Alaska Cruise Diary, Day 1
Well, today didn’t really go as planned. This cruise to Alaska was planned and organized by my dad. While getting ready to head to the boat, dad fell and broke his ankle. Both of my parents are now stuck at home and I feel so bad for them. They were very excited about this. So here we are, boarding an enormous cruise ship and we’ve got no idea about any of it. Being clueless in a travel situation is so against everything I’ve become in the past 20 years.
I’m no cruise enthusiast, I have very specific opinions about the ethical and environmental impact of the cruise industry. But my mind has been recently changed. My parents haven’t traveled much and are beginning to be of an age where travel is harder. They loved their first cruise in April, I can’t remember them having that much fun. Dad talked me into this because he wanted to see the kids have a great time, and I just wanted to spend some quality time with my parents.
Sadly, Mom and Dad didn’t make it to the ship. Dad shattered his ankle. So here we are, on a trip that I only wanted to go on to be with them.
My first impressions are mixed. The size of this ship is a bit too much, as is the energetic entertainment. But the room is quite nice, good bed linens and plenty of space for us three. Lucca says it’s perfectly cozy. This ship, the Princess Discovery, is basically brand new and sparkling clean, with nice interior design.
Food isn’t bad, we have lots of restaurant choices. Dad bought us the drinks package so I can have up to 15 drinks a day (really???) and he reserved a nice restaurant for steak dinner at the end. The kids went wild ordering room service at 10pm. It’s all too much and absolutely not what I’m about but, hey, I’m here and everyone is delighted so I’m going to have room service bring me another cognac and call it a night.
Travel plans don’t always go your way. I aim to learn something in every trip. Lessons of today include these: don’t ever go on a vacation where you are not in some way informed about the plan, and buy travel insurance. The best lesson of my 25+ years of travel is that you just need to go with it sometimes.
Cruise Diary, Day 2
Today was just a day at sea. It’s a long way from Seattle to Alaska. When you look at the map, it seems about the same distance to Los Angeles or more. Our day was just spent aboard the ship doing whatever we felt like.
Some things I’m learning. Cruises are about eating. There is food all the time, everywhere. It’s hard to not get caught up in that, even if I’m trying to get in shape. The kids are loving it. If you saw the departure celebration, you saw them tout the fact that there would be no cleaning or cooking for a week, and I agree, that’s a selling point.
I had enough to eat and decided to take a long run on the treadmill. The gym is actually nice and well equipped. Of the 1400 passengers, there were about 10 of us exercising. That’s ok. It took an edge off of the guilt around the excessive eating and drinking.
Bringing summer clothes and swimwear on an Alaskan cruise was absolutely aspirational. It’s cold and drizzly. Pretty miserable weather actually. This is the weather I try and escape from in Seattle. The movies are basically not watchable as they are outdoors…in the rain.
There are a gazillion activities all day but many are aimed at selling you stuff, or gambling. We thought bingo could be funny but it cost $30 to play. One “presentation” was simply explaining what was in the gift shop.
We did, however, enjoy formal night. When does anyone get the chance to wear fancy clothes these days? The kids and I had nice outfits on, but the people watching was amazing tonight. Folks you know don’t have much occasion for sequins were crushing it tonight, and I am here for it. Sequined suit jackets and lace dresses everywhere. So much cheesy was and so much fun.
After a really excellent dinner at the plated dinner service (where, btw, you can order multiple main dishes) we watched the “Rock Opera” which was neither rock nor opera, but the costumes were fun and it was entertaining.
Our new ritual is to order room service at 11pm. It’s dumb, but this kind of trip is about doing dumb things and laughing a lot and we absolutely did.
I don’t know if cruising is for me but I can say that my kids and I laughed an awful lot today and that makes whatever godawful amount this cost absolutely worth it.
Cruise Diary, Day 3
First Shore Excursion in Ketchikan
The fun of a cruise is waking up in your comfy room to find yourself in a new place. The downside of big cruising is that 5000 other people are doing the same thing.
We did our first ever shore excursion. My parents booked us on a zip lining adventure (see previous posts) and we learned a few things about excursions. The ship makes it easy to book through them, and my parents booked all of their activities way ahead. There is a certain convenience, but they are not cheap. A $400 cruise becomes much, much more expensive when the activities start at $50 for a salmon bake and top out at $700 per person for outrageous things like dog sleds and helicopters. Our 4 hour adventure came in at $150 per person, which is why we are only doing one excursion on this trip. It’s expensive.
You can also do your own research and book small, independent companies for less. But part of the whole “Big Cruise” thing is that it is a real vacation, like a no brain needed series of days. Hats off to the ambitious cruisers that plan their own stuff way ahead. You can also do excursions on the fly by seeing who is at the dock when you arrive. The biggest downside to all of that is that the cruise boat waits for the folks on its excursions, but not for those doing their own thing. We returned exactly at departure time and they reassured us the boat wouldn’t leave without us, specifically because we were on their excursion.
Figuring out this excursion business is important because Alaskan cities aren’t exactly full of museums and hopping nightlife. I know the wildlife and scenery is why people come, but the towns are pretty familiar looking to someone from the Pacific Northwest.
