Alaskan cruise – day 1

United flight 1756 lifted off one hour past the scheduled time. Weather south of O’Hare airport caused some rerouting so we waited on the Tarmac until that was all sorted out. We are on our way to Vancouver, Canada to meet up with our Royal Caribbean cruise ship Radiance of the Seas for our Alaskan Cruise. We have all the eggs in one aluminum basket ( airplane ). Priscilla and I are celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary and invited Alison, Oscar, JP and Rachel to join us. With only 12 seats up front our group has taken over half of the first class cabin. It is good to have Global Premier ( Demi-god ) status with United Airlines.

Planning for this adventure started 15 months ago when the cruise ship reservations opened up for our preferred trip dates. We wanted to include the Labor Day weekend to minimize the number of work vacation days needed for this 10 day trip. We will spend 7 days on the cruise ship and 3 days on a land tour to Fairbanks and the Denali national park. The cruise will start in Vancouver and travel north to Anchorage, Alaska. Along the way we will visit the Inland Passage, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway, Hubbard Glacier and Seward.

I mentioned that I have been planning this cruise for 15 months but it has taken 47 years to get here. It started with Priscilla and our first date on Valentine’s Day 1968. We attended our Junior and Senior high school proms together, attended separate colleges, Boston College and Northeastern University, and dated for 7 years before getting married on September 6, 1974. This is our wedding anniversary trip but we will be back in Illinois for September 6. We will share that date with Sam Serrano and Denise Bothby. I will be the wedding officiant at their wedding at the Waukegan Yacht Club. This is the first trip Alison and Oscar have taken since their wedding on June 14 at which I was also the wedding officiant.

Why did I book this trip so far ahead of time? I wanted to get my choice of cabins on the ships starboard side. The starboard side faces Canada and Alaska so the view from the balconies should be breathtaking. On the port side the view never changes.

We had our first little bump in the road at the Vancouver airport. Vancouver is affectionately know as Hongcouver because so many Chinese from Hong Kong live in Vancouver. The population of Vancouver is 56% Asian. We landed at the airport along with two jumbo jets from Bejing and one from Hong Kong. The immigration line was a mile long and not be outdone, so was the customs line. We obtained our luggage with thoughts of making our way to the Royal Caribbean bus and head to the ship for the all day buffet and start using our unlimited drink package. However, Canadian customs people has other plans for our group. The Chinese are notorious smugglers trying to bring in all sorts of contraband and cash. The customs officials divert hundreds of a Chinese to a full luggage search area. In order to avoid being charged with racial profiling they randomly select a non Asian couple for every 100 Asians. Alison and Oscar got the golden ticket and we waited over 45 minutes for customs to comb through every nook and cranny of their suitcases. After showing our passports and standing in several more long lines we finally boarded the Radiance of the Seas. We found our way to the luncheon buffett and ate a late lunch just before we had to go to our muster drill to practice how to abandon ship. In the unlikely event we would ever have to abandon ship off the coast of Alaska.

We decided to enjoy the trip out of the harbor from the balcony on our suite. It easily accommodates all six of us with several chairs and a chaise. The ship set out promptly at 4:30 pm. We are headed to the inland passage for our trip north. Time to relax.

View of Vancouver from the balcony.

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Our ship Radiance of the Seas – Royal Caribbean

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Alaskan Cruise – day 2

The seas are calm as the sun rises over the Inland Pasage. All night we continued to cruise past Vancouver Island. Life is good onboard Radiance of the Seas. Orlando our room concierge is very attentive and brings ice when asked. Our dining staff are also quite nice. Everdina is from the Philippines and is our waitress for our 8:30 pm seating at table 405. Paul from India assists Everdina. Rachel is big fan of the Hunger Games trilogy and the heroine is named Katniss Everdine. However Everdina has never heard of the Hunger Games.

This ship is 980 feet long and has twin gas turbines generating 70,000 horse power. It has pod drive that can rotate 360*. In addition there is a 14,000 horse power diesel engine to run the generators and other systems. With three bow thrusters this ship can be easily docked sideways. At 980 feet she cannot transit the Panama Canal. We are cruising at 16.6 kts.

The cost for WIFI on the ship is 75 cents per minute. If you purchase 200 minutes it is only 50 cents per minute. To their credit the WIFI is very slow so you burn a lot of minutes just waiting for downloads.

