Sunday, June 17, 2007

Before I forget everything...'s my account of Holly's and my trip to Alaska on the Sun Princess.

SUNDAY JUNE 3: We woke up before dawn in a tiny motel room on Maryland's Eastern Shore, trying not to wake up Ducleotide, our buddy with whom we split the room, having attended Smith's and Melbear's nuptials the previous blazing-hot day and boozy night. I drove the empty roads to BWI airport, then we hopped on two painless flights, BWI-Chicago & Chicago-Seattle.

The entire transfer to the boat was similarly unremarkable, but unfortunately (though predictably), so was the "welcome buffet" aboard. Here's where I missed the 24-hour pizza buffet from my family's Caribbean cruise in 2002... reliable all-hours food. The regular restaurants and pizzeria on the Sun were good, though. It's just as well that I lacked incentive to eat round the clock -- I gained enough weight anyway.

The event that shows you precisely what kind of crowd you've got on board is the mandatory safety drill. Everybody's classy when they're strolling from the bar to the hot tub and back again, but when you cram everyone in a room with their life vests for a half-hour and tell them what to do if the ship splits in two in the belly of a fjord, patience is a rarer virtue to see. No safety scares during our week, though; the closest I came to my life vest again was considering bringing it to the hot tub and ordering some drinks.

Still being on Eastern time, we crashed pretty early Sunday night, hoping fervently that the prediction of eight consecutive rainy days wouldn't hold. It had been clear skies in Seattle on Sunday...

MONDAY JUNE 4: ... but on Monday, as we puttered north toward Ketchikan, it was a drizzlefest, and Holly was nauseous to boot. The water was choppy and the bargain of an interior cabin suddenly looked like a disastrous choice. We took a few steps to minimize the effect:
-getting the hell out of the room, carrying a bag with enough stuff for several activities through early evening
-drinking tea on deck loungers
-sitting in the hot tub in the rain! Frankly, this was a brilliant call.

The boat behaved better the rest of the week, thank goodness, and though its motion was certainly perceptible at certain times, I don't think we ever again thought, "We have to get out of here."

The evening was a formal affair: suit for me, dress for her, posing for portraits we didn't intend to buy, eating a four-course dinner. But dinner featured an excellent and spontaneous intermission of informality. Huge whales were spotted leaping out of the water on the starboard side, and well-dressed passengers swarmed to the dining room's windows in unsettling numbers. I was one of them, and I spied an ugly beast breaching/breeching, then wondered if he/she felt any excitement at leaping from the water. Probably not.

After dinner was a stage show, seemingly a 483-song medley of Billy Joel, Elton John and Barry Manilow. My review: Not as good or as bad as anybody might think, if that makes any sense. No? Pssh. Moving on.

TUESDAY JUNE 5: You can picture Alaska, right? Basically a blob with two arms sticking down from it, one to the southwest and one to the southeast, pointing toward the lower 48. All three Alaskan places we visited are on the southeast arm. Ketchikan was closest to Seattle, then we kept going north to Juneau, then to Skagway before turning around. Just wanted to set the scene.

Tuesday was Ketchikan day. A marvelous stroke of luck: No rain! And it's the third rainiest place on Earth, next to Seattle and any place I camped as a kid, I assume. There was some shopping and cruise-ship trivia, but I'll stick to describing the forest-canopy zip line, probably the coolest part of the trip.

First of all, I'm brutal with heights. Not the worst you've ever dealt with, but if I'm in a high, precarious place, any small talk you make with me is going in one ear and out the other, and I'm not responsible for what I say to you because it is most likely remedial gibberish.

Ziplining took place in a forest. One tree was connected to a second one by a cable 100 to 150 feet above the ground. The second connected to a third in the same fashion and so forth for about 10 trees, each of which also had a small ledge to stand on in between zipping. I won't explain the equipment in much detail because I'll screw it up, but suffice it to say you have enough clips and pulleys attached to you that if you somehow fell, one of those things would be bound to snag on a branch before you crashed to the ground.

So your guide attaches your pulley wheels to the cable at one tree, then pushes you toward the next tree. The most significant zip line was about 120 feet above the ground, was 700 feet long and provided for speeds above 30 mph. I know that if you've skydived this is nothing, but I haven't, so imagine lying on your back tucked in a cannonball and sliding through the air between trees. I'm being completely honest when I say that for some reason, I wasn't scared, or even unnerved a little. It was just awesome.

More honesty: what scared me was the ledges on the trees, which is stupid because we were tethered to the trees the whole time in between zips, but I still didn't want to slip off the ledge and dangle from a tree. That would suck.

Check tomorrow for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday...


  1. Hey, I couldn't even do the pulley thing at River Country at Disney World, so you're impressing the heck out of me! Sounds great - can't wait to hear about it in person.

  2. Had dinner last night with Lisa, who commented that you turned white just TALKING about the zipline!

  3. I love the Ewok-Tree-Village-ness of it.

    OK, I really have to go to Alaska.

    By the by, River Country is no more. They closed it a coupla years ago.