First time cruiser diary|what to expect

First time cruiser diary|what to expect

I sailed in May with my daughter, who was a first time cruiser and saw the world through her eyes.  Just arriving at the port in anticipation of boarding is exciting for a first time cruiser.  We weren’t even out of the van when our bags were taken care of; the tags we printed out last week indicated which ship and stateroom the bags would be delivered to.  After a quick ID check, we went through security, just like the one in the airport but with fewer restrictions.  Our next stop was the twenty station check in desk where we each received a key card, a map of the ship and instructions on the meeting time for the emergency drill.  If we hadn’t completed the online pre-cruise check in, this would have been a much longer and more complicated process.  Online check in is a must!

Ship preparing for departure
Ship preparing for departure

What a great place to do some people watching.  The experienced cruisers are easy to spot; they have their bottles of wine with them.  Some are carrying a case of Mountain Dew or other favorite soda.  A few people have huge beautiful bouquets of flowers, knowing the crew will supply the vase in their stateroom.  They also arrive early for check in to make the most of their vacation time and also to avoid the rush during the last hour of boarding

We see the many baby carriages and loads of assistive devices to help the seniors navigate on board.  I happen to be certified in Special Needs Travel and help arrange those rentals for people.  It makes cruising possible for people right into their 90s.  We met a solo traveler who was 95 and she was having a great time for herself.

The dress runs the gamut, as do the ages of guests as well as nationalities and personalities.  Some people are in their finest clothes, while others are ready for the pool.  Lots of groups, large and small, seem to be gathering around the boarding area.  Again and again we learn that just two were planning to travel, then a sister decided to come along, her daughter and friend added a few weeks later and before they knew it, the cruise became a family reunion.

Since we boarded at 1 PM, we had a few hours to explore the ship.  We went to the upper decks to enjoy the fabulous

Upper deck pool and hot tub
Upper deck pool and hot tub

Seattle weather for a few hours before setting sail.  We knew Alaska would be cooler and wetter.  Since the ship was still actively boarding, we had the chance to watch other guests as they arrived.  Even from our balcony, on the starboard side of the ship, we had a view of the port.  In the days when there was just a single ship in the harbor, the port side would be the one facing the port, but now, with sometimes six ships in port at any given time, the rules have all changed.

Food is always available onboard.  Formal dining rooms, although they have set hours, are open for most of the day and night.  The buffet is open almost around the clock and room service on this ship is 24 hours.  Bars are also easy to find and offer about anything you might want.  We opted for the welcome drinks and appetizers ending with ice cream cones.

Following our emergency drill, we attended the Welcome Cocktail Party then dinner. This is where we each met our own friends.  Erica spent most of the week with the gang she met on the first night.  Entertainment options were plentiful, as was the lure of the comfy bed while we adjusted to our three hour time change.  When we went to our cabin, there was an invitation for Erica to join fellow guests ages 18-28 at a club at 10 PM. She went and met a few more friends.

While the buffet pasta and pizza were sufficient for a quick lunch when we boarded, our five course dinner in the Vista Dining Room was fantastic.  From the hot or cold soup choices, the four salad choices and many appetizer options, I was careful to keep room for the main dishes and the dessert.

We woke early on Day 2, the sun was shining (it was after 4 am), the seas were moderate and the wind was blowing.  The temperature was about 55 degrees, about the same as our home in NH on that day.  Erica went to the morning stretch at 7 and the yoga class at 9.  She managed to fit in a run on the treadmill in between.  While Deck 3 has a walking track outside that she could have used, she chose the gym with the spectacular views while she got her sea legs.  For me, after breakfast I attended a Microsoft Movie Maker training session, a lecture on local wildlife, one on how to purchase diamonds in Alaska and a visit to the casino.  In the afternoon, Erica played trivia and went to a beer tasting followed by a mixology class. I just loved the freedom of having the afternoon off to do some reading, writing and wandering around the ship. There was a formal night in the main dining room where we enjoyed dinner with other guests prior to the scheduled entertainment.  The men mostly wore jackets and ties and the ladies wore dresses.  Guests who chose to stay casual could have dinner in one of the other venues.  Not all ships still have this custom, but HollandAmerica does.  Also, while the policy is still in place, it didn’t seem too strict.

We will arrive in Juneau tomorrow just after lunch.  Our first commitment in the morning will be breakfast at nine with some new friends we met at dinner tonight.  There will be an art auction, Windows 8 training and a geological lecture today to pass the time.  I’m sure Erica is booked solid with her social events and workouts.

Wendy and Erica in Juneau
Wendy and Erica in Juneau

Juneau was a welcome sight after 48 hours in the ship.  The sun was shining as we pulled into port; that in itself was a blessing for this small town state capital that averages over 300 days per year of rain.  After a must do visit to the Red Dog Saloon, we drifted in and out of the shops for about an hour before Erica was picked up for her excursion to Mendenhall Lake to canoe below the glacier.

I took the path less traveled.  I jumped on a bus leaving town for the MendenhallGlacierVisitorCenter.  When I arrived, I took the path behind the visitor center for a 3 hour hike in the rain forest.  Climbing above the lake, the views of the glacier and mountains behind were spectacular and an added bonus was the total lack of mosquitoes or bugs of any kind.  The overabundance of rain and the mild climate meant there were already flowers blooming and loads of green.

Before leaving the ship today, I had an onboard salmon cooking demonstration so we decided to have dinner on board to enjoy the house specials. I was right, they served the dish that we made this morning and it was great.  Several guests opted to eat at a variety of restaurants in town and some went on excursions that included salmon bakes or other specialty dining.

On Tuesday, we spent the day in Glacier Bay.  Along the way, we saw Orca whales as well as humpbacks.  Our National Parks guide reported that over two hundred humpback whales live within Glacier Bay.  On the other hand, Orca killer whales are rare and when spotted, they are normally a big distance from the ship. Today, they were frolicking right next to the ship giving us quite a show during breakfast.  If you are wondering how a National Park Guide happened to be on board, it’s pretty fascinating.  Prior to entering Glacier   BayNational Park, permits need to be issued. This is taken care of well in advance as permits are limited for ecology reasons.  A small water craft carrying our two guides was dispatched to our ship; when they arrived we slowed and opened a delivery door close to the water surface.  The guides tossed their hats and backpacks in then using rope and ladder climb aboard themselves.  This same process takes them home at the end of the day.

We traveled the entire length of Glacier Bay, over 130 miles round trip.  Marjorie Glacier was the inner most accessible point for our ship (one of only two large ships that was allowed to enter Glacier Bay today).  This was the largest and most magnificent of the three glaciers we visited throughout the day.  While in Glacier Bay, there was no opportunity to go ashore.  The ship went to each glacier and slowly circled so that everyone had great views.  Some watched from their own balconies, some from the upper outside deck and others from restaurants or other viewing areas.   This was the coldest and wettest day during the week for us.  It was about 50 and the rain was light but cold given the temperatures.  I think everyone still had plenty of unobstructed viewing.

The onboard activities are endless.  In addition to the park ranger talks onboard today, I got a haircut and style, attended another cooking class, watched live Dancing with the Stars, saw a movie, went to the casino, walked the deck and ate a lot.  Erica did the early morning stretch and walk; she did the Polar Bear Plunge and also took a yoga class.  Mixology workshops and social gatherings seem to fill her free time as do the many musical venues and clubs.

My last cruise was with my husband on the Amazon River in December.  The ship held 28 guests.  Contact me today for help planning the right cruise for you.  [email protected] or call 603-434-8100.

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