Arcane Gazebo’s Alaskan Cruise Rundown! — or — Aren’t there bears “outside”?

See, I told you I’d get around to it. Chronological order is boring, so we’ll do this Clint Eastwood style.

The Good:

Hiking in Juneau. This was the first of my “shore excursions”, which were far and away the highlight of the trip. Here we went on a 4.5 mile hike through the largest temperate rainforest; if I want I can hike in this same forest without leaving California. We went up a hill to a point overlooking a glacier, and I got one or two good pictures of this. (A selection of my pictures will be scanned in – I’m still analog – and posted here in the near future.) No bears were seen, although I did observe quite a few examples of Alaska’s state bird, the mosquito. (I am aware that this is also Florida’s state bird.)

Dog Sledding. The other “shore excursion” was a trip, via helicopter, to a sled dog training camp near Skagway. The helicopter is necessary because the camp is on top of a glacier – this is where one sleds in an Alaskan summer. The dogs are very friendly and playful, and clearly enjoy their work.

The Sky. It’s one night in particular that I remember. I was sitting in the bar at the top deck of the boat watching the moon just above the horizon. The DJ puts on Louis Armstrong’s A Kiss to Build a Dream On, which I really like, perhaps because it’s the theme to Fallout 2 (one of the Greatest Games of All Time). This audiovisual combination had a particularly harmonious effect. Shortly after the song ended, a girl I had met earlier turned up to inform me that one could see the Northern Lights from the prow of the ship. This turned out to be quite correct – they were a little faint, but green and shimmering. It occurred to me that although there was apparently no romantic interest on either side, standing on a boat alone with a girl watching the aurora borealis was one of the more intrinsically romantic moments I’d experienced in a while.

“We like physics majors.” Actual quote from a girl from USC, explaining why her party was evading some apparently less intellectual guys in favor of my general area. I didn’t reap any dividends from this preference, but since it’s the first and the last time I’ll hear a girl say this I savored the moment.

Black Russians. 3 parts vodka, 1 part Kahlua. Not too girly, not too old-mannish (my gin|vodka tonic orders have earned derision more than once), and rather pleasant-tasting. I know The Dude prefers white russians, but why would I want to dilute the alcoholic ingredients?

The Bad:

Seasickness. While not as bad as my expectations, there were times when I remembered why I was not meant to be a man of the sea. Fortunately, my good friend Dramamine was there to help me out.

Matchmaking. What I left out of my previous rant on this topic was that my aunt’s former intern happened to be on the ship. I don’t know if my aunt thought this was fate, or if it was merely because this girl was the first one my age she saw on the ship, but she decided that the two of us were a perfect match. Naturally, she then proceeded to attempt to set us up in a manner that, in the words of Foghorn Leghorn, was as subtle as a hand grenade in a barrel of oatmeal. (I find it revealing that “to set up”, rendered in the passive voice, indicates that one has been caught in a trap.) My aunt eventually realized that it wasn’t working (but probably wouldn’t have if we had told her about the Northern Lights incident). She then did the next logical thing, which was to attempt to set me up with another girl in the same party. I appreciate the thought, but there are less embarrassing ways to go about these things.

“Have you read Ann Coulter’s new book? She is dead on.” This is an actual quote from one of my relatives. It’s one thing to know that there are people who believe things like this, and another to hear someone say it, especially when that person shares your DNA. Interestingly, this quote can be made into a correct statement by adding the letters w, r, and g.

Boredom. Not scheduling a “shore excursion” for Ketchikan was a bad idea, because the town is about 90% cheesy tourist shops. This made it roughly comparable in boredom level to the ship itself during the days at sea, where the activities were targeted primarily to a crowd half a century older than myself. Fortunately I had Golden Sun 2 to fall back on, but I also spent a lot of time catching up on sleep.

They ran out of Kahlua. I wouldn’t say it was entirely my fault. It was at only one bar, but this was the only one that was interesting to hang out in anyway, so I stayed and drank vodka tonics.

The Ugly:

The Cafeteria. This brought back memories of Caltech’s cafeteria, where we would make up smartass names for the recurring meals. Chicken cordon bleu, for example, was “hamsters”. (Eventually we got the kitchen staff to call it this on the menu.) Fortunately we found better places to eat, even if the service there was, well, glacial.

The Show. There was a live performance every night after dinner, and I instinctively stayed the hell away from it. Until one night my aunt dropped me off (“like you’d drop off a videotape,” as my dad put it) with the family of the mate she had selected for me. These people were all regular viewers of the show (that’s a deal-breaker right there), and under extreme duress (This is not feudal Japan – I’m not refusing just to give you the chance to offer again!) I agreed to join them. My retinas have still not recovered from the blinding colors of the costumes, which were changed around a ridiculous number of times as the cast sang rapid-fire showtunes I’d never heard before and danced around like idiots. One cannot gnaw one’s arm off to escape a metaphorical trap, so I was forced to stay and contemplate setting myself on fire until the “performance” finally ended.

Anyway, this is probably more than anyone wanted to know. My final conclusion is that Alaska’s a neat place, but a cruise is probably not the way for me to travel. Also, while certain musicals will now cause me to flee in terror or perhaps have violent seizures, I have a slightly higher appreciation for Louis Armstrong.

Sweetheart, I ask no more than this
A kiss to build a dream on.