Thursday, July 15, 2010

"This was one of the places people told me to go, it was one of the big trips you should see: Alaska." - Jeff Goldblum

I'm embarrassed to say it has been a week and a half since I last posted, but for a week of that time I was on a ship sailing through the Inside Passage on the way to and from Alaska and British Columbia, so cut me some slack.  :]

Two Saturdays ago (July 3): I headed to DFW International Airport with my dad, stepmom, and brother to catch our bright and early flight to Seattle.  After nearly a week of worrying and stressing about what I needed to pack and if it would fit in my one suitcase and one carry-on duffel bag, I was happy to be be on my way.  If you have never had the pleasure of being around me when I have had to pack for something, you have been spared from a very unpleasant experience.  I hate packing.  I absolutely despise it.  It doesn't matter if I am packing for an overnight stay or, in this case. a nine-day vacation to a cold climate, I always have trouble and get extremely frustrated.  Being as non-decisive as humanly possible has always been a problem when I have to decide what I want to bring and I almost always require the help of some generous-soul to direct me.  I can't even count the number of times my dear friend Whitney has sat in my room and literally told me whether or not to put it in my suitcase as I hold up all of my possible outfits.  How amazing is she?  Seriously.  God only knows why I felt like I need to bring 15 shirts for a nine-day trip.  I am not exaggerating.  That's how many t-shirts ended up making the journey with me.  Don't forget about the sweatshirts, rain jacket, regular jacket, formal-wear for every evening, and all the other necessary items that had to come with me.  I don't know how it all fit into my regular-sized rolling suitcase.  It must have been a miracle.  Needless to say, after all of this pre-vacation stress, I was more than ready to go.
After we boarded the flight and sunk into our seats, breakfast was served and then I promptly passed out and slept the entire way to Seattle.  I was woken up about half an hour before landing by the pilot over the loudspeaker telling us to look out the windows on the left side of the plane.  The snowy peak of Mt. Rainier was coming through the clouds and was incredibly visible from the plane.  It was so beautiful!
After landing, we loaded ourselves up into a shuttle and headed downtown to the Marriott Renaissance hotel we were staying at.  After checking in and getting somewhat settled, we caught a cab and set off to make the most of our short time in Seattle.  Our first stop was the Space Needle in the Seattle Center area.  We bought our tickets, waited on line for about half an hour, and then made our way to the observation deck.  The view of Seattle from 605 feet high was incredible!  It was a beautiful, breezy day and the sky was so clear, which allowed for a fantastic view of all of downtown, the harbor, and out into the ocean.  I'm glad we visited the Space Needle.  It is definitely one of the major sites to see in Seattle.  When we were back on the ground, we headed next door to the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum.  This museum is kind of known as a mini rock and roll hall of fame and is, apparently, very popular with visitors.  The museum didn't take us long to get through, but we thoroughly enjoyed the Jimi Hendrix and The Supremes exhibits, as well as the permanent displays.  The Science Fiction Museum section was full of props and information about the entire Science Fiction culture, including costumes and robots used in famous movies, such as Star Wars and E.T.  Then we hopped in a cab and made our way down to the famous Pike Street Market.  This fish market is known for its amazing variety and volume of locally made treasures, such as jewelry, artwork, and foods.  Trust me when I say that pumpkin jelly is to die for.  The market had some of the biggest fish I had ever seen in my life.  Talk about King crab legs!  It also had the most beautiful fresh flowers I think I have ever seen.  I couldn't believe that huge bouquets of these fantastic flowers were only $10!  I have never bought flowers for anyone, but I hear that they can be quite expensive.  I really wanted to buy some, but we were getting on the cruise ship the next day and wouldn't have been able to keep them.  The market was so crowded that it was almost impossible to stop and look at anything because of the constant flow of people.  Another place that was crowded was a Starbucks right across the street from the market.  I didn't understand why the line was out the door and down the block.  I consider myself to be a Starbucks enthusiast, but I would not have the patience to wait that long for a white chocolate mocha.  It wasn't until I saw a little sign in the front of the store that I understood.  It was the original Starbucks!  I was probably more excited about this than I should have been.  Once I had recovered, we walked down to the water and found a little seafood restaurant to eat at.  We decided to walk back to our hotel after dinner, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  The hotel wasn't very far from where were were, but who knew that Seattle had the biggest hills known to man?  If you've ever been to San Francisco, the Seattle hills are just as massive and steep.  It was uphill the entire way to the hotel!  I am not kidding when I say that we did not see another person walking up the hill.  The only people we passed were walking down.  I know they were jealous of the amazing workout we were getting.

