Wednesday, October 11, 2023

From Twin Peaks to the Great White North, Part 2

Friday, September 29, 2023: North to Alaska, Go North the Rush Is On...
We had a lovely, panoramic view of Seattle as we set sail from the port on Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas late this afternoon. During our time in Seattle, we rarely found ourselves in a location from which we could catch a view of the city's skyline, so this perspective was pleasing. We've enjoyed our time here, but Seattle didn't strike me as a place to which I absolutely must return. It's oftentimes oppressively busy, with typical urban transportation ills — so much so this afternoon that Terry and I weren't sure we could get the rental car back to SeaTac and then locate transportation to the cruise port before the blasted ship sailed. Fortunately, we found a cabbie who probably set speed records along the way. (He likely does this run daily.)

Once we were settled on board, the four of us headed to one of the ship's cafés for a little afternoon Good Morning, America. After a stiff, much-needed caffeine pick-me-up, we went to dinner at Wonderland Restaurant on Deck 5. This upscale establishment is an "experience" in dining, and I'll go so far as to say it was one of the best meals I've ever eaten. I started with a "Smoke Ring" cocktail, which is something of a souped-up Old Fashioned, heavily smoked. It was delicious, though not particularly strong — probably a good thing since the cruise ship is basically a big floating bar. A round of various, tiny appetizers based on five natural elements — Earth, Sea, Fire, Ice, and Sun — featuring lobster, shrimp, mushrooms, eggs, and other savory treats followed. For the main course, I chose braised beef and mashed potatoes, which came with an array of puréed vegetables that perfectly complemened the cooked critter. It was the tenderest, most flavorful beef ever. Brugger went with a chicken dish, also excellent. Topped off with delicious desserts, this was indeed a wonderful (if very expensive) and memorable meal.

Afterward, we plopped down in the ship's theater to watch the ship's cruise director make funny, followed by a comedian named Landry, who generally was funny. That was about all the energy we had in us, so we called it an early night.

Good night, Seattle — we love you! (Kinda.)

Saturday, September 30, 2023: High on the High Seas and There Be Whales Here!
The view straight down through the
glass flooring on deck 15

Brugger and I rose early, mainly because there was a time change during the night — we crossed from Pacific Daylight Time to Alaska Daylight Time, so we had to convince our still slightly discombobulated bodies to back up yet a hair further after having finally adjusted to Pacific Time. After a very light breakfast courtesy of room service, Ms. B. and I set about wandering the ship, seeing the sights and seeking certain necessary items from one of the onboard shops. According to my health app, we put in two-plus miles, which I reckon we needed since our feeding frenzies have been frequent and impressive.

From our stateroom balcony, I noticed a voluminous spray not far from the ship and, a moment later, a big, dark hump that broke the surface and then submerged. How cool is that? A whale! So far on this trip, we've seen Kyle MacLachlan, a rattlesnake, and a whale. Don't see any of these much back home. Not ever, really, when you think about it. So chalk up another new and different experience.

We joined our compadres for lunch at one of the ship's restaurants; it was good, not great (I think it was grocery store–bought BBQ). For afters, Brugger and I headed to the uppermost decks to hitch a ride on the Northstar — a globe that holds about a dozen folks, attached to an arm that rises to a height of 300-some feet. For fifteen minutes, from way up high, we had a wide view of the open seas as well as the mountains of Moresby Island. The wind was strong — right at the limit of the Northstar's tolerances, according to our host — so it was bumpy up there, but we didn't fall over or anything. That's always a plus.

Later, our gang gathered for drinks at a couple of the shipboard establishments, and Terry and I enjoyed several intriguing games of pool — intriguing because the less-than-level-and-steady surface of the pool table presented us with ongoing and amusing challenges. I won the best of three, but I kinda of credit this to the table performing weird acrobatics beneath our balls.

Dinner and a brief, ill-fated visit to the casino rounded out the evening. Tomorrow: Juneau.
View of the Ovation from the Northstar as it rises to its full height
Sunday, October 1, 2023: Juneau What? We're in Alaska!

I woke up this morning, looked out our stateroom window, and, through a veil of mist and rain, saw Alaska drifting by. When I stepped out on the balcony with bare feet, I hollered a bit, because it was... well, Alaska. Initially, there wasn't much to see because the atmosphere was so thick, but Brugger and I did lay eyes on another whale not far from the ship. As we drew nearer to Juneau, the fog began to lift and the mountains along the shoreline — only a few hundred feet away — grew taller and greener. Soon, we saw numerous waterfalls that plummeted from the tops of the high ridges all the way down to sea level. Eventually, we saw the buildings of Juneau creeping up ahead on starboard. Our original arrival time was supposed to be 1:00 p.m., but we were apparently quite early, having made considerable headway overnight.

