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Cruise to Alaska

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza 

How I Spent My Summer Vacation 

Dear Teacher, 

Like you, I work in education which means I have summers off with full pay and time to travel! 

Every year my traveling companion generously allows me to chose our vacation destination, but after he suffered a severe sunburn in Key West two years ago and he sweated buckets while we toured the Mayan ruins in the jungles of Mexico in 110-degree heat last summer, his one request for this year's vacation was: "Let's go somewhere cold!" 

Kiddingly, he said, "I want to go to Alaska and stay in an igloo!" 

So when I read about a half-fare cruise to Alaska, this sounded ideal. We would be staying on a luxury cruise liner -- not an igloo -- but the temperatures in Alaska were expected to be in the 60's and 70's, which was a lot cooler than the Sahara Desert where I longed to visit. We booked the trip. 

Getting there was NOT half the fun. First we flew to Detroit, Michigan where we made a connection to Seattle, Washington, and finally on to Anchorage, Alaska, where cruise personnel met us at the airport to inform us that (surprise!) we had to endure a 3-hour bus ride to Seward where our ship was docked.

Before stepping on the ship, we had traveled for 19 hours! But, teacher, I used my time wisely. I got to read three Shakespeare plays for the independent research course I was taking, watched the movie, "Heavyweights," ate airline food, and still had to panic with other passengers who were pondering if our numerous plane delays would cause us to miss the ship. (Next time I know to arrive early and enjoy a land stay in Alaska before the cruise). 

Of course, my companion complained that I had spent "too much damn time" with my head in a book. So what else was new? On one of our planes he was thrilled to have the middle seat, sandwiched between me taking notes on Shakespeare, and a twenty something-year-old who was taking notes from a book on how to be a more assertive woman. 

As it turned out, the ship, scheduled to sail at 9 p.m., had delayed taking off, waiting for about 70 of us to arrive from the east coast. We finally stepped on board the ship, exhausted and starving, at 10:30 p.m., Alaska time, 2:30 a.m. New York time. 

Alaska was beautiful, teacher, and the trip was educational, too. In the port of Valdez (pronounced Valdeez) we toured the Alaska Pipeline, and I was surprised to learn that in just 10 more years, there will be no oil left. Then the pipeline, which cost about $9.4 billion dollars to put together, must be completely taken apart and the area "returned to nature," our tour guide told us. As 25% of American's oil comes from the pipeline, I'm wondering what will happen when the well is dry. 

We also visited the port of Skagway, a gold-rush town with a population of 714. Believe it or not, there are no house addresses in Skagway. Our tour guide told us that people say they live "in the blue house across the street from the green church." 

They don't seem to be too concerned about overcrowded schools or budget cuts in Skagway. Four students graduated from the one high school last June -- and the school received a federal grant of $6 million, our tour guide told us. But before you pack your bags, teacher, keep in mind that you'll have to travel two hours if you want to go to a movie theater, pay $4.64 for a gallon of milk, and endure only 6 hours of sunlight in the winter. 

In Juneau, Alaska's capital, our ship docked in the ocean and we took a "tender" to shore. At the dock we saw workers packaging cartons of huge salmon. It was cold and rainy in Juneau, so we kept warm by drinking at the Red Dog Saloon with some of the waiters from our ship. 

The last port we saw was Ketchican, one of the rainiest cities in the world. Our tour came complete with umbrellas, and what they call "window defoggers," but we call paper towels. A sign in the city says, "If you can't see the top of the mountain, it must be raining. If you can see the top of the mountain, it will be raining soon." 

Ketchican is also the Totem Pole Capital of the World, and we visited a native Indian village. I touched a totem pole with an inscription that read, "money will pass through your hands within 24 hours." I figured they meant money would leave my hands, but the next day I won $225 playing Bingo on the ship. 

As we traveled along the ocean, teacher, we sailed along side mountains that looked like they were sending smoke signals, but the mountains were actually stretching through the clouds. We also sailed by giant glaciers and it felt so strange to look through my camcorder's viewfinder and read a July date while I froze taking pictures of huge chunks of blue ice floating all around use. 

I've cruised before, teacher, and this ship was not as luxurious as other cruise ships I've been on. We had to change our cabin because the air conditioning was broken and there was no ventilation in our airtight compartment. In the new cabin, we discovered a butter knife and some cardboard were holding the bed together, the toilet didn't flush properly, and as we were on the Bridge Deck, whenever the ship blew a stack of smoke, the room smelled like something was burning. 

The food was not what I expected. Of course, we didn't starve. There was breakfast, soup time, lunch, tea time, cocktail time, dinner, and the midnight buffet. It was the qualify of the food that was disappointing. For example, I looked forward to dining on lobster tail, but on the one day when lobster was on the menu, our 30-year-old waiter warned us that the lobster was "just slightly older" than he was. I ordered it anyway as did several others at our table, and every one of us sent it back. 

As for the entertainment on board, tired of hearing the Fox Trot, I once shouted at the band: "Don't you guys know how to play The Twist?" The youngest member of the band just laughed. The Fox Trot continued. 

Fortunately, our trip home did not take as long as our arrival. The ship docked in Vancouver, Canada where they put us on a 3 1/2 hour bus ride, this time to Seattle, Washington. At Seattle, we boarded a plane to Pittsburgh. There we caught another plane to LaGuardia. Again, teacher, I used my time wisely. I got to read the cliff notes from all the Shakespeare plays I read on the way over. 

We left Alaska on a day when it was 40-something degrees and arrived in New York the Saturday it was 103 degrees. Summer was back. 

But it was a good thing I went on the cruise when I did, teacher. The next Saturday, as the ship was sailing along the exact route I had just been on, it caught fire. All the passengers and crew had to abandon ship in the middle of the ocean. Maybe you saw it on television. Luckily, no one was hurt. 

And that's how I spent my summer vacation. 

Update: I hope this article suggests that while not every aspect of every vacation is "perfect," the overall experience can still be a good one. 

For more information or to book a trip, 
contact "Commodore" Camille today. 

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey! 

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza