Sunday, 9 September 2012

Day 45 - Juneau, Alaska's capital - Sep 7th

Normal wake time now seems to be 2:45am...  Back to sleep eventually until sunrise, well, daybreak anyway, as we berthed at Juneau.  Just beyond our berth was the Disney ship and by the time the day was over, there was another Holland America ship in too, so as you can imagine, the souvenir shops were in full swing, as were stalls operating tours. 

Fortified with a hearty breakfast we the braved the damp cool air up on deck on the way back to our cabin (sorry, but Princess may call it a stateroom, but it isn’t exactly stately; comfortable and cosy yes; stately, no).  and noted the Roberts tramcar (cable car) started operating at 8:30am, so we had already made the decision to do that early in the day, as the forecast was anything but good from midday onwards. 

Getting off was a doddle and we walked the five minutes to the base station.  Just alongside, were about ten stalls operating all sorts of tours, but unlike the earlier stops in the east, no hassling at all.  We paid the $29 each for the tram ticket (valid for multiple rides and also the same price as those sold by Princess) and hopped on the first tramcar.  Very little seating and the operator warned us he was not a morning person, so the ride up was only OK, as we looked down on the ship(s).  Getting off at the top there are one or two options but the menu prices for anything to do with crab, in the restaurant, which doesn’t open until later, was enough to make you keep a close grip on your credit card.

The nature centre was a homely little shack with a very pleasant lady serving, who was able to sell me a beaker of hot spiced apple juice for $1.50.  Advertised as ‘hot cider’, it really is apple juice and non-alcoholic, so maybe cider has a different connotation up here.  We nearly bought a companion for birdie, a rather nice fluffy white owl, but we decided that with no beak movement, just  a swivelling head, it didn’t offer the same sort of opportunities as old birdie.  (For birdie, read a good representation of the late Rod Hull’s emu.)

Up here on high, there was the option of nature walks, but with the weather already beginning to close in, we decided we’d head back down to sea level. The tram operator on the way down was drinking iced coffee. Quite a character and obviously more of a morning person than the other guy.

As with Sitka, Juneau seems to depend very heavily on tourism.  Yesterday, there were 5 or 6 ships in!  As it is the very end of the season, most shops and stores were displaying 40% to 50% off most merchandise.  We have never seen so many jewellery shops in one place before either.

We stopped at the “Alaskan Shirt Company” shop and along with a fair few other cruisers, emerged with bright red shopping bags.  We bought three tee shirts for NZ grandchildren (I have no idea what size Noah is and I am sure he has plenty of clothing he is growing into or out of at the moment anyway) plus a medium weight jacket for me.  My first purchase on this trip.  Back in NZ, I have a thick heavyweight jacket good enough to use as a motorbike jacket, but I travel with my lightweight rally jacket which isn’t exactly warm.  So at $20, this jacket was a good buy and I wore it straightaway as the drizzle continued.

Needing a hot drink, we walked into a side street establishment with a window sign that said “B’s Bistro & Bakery & Spice emporium”.  We laugh about it now, but we should have done an about turn and walked straight out.  I broke my two cardinal rules here.

1)    There has to be a proper espresso coffee machine.

2)   They must have large mugs or bowls.

We have never, ever, been into a ‘bakery/bistro’ before where:

1)    The cup cake was just plonked on the counter – no plate, no serviette

2)   You select a mug from the shelf

3)   Select a tea bag from the jar of your choice (I couldn’t possible face whatever they were offering as coffee)

4)   Pour your own hot water in from a pump pot (not boiling water from a kettle, which good tea demands)

5)   Add your own (white only) sugar from a jar and milk from a small jug, though that was empty and we had to ask for milk

6)   The Panini was delivered a few minutes later, via the front door

7)   There was a notice on the table (photo was too fuzzy) saying “Please bus your own table”.  (We assume this meant clear your own table.)

8)   You took your own dirty crockery to a bin

9)   You emptied any food waste and soiled paper napkin into another marked bin

10) The proprietor’s partner spent all her time on a computer

No wonder they had a notice in the door saying “Help wanted”. I could have helped them quite a lot, but I really don’t think that the sort of help I could offer there and then was quite what they were asking for.  Being environmentally friendly is very laudable, but decent food and coffee should come first.  I think the picture and Paula’s reaction sums up our experience pretty well.  Just to rub it in, just around the corner was a Subway which would have been a far better option, but we do like to try the smaller local businesses.  It is no wonder that Starbucks and Subway, not to mention Maccas, do so well, when local businesses are this bad.

Once again, we managed to chat to an American family who were on the Disney ship.  They were full of enthusiasm for their ship, but we suspect that they really pay much more per night than we do, so what Australians (and Kiwis) have to realise is, that although Princess are relatively strict about bringing your own booze on board and seem to charge like wounded bulls for much of the on board stuff, the base daily price that includes food and generally good entertainment, is a bargain compared to other lines.  With the San Francisco leg back to Auckland or Sydney, at 25 days, now cheaper than a one way premium economy airfare, any restrictions on booze are a minor consideration. 

Although the back on board time was 9pm, it was damp, misty and miserable and although M & M were doing a helicopter and dog sled trip at 11:15, we doubted that anyone booked on a later trip would have been successful.

We were heading back on board at 1:30pm and witnessed one of the saddest sights of the trip so far.  As we walked up the steps of the gangplank, those following us, standing in the rain and those trying to get off the ship, were held up for quite a while, as an obviously very distressed old lady in a wheelchair, was transferred out of one wheelchair and strapped into another wheelchair, designed for steps, as the staff then had to haul her up the long, narrow, steep steps.  So sad on so many counts.

After a warming soup, I left Paula in the cabin pottering and I went down to the vista lounge for the classic movie.  Today, it was the Marx Brothers in “Duck Soup”, with the wonderful mirror scene.  The lounge was packed of course and all 7 of us enjoyed it, though tiredness was creeping up on me and I nodded a couple of times towards the end!

After a hot chocolate in the atrium we later opted to eat in the buffet as the dining room menu was less appealing than usual - and there was no sign of the others.

The show in the vista was pianist Stephen Kane, backed by the orchestra.   With a mix of classical, Henry Mancini pieces from the movies and three Scott Joplin rags, this was a very versatile performance and done well.

We opted for no dancing again and although we sat in the atrium for a few minutes, we ended up with our recent new bed time of 11:25.

Tomorrow is scenic cruising again in Glacier Bay, after which we leave the USA temporarily and head for Canada, which should please at least three of the entertainment cruise staff.    



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