"I'm sorry I didn't laugh at your joke." -- Connie, after I retold some jokes from a talk show
My family just got back from an amazing eight-day Alaskan cruise. This was our first real trip to Alaska - not counting the brief layover in Anchorage during our trip to Taiwan in 1995 - so it was pretty exciting.
Like our previous cruise, this wasn't a vacation for just the three of us as we traveled with the families of my friend Moonway and cousins Connie and Cathy. Strictly speaking, my parents did not plan this vacation; the Shiehs and some of their neighbors had organized a group vacation with Celebrity Cruises, and Aunt Cynthia invited us to join them. The Lins also expressed interest in coming along, so we happily obliged. :-)
The trip began with a flight to Vancouver, the port of call. Upon arriving at YVR, my parents and I rendezvoused with the two other families and introduced them to each other. The meeting between the kids was a little awkward at first, but Moonway's sister Sarah and Cathy quickly became good friends. This was not unexpected, considering that the girls are about the same age.
Once everyone had gotten acquainted, it was time to board MV Mercury and get the party started. But before the ship set sail, all of the passengers and crew first had to participate in the mandatory muster drill. This is actually one of the lessons from the Titanic disaster. The drill was followed by the captain's welcome reception in the evening, and we got to meet the big man!
The day began with a bus tour of the area around Juneau. The tour took us to quite a few places, but the most notable stop was the small zoo in the countryside. While zoos aren't exactly my cup of tea, I loved seeing the grizzly bear cubs. They were just so darn cute!
I should mention that I bought a key chain for Dad while at the zoo. The souvenir didn't cost more than a dollar, but it looked really nice. I certainly hope Dad will find it useful.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful except for the comedy show that my parents and I went to see in the evening. It was hilarious at first, although it started getting boring during the second half. The three of us then met up with the Shieh family for dinner. I shared some of the jokes from the show at the table, but nobody else seemed to get them. Oh well.
The entire day consisted of sailing as the next destination was was several hundred miles from Juneau. This didn't allow for any excursions, so we took the opportunity to see what the ship had to offer. It was hard to believe how big MV Mercury was.
Our families spent some time on the main deck to enjoy the cool breeze and the great ocean view. There was also a swimming pool and spa, the latter of which was nice. Moonway and I later found a game room on one of the floors, and the two of us would often go there during the next few days. The room only had four computers, but they were seldom occupied.
The cruise offered some ballroom dancing lessons, and our parents decided to go dancing after dinner. Moonway thought the idea of dancing with girls was gross - and the event was restricted to people over 15 anyway - so the two of us stayed in his cabin to play with my Game Boy instead.
Some time later, I found out there was a teen dance party scheduled for midnight. The staff apparently hadn't forgotten about us kids. I really liked the LAYC dances when I was in 7th grade, so I decided to stay up to see what this one was like. However, the only people that showed up were a couple of girls. That didn't seem too fun, so I went to bed. I think the dance would have had a much better turnout if it didn't start so late.
The highlight of the day was the Hubbard Glacier tour. The glacier was in a rather inaccessible location, so the sightseers got there via helicopter. One thing to note is that the rotors were loud as hell; I have no idea how Sarah managed to fall asleep during the ride. It seems kids can sleep through anything.
The tour itself was literally a cool experience as we got to hike on the glacier. Yet I couldn't help but notice all the deep holes filled with water. It was a little scary as falling into one would almost mean certain death - and a rather unpleasant one at that. Several brave tour guides were there to try to prevent that from happening, but I was still kind of nervous as the ice was quite slippery.
There was a movie night after dinner, and the staff put on Practical Magic in one of the auditoriums. I wasn't too interested in the movie - not to mention that I had seen it before - so I left early to hang out with Moonway.
The ship stopped at a small town called Skagway. One excursion that we went on was a scenic train tour through the surrounding mountains. The views were absolutely beautiful, and my parents and I really enjoyed the ride.
