Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Alaska Cruise - 2nd Installment - June 15 thru 25, 2011

June 15, 2011 – around 5am
It's 5am and the sun seems to be fighting to overwhelm the clouds - there are actually some windows of blue sky.

It would be great if today is at least somewhat clear - my expedition, "Whales, Wildlife and Bear Search," leaves at 8:30.  FINGERS CROSSED.

Yesterday continued at its stupor-producing level of relaxation.

Had lunch - came back to the cabin - ordered a large pot of coffee - called for a dvd - turned up the heat and propped open the verandah door (not environmentally sound, I know) and --- well, and nothing!

Fell asleep half way thru dinner.  Watched Country Strong on tv.  Skipped dinner.  My self-imposed Casino ban held.  Going to try the same tonight.  Will be harder because we sail at 4:30 so it will open at 5.  But tomorrow is a sea day and it will be open all day, so keeping my distance tonight would be a good thing.  We'll see

Gotta shower, have bkfst and get ready for bears, whales (orcas, PLEASE!), and more.

June 16, 2011 – around 2am
2am - gonna crawl into bed and curl up in a fetal position.  (Ask JEG why blackberry is all of a sudden 3 hours ahead of local time?  It's been fine until tonight.)

Another night - another bust.

Oh well, tomorrow is an $85,000 bingo jackpot - and I'm still No. 1 to be in the blackjack tournament final.

So there's still hope .....

Great excursion today - anywhere from 15 to 20 humpbacks - all around us.  Plus one little one, judged to be about 3 or 4 months - very energetic and playful.  Lots of sea lions, too.  AND ....................................................................................... one grizzly on the shore, just ambling along. 

Could only see him with binoculars - pretty far away, but still a grizzly.

Not much else to report.  Got back to ship at 12:30, changed, had lunch, played some trivia, wandered around taking some pics, went to cabin, watched some tv, showered, had dinner and went to the casino.  I NEED TO GET OFF THIS SHIP!!!!!!!!!

June 17, 2011 – around 8am
It may sound terrible, but I'm thinking two weeks is too long. I'm starting to get antsy......

Surrounded by the most glorious scenery, with some 600 employees whose only job is to pamper me - and I find myself missing my little house, kitties, friends and bluebirds,

Could I get any more pathetic? 

I think part of the problem is that it's taken so long for my highlight spots --- Homer, tomorrow - then Kodiak and then Sitka,

Then a sea day (also known as a "how long can you make your money last in the casino" day),

Then to Victoria where I'm told Orca are pretty much guaranteed (if I haven't seen then by then) and then to Seattle - at which point I'll probably start romanticizing things and wishing the cruise could have gone on forever.

No wonder I'm addicted to anything that shuts my mind down - I'm borderline psychotic.

We just docked at Anchorage - my excursion isn't until 1:30 so I'll get off and wander around,  Perhaps I can alter my current mind set.

June 18, 2011 – about 10am
Things got better today

Anchorage - new port city for me (all remaining, except Sitka which I loved, are new).

Interesting city.  Biggest in Alaska with 350,000 population.

Back in the day when Anchorage was a rough and tumble town, the “good” folk made a law that for every bar in Anchorage there had to be a church.  The result is that today there are some 22 churches.

A one-hour bus ride through amazing country to Alaska's Wildlife Conservation Center.

Wood Bison, once native to Alaska had been wiped.  The Center got 30 from Canada.  Now have a 400-head herd, planned to be released into the wild by August.

3-month old moose - orphaned - will be released next spring.

The bears sadly cannot be released - all orphaned and once they get any familiarity with humans they are too dangerous.

2 Kodiak Bear cubs (hopefully I'll see them on Kodiak without a wire fence) but these two (14 months) were spectacular - and played and scuffled right in front of us before disappearing somewhere in the 10 square miles they have for themselves.

3 grizzlies - only a quick glance at No. 3, but 2 quite happy near us.  They have about 15 square acres to roam in.

Finally, 2 black bears - one very happy high up in a tree.

All in all, while I would rather have seen everyone totally free in the wild, as orphans they would not have survived.  Center takes injured animals and releases ASAP - but not injured bears.  They will only take bears that can be "certified" as orphans.

