Cruise to Alaska: Victoria (to Vegas)
(Just landed on this page out of nowhere? Missed the first ten installments? Oh dear no. This is the end, my friend. You’ll want to start with Cruise to Alaska: Before We Begin.)


Sunrise Down the Coast

Lazy morning. Mike slept through “Beaded Bandanas” class, which I’m sure wasn’t deliberate at all. I enjoyed the balcony, as usual.

At some point we went up for a light breakfast before heading down to Morning Trivia where Phil and Carol found us, our team winning by one point although 16/20 wasn’t our finest hour. I take special pride in being the one who knew what it means when, in a statue of a person on horseback, the horse is depicted with its front legs up. (However, Wikipedia says this is more of a common belief than a rule. Meanwhile, are there any equestrian statues with the back legs in the air?)

An excuse to link to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band:

The rest of the AmAussies didn’t trust me on “mega” (as a prefix), to their peril, and none of us knew who William Booth was. (I know I’m giving away answers here, but the reader must still work for it a bit.) As always, while it’s fun to win, for most of us it does come down to the luck of having the right questions asked.

Norwegian Pearl - Signature Redemption Sheet

Today was the day we could turn in our signature cards for Valuable and Exciting Prizes. We didn’t really want any of it, though, and the man working the counter sure didn't want me to take this picture. ("What are you doing? What is it for?")

Mike decided he would like a mug, but even though we had several different signature cards (because we kept forgetting them), we couldn't make a combination that added up to exactly 20 points.

"Okay, here's 21 points. Will you give our extra point to someone who needs a point?"

"No."

Typical Norwegian service.

The mug is enjoyed by Mike's mother these days, so that all worked out.

We suffered the usual lunch, which drove us to be mean-spirited about some of the food labels.

Norwegian Pearl - Not Even Shaped Like Snoopy

I think this was when I discovered that, this entire week, hot chocolate packets had been available with the coffee and tea stuff. D’oh! 

Our sadly necessary meal of the day over with, we then heard about the special German buffet starting to be laid out on the back of the ship.

What?

You know, NCL, by the seventh day, is anyone still reading the dining information section of the Freestyle Daily? When the previous six days have been pretty much identical? I think not.

So maybe, if you’re going to have a special buffet (like the chocolate buffet we ignored the day before), you should give it a tiny shout-out among all the bold-type huckstering in the first few pages?

Oh, wait. There it was, right on the activities page: 12:30-2:30 p.m., Freuhschoppen.

Dang! (But still, no explanation as to what it was. I shall yet cling to my somewhat reduced indignation.)

We weren’t very hungry now, of course, but several of the dishes looked interesting enough that I’m sure we might’ve tried a bite if the buffet had been ready to go.

Norwegian Pearl - German Buffet - Dumplings and Mushrooms

Norwegian Pearl - German Buffet - Cheese Spatzle

Norwegian Pearl - German Buffet - Piggy

Not pictured - the array of cakes, including Black Forest. Dang! Oh well. The lesson learned is to always read the Freestyle Daily from top to bottom, every day.

Back in the cabin, our bed had been made:

Norwegian Pearl - Not the Best Bed Making

Or something.

Mike took pleasure in unmaking it (further) while I snapped some photos of the bathroom, wondering if my camera would do justice to the spacious shower at the expense of the ridiculously cramped toilet with unnecessary door.

Norwegian Pearl - Cabin Bathroom - Looking Left

Norwegian Pearl - Cabin Bathroom - Shower

Bah. My photos make it look like the other way around. Okay, check out the knee room in this shot.

Norwegian Pearl - Cabin Bathroom - Consider Your Knees

Oh look, in this photo you can see my deadly sandals. You can also see a magnet from Phil and Carol (stuck to the hair dryer), the leftover bread from last night’s bread basket (which they sent to our room for us after Mike, Protector of Carbs, asked if we could get it in a to-go box), Mike’s souvenir drink glass (included with soda card), and Mike’s t-shirt and swim trunks (hanging from the bathroom door).

