The Bow that Bridges Heaven

September 13, 2009

Rainbow over the Inside Passage

Rainbow over the Inside Passage

Rainbow on the last evening of our cruise

Rainbow on the last evening of our cruise

On the final evening of our cruise, a rainbow arched 180 degrees across the sky.  It felt like a fitting gift to mark the end of our vacation at sea.

“Boats sail on the rivers,
     And ships sail on the seas;
But clouds that sail across the sky
     Are prettier far than these.

There are bridges on the rivers,
     As pretty as you please;
But the bow that bridges heaven,
     And overtops the trees,
And builds a road from earth to sky,
     Is prettier far than these.

If all were rain and never sun,
     No bow could span the hill;
If all were sun and never rain,
     There’d be no rainbow still.”

— Christina Rossetti

The Benevolence of Sweets

September 12, 2009

A few of the treats at the Coral Princess's Pastry Extravagnaza

A few of the treats at the Coral Princess's Pastry Extravaganza

My favorite cruise treat, a fruit tart

My favorite cruise treat, a fruit tart

Spun sugar taken to new heights

Spun sugar taken to new heights

You could assuage your guilt by partaking of sugar-free desserts.

You could assuage your guilt by partaking of sugar-free desserts.

Choice of pastries at the Coral Princess's afternoon tea

Choice of pastries at the Coral Princess's afternoon tea

Cruises are well known for their excess of food.  We found this to be the case on the Coral Princess.  The abundant choices and excellent cuisine were certainly an indulgence.  My response was to give in to this pampering as gracefully as I could!

I think this passage from Muriel Barbery’s Gourmet Rhapsody captures the feeling of this abundance:

“No one was the least bit hungry anymore, but that is precisely what is so good about the moment devoted to pastries: they can only be appreciated to the full extent of their subtlety when they are not eaten to assuage our hunger, when the orgy of their sugary sweetness is not destined to fill some primary need but to coat our palate with all the benevolence of the world.”

Glacier Bay National Park

September 11, 2009

My favorite part of our Alaskan cruise was Glacier Bay National Park.  We spent one entire day cruising in this remote and pristine wilderness.  Glacier Bay is accessible only by plane or ship, so I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience the beauty of this gem of a national park.

Here are some photographs that give you a sense of the wonders found in the park:

One of the many glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park

One of the many glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park

Lining up on deck to see the Margerie Glacier up close

Lining up on deck to see the Margerie Glacier up close

Jagged blue ice of the Johns Hopkins Glacier

Jagged blue ice of the Johns Hopkins Glacier

Harbor seal floating on an iceberg by the Johns Hopkins Glacier

Harbor seal floating on an iceberg by the Johns Hopkins Glacier

Shades of blue, Glacier Bay National Park

Shades of blue, Glacier Bay National Park

Sun streams through the clouds, Glacier Bay National Park

Sun streams through the clouds, Glacier Bay National Park

Life on Board a Cruise Ship

September 10, 2009

I quickly acclimated to life aboard a ship.  Our stateroom was an interior room with no windows, but there were two strategically placed mirrors that cleverly helped to expand the feel of the space.  It was wonderfully handy to unpack upon arrival and not have to live out of a suitcase and move hotel rooms every day.  The room was so dark at night that when I woke, I had absolutely no idea what time it was until I looked at my glow-in-the-dark watch face.

Our interior stateroom on the Baja deck (11th floor)

Our interior stateroom on the Baja deck (11th floor)

First thing every morning I ran three miles.  The first two days when we were at sea, and I ran around the Promenade deck while the crew swabbed the decks.  Three times around the deck was equivalent to one mile.  The mornings when we were in port, the Promenade deck was blocked off for the gangways, so I ran on a treadmill in the exercise room.  After my run, I took a dry sauna in the spa and then showered and changed.  The spa had a wonderfully big “thermal room” with wet and dry saunas — like a huge Roman bath, but it was expensive.  The small, standard wood-lined dry sauna was free.  I don’t think most passengers even knew it was available.  I was always the only person in the sauna.  It was a lovely, relaxing place.

Crew swabbing the Promenade deck early in the morning

Crew swabbing the Promenade deck early in the morning

We ate our way through the days starting with breakfast.  We had our choice of a sit-down breakfast, with food choices from a menu, or a huge breakfast buffet.  We tried both, but mostly frequented the buffet, where I always had a made-to-order omelete with smoked salmon, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and asparagus.

Food was available 24-hours a day from a variety of restaurants.  I ate more fruit and vegetables from the buffet than I usually do at home, but it was also easy to indulge in the delicious pastries and desserts.  My strategy was to wear pants that fit perfectly around the waistband.  I knew that if they started to feel snug, it would be time to slack off the sweets!  That strategy served me well.

