Saturday, May 28, 2011

Alaska - Day 11 - The Long Way Home 5/28/2011

We were "all at sea," yesterday, all day. No pictures, no port, no excursions, nothing new, beyond eating, reading, sleeping and people watching. Sorry. [This is included solely for the sake of completeness.]

Today we spent a lot of time waiting in lines in Vancouver, either queuing up to get on the bus to the airport or passing through security checks. I (Chuck) wanted to be sure I did not get the same intense physical search as on the way up, so I took the stabilizing boot off my left foot and put it in my carry-on bag. It worked. Nevertheless, the checks were far more thorough on the return--presumably because another country--Canada--was involved. I was surprised on each end of the trip to find a note in my luggage indicating that my bag had been checked. Claire was spared that indignity.

Vancouver from the Diamond Princess

The highlight of our time in Vancouver was the narrated bus ride through downtown and out to the airport--about 45 minutes. The bus driver-guide was excellent--informative and humorous. At one point, he had an "equipment malfunction" while we slowed down enough [for some of our fellow tourists] to be able to take pictures of buildings and objects left over from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The city is lovely and the weather was fine. We had originally discussed staying over, but decided to do that, perhaps, another time. We were sorry to hear that it is one of the most expensive cities in North America. It has a very large Asian community and it may be that enough of them are wealthy expatriates driving up living and housing prices with their purchasing power. According to Sacha Peter, a financial analyst, "...geography, immigration, culture, historical performance, and interest rates are all contributing to a very high degree of real estate price inflation..."

The route to Sacramento on US Airways took us from Vancouver to Phoenix and from there to Sacramento. There were delays, of course, including a problem with our land shuttle, and we did not arrive home until almost midnight. I guess we should have paid more attention to our travel agent's actions. And, we resented the $25 per bag that we each had to pay for our check-in luggage. But, we arrived home safe and sound and ready to continue plans for a month-long driving trip through parts of the American Southwest in September.

Claire was justifiably proud of actually losing a pound on the cruise! This was due to always taking the stairs, walking for an hour each morning, and eating (almost) exclusively off the spa menu. I actually gained 5 pounds; in my defense, let me say that I was unable to walk as far or as fast, due to my foot injury; further, I was unwilling to sacrifice my principles and change my diet to anything other than what I damned well pleased to eat--this was a cruise, after all! Happily, I have lost the 5 pounds again, thanks to no particular regimen and a robust metabolism.

I must comment upon the excellent service we received in almost every instance. We received no towel animals this trip, but our room was always shipshape and our steward was very friendly and responsive. Early on, Claire was uncomfortable on her side of the mattress; but, she had read in a forum about the mattress toppers; we requested one and it was in place the next time we entered the room. We actually thought they should probably replace the mattresses throughout the ship.

The food was quite good and the variety offered was pleasing. It was possible to get any combination on the menu and substitutions were allowed. For example, I frequently asked for two desserts--a main offering and a side dish. We only ate a full meal at the buffet once; we prefer table service for our meals. Although there were two formal dress nights, there was lax enforcement; so our concern over this was not well-founded. I managed to pass with either a shirt with a collar or my black Smartwool long-sleeved shirt with a sports coat. Smart casual standards were in force the rest of the time--I never figured out what that meant; but, I did wear a pair of slacks rather than my customary jeans for all our dinners. On our last night on board the dessert was Baked Alaska! Delicious.

We made a conscious decision to have no alcohol on this trip; we don't need it and don't really miss it. Just as important: there is an automatic surcharge on each already expensive drink. We know of a couple who went on a 10 day Alaskan Cruise, taking along their own case of wine, and still had a bar bill of $800!

There was a first run movie available each night; but, you had to brave the weather to enjoy them. Free blankets, popcorn and soft drinks are provided. We stood and watched a few minutes of Toy Story 3 one night.

There are several outdoor swimming pools and hot tubs. We were tempted to try the hot tubs--we even ordered bathrobes; but, we ultimately declined to face the brisk weather.

One of our favorite activities was walking around and people-watching. We were a little surprised at the ages of the passengers--we were among the younger and trimmer voyagers! There were few younger couples and almost no children.

The daily newsletter, The Princess Patter, was helpful in orienting us to the current activities--entertainment, dress code, activities and generally helpful information.

The tips are conveniently calculated for you at $11.50 per day per person. You are not forced to pay; but, this is a customary and expected expense. I am sure the staff would be hard-pressed to survive without this benefit.

See ya later...

I'm living in L.A. but my heart's in Vancouver. ~ Nicholas Lea
[Apparently, many actors and musicians either work here, wish they did, or wish they didn't.]