Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Always an Adventure!!!!!

Hi Everyone!

I just returned Sunday from an amazing (and adventurous) time in Alaska! It was so beautiful and I’d like to share some of it with you. I found out Thursday that I was going to have to head to Vancouver Saturday morning. Alaska has long been on my list of places to see, so I couldn’t believe I was getting to opportunity to actually go! I boarded Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas on May 26th and set off for 7 nights I’ll not soon forget.
The ship itself feels like a destination. It was built with visually rich itineraries in mind. It was difficult to pass from one location in the ship to another without encountering a wall of glass with breathtaking views. Many of the ships public rooms and even elevators offered awe-inspiring views of the Alaskan landscape. There were many options available for entertainment on board. Musicians were scattered about the various public lounges, the cinema constantly ran new releases, the casino was open whenever we were not in port, the Ship Shape Spa and Gymnasium were well equipped, and there were offerings for just about every taste on board. With the gourmet food, Gold Anchor Service from the staff, and the welcoming, luxurious beds in the stateroom, my trip was off to an amazing, and relaxing, start!
The first full day was spent at sea. This gave me an excellent opportunity to catch up on some rest and attend the required learning sessions (after all…this WAS a business trip!). We spent the morning learning about the exciting enhancements Royal Caribbean is preparing to release, and then we were released to enjoy the day. It was a great time to explore the ship and relax in the spa. The Serenade of the Seas has a fantastic Thermal Suite in her spa. The suite is a tranquil room with ceiling to floor windows, warm stone chairs, a sauna, steam room, aromatherapy chamber, and a tropical shower. It was an amazing place to just allow my body to relax. I spent a good bit of time there! The first day at sea was also the first formal night. It was fun to get dressed up and enjoy the wonderful food.

The first port of call was Sitka, Alaska. Sitka was the former capitol of Alaska and the site of the official purchase of the state. When Russia transferred ownership of Alaska to the U.S., the ceremony took place upon Capitol Hill.

Alaska, as a whole, is rich with Russian heritage and native Tlingit lore. My favorite stops were at the churches in Sitka. I ventured first to St. Michael’s Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox Church. I was not allowed to take pictures inside, but truly enjoyed the Russian artwork and artifacts on display. In the 1966, the church, and several other downtown buildings, were completely destroyed by fire. The congregation of St. Michael’s rushed to the building and saved the majority of furnishings, artwork and artifacts. The rebuilt structure was true to the original design. A congregation of nearly 100 families still meets there regularly.

Another favorite stop was at St. Peter’s by the Sea Episcopal Church. The beautiful stone structure made me feel as though I had stepped into another time. The church was open for travelers to come in, pray, and reflect.

This first taste of Alaskan History, Culture, and Beauty just left me wanting more and excited to see what each following stop held

To view more photos of Sitka, please visit: http://www1.snapfish.com/share/p=69551181070943344/l=256909312/g=15410742/otsc=SYE/otsi=SALB

The next day was at sea, but the morning hours took us past Hubbard Glacier. Hubbard Glacier is the largest glacier in Alaska and is roughly the size of Rhode Island. It was a bitterly cold and icy day as we sailed past the glacier, making it difficult to truly see it in all of it’s majesty. Below is a picture I took from the ship, but more information and better pictures can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubbard_Glacier

More of my pictures of Hubbard Glacier can be viewed at: http://www1.snapfish.com/share/p=91851181071411489/l=256909316/g=15410742/otsc=SYE/otsi=SALB

My next port of call was Skagway, Alaska. We pulled into port at Skagway on May 30th – my Birthday! I’m not sure if I could have chosen a better place to spend my birthday. I was sad to not share it with friends and family, but because Alaska is an U.S. port, I was able to receive phone calls and connect with those back home. Skagway was beautiful and in many ways felt like an untouched Gold Rush town. Many of the buildings were originally built during the Gold Rush of 1898.

