Monday, August 25, 2014

Alaska/Canada part 5: the conclusion

Before I begin the final installment of my cruise adventures, here's a picture my dad just sent to me from our Tracy Arm excursion.

On the final full day of our trip, we docked in Victoria, British Columbia.  My dad and A had been there fairly recently, so they elected to stay on the ship while R, G, and I disembarked.  R absolutely LOVES Canada and has been there numerous times, so he was an excellent tour guide.  We didn't have a ton of time in the area, so unfortunately we didn't get to visit Buchart Gardens, but we still had a lovely walk.  I insisted on stopping in a 7-11, because I love visiting convenience stores and drugstores in other countries for cool candy, snacks, magazines, and beauty supplies you can't find stateside.  I only got a Kinder Egg (banned in the US because the toys inside are a choking hazard), though.

We had dinner at a hot dog place and then went to the Empress Hotel, Chinatown (where we walked down Canada's narrowest street, Fan Tan Alley), and the Parliament Building, which is lit up at night. 

We also did a lot of window shopping.  Here are some elaborate candy apples in a window display; my favorite is the beaver.  (Not a euphemism.)

Back on the ship, we had a quick snack in the buffet before returning to our room and packing as much as possible to prepare for an early disembarkation.

When I woke up on Sunday morning and realized we had docked in Seattle, I grabbed my cell phone and squealed, "I have service!  Oh, internet, I've missed you so!"  But I didn't have time to fully enjoy my return to the glorious world of cyberspace, because we had to shower, get dressed, finish last minute packing, and get off the ship.  We went through customs and then took a shuttle to the Sea-Tac airport, where we met up with my dad and A.  We hung out in Starbucks for a while and then said goodbye to them and my brother.  I was grateful to spend so much quality time with them, and to get to know A better, too.

The flight back to LAX was uneventful.  I snapped this picture of Mt. Rainier from the plane window.

And that concludes my Alaska cruise adventures!  Many thanks to my dad for making it all possible, G for coming along, R for his enthusiasm, A for being my brother's champion when my dad was being too hard on him, and the crew of the ms Amsterdam for their professionalism and courtesy.  A frowny face to Minke, the negligent steward, and a big fat boo and hiss to American Airlines for cancelling my dad and A's flights not once but TWICE, leaving them stranded in Philadelphia and not getting them home until a full 28 hours after they were supposed to be.  But other than that, G and me getting colds, and me sharting and having to wash out my underwear in the sink with bath gel, it was an awesome trip.  I felt like the queen of the world!

(And yes, I know that's not the prow.  It's like a metaphor or someshit.)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Alaska part 4: Ketch me if you can

On the morning of August 15th, G was feeling considerably worse from his cold, and Dayquil was barely putting a dent in his symptoms.  Still, when the ship docked in Ketchikan, he gamely disembarked and we went on the Herring Cove bear excursion, which guaranteed that we'd see bears or we'd get an $80 credit per ticket.

...yeah, we got $160 back.

At one point, the guide said, "Over there!  Behind you!" and we all turned around, only to see a bunch of bushes rustling as the bear scurried away.  Don't get me wrong; it was still a pleasant walk through the forest, but I really would have loved to see bears in their natural environment.  Our guide felt terrible about it and said he didn't know why they weren't coming out when the salmon in the streams below were spawning.

After our fruitless bear watching hike, we visited the raptor center, where we saw this snowy owl (not named Hedwig, which was a wasted opportunity if you ask me) and his bald eagle friend:

Then we visited a pen of reindeer, where we were encouraged to feed them lettuce with our mouths!  I couldn't resist the opportunity, because hey, anything for a blog anecdote.

Back in Ketchikan, we walked around Creek Street, where we saw these funny signs:

And this sign as well, though it's not funny (and a bit blurry):

Once we got back on the ship, G and I took a nap.  He still wasn't feeling good when we got up, so I went to dinner at La Fontaine with my dad, A, and R.  I had apple vichyssoise with apple brandy which was INSANELY good (yes, I liked a fruit based dish, alert the media), steak, rice, and a lemon tart with blueberry compote for dessert.  We had a great table next to the window and saw a humpback whale breaching, which was pretty awesome.

After dinner, we went back to my dad and A's stateroom for champagne.  They had a nicer room with a verandah, and much more room to sprawl out, so I happily kicked off my high heels and curled up on the couch with my glass of champagne.  My dad plucked a foil-wrapped chocolate off his pillow and said, "Do you want this?"

