Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Avast you Lubbers! Time to Cruise the Inside Passage of Alaska With Holland America

We boarded Holland America's SS Zaandam around 3:30 PM on Sunday July 17th at its berth in the Seward, Alaska Harbor.  If you would like more info on this ship check out http://www.hollandamerica.com/cruise-vacation-onboard/Zaandam

Initial check-in was in a large clean shedlike building.

 From there we proceeded onto the dock and to the gangway proper.  There were no long lines or delays when we boarded no doubt due to the fact that we were early and departure was not scheduled until early evening.

Inside we were met by the security guy in shades, checked again,  and funneled in front of a photographer who took a mug shot for our on-board credit card.  The card would also be used to check us back onto the ship after shore excursions.


Once inside we found that we were already on the proper floor for our stateroom.  All we had to do was walk down a football field long corridor until we found the right stateroom number.

 And there it was--our little home away from home for the next six days.  There was a nice view out of the window and a little sofa, chair, and coffee table for general lounging in front of the TV. 

The bathroon, as one might expect, was tight, but functioned efficiently.

 All told quite pleasant. The most pleasant of all was that our luggage, which we had last seen outside our door at the Windsong Lodge some eight hours ago, was sitting patiently on our bed awaiting its unpacking.  We settled in , took a short rest, and then headed out for an initial exploration of the ship before dinner.  The Zaadam holds about 1500 passengers. It was the largest one we have ever been on.  Our Costa/Rica/Panama Canal ship only held 100 passengers.  This one, with elevators zipping you up and down its ten decks, seemed gigantic, but according to the web site it is classified as a mid sized vessel.  They are now making cruising behemoths that serve twice that number or more.
What did we find? 
You can walk four times around the promenade deck to make a mile.

You can also walk up and down the grand staircase while gazing at a huge white pipe organ. We were assured that it could be played, but we never heard it.

There are lounges and bars around every corner.

The main showroom/auditorium holds over 400 and holds daily lectures and the evening shows.

And of course there are pools.  There are two large hot tubs and a pool on the Lido Deck and also a smaller pool aft. 

We were still in port as we settled down to our first dinner.

The view from our table was fully as good as our dinner. I had a lovely soup, salad, a soft buttery sea bass fillet, and strudel for dessert. Jan sampled some tender veal.  

A soft rain accompanied by mist had begun to fall as we finished dinner and we were suddenly aware that we were moving. There was no engine sound or any sense of wave motion, but we were clearly gliding along in a massive tube of silence broken only by muted conversation and the soft chatter of silverware on fine china.  I suspect that folks whose tables were away from the windows were not even aware that we had left the dock and were leaving Seward behind.

After our lifeboat drill around 7:30 PM, we took a turn around the deck and had no trouble persuading another strolling passerby to snap our photo as we began the second week of our Road Scholar adventure.


The rain continued to fall intermittently  and that old Sandburg fog catfooted its way around us as we left the harbor further behind.  Slowly the inlet widened and the shore receded into shadowy grey mounds.   

 Bedtime.  Hope to see you bright and early tomorrow in College Fjord.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Seward's Alaska Sea Life Center Scores Big with Road Scholars

On a day when everyone in our Road Scholar group was looking forward to boarding our cruise ship, the morning trip to the Alaska Sea Life Center seemed more like a filler than a destination.  Our luggage (even most of our hand carries)  had all been tagged to be delivered to the boat from the motel and most of us we were free and unencumbered.  It was definitely a pleasant surprise to find a first class aquarium and marine life research lab just waiting for us to explore.

We started off with a fine lecture on the center's mission by the center's public information officer.

 This was followed by an informative  illustrated talk on the differences between harbor seals and sea lions delivered by one of the staff biolgists.  After that we were broken into small groups and given a comprehensive behind the scenes look at the research  facilities. The center conducts studies in its labs and also collects data on habitat, behavior, and population from various sites throughout the state.  

Just before noon we were left on our own to wander amongst the two floors of exhibits and live water environments.  Some folks left fairly quickly to have lunch and explore more of Seward.  We found the center so fascinating that we grabbed a sandwich at the lobby cafe and returned to the exhibits for another hour and a half.

The outdoor habitat for puffins, gulls, ducks, and penguins garnered a lot of our time. 

As did the feeding of a gigantic old sea lion, who was as big a ham as any old time vaudeville entertainer.

The larger tanks were filled with aquatic life of all kinds.

I was particularly fascinated by one of their experiments that affixed a camera to the head of a seal in order to observe his actions and interactions out in the wild.
Here the camera is shown in position on a model
This is what the seal cam would see  i.e. me
It was mid afternoon before we left the Center to appeciate what a fine view Seward's residents have from their own downtown.

The city also has a free bus service that plies between the cruise ship docks and the downtown. 

We jumped on and in about ten minutes were deposited dockside at the berth of the M/S Zaandam, our soon to be home away from home for the next six days.

Next entry is "We Get on Board and explore the ship."



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Alaska: Driving Down the Kenai Peninsula to Seward

Just when you think you have run out of great scenery, you find yourself riding a bus down the Kenai Peninsula to Seward.  First off you hit Potter Marsh.

Then the Turnagain Arm opens out on your right 

On both side of the Arm the peaks rise up precipitously right from sea level. 

On the left hand side the road is cut into the mountatin side.

Frequently the highway crosses bridges over salmon streams that come coursing down from the heights to flow into the Arm.

The fisherfolk were out on this one that may be Bird Creek
We stopped for lunch at a ski resort called  Alyeska.  There is a large hotel at the bottom of the mountains and a tramway that carries you up to where the ski runs begin.

 When you get up to the tippy top you find a restaurant and bar.

From the circular observation platform you get a view of several glaciers tucked into the high saddles of surrounding mountains.

A storm blew in across the way while we were on top and this view,  much like a classic Japanese print, turned out to be one of my favorite photos of the entire trip.

Looking to the south from the top the very end of Turnagain Arm was every bit as spectacular as the glacial heights.
Tides in the Arm are among the highest in the world and at low tide the mud flats stretch for miles.

  Out in back of the tram house were trails leading to additionl ski tows.

Summer hikers were encouraged to stroll, but not without reading this admonition.

Since the paragliders didn't set down until they reached the meadow down at the hotel, I guess they didn't need to worry about the sign. 

As we glided back down on the tram,  we saw a brave group of walkers working their way up the hard way.  Road Scholars do have some perks.

 Returning once again to sea level, we re-mounted our sturdy coach and left the Turnagain Arm behind. 

In another hour we had finished our run into Seward and were resting contently at the immaculate and scenic in its own right, Windsong Lodge.

We sipped a gin and tonic on the porch outside the dining room and enjoyed this view that evening.

It was a tender chicken breast with mushroom sauce for dinner, topped off with homemade ice cream.   Tomorrow it's down to the Seward Harbor,  a visit to the Sea Life Center, and then on board  our cruise ship the S.S. Zaadam.