Back on the ship, we went to High Tea, which was nice and quite social, being seated at big, communal tables. Lucca had a blast leading the conversation with our table.
The Princess Discovery is the flagship of the cruise line and has lots of high tech features. Everything works with these “medallions” that keep track of purchases, food options, and literally unlock the ship for you (but also creepily track your location at all times.) Unfortunately, their tech doesn’t quite live up to the hype. We’ve had to have our medallions worked on every single day so far because they don’t do that very basic function, they won’t open the door. I sat in the hallway for an hour trying to get it sorted out. Not a highlight. Don’t they just have regular keys?
We were so tired from zip lining that we missed our dining reservation. Dad had quite savvily booked a table for the whole cruise. Princess touts their food program as very flexible but it’s not really true. There were basically no reservations available for any of the restaurants from day one. If you don’t mind going late and asking nicely, you can maybe get into one of their premium restaurants, which we did. For $30 per person, we got a five course French dinner in a gorgeous space. I was actually impressed. Was it $30 better than the included dining? Maybe. The included dining is actually quite nice.
Our final activity of the night was to hit the comedy show. We had low expectations here but came because we are living for dad, who is in the hospital still. He insisted. And he was right. It was pretty darned funny. Even my kids, who have that bizarre Gen Z sense of humor could enjoy the family-friendly show.
At the end of the night, the boat started rocking quite a bit, or maybe I’d reached my 15 drink limit? We staggered back to our room and needed to lay down to deal with the swaying of the ship. Was I drunk? I don’t know. What day is it? Where are we? I’m not really sure about any of that and I think that’s kind of the point of cruises.
Cruise Diary, Day 4
Before I dive into our day, just a note about this diary. For those of you just joining us, we are on a cruise planned by my dad. He got a good deal through the Venetian in Las Vegas and asked us to go along. I agreed begrudgingly, I’ll admit. Cruising is not my thing, I’m sure you know. But I’ll do anything for my dad. Sadly, dad broke his leg on the way to the cruise and is still in the hospital, leaving me in the unfortunate position of taking the kids on a trip I knew absolutely nothing about. Dad was giving me the gift of not having to be in charge, so I was just following along to his lead. So yeah. I don’t know anything about cruising. I’m learning. But I thought my misfortune could be your gain. I’m figuring this out the hard way and am making discoveries that might help you.
I am not here to affirm your love of cruising, nor am I here to agree with the haters that cruising is the worst. I’m here as a mostly impartial but skeptical first time cruiser, who also happens to be a highly experienced tour guide and travel journalist. I think I have something to say, but I’m probably going to piss off both the lovers and the haters with my honesty. That’s ok with me. Honesty is something we need when we discuss mass tourism and it’s effect on communities and the environment. So please, discussion and sharing your experience are absolutely welcome, but rudeness is not. I love our sweet and constructive community, and I think we have the ability to discuss something that nobody agrees on.
Back to the diary!
We were awoken at 4:45 am by announcements. Everyone was awake as we entered the Endicott Arm. I hadn’t planned on being awake for the whole thing but there was basically no way to sleep. The whole ship was awake. When I looked outside, though, I saw nothing. Nothing at all. Just fog. After about an hour, the captain announced that we were turning around, as there was zero visibility. Even with a sophisticated ship like this, they couldn’t see the ice in the water well enough and you know how that ends with big ships…
I tried to get some sleep. We arrived in Juneau at 9, 3 hours ahead of schedule, but the kids and I decided to have a lazy morning.
We eventually went into town and picked up an excursion. It was a 45 minute tour around town that included a view of cruise ships and a story about the now-defunct Walmart we passed. Let’s just say I’d give that a pass next time. But, the real highlight was the Mendenhall Glacier. I’ve seen glaciers before and they are truly and deeply impressive. Nico enjoyed our visit as he’d never seen a glacier that close before. We were, however, thoroughly soaked and freezing by the end of the day.
Upon our return, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see a cruise ship in my life. We were cold and wet, but once inside it was toasty and they made me a fantastic gin and tonic with snacks. We watched the sunset from our balcony and I really can see why people love cruising. It’s cozy. It takes you places you couldn’t really get to easily otherwise. And it’s just stupidly luxurious. The kids are so pleased with themselves every time they order room service. This trip doesn’t make a ton of sense for just me and the kids but I can really see how great cruising would be with my parents. The big family groups on this ship are having a blast doing whatever they want and regrouping over dinner. I get it. It’s cool. And the locals appreciate the business.
My kids keep asking what locals think because the three of us often discuss the ethics of mass tourism. Locals here tell us that tourism is Alaska’s most important industry these days. Not having it during Covid was a disaster. They love the cruise ships, they have no livelihood without them. The biggest thing to keep in mind is spending money at shops owned by locals, not corporations. Seek out shops and restaurants that boast about being local.
Having done our part for the economy (buying my poor mom some presents) we are happily eating room service under our down comforters, and looking forward to tomorrow’s adventures.
For some videos showing a few other fun adventures from our Alaska cruise, check out my Adventures playlist on YouTube!