"Sure," I said, unwrapping it and popping it in my mouth.  "Man, this is good!"

"Oh yeah, those are great," R said.  "I always get excited when I come back to the room and see those on my pillow."

I narrowed my eyes.  "Wait, what do you mean?  We haven't been getting chocolates!"

And that's how it came out that not only did G and I not get nightly chocolates on our bed, but we ALSO hadn't been getting towel animals!  I said, "Minke [our steward] has been screwing us over!  I shall have to talk to someone about Minke, the negligent steward!"  (Later on, when recounting this conversation to G, he said "That sounds like a children's book.")

(Disclaimer, just in case there's any doubt: no, I did not report Minke.  Yeah, I would have liked towel animals and chocolates on my bed, but it wasn't worth getting anyone in trouble for.  I was much more peeved that they kept giving us really cruddy linens.  One of our pillowcases had a bloodstain on it, fer chrissakes!  But it was a free cruise and overall we were really happy with the service, so I don't want this to come across as me being a diva.  I was mildly annoyed at worst.)

After champagne and scrolling through dozens of pictures on A's iPad, I went back to the room, where G was feeling a little better after spending a few hours in bed alternating between sleep and reading.  We saw Divergent and then headed back to our room for the night.

(to be continued)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Alaska pt. 3: my shart will go on

On the morning of August 14th, G and I were sitting in the breakfast buffet when we heard a shrill voice say "Madison, your brother is eatin' nicer than you are and he's three years younger!"  The woman in question stood up and we were treated to "ALASKA" emblazoned in neon letters across the seat of her sweatpants as she walked up to the omelet station and told the chef "I need another omelet 'cause my DAUGHTER doesn't know how to eat PROPER."  Then she called to her husband/partner "Babe [pronounced "beb"], tell Brooks what a good boy he is compared to his sister who is OLDER and should KNOW BETTER."  Turning back to the omelet chef, who was smiling painfully:  "Is that all the ham you're gonna put in there?"

G whispered, "Jesus Christ, no wonder they effing hate us."

(This was, of course, an exaggeration; although we occasionally saw the "hospitality mask" slip a little when they were especially busy or someone was being rude, nobody we ever dealt with in a professional capacity was ever anything but polite to us.  Though there was a bit of negligence on our steward's part, which I'll get to in a later entry.)

On this day, the ship dropped anchor offshore because the dock in Sitka was too small to accommodate it.  We took small boats called "tenders" (I don't know why either) from the ship to the shore for a guided hike in the Tongass rainforest.  True to its name, it was very rainy, but it sure was green.

To be honest, although the guide was very knowledgeable and the area was pretty, I don't think this excursion was worth the money.  And oh my god, the bathrooms on the trail!  G went into one and came out immediately, saying "I couldn't do it.  I actually dry heaved twice before I managed to get back outside.  Dudes were pissing behind the bathrooms instead!"  So I had to pee pretty badly once we got back into town.

After the hike, G was pretty wiped out...not so much from the walking, which was only a couple of miles, but from his cold.  So he went back on the ship while R and I went to a small pub for lunch.  We ran into my dad and A (who had gone on a different excursion) there, so we stuck together for the remainder of the afternoon.  We visited a small Russian orthodox church, and then we were walking back to the pier when I felt a really nasty rumble in my stomach.

Dear reader, I sharted myself.

I grabbed my oblivious dad's arm and said "I need a bathroom NOW."

"Oh, just a second...A wants to take a picture of---"

"I NEED IT NOW," I gritted out between my teeth, and hurried across the street to a hotel, where I ran into the lobby's bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and frantically pulled down my pants.

(Grossness/TMI alert; proceed at your own risk)

The damage wasn't as bad as it could have been because I was wearing a pantyliner.  Now, the odd thing is that I don't wear pantyliners on a regular basis, but for some reason, I had slapped one into my chonies that morning.  It's like I had some weird ESP that said "Hey, maybe you should wear one in case you shart".  (I mean, it's not the best type of ESP, but it's useful, I guess.)  Fortunately, my jeans were completely spared, though there was a little bit of, uh, splatter (sorry) on the side of my underwear because I hadn't picked the liners with wings, which is a mistake I shall never make again.  I scrubbed at the splatter (sorry again) with some toilet paper, proceeded to evacuate a massive load of devil's oatmeal into the bowl, waited a few minutes to be safe, popped three Imodium from the stash in my purse, waited a few more minutes, and then flushed, washed my hands, and rejoined my worried party outside.

