Friday, June 15, 2007

Family Vacation to Alaska - Day 8

Thursday, 31 May, 2007 – Victoria

I was up fairly early this morning but our clocks were set ahead an hour last night. It was about 6:45 am when I got the Fitness Center. There were only 3 of us in the center this morning – I actually recognized both of the other 2 exercisers there this morning. This was a stark contrast to the first 2 days on the ship when all of the treadmills were occupied just after the Fitness center opened. I ran for 30 minutes then went down to shower. We had plans to have breakfast in the dining room today which only served breakfast from 8 – 9:30 am.

We were hoping to catch Krish in the dining room but were seated near the rear windows and Krish was nowhere to be found. The servers were extremely slow for breakfast and after our orders were taken and we waited for about 15 minutes, we finally ASKED for coffee and pastries. The breakfast selection was exactly the same as what was available at the buffet but there was NO freshly squeezed orange juice available. The service wasn’t worth foregoing the buffet, imo. The kids did enjoy a large strawberry Belgian waffle, though.

After breakfast, we went back to the cabin so the kids could change into their swimsuits. They stopped to play chess first with the oversize chess pieces on the Lido deck.

Surprisingly, Rhys knows how to play chess – and quite well. I didn’t realize that he had been playing chess at school and beating his classmates (according to him anyways). Amina was not doing well and soon a fight over the chess pieces broke out and they chose to go swimming instead. I worked on my journal some more and got a little more caught up.

At 11:30, I got the kids out of the pool and took them back down to the cabin to shower and change. While they got cleaned up, I went to the Queen’s Lounge for the Mariners reception. It was only our 2nd HAL cruise – our last one having been quite some time ago. The only reason we were on HAL (not that we have anything against HAL) was because we had used Disney Vacation Club points to book our trip and HAL was the only participating cruise line to Alaska.

The reception included champagne, wine, or mimosas and there were stewards serving small canapés. The Rosario Strings were performing on stage and the piano player had toned it down although their rendition of “My Favorite Things” was still at breakneck speed with the piano pushing the tempo all the way and the violin trying to play catchup. It was a shame that the string trio was not better but I’m a harsh critic of these things playing the violin myself at a semi-professional level.

The cruise director introduced the captain and the hotel manager. For passengers who had cruised for more than 30 days, there were varying levels and colors of pins that those passengers would be receiving. They made presentations and recognized the medallion winners who had cruised for at least 300 days. The passengers who had cruised the longest on this particular cruise had been cruising for over 600 days! Amazing. Although we like HAL, we (and the kids, of course) prefer Disney.

After the reception, I returned to the cabin and we headed to the Lido restaurant for lunch. Papa passed on lunch and we picked up Mimi from the library on the way to the dining room. I tried to eat a “light” lunch today since we had a cooking class scheduled for 2:30 today. The kids went to hang out at the Play Station room while Seth and I checked out the art for auction today. We wanted to do our guest bedroom in Disney colors and decorate with Disney art as well as pictures and memorabilia from our Disney trips. There were several very nice pictures of Mickey, Minnie, and Snow White with the dwarfs but I told Seth not to buy them unless they were under $500 per piece. He also wanted to add another Bellet to our collection and found some very cute Snoopy pictures.

The auction started late and hadn’t even brought the first piece to auction when I had to leave for the cooking class. The class was held in the movie theater which converts to a kitchen. The central movie screen retracts into the ceiling and the curtains are pulled back to reveal a full kitchen. There are a ½ dozen chef hats sitting on the counter when we arrive.

A family of 3 – brother, sister, and her son and another woman joined us. On the menu for today were 3 Food and Wine magazine recipes: corn chowder, asparagus salad with walnuts and goat cheese, and lamb steaks with cumin and honey. Our host was Fabritzio from Italy who was the Chef of the Pinnacle Grill. We were given very nice Food and Wine magazine aprons to wear.

Fabritzio seemed a little disorganized. He had not, apparently, even read through the recipes before the class. He handed out several items to be chopped and peeled.

I was given the coriander seeds to toast. I wasn’t at all familiar with the induction cooktop and the coriander seeds weren’t getting toasted. Fabritizio wasn’t really following the recipe which made it hard for me to know what to do. He seemed a bit impatient to me and preferred to “wing it” which was fine, but it didn’t make for a very organized cooking class. He ended up doing most of the prepping for the lamb which, in the end, he admitted didn’t really matter what we put on them or marinated them with. He had brought along a lamb loin rather than lamb steaks and they would have been awesome just with a little salt and pepper rubbed on them.

He browned the lamb in a skillet after marinating them briefly in a mixture of milk, honey, coriander seed (slightly toasted and slightly smashed), chopped garlic, lemon juice, and salt/pepper. He then put the lamb on a pan in the oven at 475 degrees until he felt that it was medium to well. He did share a method of balloting the meat to “feel” how cooked or undercooked it was.

We sampled the food which was great and these recipes were definitely keepers.

We concluded in just about 1 ¼ hours. After the class, I went to pick up the kids from the Play Station room and we headed down to the art auction which had just finished up as we arrived. Seth had purchased several pieces and we made our appointment to meet with the Park West people at 5 pm. We went back to find our pictures in the photo gallery and didn’t like the ones taken at formal night the night before. There were several others, though, that turned out quite nicely so I purchased the ones we liked. Seth took the kids to the library and I joined them after paying for the pictures.

The kids were playing with Scrabble with Seth and had gotten fruit smoothies from the Explorer Café. I got a mango fruit smoothie which was quite good and joined in on the Scrabble game. We played until 5 (“altered Switzer rules” which meant that the kids could construct words going forwards and backwards) then went to meet with the Park West people. Seth had purchased a picture of Snoopy as the Red Baron and we added on a picture of Snoopy hugging Charlie Brown with a bit red heart. He had gotten a Bellet piece and an additional piece that he liked which I’ve not even yet seen. We got everything framed, of course, but still felt that we had gotten a pretty good deal.

It was time to go back to the cabin to get ready for our dinner at the Pinnacle Grill. The ship was to dock in Victoria tonight but we decided that it was too late to get off the ship and take an excursion so we had moved our Pinnacle Grill reservation from Tuesday. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the seas were SO rought on Tuesday night that our meal at the Grill would have been ruined. We were docked during the dinner so there was no motion at all and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal.

Our waiter handed us our menus then soon came by to show us the cuts of meat available tonight. He wheeled over a dome topped cart and we marveled at the “Silver Cut” beef – the filet mignon, ribeye, and porterhouse. The cuts were HUGE and looked so delicious.

I ordered the duck breast appetizer and the Ribeye, medium rare with a baked potato. We were served the Amuse Bouche which consisted of a small mushroom quiche, salmon tartar, shrimp, and teensy bruschetta.

The duck was outstanding – tender and flavorful. Even Amina and Rhys liked the duck. The ribeye (bone-in) was incredible – both in terms of size and taste. I’ve never seen such a huge piece of meat placed in front of me.

Amina’s cedar planked scampi was also wonderful. I was nearly horrified at the 1/3 piece of meat that I couldn’t finish and had to allow them to take away. What a waste!! I thought briefly of taking a doggy bag and having a midnight snack tonight. LOL.

We ordered dessert and I elected to have the Chocolate volcano cake which was awesome – and I’m not a huge chocolate fan.

Amina had ordered coconut ice cream (not on the menu) and had ordered butter pecan ice cream as her “backup” plan. Unfortunately, neither ice creams were available so the waiter brought a butterscotch substitute with caramel sauce which Amina was perfectly fine with.

Rhys had fallen asleep during our entrée and when he awoke briefly during dessert, declined to have any. I also had a glass of the Riesling dessert wine while Seth tried a glass of Port. Yum.

Rhys woke up enough to ask to go back to the cabin to go to bed. Amina took him back to the cabin in one of her “mommy” modes and promised to make sure he got in his pajamas and in bed. Seth, Papa, and I went across the hall to the movie theater to see Letters from Iwo Jima. I had no idea that the movie was entire in Japanese with subtitles. The theater is not very conducive to watching a movie with subtitles – I had to move around to be able to read all of them. The movie was very good but I found myself dosing during parts of it. It was moving how closely the Japanese soldiers resembled the American soldiers at Iwo Jima – they were all young, naïve, and subject to the same worries and aspirations as the American soldiers.

