The Ship

Next day we were going to board our ship, 150 miles away in Seward. Bags were to be ready by 7:00 AM, though our bus didn’t leave till eleven. Everybody and all their relatives wanted break\fast at the same time, so there was a big queue at the buffet.

This time, I did bring the camera, but of course we were out of sight of "The Mountain" as Alaskans call McKinley. About half way through our drive, we stopped at Portage Lake, for a boat ride to get a closer look at a glacier.

Alaska is so big that things which are big don’t seem that way. For example,

Doesn’t look that wide in the photo, and didn’t even seem so in person. But, assuming the Park Service guy on the ship knew his stuff, it is. Up fairly close, glacier ice looks blue. The guide said that an ice cube would look blue too, if it was as big as your house. Caused by the way that ice absorbs the shorter red light rays more than the longer blue ones.

About 5:30 that afternoon we got to Seward and aboard the ship. Had to go through airport-style security, but without much hassle. We’d filled out all the forms on-line before we left, so we just showed our passports and got our cabin keys, along with the usual descriptive stuff. Cabin was quite nice, amidships on the port side, with a large window. We were too late for the official first seating, but got our dinners at the buffet. No salt and pepper shakers on the table. You had to ask for the little paper packets. The ship’s management is fanatical about the Norwalk virus. Every time we re-boarded after a port stop, we were handed little alcohol-soaked hand-wipes. At the traditional photo-op with the captain on the first formal night, there was no handshaking. (But later they relented about the condiments. After the first evening, the shakers were back.)

The first day was spent "at sea" – that is, we just sailed all day and night. No stops. Went to the evening’s entertainment, which consisted of some not very good dancing by the ship’s ensemble, and some very good tricks by a magician. Went to a wine tasting, explored the nooks and crannies of the public section; found the usual gift shop, casino, and multiple bars, along with a fairly decent library. Also got a tour of the kitchen, which was understandably huge. Feeding 1200 passengers and 600 crew takes a lot of cooking.

We cruised a bit into College Fiord. Several glaciers come down to the sea there, each named for a different Ivy League School. We never learned who perpetrated that trick.

Had our first formal night (i.e. suit and tie, though some men wore tuxes and a few wives were in formals). We had an excellently placed table, right at the rear of the dining room overlooking the stern. The highlight of the meal was the "running of the moose." The waiters all came parading through, each waving a handkerchief in one hand, and holding dessert in the other. Naturally, the desert was a chocolate mousse, decorated with two small cookies for antlers and another for the nose.

Next day we got to Glacier Bay, No prizes for guessing what’s there. There are several of them, the largest of which is Grand Pacific. It’s one of the largest tidewater glaciers in the state. "Tidewater" means that the glacier runs into the ocean. Many don’t. Some like Portage Glacier, terminate in lakes. Others feed rivers. The official definition of a glacier is, by the way, packed snow and ice at least 25 feet thick and lasting at least two full years. Much to their amazement, scientists have found life on glaciers. Sounds like a joke, but there actually are ice worms. They are extremely tiny, about three-quarters of an inch long. Their diameter is, I’d guess, that of a piece of carpet thread.

Didn’t see much wildlife in the bay. One bear, at a considerable distance, an eagle or two, bunches of seagulls and briefly, a school (pod? bunch?) of porpoises.

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