Norwegian Pearl - Minibar, Ice Bucket, Drawers

I updated my Smash book as Mike napped.

Scrapbooking on the Cruise

While Mike dozed, I packed, or “dumped,” preparing to depart the next morning so we wouldn’t have to think about it tonight. (After all, the Pearl would’ve leave Victoria until midnight.)

In the quiet room, I soon noticed that I was hearing the ship’s horn fairly regularly. I stepped out onto the balcony and discovered that we were enveloped in fog.

Norwegian Pearl - Moving Through The Fog

Every two minutes, the low horn sounded.

(To see the video, the password is “awk”.)

Packed and rested, we went to Historical Figures trivia in the Atrium. The saddest part was when we guessed Kaiser Wilhelm for Otto von Bismark. (I know, I know. One’s mustache points up, the other's points down.)

No, wait, the saddest part was when I saw the pixelated enlargement of Jane Austen on the big screen, thought “Jane Austen” to myself, but then didn’t say anything when Mike guessed “Marie Curie.” That’s love.

Oh wait, the saddest part was actually when Mike wrote down “Sir Francis Drake” but then I started questioning if maybe it wasn’t Sir Walter Raleigh. (This time I’ll blame the pointy beards. They all look alike!)

This psyched Mike out and he changed his answer, and then went through the same process again on the last question when he dismissed his first thought of “Duke of Wellington” and wrote down “Napoleon Bonaparte” instead. (I just thought it was, you know, a really flattering portrait of Napoleon. It’s not like I think all men with their hands tucked into their jackets are Napoleon. Not usually. Have I ever mentioned how terrible I am with faces? Good with names, but bad with faces.)

For what’s it worth, my guess of “Lizzie Borden” actually was Marie Curie.

Suffice to say, 14/20 was not the winning score, but it was a very fun game. I like the ones that lead to discussion. If I were on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, they’d have to change the “take all the time you want” rule because I would talk it all out. Unless I thought I might use the 50/50. Never talk it out before the 50/50, people!

Afterwards, we lingered and chatted, but I was restless, so I broke away to visit the ship’s shops. Pearl's Christmas ornaments were twice the cost of the Carnival ones, and not nearly as unique, but I supposed I should get one.

Alas, the shops were closed! It was only 4:30, and port time was still 90 minutes away. What the heckenstein? It turned out the shops had closed at 2 p.m. and wouldn’t open again for the rest of the cruise. Bizarre. Were they not allowed to operate in Canadian waters? I don’t know.

Phil and Carol were out on their balcony beside us as we sailed into Victoria.

Victoria, BC - Ferries

We saw something grouchy in the water:

Victoria, BC - Grouchy-Faced Sea Creature

Disembarking began at 6:05 p.m. We had an on-shore meetup time of 6:15 p.m. Once again, absolutely no priority was given to those with excursions booked through the ship. It was every man for himself as people in the crowded corridors and stairwells pressed ahead like ill-behaved soccer fans.

I was resigned to perhaps missing the excursion and just seeing Victoria. The lost money would be worth not having to walk these moo-planks.

Suddenly one of the entertainment hosts spoke angrily into his walkie talkie then turned and told us to go to the forward exit. We hurried along the empty corridors to the forward elevators and rode down. We saw another host on his walkie talkie, telling someone that he was ready. From there it was a walk-off, but what a mess we’d left behind in the middle.

Phil and Carol were doing a tour of downtown. We’d booked a visit to Butchart Gardens. I was so glad this wasn’t our tour bus:

Victoria, BC - For Less-Fortunate Tour Groups

Our tour guide was an older woman of great spunk named Lydia. Her laugh was... startling... and hearty. It alone was worth half the cost of the tour. She had a Rose Nyland look and demeanor, but as she spoke of her time working as a tax auditor, it was easy to tell she was all steel under that velvet glove.

As we took in some of the everyday life of Victoria (many medium-rise apartments, many parks), I thumbed through our Butcharts Garden guide that had been waiting for us on the seat. In one section, it listed plants by Latin name as well as common name.

Who, I ask you, refers to “gladiolus” as “acidanthera”? (Then again, my cake decorating instructor has never heard of gladiolus. Maybe I’m a garden hipster!) Others: “impatiens” is commonly known as “busy lizzie” (it is?), “chrysanthemum” is better known as “garden mum” (has Steinbeck been told?), “hibiscus” is the Latin name for the more popular “common rose mallow” (what?), and of course we all call “aster” by its more usual name of “Michaelmas daisy” (we do?).

Maybe it's different in Canada.

We sat in the back of the bus (of course), so by the time we exited at the Gardens, we had to hurry to keep up. (Or even find Lydia, sometimes.) Mike, who was skeptical about our included picnic, nodded at the beautiful on-site restaurant meaningfully.

The picnic area was very lovely with enough tables for everyone to eat with just their party. My vegetarian basket was there, just as the ship’s shore excursion desk had arranged upon my request. Whatever was actually inside the baskets didn’t matter; this was all quite pleasant.

Butchart Gardens - Mike, Ready to Picnic

Butchart Gardens - Other Picnickers

Butchart Gardens - My Special Basket

Lydia went from table to table, offering to take photos of people together. We declined, but it was a nice touch.

Butchart Gardens - Basket Contents

Salad with raspberry vinaigrette, brie and other cheese with bread and grapes, shrimp (shrimp?), mushroom with rice, and potato salad. (For Mike it was chicken instead of the mushroom.) Dessert was berry crumble, an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, and a little lemon tart.

Although the food wasn’t something I’d make a point to seek out, it was of good quality and I enjoyed all of the variety.

In case anyone has forgotten, this is the photo accompanying “prawns” in Mike’s personal dictionary:

Butchart Gardens - How Mike Feels About Prawns

We decided to try to give them away. The people at the table next to us were surprised and gladly took both packages, but then they decided they didn’t want them, either. The gifting cycle ended as they went into the bin. Life in the First World.

We were free to wander at our leisure, meeting back at the bus before 9:45, I think it was. We’d all synched our watches (okay, phones) on the bus. The tour was supposed to feature a fireworks display over the gardens, but earlier in the week we’d been issued a small credit because the fireworks wouldn’t be on. However, once at the garden we saw that the fireworks were happening; they were just on too late for us to see them and still see a bit of downtown Victoria then make it back to the ship on time. I’m surprised that this wasn’t sorted out in advance since the tour has been available for several years. I’d read in reviews that the fireworks were pretty special, so there was a little disappointment, but it was still a good excursion.

Butchart Gardens - First Flower Pic

The official touring plans had a suggested tour. Of course I suggested that we follow it in backwards. Oldest trick in the book! I called it "The Reverse Japanese" (because it was most obvious in the Japanese gardens).

This paid off more than once, although a few times we did have to fight our way upstream on paths that a sudden majority had decided weren’t designated for two-way traffic. At first we weren’t aware of how many people were in the Gardens.

Butchart Gardens - Star Fountain

Butchart Gardens - Picnic Area

I started to clue in when the only way I could get a shot of this fountain was to stand right next to it.

Butchart Gardens - Fishy Fountain

I’d brought along the 50mm f1.8 lens because I’m a sheeple of the 21st century who loves flower shots with sure-thing shallow depths of field, but zooming in with the walkaround lens (15-85mm) was proving pretty satisfying.

Butchart Gardens - Berryish Things

Plus, changing lenses would require lingering, which was hard to do as, for even when traversing in reverse, we felt the press of people making decisions for us.

Butchart Gardens - Plant That Is Pink and Cuppish

That’s right. I went there. I did selective color. I am a horrible person who does all of the cutesy-pukesy stuff that makes real photogs cry. But I’ll have you know that I was hand-tinting my own hand-processed sepia prints on Ektalure (firChrissake) in my shabby bathroom darkroom with the broken safety light since wayback, so I’m allowed to indulge in such silliness now, even when I totally screw up some of the borders.

