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A Lass in Alaska

by Susan Purdy  

Ive always felt like royalty.  In fact, I own three faux jeweled, over-the-top tiaras, appropriate for the most regal of affairs.  The only time I get to wear them is during award shows on television when I sit crossed-legged on my bed wearing my most comfortable nightie and watching the stars glitter on the tube.  So you can imagine how excited I was to be taking a vacation to Alaska on a Princess cruise line ship;  I felt as though I would finally be recognized for the blue blood I believe runs through my veins. 
      And, it came true. From the moment I stepped foot on that gorgeous white ship, they treated me like the sovereign of a small but important country;  I had to stop myself from using the royal wave.  I adjusted to the luxury instantly and found cruising to be an excellent way to travel.  Wonderful, behind-the-scenes people (dare I call them my court?) do things for you that you dont even realize have happened.  For example,  I checked my luggage at a New York airport and, magically, it was not only in Vancouver, BC where I boarded the Ocean Princess, but in my cabin when I arrived;  I had only to unpack to let the adventure begin. 
      My cabin had so many clever built-ins that it appeared twice its actual size:  two TVs, a walk-in closet, a sink and toilet separate from the Jacuzzi tub and stall shower and, of course, a King-sized bed.  I was delighted to discover that the double balcony,  where I could sit and watch the Inside Passage go by, lined up directly with the clear glass shower. I would leave the bath door open and while washing my hair could view the scenery; it became a favorite thing to do.  I loved the idea of two formal dress nights. The evening took on a Titanic aspect:  a string quartet played in the center atrium as glamorous people in elegant gowns and tuxedos descended a magnificent art deco staircase.  My royal veins pulsed with joy. 
      I had over packed for the rest of the trip.  Day time was truly casual:  sweatshirts, jeans, sneakers, and wind breakers were all that I needed.  At one of the affordable shops on board, I filled in my wardrobe with a dark blue sweatshirt featuring a salmon and the words, PRINCESS and ALASKA.  Evening meals, apart for the two formal and one semi-formal nights, were casual chic.  A dress, pantsuit, or skirt and sweater set were more than acceptable to all, including the waiters from Italy who were so cute they made Brad Pitt look mediocre.  Generoso Mazzone, the Maitre dHotel, ran the dining room with such a flair that he would have made his compatriot, Roberto Benigni proud.  I couldnt wait to see what he would be up to each night.  Some nights the waiters marched round twirling napkins, other nights it was a song or two for a special occasion--all done in the best of taste, and the greatest of fun.  Award winning Executive Chef Michael Cozzoli created  memorable meals in his spotlessly clean, stainless steel kitchen. For a bit trivia, eighty-five tons of food are consumed per week on board this floating restaurant.  Guests are often invited to tour the kitchen, and I was first on line to see where all this great food was being created. 
      It was there I also met my nemesis, the person totally responsible for the four pounds I later discovered I had gained.  He was Giovanni Ferraris, the pastry chef.  The man drove me insane. Think chocolate.  It was below decks that I met the ships doctor, Doctor Tran.  Not that I was ill, but I wondered what recourse passengers had who became ill in the middle of the ocean.  Dr. Tran took care of the everyday affairs, but when she needed a consultation, one was a click away.  The ship has a tele-medicine link up with the Cleveland Clinic in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  A TV screen with built in camera is directed towards a patient and a zoom lens allows the patient to be viewed  by clinic doctors who then confer with Dr. Tran. 
      I love to socialize but sometimes need a bit of time to myself; I had worried that with approximately 2000 guests on board finding a place of solitude would be impossible.  Not true.  I found many spots to sit and reflect on the history of our largest state, both on deck sitting in comfortable wooden chairs or inside in a quiet lounge area situated by large windows. I learned that Alaska is more than twice the size of Texas, one fifth of the land mass of the continental U.S. and that Alaskas Mt. McKinley, known to locals as Mt. Denali, is the highest point in North America at 20,320 feet. 
    During the land portion of my Princess Alaskan adventure, I met three men from Nepal who had just climbed Mt. McKinley.  It took them 17 days to scale this mountain, and their serious, leathery faces, burned by the elements, cracked into smiles when I congratulated them on their amazing feat.  These brave men were part of the U.S. Armys Northern Warfare Training Center, based at Fort Wainwright. 
      Theres so much to do on board that the days were too short even though the sun never seemed to set.   I attended a series of lectures given by Michael Modzelewski, author of Inside Passage, about the two years he spent living alone in the Alaskan wilderness  (www.pride-net.com/adventures/).  Later, I enjoyed the spa services and relaxed with the ship's slight sway as Laura massaged away any stress I brought with me.  I danced, ate, had the time of my life and enjoyed the most incredible scenery I had ever seen in all my days of travel.  They say after youve seen the world, see Alaska, as everything will pale by comparison.  Its true. 
      Alaska is home to more than half the worlds glaciers; sailing into Glacier Bay is a perfect way to meet these giant ice sculptures.  I found it difficult to fathom the magnitude of these huge cold canyons; vast is too small a word.  I took photos, but had to laugh when I saw the results.  Imagine trying to capture something this awesome in a four by six picture. Not possible.  If I had it to do over, I would take fewer pictures and just allow the beauty to etch an image onto my heart.
      Side trips from the ship are exciting  but they can be expensive so I chose wisely.  The towns are so small that they can be appreciated in an hour and except for a Seahorse Ventures, Clydesdale horse drawn trolley ride in Ketchikan,  I explored the towns on my own.  I stopped in at the Ketchikan Southeast Alaska Discovery Center which is an excellent introduction to the flora and fauna of the area. At Annabelles Keg & Chowder House,  I had the best beer in all of Alaska, Black Bear Porter.
      My stop in Juneau was interesting. First, you cant get to this city by road.  Thats right, there are no roads leading in or out of Juneau; you must arrive by plane or ship.  Secondly, this State capitol had a population of approximately 30,000 people, only three thousand more than my village of Lindenhurst but theres a lot packed into this great town.  One saloon I visited set the tone of bygone years, when gold miners came into town rich with thoughts of gold, parched from the hard work and looking for some fun.  The Red Dog Saloon has been moved a few times but it's still in business and raucous, rowdy and just a bit raunchy. The sing along is great fun, the piano player a real hoot and you get to meet locals as well as travelers from other ships in port.  A huge sign hanging on the wall seems to sum up the place: If our food, drinks and service arent up to your standards -- lower your standards!  To balance the Red Dog, I visited a little jewel of a church.  The St. Nicholas Church, founded in 1893, is Russian Orthodox, even though Juneau did not even exist during the Russian era, which ended in 1867.  It was well worth the climb up a few steep streets, as both the exterior and interior were a delight to discover.
      It was in Juneau that I took a wildlife sightseeing cruise and saw my first whales, humpbacks and huge.  I saw a fine spray on the water coming from one of their blow-holes and then a whale surfaced. My heart jumped.  Two great big creatures put on a show.  They dove, only to reappear quickly and giving everyone on board a thrill.  I spotted a bald eagle in a tree and then realized that he was protecting his mate,  who was sitting on a huge nest.  The way to find these majestic creatures is to look for a white golf ball in the thickness of the green trees; their white head stands out and soon you can see the entire bird.  While Captain Mike Miller navigated the St. Gregory through the waters,  I stood on the bow of the boat where the wind whipped around me and the air smelled so fresh. This is still such a clean, pristine part of our country.  It's wonderful to be able to experience it as it was hundreds of years ago.
      This was just the beginning of my Alaskan adventure:  Skagway, Seward, Talkeetna,  Anchorage, and Fairbanks were still to come. The land portion included accommodations in the Princess Lodges, set deep in wooded glens and outside Denali National Park. During this portion of the trip, I landed on a glacier in a ski plane that used four sleds poked in the snow and covered with black plastic garbage bags as runway markers. I fished for King Salmon in a rowboat with four men for ten hours, traveled on a narrow gauge railroad which followed the path of gold miners through White Pass and deep into the snowy mountains. And I yelled Eureka, when I panned for gold and actually found some sparkling flakes in my pan. Part two will relate the further adventures of this Lass in Alaska.

Part Two >>

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