Alaska Cruise 2014 travel blog

Checked in and waiting to board

Enjoying lunch during on board

This is as close as we got to the Space Needle. We'll...

Returning to port for an emergency evacuation


Sunday, August 3

Today we board the Pearl.

As I write this, we’re getting out of our hotel in Seattle. The plan is take a bus from the hotel to the Pier 66 with the other square dancers.

Boarding was surprisingly simple. Even though we arrived with a bus load of square dancers, there was almost no line. We simply dropped off our luggage where the sign said “Checked Luggage”. We were then ushered to the passenger entrance where we went through a typical security check, simpler but similar to boarding an airplane.

Once through security, we entered a large room with a row of registration desks along one side. She verified our information, took security photos, gave us our “Sign and Sail” cards, and assigned us a boarding group. The sign-and-sail card is similar in size to a credit card. They’re used to board and disembark from the ship and can be used as credit cards while on the ship.

I later noticed that whenever we left the ship to go ashore, a security officer would scan our Sign-and-Sail card. Our photo would come up on his screen to verify whose card it is, then he would wave us by. A similar process was followed whenever we boarded that ship. Highly automated and very secure. I’m told that the computer constantly keeps track of who’s on-board and who’s ashore. At least, if the ship leaves without us, it will know for certain that it’s leaving without us. (grin)

The entire security and check-in process took less than 20 minutes. We waited until our boarding group was called then boarded the ship with no problems. We dropped off our carry-on in our cabin then headed for lunch.

To save money, we had reserved an “inside” stateroom, which means it’s neither on the port nor on the starboard side of the ship. It’s in the middle of the ship with no windows. By way of comparison, the better “balcony” stateroom cost about the twice as much as inside stateroom. The much larger “suites” cost about twice that. They all go to the same ports of call. They all have the same food and the same entertainment. We had decided to avoid the fancier staterooms and spend our money elsewhere.

Our room was small, as expected, but had more than enough room to get around. The room is rated for a max of 4 occupants. I can't imagine trying to squeeze four people into that room!

There are a lot of different dining venues on modern cruise ships. The Pearl is no exception. It has eight complementary dining options. There are two main dining rooms, where you order off a menu, plus 5 buffet locations, and one 24-hour dining room. In addition, the Pearl has 7 “specialty” restaurants, which have a cover charge.

Most of the other passengers went directly to one of the buffets. We decided, instead, to eat at the “Summer Palace”, which, as the cruise line advertises: “Inspired by the grand palaces of Russia”

Before we finished eating, they announced over the PA that all rooms on our deck were ready and our luggage had been delivered. After enjoying our lunch, we adjourned to our inside cabin to unpack.

Our luggage was in the room when we returned. We emptied the fridge upon arrival and filled it with water bottles and soda which we had bought in Seattle and brought on board as "checked" luggage.

The two beds had been merged into one when we arrived. We emptied all three suitcases and put them under one of the beds. (Under the other bed was a pull-out bed.) There was plenty of room to store our clothes in the closet and drawers.

At 3:15, all services on the ship came to a halt because it was time for the mandatory “Life Boat” drill, also called a “Muster”.

After the Costa Concordia disaster, all cruise ships are required to hold the muster before the ship leaves port. Another recent change is that passengers are no longer requested to bring their life jackets to their muster station. Apparently, people were tripping over the life jacket straps when climbing or descending the stairs and too many passengers were getting injured.

There are much bigger safety changes on cruise ships since the days of the Titanic.

The Pearl has a maximum capacity of 2,376 guests plus a crew contingent of 1,110, for a total maximum of 3,486 passengers. Surprising to me was the fact that the lifeboat capacity for The Pearl is 5,118, which is significantly higher than the maximum number of passengers. Similarly, there are even more life jackets on board. There’s a total of 8,096 adult life jackets plus 20 infant life jackets.

For comparison, the Titanic had 1,309 guests and 898 crew, for a total of 2,207 passengers. Unlike the Pearl, their 20 lifeboats had a capacity of only 1,778, which is far below the number of passengers onboard. During its design, no one consider the possibility that it would ever sink faster than its passengers could be transported to another ship. They did have plenty of life jackets on board. At 3,550, they had significantly more life jackets than passengers. But, it in the frigid waters of the artic, these were of little use.

Our life boat muster was very simple. When we heard the announcement we walked to our “muster station”. They demonstrated how to put on a life jacket, scanned everyone’s sign-and-sale cards, to ensure we meet the legal requirements for a drill and then dismissed everyone.

Following that necessary but unexciting drill, we went up to the pool deck (Deck 12), found a table with a view of the dock and got some snacks form the sail-away BBQ, which they called “Party Like a Norwegian”. With drink in hand, we were pleasantly surprised when the ship departed the dock precisely on time at 4:00pm.

About an hour later, we noticed that the ship was turning around and, apparently, heading back to the dock. A while later, the captain announced that we had a medical emergency and had to return to shore to evacuate the patient.

We never actually returned to shore. Shortly after arriving in Seattle Bay, a rescue boat made an “intentional collision” with our ship. They opened a hatch on the side of the ship and transferred the patient while the boats engines were still running. Once successful, the ship turned around again and headed for sea.

I concluded the evening by watching a stage show in “The Stardust Theater” on board and going to bed early.

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