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We just got back from a week on Royal Carribean's Rhapsody of the Seas on its Alaska inside passage route, departing Seattle, with stops in Juneau (day 3), Skagway (day 4), and Victoria (day 7). Rhapsody is one of RCCL's older and smaller ships, though it still carries up to almost 2500 passengers, so size is relative. Even with a wide angle lens set at 18 mm, I couldn't get nearly all of the ship in the shot as we boarded:
As usual, the cruise started off with the muster drill, where we had to report to our assigned location on deck 5 to orient ourselves with the evacuation procedures in the event of an emergency. With that out of the way, we were able to wander around the ship, grab a snack to eat (we ended up missing lunch that day), and generally getting ready for dinner.
Some people like eating in the buffet, but we much prefer the formal sit-down restaurant. A lot of it is the same food, but the restaurant does have some offerings not available in the buffet. Strangely, I think you eat (somewhat) less in the restaurant than in the buffet, because RCCL's portion sizes are actually reasonable. Even better, the menu offered a "Vitality" suggestion each day for an appetizer, entree, and dessert that checked in under 800 calories(!). It's too bad the other appetizer, entree, and dessert options didn't have calorie counts.
Our first stop was Juneau, where we went whale watching. Humpback whales are the cetaceans of choice in that area, and boy, were they in the mood to be gawked at! There were so many of them around that it was ridiculously easy to take pictures when armed with a 55-250 mm telephoto lens. I mean, this is what I usually see when I go whale watching from the Oregon coast:
That's it, just a puff of mist to mark the whale's breathing? Well, on this trip, I saw the humpbacks dive repeatedly, showing off their tails (well, technically flukes):
From there, it was on to Mendenhall Glacier, which looked gorgeously blue under the sun that day:
I learned that Juneau is not accessible by car, only plane or boat. It seems odd to me that the capital city of a state would be somewhere that you couldn't drive to. It makes you wonder why southeast Alaska is part of Alaska and not Canada. I also learned that Juneau isn't as temperate as I thought it was, considering how it's on the coast. The locals described it as temperate, but they also said the average winter temperature is in the teens, and they get several feet of snow, which sounds a lot like Iowa City winters -- hardly my definition of temperate!
Skagway is the northernmost town in southeast Alaska. We took a driving tour up to the summit of the Yukon mountains, where there's some breathtaking scenery:
After Skagway, Rhapsody headed back down the passage to stop by the Tracy Arm Fjord:
(To be honest, I didn't take this picture, as the ship arrived in this fjord some time around 5 a.m.! The cruise director even announced our arrival over the ship's loudspeakers not once, but twice, that morning -- grrrr. Because my wife took lots of pictures, though, I feel like I was almost there to see it. I wasn't totally lazy that morning. When I did get up a few hours after the fjord, I hit the gym and ran 6 miles on the treadmill.)
The last stop was Victoria, British Columbia. Like Vancouver, Victoria is a Canadian city where you just don't see any French writing . . . anywhere. Dual official languages, pshaw! There's too much to do in Victoria in just one half day, so we went only to Butchart Gardens.
"All aboard" was 5:30 pm that day. I dropped everyone else off at the dock and then headed back to return the rental car. Finding a gas station to replace the 2~ gallons that we used took about 10 minutes more than I expected, but even so, I dropped the car off at the rental place around 5 o'clock. I thought it was about about 8/10 of a mile from there to the cruise ship, but I guess I was wrong or something, as I didn't get back to the ship until 5:22 p.m., meaning I was 8 minutes away from being stranded in Victoria.
Which wouldn't have been terrible, since at worst, I could take the ferry 95 miles to Seattle, where Rhapsody was due to arrive the next day. The only problem was that my passport was still on the ship. . . .
Anyway, I did make it back in time, and next time, I'll probably accept the offer of a ride back to the ship from the rental car agency.
RCCL ships are fun. They're not quite as good for kids as, say, Disney ships, but RCCL has a good all-around combination of kid and adult stuff. The evening shows were okay, nothing special. But we each won about $10-15 in the casino playing blackjack, and of course, I tackled the rock climbing wall that is RCCL's signature item:
So, as I noted in the title to this post, I managed to avoid gaining any weight on this trip, notwithstanding the copious amounts of food available at virtually all hours. (I guess food is technically available 24 hours, but from 2 am to 7 am, it's only a limited room service menu, and much of that time carries an extra charge.)
Don't worry, I didn't starve or even deprive myself. I did avoid eating after dinner, except for one night, when I had an 11 pm hamburger. (Bad me!) But I ate breakfast/brunch every day, and lunch most days unless it was a late brunch. And dinner . . . well, I had soup every night (most nights, there was a fruity, cold soup option) and some kind of salad as appetizers, the entree -- and some nights, as much as half of my younger son's entree when it was too much for him -- and dessert.
The restaurant was clearly my favorite place on the ship. My second favorite place on the ship was the gym. . . . Over the week, I think I covered about 150-75 flights of stairs (roughly equivalent to 3 miles of walking/running), walked about 3 miles during shore excursions, biked 12 miles on the stationary bike (equal to about 3 1/4 miles of walking/running), and ran about 25 miles on the treadmill or jogging deck track. By the way, speaking of the deck track, I loved the fact that Rhapsody's track is exactly equal to a regular track -- 1/4 of a mile. I've been on other ships where it's something like 13 laps to one mile on their tracks, which for some reason is psychologically tougher to deal with.
So that's the secret to not gaining weight on a cruise: run or walk 5 miles or the equivalent every day!
We just got back from a week in Vancouver, B.C., about which I'll have more to say later. In the meantime, I'll share this story. . . .
We were staying in downtown, just a few blocks away from a big movie theater. Having not seen a movie in the theater in a while (the last being a matinee of "Mamma Mia!"), my wife and I decided to take advantage of my dad's presence to go catch a late flick. The choices came down to "Salt" and "Inception," and action won out over mystery. After finishing the night time routine with our boys, we waited until they were asleep, had my dad come over to our unit, and my wife, my brother, and I headed out to the theater.
$13 (C) for an adult ticket?!? That seems pretty excessive, even for Vancouver. Or are U.S. ticket prices that outrageous now? (The exchange ratio is pretty close to 1:1 right now.)
Anyway, I dutifully put my cell phone on vibrate/silent mode and settled down to watch the movie. First, we were subjected to previews for a bunch of horror flicks, like "Paranormal Activity 2." I wouldn't have thought that "Salt" necessarily appealed to horror fans, but whatever. The movie started off pretty well, and Angelina Jolie made for a pretty good MacGyveress in improvising weapons for escaping the CIA building. Then followed some nifty running/car chasing scenes, and the plot was pretty well-laid out at that point.
And then my phone started to light up and buzz softly . . . .
I got up quickly to head into the lobby to answer the phone. However, the side door that I took did not lead back to the lobby, and in fact, it dumped me into a dark and lonely hallway. Worse yet, as the door clicked shut, I saw a sign that informed me "no theatre return; street exit only." Great.
My dad was on the phone, telling me that my younger son had woken up and was basically inconsolable. I told him I was on my way back. I kept going down semi-lit passages until I reached the ground floor and found a door to the street, and then I ran all the way back to the condo building and took the elevator up. When I got back to the condo, my little son was in my dad's arms, crying to the point of hyperventilation. I took him from my dad and tried to calm the little guy down.
"Where were you?" he asked.
"Uh, I was outside," I dissembled. "With Mommy and your uncle."
"I want to go outside," he said.
"Uh, no," I said. "Mommy and your uncle and I were at a grown-up movie," I said. "But your grandpa was here with you, and I'm here now."
To settle him down enough to go to sleep, I had to read another bedtime story for him. By the time I got him back down to bed, it was way too late to bother going back to the theater and try to talk my way back in. . . .
A pity, as I was enjoying the movie quite a bit. Not enough to pay another $13 to find out what happened, though. I guess I'll just wait for it to hit the "on demand" rental market ( i.e., don't spoil it for me!).