After the movie, we returned to the cabin to pack our things. Rhys was already in bed. It took about an hour and a half to stuff all of our things back into their respective bags. We placed our things outside our cabin door We got in bed and started watching the cruise DVD being shown on tv but I just couldn’t stay up. We finally called it quits at about midnight. Fortunately, we were in no hurry tomorrow morning having “independent” plans – we requested to debark in the last group – at 9:45 am to allow for plenty of time to have breakfast and for our ride to meet us at the pier.

Family Vacation to Alaska - Day 7

Wednesday, 30 May, 2007 – Ketchikan

Things had settled down quite a bit this morning as we were approaching Ketchikan and the ship no longer rocked back and forth. We woke Rhys up and got him dressed. Mimi and Amina had already eaten breakfast. They had anticipated that this morning would be a problem for room service as our time in port was extremely short and most of us had early excursion times. We had originally planned on ordering early room service but then changed our minds when we found out about the possible wait this morning. They opened the Lido Restaurant breakfast buffet early at 5:30 am to accommodate those with early excursions.

After breakfast, we made our way back to the Queen’s Lounge and received our tour stickers. We were anchored again at this port and would be tendering to town. After a short wait, we headed down to Deck A to board the tender. It was raining and our highs today would be in the 50’s. We then boarded a nice bus and were taken to the Saxman Village which was just a short drive from the port. The tour guide explained how groceries were imported via air or sea. Some women in town had formed a Costco shopping group who put their orders in twice a month and had their items shipped out of Seattle.

Our first stop was to watch a short film about the village.

We then took a short nature trail and walked to one of the largest long houses in Alaska – it was the house of the Beaver clan.

We watched a performance by the Saxman Natives representing many of the different clans: Raven, Eagle, Beaver, Phoenix, etc. They sang some traditional songs, danced, and explained some of their traditions including holding potlatches. At the end, they invited some audience members to put on their traditional regalia and participate in a dance with them.

We headed outside and our tour bus driver explained each of the totems located in front of the house.

We then walked a short distance to the Edwin C Dewitt Carving Center where 2 totem pole carvers were working on their totems. They answered questions and showed us some of the tools that the carvers used.

We then were allowed to shop in the gift shop but were warned at how slow the cash registers were and they weren’t exaggerating. We bought a Saxman village magnet, 2 beautfiful carved candle stick holders, and a set of Alaska placemats. The single cash register was overwhelmed with people trying to make their purchases.

We reboarded the bus and were taken back to town and dropped off near the Lumberjack show. We had a brief scare when we realized that Rhys had left his backpack on the bus but some nice passengers had taken his backpack and returned it to us. We found seats at the show under the shelter which had radiant warmers above which helped take the edge off the chilly weather. We were soon introduced to the 2 “teams” of lumberjacks making up the Spruce Mill team and the Dawson Creek team. Each team consisted of one larger lumberjack and one shorter/smaller lumberjack. They progressed through each of the contests and when one side “won”, a wood chip would be given to the audience. The lumberjacks, chopped, dragged stumps, used chain saws, climbed poles, and had a log rolling contest as we cheered for the Spruce Mill team.

The kids loved cheering on our team and boo-ing the other team. Our team won most of the contests.

After the show, it was almost 11:30 and the last tender back to the ship was at noon. We stopped to use the bathroom and then walked back the 3 or 4 blocks to the ship. One criticism I have about this tour is that there was no transportation provided back to the tender area. If we had had elderly members of our party travelling with us to see the show, I would not have been happy with the walk in the rain back to the pier. When we arrived at the pier, the line was very long and we joined it waiting about 20 minutes to get on a tender. We left the pier at about noon and the line was still quite long to get back to the ship.

We stopped by our cabins to drop things off and then made our way to the dining room for lunch. I had the Alaskan fritters and the hamburger with chipotle sauce.

We had scheduled the premium wine tasting for this afternoon. We sent the kids back to the cabin with Mimi to take a rest and Seth, Papa, and I went to the wine tasting which was considerably smaller than the first one.

There was just one table with about 10 people at this tasting. We tasted 6 items today – a champagne, 2 white, 2 red, and a brown muscat. I liked all of them but don’t really care for the champagne. My favorite was the brown Muscat paired with a small crème brulee. The Rioja red was also excellent paired with a chocolate truffle. I was incredibly tired during the wine tasting and couldn’t wait to get back to the cabin to take a nap. I ran the kids over to the Club at 3 pm and napped until about 5 pm and felt much better.

Tonight was our last Formal night and thankfully the seas were much calmer than the night before.

We got dressed and stopped by to have our portraits taken. I had the Escargot as an appetizer, then the cherry soup which was very good.

For the entrée, I had the Chef’s recommended Osso Buco which was very good but I was absolutely stuffed. They also offered the traditional lobster tail this evening and after the entrees were cleared, they paraded the traditional Baked Alaska around the dining room. We were each served a slice of Baked Alaska for dessert.

I snapped a picture of Krish and Agus after dinner and tipped Krish an extra $20 for his excellent service. I also commented to the head Steward complementing Krish on what a great job he did. Seth and I have been on more than half a dozen cruises and Krish is definitely one of our favorites for being so friendly and efficient.

We stopped by the photo shop and found our pictures – some were quite good but we wanted to wait until our pictures from tonight were processed before purchasing any.

We went to the show this evening entitled “On the Air” which was a song and dance revue through the decades. The performers were quite good but Rhys was extremely tired and quickly fell asleep during the show.

We headed back to the cabin and called it a night. A towel rhino was sitting on Rhys' bed.

I don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow I was so tired.

Family Vacation to Alaska - Day 6

Tuesday, 29 May, 2007 – Sitka

We were scheduled to dock in Sitka at 8 am and our excursion was to leave at 8:30. We would be tendering from the ship today. I did get up quite early again and was at the Fitness Center just before it opened at 6 am. I ran for 30 minutes on the treadmill then went back to the cabin right away to get ready for breakfast. We ate at the Lido Restaurant breakfast buffet again then went to the Queen’s Lounge theater to wait for our tender. I waited in line, showed our tickets, and we were issued colored stickers with a number on it. When our color and number were called, we headed down to deck A and onto the tender.

It was raining, of course, and the highs were to be in the low 50’s today. We were scheduled for the Tongass Rain Forest Nature Hike. We got to the pier and stopped to take a few pictures. We were directed across the street and met our tour guide, Bob, who handed out chocolate bars to each of us (locally made) and instantly befriended Amina and Rhys – quite easy to do with chocolates in hand. LOL.

We were also given homemade shoulder bags with a water bottle inside too. These were both very nice touches.

We boarded a van and drove out to the national park as Bob narrated some interesting info about Sitka including pointing out the only 2 stop lights in town primarily for the high school students to learn to recognize when learning to drive.

We saw some eagles along the way and a lonely swan in the estuary who some thought was waiting for its mate who had died. All of the other swans had already migrated away.

We reached the Starrigavan Recreation Area and took the 1.5 mile Mosquito Cove trail which involved quite a few steps but was a relatively easy hike.

Bob put the kids in front as his “Bear Spotters” which moved the hike along at a good clip. He had to reign the kids in from time to time to keep them from getting too far ahead of the group. There were probably 15 people in our group.

We stopped to examine the 2 different kinds of slugs in the area – the banana slug which was huge and native to the area and the black slug which was imported with some building wood. Apparently, the black slugs were proliferating and killing off the banana slugs so Bob gave each of us permission to squash as many black slugs as we liked although he warned that if we did, we’d be taking them home with us because of how slimy they are.

We learned about nurse trees and saw how some of the fallen, rotting trees were homes to new growth and baby trees. We reached Mosquito Cove

and Bob’s student took the kids out to the water’s dge to hunt for crabs.

They lifted various rocks and found the teensy crabs under them and the kids loved turning over the rocks and finding them.

We then headed back to the trail head, stopped to use the bathrooms, then made our way over to the next hike: the Estuary Life trail and the Forest and Muskeg trails. We stopped at the bird lookout over the Estuary but didn’t see many birds. We hiked in the rain through the forest into the Muskeg and it was very obvious when the forest gave way to the Muskeg made up of much smaller trees and lots of water bogs. This part of the hike was shorter – about a mile.

We finished up our hike and got back on the van to return to the pier and took the tender back to the ship to dry off and have some lunch. We stopped off before getting on the tender to see the eagles perched on top of the docked boats.

I threw our jackets into the dryer and we ate lunch at the Lido Restaurant buffet. We were finishing up and bumped into Mimi and Papa who were back from their excursion to the Raptor center and to see the Russian dancers. They enjoyed their excursion. We left them eating lunch and returned to our cabin to collect our things as we wanted to do some shopping in this port.

Seth found a nice t-shirt and Alaskan Brewing Co. cap and I picked an Alaskan Ulu set with chopping bowl and Bear Claws (salad tongs) for Rene. Rhys spent his money on an Alaskan husky mechanical toy. We returned to the ship which was scheduled to leave Sitka at 5 pm. I called American Airline baggage service again after receiving a voicemail inquiring about our luggage. The voice was very snotty sounding asking us to call to confirm whether we had received our bag OR NOT. When I got a hold of an agent who informed us that our case was “closed” again that morning after someone had spoken with us to confirm that we had received our bag the day before, I blew my top. The woman was so flustered that she hung up on me. I angrily called them back and went through the whole story again giving them the itinerary for the rest of the week. I asked for the zillionth time if our bag had even been located never mind trying to get it to us here in Alaska. The woman had “no more information” which was the catch phrase anytime we had called.

At this point, it dawned on me why there might be the discrepancy with our case being open or closed. I called Uncle Tony to find out about our bag and it turns out that our missing bag had been delivered to his house THREE days ago! The airlines had no clue that it was delivered and apparently Uncle Tony had called and left me a voicemail but for whatever reason, I didn’t get it. The mystery was solved and I’m still not impressed with how American Airlines handled this situation having NO RECORD that our bag was located much less already delivered.

We got ready for dinner and headed to the dining room at 5:45 pm instead of our usual 5:30. Tonight, the upper and lower levels were open at the same time because of the special dinner and crew show - it was the Master Chef's Dinner.

Unfortunately, the ship was already rocking wildly and Amina was looking green. I returned to the cabin to get some Bonine and gave one to Rhys, Seth, and ½ to Rhys and for myself. Both kids started feeling sick quickly and didn’t have a chance to even eat their appetizers before I took them back to the cabin. When I returned to the dining room, Seth left for the cabin as well taking some green apples, crackers, and ginger ale for the kids – feeling nauseous and sick. This was the most rocking we had ever experienced on a cruise. Even a steward dropped a tray of wine glasses with a loud crash, passengers were leaving the dining room in droves, and we could frequently hear a large “BOOM” as the ship teetered and tottered in the water and was, what I assumed to be, slammed by a wave. We heard later that the wind exceeded 50 mph and the waves were topping 20 feet.

Mimi, Papa, and I stayed through dessert and watched the crew/chefs show off their foods.

I had the Golden Baked Brie in Phyllo dough and Duck Breast a l’Orange. For dessert, we were given special chef’s hat shaped white chocolate boats with chocolate mousse and a brownie inside.

By this time, I was starting to feel nauseous too.

I returned back to the cabin and found Rhys sitting on the floor in the bathroom hugging the toilet. He had not thrown up but was very nauseous. I gave him some green apple which really did seem to help. I sent Amina back to Mimi and Papa’s room where she climbed immediately into bed and went back to help Rhys get his pajamas on. Just bending over and picking up clothes off the floor sent waves of nausea through me so I got Rhys in bed, changed quickly, and also climbed into bed. I kep the TV on to have something to focus on, drifting in and out of sleep getting nauseous each time I woke up. Finally, by about 11:30 pm, I turned the tv off and fell asleep. I had set the alarm early because we had a very early excursion and were to meet at 7 am.