Monday, September 17, 2018

Lounging to Alaska: a Nautical Tale

Dan & I (see: Dan & Simon's Wacky Rally posts) met at the ferry terminal a little before four in the afternoon. It turned out the boat wasn't going to depart until seven, so our first interaction was a debate about what to do until then. We ended up just getting on the boat and figuring it out. [It turns out the boat, which we thought left at 6 PST leaves at 6 Alaska Standard Time, giving us another hour before departure.]

If you didnt guess, Dan will be conntributing in brackets.

As I sit here thinking about how to shape this into a narrative, I keep coming up with "ways I could have done this better." To be clear, I had a delightful time on the boat, but it's hard to make a post out of "I ate and read and looked out the window and played card games" without thinking about how I could have streamlined the process. I'll do my best to give a full account before giving a future traveler advice.

We spent the first night with a light dinner (chowder, probably) [It was indeed clam chowder] and hitting our two drink limit in the dining area. After that, we just wandered around the ship, getting an idea of its public spaces. To wiz wit:

  • TIPPY TOP: Solarium - a half-heated outside area with deckchairs. [Half-heated in that half of it was open to the air and the other half was an enclosed deck with heat lamps.]
  • UPPER DECK: The Dining Room; the Snack Bar (24 hrs); the Upper Viewing Area (enclosed, forward looking area).
  • NOT-SO-UPPER DECK: The Aft Deck (where one could set up a tent - "aft" is nautical for "butt", being at the ass-end of the boat); the "Recliner Lounge" (movie theater); the Lower Viewing Area (like the upper, but lower). This is the floor that had cabins in the 200s. [The Recliner Lounge showed mostly documentaries during the day, and then a few movies at night.]
  • PROBABLY LOWER DECK: The Purser (a nice person at a desk who fixed your problems). Cabins in the 100s.
  • CAR DECK: This is where people would go when the ship-wide announcement said "the car deck is now open for fifteen minutes." It had cars on it.

Our cabin was a little room with metal bunk beds, open closet, and sink opposite the beds, with a toilet and shower stuffed in a little cubby. We had a reasonable view out to port (for you land lubbers, that's straight ahead as you're facing left) that was at eye-level for one dockworker staring down a half-naked Dan. [This requires some context. We left the drapes open for the ocean view normally, but as we got into port when I was sleeping, I woke up and rolled out of bed seeing a port worker outside the window. I don't think either of us was planning to admire my virile chest but there we were.] I think both of us slept well for the three nights we were on the boat - there was one night that had some funny engine noises, but earplugs turned that into white noise.

Day two was spent racing gokarts up and down the hallways. No, wait - it turns out we ate too much, drank our legally allowed maximum, read books, and played cards. [Due to issues in earlier years, the state of Alaska limited people to 2 drinks at lunch and/or dinner.] We had a nice time chatting with the staff (shout out to Christina!) and it turns out that the Tongass Forest is very pretty. Dan and I made idle conversation about living in basically every isolated cabin and logging for a living. OH! We also saw some whales and jellyfish. [One of the whales was a fin whale. The constant scenes of natural beauty were lovely to enjoy, and the cloud and fog allowed us to see them for only short bursts before they vanished again.]

Day three was... the same. We almost watched a movie, but didn't. I annoyed Dan by snorting at and reading aloud passages of Moby Dick. [Moby Dick is possibly one of the dullest classical books of American literature. Do you think there should be a chapter explaining what clam and cod chowder are, whose only actual event is someone mixing the two up? Melville did. If you want to enjoy Moby Dick just watch Star Trek 2 instead.]

A few hours after day three ended came our biggest mistake of the trip: the ferry arrived in Juneau at four in the morning (meaning we had to be awake at around three to get shit packed). [They make you leave the cabin when you get into your port of arrival, normally not a problem if you arrive at a reasonable hour. It is less enjoyable at 4 a.m.]  That whole day was a pain... but a pain I'll have to describe in another post!

Overall, the trip was relaxing and pretty. It was nice to get away from the world for a while (no internet, no cell service) and I'd do it again in an instant. That being said, I have a few ways to improve a future experience:

  • Make sure arrival and departure times are during normal human hours. (It might be a decent idea to go a stop or two too far and take a seaplane to where you want to go). [Technically most of the aquatic planes in SE Alaska are floatplanes since they use pontoons. This is a bit of pedantry of interest to almost nobody.]
  • Buy provisions for the trip. I think they have a microwave for general use and I know they have free hot water. While my snack bars worked okay, I should have brought oatmeal packets / ramen / similar. I also should have brought some booze, as I felt constrained by their drinking hours. A bottle of, say, port would have made a fine addition to our cabin. [I can see why they don't want to allow people to just drink all day, but I agree with Simon that a little drink to go with the nature would have made for some relaxing hours of watching nature.]
  • Go south? I feel like a lot of the good views were looking north of the boat, which could only be seen through windows that were often water covered / foggy.
  • Camp / sleep outside. Having the cabin was great! I don't know if it was $1360/2 great. The boat had showers, lockers, and other public facilities available. [You can either set up a small tent on the lower aft deck or sleep in a sleeping bag in some of the areas. This would run more like $875 for two people. We did see a few people going this way.] 
  • Mentally prepare for no internet better. You'd think I'd learned from the train. Nope.

Alright, that's all I've got. Maybe I'll ask Dan to throw his two cents in. [I'd just say you either need to really like looking at islands, or you should have some good ways to kill time. A few board games and books handled things well, but anyone in need of active hobbies is going to be out of luck. We really spent a lot of time just wandering the boat and saying "well we don't have anything else to do, why not do X."]

I'm also going to give up on picture / paragraph mixing - much too difficult by phone. Here's a bunch:

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