage to Vancouver. And they don’t know a god damned thing about this ship. Their bewilderment binds them together, and it allows us to feel superior to them. My wife and I hear their plaintive cries as they wander the passageways like Spinal Tap, and we smile.

Here are some of their most common questions, along with the answers I’d give them if I had any kind of empathy or pity.

Which way is the front of the boat?

First of all, it’s a ship, not a boat. The distinction may not seem important, since both will drown you if something bad happens, but boats are small and ships are big. I don’t really know where the demarcation lies, but any vessel big enough to host a Def Leppard concert is certainly a ship. Second, to find the front of the ship you should look over the railing and note which direction the ocean seems to be moving. The front of the ship is the other way, unless you’re sailing to Canada in reverse.

What do I have to pay for on this ship?

The cruise line provides, free of charge, everything you need to keep from dying. That includes food, water, tea, and black coffee. Also, they don’t make you pay to sing karaoke, and you can watch all the singers, dancers, musicians and magicians you want. Everything else costs extra.

Do I have to sing karaoke?

No, you can play bingo instead if you want. However, everybody in the karaoke bar is getting hammered and working up the guts to sing Copa Cabana, so they’re a pretty accepting bunch.

Why isn’t there a single clock on the ship?

The immediate reason is that the cruise line doesn’t want to force any time pressure on you that might mar your relaxing, worry-free holiday. The underlying reason is that they sell watches in the atrium every day, and they want you to buy one.

How do you ever find anything around here?

Forget finding anything. Cruise liners are like hotels twisted and crammed into a ship’s hull by omnipotent howler monkeys. The ship’s geography resists human understanding. By the time your one-week cruise ends you may have memorized the path to the closest source of martinis, but no guarantees. Your best bet is herding. If you’re hungry, follow the people who look hungry. The strong ones will lead you to the buffet eventually.

Here’s a picture of our ship. You can see that it’s larger than a mountain, at least from certain angles.

I'm pretty sure I saw a minotaur at the piano bar last night. He was requesting a lot of Billy Joel.
I’m pretty sure I saw a minotaur at the piano bar last night. He was requesting a lot of Billy Joel.

Despite the vessel’s awesome scope, my wife and I are now initiated into its mysteries and can find the hot tubs that are off-limits to kids. That makes me kind of dread going back home where I can’t even find the right laundry detergent at Tom Thumb.

I console myself with this photo of four sea otters floating in front of four glaciers and serenading us as we sail away.

The farewell song of the sea otters.
The farewell song of the sea otters.