The city truly embraces it’s Gold Rush Heritage and exhibits it throughout the town. Outside the Museum of the Trail of ’98, there was a particularly humorous photo op for tourists.

Skagway is also home to the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway. This train follows the path of the Gold Rushers up the mountain. It offered breath taking and overwhelming scenery as we followed the path of history.
Some of the most beautiful pictures I took were on this train ride. You can view them at: http://www1.snapfish.com/share/p=97851181074153322/l=256909318/g=15410742/otsc=SYE/otsi=SALB

The final port of call was Juneau, Alaska. Juneau is currently the capitol of Alaska, although many are trying to change that. There are no roads in or out of Juneau which makes it difficult to access and an expensive place to live.

Alaska is the home of the Mendenhall Glacier (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mendenhall_Glacier). The bluest parts of the ice are the most compact.

This is Alaska’s most quickly receding glacier. As it is the main tourist attraction in Juneau, the town has begun developing attractions that may take its place. Within the mountains of Juneau, there are over 100 miles of tunnels used during the Gold Rush. They are currently developing those attractions into the future main attraction of Juneau.

You can see more of my pictures from Juneau at: http://www1.snapfish.com/share/p=12151181076105503/l=256911302/g=15410742/otsc=SYE/otsi=SALB

Juneau was also the port that held the most excitement for me. As a Travel Agent and a well seasoned cruiser, this part of the story is extremely embarrassing. But, I hope that you will find a good laugh in the following paragraphs.

As I headed back to the ship after my Mendenhall Glacier tour, I was really looking forward to a nap and some relaxation time. It was around 2:30pm when I made it back to the Tram station. I looked around for the bus that was to take me back to the ship and could not find it. I waited for about 20 minutes before I decided to just walk to the dock. I headed towards the dock, but wasn’t sure I was headed the right direction. There were 4 ships in port that day and mine was out of my line of sight. I headed back to the Tram Station to await the next bus. After waiting for nearly an hour for the bus, I gave up and decided to find a taxi to take me back to the dock. Another 20 minutes or so passed before I could find a taxi to take me. I headed towards the dock with visions of a cool cabin and warm bed in my head.

Unfortunately, those visions were shattered as we pulled up to the dock. Off in the distance, I could see the Serenade of the Seas on her way out of port. My heart stopped and I thought I might be sick. I started to panic a little at that point. I didn’t know what in the world I was going to do to fix this situation. As I recalled that moment, I felt sorry for the taxi driver. As we pulled up to the dock and saw the ship had already left, I looked at the meter and it said $6.46. I only had $8.00 in my pocket!!! At that point, I told him he probably needed to just let me out right there as I only had $8.00 and could not afford for him to take me back to town. Out of the kindness of his heart, he reached up and turned off the meter and returned me to the tram station. I’m certain I was probably mentioned at his dinner table that evening, the poor little girl who missed her ship!

As I returned to the Tram Station, I was desperately trying to find someone at Royal Caribbean who could help me with my situation. I didn’t know what the next step should be. As I was being transferred from department to department, I stumbled into the Visitor’s center. Thankfully, the lady working there overheard my conversation and offered to help me. She called the Cruise Line Agency and advised them I had missed my ship. This agency is set up to handle this type of situation, along with medical evacuations, logistical issues, and anything else the cruise line might need. The lady who helped me seemed to think they would get me back out to the ship. I started to calm down at that point and was hopeful that this would just be a minor blip in this trip. Oh how I wish that were true!

When the young man came to pick me up from the visitor’s center, I asked him what the next step was. When he told me that they were going to help me arrange for a hotel, I realized that this nightmare was only truly beginning. I have never in my life felt more like I was walking around in a dream. I kept willing myself to wake up and get out of the surreal world in which I found myself. I kept thinking I would wake up in my stateroom and all would be well. Unfortunately, this really did happen. The people at the port were extremely friendly and helpful. It was comforting to have someone pleasant to lean on as I tried to figure out the next step.

