Alaska Cruise – General Thoughts

Edited to Add: I’ve added a gallery at the bottom of the post for them who are just interested in the photos.

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“Where is he?!” no one asked.

I’ve been back since Sunday evening but other than reading a few blogs and adding my 1.34¢ here and there, I’ve been mostly concentrating on fighting a hitchhiker from my trip. 

Nope, not that very nice dog — although I wouldn’t mind it. The hitchhiker is some kind of bug. 

It’s been a few days of coughing, sneezing, suffering a running nose, getting older, and getting uglier — although, I can’t rightly blame the bug for the last two. Last night I thought I had “gotten over the hump” but it turns out it was only the lull before the big assault. This morning I woke up with a very sore throat and a painful cough that seems to come all the way up from my toes. Yes, yes; also, older and uglier. 

I can tell you about the cruise as a way of getting my mind off the incessant use of tissues, sipping on water to minimize having to cough, going to the bathroom because of the constant sipping, wiping every surface I touch with a Clorox wipe and washing my hands whenever I blow my nose or cough or plan to touch anything in the condo (trying to spare Melisa what I’m going through). And, I can tell you about the cruise in a very long post. Good luck getting through it all. Not a snarky challenge, by the way; an actual wish for the fortitude to finish it all. 

By the way, a little hint . . . well, a couple of hints. Some tissue makers try to sell you tissues with lotion. Don’t bother. Buy Puff’s “Ultra Soft” tissues. Your nose will thank you for it (it won’t get raw from the constant blowing) and they won’t disintegrate in your hands whenever you use them. The other hint is to mix up a solution of water and 10% bleach . . . I dip a Bounty (actually, a cheaper brand paper towel) in it, wring it, and then use it as I grab things like coffee pots or water pitchers. The goal is to irritate the bugs as much as they annoy me.

The photos in this post are a sampling of the 8,859 photos I snapped during the trip. This includes photos from our visit to Illinois, where we touched base with our respective families. 

Yes, 8,859 photos, broken down thus:

1,478 (3.8 GB) from the Samsung Note II using the Open Camera App.
3,108 (28.5 GB) from the Nikon D7000 with either the 50mm or the 70-200mm lens.
4,273 (28.0 GB) from the Nikon P900

In all fairness, many of those are bracketed shots (especially the phone as I used it mostly on the ship) that increase the chances of getting at least one properly exposed shot out of the three, and failing that, perhaps join the photos using an HDR program.

By the way, the photos in this post are presented in the order they were shot and I’m not identifying if they are from the phone, the D7000, or the P900. You can take a guess, and future posts will let you know if you guessed right. Some people claim the ability to tell them all apart (a photographer I met on the cruise). 

Each photo can be clicked for a larger version and there’s a SmugMug Gallery HERE with these same photos in their original size. If you go to SmugMug, your chances of guessing the source of each photo is a bit better as the sizes jump by a factor of two between each one. The photos on this post are all sized the same (1280 pixel for the longest dimension)

That said, I won’t be talking about any specific photo; this post is more about general impressions of the ship, the cruise, and the sights. 

Other than a few instances, we were fortunate with the weather. Here’s a funny thing . . . I had originally packed two small umbrellas — along with rain jackets and various cold-weather gear — but subsequently decided on just one larger umbrella. Except, I forgot to unpack the two smaller ones. We had three umbrellas with us. I opened one during a quick sprinkle in Whittier . . . it only got like three drops on it, but damn it, I brought them and I was going to use at least one!

I won’t bore anyone with our Illinois visit other than to say it was a very nice visit with family. Also, a good start on our eating efforts. I gained about three pounds between August 30th and September 16th. I could have done more at the gym, but we were fairly active even when not in the gym (walking about the ship or at the ports of call). 

The flights to Illinois and the subsequent flight to Alaska were both fine and despite our trepidation with flying United, it was overall a decent experience (not so the return flights, but that’s for later on). 

By the way, in case it wasn’t obvious, all of the photos from my previous Alaska updates were taken and edited on the Samsung Note II. For being close to five years old, still a capable phone and camera. 

Say what you will about cruise lines, Princess has their shit together when it comes to moving people in and out of their ships. It begins at the airport where you hand them your luggage (it shows up later in your cabin) and you hop a bus that takes you to the ship. The picture above was shot during the ride between Anchorage and Whittier and is taken through the windshield of the bus. 

They then manage to load some 1,900 people plus all their luggage with relatively little trouble or frustration. Little frustration on our part, the passengers. I assume there may be some frustration on the part of the crew. Then again, maybe not. Like I said, they are well organized. 

And, if you know the routine, you can breeze through the process and be on the ship while it’s still relatively empty. Most people’s first order of business is making their way to the buffet level and begin their assault on the food supplies. We are most people. 

However, we curtail our first taste of the buffet because the second stop is the International Cafe. We usually buy a coffee card and tumbler. While we seldom use up all the punches on the card, you can save them and use what’s left on the next cruise. In fact, neither of us used any punches on these cards since we had many left from our previous cruise. For some reason, we didn’t order many hot coffees on our Caribbean cruise. 

On this cruise, we ordered many brewed coffees-to-go as well as teas. If you order tea for there, they actually bring you out a small pot, otherwise, it’s a disposable cup or you can ask them to use your tumbler (if you bought one). The snacks are always nice.

Actually, let me say a few things about that. The food service and food options vary with each ship. The Coral Princess — the ship we were on — is an older and smaller ship, originally designed to go through the Panama Canal (skinner and shorter than the locks). It didn’t originally have an International Cafe, so the one that’s there now was an afterthought. It’s smaller than the ones in the other two ships we’ve been on, and consequently, it has fewer choices for snacks.  

It’s also situated right next to the casino which, when open, can be quite noisy. One of the reasons we sometimes ordered to-go and went elsewhere to enjoy the coffees. 

The buffet on the Coral is also smaller. The first few days on the ship, the selections were OK, but nothing to brag about. That changed on the third day and from then on, the food choices and taste were to our liking. Desserts were a bit of a disappointment as there were only a few we liked, but that’s just as well, I suppose, as it helped mitigate the weight gain.

We had planned on more meals in the dining room (the sit-down service, as it’s called) but after one such meal, we decided the buffet offered better control both over portions and what one gets. It also avoids being seated with strangers. You can ask for a table for two, but it’s usually well within arm’s length of the next table for two. And, if someone does sit next to you at the buffet court, you can get up and find another spot. Although — and many won’t believe this — we are jovial and generous conversationalists. Why, sometimes we even feign interest in other people by asking them questions as opposed to just talking about ourselves. 

On this cruise, we opted to not do the formal nights (typically, sea days are when formal evenings occur). For one, formalwear takes up a lot of room in the suitcases. For another, it’s mostly a social thing where snobbish-looking-long-time-cruisers get together and brag about the number of cruises they’ve completed. 

Our original interest in the formal dinners was for the supposed better food, but to our plebeian palates, the food was no better than the buffet. Sure, we could’ve ordered lobster tails, but as neither of us likes lobsters, it’s not enough of a reason for dressing up. I suppose it’s different if you’re celebrating something, but we were celebrating being away during some of the hottest weeks in Hawaiʻi. A good reason to celebrate, but not warranting dressing up. 

Our daily routine was breakfast at the buffet, snacks at the International Cafe, snacks at the buffet or pizza counter or grill counter, lunch at the buffet, snacks at the International Cafe, snacks at the buffet or pizza counter or grill counter, buffet for dinner, and then — you guessed it — snacks at the buffet or pizza counter or grill counter.

Having said that, probably because of our pre-cruise dieting we didn’t eat all that much. Portions were small and varied and snacks were often shared. 

Considering all three ships we’ve experienced, I still rate the Star Princess the best because of one thing . . . they had something that was a cross between a sugar doughnut and malasada, something the other two ships lacked. Yes, I am a man of simple needs. 

I also liked the layout of the Star more than the Coral but we enjoyed the Coral being a smaller ship; it’s easier to get around and it also has a Promenade deck that goes the full circumference of the ship. The Star has a walkway that goes around the ship, but it’s split into two levels. Having the walking path be all on one level made it easy to get our walking in. 

The Promenade is also a great deck for watching the scenery, glaciers, and the occasional whale. You can quickly go from one side of the ship to the other through one of four direct passageways, and as most of the people are on the upper tiers, it’s seldom crowded. 

The Coral also sports areas that are absolutely quiet and relaxing. A couple of rooms that few people frequented as well as nooks and crannies where one can plop down, be out of the way, but still enjoy the bustle of an active passenger ship. 

Melisa and I are basically slugs when it comes to shipboard entertainment. We didn’t attend any of the shows and we didn’t watch any of the movies. The shows are usually crowded and seem to attract a lot of people who know each other so they’re also “busy.” None of the movies were of any interest to me and even less so to Melisa. 

That said, the main attraction in Alaska is — in my opinion — the scenery. In fact, being inside the ship almost makes one anxious wondering what wonders we’re wandering through and missing. Except at night, of course. Late evening was when I usually strolled around the ship. I did check every night for the Aurora Borealis but never saw any signs of it.

Most of the updates I posted during the cruise were composed while under jet-engine power and at sea. I would grab a coffee and a water and sit at one of the tables in the buffet area (the Horizon Court) and compose posts or play with the photos. Occasionally, a waiter would come by and ask me if I wanted more coffee or water, to which I would reply “Why, yes! Thank you!” 

One minor disappointment was the cancellation of our one planned excursion. The White Pass Summit train excursion starts at Skagway, but because of a rock slide at the Skagway pier, our ship diverted to Haines.  

We could have still made it, but it meant getting up at five in the morning and taking the complimentary ferry from Haines to Skagway, a forty-five minute ride each way. Both Melisa and I can suffer from motion sickness and we were concerned about the size of the ferry we would be assigned to (they had a number of private companies ferrying people, each with different size boats).

Neither of us wanted to a) get up at five in the morning and b) neither wanted to chance getting seasick. I’ve been on smaller boats where I’ve gotten slightly nauseated and from experience I can tell you the condition lasts, making the possibility of the train ride being one I wouldn’t have enjoyed.

That said, because of it, we did have an extra stop at a glacier not on the schedule, so that was OK. The train ride will wait for our next Alaska cruise. 

I say this every time I do a post, but WP messes with the photos. If there are any that interests you, at least click on it to see a better version. SmugMug likely offers the best chance for a well-presented photo. 

Besides, Haines gave me the opportunity for lots of photos, including many macros. But, by far, Glacier Bay National Park is where I shot the most photos using all three of my photo-capable gadgets.

I also thought Haines was the least “touristy” of the ports we visited. That’s because while the other ports might see up to five cruise ships a day, Haines is guaranteed one a week. Because of the rock slide, Haines got a few more ships in. The locals were happy for the extra business but — from speaking with them — they are not anxious to have 10,000+ people a day come into their little town. 

Normally, I would link the full-size original of the panorama shots, but since I’ll be doing that on the dedicated future posts, I’ll leave interested individuals to visit the SmugMug Gallery if they want to see the full size of the panoramas in this post. You’ll then be able to tell if this is from one of the Nikons or from the Samsung. 

Except for the excursions, the ports of call are little more than shopping opportunities. Yes, there are opportunities to learn about local history and culture, but even those are often turistisized (take note; new word) . . . no, wait; what am I thinking . . . turistitized. There, that’s better.

I learn more from the Internet, and that’s how I often use these jaunts. I take photos of things that interest me, and then I read about them. If I come across something that sparks my interest but that I missed, why, that’s a perfect excuse for another cruise. Better yet, a land cruise. 

There are people who enjoy doing all the research ahead of time and plan out their whole trip. I prefer the discovery aspect even if that means I’ll miss something or other. That’s especially true about photography.

There’s a difference — at least to my psyche — between arriving somewhere, seeing something, framing a photo, post-processing it, and presenting it as my own interpretation of the place, and having studied other people’s works, having a guide that tells you where to go for the best shots and best compositions, and in general rely on the discovery of other people. 

I don’t mind imitating a process of the style of a photo, but I prefer the photo to be a reflection of what I see and find interesting, not what someone else establishes as a great location and composition.

Once such place is Oxbow Bend at the Grand Tetons NP. At one time — and it may still be — that was the most photographed place in the world. In fact, for my first trip to Yellowstone, I did a lot of research as to what photos I wanted to take. It was not as enjoyable as the impromptu photos I took in no small part because of what you see in that link. There are a LOT of amazing photos of that place, all with better lighting and conditions than I’m likely to see. 

Ye3llowstone, by the way, was my first big trip with a digital camera as opposed to film. Anyway, after that, I resolved to just wing it. Melisa occasionally will mention photography expeditions she reads about, but that’s even less attractive to me. Disperser I be, Disperser I will remain. 

By the way, I’m listening to this piece . . . 

