Alaskan Cruise, Day 3 – Sailing North

I’ve found that cruising is about three things: food, booze, and karaoke. The booze isn’t free, and my tolerance for $12 martinis is limited. Nobody would ever sing karaoke unless they were lit up like Chernobyl. That leaves food, which is available 24 hours a day in quantities limited only by the fear of your heart exploding.

My wife and I have faced cruise ship buffets in the past, and on this trip we resolved to gain no more than ten percent of our body mass. Our strategy is to never step into an elevator. If we can’t climb the stairs to our destination, we do without. This has two benefits. First, we work off a few calories whenever we go anywhere, because the most interesting thing on our deck is the Laundromat. Second, before I climb the nine flights of stairs standing between me and the buffet, I have to want veal cutlets and mashed potatoes a whole lot. I think the strategy’s working, and I figure I’ve only gained about a pound a day.

We came here with a second strategy to keep us from dropping dead the moment we get home. My wife and I planned to walk around the top deck some heroic number of times every morning to keep fit. This morning we climbed all the way up past the Promenade deck, the Emerald deck, and the Lido deck to the Celestial deck, where we stepped outside and realized we’re morons.

When we left home we were enjoying normal mid-summer weather, which is to say a daily high temperature of about 100 degrees. In Vancouver we adjusted to the brisk 75 degree afternoons pretty well. At sunrise on a ship in the Pacific off British Columbia it was 50 degrees, which we’ve experienced at home several times. The 30 mph wind put us to the test, but we’re pretty tough. However, on deck we learned that a ship sailing at 25 knots into a 30 mph wind on a cold day with 100 percent humidity is what kills people from Texas. Here’s a picture of my wife on deck before we ran back to our cabin and put on all the clothes we’d brought with us.

My wife, freezing to death against the railing. You can see where the Grim Reaper has marked her chest.
My wife, freezing to death against the railing. You can see where the Grim Reaper has marked her chest.

Okay, we had to buy more clothes. However, buying clothes from a cruise ship store is financially unwise, like cashing in your IRA and giving the money to chimps. We’re scheduled to dock in beautiful Ketchikan, Alaska tomorrow, so we hope to survive until then.

Alaskan Cruise, Day 4 – Ketchikan

Ketchikan is beautiful. It’s dim and awkward, with a disproportionately large number of bars and tattoo parlors. Every house and shop is painted a different color, and in the sunlight it would probably look Disney-esque. Under today’s low, dripping skies it looked like a black and white photograph that’s been colorized in a few quirky spots. But two things in particular endeared it to us: no wind and cheap gifts.

Here are a couple of views of Ketchikan:

My first view of Ketchikan. It's like they knew I was coming.
My first view of Ketchikan. It’s like they knew I was coming.


It looks like where the Hobbits would live, if they were all tuna fisherman and drank Jim Beam.
It looks like where the Hobbits would live, if they were all tuna fisherman and drank Jim Beam.

I learned from a shopkeeper that 800 people live in Ketchikan, and 8,000 cruise ship tourists swarm the place every day. I expect that’s why the residents need a large number of bars per capita. Today, I think all 8,000 of those tourists were packed into three downtown blocks, picking through gold stores, diamond stores, jewelry stores, gold and diamond jewelry stores, art galleries, and a trendy shop selling bamboo sheets. Another store sold dead and skinned examples of every creature native to North America. Yet another carried smelly candles and lotions and soap, which I believe are all exactly the same stuff but in different packages.

None of those things interested me at all. I wanted to find a crass tourist mega-store that sold reasonably-priced souvenir sweatshirts with glittery wolves and bears glued to the chest. We needed a few of those to keep us warm in the northern ocean. I found the place I wanted right there on the waterfront—we couldn’t have wished for an establishment more crass and tawdry. We purchased the sweatshirts we’d been searching for, and we left with them. By coincidence, we also left with some t-shirts, a Christmas ornament, a novelty hat, a quilt, a pair of white fur gloves that could be worn by a hooker, and two pounds of fudge.

I believe that Ketchikan has saved our lives.

As our ship steamed north towards Juneau this evening, I stood on our balcony, toasty and even sweating a little under three Chinese-made Alaskan sweatshirts. I’d been wanting to photograph the sunset, and now I could endure the cold long enough to do it. One of my shots is below. You might notice that the sun has not set. It’s about 10:45 p.m., and I’m tired of waiting for the damned sun to set already. I’m going to bed.

Jeez, the farther north we go, the later the sun sets...

Jeez, the farther north we go, the later the sun sets…