Miracle in Alaska (Day 7)

The last day of a cruise, I’ve found, is always a little bittersweet. I’m sad to be leaving, but looking forward to seeing my dogs and in this case, my husband. I’m acutely aware of how much I’m going to miss the steward service and the wonderful food but I’m also happy that I’ll be sleeping in my own bed and ready to get back to my daily low-cal diet. I’m loving all the activities I’ve been engaging in but I’m also exhausted from the constant going, going, going.

It’s a little harder this time than most, because of how much I love this particular ship, Alaska, and John Heald and the rest of the crew we met. But our last Fun Day at Sea is something I’ve been anxiously awaiting all week, because it’s the day we’re schedule to go “Behind the Fun” and see all the inner workings of the ship.

The tour starts at 9:00 a.m. so we had time for brunch in the main dining room beforehand.

After the previous night’s indulgence, I wanted to eat lightly so I just had a fruit plate and coffee, and that was just right.

We were the first ones to arrive at the Joker’s Club a little before 9:00 but soon the rest of our group – 12 of us in all – showed up. We had been instructed not to bring bags, cameras or cell phones (for obvious security reasons) but of course there were a couple of people who forgot and a phone and a purse had to be confiscated for the duration of the tour.

Our guide was Joel, and he was friendly and articulate as he led as through the various parts of the ship that the passengers normally don’t see. We were issued special “backstage passes” on lanyards that we had to wear to get into the limited access areas, and then we were off. We knew there was going to be a lot of walking involved.

First we headed to the main theater where we got to go backstage and see the lighting, prop room, dressing rooms, and talk to the man in charge of running the shows and to one of the dancers. We saw all the costumes and wigs and heard about how the entertainers had to change clothes quickly, sometimes in the wings, with no privacy whatsoever.

We then visited the galley, where the head chef shared some of the secrets of how his staff prepares food for more than two thousand passengers every day. We not only saw how the food is prepared; we also saw where it’s stored, including the meat locker (where I wished I’d worn a jacket). We saw the storeroom where the beer, wine and soft drinks are kept, and the huge loading area where the luggage and everything else is brought on board through big overhead doors.

We went down to the crew’s deck and saw some of the different dining rooms where they eat; there are separate areas for regular crew (stewards, waitstaff, etc.), one for staff (entertainers), one for officers and the captain’s. We got to see the smaller kitchen where those meals are made, and learned that waiters start by serving the crew, then the officers, then graduate to the Lido buffet and finally (as the last step) serve the passengers in the main dining room.

We also saw the crew’s lounge where they relax and party, the paymaster’s office where they pick up their checks, the HR office and training room where they can study various subjects via computer based training (CBT), and the library/Internet area where they can check out books and use the computers to stay in touch with their families and friends back home.

We went by the medical facilities (but didn’t go inside, to avoid spreading of germs in either direction) and we descended into the bowels of the ship – where you’re actually underwater – and saw the laundry facilities, which are more fascinating than you might expect. We also saw the waste processing facilities.

One of the most interesting areas, to me, was the engine control room, where we got to see all the gauges and dials and buttons and monitors and controls for the ship’s infrastructure. But the most interesting of all was, of course, the bridge. They saved the best for (almost) last and it was fascinating to see the huge room (bigger than the bridge of the Starship Enterprise) from which the captain commands the ship.

The view out those front floor to ceiling windows is, of course, spectacular – and because the bridge juts out on either side, there is also a view to the back and even a “surprise” view that I won’t reveal here (don’t want to spoil it for others who might take the tour).

Captain Lazzarino is the friendliest cruise ship captain I’ve met and I really enjoyed talking with him. He chatted with us for quite a while, and then we posed for photos with him, both as a group and individually.

Our last stop, after the bridge, was at the top of the ship, at Nick and Nora’s steak house. There we went back into the kitchen and saw how the chefs prepare the wonderful five-star meals that are served in this premium restaurant. Finally, we filed out of the kitchen and took our seats in the restaurant, where we were served our choice of champagne, mimosas, orange juice or water. Then we got our “goodie bags” that included a souvenir hat and the not-so-secret recipe for Carnival’s signature warm chocolate melting cake. We were asked to fill out a survey about our experience and then, sadly, we had to turn in our “all access” ID cards – although we did get to keep the lanyards.

Behind the Fun was definitely one of the highlights of a cruise that had too many awesome experiences to count, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is curious about what the 900+ crew members do to keep our cruise experience running smoothly.

By the time we finished the tour, it was time for lunch so we headed up to Lido, to find that today was the day of the Chocolate Extravaganza
. 20140513_12202820140513_122038

This is an evil-slash-wonderful event on the last sea day that features chocolate delights of all kinds – even including chocolate sushi. I was proud of my self control when I managed to take only a couple of small pieces, although the truth was I’d had so many sweets over the last few days that I was getting to the point of sugar saturation.

At dinner that evening, we had our last meal in the MDR. I got the frogs’ legs appetizer and a yummy grilled Mahi Mahi and Sharon got chicken mac and cheese. I followed it up with my last frozen cocktail, a BBC accompanied by decaf coffee.
20140513_170459 20140513_173000

We felt the familiar wave of sadness as our waiters sang the traditional “Leaving on a Funship” song, and we gave them the extra tips we had put into cards and told them how much we appreciated all they’d done for us. I told them that I had decided to try to talk my husband into switching the Caribbean cruise we’d booked for the first week of July to the Miracle sailing, so he could experience everything I had this week, and hoped we would see them then. Ferdinand told me he was scheduled to leave the ship in June, but was trying to get his tour of duty extended.

After dinner, it was time to pack – which is probably the absolute low point of every cruise. We went back to the cabin and
found our last towely – not an animal this time. 20140513_180851

It took a while but we got everything packed up and even managed to fit all the souvenirs we’d bought into our suitcases, and we put our checked bags out to be picked up. Earlier in the week, we had received a notice that we were eligible to do something called Luggage Express, which I’d never heard about before, but which turned out to be well worth the $20 it cost.

If you’re flying on a participating airline (which included American, on which we were flying), you set your bags out and instead of picking them up at the cruise terminal, they’re taken directly to the airport and checked onto your flight and you don’t see them again until you reach your destination. That meant we could do self-assist debarkation the next morning, which worked out great and got us off the ship early, so that we were at the airport by 10:00 a.m.

Unfortunately, our flight wasn’t until 3:00 p.m., but that was actually okay because I had an article due and I was able to write it at the airport while we waited at the gate. Before long, we were on the plane and leaving Seattle behind.

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Our flight home was smooth and it was great to be home – the dogs spun in circles when they saw me – but I already missed Alaska, and I knew the first thing I needed to do was figure out a way to go back, sooner rather than later. And I did.

deb@shinder.net   www.debshinder.com

About debshinder

Technology analyst and author, specializing in enterprise security. Author of or contributor to over 25 books, including "Scene of the Cybercrime." Fourteen-year Microsoft MVP, married to Microsoft FTE Tom Shinder, and proud mom of two wonderful grown-up human children and three amazing Japanese Chin pups. In my spare time, I love to travel - especially on cruise ships - and write about my grand adventures.
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