Thursday, June 16, 2016

Been Cruisin' Grand Finale

Let's pretend today is yesterday. Now let's pretend I didn't forget to post yesterday's post. Let's pretend I didn't take a long nap instead. Okay, I feel better now.

If you'll remember, our four travelers have left the hotel and headed for new adventures aboard the Explorer of the Seas. We enjoyed our short stay in Seattle. Debbie even got to use a gift card she had been saving for a Seattle Starbucks. She and Nancy wandered into one of the seven thousand Starbucks shops to order coffee. Debbie ordered a caramel, cinnamon, deluxe, super-duper Frappuccino and handed over her card. Nancy ordered next and decided on the same thing. Debbie was feeling generous so she handed her gift card to Nancy and said, "hey, this is on me." There was twelve cents left on the card. Okay, back to the cruise.

After an hour and a half working our way through lines we were finally able to board the ship. Here we were told our rooms wouldn't be available until 3:30 in the afternoon. It was suggested we walk around the ship or get a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants. We decided to try the Windjammer restaurant at the top of the ship. Lugging our carry-on luggage behind us, we found a bank of elevators and squeezed into one of the cars. We soon discovered everyone who had boarded ahead of us were doing the same thing. Windjammer is a buffet style, all you can eat eatery. Evidently the mindset on this first day is to see just how much a person can eat on the first day of a cruise.

We finally found an empty table and left Debbie with all the luggage while we worked our way through the various feeding frenzies. The experience wasn't at all what we expected for a classy cruise. It was more what one might expect on a college campus 'free food' day. After we polished off our 'light meal' we asked an attendant if there might be a place we could leave our luggage for a few  hours. He politely recommended we leave them in our rooms. It seems our rooms had been ready for us before we boarded.

As I mentioned in the first part of this story, our rooms were very nice. 'Plush' is the word that comes to my mind. Of course my mind had conjured up an image of a steel tank with a bunk bed. After enduring muster, which is a mandatory meeting of all passengers aside their pre-assigned life boats in order to scare the bejeebers out of us, we were free to "start the party". We were all tired so we went to our rooms for a nice long nap. Party on dudes!

We decided we would avoid Windjammers and try out one of the classy restaurants for dinner. We were assigned to a table next to the windows, in a corner with two very efficient and pleasant attendants. Carlito introduced himself as our headwaiter who would be assisted by Rommel. He took our drink orders and was pleased when Nancy ordered a bottle of semi-expensive wine for herself and Mike. Debbie and I ordered iced tea which immediately told Carlito we were the lesser half of the group. Moments later Rommel arrived at our table and introduced himself as our headwaiter assisted by Carlito. Rommel read off the chef's recommendations and left us to decide. We decided the chef was either sadistic or insane. We chose our meals from the menu. Carlito brought us an assortment of breads while we waited for our meals. When time came for dessert Rommel brought out dessert menus. We each ordered something different with plans to share. When the desserts arrived I made the mistake of saying, "Oh man, I wish I had ordered that". Rommel took off and returned with a second dessert for me. A classy guy would have chuckled and said, "Ah, thanks Rommel but I don't really need a second dessert". I said, "Wow, thanks Rommel! Can we do this every night?".

Nancy had to sign a tab for the wine she ordered for dinner that first night. She felt she had been given great service from Carlito so she added 20% gratuity before handing it back. She didn't realize the cruise policy is to automatically add 18% gratuity to any purchase made on the ship. Carlito was thrilled with his 38% tip and gave Nancy especially good service the entire week. In fact, he appeared to be so fond of Nancy we considered trying a new restaurant out before the week was over.

One more mention of food on the cruise then I'll move on. I went to the Windjammer early one morning to get a coffee. I found the frenzy to be over and folks were acting human again. I sat at a table by myself and watched people come and go. An elderly woman walked up to the table next to mine with her little granddaughter in tow. She told the girl to sit and wait while she went through the line for their breakfast. She asked if the little one had any special requests. The girl said she wanted bisgetti and milk. As her grandmother rolled her eyes and walked away the girl held up a finger and yelled, "Make that chocolate milk". I don't know...I just found that to be humorous

Our first stop on the cruise was Juneau. A lovely city with lots of charm. We were scheduled for a whale watching tour so we didn't get to see much of the city. What we saw made me want to move to Alaska. Debbie said no. The tour into the fjord was cold and choppy. I prided myself on being the only member of the group not needing a motion sickness pill. I hope to add a couple of photos here to show at least one of the many humpback and orca whales we saw. I doubt I will be able to because I am naturally incompetent and lose most photos I try to post.