Sunday: We woke up, packed up, and headed down to Pier 91 to board our ship.  Since we got to the port around noon and the ship didn't leave until 4pm, we breezed through security without any trouble or delays.  After just a few minutes of waiting, we boarded our ship, the Sapphire Princess.  Once we had found our cabins and unpacked, it was time for lunch.  The Aisenberg family never misses a meal if they can help it, and a cruise is the perfect place to make sure that doesn't happen.  There is a never ending supply of food on cruise ships.  Whether it be in the dining room, specialty restaurants, 24-hour buffets, or room service, there is a place to make sure that passengers never go hungry.  It's a little disgusting if you think about it for too long.  We then explored the massive ship and found all of its nooks and crannies, such as the clubs, bars, spa, and pool areas, just to name a few.  There was a mandatory emergency drill and then it was time for dinner where we met our waiter for the week, Alfred.  Alfred was from the Philippines and had been working with the Princess cruise line for nearly 25 years!  Can you imagine being away from your family for that long?  Alfred has a 10-month contract, which basically means that he gets two months off every year to go home and see his family.  He spends the rest of the year on the ship.  I really enjoy seeing where all of the staff are from and hearing about their lives.  I find it incredibly interesting.  It seemed like the shortest contracts lasted six months and the longest lasted ten.  It also seemed like a large majority of the staff were from the Philippines.  There were a lot from Australia, Canada, and the U.K., as well.  After dinner, we went to see a comedian that was performing on the ship and then, thoroughly exhausted, went to bed.

Monday: This day we were at sea all day.  Despite my dad's urges to take advantage of the day and sleep in, he must have decided 9am was late enough and woke me up.  After a quick breakfast, my stepmom and I went to the spa for some pampering.  I chose to get a lime and ginger body scrub and mini massage.  It was 50 minutes of pure bliss!  The scrub left my skin feeling so soft and healthy and the entire session was so relaxing and wonderful.  What a perfect way to start my vacation!  Usually, we wouldn't have gone to the spa at all, mostly because of their ridiculously high prices (a pedicure, for example, was between $50 and $60), but my dad urged us to go and enjoy ourselves.  We spent the day hanging out and relaxing.  I even took an afternoon nap laying out, wearing my yoga pants and sweatshirt, on the deck.  That night was a formal evening, meaning that the dress code for the dining room was much dressier than the other nights.  I was surprised to see some people wearing gowns and tuxedos!  After dinner we went to a musical production put on by the ship called "Piano Man."

Tuesday: Tuesday was spent in the town of Ketchikan, Alaska.  We got off the ship around 10:30am and boarded a bus that would take us to our shore excursion site about half an hour away.  The tour guide pointed out the local sites and told us some interesting facts about the town.  We arrived at our excursion site in the middle of an old logging field.  We were going off-roading/sightseeing through the Alaska rainforest!  We went through a safety debriefing and then got suited up in these heavy, obnoxiously-colored rubber suits to protect us from dirt, mud, and the giant mosquitos that Alaska is infamous for.  My brother and I shared an ATV and took turns driving.  He drove first while I snapped some pictures of the beautiful scenery.  The group stopped along the way to learn about the area we were in, take pictures, and ask questions.  Then it was my turn to drive.  I was really nervous and almost chickened out.  Driving the ATV seemed really difficult to me and I was scared to have to go so fast in what seemed like such an unstable and uncontrollable environment.  My dad convinced me to try driving, so I did.  I loved it!  It was so much fun and believe or not, I drove at full speed and was more than able to keep up with the group.  I absolutely loved it and even took a few risks here and there!  Once we were back at the debriefing site we realized how dusty we were, despite wearing the suits, and gathered up our things and boarded the bus to go back to town.  We walked around downtown Ketchikan for a little while and then headed back to the ship.  I had a great day, but I was disappointed about one thing.  Alaska, especially Ketchikan, is known for its rich Native American heritage and, therefore, it's totem poles.  I wanted to see one so bad!  I had some sort of odd obsession with them and I could not believe that we didn't see any.  There was not one totem pole to be found!  I was so disappointed.  That night we showered and dressed for dinner and then enjoyed another show on the ship.
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Wednesday: The next morning I woke up, walked out onto my balcony, and was shocked to see huge, snowy mountains and icebergs right outside!  After not being able to see any land from the ship the night before, it was stunning to see such massive mountains so close by.  Let me tell you, it was absolutely beautiful!  We were sailing through the Tracey Arm Fjord on the way to Juneau, where we would dock that afternoon.  We sat on my parent's balcony and ate breakfast while we enjoyed the amazing scenery around us.  We sailed past a glacier and were able to see several glacial melt waterfalls scattered throughout the mountains.  The water was crystal blue and filled with thousands of icebergs.  I can't even begin to explain the sight.  It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever witnessed.
Later, we docked in Juneau, which is the capital of Alaska, and boarded a bus to get to our first stop of the day: the famous Mendenhall Glacier!  The glacier was so incredibly massive!  There was also an enormous glacial melt waterfall that we hiked to.  I am not the biggest nature-lover in the world, but I have to admit how amazing of a sight it is.  I am so glad I got to see it!  After we left the glacier we headed to a small pier to go whale watching.  I was super excited about this!  We set out on the two-level catamaran and enjoyed the view of the water and the mountains.  Our tour guide was very entertaining and incredibly knowledgeable of the area and its history.  She told us stories and information about the little islands that were scattered throughout the bay.  We were able to see a pair of Bald eagles, a group of Stellar sea lions and several Humpback whales!  I was excited to see the Humpbacks because they were living, breathing whales, but to be honest, they weren't very active and were a little bit boring to watch.  The real treat of the day was when we got the rare chance to see a pod of Orca whales!  It wasn't just a few of them, either.  There were probably at least eight whales in total!  It was amazing!  The tour guide told us that it was very rare to see Orcas in that area because they are usually just passing through, so we were very lucky!  I have always loved Orcas and think they are absolutely beautiful!  There were even a few babies in the pod!  Did you know that the proper name for these whales is a Killer whale?  Orca is their scientific name, so calling them that is like calling a human a homo sapien.  I had no idea, but I don't like calling them Killer whales because it sounds so mean, so I am going to keep calling them Orcas.  In addition to this lucky sighting, it was an absolutely gorgeous day.  Throughout the entire cruise, everyone kept saying how lucky we were to have such beautiful weather.  Apparently it is foggy and rains most of the time in the places we were going to, but it was always sunny and beautiful!  Who would have thought that it would be 65 degrees and sunny while visiting a glacier?
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Thursday:  Thursday was spent in Skagway, British Columbia, and Yukon territory.  We got off the ship very early in the morning and boarded a train that went from Skagway to a tiny town called Fraser right past the border of British Columbia.  While the train ride was beautiful, it was a little bit boring and I was ready for the next thing activity.  We got off the train in Fraser and then got on a bus to make our way back to Skagway.  I know that sounds like a completely pointless trip, but we stopped in various places on the way back, so it was interesting.  We stopped in the itty bitty tourist town of Carcross and were able to walk around a little bit.  The highlight of the stop was being able to play with sled dog puppies!  We left the town and made our way back across the border to Skagway.  On the way we saw a mama bear looking for food for her cubs right next to the road!

