Hi buckaroos! It’s time for my annual “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” essay. Remember when you had to write these reports? This yearly assault on the standards of world literature began several millennia ago under the tutelage of my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Charlie Delgrande. Mrs. Delgrande, wherever you are, this column is for you.
I had somehow managed to live for many decades without ever going on a cruise. My wife and I, being uncertain of how much time we might have left to undertake a voyage into excess, decided to hop a boat to Alaska with a couple of college friends. I had always heard everyone liked Alaskan cruises. Turns out, once again, I am not everyone.
The trip started with a bang when my wife Lani, imitating Thor, inadvertently, she claims, dropped a hammer on me from the top of the stairs while I was saying goodbye to the dogs. The hammer narrowly missed my bulbous head and the dogs, only causing a minor but bloody flesh wound on my elbow. After expressing a colorful string of Anglo-Saxonisms that I didn’t realize I knew, calm returned in the form of a Band-Aid.
It turns out people of a certain demographic tend to populate cruises. Like your columnist, most cruisers appeared to have been born during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. Getting a bit long in the tooth, but not yet ready for sitting in the lobby of a nursing home. Cruisers tend to be very friendly and outgoing. They are not about to go gently into that good night.
Off to the wilds of Alaska. We did a week on land before a week at sea. Alaska is pretty big. It has a lot of mountains covered with trees, snow and tourist buses. Inexplicably, Skagway and Juneau have more jewelry stores than you can shake a stick at.
Allow me to explain what one does on a cruise in Alaska — eat with 2,000 of your closest friends. Every day is a Thanksgiving-level eating opportunity. Think of a church dinner catered by an expensive restaurant. Wall-to-wall food in the buffet line. Assigned seating for supper where your silverware is replaced every time you use a fork.
In addition to eating constantly, you wash your hands obsessively under the supervision of a hand-washing safety patrol monitor stationed at the entrance to the buffet. The monitor chants, “Washy, washy” at the tourists herding in for the next feeding.
The hand washing is to ward off the Norovirus cooties that are known to lurk on cruise ships. You then go in to grab your food with tongs that 2,000 other people had previously handled. One hopes the Washy Washy Guy was successful in shaming everyone into washing their hands.
When not eating, one goes on tightly structured and highly expensive land expeditions to see natural wonders and wild things like whales, mountain goats, bears, sea lions and eagles. In the cruise brochures, these critters are shown being right next to you. It ain’t necessarily so.
In the actual expeditions, the guide tells you the white dots on the mountain are Dall goats, the tiny blob flying overhead is a bald eagle, and that dark bump in the water 200 yards away is the back of a humpback whale. We have a plethora of pictures of white dots, tiny blobs and dark watery lines, which for $5 I will refrain from showing you.
The ship features numerous lounges in which one can purchase expensive adult beverages complete with an 18% gratuity with every drink. One night, we drifted lonely as a cloud into a Mahogany-paneled lounge that resembled Las Vegas’ idea of a British gentleman’s club. There was a live band with a pretty girl singer who could belt out the hits along with her male co singer. Until you have heard a Filipino singer croon “West Virginia, take me home, country roads,” you cannot say you have truly lived. One lady of a certain age, who may have had a bit too much to drink, vigorously and entertainingly danced the night away.
So what have we learned today? Once again very little. Would I go on a cruise again? Nope. Should you go? Sure. Pay no attention to me. Ride the high seas to adventure.