And you can’t call me a hipster over this transgression because 1) I’m fat (there are no fat hipsters), 2) every time people would mention “Williamsburg” in relation to hipsters, I thought they meant Colonial Williamsburg, and I was actually kind of excited for awhile that self-aware trendy people were getting into historical re-enactment. Steampunk isn’t just for Victoriana anymore, and all that. So no, you can’t call me a hipster for my selective coloring. Again, I’m just a nerd.

Butchart Gardens - Pink Wispy Stuff

That stuff reminds me of this stuff.

Butchart Gardens - Perdita Rose

This is the Perdita rose. Lydia was telling us on the bus ride over that the Butcharts didn’t want labels on their flowers because they wanted people to simply enjoy them and not treat them like museum pieces. But then I sort of lost track of the story, so I’m not sure why the roses (and just the roses) have labels today.

Luckily the Gardens guide is organized by colour, so it was pretty easy to look up flowers as we went along. I decided I was partial to the ligularia (yellow tall thing, below), the astilbe (aka false spirae - the pink stuff above), and the sedum (aka stonecrop).

I would’ve liked to have lingered in the rose section, as I did grow roses once and hope to again, should I ever make it out of this desert, but the heavy crowds were just insane once we got to the roses.

Butchart Gardens - Amongst the Crowds

We had a good time on this excursion, but with four cruise ships in port (The World was there!) plus this being Saturday night, we were definitely not experiencing the Gardens at their best, and I’d hesitate to recommend the tour to anyone who might want to linger in peace. (But the sights were still beautiful.)

Butchart Gardens - Another Look at Crowds

Butchart Gardens - Purple Plant With Stamens

Butchart Gardens - Golden Thingies

Butchart Gardens - White and Yellow Flower

Butchart Gardens - Purple Bell-Like Flower

Butchart Gardens - Almost Like Floral Cotton Candy

(Focus where?)

Butchart Gardens - Fuschia?

Butchart Gardens - Sunken Garden

We didn’t go into the Sunken Garden because I was starting to worry a little about time.

Butchart Gardens - Another Hanging Thing

Bar!

Butchart Gardens - Mike, Attacked by Bears

Butchart Gardens - Check Out That Claw

Butchart Gardens - Squirrel

Butchart Gardens - White Flowers

Butchart Gardens - Orange, Rose-ish Flower

Butchart Gardens - Snail Fountain

Mike decided to see if they had “real Coke” (made with sugar) at the little refreshment cafe, and I went across the path to look in the gift shop for souvenirs. These bracelets tempted me:

Butchart Gardens - Copper Bracelets I Didn't Get

(They were also available in the tiny gift shop/convenience store in port.)

Butchart Gardens - Seed-Packet Dress

(The dress is made out of seed packets.)

It would’ve been great to have bought seeds, but I doubt they would’ve survived first a trip into US Customs, then another through Australian Customs. (Mike recently had some seeds he bought online confiscated. He’s become quite the chil(l)i pepper breeder, but that’s a story that’s months down the road from the one I’m telling now.)

I would’ve bought a t-shirt, but they only went to 2XL. I would’ve bought something from huge display of maple syrup-based items, but we were running out of time and, okay, it’s Canada. Not Timbuktu. Michigan childhood? Trips to Epcot? I'm covered when it comes to the usual maple syrup souvenirs.

I scurried back to Mike and we relaxed for a few minutes, long enough to hop onto the free wifi with our phones and upload photos like this to Facebook:

Butchart Gardens - Mike, Sign in Back

One thing the map didn’t make clear was the path back to the buses. It’d been so busy when we came in, and we’d paid more attention to finding Lydia than noting landmarks. Now it was getting dark - quite dark - and people had cleared out, either for home/ships or for the fireworks area.