As suite passengers we were invited to the meet the Captain and crew for a private breakfast function. This is our first time upgrading to a suite but the extra amenities plus the extra space in the cabin make it a good value. The captains name is Malcolm Rodger. I wonder if there is ever any confusion during radio transmissions when someone says “roger that” and he wonders if they they are calling him. We sat with the Chief Engineer, Ante Mjehovic from Croatia. He provided all the factoids about the ship.

Today is a full day cruise with no ports of call. The ship will arrive in Ketchikan at 6:00 am on Sunday. We will go on a DUCK boat tour. We are contemplating possibly doing a helicopter ride to the glacier when we are in Juneau on Tuesday. The seas have picked up to 2 – 3 feet so there is finally some slight movement in the ship. I am sure the gyro stabilizers will kick in if needed.

I had previously mentioned that the Chinese were notorious smugglers but we have a few members of our group that did a good job of bringing something onboard that is forbidden. The cruise line allows each person to bring one bottle of wine. However our group decided they all wanted rum instead of wine. In one instance the rum was cleverly concealed in plain sight by adding a small amount of red food coloring and putting it in a red wine bottle with a cork. That bottle was spotted at the security check in. A cursory inspection revealed a red liquid in a red wine bottle and was allowed to pass. The other concealment was putting white rum in a white wine bottle. When spotted at the security X-ray they were told to bring their bag to the inspection table. Given the crowds and the chaos they just walked right past the inspection table. All of our contraband made it safely onto the ship. Then we went to the ship’s store and found that they are selling liquor at very low prices so our antics were for naught.Tonight is formal night in the restaurant. It is a gala hosted by Captain Rodger that. Because we are in a suite we could send out out finest threads to be pressed at no charge. JP and I are sitting on our balcony drinking the illicit red rum ( murder ) playing reggae songs on the ukulele and enjoying the view. Soon it will be time to go to our favorite bar, the Schooner, and punish our unlimited drink package cards.

Tomorrow Ketchikan.

JP reflecting  on the view.

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A beautiful night on the Inland Passage.

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This is the pilot boat that picked up our pilot at the north end of Vancouver Island. With radar and GPS I wonder if these pilots are still required for safe passage?

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Alaskan cruise – day 3

We awoke to the sound of seaplanes taking off in Ketchikan Bay. Our cruise ship is tied to the dock and our cabin faces north into the bay. The water is flat calm so it is a perfect day for a seaplane ride or any other outdoor activities. Large fish are jumping out of the water near the ship. I know they must be large because I am 10 stories above the water and I can easily see them. There are jellyfish too.

Ketchikan is an Indian word meaning thundering wings of an eagle. It is the salmon capital of the world so it is also a haven for bears and eagles. The rivers in the center of Ketchikan are the main spawning grounds for the salmon. We are only 40 miles north of Canada in the southern most town in Alaska. With a year round population of 8,800 it is the sixth largest town in Alaska. Ketchikan is also famous for having the largest number of standing totem poles in the world. The tides range from 20′ to 26′ per tide change. Ketchikan is a rain forest with 300 days of rain per year creating 162 inches of rain ( 13.5 feet ) annually. It only snows a few times each winter and the rain quickly washes the snow away. We did not have rain have today. just a little drizzle in the afternoon. Our DUCK tour was a lot of fun.

One suggestion for future cruise ship passengers, consider bringing small walkie talkies for each couple. These ships are immense and there are many places to hang out. Your cell phone is often out of cell tower range or roaming so calling each other on the walkie talkie to find where they are or to make arrangements to meet later has worked very well for our group. We have even given ourselves extremely clever handles ( radio names ) Simons one, Simons two and Simons three. Our pleasure boat cruising friends ( live aboard boaters ) Bev and Dave Feiges use walkie talkies when anchoring their 60′ trawler Cloverleaf. Bev is on the helm providing Dave with useful instructions to help him with the anchoring process. We asked Dave if this was a help to him? He said he never turns on his walkie talkie so Bev can make all the suggestions she wants.

There are a lot dead heads around here. I am not referring to the generally stoned followers of the Grateful Dead band, I am talking about logs in the water. There is a major logging industry in the Northwest. They cut down the trees and raft the logs together to float them to Vancouver to be loaded on ships. From time to time the rafts break up or a few logs separate from the rafts. This is not a safe place to run a pleasure boat. It would be very dangerous to run at high speed at night.

We will set sail tonight and head for Icy Straight Point. Dinner will be in Samba which is a Brazilian themed restaurant.

A view of Ketchikan

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We are the red triangle

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Formal dining night.

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