Ketchikan, Alaska Set a Course for Adventure…Then Head to the Buffet

I got an email today with this image attached.


That's the 2008 video playing on the laptop. Have a look at the guy watching the screen in the bottom left corner.

…take your time. I can wait.

The photo was taken by a reporter on the campaign trail during the election last year. She said the press corps are fans of the video and one day on the plane they insisted he watch it.


The email came during a phantom burst of cell phone reception while out at sea. I managed to forward it to Melissa before the signal died. She was home alone at the time. She felt similarly compelled to pass it on, so she showed it to Sydney, our dog, who was wholly unimpressed.

What's almost as cool as him watching the video is that I have proof he watched it. If someone just told me this happened, I'd have a hard time believing it.

Melissa says the reporter who sent the photo is from Fox News. I was invited on various Fox News shows about half a dozen times when the last video came out. Each time, I replied that I'd be happy to come on their network as soon as they stop trying to turn us into a nation of frightened monkeys. I feel a little bit bad about that now.

A little bit.

I'm finishing up a week long cruise of the southern Alaska coast aboard the Norwegian Pearl with my dad, my sister, and my one-year-old niece, Jillian. I've never had much of an itch to go on cruises, but seeing as my current means of income provides about 40 weeks of vacation each year, I try not to pass on any major family outings. Also, I was baby back-up.

I've now been on a bona fide "Cruise," and my take on it is pretty much what you'd expect. I think it's great that cruising allows some people to go to places they would never otherwise go…I also think it's unfortunate that our society turns out people who find this a satisfying way to visit a place.

Cruise ships process experiences into freeze-dried goods. They shave off the gnarly bits and reheat what's left for bulk consumption. To put it another way, if the 2500 passengers who deboard for the shore excursions were replaced with, say, over-sized bean bag chairs, the procedure would remain largely unchanged. They have, in effect, turned travel into entertainment.

Incidentally, yes, many of the passengers actually do resemble over-sized bean bag chairs.

That's the condensed version of my mean-spirited rant. By halfway through the trip, my sister was done listening. She had a much rosier outlook on the whole enterprise, and a fair point that my long hours spent playing Half-Life 2 in my cabin didn't really qualify me to call anyone complacent.

It is what it is, I suppose. Comparing cruise ship travel to the sort of thing I get a kick out of isn't entirely fair.

Apples and oranges.

In any case, the ship itself is a spectacular monstrosity. I will now undertake a brief survey.

Length: 965 feet

Weight: 93,000 tons

Cruising Speed: 24 knots

Fuel Consumption: 11 tons per hour (that's 6 pounds every second)

The sun deck



Fitness center


Stardust theater


Bowling alley


Two-story Wii Sports jumbo screen


Soccer/basketball/tennis court


Rock-climbing wall


So, ya know, just the basics. Nothing you wouldn't expect to have access to while floating through the Arctic Sea.

To me, the most fascinating thing about the ship is actually the crew of somewhere near a thousand men and women. They are truly an international assortment. Near the bridge, a wall chart shows all the officers on board. The captain hails from Sweden. His first officer is Croatian. The second officers are Filipino. The navigator is Indian. The head cook is Jamaican. And so on and so on. In all, I'd be surprised if less than fifty nationalities are represented.

I get the sense that's nothing new in the nautical world. The practice of assembling a crew from around the globe goes back centuries and requires no diversity initiative. Ships move all over the place and they pick people up as they go. If someone can do the job and they'll accept the pay, not much else really matters. The lifestyle kind of demands egalitarian hiring.

During our stop in Juneau, my dad and I took off on an optional shore excursion that, honestly, made the entire week worthwhile. We took a bus out to a helipad with about twenty other passengers. They split us into smaller groups and put us on five separate helicopters, all of which took off simultaneously (which was awesome).

Flying in a line formation at low altitude, we whizzed through the Alaskan wilderness until we came upon a particularly massive glacier.


We rose up along its face, getting a close view into its deep crevasses.


We came up over the top and into a vast ice field nestled between the mountains.


A distant speck at the base of one mountain grew larger as we began to descend.


In seconds, we were on the ground and surrounded by over two hundred Alaskan huskies.


The dogs go nuts when the helicopters land, cause it means they get to go running, which is clearly their favorite thing in the universe.

A quick orientation and we were on our sleds. My dad took the seated position while I stood on the rear frame.


Our driver was named Cam, a college student from Colorado who came up three weeks ago for a summer job. She was new to the whole sled dog thing, but seemed pretty competent. She rode on a separate sled in front of ours that we were tied onto.

We had a false start when our leader tried to eat the dog behind him. It ended quickly in a ball of tangled rope and dog. We were given a new leader, a sturdy and mature six-year-old named Hagler.


And off we went on a two mile loop of the camp site.


It only lasted ten minutes, which was plenty for us. My dad and I spent most of that time grilling Cam on details of the operation, collecting factoids and statistics, as is our shared habit. Conversation was surprisingly easy between the sleds, since dog sledding is a whole lot quieter than you might imagine.

When we returned to camp, we were introduced to each of the dogs.



Most of them were pretty skittish. The friendliest was named Soy.


Dog teams are often named in themed groups. Soy's group was evidently named after condiments.

We watched a glacier calving in Glacier Bay and took a float plane ride here in Ketchikan. Those were the highlights. Aside from that the trip was mostly about eating large quantities of mediocre food.

We stop on Vancouver Island tomorrow, which I hear is lovely, and then I have six hours in Seattle before departing on a second, entirely unrelated expedition.