We were thrilled to see so much beauty around us and experience whales closer than we expected. The guide told us we were lucky too to see humpbacks and orcas swimming together since orcas normally eat humpbacks. I think we would have been darned lucky to have seen that. The whale watching was probably the highlight of the trip for me.

Our second stop was Skagway. This little town had more jewelry stores than I've ever seen on one street. It seems the tourists who arrive for three months out of the year really like jewelry. We took a tour to the top of a summit, the name lost in my defunct memory bank. The tour guide was funny and filled us with more history and stories than we could possibly remember. The highlight of this tour was the bear that came right up to the road. The guide stopped the van about twenty feet away so we could get pictures. As we were parked there a car pulled up and a woman jumped out and ran toward the bear to get a close up. We heard the guide whisper to himself, "here's your lunch!" Luckily for the woman her fast approach startled the bear and he ran off. I loved Skagway and the people living there. It was a really laid back town. I told Debbie I could live there. She said no.

Our last stop was Victoria, British Columbia. This is without a doubt the most beautiful city I've ever seen. We took a tour of the city and fell in love. It is so clean and remarkable we were spellbound. Debbie took pictures nonstop until her battery finally gave out. Pictures couldn't possibly do justice to the beauty of this city anyway. Victoria is situated in a "rain forest" range. Because of its location anything will grow there. The temperatures year round are between 58-78 degrees. We enjoyed high tea at the historical Empress hotel while watching people stroll the streets. I told Debbie I could easily live there. She said she thought she could too if we could convince our sons to move the grandkids up.

I know I've gone on too long about this trip. You may be thinking, "Good grief, I hope he never goes on a European river tour". If I do I promise I won't go on and on about it. This trip was special because it was on Debbie's bucket list and because I dreaded it for so long. I was so impressed by it all that I felt the need to share. We are going to the Caribbean next week. I promise I won't tell you anything about it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Been Cruisin' Part Two

As we sailed along the coasts of Alaska and British Columbia I wondered how my meager words could describe the beauty all around us. On one occasion I was so overwhelmed by the spaciousness and awesomeness of it all that I began to tear up. Yes, it was truly that beautiful....and since I am not a man of many words and knew I couldn't do justice to what we enjoyed I was very thankful to see my wife Debbie's Facebook post this morning. She spent a good portion of last night downloading and commenting on about seventy-five photos. Had I known my wife of forty-five years was an accomplished photo journalist I would have provided her with a quality camera. What she recorded with her cell phone and tiny little pocket camera was amazing. Rather than try to describe the beauty, why don't you go to Facebook and view her photo album? It's worth the effort.

In the meantime, I will do what I do best...relate the odd, and sometimes humorous things I saw and heard during the cruise. As I said before, we had a day and night in Seattle before our ship sailed. I loved Seattle. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt in the middle of downtown. We walked everywhere. I think if I lived in downtown Seattle I would disobey my wife, doctor, and sons and go buy myself a neat little scooter to get around. Debbie wasn't in favor of wandering too far from the hotel as the day wore on so we settled on a restaurant next to the hotel. We did not know until the bill was brought that we had picked the most expensive restaurant in town. I hope to have my personal loan in place before that credit card statement arrives. As we were leaving the restaurant we asked the waiter if he could suggest a good place for breakfast the next morning. It just so happened that since his establishment was right next to the hotel, management felt it prudent to offer a breakfast buffet. Not to be offensive but to hold on to enough money to finish our trip, we asked for an alternative. He gave us a suggestion with location which we thought sounded good. Debbie and Nancy were tired and wanted to go to their rooms but Mike and I decided to walk for a while and find the little recommended café. It was two blocks away on Union Street. We walked.....and walked....and walked a little more before giving up and returning to the hotel. We thought maybe we would find Union Street and the café the next morning.

