“Welcome to Day 2!” is what I saw out the windows in the gym as the boat entered the Hecate Strait of the Inside Passage on the way through the Queen Charlotte Islands. For you fitness buffs, get there early if you want a treadmill workout as there are only ten of them to go around. Don’t bother with watching the tele during your artificial run as you have a wide view from the bow of the ship. Someone spotted some dolphins briefly tagging along our journey. Bet you don’t get that at your fitness club! There is one trainer supervising the room and also leads specialty classes such as stretching, yoga, abs, cycling, boot camp and Pilates. Each class is $10 and private training sessions go for $85 for an hour. As for me, I just used the machines and Sullivan bells, er… dumb bells, to stay ripped and cut.
After that, it was a breakfast meeting in the Lido. Fresh cut cantaloupe, pineapple and other fruits, cold cuts, warm breads, and omelettes made-to-order got stacked high on my plate along with a couple glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Other juices to choose from included: apple, tomato, guava, cranberry, grapefruit, prune, and V8. Avoid the powdered eggs scrambled at all costs unless you have your batch of condiments. Meats on offer: sausage links and patties, ham, and bacon. You can also choose to dine in your stateroom by filling out the door-hanger list. They have everything that the Lido offers: fresh fruit and yogurt, cold cereals, meats, and assorted jams and anything else you can spread on bread.
Because the first full day on a cruise is a “day at sea,” the on-board entertainment gets into full swing from 9am. They got everything on tap to learn from: cooking demonstrations, how to smart-shop your way at each port of call, computer workshops, storytelling about the Alaskan native cultures, card games, a bean bag toss, artwork collecting and auction, slot tournament, learn to line dance, singles and solos lunch club, and even bocce ball. Even old cronies who like to stay locked up in their cabins have access to the boat’s internal tv channels so if you missed some of the more informative lectures, you can tune in for a delayed broadcast. There’s also a channel just for viewing what the captain sees.
Pick up the shore excursions book to start drooling over the many unique adventures that only Alaska can offer. How about fly fishing ($445), sea kayaking ($103), gold panning ($61), or dog sledding on a glacier ($580)? There are some thirty options, and that’s only in Juneau. Do remember, it pays to watch your weight as plump fatties weighing at least 250 pounds choosing a helicopter ride will get a surcharge of $120 tacked on. The basic city tour by bus will run you about $50-60 per person. And, you cannot say you’ve been to Juneau until you see its most famous glacier, Mendenhall Glacier.
This afternoon was the first of three wine classes on board. We covered five wines of the world and everyone received a tasting sampler to go with a plate of cheeses, fruits, and meats. The countries represented were a mix of established and emerging regions: Burgundy, Marlborough, Mendoza, Tuscany, and California. As you can guess, this was a no-brainer type of introduction. Earthy, creamy chardonnay; grassy sauvignon blanc; plummy malbec; rainbow cherry and earthy sangiovese; and thick black-fruited cabernet. Simple and delicious. One thing I got from the crowd was the unanimous declaration that the quality of a wine was determined by its “legs.” I was somewhat taken aback by such a facetious judgment but I rolled with it. If it’s one thing I have learned over the years, it’s to just throw out suggestions and let the audience determine what qualities they use to judge a wine. Every audience is different and this one was Canadian-heavy.
And that leads to the destruction of the myth that cruising is only for “old fogies.” While it is true that the pensioners still dominate the cruising scene, there is a paradigm shift converging on the cruise industry, and that is the cruising experience is increasingly becoming dominated by the Chinese. Not so much from China but from the likes of Canada and the U.S. This can only be a good thing as we all know… when the Chinese affect new areas, the quality of the status quo also improves. See Italy and pasta. Richmond, B.C. and lunch. The U.S. and the Second Amendment. Overall, on this cruise, there’s a bounty of young, hot bodies and I’ve been spending more time poolside than even I anticipated.
