I remember on my first cruise, how it felt to wake up the first morning, pull back the heavy drapes and see the ocean going by. Sailing Alaska is almost like being a “cruise virgin” all over again because the seas are so different. The other thing is that, at least on the starboard side, it’s never just “all water” out there; there’s always a mountainous coast line in the distance. And the water looks cold. It’s a totally different world from the Caribbean.
When I stood on the balcony that morning, waiting for the coffee I’d pre-ordered the night before to arrive, I stared out over those frigid waters and I realized that I wasn’t just falling in love with this ship as I’d thought the night before – I was falling in love with Alaska. And I wasn’t even there yet; we were still somewhere off the Canadian coast. I had that feeling you sometimes get that this was going to be the beginning of a long and beautiful relationship.
I am usually not a “morning TV” person but on this day, I turned it on at 9:00 a.m. But I had a good reason. At the Welcome Aboard show the night before, John had asked those who wanted him to recognize a special person in his Morning Show on the TV to write him a note, telling why that person was special. I had sent him one, telling him that it was my cousin Sharon’s birthday and that she’d had a rough couple of weeks due to some family problems that had cropped up, and for a while thought she would have to miss the cruise – until her great sisters pitched in to cover things back home and made it possible for her to take this much-needed break. Well, John read the letter on the show and wished Sharon a happy birthday – and I think she was more than a little surprised. Thus began a day that was full of fun and few more surprises.
Experienced cruisers know how a “fun day at sea” really gets started: with the Sea Day Brunch. We took our time getting ready for the day and then made our way down three flights of stairs to the bottom level of the Bacchus dining room, where we had to wait around three minutes for a table for two. They brought out the “temptation basket” first – breads and muffins and sweet rolls that my carb-craving psyche screams at me to devour immediately – but I resisted (with difficulty).
I ordered my standard egg white omelet with spinach, tomato, onions and peppers and it was yummy, as usual. At least I started the cruise by taking the healthy road, although I admittedly deviated from that path a few times as the days went on. That’s normal, too – and my strategy is to get enough exercise to make up for it. That’s why I never, ever take the elevators – climbing 10 flights of stairs several times a day helps, and so does the ship’s fitness center.
It was a somewhat gray day – not really rainy but overcast. What, at home, I think of as a “nice day to stay indoors.” There was plenty going on throughout the ship to keep us occupied that morning, but I spent most of it getting ready for our Facebook group’s Meet & Greet, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in the Dr. Frankenstein’s Lab Lounge. I had printed up some fancy name tags for everyone who signed up to come – and then went off and left them at home on my desk. So I was scrambling to find materials for making new ones, as well as getting everything laid out for hosting our cabin in the crawl that was planned for immediately after the party.
Despite the glitches, the party went off very nicely. John H. sent us two bottles of champagne and two “genuine gold plastic ships on a stick” to give as prizes and we had a great turn-out.
There were between 40 and 50 who showed up and 30 who stayed around for the group photo with Frankenstein’s monster.
We played trivia games and gave out prizes and had a few drinks and just generally got to know each other. It was a fun time. Next up was the cabin crawl. We had 22 people signed up to “crawl” – which means moving from cabin to cabin to see the different cabin types and partake of whatever goodies and/or fun activities each host has thought up for our 10 minute or so visit.
We started on deck 8, where one of our group members had graciously jumped in at the last minute to offer her Vista Suite for viewing. That was an incredible cabin, with a completely separate bedroom, small living area, dressing room like in the more typical ocean and grand suites, big bathroom with tub, and a wrap-around balcony to die for.
We then trekked down to deck 7 to see a mid-ship extended balcony and a regular interior, and learned how to make paper flowers for door decorations from one of our hosts. Next we went to deck 4, where we first saw an interior with French door cabin (this one was, unfortunately, completely blocked by the lifeboat) and ended up in our cabin, where I had prepared rum cake and a fruit plate, along with “Booze Drops” – alcohol-flavored candies.
By the time the crawl was over, it was almost 4:00 p.m. and almost time to start getting ready for the Captain’s celebration before dinner. This is a reception to meet the officers of the ship and it was being held in the main lobby at 5:00 p.m. This was also elegant night, so it took us a little longer than usual to get ourselves “prettified.”
Downstairs, we went through the receiving line and said hello to Captain Luca Lazzarino (whom I would get to know better later in the cruise) and the other officers who were all decked out in their spiffy uniforms.
As CD, John Heald was, of course, on hand as well, and I thanked him for reading my “happy birthday” message to Sharon that morning and gave him the little gift I’d brought him – a Texas license plate keychain with his name on it – and had my photo taken with him, which I knew would delight the members of my Carnival Facebook groups when I posted it.
Then it was time to get to the MDR for dinner. With YTD, you don’t have assigned seating but you can ask for your favorite table and/or wait staff, and we had really liked both our waiters and the location of our table (#431) the night before so we asked for it again and were promptly seated. Elegant night features lobster, but sometimes it’s better than other times. This time, it was excellent. Sharon isn’t as much of a seafood fan as I am, so she ordered the prime rib.
There was another surprise coming, though – and this one was just as much of a surprise to me as to Sharon. I hadn’t told the waiters about her birthday, but apparently John H. did, because even though she hadn’t ordered any dessert, Ferdinand and Rustem suddenly appeared with a birthday cake – with a real, lighted candle, which is a big deal on the ship given the fire hazard – and serenaded her with their version of the “happy birthday” song.
The elegant night after-dinner tradition is to get pictures taken and although I’ve gotten past the “new cruiser” urge to pose at every photographer’s station and spend hundreds of dollars on photos, I did want to get one or two taken.
One thing I noticed was that elegant night was a lot less elegant on this cruise than on others I’ve been on. I’d been told that was true of Alaska; with more heavy clothes to pack, people are less amenable to also packing formal clothing. I saw only a couple of men dressed in tuxes and two or three women in long evening gowns. I wore a short black skirt and black and white glittery top, and still felt very overdressed compared to many/most of the people in the MDR.
In fact, one of the few things I didn’t like about this cruise was that the formal night dress code didn’t seem to be enforced at all. There were people one table over from us wearing tee shirts and jeans. It didn’t ruin my cruise and I would never think of complaining to the staff about it, but it did negatively impact the ambiance of the evening. I know formal night is a controversial subject among cruisers – some love to get all dressed up and others hate it. I wish Carnival would consider following in Royal Caribbean’s footsteps on this; on their new Quantum of the Seas, RCL has designated one dining room as formal every night, and the others have no formal nights. That seems to me like a logical way to make everybody happy.
There was plenty to be happy about in spite of dress code violations, though. When we made our way back to our cabin, we discovered that the surprises weren’t over yet. Along with the usual towel animal and Fun Times for the following day, we found a bottle of champagne and plate of chocolate covered strawberries, “compliments of John Heald.” If I’d had any doubts before that John truly earned his position as most senior Cruise Director, they would have been squashed by this time.
It was still relatively early, so we changed into more comfortable clothes and then went back down to the lobby to enjoy an after-dinner drink and some music in the Atrium bar. Sharon had taken a real liking to the guitarist there, whose name (Dylan) was coincidentally the same as her grandson’s.
By the time we got back to our cabin, I was pleasantly tired but eagerly looking forward to our first Alaskan port the next day. I used the (slow but tolerable) Internet for a while, read one of my ebooks for a while, and then let the back and forth motion of the sea rock me to sleep.
Could it get any better than this? Not only could it, but the next day, it did.