I was comforted to know I wasn’t the only person from my ship to “miss the boat”. There was another passenger named Barbara who was in the same predicament. She, however, was much farther from her home in Australia. I waited with her while she figured out how to get her luggage from the ship. I decided to just meet mine in Vancouver and avoid the hassle of toting it from airport to airport.

After I knew what was I needed to do and that I wasn’t going to be able to get to the ship, it was time to call my parents. I called and talked to my Dad. I said, “Hi Dad. I’m OK. But, I’m in Juneau, and my ship is not”. I’m not sure he believed me at first. He did calm me down and assure me that we would take care of the situation and that he would call me with my flights to Vancouver the next day. I found out later that he was cracking up about it when my mom came home. She wasn’t laughing. My youngest brother, Eddie, apparently couldn’t quit laughing either when he heard. My mom hung up on him. I’m afraid I shaved about 10 years off of her life with this little fiasco.

As if the frustration at the situation and my anger with myself weren’t enough punishment, I then had to spend the night in a Super 8 Motel in a room where the air conditioner was broken and the sheets were scratchy. As I sat there in my room, eating convenience store food, I thought of the luxury bedding and gourmet meal that was floating out to sea.
The next day I headed to Vancouver and spent another night. I washed my clothes in the bathtub and then had to iron them dry. Around 8:45am on Saturday morning, someone from the Vancouver Cruise Line Agency called and told me they had my luggage at the pier and I was to come pick it up. I arrived at the port around 9:30am to discover they did not, in fact, have my luggage. It was still aboard the ship and had not made it through customs yet. I began to get anxious as I had a 12:15pm flight and had to be checked in no later than 11:15am.

Unfortunately, I did not get my hands on my luggage until 10:45am and arrived at the airport at 11:20am. Having missed my flight (the only direct flight home), I was instructed to call Delta reservations in order to change my flight to the 1:18pm through Salt Lake City.

When I called reservations, I was advised that they could not change my flight as it was too close to departure. It was at this point that I really lost it. Until then, I had held things together pretty well. When I thought of having to spend another night away from home after everything, I began to cry hysterically. I sobbed, “You HAVE to put me on that flight. I CAN NOT spend another day here. I HAVE to go home!!” They were still checking people in for that flight, so I couldn’t understand the problem. She put me on hold for about 10 minutes and came back and told me it was not possible to confirm me on that flight because it was less than an hour before departure. It was then that I looked at my watch and realized it was only 11:30 – an hour and forty-five minutes before my flight. When I brought this to her attention, the agent realized she had been checking the wrong time zone and quickly confirmed me on my flight. Needless to say, I was more than relieved when I made it to the gate before they even began boarding the flight!

At this point, I knew I was going home. I was beginning to relax a little. I landed in the Salt Lake City airport around 4pm and settled in for the long wait for my Red-Eye 11:50pm flight. I did manage to read “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” from beginning to end and make it half way through Dan Brown’s “Deception Point”. So, the time wasn’t completely wasted!

When I arrived in Atlanta at 5:30am Sunday morning, I had never been so glad to be home!
Oh how I wish the story ended there. All of the drama is over, but the ribbing will continue for a lifetime I’m afraid. When my brother, Eddie, came to the office on Monday, he found one of our model cruise ships. Periodically during the day, he would come up to me and “sail away” and ask me if that’s what it looked like when the ship left. Then, he also found a model airplane and “flew” it away from me, all the while wondering if that’s what it looked like when I missed my flight. All of this was of course done between his fits of non-stop laughter at the thought of me missing the ship. Oh, I’m NEVER living this down!!!

I will now leave you with my brother’s most impressive jab at me. I hope my story brings a little smile to your face and laughter to your heart. I think the most important thing I’ve ever learned is to laugh at myself no matter what. It makes things like this a lot less painful! I hope you enjoy this fine work of art!