The excursion wasn't that long, so there was time to explore the town itself afterwards. Skagway had many gift stores, and we spent much of the afternoon window shopping. To our regret, Moonway and I got into a bit of trouble: the two of us had absolutely nothing better to do, so we wrote some not-so-nice comments in the visitor log of one of the stores as a prank. The manager was obviously not a happy camper when he found out, and blamed my father for not supervising me and my friend closely enough. As you could imagine, Dad wasn't too pleased either. Yeah, that was pretty stupid of us. :-(
Next on the itinerary was Sitka. The highlight of the day was a boat tour of the Indian River. There were countless salmon leaping out of the water, and it was an incredible sight. The excursion was fairly expensive but worth every cent. But what made the tour so special was that the captain of the boat allowed me to be the unofficial sonar operator. This was an incredibly special experience - I imagine it's not every day that they'd let some random kid play with such expensive equipment.
The day ended with a "farewell" dinner. This was a little odd, considering that there were still two days left of the cruise. I'm not sure why they put on the finale event at this time, but it made me feel like the trip was almost over. Other than that, the food was delicious, so I ain't complaining. I'd say this was overall the best day of our vacation.
The ship arrived in Ketchikan, another one of those Alaskan towns. Ketchikan was very similar to Skagway in that it also had a lot of gift shops, although the former was much larger. Like two days ago, my family spent much of the day browsing the stores. Ketchikan was my second favorite stop; even though it's hard to describe, there was definitely something very special about this town.
All good things must come to an end, and this cruise was by no means an exception. MV Mercury arrived in Vancouver at around noon, and all of us disembarked and headed to the airport. Our families then flew back to San Francisco before going separate ways.
I had started feeling homesick a few days ago, so it's great to be home after a week on the sea. But at the same time, I'm also kind of sad that our amazing adventure has concluded.
Our first cruise was to Ensenada, Baja California with the Liang family in December 1997. That cruise turned out to be loads of fun, so we decided to go on an even longer one. The best part of this vacation was undoubtedly the Indian River boat ride. The tour itself was nice, but the honor of being the unofficial sonar operator made it infinitely better. I also loved Ketchikan as well; the unique atmosphere of the town made it a very special place. I hope to go back there should we ever revisit Alaska.
Our cruise had some not-so-glorious moments as well. The worst part was when some of us started feeling ill a few days ago. No wonder they say it's easy to get sick on cruise ships. I only had a mild case of sore throat, but my parents and Moonway's father Hank had it somewhat worse. Being sick on a family vacation is no fun. :-(
There's also that run-in with the angry shopkeeper in Skagway after Moonway and I wrote some crude comments in the guestbook as a joke. Dad said the guy could have called the police on us, but nothing of the sort happened. I guess we lucked out.
The other thing was the age restrictions: many of the ship's amenities, such as the exercise rooms and most dance floors, were off-limits to children 15 or under. While this didn't seem to be strictly enforced, I didn't want to be a bad role model to the other kids by not following the rules. This means I probably won't be able to get the most out of a cruise until I'm older, but I guess there's a time for everything.
The vacation also wasn't all fun and games as I had to read Will Hobbs' Downriver and J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit for 8th grade English class during my free time. It's not like the teacher will give us a quiz on the first day of school, but I felt it was best to get that out of the way first. However, this did not make the cruise any less fun; if anything, it made the vacation a lot more memorable because I actually enjoyed those two books.
To say the least, this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. I don't know if we'll ever go on another cruise like this, especially because it's so hard to find another family that is willing to spend the money. For those who aren't aware, cruises can cost up to twice as much as regular trips, and even more so for international cruises. Traveling by ourselves is always an option, but cruises just don't seem that fun when it's just me and my parents. Having said that, I hope it won't be long until our next one.
In other news...
Moonway recently got the full version of Duke Nukem 3D: Atomic Edition at Electronics Boutique. Throughout the cruise, I was so anxious to check out the game that I kept asking Moonway what would happen if we fire an RPG at various objects, much to his chagrin. I guess I'll get my answers soon enough. :-)
Currently reading: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien