Monday, July 31, 2017

The Boat to Alaska's Inside Passage

     Last winter I booked a berth on a boat sailing from Seattle to Alaska's Inside Passage. My preference in boats is something small, a canoe, kayak, or a vintage boat like this one on Union Bay north of Seattle  . . . 

     A sailboat would be nice too if someone could guarantee the weather would be pleasant for a week in Alaska. Plenty of sailboats to choose from in Seattle's Elliot Bay.

But this time, I boarded a big boat with some trepidation.

     The last time I was on a cruise boat was forty years ago. Never had a desire to board another one since then. Why? Because forty years ago when I finally arrived to Bermuda after almost three days at sea, I told myself I would rather fly to Bermuda and enjoy the island. Why waste almost three days looking at an endless sea and then finally get to an interesting place for a short one-day visit?
     Plus I hate crowds and all their luggage. Can you image what it takes to get all that luggage to the right room?

     I hate long waiting lines, too. But surprise, surprise, I boarded this boat with about 3,100 other passengers in less time (includes customs, identification tags, security bays and trays to remove personal items, etc.) than it takes to board 300 folks on a jet at an international airport.

      I did an exploratory walk (including many stairways) when I first got onboard. The Emerald Princess is almost 1,000 feet long. That's more than three football fields long.

     There's 12 "floors" plus three levels of roof attractions such as this outdoors screen (photo below). One day they played Matt Damon's movie "The Great Wall" who plays a horseback archer (great movie for a big screen). They also played Annie Lennox's recent concert in L.A. and a Sting concert (fantastic speaker systems). I could have floated in the heated pool while watching, but I didn't -- the air was too cold and too many kids.

     On the roof, it feels like I'm on top of a skyscraper. Despite its height, the boat only draws 26 feet. Seems a bit top-heavy eh?

     For answers to people like me who have a lot of questions about this monster boat, there was a presentation from the Second Officer in Command. I learned a lot about the engines, the thrusters, the stabilizers, and the many different navigation aids used for various tasks. It was an excellent slide-show and talk in a room with top-quality AV equipment. I took this photo below of all the equipment in the ceiling in the Explorers Lounge.

The boat's ductwork and inners are aesthetically hidden too.

     Every evening passengers got a newsletter about the next day's activities. There were many choices and never a huge crowd anywhere. I went to the Chef's Presentation which was held in the main theater; all high-end stuff (lighting, sound, stage design, comfy seats, etc.)

     The Chef's demonstration (Micheal Tocchetto, born and trained in France) was funny and light-hearted. He recommended using parchment paper soaked in a bit of olive oil when frying breaded meats in a sauté pan that isn't nonstick. Two screens (see them below?) showed what he was doing stove-top. Plus two more giant screens along the walls. 

    Following their demonstration, all the chefs came on stage and got a big hand from us.

Then we all got a tour of the kitchen which is HUGE.

     Eating their wonderful food was about one-third of my enjoyment on this boat. Chef below is filling pastrami funnels with cheese. 

They had many pretty bite-size food items, painstakingly made (in my opinion).

Great presentation! How could I resist?

     The food was way over the top enjoyable. I ate as much fish as possible. You name it, they had it.

     By the fourth night I was suffering from indigestion and heartburn because I was stuffing myself silly all day. There were foods there that I know I'll never see or eat again; it would have been heartbreaking to not sample everything.

     And one evening in the main theater, for seven passengers who had been practicing several days, there was a special "The Voice of the Ocean".

  There were three fancy chairs for the "mentors/judges" and we guests got pads to place our votes. I've never watched this show on television, it's not my kind of entertainment, but with a live 7-piece orchestra (lower right corner of photo below), live singers and a live audience, I enjoyed it.

     The entertainment wasn't always in the theater. In the atrium, there was a fiddler and guitarist, and sometimes a piano player. I asked the pianist to play "Clair de Lune" and he did!

     One of my most favorite music, jazz. These musicians (photo below) were good. All these musicians and 1,000 other employees live on the boat.

     The atrium by the way (photo below) was eye-candy. Don't see many people in my photos, eh? I too often wondered where the other 3,100 passengers were.

And now a word about dining . . . . 

     Everyone had a choice of about a dozen places to eat. In photo above, I played dress-up and went to a swanky little place. Since I was alone, with no conversationalist to be entertained by, I was really anxious to order. I've never had cold soup but they had cold yogurt, feta cheese and cucumber soup. My eyes almost popped out while reading the menu of exotic food selections, was practically hopping up and down in my seat with glee. So many wonderful things to eat, how can I choose?! The waiter (in photo above) kindly said with a twinkle in his eye, "I see you're ready to order". I need to mention too that every wait staff, every steward, every employee on that ship was pleasant, helpful and polite.

     My favorite and frequent place to eat was by the window in the Horizon Court (buffet style, choice of approximately 50 items). I'd sometimes be joined at the table by other passengers; some were wonderful conversationalists. If the weather was good, I'd eat outside in the aft (photo below). I learned to eat "off-peak hours" for a choice dining seat.

     And while most folks were dining, I'd snack on chocolate ice cream to hold me over until the next meal. I didn't count the number of meals I ate every day. Declined the pizza however.