The next morning we started out from the hotel with two starving wives. They had all kinds of confidence in our ability to hunt and secure food. After walking for half an hour and passing several eateries offering the breakfast we sought, their confidence began to lag. It became apparent to all that we could not find Union Street or the neat little café we had been told about. We decided to go back to one of the earlier choices but evidently made a wrong turn. No little eateries anywhere. We eventually went to the Chamber of Commerce building because we did find it. We thought maybe they could help us out. They did. They pointed out a little snack bar down the hall that served "the best coffee in Seattle". Our quaint breakfast in Seattle consisted of premade pastries and coffee in Styrofoam cups enjoyed amid the quiet ambiance of the reception hallway of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce.

After breakfast, we were supposed to meet our shuttle at 10:30 at the taxi area in front of the hotel. We were there early. The shuttle wasn't. We waited a good while inside and then another fair amount of time pacing the sidewalk outside the hotel. No shuttle for us. Finally a well dressed gentleman walked up to see if he could help us. Debbie explained our situation. He asked for our copy of the shuttle confirmation. Debbie, in her calm and efficient manner screamed, "WHAT CONFIRMATION?!?!!?" It seems our confirmation had been slipped under our hotel room door during the night. Debbie, in her calm and efficient manner, had noticed a piece of trash on the floor and threw it in the trashcan. Had it not been for a very understanding and courteous driver, our ride to the ship may have been fairly quiet. As a side note, as the shuttle pulled away from the hotel and made one turn we found ourselves on Union Street.

In order to keep at least a couple of readers from falling asleep I will stop here. Tomorrow I will tell a few things of interest anyway....that I saw and heard during the cruise.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Been Cruisin' Part One

I've lived for 65 years and never once felt the need to get in a boat, whether it be a rowboat or a huge ship. I have given in to peer pressure and gone out on ski boats with friends occasionally and actually got out on skis once. Awful experience...absolutely awful. Debbie has been pushing a cruise on me for years now and I've always been able to avoid it. After I retired though, Deb got busy and planned an Alaskan cruise for us and it finally came to fruition last week. I did not want to go and planned to make life miserable for any poor soul I encountered along the way. Everyone kept saying, "Oh, you'll love'll be'll want to go on more...". I was not convinced. Finally, Debbie called on help from my cousin Mike and his wife Nancy. They are seasoned travelers and agreed to make the trip with us. It was nice to know I would die among loved ones.

We left DFW Airport early one morning and flew in to Seattle, Washington. I had always wanted to see Seattle so I agreed to go that far. We had a wonderful day there touring the city, sampling great food and drink. We visited the Pike Marketplace and went by the original Starbucks. I say "went by" because our plan to go inside for a cup was thwarted by a line reaching halfway down the block. Our hotel was beautiful and made even better because it was a gift from our son Cody. The boy has good taste in hotels. I kind of enjoyed cruising so far....

The next morning we loaded up and headed for the pier. As we drove up I saw this mammoth ship rising from the water up to...well, I don't know was absolutely huge. My first comment to Debbie was, "I'm not getting on that thing!" She laughed...I was serious. Things began happening so fast though that before I knew it I was committed. The cab pulled up, everyone piled out, bags were grabbed, taxi driver was paid, and the groundswell of people joyfully lining up to meet their doom encompassed us and away we went. By the time I found my senses I was in a long line waiting to get to another long line that led to security checks, that led to another long line that led to the ship. It was mind-numbing which I figured was necessary to get most first-timers on the ship. After a grueling hour and a half we made it to our room. I was impressed. I expected steel walls and bunk beds and maybe a little porthole to watch the ocean rise and consume us. What I found was a beautifully decorated place with king size bed, carpet, nice amenities, and a very nice balcony from which to fall into the ocean and drown.

I was still feeling uneasy about the situation until Mike and Nancy talked me into exploring the ship. I thought it would be best to sit in our rooms safely belted into our seats while the ship was actually moving but Debbie coaxed me out for the walk. I was amazed. We were in a floating city. An hour into the cruise I had forgotten I was actually in a ship. By the end of the day I was on the top deck checking out every view I could see. I wanted to soak up every minute of the experience of sailing. The wind blowing across the deck, the clouds moving about as the waves slowly moved below was more than I ever imagined. The feeling of being alone on an ocean stretching out as far as I could see in any direction left me humbled and so thankful for the opportunity to appreciate a yet unseen part of God's creation. We were one day into the cruise and I wanted it to never end.

Tomorrow's post will give more details. For now, we're home. It's hot and humid. We're asking ourselves why we continue to live in Texas. I would get back on that ship today if I could.