A cruising curmudgeon goes to Alaska (and blogs all about it)
The pro and cons of a Seattle-Alaska cruise.
Seattle Times travel writer
I never had any desire to take an Alaska cruise. But I let myself be talked into it on one condition: I could write the “Brian Hates Cruising” blog.
I’d never stepped foot on a cruise ship. I disdained the whole idea of these massive floating hotels, many of which no longer even have the proper shape of respectable oceangoing ships because they’ve crammed aboard so many guest cabins, piano lounges, spas and, yes, golf simulators. Or, in the case of the Star Princess, on which I sailed to Glacier Bay last month, they’ve plunked the flying-saucer-shaped Skywalkers Nightclub on massive pylons above the stern, like a nautical hemorrhoid. The whole vessel, as it regularly chugs past my sailboat home at Shilshole Bay Marina, resembles some sort of pimped-up Nike running shoe.
But like a kid who hates spinach but had never tried it, I went on a May cruise from Seattle to Alaska. And I blogged about it, several times a day, on The Seattle Times’ Northwest Traveler blog.
The blog is chock-full of first impressions, second thoughts and loads of details on costs, shipboard entertainment and what to do when you get on shore.
Among other things, I wanted to check the onboard mood in the wake of recent cruise-ship disasters, from last year’s fatal shipwreck in Italy to recent breakdowns in the Gulf of Mexico.
Those mishaps were on people’s minds, but it didn’t seem to stop anybody from having a good time.
A quick summary of my cruising pros and cons:
PRO: How else could so many people from all walks of life, young and old, fit and not-so, with dozens in wheelchairs or on mobility scooters, get to appreciate the majesty of a place where jagged snowy mountains seem to march toward the North Pole? As the ship idled in front of Glacier Bay’s Margerie Glacier, its icy blue face as high as a 25-story building at water’s edge, a churchlike hush fell over our shipload of holidaymakers, awe-struck as they waited for chunks of ice the size of a station wagon to calve from the glacier.
CON: You’re forever traveling in a crowd. With about 3,000 passengers aboard, solitude was tough to find. When the ship docked, all those thousands — plus thousands more from other cruise ships — descended on small towns that have been forever changed by the influx. Waterfront streets of Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway are now crowded with cheesy jewelry shops that have followed cruise ships from the Caribbean.
PRO: You get a lot for your money. On my ship, the food was very good, the service excellent and the volume and range of entertainment and activities such that you never ran out of options. Yet, you could also choose to do nothing but sit and read around the pool. On shore, you could spend loads of money on adventurous excursions, or you could save your money and walk to local museums and historic sites.
CON: A cruise ship is a lot like a spaceship (and mine even looked a bit like one). Once away from dock, they are independent small cities with complex systems and huge energy demands. The engineering, when all works well, is amazing. And there are many things that can go wrong. From modest knowledge of my own small boat’s systems, I’d say recent problems with cruise ships weren’t flukes, they were just waiting to happen. And the affordability of cruise ships is built on cheap labor imported from around the globe. Our ship was registered in Bermuda so U.S. labor laws (such as the 40-hour workweek) and minimum wages don’t apply. If you buy fair-trade coffee at home, do you leave behind that ethic when you vacation?
In the end, I can’t say I’ll choose to go on another cruise. It’s just not my style. But I understand the appeal to many. And I met many repeat cruisers who have found it their favorite way to spend holiday dollars.
Read more about it in the blog and decide for yourself: bit.ly/15wdlS7.
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