Dinner was another great chapter in fine dining. How about beef carpaccio for starters followed with Gold Rush soup, a crème-based soup of fennel and yellow tomato topped with a dollop of crème fraiche? The entrée was cracked pepper tenderloin with grilled shrimp. The meat was cooked to medium-rare, soft and tender, and dressed with a thick, savory gravy in between two properly seasoned and cooked 16# de-shelled shrimp tails. Dessert was a threesome of strawberry ice cream, coffee ice cream, and peach froyo.
The after-dinner entertainment was mellow with a string duet performing some beautiful classics in one lounge, a Neil Diamond tribute on the piano in another, and ballroom dancing in yet another lounge. There’s also the off-Broadway style of theater going on right now on the big stage as well as the flashing neon and ring-ding-ding of the casino. And, best of all is the 21-35 year olds meetup shortly.
A word about the photo gallery. The ship has a few on-board photographers that take pictures of passengers at every port and also roam the viewing decks and dining areas. They use a Canon 5D Mk II and 24-105mm f/4 lens. Most of the pictures displayed are fairly sharp and properly composed. Take a nice stroll through the photo walls in the gallery to see your fellow passengers. Like your pictures? Take them to the counter and buy them. Do NOT swipe them (there are surveillance cameras) or take a picture of your picture as it’s against policy. What did I say about being that “ugly American”? Here’s the deals: $20 per 8×10 and there’s usually two pictures per set. Retarded expensive. Go for the package deals– $100 for any five activity photos plus digital files; $200 for any five portrait photos plus digital files, $350 for all photos only; or $450 for all photos and digital files. Other additional options include: a private session for black-and-white studio photos (located just behind the gallery), and dvds ($35) of your cruise. My advice: spend the money and go all-in, then at every opportunity, get your photo taken. There are three ports-of-call, two formal nights (each with four portrait photographers and their own settings) and formal dinners, and three days at sea. That’s at least sixteen chances to get some studio-quality photos to remember your trip. A no-brainer and far better than the “My wine blogger went cruising in Alaska and all they got me was this stupid t-shirt” souvenir.
For you shop-oholics, plan to attend the Port Shopping Talk to get coupons and tips on how to maximize your short time in port. Other quick ways to part with your money on-board include Park West’s art auctions, jewelry sales (“40% off U.S. retail prices”) and prolonged visits to the “duty-free” shops, especially the booze section of rare whiskeys. It seems Johnny Walker has every color covered for its labels: red, black, double black, green, blue, gold, platinum, and… it’s not even a color– swing. One “must” purchase to make your cruise more of a learning experience is to buy “The Alaska Cruise Handbook” ($20) by Joe Upton. It is perhaps, the most detailed neutral guide on your cruise itinerary. Something akin to the Alaska Milepost. It’s that detailed and full of history and personal experiences by this former fisherman. Includes a useful large map.
Speaking of these ship shops, did you bring a sturdy set of binoculars? If you are not a photographer with a super zoom, you might want to tote one along, or be victim to the overpriced versions on board or at each port. Boats are required to stay 1/4 mile away from large sealife so if you want a good, upclose view, think about it.
One of the featured wines at dinner was this low-priced gem from the Long Shadows group of winemakers. Nine Hats is the label to cover all the “leftovers” from the flagship wines of the nine men responsible for the Long Shadows lineup of ultra-premium wines.
Tasted at 60-67 degrees on the IR temp gun. Feminine garnet-magenta with aromas/flavors of smoked bacon, ripe plum, red licorice, black dirt, cherry basket, and blackberry. Full-bodied with a long residence on the palate. Delightful.
Alcohol: 14.6% (14.8% on website). Columbia Valley AVA. 7th vintage. 1% cabernet sauvignon. Vineyards: 45% Boushey, 22% Bacchus, 20% Red Mountain AVA and surrounding areas, and 13% Horse Heaven Hills AVA. TA 0.61%. pH 3.68. 1107 cases. Released January, 2013. Power: 3/5. Balance: 3/5. Depth: 3/5. Finesse: 3/5. Rated: 92. Value: $35. Paid: $20. Cruise retail: $74. Music pairing: “Sea Cruise” by Frankie Ford. This is WAwineman… uncorked and cruising Alaska, biotch!