Then back on bus to a small (50 foot) boat for an amazing ride to the Portage Glacier .... 50 feet of ice on top of the water, 400 feet under!  We spent about half an hour 300 yards away. Spectacular.

Then bus back to hip.  Must have seen at least 10 golden eagles, dozens of Arctic Terns and a group of about 6 mountain goats.

Dinner and then lying in deck chair on my verandah from 8:30 to 9:30 pm, IN THE SUN (warm sun).

Tomorrow Homer --- Puffin promised, otters pretty sure, seals and sea lions probably, humpbacks no doubt, Orca, can't promise, Beluga, can't promise.

Tom Bodett of NPR, OK, also of Motel 6 (we'll leave the lights on for you), lives in Homer - year-round population: humans about 600, brown bears around 4,000!  My kinda town.............


June 19, 2011 – about 8pm
Other than the fact that it was so cold that even a hot shower didn't thaw me out, it was a good day.

10am off ship into Homer and on to another, albeit much smaller, one.

First to Gull Island - home of anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 migratory birds.  Mostly various gulls (one a Common Muir (or something like that) and another a Black Oystercatcher (again need to confirm name) - need to be able to add both to my life list,  Also many Cormorants (different than the Cormorants I know) and some already-known birds.

AND .... PUFFIN.  Many, many fantastic Puffin.  Have to confirm if Tufted or Horned --- but right now I don't care.  Felt my mother nearby as we sat surrounded by them.  Hopefully, more tomorrow.

Many otters - lots of females with tiny pups on their bellies as they floated along.  Sweet critters.

Then continued on to the island village of Seldovia - $16.50 for a ham sandwich!

Charming place.

Wandered around and spoke with numerous local folk.  House like mine would be between 300,000 and 400,000 depending on proximity to the water.

No whales - perhaps tomorrow.

Tomorrow is Kodiak and I really want bears.

For the first tonight I left the casino with more than I started, helped greatly by a 600 win on a penny slot.

Exhausted - more tomorrow.

June 21, 2011 – around 8am
Blackberry was "out of order" for the past two days - and I'm somewhat out of order myself.  Exhausted, a little sick and a bit terrified to get my on-board bill in three days ........ And tomorrow's a sea day and we all know what that means!

The blackjack tournament was last night.  I held my spot and was in the tournament – not for long, however.  I was the first one to go bust.

When the casino shuts down tomorrow night, it's shut for good.....thank you God.

Woke up at 7 - we docked at Sitka at 8 - the place I wanted to be in most - put up Privacy Please notice on door and went back to bed at 8:15.

Woke at 12:30 - ordered bkfst and told myself I'd be fine if I stayed in my room all day (at least until the casino opened around 7).

Around 1:30 I panicked, threw some clothes on and want down to catch a tender to shore.

Really happy when I got into Sitka - such a sweet, lovely little town.

When I got to the store where I bought the tiles I found out they don't carry them any more!!!  Bummer.

So, I over-compensated in another store - purchase should arrive at work Mon or Tues.

So glad I didn't blow off Sitka - it would have been a big mistake I would have beat myself up about.

One thing will pull me out of the Casino tomorrow (at least for a little while) is Mariner Society Brunch by invitation from Captain Fred Eversen.  (I think it's for everyone who has been on more than one HAL cruise, which I guess is about 80 percent of the 900 passengers.)

That's it for now.........

June 23, 2011 – around 8pm
Victoria, BC - an absolutely glorious city.  Hard to describe.  Part European-city elegant, part Venice, CA, part Boston and, I guess, part unique Victoria.

Glorious day, as well.  Sunny, windy and in the high 60s.

After getting off whale-watching vessel I didn't want to get right onto the bus back to the ship, so I just roamed.

Had delicious famous Canadian french fries with gravy at beyond-charming waterside "park."  Then just walked until I realized I had no idea where the ship was.  Asked a bus driver to point me in the right direction, which she did, adding that it was about 2 miles away.  She ended up giving me a free ride back.

Went through the re-boarding process for the last time.

OK - excursion news.  Extremely wild seas below vast expanses of brilliant blue skies.  Did the trip with the Casino hostess (who else would I have become BFF with?).

After about an hour of being flung around the small boat (about 20 of us) the captain cut the engine and advised "all eyes on the water."

15 minutes later I saw the first blow but the animal was too far away to be able to be deemed "my first Orca."

Shortly thereafter, however, I still couldn't call anything "my first Orca," but I could claim Orca #1, Orca #2 and Orca #3!!!!!

Up and down, up and down - no way to get a pic with my camera (which is worthless for capturing wildlife, except perhaps a very sluggish snail), so I just stood in the bow taking it all in.  Tail slapping and one half-hearted breech.


Now back on ship facing the chore of packing - bags must be outside our staterooms no later than midnight (unless we want to carry them off ourselves).

The excellent catering to passengers continues when it comes to luggage - my bag will be tagged "Seattle Airport Hilton" and will find itself on the bus I'll be taking to the hotel.

Disembarkation begins at 7am, different times for different groups, giving priority to those catching flights.  My time is 9:15 to 9:30 - I should be at the hotel by Noon.  Wish I was going straight to a flight.  Not thrilled this trip has come to an end, but now that it has I just want to be home.

One plus - I'll get to have a great steak dinner at the hotel restaurant (Spencer's) which I missed on the way out due to a much-delayed arrival.

Last night on board and 5 of us who met each day at some point at the 3-card poker table are meeting in the Crow's Nest for farewell drinks.

Now to packing - got to leave something out for tonight, something to sleep in and something to wear tomorrow.  Hmmmmm, wonder if I can make one outfit do for all three?

I think what I'll miss most is the water - the vast expanses of it - being totally surrounded by it as far as the eye can see............and the constant gentle rocking (especially at night).  Except for one evening and night when the rocking was anything but gentle.

Farewell to the ms Amsterdam --- it's been a great home for 14 days.  Now it's back to a home that doesn't go anywhere or do anything ...... Just sits there (but in which you don't need to take an elevator or walk three flights up to dinner........but no one will be doing the cooking, the serving and the cleaning up.  ::::::::::::sigh::::::::::::::

June 24, 2011 – around 5am
Clearly we're not in Alaska any more - it's almost 5am and there's no sign of the sun.  Probably won't be able to bask in the sun at 11pm tonight, either.

Just announced on CNN:  "Tsunami warning cancelled after quake in Alaska.". (Note to self --- find out where quake hit.)

There's still water out there but probably no whales, otters, seals, sea lions, Puffin or Pelagic Cormorants .....

Awful thought -- today is my last work-day vacation day!  I get home around 7pm Saturday, Sunday to sleep, unpack, do laundry, check work emails and, BANG, then it's Monday.  No gentle, slow re-entry.

Well, that did it!  Not even off ship yet and depression is rolling in with the morning fog.

Just got light enough outside for me to see lower-48 land coming into view.

Comfort memory:  knowing there are some 30 Orca trolling for food along a coastline I can see in my mind.

Welcome home, MC.

June 24, 2011 – about 8am
13 days, about 20 showers, wishing during each one that the water could be hotter.  Final shower 10 minutes ago and I discover the cold "tap" needed to be turned two notches down.  Oh well, just had a great, really hot shower.

Just latched onto a plus about almost being home - no more half an hour Blackberry emails that would take 5/10 minutes on my laptop.

Will continue to try to discover additional plusses.

Off to Lido Deck for last bkfst.

June 25, 2011 – around 7am
I'm on board American flight 268 due to leave at 7:35 (I hope I hope I hope).

Note to Holland America:  It would be a good idea to, around day 12 or 13, require passengers to start doing some (simple) things for themselves.  Perhaps emptying their wastepaper baskets or getting their own coffee in the morning.

Last morning --- perhaps carrying "pretend" suitcase (not weighing more than 8 to 10 pounds) 25 feet or so.

By doing this, the absolute trauma of suddenly having to do EVERYTHING by yourself (like peasants) might be somewhat alleviated.

Up at 5am, with no open seas right outside my window (although I am still experiencing rocking motions).  Had to actually dig up some real money to buy coffee ....  Up till now, room key 6125 got me anything I wanted.

When I arrived at Hotel yesterday a group was getting ready to head for the ms Amsterdam, just as I did some 14/15 days ago.  Extremely jealous.

I understand how people get hooked on cruises -life on board is slow, easy and friendly, coupled with a sense of adventure.  A 5-star cocoon going where you want to go.

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