For many, like me, much of the fun of travel is in the planning. While I frequently travel without having a detailed agenda or making advance reservations, I never travel without planning. It can actually be fun to get lost in a foreign city and challenging to find your way around. It’s never fun to be unprepared for emergencies.
For this particular trip, much of the planning had already been done by others. The square dancers, with whom we were traveling, had already picked the cruise we’d be taking. We would be touring with Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL). The ship would be the Pearl. The departure and return port is Seattle, Washington. And, the cruise dates were to be August 3 – 10. Those decisions took considerable effort but had already been done by our host.
It was important to avoid missing our boarding time. There are often last minute airline delays due to weather or equipment that could delay our flight. The ship will not wait for us! Like most everyone else in our square dance group, we decided to leave home on Friday for the Sunday cruise departure. Picking the hotel was trivial. I just booked at the same hotel where everyone else in our group would be staying.
The airline reservations were equally easy. No one flies non-stop between Providence, Rhode Island, and Seattle, Washington. There’s only one main airport in each of those cities. I hate taking “red-eye” (middle of the night) flights. It came down to only two airlines with a total of only four available flights. I just picked one with good connecting cities and a reasonable price.
Those were the only advance reservations that we would need. Done!
The next part of getting ready is to learn about the geography and culture of the places we would be visiting. To my way of thinking, this is an important step that is ignored by far too many tourists. All tourists, but particularly American tourists, are infamous for not knowing anything about the places that they visit.
For this adventure, studying began by learning about the area I was planning to visit, Alaska, and the unique aspects of the trip, an ocean cruise. As I said, it was actually four years from when I first started planning the trip until we left for Alaska.
One of the most unique aspects of this part of Alaska is the geography. Many people know about the San Andreas Fault that runs through most of California. Not so many know about the Denali Fault which runs through much of Alaska. It has been the cause of many large earthquakes in Alaska. The Denali Fault is caused by the Pacific Plate moving under the North American Plate. The result in this case is hundreds of small islands off the coast of Southeastern Alaska. These form the “Inner Passage” where ships can travel while protected from the open sea. These facts are relatively easy to study using only the Internet because many articles and maps are readily available on-line. I’ll be describing the effects of this geography more in the chapter on Glacier Bay.
Another unique aspect of Alaska is its history. Settled hundreds of years ago by the “Tlingit”, some of their villages still exist. I’m hoping to visit some of these villages, if possible. In the 18th century, Russians settled in the area. Spanish and British also established outposts. In 1857, the United States bought Alaska in what was then called “Seward’s Folly”. One curious side effect of this purchase was caused by converting from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar simultaneous with moving Alaska from west to east of the International Dateline. The result was that the day prior to the acquisition was Friday, October 6, 1967 but the next day was Friday, October 18 (called “Alaska Day”). Two Fridays in a row! No history of southeastern Alaska would be complete without mentioning the Klondike Gold Rush which started in 1896. It resulted in many new cities popping up overnight. I’ll be describing this more in the chapters on Skagway.
The final unique aspect of this adventure is the cruise. I had taken river cruises and overnight ferries before but never an ocean cruise. This would be my first! I purchased an eBook titled “Alaska by Cruise Ship” (Seventh Edition), which is loaded with information about each of the ports of call for my cruise plus many chapters of background information. Perfect reading for this trip. Since it’s an eBook, it was easy to take along on the cruise for reference.
My biggest source of information about ocean cruises was CruiseCritic.com. This site has an on-line forum and claims to be the leading site for cruise reviews and information. I believe it! I couldn’t find anything else that came even close. Before my last visit to Disneyworld in Florida, I had joined DisBoards.com. Both sites serve very specific audiences and are quite similar. Each has both “newbies” and experienced members asking questions and sharing information. If you really want to understand a topic, a forum is a great place to learn. I love one of the acronyms that I found on CruiseCritic: “OAS”. According to the forum, this is a common problem encountered by many passengers on cruise ships. It stands for “Ocean Air Shrinkage”, which is the belief that, when your clothes are exposed to ocean air for a week or more, they shrink by one or two sizes. I think it has something to do with the ship containing multiple, free, all-you-can-eat buffets. (grin)
The final step in planning this adventure was packing. Depending on your past experiences, packing can be either exhilarating or exhausting. For me, packing is part of the excitement of planning for a trip. I’m often preoccupied and can forget to bring virtually anything. For almost any item you can think of, I’ve forgotten to pack it at least once. Back when I left teaching at a college, my friends said, “You used to be an absent-minded professor, now you’re just absent-minded.”
To prevent forgetting to pack something important, I maintain several different packing lists: one for domestic travel, one for international travel, one for RV travel, one for backpacking, etc. Since I’d never been on an ocean cruise before, I didn’t yet have a packing list for it. I created a new list by copying from my existing lists and then editing for this particular style of travel. Packing lists are a major topic of discussion on CruiseCritic. They mentioned several items I would not have included. One is a night light. My reservation was for an “inside cabin” which meant no windows, no source of outdoor light. They recommended bringing a night light, which turned out to be essential. For the unpredictable weather in this part of Alaska, they recommend dressing in layers. They recommend bringing aboard your own bottled water or soda since it’s OK to bring your own but it’s very expensive to buy onboard. One item that I always bring on any trip is a multi-tool, such as a Swiss army knife. It’s on every one of my packing lists. Well no more. For many years, knives have been forbidden in carry-on luggage on planes. I always made sure it was in my checked luggage. Well, on cruise ships, no knives are allowed whatsoever. Instead, I packed a tiny pair of scissors that folds to 2”.
I learned from CruiseCritic, that the most important item to back is “PCA”. No amount of PCA it too much. I agree with them. Things will go wrong on any vacation. Having plenty of PCA helps. PCA stands for “Positive Cruise Attitude”!