I must add here that I don't think it was food poisoning, because I only had the one pooptacular incident.  I think the culprit was eating way richer food than I usually do.  I do enjoy my snacks and sweets, but my actual meals (weekends excepted) are generally pretty bland:  yogurt for breakfast, PBJ for lunch, and organic pasta with tomato sauce for dinner.  I sure don't eat bacon, eggs, red meat, and/or desserts on a daily basis, so I think my system was like "Holy crap, bitch, enough of this already" and let loose.

Once I got back on the ship, I went to our stateroom, where G was lying in bed reading the latest volume of The Unwritten.  I locked myself in the bathroom and handwashed my underwear and the crotch of my jeans (just in case I missed something) with hand soap, hung them over the clothesline in the tub, and then I emerged and said, "Hey, I did something I haven't done in decades!  Wanna guess what it was?"

"Didja poop yourself?" he asked.  (This is the kind of Vulcan mind meld that develops when you've been together for ten years.)

After a long nap, we had dinner at the buffet and saw a comedic juggler who was excellent.  All in all, it was a good day.

...I mean, besides the sharting.  Obviously.

[to be continued]

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Alaska part 2: go with the floe

You know those people who say "Oh, the good thing about cruise ships is that the boat is so big you can't really feel any movement, so you don't get seasick"?


Don't get me wrong; I didn't get as sick as I did on the Canadian ferry ride I took as a teenager, nor did I ever throw up, but I definitely started feeling it on the second day of our cruise.  I took some Dramamine at brunch, and it kicked in so fast and so hard that I had to return to our room for a nap!

Oh, speaking of brunch: we saw a group of workers in hazmat suits and face masks wiping down a table with bleach while another worker stood to the side and filled out forms on a clipboard.  My dad said that a woman had thrown up, and the barf had barely hit the table before she was ushered out and the workers hurried in to clean!  Thanks to the fallout from Carnival's infamous "poop cruise", they take things like that very seriously.  It still wasn't appetizing or comforting, of course; I whispered to G, "This is how the zombie apocalypse will start."

After sleeping for a while, G and I went to an art history lecture that was surprisingly good, and then we grabbed lunch before seeing The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  The screen/sound system wasn't as big or as good as you'd get in a "real" movie theater, but definitely better than most people have in their homes!  Then we watched a lecture on Alaskan animals and hung out on the deck for about an hour. We had dinner at La Fontaine (steak, rice, and baked Alaska for me) and then hung out with my brother for a little while before bed.

Speaking of my brother: as some of you may already know, he has Asperger's.  And although I'm very ashamed to admit it, sometimes I have a really hard time dealing with him.  G very astutely pointed out that my dad and I spent decades just assuming that R was being rude or stubborn or dense, so by the time he was officially diagnosed about 7 years ago, we had already formed patterns that were very hard to break even after we knew it wasn't his fault.  But I have to give enormous credit to R, because although he did have his moments (mostly repetition based) that drove me up the wall, he did really good on the cruise.  He was very sociable with other people and made an extra effort to mind his manners.  I am so fucking proud of him!

On Tuesday, the ship cruised around Tracy Arm, so we spent the vast majority of the day on the deck or sprawled out in chairs in the enclosed (read: warm!) pool area, watching the scenery go by.  This is a "hanging" glacier; it's the Florida-shaped thing in the middle:

And a photo of a passing ice floe.  Speaking of which, didja get my awesome pun in the title?  DIDJA?!?!?

While we were up on deck, we saw several whales.  We never got much of a glimpse other than a bit of back or their tails, but it was still awesome.  At the risk of sounding like a sap, there's nothing quite like seeing animals in their native habitat.

We had dinner at La Fontaine (prime rib, baked potato, and Yukon sourdough bread pudding with vanilla bean sauce for me) and then caught a comedy show in the Queen's Lounge.  Unfortunately, that's how we learned that Robin Williams had committed suicide that day, because we didn't have internet access (wifi was $55 for 100 minutes; no thanks), so we were kind of isolated from the news for the vast majority of the trip.  So that cast a bit of a pall on the evening.  Godspeed, Mr. Williams; you were one of the greats.

Another bit of unpleasantness, though nowhere near as awful as the news about Robin Williams, was that G came down with a cold that lasted through the rest of the trip.  There were Purell dispensers all over the place, but my constant slathering of it over my extremities unfortunately did nothing but give me super dry hands, and I wound up getting the cold too.  Bleh.

Now, there are a lot of people who go on cruises and either never leave the ship or go into port and look around on their own.  But for those of us who like a little more adventure, they offered optional excursions that ran the gamut from simple nature hikes to kayaking or ziplining.  On the 13th, all five of us opted for an excursion that took us back to Tracy Arm for a closer look.  It was pretty goddamn spectacular.  Yes, the glacier was really that blue!

Here I am serving up some Nanook of the North realness in front of a waterfall, as you do.  Disclaimer:  that's fake fur (doy) and it's a puffy jacket.  It's not exactly flattering, but it's warm so whatever.

We were fortunate enough to witness "calving", which is when a big chunk of ice falls off a glacier.  There's a sound like a gunshot, so you get some warning beforehand.  One piece was enormous; the guide said it was about the size of a house!  We were maybe a quarter of a mile away, but the waves came fast and hard.  There were some seals hanging out on ice floes and they just looked up like "yeah, whatever, you folks freak out if you want" and flopped back down.

Once we got off the boat, my dad, stepmother, and G went back on the cruise ship and R and I explored Juneau for a little bit.  We didn't have much time and it was miserably rainy, so I bought an outrageously expensive combo box of Dayquil/Nyquil ($20!) in a drugstore and then we popped into the library, which was very nice.  I joyfully logged into their free wifi to quickly check my email and get my free booster spin on Candy Crush, and then R and I got back on the ship.  I took a nap and then we all had dinner at Canaletto.  I had veal picatta with lemon pasta, which didn't really do much for me, but everyone else loved their food, so I think I just got the wrong thing.  I also had pistachio gelato, which was fantastic because gelato.

After dinner, R, G, and I went to a show put on by the Indonesian crew members.  According to the emcee, the Amsterdam's crew was about 80% Indonesian, and they shared songs and traditional dances with us.  There was one section where they began chanting and I was like "Um, didn't they do that exact chant in the map scene in The Fall?"  (Confirmed; thanks, YouTube!)  When it was over, we retired to our cabin for a dose of Nyquil and a much needed night's sleep.

[To be continued]

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Alaska part 1: the beginning

Several months ago, I was talking to my dad on the phone and he said that he wanted to treat the family to an Alaskan cruise.  Then he added, "Oh, and please invite G too."

...well, you don't have to ask ME twice!

So after much planning, frantic emails back and forth (let's just say the travel agent earned her commission and then some), and trying to pack 9 days' worth of necessities into one suitcase and one backpack, it was finally time to embark on our great Alaskan adventure!

On August 9th, G and I got up at 4:30AM (ugh) and drove to the Van Nuys flyaway, where we hopped a bus to LAX.  We got there way too early, especially because Delta pushed our flight back by about an hour, but I passed the time mainlining season 4 of The Killing on my Kindle Fire while G fitfully dozed.  Our flight was uneventful, aside from a surprisingly funny safety announcement video, and we landed in Seattle in the late afternoon.  We took a shuttle to our hotel, where we met up with my brother R, and we walked to a nearby restaurant called 13 Coins for dinner.  My dad and stepmother A arrived shortly after we got back, and we kept them company while they ate in the hotel's restaurant.  Then it was off to our respective rooms for an early bedtime.

The next day, we took a shuttle to the pier and went through Holland America's surprisingly efficient screening and boarding process.  This isn't the greatest picture, but you can get a general idea of how frickin' enormous the Amsterdam is:

Our stateroom, though not exactly huge, was larger than I'd expected...certainly bigger than the NYC hotel room I stayed in many years ago!  I stood in the tiny hallway to take this picture; the bathroom is to the left.

After unpacking, G and I walked around the entire ship to get acquainted with our surroundings.  The ship featured a casino, a library, bars, two pools, a theater, an art gallery, a few shops, a cafe, and several restaurants:  the Lido (buffet), a burger/taco bar, La Fontaine (very nice), Canaletto (fancy Italian with a $10 upcharge per person), and the Pinnacle Grill ($29 upcharge).

When we got back to our room, G and I took a nap, and then we got dressed up and met everyone for dinner at the Pinnacle Grill.  I had lobster bisque, filet mignon, and a lemon brulee tart, which were all excellent.  Then we saw a breathtakingly cheesy song and dance revue in the Queen's Lounge.  At one point, they danced around with tiny hang gliders to "I Believe I Can Fly" and G and I were desperately trying (and failing) to hold back hysterical laughter.  Afterwards, we went to the casino and I won $27.50 on a $10 bet and promptly cashed out because hey, every little bit helps and it's always nice to leave ahead!  Then it was back to the room for sleepy time.

(to be continued)