Somehow we weren’t even the last ones to our bus (although our bus was the last in the lot). The sky was completely dark as we made the ~40 minute drive from Brentwood Bay back into Victoria, but Lydia continued to keep us entertained. Victoria was pretty at night, and we took in the expected sights of Fan Tan Alley, the Empress Hotel, and Parliament, as well as churches and businesses and so forth.

Victoria, BC - Empress Hotel Drive-By

Victoria, BC - Parliament Drive-By

Our ship was waiting.

Victoria, BC - Norwegian Pearl

We poked around the gift shop, still not finding anything. Ah, memories it would be, then!

Back on board, the buffet was open late tonight. We nibbled. We checked that we were ready to go in the morning. We slept.

And that was our cruise to Alaska.

 

Disembarkation

I don’t usually say much about disembarkation. On Carnival’s west coast Mexican itineraries, there’s always the horrible 6 a.m. roll call for non-US citizens like Mike. Followed by the endless requests for Mr. So-and-So to report to said roll call because some people don’t realize that they’re holding up the entire ship by not coming down to clear Customs. Then the endless calls of “Those with XYZ tags may now disembark!” And of course the standing around crowded hallways with luggage (because we take it off ourselves) because you have to be out of your room by 8 a.m.

I must therefore give full props to Norwegian for having a breezy, peaceful disembarkation system that is as easy “swipe your card as you leave.” I know it’s a bit more complicated if you’re not taking your own luggage, but for us it was great. We said our goodbyes to Phil and Carol, who were taking the train to Vancouver before beginning a once-in-a-lifetime trip across the Canadian rockies in the best seats on the Rocky Mountaineer. Then we bundled up the luggage, bid adieu to our steward, and took the elevator up the buffet area for a decent breakfast.

(Remember: when everyone is trying to fit their luggage in the elevator to go down to the ramps, it’s not a bad idea to travel up to the highest floor with your luggage. And if that’s where the buffet happens to be, so be it.)

But before any of this happened, I took 1-2 million photos of this gull on our balcony:

Gull on Balcony Rail

Gull Consternation

Gull - I Like This One, Too

We could see HAL and Princess over at the newer pier.

Seattle - HAL and Princess at Other Pier

So long, Stateroom 10548.

Norwegian Pearl - Cabin Service Dial

Hi there, lottery ticket machine at the Amtrak station.

Seattle Amtrak - Scratchie Vending Machine

Hooray for Business Class priority boarding. This was too grim to bear for very long.

Seattle Amtrak - Depressing at the Moment

Hey, Galloping Gertie (in spirit), who we somehow missed on the way up from Portland.

Galloping Gertie's Successor

 

Hello, Las Vegas.

 

Afterword

A few months ago, Norwegian rang me to try to sell me a cruise. I cut the woman off.

”Actually? We sailed on Norwegian for the first time this past summer. Alaska was beautiful, but the cruise itself kind of sucked. We’re not going to bother with Norwegian ever again, so please don’t call here again.”

It’s true.

I wrote a bunch of disclaimers at the start of this series of posts. I just finished the proofread (and it's only four hours and one forgotten antibiotic past my bedtime, so I'm confident that maybe as few as 30% of the typos remain), and I think Norwegian actually got off pretty lightly here.

Apparently, despite not being impressed with NCL 80% of the time, I went to so much trouble to not just be fair but to be viewed as fair (with an underline and a blinking arrow to said fairness) that I think I've completely failed to convey what a head-shaker this cruise was.

So, to sum up my feelings: Many parts of the cruise were not to my taste. But, I could've overlooked just about all of it if the customer service had been anywhere near what I was used to on my other, non-Norwegian cruises. The ongoing level of disinterest in the customer by the majority of NCL staff was inexcusable.

But as I said way back when, this was a great vacation. A mediocre cruise, but a great vacation. Do not miss Alaska in your lifetime. Go with someone you love.

Yeah, even if you have to sail on Norwegian to do it.

Glacier Bay - Reflections

09 December 2012 |

Previously: Cruise to Alaska: Ketchikan
Next: Neil


Hamsters

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 CRUISE REPORTS: 

Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)