Sunday, May 27, 2007

Here's a Tip

If anyone out there stumbled upon this journal entry by googling "Cruise West" looking for real user reviews, here's a tip: Book your shore excursions in advance. Then confirm them a few times.

Today we went to Petersburg. There were many shore excursions for the city -- one was a jet boat ride to Le Conte glacier. My parents and I had pre-booked that one. Cruise West had space for 18 people on the jet boat. They set out sign-up sheets for the shore excursions -- and the jet boat one already had 16 names on it from the people who had prebooked. Our Exploration Leader explained that if more people signed up than there were spaces, the folks who prebooked would be guaranteed on, and there'd be a lottery for any extra spaces.

About 30 people signed up for the jet boat ride. Last night we were told that they'd hired someone to pilot a second jet boat out to the glacier, so everyone who signed up would be able to go.

This morning, shortly before we disembarked for our shore excursions, an announcement was made -- there was trouble with one of the jet boats and they could only take 18. And what made this more exciting was that, in actuality, 20 people had pre-booked. Somehow, the reservations of 4 people never got into the magic shore excursion book. Never mind that the last 2 of them shouldn't have been booked at all since they were already at capacity.

So, our Exploration Leaders decided to do a lottery among the 20 of us for the 18 jet boat spots. One of them writes all our names on scraps of paper and throws them in a cup, and the other Exploration Leader pulls 18 names out. (By the time he got to the fourth or fifth name, I whispered to my parents, "You know, there's an easier way to do this.") Luckily, all three of our names were picked, so we were on the jet boat. Meantime, the other 2 who had reservations (and the other then who, as of last night, thought they'd be on the jet boat) scrambled to find something else to do in Petersburg.

I didn't see much of Petersburg as the jet boat picked us up a "forty-five second bus ride" away from where the ship had docked. The lucky 18 of us piled into his jet boat and we were off to Le Conte glacier.

OK, here's the thing. I've seen a glacier before. (The Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand.) But that glacier was on land. I'd never seen one hanging out in the water, so I didn't quite know what to expect.

Here's what to expect: Jet boat cruises along, and then: small piece of ice (think baby iceberg) in the water. Then, a couple more pieces of ice. Then more. Then even more. Soon, the water in front of the jet boat looks to be half water and half ice. The jet boat keeps moving ahead (busting small pieces of ice as it goes) until it is very nearly landlocked in an ocean virtually covered with icebergs.

If you're very lucky, the jet boat will actually get within viewing (or even spitting) range of the glacier by the time this happens. We weren't so lucky -- the glacier face was beyond a bend and we couldn't get far enough into the ice field to get around to see it. Still, the field of ice -- particularly how amazingly blue it looked -- was darned impressive.

There will be photographs. I had actually planned on there being photographs -- but when I got back to the ship, I discovered that I hadn't packed the cable to connect my camera to my laptop to transfer the photos. So they've all got to stay in the camera for now. Instead, I took an hour or so to review the photos on my camera so I could delete a few dozen unimpressive photos of ice -- leaving room for more pics from the rest of the trip (and just a few of the more impressive photos of ice).

Thereafter, we cruised around and looked for whales. I've been whale-watching before and never really saw anything -- but I totally saw whales here. My whale-watching got a lot better when I returned to my cabin for (a) a wardrobe change (grabbed the blue hat -- my ears were freezing) and (b) a change of equipment (swapped out my camera and swapped in the binoculars). I regret that I didn't take any pictures of the whales -- but given the choice between memorializing the event with a crappy photo from too far away (even with the camera's zoom) and fully experiencing it via 10 multiplication binoculars, there was no real choice. I just had to admire the grace with which a 40 ton animal can launch itself into the air and be content with memories.

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