Ray Lynch was one of the first pieces I really enjoyed listening to on my then (1995) state-of-the-art-I-could-afford stereo system (Accurus preamp and amp and CD player coupled with Vandersteen 3 speakers).  I’m slowly going deaf (I’ve lost most of the hearing in my right ear), but I can remember the feeling of being transported by the clarity and breadth of the music I liked like Opera Sauvage, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the music from Cosmos (great vocals in this piece), and many more. 

The thing is, you cannot recreate that experience listening to earbuds or even decent headphones. There is something about music swirling all around you as opposed to it being pumped into your ears. I could “hear” the placement of the instruments when listening to classical music and even rock. Anyway, that’s all gone now. 

People walk around with them little things stuck in their ears . . . I wonder what they would say if they experienced music beautifully rendered, and I don’t mean jumping up and down at a rock concert with music shredding your eardrums.  I wonder if they would be happy going back to their fancy version of a tin can on a string?

Wait . . . do I sound elitist? I don’t mean to . . . I’m more selfish than that; I’m glad I got to hear it and don’t care if anyone else misses out on it.

I photographed pretty much most of the art and decorations on the ship . . . except . . . that’s one of two big metal sculptures flanking the main dining room. The other one I never got to photograph because they had banners in front of it. Banners advertising shops that were not twenty feet away. 

. . . I still have nightmares about missing that one sculpture. 

I also saw surprisingly few eagles. I saw a few but was only able to photograph one. The rest were all too far. That despite being reassured there are many, many eagles in Alaska. 

In fact, I saw very little in the way of wildlife. A few birds and a few glimpses of whales. No charging grizzlies, no polar bears, no lumbering moose, no industrious beaver, horned sheep, or wily fox. 

Just lots and lots of scenery. The trip actually reignited my desire for a land cruise via a motorhome. 

So, what else can I speak about . . . oh, yeah. the fact that I came back with a bug. I think the culprit(s) were on the plane from Vancouver to San Francisco. For one, the lady sitting next to me was coughing without covering her mouth, but she assured me she was over whatever she had. Some teenage kid was coughing without covering his mouth in the seat right behind us as was an older man in front and a lady diagonal from us. 

I wasn’t too worried because it was just a one-and-a-half hour flight; I could just hold my breath. 

Alas, fate conspired against me. We had just secured the cabin and ready to taxi out when the captain came on the intercom and announced that some idiot had come up to the wrong plane (ours) and had put additional fuel in the tanks, and the plane was now too heavy. Because the storage tanks are underground, the valve systems don’t allow for returning the fuel to them. They were calling a specialized truck from across the airport to come and defuel the plane back to its original state. The captain said it would be twenty minutes for the truck to get here and another twenty for the fuel to be taken off. Not a problem, we thought, since we had planned on a 2.5-hour layover before our flight out of San Francisco heading to Kona. 

So, forty minutes go by and the captain comes on again and announces they had removed the fuel from the wrong tank and would now have to rebalance the plane by transferring some fuel from one tank to the other. Also, something got stuck during the defueling and they would have to repair it. Another forty minutes, he says, also explaining that the ground crew are not United personnel, but rather work for the airport.  

By then some of the passengers wanted to form a lynch party and hunt down the person who made the original mistake. We were told to sit down as we weren’t allowed to depart the plane once the doors were closed . . . so we waited another forty minutes. 

It was actually closer to fifty minutes, but the captain comes on again and tells us the plane is rebalanced, the part repaired, and we are ready to depart . . . except, the person who worked on the plane left without signing the required FAA paperwork. They were going to try and track him down, and failing that, they would try and get one of the supervisors to sign off on the work, and all that would take another forty minutes. 

To make a long story short, we sat on the ground, at the gate, for two hours and thirty minutes, or twice as long as the time in the airto our destination. 

We had now cut our 2.5-hour layover to a 0-minute layover and hoped for a slow-boarding procedure on our connecting flight. I had one of the flight attendants check if they had assigned the gate for the next flight, and they had . . . Gate 69 on a different spur of the airport from where we would be debarking, at Gate 90. We would have 10 minutes to haul our sorry asses halfway across the airport before the final boarding call. At least we had a chance. Some people missed their connecting flights.

By the time we landed and got off the plane, the next flight was already boarding, which meant we missed being one of the first ones on the plane. Why is that important, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you . . . it’s because people are assholes. 

You see, most people push the envelope when it comes to carry-on baggage and the airlines seldom enforce their rules. When was the last time you saw anyone being asked to fit their carry-on in those special and unused measuring devices that tell you whether your carryon actually meets the requirement for a carryon? 

That means that people will stick stuff up into bins that are not over their seats. In fact, some will “drop off” their carryon at the front of the plane and then make their way to their seat at the back of the plane. Then, they’ll pick up their stuff when they debark the plane. 

Anyway, we set off a bit like the boat above, our feet hardly touching the floor as we ran toward Gate 69. You can look up the diagram for the SFO airport to see the layout. 

All the while, we are keeping an eye out for any restaurant or fast-food place without a line of people. You see, we had planned to eat during our layover, and hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast. No, they don’t give you anything on the plane, but you can buy stuff for prices that make your eyes pop out. Most people bring their own food or eat before the flight. 

As it was — at 5:00pm — there were no places that looked safe enough to linger at without missing our flight, so no food for us. We made it to the plane and, as feared, I had to hunt for space for my one piece of overhead-bin luggage (it doesn’t fit under the seat) . . . about four seats back from where we were sitting. I would have to fight the tide of exiting passengers to retrieve it once we got to our destination, Kona. 

But, at least, we made it. I almost relaxed when the third seat passenger showed up . . . an older gentleman . . . not a small man . . . not fat, but tall and large. He also must have had big balls because he sat with his knees far apart. Far enough, in fact, that I had to sit sideways . . . which might have been OK if it weren’t for two things. One, my back was already hurting because of having sat crooked on the two-hours-and-twenty-minutes-late plane because of the lady next to me — the one who was coughing — was also a rather . . . er . . . rotund passenger and she sort of spilled over — and under — the armrest separating us. And, two, while I could have conceivable angled away from the man’s leg, his shoulder and arm were also well over into my assigned seating space. 

I tried getting comfortable but, after a while, I politely asked him if he could adjust his posture so that I wouldn’t have to scrunch over to one side. Honest, I was very deferential and apologetic, but he gave me one of these looks . . . 

He then begrudgingly moved a bit . . . for a while. Bottom line, we paid for two seats on one flight and two more seats on the second flight but we ended up with only three seats for the two flights and I ended up with a very sore back for a few days which went away just in time for the bug to really come into its own. I was grateful that it had at least waited until my back got better before the sneezing and coughing started or that would have further hurt my back. 

Understand, both of those people were very nice . . . they were inconsiderate and uncaring, but otherwise nice. Well, the lady had less of a choice of where she ended up than the guy. He had a choice, it’s just that his choice was to take over half of my seat. 

Invariably, it’s how it is when we fly. Or when we go anywhere . . . in general, people are not mindful of how they might be encroaching or affecting others. On the other hand, we go overboard on being accommodating and generally get taken advantage of. It’s no wonder that we dislike most people. 

But, it’s our own fault . . . in fact, I’m reminded of an old joke: 

Two people sit down to eat and the waiter brings out a basket of bread. In it, there are two pieces. One large and one very small. One of the guys immediately takes the large piece and begins eating it. The other guy looks at him and grumbles under his breath as he grabs the remaining piece.  

“What’s wrong?” the first man asks.

“Well, you took the big piece. That’s kind of impolite.”

“What would you have done?” the first man asks.

“I would have been polite and taken the smaller piece,” the second man answers. 

“Well,” the first man says, “that’s what you got, so you should be happy.”

Politeness only works when both parties agree as to what it means. In my case, I’m destined to be forever taken advantage of by inconsiderate people who don’t even realize they are being assholes, even if you were to point it out to them. It’s the American way; me first and screw the other guy; whatever it takes to win; you snooze, you lose. 

In a way, it’s why I don’t mind cruising . . .  there’s enough space and room and food and stuff on the ship that it would require a very large number of assholes to ruin my day. Mind you, the number is getting there, but not yet, not yet. 

Wait . . . I forgot Vancouver. It’s a lot larger and busier than I had imagined. People everywhere, traffic jams, and everyone walking in a purposeful way, as if they have a schedule to keep. 

That wasn’t apparent when we got there . . . 

It looked calm and subdued. Also, colorful. I don’t do many city twilight shots, so I’m always happy when they turn out halfway OK. The golden reflection on the buildings is the day’s first sunlight kissing them awake. 

We did walk around a bit after our excursion and we did have one decent meal. I’ll talk more about the city in a post proper. Meantime, I’ll leave you with this . . . 

Edited to Add: I thought I should add a gallery for them who might just want to look at the photos. Here it is:

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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