Archive for Thursday, September 4, 2008

Eyes, stomachs filled on cruise

September 4, 2008

Editor's note: John Beal is continuing his column while on vacation.

Aboard M/V Rhapsody of the Seas

There's no excuse for going hungry on a cruise ship.

The cruise lines have figured out that the way to the traveler's heart is through his stomach.

I'm sure a great variety of skills are necessary to operate a vessel such as this one, and to safely transport thousands of people across the oceans in safety and relative comfort.

It takes mariners with the knowledge and skill to keep the ship operating safely through the night, often in congested waters.

It takes a housekeeping staff to see to all the little details - cleaning staterooms and common spaces, keeping everything in suitable trim.

It takes a hospitality staff of cooks and sous chefs and helpers and waiters and sommeliers, busboys and dishwashers and who knows what all to keep everyone fed and happy.

The lines have placed particular emphasis on the latter. All of it is important, but food and food service is the fulcrum around which the cruise ship revolves.

Not much is left to chance. In addition to two seatings for dinner in the main restaurant, a buffet runs during most waking hours on one of the upper decks. Several lounges also serve drinks and snacks. If all of that isn't enough, there's 24/7 room service.

The food is plentiful, but that's not all. Most of it is pretty good. This is not a vacation you'd choose if you wanted to lose weight.

As I write this, we're ending our third day at sea - sort of. I say sort of because we've chosen an Alaska cruise for our maiden voyage, so most of our journey, save for a short run between Seattle and the Inside Passage, will be in protected waters.

This is a new experience for both of us. We were always hesitant because we thought we'd be captive - after all, once they retract the gangway you're pretty much stuck with the boat.

After three days, though, I have to say we're converts. Above all, it's a relaxing way to travel. Once you're under way, any responsibilities for keeping to schedule transfer to other shoulders. If you feel like a nap after lunch, take it.

We spent most of the first couple of days getting the feel of the ship, learning where everything was - the lounges, the library, the shops, the Internet cafe, the promenade deck, the pool, etc. (With daytime temperatures in the 50s and 60s, the pools don't seem to be getting a lot of use.)

Thus far, neither of us, thankfully, has suffered much from mal de mer. With calm to moderate seas out of Seattle, the ship's system of dampers took care of most of the motion of the vessel. I do notice quite a few fellow travelers, however, wearing telltale patches behind their ears. About the only thing I noticed personally was that I felt a little tired after lunch. That was easily solved with a nap - a strategy that I have found, since retirement, to smooth a lot of frustrations.

As this is an Alaska cruise, there are numerous opportunities to sample various attributes of the 49th state. Today we set out in a smaller boat to see humpback whales, stellar sea lions and bald eagles in Auke Bay, near the state capital of Juneau. Tomorrow we'll go ashore in Skagway, erstwhile gateway to the Klondike, for a ride on the historic White Pass and Yukon Railroad. Others in our party have opted for helicopter flights to various glaciers or zip lining down wooded canyons. The choices are not endless, really, but they are many.

It will all end soon enough, with a return to Seattle and, eventually, home. Let's see, that's how many more trips to the dessert table?

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