Due to a family matter, I had to head down to Los Angeles last week, so naturally my wife and I took our two little boys to Disneyland as well. While there, the following two possibly analogous incidents occurred that got me thinking about property rights in tickets.
The first was that we decided to go on California Soarin' (in California Adventures), which is kind of a flight simulator ride with a big curved screen and suspended roller coaster-like seats that tilt with the picture to enhance the feeling of motion. It's a popular ride, so the line gets long, and it's also one of the rides that Disney offers "Fastpass" to mitigate lines for those willing to work. The way Fastpass works is that you insert your park entry card into a machine near the ride, and the machine gives you back your entry card and a ride ticket. The catch is that the ride ticket lets you bypass the "standby" line only for a one-hour period, and that one-hour period is in the future. So, if you visited the Fastpass machine at 10 am, you might be given a return window of 12 noon to 1 pm.
Anyway, we decided to brave the approximately 45 minute stand-by line, but as we were walking up to the end of the line, a woman approached us, asked if we were going to ride Soarin', and when we said we were, she gave us her Fastpass tickets, which we about to become valid. Woo hoo! So instead of having to wait 45-55 minutes, we bypassed the long line and had about a 5 minute wait (basically for the designated simulator to clear out). I'll get to the potential issues involved in a moment.
The second incident occurred later that same day. As we were exiting the park (well before closing time), a young woman approached us and asked if we were leaving. When we said we were, she asked, "Can I have your tickets?" Naturally, we refused. It would have been pointless, since the regular Disneyland tickets require a valid hand-stamp for re-entry that day, and you can only get a hand-stamp if you've already been in a park, which of course requires that you already have had a ticket.
Nevertheless, the woman's request struck me as quite wrong for reasons beyond the pragmatic. It would represent revenue loss to Disneyland, since the only other way she could get in would be to buy a ticket. But then I started wondering about how I was able to Fastpass the Soarin' ride. The lawyerly side of me could respond that there was no revenue loss to Disneyland, since the Fastpasses are free (but you essentially can only have one active at a time). Therefore the situations are completely different. And from Disneyland's perspective, I would think that is right. On the other hand, I suppose the other customers waiting in the stand-by line might have had a complaint, since we (marginally) extended their wait, which would not have happened had we gone through the stand-by line. Then again, the customers were no worse off than if the original Fastpassing woman had used her Fastpass instead of giving it to us, and one can wonder why those customers would care who imposed the marginal increase in wait time. . . .
At 5:15 am on July 10, the morning that our movers were arriving to load up our stuff for our move from Iowa to Oregon, I finally gave up on packing and woke up my wife, who'd gone to bed at 3 am, so that I could get a couple of hours of sleep. I don't know about others, but the observation in our moving guide that people underestimate how much time packing takes . . . it was certainly true for us.
Fortunately, the movers came prepared with enough bodies to help with not just loading but also last-minute packing, and that evening, my wife and two boys and I hit the road in our minivan. Stop no. 1 was West Des Moines, past the boys' bedtime, but not unreasonably so.
On day 2, we drove from West Des Moines to Kearney, Nebraska, coincidentally staying at the same hotel that my wife and I had stayed at seven years ago when we moved to Iowa from California(!). Along the way, to entertain my older son, we played the game of spotting different state license plates, racking up a total of 22 of them.
On day 3, we made it to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Some highlights of the day included a stop at a Burger King for lunch, where there was an enormous gathering of motorcycle riders. (I'll post a picture when we get settled in.) They were the Patriot Guard, there to mourn Sgt. Duffy, a local young man who had been killed in Iraq recently. We also stopped at Cabela's, which is like REI for hunters. Like the Second Amendment? You'd like this store. We spotted another 11 new state license plates, including Alaska. (No Hawaii yet.)
And on day 4, we arrived in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Wyoming is a pretty state, but man is it sparsely populated. Once we left Laramie, it was just barren. . . . I mean, it makes Iowa along the 80 look overdeveloped! And that's where I am right now.