Friday: This day was spent at sea.  It was a pretty low-key day consisting of reading on the deck and partaking in some of the ship's activities.  My stepmom, dad, and I took a very special "behind the scenes" tour of the ship.  The tour wasn't advertised, but my dad and stepmom had done their research prior to the cruise and knew about it.  Only 12 people were allowed on the one-time-only tour and luckily, we got it!  The tour took us through crew-only areas such as the massive kitchen, the technical room, the dressing rooms of the entertainers, the mooring room, and ended on the bridge where the captain and crew control the ship from.  The tour went to several other exclusive places that passengers never get to see and I really enjoyed it.  Unfortunately, it was rainy and windy that day, which made the ship pretty rocky.  I have been on two cruises prior to this one and both times I had extreme sea-sickness.  I had been very lucky and had felt fine for the entire cruise.  Unfortunately, I felt a little queasy this day, but it wasn't anything a nap and a Sprite couldn't solve.  That night was the second formal night, so we all got dressed up and enjoyed a very nice dinner.  After dinner most nights we explored the several clubs and lounges on the ship, which all had live music, and went to a show.

Saturday:  Most of the day was spent at sea because we didn't get into our port in Victoria, British Columbia until about 7pm.  I slept in that morning and hung out around the ship for most of the day.  The big theatre on the ship where all of the productions were done also served as a movie theatre and was playing Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" that afternoon, so my stepmom and I took advantage of it.  We ate dinner at an earlier seating that night and then got off the ship and met the tour guide for our waterfront walking tour through the city.
The city of Victoria is beautiful and reminded me a little bit of Boston.  Although I have never been there, I picture London being somewhat similar to Victoria in terms of atmosphere and architecture.  I enjoyed hearing bits and pieces of all of the alleged ghost stories surrounding various buildings.  It seemed like the entire city was supposedly haunted!  We walked around, but we didn't have that long because we had to be back on the ship by 11pm.  The best part of Victoria was that I finally saw and got a picture of a totem pole!  I don't know why I saw them in Canada and not Alaska, but I didn't care!  I was just happy to see one.
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Sunday: Early Sunday morning we had breakfast, finished packing, and got off the ship for the last time back in Seattle.  We then jumped in a cab and headed right to the airport.  We were scheduled for a 1:45 flight to Dallas, but we were able to get on an earlier flight and got home much earlier than we originally would have.

All in all, it was an amazing trip!  I have to admit that I had my doubts going into it, but I am very happy that I got to experience this!  I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for an interesting and slightly unique vacation.  Check out my vacation pictures on Facebook or on here if you haven't already!

Since I got home, I started my two Summer classes, which has been quite an ordeal and will most like warrant its own post sometime in the near future.  I have also seen some friends and have just been relaxing.

I realize this post is ridiculously long.  I apologize!  I just have some other post ideas in the works and I wanted to get this out of the way before I tackle those.

More to come,
Sara

1 comment:

rockerest said...

Erm, pardon me, but:
"This fish market is known for its amazing variety and volume of locally made treasures, such as jewelry, artwork, and foods."
...The Pike Place Fish Market is world-renowned for the fish-mongers who throw the fish around. Like, if you order one fish at one side, they'll yell across and the other guys will throw these HUGE fish all the way across the market and your guy will catch it (a tricky feat). Pfff, that's what it's famous for!

Also, Killer Whales are some of the most violent whales, since they're the ones who eat seals on a regular basis and all that. That's why they're killer whales :)

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