     None of the boat's pools were lap pools. Can't just sit and do nothing, nor can I properly swim short laps, so sadly I didn't jump in any of their little pools, nor their jacuzzies.

  Despite this boat's massive engines and props, it leaves little wake.

     Got plenty of exercise walking up and down all the stairways to all those decks by choice (and various dining rooms), so I didn't need to take the elevators to go to Zumba daily or the treadmills, jogging track, and other physical activity classes.

     There were educational classes, too. Unfortunately, I missed Susan Conrad's presentation about her 1,200 mile kayaking adventure through the Inside Passage. Libby Riddles, Iditarod winner, gave a presentation. A whale researcher, Shelley Gill, gave several slide-shows and talks. Plus art-shows and talks about Thomas Kinkade and Peter Max; there was an art exhibit room. Lots of spa activities which I didn't go to (not a spa person) and casino games going on (not a casino person). Something for everyone.

     The best time to enjoy scenery from this boat is about 4:30 AM at sunrise when most passengers are sleeping (photo above and below). Nice quiet time for me to enjoy a couple cups of coffee.

     And just when I was wondering when they have time to clean all these windows, in Victoria at a 12-hour port stop, there was a window-cleaning operation.

     So now you may wonder, "But what about the Inside Passage?!" I'm saving that story for my next post.

     PS: While motoring to Juneau there was a domestic violence situation (click here for the best report) which resulted in a woman's murder. A long-time mom/wife with her husband of 18 years and three daughters and grandparents from the St. George, Utah area, were onboard for a family holiday. I didn't hear or see anything other than a couple of frantic calls made by an employee on the Public Announcement System for immediate security and medical teams.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Seattle is in a Quagmire

    Y'all know I'm a country gal, so why am I in Seattle?

     Because in a few days, I will be boarding a boat at one of these docks.

       I took the photos above on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center downtown Seattle, known as the Skyview Observatory. See the giant Ferris wheel known as the "Great Wheel" in photo above, mid-center? It's 175 feet tall, and each of the gondolas can seat eight people.

     The view is many islands in the Puget Sound Region. On a clear day, you can see the Olympic Mountains and the glaciers to the west. Mount Rainier (sixty miles away, photo below) is barely visible to the southeast.

     See the Interstate and all those buildings (above photo)? I'll not mince words. One day in downtown Seattle and I was feeling . . . like Seattle has no soul. Montreal has soul, French cities have soul, Kansas City has soul and Tucson has soul, but I just wasn't feeling the soul in downtown Seattle. I was bombarded instead by a lot of parking signs. After doing some research, I found out that parking and traffic is "a challenge" (click here for news article).

     It's also a hilly city which means it's not bicycle-friendly. I didn't see any bicycle lanes downtown. Photo below was taken on top of a hill looking down at a cargo container ship going north through Elliot Bay.

Seattle is a major port for loading and unloading cargo container ships.

     Everywhere there is a hubbub of construction activity and tall cranes lowering and raising materials.

     More and more new skyscrapers are being built.

Very modern buildings . . .

The public library (below) is very modern too.

That "far-away" hazy-looking mini-city to the east of Seattle (photo below) is Bellevue which is another rapid-growing city.

To the east of Seattle, there's also a hazy-looking view of the Cascades Mountain Range.

     Later I decided to explore my ennui about this busy crowded city and read Wikipedia's info about Seattle. This city definitely has more than just parking and traffic challenges; it's described as having the USA's sixth-worse rush hour traffic. It's also bursting at the seams with new population growth. And over 45,000 households are spending more than half their income on housing (click here for Wikipedia's Seattle info).

The infamous "Pike Place Market" located along the shoreline downtown is worthy of a look and see.

It's an exciting maze of individual shops and stores and producers.

For Chef Jim and Chef Renauld and other foodies out there who need chowder ideas, click here.

It's wonderful to smell fresh baked goods and chocolates!

     And it's exciting to watch the delivery of fresh fish (below photo). This is Jack's Fish Spot; click here for their menu. Is there a discernible $6 difference between Hammersley Inlet oysters and Kumamoto Oysters? 

Great looking produce too.

And the duck and quail eggs add a touch of class to the Pike Place Market.

As I walked downtown, I found myself in a Chinatown of sorts (click here for very interesting history of this neighborhood).

I saw a green spot in this jungle of glass and concrete.

This is the Danny Woo Garden which is built on a hill.

     It's a terraced community garden which serves approximately 70 low-income Asians averaging 76 years old (click here for more info).

China Daily is cheaper than the Seattle Times.

This info about "The Ring of Fire" was interesting (click here for more info). 

     When I left Seattle for the day, I returned via cheap ORCA public transportation ($2 round trip) to La Lair in Des Moines, Washington (at a great BoondockersWelcome spot). I tossed and turned all night wondering why I didn't like Seattle and how I'd write a post about it. And the best explanation for my feelings has already been written by Daniel DeMay in this article (click here). It's a very good article about the problems of Seattle's exponential growth which is causing difficulties in not only traffic and housing but culture too because of the changing population trends. And thank you Chef Renauld for challenging me to explore my unsettled thoughts. As Socrates has said, the unexamined life is not worth living.

PS: I'm hoping that Seattle finds its soul in another few years. The Seattle Times published this article January 2018 (click here for article).