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My First Alaskan Glacier Cruise

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Ruth, a.k.a. Elayne Kongaika, was raised in the orchard town of Orem, Utah. She married a Polynesian and has had amazing travel experiences.

Our ship before departing

Our ship before departing

The Origin of Our Cruise

Nearly a year ago, my husband decided to surprise me for our 45th anniversary by planning a cruise by himself. Not one to keep secrets very well, I coaxed the information out of him, but it still was a surprise for both of us since we had never been on a cruise before.

We had heard that the cruise to Alaska was a very worthwhile one, and as it was nearly summer, my husband figured it would be pretty warm there. We flew to Seattle where my husband's brother picked us up and delivered us right to the wharf where we would set sail.

Seattle from the ship

Seattle from the ship

Slow Flow to Board

We thought we would just jump on the ship and sail off, but with over 3,000 passengers and over 1,000 workers, it took a good two hours of waiting in line. With one large suitcase and one carry-on each, the logistics had to be very accurate. We checked in our large luggage first. Since we were traveling to Canada for part of the cruise, we had to have our passports, and that vetting held us up for quite a while.

There were people from all over the United States and a good number from other countries. We were in line behind an Australian couple. With the extended wait, we had time to get to know each other quite well. There were mostly adults, but I also saw a smattering of youths and a few babies. I was grateful for not having to stand in line with children and keeping them entertained all that time.

Once we finally boarded the ship "Explorer of the Seas," we went through metal detectors and had our carry-ons x-rayed by security similar to boarding an airplane. I was glad they were so careful, and it helped calm some of my angst.

The levels on our ship.

The levels on our ship.

Getting Around the Ship

We were given a pass card, which we were to present several times throughout the trip. It got us on and off, into dining facilities, and was basically like a credit card for anything extra we purchased on the ship. It also had emergency information on it.

Once we got to our room, we were told there was a mandatory emergency drill. I was ready for a nap by then, but this was a good reason to stay awake. They sounded the warning and we all walked as fast as we could to an assigned area. We could not use the elevators and the place we were to meet was designated on our pass card. The drill went pretty fast and we were then allowed to get back to our rooms.

Elevator Issues

Waiting at the elevator was not always a pleasant experience. There were quite a few disabled persons, some in wheelchairs and some on scooters. One time we packed as many as we could into the elevator and it said "overweight" and the doors would not shut. I pushed my husband off and then it was okay. I decided to get off with him so we wouldn't lose each other.

Our Accommodation

There was wifi on board, but you had to pay extra for it. So the only contact we had with the outside world was when we were in port. We left our phones in airplane mode so as not to interfere with any important signals. It was kind of nice to see people talking to one another rather than always looking at their phones.

Comfy and Clean

Our room was very clean and well presented. It was compact but had room for all our belongings. The bed reached almost to the wall on either side, and there was a small loveseat and a desk with drawers and a closet with hangers and space to keep our suitcases. We had a stateroom attendant who was always on hand and very helpful throughout the trip. He also was willing to get us clean towels, clean our room or anything else we needed. There was also a safe in the room where we could keep any valuables.

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Cash or Credit?

You could either have a cash account or use a credit card that everything extra would be immediately charged to. One surprise to us was that gratuities were automatically taken out each day from our credit card for waiters and other ship personnel. For those that drink, there were a couple of packages they could purchase, so they could get alcohol anytime they wanted it. We don't drink so we took advantage of the free cocoa and herbal tea that was offered.

Never a Dull Moment

You could do as much or as little as you wanted on this floating town. Most people spent a lot of time eating at the endless buffets. There were specialty restaurants and fine dining you could also reserve. The buffet was like a fancy cafeteria and the plates were plastic. The fine dining included china and glasses with several utensils. You were asked to dress up to eat in the fine dining areas, whereas the buffet requirements allowed casual dress.

Amenities and Meals

There were several floors with many amenities including a fitness center, spa facilities offering acupuncture, facials and massages, hot tubs, theaters for watching movies or catching a comedian, bands, art gallery, ice skating rink, arcades, a casino, tavern and even a chapel on the very top deck. If you were bored, it was definitely your own fault. They had entertainment highlights which you could join daily.

Each day they delivered a list of all the things scheduled that you could choose to participate in. There were so many activities to choose from including ping pong, swimming, trivia games, bingo, chilling out with a guitar soloist or a pianist who could play and sing to nearly any request that the passengers could think up, karaoke, dancing, ice skating, movies, shopping, lectures, or read a book from the library. My problem was that after eating at the buffet, I was too tired to do much, but after the third day eating three huge meals, we decided to only go twice and by the time the trip was over, just the sight of food made me queasy.


Our Unique Experience

My husband thought it was going to be warm on our cruise since it was nearly June. Wrong! He brought only Aloha shirts since he is from Polynesia. I had warned him that I thought it would still be cold because it was up north, but he didn't listen. On the inside of the boat, the temperature is perfect, but step outside on the deck and with the wind blowing, it could get pretty cold. So when we arrived in Juneau, my husband bought a couple of jackets. I think he planned it that way all the time so he could get something new.

The best way to plan is to wear layers that you can put on or take off as needed. We did go to the hot tub once and wore our bathing suits. Otherwise, it was quite cool. Some people would lay on the deck chairs with a blanket on top of them. A couple even got sunburned braving the elements.

It took two days to get from Seattle up to Juneau. I had some patches for sea sickness that really helped. A few people did get seasick and it wasn't pretty. I also took nausea pills just in case. I used one of them when my patch suddenly disappeared from behind my ear. The rocking wasn't too bad during the trip except for the second night, when I thought I might get rocked off of my bed.

Captain Mal with us

Captain Mal with us

Sawyer Glacier from our Ship

Sawyer Glacier from our Ship

Ice chunks from the Glacier

Ice chunks from the Glacier

Glaciers: My Favorite Part of the Trip

My favorite part of the whole cruise was when we finally got very close to one of the glaciers. We traveled up Tracy Arm Fjord where there has been a lot of ice flow at Sawyer Glacier. Captain Mal took us as close to the glacier as he felt safe. You could see chunks of ice that had fallen off the glacier around us. We rotated in a circle for about 45 minutes so everyone on the ship could get some great pictures of the glacier. Luckily it was a calm day and it was very satisfying. The temperature was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit so it was not too cold to stay on the outside deck. Amazing!

Not our cruise (but similar) on the same ship (Explorer of the Seas)

© 2018 Elayne

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