Sunday, July 17, 2016

Ahoy There! Let Our Cruise to Alaska Commence!

Setting Sail from Vancouver to Alaska
Saturday, July 2, 2016:
             As usual I awoke at 6.00 am and while Llew had a lie-in, I managed to get some blogging done. I was also excited to discover that my internet connection on my laptop actually worked and I managed to get and send email (unlike the last time I had traveled to Canada when I could not even find any internet connections). However, it was a good job I did everything I wanted for my joy was short lived. Within 20 minutes, it was gone. A little while later, after I had done some blogging, Llew awoke, showered, shaved, dressed and got ready. I followed swiftly, then went down to get us coffee and Nutella croissants from the local Tim Hortons downstairs and,  not too long after, we were on the airport shuttle to get to the Skytrain that took us back to the Waterfront. The fact that it was a holiday weekend in Canada and a Saturday meant that trains were empty—this made it really easy for us to load and remove our baggage from the train. From there, we easily found our way to the cruise piers in the basement of the Convention Center.
            We thought we’d be one of the first to embark as 2.00 pm is given as Embarkation Time; but by 11.30 am, the place was already crawling with people and the Hall was filled. Everything was super organized with European precision and we were soon finding our way to the check-in counter where we were given our boarding cards by Holland-America Lines—HAL--(our baggage had been taken earlier) and then we were off and away. I was quite excited by this point especially at the thought of having a few hours to explore the ship and find our way around it. We had an ocean view room on the 4th floor which was very well located for the Reception Counter, main shops, etc. were just a floor below. In no time, we were aboard but went directly to Reception to try to make a lunch reservation on one of the two days it is usually offered in the pan-Asian restaurant called Tamarind—about which I had read on the internet—but was disappointed to find that it has been discontinued. So off to our stateroom we went and found that it (and the rest of the ship) is an exact replica of the Eurodam on which we had sailed through the Baltic Sea in 2013. There was a sense of comfort in the familiarity of it all but it was also a trifle predictable. Perhaps it would have been more fun to discover new horizons!
            We did not lose much time in our rooms, however, as our bags had not yet arrived. Instead, as it was almost 1.00 pm and as we only had a croissant and coffee for brekkie, we went off to the Manhattan, the Main Dining Room—for lunch. It was our first meal on board and I looked forward to something really special. Only a few people were in the restaurant—most were still embarking. Both Llew and I chose the Cream of Broccoli Soup for starters—it was thick and very delicious. I avoided the bread as I am still trying to limit carbs. For our main, I had the Apricot-Glazed Salmon served with zucchini and carrots and steamed potatoes (which I avoided). Once I got over the sweetness of the apricot sauce that was poured over the salmon, it actually turned out to be quite good. Llew had the Pulled Pork Sandwich served with Red Cabbage Slaw which was really good. For dessert, the two of us had the Biscotti Ice-Cream—I ordered mine with a few strawberries. So that was it. It was a good meal, but not outstanding, but the cruise had not even begun yet.
            It was time to get to our stateroom where we found that our baggage had been delivered together with a whole lot of delicious goodies—a tray of tea-time sandwiches (smoked salmon, brie, ham and cheese, prosciutto—all fab), a tray of sweets (truffles, cake, a chocolate tower), a tray of cut up fresh fruit—together with a basket of fruit and a lovely flower arrangement. We felt very special indeed! It was time to unpack and we found spacious closets with room enough for all our needs (I certainly travel very light and had no difficulty accommodating all my things). Unpacking done, we stashed our bags under our bed and went off to Reception again to made reservations for 8.00 pm dinners at some of the specialty restaurants on board at a time that would also allow us to attend the shows in the theater each night. All that done, we made our way to the theater for an introduction to the facilities and amenities available on board as well as to take a walking tour of the main areas of the ship and the areas we intended to use—such as the gym, the pools (indoor and outdoor), the hot tub, the Crow’s Nest which is the enclosed 11th floor Observation Deck, etc.
            By this time, it was close to Embarkation Time and we had the mandatory Emergency Drill procedure to attend on deck. Having gone through this before, we knew exactly what to do and in no time, we were on the deck, participating in Roll Call, listening to evacuation and other instructions and chatting with a few other passengers. When it was over, it was time for departure so we made our way to the Lido Deck on the 9th floor at exactly 4.45pm to attend the Sail Away. This included drinks on the deck, the opportunity to grab one of the deck chairs that we positioned at the very front of the ship (it helped to get there early--but this turned out to be the aft or back) and to enjoy views of Vancouver as we departed. Going under a great big bridge was an additional treat as we listened to music, chatted with a few of our companions, enjoyed the complimentary nibbles—salmon, beef steak in horseradish sauce and spoons of baked brie with cranberry sauce and nuts--as we saw Vancouver recede in the background and the islands of the Archipelago that we had seen en route to Whistler by road come into view. Llew enjoyed lying on the deck chair while I left at 5.30 to pick up the complimentary ship’s charm that was offered to anyone who arrived at the Main Shopping Desk. I then reconnected with Llew as we returned to our stateroom. I ordered a cup of tea from Room Service and we began nibbling on our savory goodies in our room as Llew sipped some wine.
            It wasn’t long before we dressed for dinner and went in search of the complimentary glasses of champagne offered by the jewelry showroom and art gallery on board and with that in hand, we made our way back to the Manhattan to have dinner before we could attend the live show in the theater. Only we discovered that our wait for dinner would be 20-25 minutes and, rather handily, since the Explorer’s Bar was just next-door, we sat down to enjoy a violinist and a pianist do wonderful soft classical chamber music. We were hugging the coast of Canada throughout our sail and the movement of the sea could barely be felt at all. 
Very shortly, we were seated for our first dinner at sea in the Manhattan, a massive dining hall, where we found the menu for the evening was devised by chef Elizabeth Faulkner of whom I have never heard. I started with the Broiled Scallops with Bacon, Avocado Mash and a vinaigrette—but my scallops were tiny, the mash was bland and I found no interest whatsoever in the dish. Llew had the salad of mixed greens with caramelized apple which was far better. Since I was dying to also try it, I asked for a tiny portion of the Ketchikan Fisherman’s Chowder in a sample serving (it was served in a bread bowl as a regular portioned starter) and found it to be simply delicious and filled with tiny scallops. For a main, Llew had the Shrimp and Chorizo with Grits which was served with okra—a typical New Orleans dish—while I chose the New York Strip Loin done medium rare. Llew got three very large shrimp and I got an outsized piece of steak. We split our entrees and while they were both good, there was nothing to shout about either one of them. For dessert, Llew got the Mango Mousse while I got the Klondike Gold Rush Baked Alaska which was a brownie, topped with Vanilla Ice-cream and Meringue with a chocolate sauce poured over. Again, it was good but not outstanding. Since we needed to rush off for the show, we grabbed our things and left right after dessert.
In the theater, we found ample room. Nick, our Cruise Director, was holding forth, calling out a few raffle numbers and giving out prizes before the main act of the evening arrived—a stand up comedian called Chad—who entertained up for about 15 minutes. His jokes and his acting were pretty lame and by that point in time, my eyes were closing. It was 10.00 pm and any hopes I had of sitting in a Piano Bar and singing along were wiped off as we decided instead to get back to our stateroom and call it a night. But after changing and getting into more comfortable wear, we headed to the Crow’s Nest to see what it felt like to enter the Seymounr Narrows, a tiny inlet just past Vancouver Island. However, it was very dark and while we could see land on one side close to us, we saw nothing on the other side. We did see—literally—a ship pass us by night. It was a Holland America ship returning to Vancouver—which is where we will be a week from now. It was time to well and truly get back to our staterooms to sleep.
It had been a packed first day and we did not have a dull moment.      
Until tomorrow…                 



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