The food was abundant, beautifully presented, and delicious.  We chose “Anytime Dining,” so we were not committed to a specific dinner time.  We had access to all the same restaurants as any other passenger.  For dinner each evening, we could choose to sit at a table for two, or join a larger table with four or six other passengers.  We most often sat with others to share conversation.  The dinners were four-course meals with appetizer, soup or salad, entree, and dessert and coffee.  Everything was delicious.  Some of my entrees were perch, Alaskan king crab legs, broiled shrimp and steak, lobster, and salmon. . . yum.  The portions were moderate, but you could ask for a double serving (which we did when we had the shrimp).

Pastry extravaganza

Pastry extravaganza

Death by chocolate

Death by chocolate

And if meals weren’t enough, there was also afternoon tea each day at 3:30 p.m.  We tried it once.  It was lovely, but how much can one eat in a day?!?

Afternoon tea (it was Lipton's!) with scones and cookies

Afternoon tea (it was Lipton's!) with scones and cookies

We soon scoped out a few favorite spots on board.  We had a favorite couch in the expansive hallway on the Promenade deck where we could people watch and keep our eyes on the scenery.  We also discovered a small covered deck at the back of the ship on our 11th floor.  This was a perfect spot for watching the spectacular scenery unfold because it gave us a view of both sides at the same time.  We spotted humpback whales, porpoises, orca whales, and harbor seals from this deck.  We spent hours out there, and often had the entire deck to ourselves.  We made it a point to watch the sunsets each day.

Our wake seen from the aft deck

Our wake seen from the aft deck

Porpoises cavorting in the water of the Inside Passage

Porpoises cavorting in the water of the Inside Passage

There were lots of activities on board every day — movies, trivia games, gambling in the casino, reading in the library, musical productions, etc. — but my husband and I spent most of our time either eating or on deck sightseeing.  We did enjoy a lecture on navigation, a culinary demonstration, and an ice-carving demonstration. After dark, we also enjoyed a couple of comedy performances, a musical production, and an American Idol-like contest.

Singers and dancers performing in the Motor City theatrical production

Singers and dancers performing in the Motor City theatrical production

The executive chef demonstrates his cooking skills

The executive chef demonstrates his cooking skills

We found the cruise to be a relaxing respite from our normal working world.  It was different from most of our vacations, in that we put ourselves in the cruise ship’s hands, and didn’t have to worry about meals, itineraries, schedules, or transportation.  We were just along for the ride, and were very well taken care of.

Cruising Alaska

September 9, 2009

Our cruise ship, the Coral Princess, at the dock in Ketchikan

Our cruise ship, the Coral Princess, at the dock in Ketchikan

My husband and I returned on Monday from a 7-day cruise from Anchorage, Alaska, down the coast to Vancouver, B.C.  We booked the cruise at the last minute after learning that I would be furloughed for one week while the Seattle Public Libraries closed for budget reasons.  When I was investigating things to do during my week off without pay, I ran across this cruise that fit the timeframe exactly.  We’ve never cruised before, so we decided that when life served up lemons, we’d make lemonade and enjoy a vacation that took us away from our everyday concerns.

We didn’t see as much wildlife as during our land vacation in Alaska in 2008, but the scenery along the Alaskan coast was stunningly beautiful.  Here are a few photos that attempt to capture the scope of this week-long cruise:

Snow-capped peaks surrounding Harvard Glacier in College Fjord

Snow-capped peaks surrounding Harvard Glacier in College Fjord

Lining up on deck to see Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park

Lining up on deck to see Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park

These days Skagway pans for tourist dollars rather than gold

These days Skagway pans for tourist dollars rather than gold

Skagway guide dressed in Gold Rush era clothing

Skagway guide dressed in Gold Rush era clothing

Departing Skagway ahead of two other cruise ships

Departing Skagway ahead of two other cruise ships

Float plane descending into Juneau

Float plane descending into Juneau

Lone kayaker against the immensity of the Mendenhall Glacier outside of Juneau

Lone kayaker against the immensity of the Mendenhall Glacier outside of Juneau

Icebergs in the water by Nugget Falls near the Mendenhall Glacier

Icebergs in the water by Nugget Falls near the Mendenhall Glacier

Cloud-enshrouded forests around Juneau -- Juneau gets over twice as much precipitation as Seattle.

Cloud-enshrouded forests around Juneau -- Juneau gets over twice as much precipitation as Seattle.

It rained every day of our trip, but the changing clouds were beautiful and dramatic.

It rained every day of our trip, but the changing clouds were beautiful and dramatic.

Totem poles at Saxman Village outside Ketchikan

Totem poles at Saxman Village outside Ketchikan

Native carver demonstrates his craft, Saxman Village

Native carver demonstrates his craft, Saxman Village

Our favorite activity was simply watching the scenery go by from our aft deck.

Our favorite activity was simply watching the scenery go by from our aft deck.

I cherish the memories of sunsets at sea.

I cherish the memories of sunsets at sea.

Lion's Gate Bridge in Vancouver, B.C. on the final morning of our cruise

Lion's Gate Bridge in Vancouver, B.C. on the final morning of our cruise