Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cruising Through 25 Years Together – Part 3


We awakened this morning in Endicott Arm, a fjord filled with chunks of glacial ice. We were supposed to go to Tracy Arm, but a huge glacier blocked our entrance. Nevertheless, our naturalist said that Endicott Arm, which leads to Daw's Glacier is perhaps even more spectacular than Tracy Army. A fjord is a U-shaped valley that is carved by glaciers. At one time this was all ice! Waterfalls on each side cascade to meet the sea. Every once in a while we see ice that actually looks blue. This is called "heart ice" because it comes from ages of snow being packed making for very dense ice. It is spectacular! We learned that an iceberg has to be 20 feet or more. A growler is a medium size piece of ice. The closer we get to the glacier, the more we see pieces of ice of all sizes all around us. We are enjoying the show from the comfort (cold though it is) of our balcony. I have decided that the one absolute MUST for an Alaskan cruise is a balcony room! Our naturalist has a running commentary on the TV. She explains that we are only seeing 10% of the ice; the rest is below the surface of the water. I tell Keith that I have to blog about this as we are experiencing it because I want to capture this surreal once-in-a-lifetime event as we live it. If I wait until later, I might not convey the wonder and amazement we are feeling at this moment. As we approach the glacier, it looks like a field of ice lying in front of us. The water is aquamarine, and the air is crisp. I wonder how in the world we will navigate through it. But our naturalist has assured us that we have 2 experienced Alaskan pilots aboard who know these waters better than even our ship's captain and pilot. Furthermore, they use radar to guide them so that we don't experience a Titanic-like tragedy. It does make me feel better that nobody has claimed "Not even God could sink this ship." At last we see the glacier ahead of us wedged between two rocky mountains. It looks like tire tracks run down the face of the glacier, as if some enormous four-wheeler has been playing here. But our naturalist explains that these are created by sediment from the rocks and mountains. We're nearly 4 miles from it, but it seems huge. Seeing this glacier is one of the most amazing things I've ever done.

After finally seeing the glacier, we headed up to the Horizon buffet for a late breakfast. Then we went down to the Vista Lounge on deck 7 (the Promenade deck) for a little line dancing. We both had fun learning new steps and trying to keep up. Keith tried to sit out for a minute or two, but his task master (me) wouldn't let him. We had thought about going to the gym to work out, but our line dancing class gave us a great cardio workout! Trivia was at 11:30, so we headed into the Wheelhouse Lounge to join in. Our team didn't do so well, only 11/20. I've always thought the Statue of Liberty was on Ellis Island. It's not; it's on another little island called Liberty Island. That's just one of the many things I learned today. By then it was time to celebrate Canada Day in the Piazza. Keith donned his Canada t-shirt, and off we went. We stood for a lovely rendition of O Canada – I think it was the first time I really paid attention to the words. Then the band struck up a Dixieland concert. So we grabbed a very light snack of quiche coupled with shrimp and mushroom salad at the International Café. We shopped a little – they have daily big bargains on the boat. Then we headed up for an Alaskan lunch buffet. I tried Caribou which was delicious!

The ship docked at about 2:00 in Juneau, and we headed into town for some shopping and sightseeing before our tour. We found the state capital and got to tour it. Governor Palin wasn't in, but I did manage to get a contact name for an article I'd like to do about her. She's a breastfeeding, baby-wearing mom whom I'd love to profile in Valley Babies. We had to sort of hustle back to the bus which took us the mile or so down to our boat where we were scheduled to catch our tour. We made it just in the nick of time and headed off to glacier gardens. I've been to some beautiful gardens in my life, but I've never seen anything like this. It is built on the site of a mudslide, and the variety of flowers which grow in this rainforest environment is amazing. After seeing the lower part of the gardens, we boarded golf carts to take us up a long trail through the forest to a boardwalk overlooking Juneau. The ponds, little waterfalls, and upside down trees used as planters made for a breathtaking ride. Our drivers were eager to share their wit and knowledge of the area with us, which made the trip even more enjoyable. We came back down on a "monster" golf cart – I think it seated 16.

After the gardens, it was time to go to Mendenhall glacier. We learned that this glacier is now receding about 230 feet/year. We got stunning photographs, but they can't begin to capture the incredible sensation of seeing such an enormous piece of ice. On the way back into town, the bus dropped us off by the Red Dog Saloon, a saloon with swinging wooden doors, sawdust on the floor, and the most delightful eclectic collection of memorabilia. After shopping a bit we headed back to the boat –almost a 2 mile walk. We're definitely getting our workout. We had a very late dinner followed by pure, sheer, unadulterated relaxation in the whirlpool. It could have been a little warmer, but it felt divine to relax. Now I'm trying to stay awake to finish writing about today, but the foot massage my dh is giving me isn't helping at all!


We had already docked in Skagway when we awakened around 7:00 and went upstairs for breakfast. Leaving the ship, we noticed many of the rocks on the mountainside in front of us had the names of ships and captains painted on them. For over a hundred years, it has been the custom to paint the name of each ship and each captain on the rocks of Skagway the first time they dock there. We walked about a half mile into the town which, at first glance, appeared frozen in time. Relatively few vehicles were in the streets; most of them were carrying tourists somewhere. The population of Skagway (which means wind) is between 800 and 900. The summer cruise season swells the number of people there each day to as many as 8000. One indication that this quaint town is very tourist oriented is the number of major jewelry companies that have storefronts here. Diamonds International, Venetian, Effy – all names we've seen at other stops. We tried to shop the locally-owned stores as much as possible.

We didn't have an excursion planned, but we did plan to see The Days of '98 Show, an 84 year old musical depicting the history of early Skagway. We lucked out with a combination deal that gave us a 2 ½ hour tour plus the show for $50/person. Our tour was on a 24 passenger shuttle with a delightful driver named Ty who is an Alaskan transplant from New York. He got tired of driving cabs and moved west. He's been here 12 years and was an entertaining fountain of information. We drove up the highway to White Pass passing the continental divide and International Falls. We also saw Pitchfork Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. We got loads of pictures before my camera broke! The scenery as we were driving was unbelievably spectacular. We saw glaciers wedged between mountain peaks, valleys full of lush vegetation, rocky plateaus covered with Christmas Tree lichen, and the churning waters of the Chilkoot River. We crossed into Canada where we stopped to explore, crossing a small creek and ending up on a rocky ledge where our guide showed us evidence of the various stages of regrowth following the melting of a glacier. Returning through Customs, we didn't even have to show our driver's licenses. Our driver just told them how many US citizens and how many Canadians were on the bus and that we were all tourists from the ships – nothing to it at all!

On our way back we visited "Boot Hill" the Gold Rush Cemetery where local legend Frank Reid is buried with a huge memorial proclaiming him as the man who made Skagway safe again because he shot conman Jefferson Randolph (Soapy) Smith. Both men died, but thousands showed up for Reid's funeral and he was buried in the middle of the cemetery. Only the preacher (who had to be asked twice to perform the funeral) and two others (a mystery woman veiled completely in black and a Teamster who quickly fled town) showed up, and Smith was buried just outside the boundary of the cemetery. We noticed that many of the graves indicated relatively short life spans – 38, 45 years – too young to die! Even more eye-opening was the number of graves for infants and small children. This was truly a difficu Bytlt place to survive!

Back in town, we went to The Days of '98 Show which depicted the story of Soapy Smith and the "ladies" at his establishment. Apparently he had a wife and several children back in St. Louis, but in Seattle he had met Belle, and she had come with him to Skagway. The musical was funny in many places, with the dancing girls getting members of the audience actively involved. Nevertheless, it ended with the Soapy's death at the hand of Frank Reid. By the time the show was over, we just had time to drop by one museum quickly where we saw artifacts from Alaska's history including whale bone swords and whale teeth. We also learned that the last shot of the Civil War was fired in Alaska two months after Lee surrendered. A Confederate gunboat had traveled up to cut off a northern supply route, and they didn't get the message that the war was over!

Back on the boat we changed for dinner and once again enjoyed a lovely meal with our table companions. We finally got the Alaskan King Crab legs we had been hoping for all trip! The crew had put together a talent show for us in the Princess Theater for Thursday night, so we decided to attend. From waiters juggling to a belly dancer from Peru, we were thrilled by the talents of the crew members. Housekeeping staff, waiters, casino dealers, engine room workers…a wide variety of crew members shared their talents with us. It was a lovely evening. After the show we wandered up to the top deck and decided to visit Skywalkers Lounge perched high atop the back of the ship. It is a great place for 20 and 30 somethings, but we decided we would rather go down to the Promenade lounge where Bruce was playing again. We were becoming regulars with Bruce the piano player. He ended at midnight, so we came back to the room and watched a Loveboat rerun on TV!


After our late night on Thursday we slept in Friday morning until nearly 10:00! We had gotten in the habit of falling asleep with our curtains open so we could see the ocean, but usually around 3:00 it would start getting light, so one of us (usually me) would get up and close the curtains. Thursday night we knew we were going to sleep in on Friday, so we closed the curtains before going to bed. No alarms, no ringing phones, no children…nothing to awaken us but our own internal clocks! It was heavenly! We headed down for a late breakfast at the Horizon buffet. Then we went to see an ice carving demonstration by the Neptune Pool. In just 15 minutes or so two carvers each turned a 300 pound block of ice into a piece of art. One created an eagle with his wings up as if he were coming in for a landing. The other created a fish – it looked like an aquarium fish, perhaps an angel fish. Watching them work was fascinating. They begin with a picture in their mind's eye, and with each successive stroke of their tools, that image took shape and seemed to come to life.

Keith and I both love games, so we headed down to play Taboo in the wheelhouse lounge. We joined two teens from Connecticut, Josh and Alyssa, as we laughed our way through definition minefields. We had eaten a late breakfast, but on a cruise ship it seems that it's always time to eat again….so we did. It was Mexican Day in the buffet line by the Conservatory Pool, and we love Mexican food! I couldn't eat very much, but I did manage to enjoy a fajita and some of their incredible guacamole sauce. Then it was off to hear Kathy Stamp, our resident naturalist talk about whales and other Alaskan wildlife. She first came to Alaska when she was 4 years old with her parents who were missionaries. Her knowledge, her pictures, and her stories were all fascinating. Although we didn't get to see a bear or a whale in person, Kathy's pictures just about made up for it. Besides, Keith got his bear fix Thanksgiving two years ago when we were in North Carolina at my brother's house…but that's another story for another blog! We actually bought both of Kathy's books, Little House in the Arctic and Little House in the Rain Forest.

At that point Keith and I parted ways L but only briefly. He wanted to go see the movie Eagle Eye on deck, and I wanted to go to the Vista Lounge for Nowhere Near a Millionaire. This hilarious take-off on the popular game show had me laughing so hard that tears came to my eyes. Suffice it to say that the Entertainment Staff on a Princess Cruise work hard to keep lots of endorphins flowing! At 3:30 we met at the Portofino for high tea. We sat with a former Huntsvillian, Carol, who graduated from Lee High School and UAH. She now lives in Phoenix. High tea was always fun, but the challenge was to just eat very little since formal dinner followed so closely afterwards.

Friday evening was our second formal night, so I got to wear my pretty little black ruffled cocktail dress with its accompanying shawl, and Keith wore his dashing black suitl. Roz looked lovely in a sparkly silver and black pantsuit, and Elliot was in a tux. But Gregory was the real hit as he approached the table dressed in a handsome suit and tie with his sunglasses on! He was every bit the debonair young man as he dramatically doffed them to greet us! I thought again how much our Son #2 would have enjoyed hanging around with him! We began our meal with a seafood pate and caviar, followed by salad. Dinner was lobster tail and prawns with drawn butter. Unlike our previous lobster experiences in Maine, we didn't have to do any of the work; they did it all for us. Dessert was Baked Alaska on Parade. They literally paraded lit Baked Alaskas around the entire dining room. Now I've heard that in the past they were lit with sparklers; ours, however, had battery operated candles…not quite the same impact, but still fun. For the benefit of those who've never tasted Baked Alaska, I have to take a moment to describe it. It looks like an enormous big meringue-topped pie. When you cut into it, there are 3 layers of ice cream, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. It is so unbelievably rich that it must be tasted to be believed!

Words and Music was the Friday night show in the Princess Theater. It was a tribute to some of Broadway's greatest composers and their most famous musicals. From Les Miserables to West Side Story, the cast sang and danced its way through numerous Broadway numbers. Following that, we headed to the Vista Lounge to hear Tony Daro at 10:30. He kept the audience in stitches as he talked about parenting teens and young adults. Boy could we relate! Our kids are terrific, but he really hit home when he talked about adolescent girls and menopausal women living under the same roof! The sad thing, though, was his negative humor about his wife. I know he was trying to get laughs, but it was depressing to both Keith and me to hear the way he talked about her. We've been married 25 years, and I can honestly say I love him so much more than I did 24 years ago, and I feel pretty certain he would say the same thing. Excuse the mini-digression here, but unless you both take time to nurture your marriage like a precious green plant, it won't blossom the way it should! We've worked hard over the years to fertilize and water our relationship so we would have deep roots for optimal growth. Of course, we had to end our evening with our favorite piano player, Bruce, who played Rocky Top but didn't know Sweet Home Alabama!


To those of you who've stuck with this travelogue thus far, Thanks! After breakfast Saturday morning we went to the Interdenominational Worship Service with Cruise Director Lee Childers again. His message this time was from Hebrews 12 about faith. He spoke about the faith exhibited by Abraham, Noah, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. His encouragement to us was to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. After the service we gathered at the Piazza for the singing of the National Anthem and God Bless America. The deck was festooned with red, white and blue, and several beautiful cakes celebrated the Fourth of July. Ron Pearson, juggler and comedienne extraordinaire entertained us afterwards.

We decided to change up our lunch routine and ate in the Portofino where we were seated with two interesting families, one from Kansas City and one from Arizona. We decided it was time to explore the ship a little more since it was our last day, so we headed up to the Princess Links on deck 16. Have you ever tried to hit a golf ball with a foghorn blowing in your ear? Interesting experience! Keith was so proud that he ended up 2 under par…he's gonna tell all his friends he went 2 under on the front nine of a brand new course! (Of course, he's not going to mention it was just a putting green) In the afternoon we played Independence Day Trivia (we only got 12/26 points…do You know who the shortest President was, or what Eleanor Roosevelt served her guests that caused a huge media stir?? Neither did we! Then we played Taboo – we named ourselves "The Honeymooners," and lost out to "The Dragons" and "The Tigers," both teams of 20-something women who were pretty sharp! (Keith says they just had easier questions!)

Miraculously, by the time we docked in Victoria the fog had lifted, and the sun was shining gloriously. We disembarked and opted for a walking tour that first took us down to Fisherman's Wharf in the Inner Harbor. What a lovely, quaint little wharf. Floating Houses and Houseboats line the docks. Some look Dutch; others look Victorian; still others look modern. All are colorful with flowers decorating every available nook and cranny. Approaching the end of one dock, we noticed a family was taking pictures, so we offered to snap a shot of all of them together. AS they walked away, one lady turned around and came back to us, saying we looked so familiar to her. She asked where we were from; when we said Huntsville, she asked our names. It turns out she and her husband were members of the first church Keith pastured in Huntsville before moving to Atlanta in the early 90's. Another lady in her party was from Guntersville and recognized Valley Babies! I guess I'll always be "The Valley Babies Lady."

We continued on our walk along the lakefront as we approached downtown Victoria and the Parliament buildings. Across from the domed Parliament was the grand old Empress Hotel, a destination in its own right. This lovely Victorian era hotel boasts gardens, a famous tearoom, shops, and unbridled luxury. Leaving the hotel we wandered past the Gatsby Manor Bed and Breakfast. Just as soon as they create a Babymoon Package, I'll feature them in Valley Babies! We headed past the Royal British Columbia Museum and the original St. Ann Schoolhouse to beautiful Beacon Park. This inner City park covers hundreds of acres. Filled with duck ponds, lakes, peacocks, winding paths, beautiful gardens and even a children's petting farm, this park seems to epitomize the charm of Victoria. Leaving the park we strolled down through the St. James Bay district with its charming Victorian houses and old-world neighborhoods. Victoria has a delightful mix of modern architecture and old British style. I can see why people love living there. Residents we met told us they have a relatively mild climate year round.

Returning to our ship around 9:00 in the evening, we opted for a buffet dinner in the Horizon. We were tired and somewhat saddened that we were coming to the end of a wonderful cruise, so we decided to stay in our room. We also had to have all luggage except our carry-on pieces outside our door for pick-up by 10:00. Marley and Me was on TV. Though I had seen it, Keith never had, so we relaxed, finished off our anniversary dessert from Tuesday night, and worked on this blog!


Dawn came much too early on this final morning of our adventure. After a final visit to the Horizon buffet for breakfast, we finished gathering our carry-on luggage and headed for the Princess Theater one last time where we got to watch a Loveboat rerun as we waited for our group to be called to disembark. Two uneventful flights later, we arrived back in Huntsville tired, but with memories that will last a lifetime.

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