At the age of…um…”50-something” (with very little time left to keep saying that), I’d never been on a cruise. My husband, Mike, had always wanted to try cruising. Most of our friends have done cruises and loved them. But I had always been left cold by the idea of roaming around in a boat full of old people playing shuffleboard, surrounded by corny entertainers and bad buffet food. Not to even mention the fact that I didn’t relish catching Noro virus, or being stranded in the middle of the ocean when something went wrong.
Not that I generalize. God forbid.
But there I was one night last October, at a nice restaurant in the North End, with the better part of a bottle of wine gone, and feeling pretty good. Our friends were up visiting from Vancouver (in fact they were just about to embark on a Canada/New England foliage cruise), and another cruising couple had also joined us for dinner. The subject turned to cruising. I was about to nod off, when suddenly, I realized they were talking about walking on glaciers, and seeing Iditarod huskies and…did I hear that right? Drinking glacial water? Suddenly, I remembered an extreme closeup photo my friend Leslie had emailed me during her last Alaskan cruise (she’s done two).
Okay. It might have been the wine talking, but I did it. I agreed to an Alaskan cruise the following year. Before I could change my mind and weasel out of it, Mike booked our tickets that week. (What can I say, he knows me well.)
We returned from our cruise last Monday evening. A lot of things happened on the cruise. Me deciding I hated cruising wasn’t one of them. But, neither was me falling in love with it. So, color me ambivalent.
Allow me to elaborate.
1. Almost Everything is Included in One Price.
While the price for an Alaskan cruise is not exactly bargain-basement, it is kind of nice that you pay one price, and that covers your cabin, all your food, and various entertainment and “educational” options. I was amazed to learn, this even includes Room Service! It doesn’t include booze (unless you pay extra), but we really aren’t huge drinkers, so that was fine with us. You don’t even carry cash with you on the ship!
The downside of that, of course, is that you have to wonder whether it would be more favorable for someone like me, who doesn’t generally eat lunch while on vacation (a nice breakfast and nice dinner seem to be exactly right for me), and who would never order two appetizers or two desserts at dinner (which I found out was not only perfectly acceptable on the ship, but is not even all that unusual), to just pay-as-you-go. I couldn’t quite shake the sneaking suspicion I was somehow subsidizing the folks with heartier appetites than mine. (By the way, even without a “hearty” appetite, I managed to put on 8 pounds. God only knows how much I would have put on had I not visited the fitness center every morning!)
2. The Cabins Are…Small
We opted for something called “Concierge Class.” For a slightly inflated price, we got robes (okay, I wore mine almost every day), canapés in the afternoon (not a big deal to me, but Mike seemed to enjoy that) and extra items added to the Room Service menu. We had big plans for Room Service, envisioning breakfasts on our (miniscule) balcony every morning, looking out over the ocean. Reality set in quickly when we realized it’s about 50 degrees in September along the Inside Passage. Buffet, here we come.
But back to the cabin. According to the internet, it was 175 square feet. That is...really tiny! What was funny at first turned into annoyance around midweek, when we got tired of trying to pass one another on our way to the bathroom.
To be fair, though, they pack a lot of storage space into that 175 square feet. It amazed me that, not only did our two large suitcases fit underneath the bed, but we had plenty of shelves and drawers we didn’t even use. And, believe me, I overpacked even more ridiculously than I usually do.
|One of our towel animals|
|Our spacious cabin|
3. There Are Shows Every Night and Various Games Every Day
Yes, there are. There was a juggler/comedian named Mike Price, who apparently was on “America’s Got Talent” (I watch the show, and don’t remember him at all). He was hilarious, with very edgy comedy that was right up my alley. He was also a really good juggler, if you like jugglers. There was a “mentalist” who was less than impressive. There was also an inane “Broadway” show, with numbers from “The Producers,” “Cabaret” and several other shows. It was pretty God-awful. (Despite having a poster from “Wicked” displayed in the lobby, there were no “Wicked” numbers to be found. It was probably just as well.)
There was also an Eagles tribute show. I wouldn’t attend an actual Eagles concert, so an Eagles tribute concert wasn’t going to do much for me. Okay, I admit to being a music snob, with what I’ve always referred to as “music-critic tastes.” Maybe we should just chalk this one up to my being on a different planet than most folks musically.
They had an art auction one day. We didn’t stay for it, but we did have a look around at the art. There were a few pieces by well known artists, but a lot of what I saw was just not good.
There was Bingo. We played. We didn’t win. We had fun.
There was a casino. I love casinos. I visit Las Vegas on a somewhat regular basis. I spent about an hour in this casino The video poker pay schedules are unplayable. And the machines are still coin-in. (To you non-gamblers, that means they still take and dispense quarters. That technology went the way of the dinosaur some time ago.)
We did win a Beatles trivia contest. Which is a good thing, because if we hadn’t, my Beatles-fanatic husband might have gone overboard. We got 14 out of 15 questions right. And he argued vehemently about the 15th question, and is still irritated about it. Don’t ask.
Sadly, there was no “Newlywed Game,” as we’d heard there might be. We had planned on kicking major ass.
4. There is Food Literally Everywhere
There’s a buffet. There’s a pastry counter. There’s a dining room. There’s a spa café. There’s a poolside hamburger grill. There’s a “specialty restaurant.” There’s a martini bar. There are about 3-4 other lounges. There’s the afore-mentioned room service.
Is the food awful? No. (Remember, I gained 8 pounds!) The buffet food is about par for the course for buffet food. We had our breakfasts there. There were Belgian waffles, and there was fruit and whipped cream. That is always enough to make me happy at breakfast. And the coffee wasn’t too terrible. (Okay you caught me. I’m also a coffee snob. I have Kona delivered to me on a regular schedule from Hawaii. Shoot me.)
The main dining room is actually pretty good. Small menu, but I was always able to find something. The desserts were always good. Well, except for a controversy we encountered with a so-called “lava cake with caramelized bananas” which had no lava, and nothing caramelized. But that would be a blog in and of itself. Every dessert I had was pretty good. Not great. But pretty good.
We also tried the specialty restaurant one night. For $45 per person, you can dine in a small room with a separate menu. This was by far the best meal of the cruise. The food was actually quite good.
5. The Service is Nothing Short of Amazing
Okay, this is one area where I don’t think I can be ambivalent at all. I mean, not even a little bit.
The service, from the housekeepers (oops, sorry, “stateroom attendants”) to the wait staff at the various restaurants, to the clerks at the gift shops, was absolutely outstanding, always friendly, always helpful and always efficient. It blew my mind. I don’t remember ever being so impressed by a staff. And I’m pretty tough to impress. (As you’ve probably gathered!)
So, to summarize.
Did I have fun? Most definitely, yes. A large part of my fun was had at the ports, where we cooked fresh Alaskan salmon on a fire pit, and took a helicopter to Mendenhall Glacier to visit a dogsled camp and ride in the dogsled. And an even larger part of my fun was had spending time with our friends. But for the purposes of this blog, I am speaking only about the ship itself, and leaving the destination (including one day when we spent hours watching in amazement as the ship made several 360-degree turns at Hubbard Glacier) and our cruise mates out of the equation. But the ship was not the "retirement home on the sea" that I foolishly imagined it would be. It was fun! And I bet it would be even more fun if the temperature were above 55.
Am I now madly in love with the concept of “cruising,” and therefore absolutely dying to book another cruise as soon as possible? No. But, I know thousands of people are - and more power to them. That’s just not me. But, would I do it again? Probably, depending on the destination, the price, etc.
And let me tell you something. The helicopter and the dogsled ride? Worth the price of admission. But, that's another blog, for another day.