There was still some time before disembarking, so Brugger and I spent a brief but relaxing spell in the hot tub at the ship's solarium. We had a quick pizza lunch with the Nelsons, I slapped my geocaching hat on my head, and then... Alaska, here we come! There were several caches around the port, and I managed to make quick work of them. Well, work of them, anyway. The womenz went shopping, needless to say. Terry and I found drink and light vittles at a quirky tavern called the Red Dog Saloon, Eventually, Brugger and Beth joined us, and we hung out for a while before going our separate ways — the womenz back shopping, Terry back to the ship, and I out for geocaching. Six and a half miles I hoofed it, which was enough for me to explore a fair part of this very small city. I saw the entire port district, the governor's mansion, several fun little backroads, and some panoramic views from on high. I logged six traditional caches and fourteen Adventure Lab stages, which I'd call a dingy-dang good total for the day.

Ms. B. and I had intended to have dinner at a particular seafood restaurant in town, but it was closed for the season. We checked out a couple of other places — also closed — and when we finally found an open one, they were so full up (no doubt because every other place was closed) that we would have had almost an hour's wait. So we said fuck that, trucked back to the ship, and found dinner at Izumi Sushi, which I'd call one helluva good dinner. We closed out the night with a final drink at the Schooner Bar, which would become one of our regular shipboard hangouts.

Tomorrow: Skagway.
Into Juneau
Nary a crabby person to be seen at Red Dog Saloon. Well, maybe one.
Monday, October 2, 2023: Moose and Squirrel!

The Ovation dropped anchor in the port of Skagway, Alaska, very early this morning, and, after slaughtering a decent breakfast, our gang made its way into town to procure a vehicle for our do-it-yourself tour to Emerald Lake in Canada's Yukon Territory. Vehicle acquired, Ms. B. got behind the wheel and drove us through blinding rain and fog high into the mountains, where — happily — the sun came through, burned off most of the errant vapor, and presented us with some of the most spectacular scenery any of us have ever seen.

We spotted bear! We spotted moose! We spotted squirrel! We spotted mountain goat! We spotted geocaches! At Emerald Lake, while seeking a cache, I happened upon a ruffled grouse, who gave me such a stink-eye that I damn near ran away. Then he flew off, thoroughly berating Ms. B. as he passed. What a jerk!

Once back at the ship, our gang had dinner in the restaurant, drank at one of the bars, danced... somewhere... and then Terry and I hit the casino. I must say, he had far better luck than I did, and I suspect my gambling on this trip is over and done with. All in all, though, I'd call this one incredible, spectacular day. Looky at the pictures!
Tuesday, October 3, 2023: Endicott Arm
About dawn, the Ovation entered the Endicott Arm, a channel of the Inside Passage south of Juneau, so that we might view the Dawes Glacier. Brugger and I got up for an early breakfast. Then we spent a frigid morning on (and often off) our balcony photographing the spectacular mountains and myriad waterfalls as we sailed slowly past. Once relatively close to the glacier, the ship stopped for a while, but thick mist prevented clear views. The glacier was definitely cool to see, but it was the mountains and waterfalls along the channel that we found most inspiring.
Iceberg! Right ahead!
At noon, our gang met at our regular shipboard dining room for lunch, which was leisurely... perhaps a tad more leisurely than we usually prefer. The ship is jam-packed, bordering on oppressive for those of us who suffer from crowd anxiety (which gets to me more and more in my old age). The food in the main dining room is pretty good; better, I think, than the fare on Rhapsody of the Seas on our Mediterranean cruise a few years ago. I have to give a lot of credit to the Ovation's servers and crew in general, most of whom bend over backward to make sure you're satisfied. I'm pretty easy to please, so none of them have chucked any heavy or sharp objects at me. I'm not so sure about the others in our party...

For the better part of the afternoon, we hung out in the solarium, both in the hot tub and in the multi-level pool. In the hot tub, a young woman noticed my geocaching hat and mentioned to me that she geocached as well. We ended up having a long conversation, while Terry ended up yakking with a Navy vet, with whom he apparently shared some history. That left Kimberly and Beth stuck between their husbands carrying on at length with other folks. At least they had each other.

Before dinner, we met again at the Schooner Bar, and then... Italian night at the restaurant. The second-best beef carpaccio I've ever had. A fair filet of sole, and a delicious Coffee Pot del Crema for dessert. Afterward... somehow... we ended up back at the Schooner Bar and listened to their entertaining piano man. Throughout the evening, the seas had grown increasingly rough, and the ship rocked and swayed madly during our entire outing. We drank a bit, but the ship's movement made us feel positively blasted. After our gang broke up for the night, Brugger and I went down to the pool tables for a bit of fun and... oh, my lord, trying to play pool on a rocking ship was silly enough that we figured it for an impromptu slapstick show.

Apparently, while we were doing these things, the ship's crew hung large quantities of Feel Better Bags on all the stairway railings for those inclined to get seasick. Thankfully, for us, all that rocking and rolling made for nothing more than a good night's sleep.
That's the glacier in the center; the mist was too dense to make out much detail.
Wednesday, October 4, 2023: It's Pitch White Outside
Today was a full day at sea, and Brugger and I felt it was high time we took a break from the typical cruise routine of starting drinking at an early hour and keeping it going. There was a time change last night when the Ovation crossed back to Pacific Daylight Time from Alaska Daylight Time, so we basically lost the hour we had gained on our northward voyage. It's still three hours earlier than back home and, most of the time, we don't even know what day it is, much less the time on the clock. Maybe even more so today because, outside, there's an impenetrable veil of fog that's hung there since we crawled out of bed.

I wanted to make some forward progress on the short story I'm composing, so, for a while, I sat out on the balcony and composed away. At noon, we met Terry & Beth at the restaurant for lunch. A fair burger, it was. Then Brugger and I decided to find a place on the ship where she could make art and I could write, just for the change of scenery. We secured a couple of acceptable seats outside Vintages Wine Bar on Deck 5 and proceeded to write, paint, draw, drink coffee, and leer at the passersby. When we returned to our stateroom, it was still pitch white outside.

It's feeling kinda like The Lost Continent out there.

Or maybe... Gojira! No sooner had I written the preceding than a brilliant burst of white light appeared on the ocean's surface some distance to starboard. I knew right away this was Godzilla rising. Kimberly said it was a reflection of the sun, now burning its way through the fog. But I know better.

Late in the afternoon, Terry, Beth, Ms. B., and I met for the shooting of some pool (or in my case, the massacre of some pool) and then an excellent dinner at the restaurant; shrimp cocktail and lobster tails for this old landlubber. For the remainder of the evening, we settled ourselves in Vintages with a round of decent red vino.

We have one more full day on the cruise. Tomorrow, it's Victoria, British Columbia. Don't know much about Victoria, but the geocaching map tells me it will be worth my while. I dunno about anyone else's while.

I'm telling you: it was Godzilla out there. Because I know better.
Thursday, October 5, 2023: Named After Our Lady

Today, it was Victoria — our penultimate destination on the cruise. Tomorrow, we'll dock and disembark in Vancouver.

I set out early this morning, shortly after the Ovation docked, bound for several caches around the port area. For a couple of them, I ended up walking all the way to the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater, which was good for a good mile and a half of hoofing right there. After that, Brugger came out to meet me, and we headed toward town, stopping at shops and caches along the way. For lunch, we happened upon the Cactus Café, which turned out to be an agreeable, somewhat upscale establishment. Terry and Beth soon joined us there — what late bloomers! The food was good, and the Aperol spritzes were tasty and refreshing.

After that, we wandered a bit more and eventually ended up at Fisherman's Wharf. It's loaded with food kiosks and beer joints, which would have been more appealing if we hadn't already had lunch. It was kind of fun to visit, and I did grab a cache there. At last, we decided to head back to the ship. At the end of it, I'd put in right about eight miles on my feetzes. And now my feetzes are kinda sore!

For the evening, our priority was packing up for an early departure in the morning.

Overall, this has been an enjoyable cruise; some hiccups with elevators out of service, EXPENSIVE internet service that tended to be sporadic at best, seemingly endless chaos getting settled in the dining room, and a few other glitches... mostly only minor annoyances. The spectacular stuff we've seen and done has been REALLY spectacular, so it more than balances out. I've now seen a part of the United States as well as a country — Canada — I'd never previously visited, so I'm calling this an experience I deeply value.

And all with the best of friends. It doesn't get much better.
In the Houses of Parliament, everybody's talking about the President
Canadian Dinosaurs!

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