Cruise to Alaska: Juneau
(Just landed on this page out of nowhere? You’ll want to start with Cruise to Alaska: Before We Begin.)

I was on a roll after writing the trip report for the Sea Day yesterday, but I had to take a break. Writing so many negative things made me feel like such a picky jerk, even when praising what Norwegian did so well.

I feel like a broken record but I’ll say what I hope is obvious again: mine is just one experience. Just because I’m passionate and opinionated when describing that experience doesn’t mean that I think I can speak for anyone else or that I can even expect commiseration. Everyone is different. In the end we didn’t have a great cruise, but we had a great vacation, so I’ll keep trying to perk things up a bit.

Moody Morning Before Juneau

With a view like this, who would complain about anything?

Now this was everything we'd hoped for. Hey Mike, why don’t you come stand in front of the scenery, and I’ll practice my technique for blowing out the exposure on everything behind you?

Mike, Chipper Before Juneau

I was glad we were getting into Juneau around 1 p.m. I wanted some time to watch this world go past.

Patch of Distant Sun

How about some breakfast? Mr. Fussy surveyed the evening menu while I waited below at the Summer Palace entrance.

Mr Fussy Surveys the Evening Menu

Today we were seated in one of the little wings. I appreciate the way the seating hostess made sure every possible table by a window was occupied before seating people away from windows.

Norwegian Pearl - Summer Palace Side Wing

Norwegian Pearl - Summer Palace Paintings

Mike started with the fruit plate today.

Norwegian Pearl - Fruit Plate

The garnish was a little blacker than he normally likes.

Norwegian Pearl - Breakfast Garnish

Behold my masterful technique for warming the butter:

How I Warmed the Butter

I wish they offered a catalogue of the paintings in the gift shop. Carol and I both were big fans.

Norwegian Pearl - Summer Palace Painting

Sometimes it’s not really my style...

Norwegian Pearl - Summer Palace Staircase

But overall it’s just such a well-themed, fun space.

Norwegian Pearl - Summer Palace Entrance

Norwegian Pearl - Summer Palace Egg

The wall-size photographs in every stairwell don’t seem to share a theme, but they were often interesting.

Norwegian Pearl - Another Stairwell Photo

Mike had decided that he wanted a haircut, and I was ready to let the spa people know which six “smoothie scrub” scents I wanted made up as part of our spa pass package. We walked along the Lido (or whatever it’s called on Norwegian), enjoying the grey skies and contrast of the bright pool area.

Norwegian Pearl - Hot Tubs Under Alaskan Skies

Norwegian Pearl - Lido Pool

Norwegian Pearl - Looking Back from Pool

I noticed that the crew members cleaning in this blustery area didn’t have hats. Norwegian, you should give them hats.

We paused to identify what sort of officer had been dining with a date in Le Bistro the night before.

Norwegian Pearl - Helpful Sartorial ID Display

And then we reached the spa.

Norwegian Pearl - Spa Entrance

Norwegian Pearl - Spa Towel Animals

Mike nudged me to take photos of some of the typos.

Norwegian Pearl - Spa Typos That Only We Care About

Typos in professional documents produced by large companies that should know better really bug me. (Note that this blog is not a professional document nor is it produced by a large company. Ha!) I used to offer my AP kiddos extra credit for spotting such typos in the wild then uploading them to our class website and describing the rules being broken. They were already bright young people with an interest in language, so they were doomed anyway to becoming the kind of people who get all twitchy over grocer apostrophes. I swear I wouldn’t wish such awareness on anyone if it weren’t already their fate. It must be a blissful life when you can eat at a nice restaurant without trying to think of a way to gently point out that the compound adjectives could really use some hyphens.

And here’s another one:

Norwegian Pearl - Spa Thermal Suite Sign

Oh look, you can see what the pass costs when you add the scrubs. And getting back to the scrubs...

I had asked the day before if they had a list of the seven options I could take with me to mull over, but they didn’t (and seemed to find my request a little odd). I asked if they had a piece of paper so I could write them down myself. (No.) Finally, we grabbed a sale flyer and were able to borrow a pen to get it done.

(You know, I think they’d sell more scrubs if they had a few pre-made, ready to be upsold, and given the amount of other ads delivered to the cabin, a little bookmark with the comparatively cheap scrub menu and prices would probably boost sales as well.)

I’d written up a neat list with my name and cabin number and gave this to Jennette while Mike made a 10:30 a.m. appointment for a haircut. Wow, one of us was finally going to get a “spa treatment” - who’da thunk it would’ve been Mike?

For the scrubs, these were my choices:

  • Lavender with Lavender Seeds
  • Tangerine with Lavender Seeds
  • Tangerine with Grapefruit Peel
  • Chocolate with Coconut Flakes
  • Chocolate with Peppermint Leaves
  • Orange-Vanilla and Ginger
  • Orange-Vanilla and Peppermint Leaves

So, it was a matter of eliminating one, since I wanted to try as many as possible. Although I’m not much of a lavender lady, I had to give the kick to the last option. It smacked too much of bad experiences with toothpaste and breakfast juice.

Just typing that list was a bit upsetting, so I may as well get the “scrub story” over with.

When I picked up the scrubs later this day, they were in screw-top containers, three to a mesh bag. Jennette asked if I wanted the two mesh bags put into a plastic bag so they’d be easier to carry. I agreed, mostly because an extra plastic bag never goes amiss when traveling.

I didn’t bother sniffing them because I honestly couldn’t tell what was what even when standing in front of the display with labels, except for the chocolate ones. I mean, they all smelled different to me, but I couldn’t label them myself. (It’s too bad Norwegian doesn’t label the jars; it might help people remember what they like and then place repeat orders.) My sense of smell has had issues for the past couple of years, ever since one of my students sprayed a chemical around the classroom. I either can’t smell things or I smell things that aren’t there. Yes, I saw a doctor. He basically shrugged and threw up his hands. In any case, it’s getting better, but my sniffer still isn’t up to snuff.

I wasn’t going to use the scrubs during the cruise since our cabin only had a shower. So, their plastic bag sat under the table with the coffeemaker for most of the cruise. When it came time to pack, I wrapped them up tightly and put them in my carry-on case.

Well, oops, right? I’m not used to flying with objects other than electronics, clothes, and brushes, so I wasn’t thinking about how in 2012 we do this cute thing in the United States of not packing “anything spreadable” over a few ounces into our carryons.

”Anything spreadable” is how the TSA agent explained it to me when Mike and I were begging for the lives of our salmonberry jam and birch mustard, which I’d also thoughtlessly packed in the carry-on. “Oh, I said,” suddenly realizing. “Well, then there are also some bath scrubs that are going to have to come out.”

”Let’s run the luggage through again,” the TSA agent said, holding the jam and mustard. We all watched.

”No problems. It’s just these two items.”

”But I have six bath scrubs. How are they acceptable when mustard isn’t?”

”It has to be something spreadable.”

Well, I wasn’t going to try to persuade her to confiscate the scrubs, much as it pained me to let that inane response stand, having already been a bit of a dip to mention the scrubs at all. (Bad logic makes me blurt.)

Since I’m not going to do a post-cruise report, I’ll say here that I waited just past the scanners with the luggage while Mike was escorted out of the area by another TSA agent so he could find a place to mail the contraband condiments. I suggested he go to the Powell’s book outlet and buy some books, then see if they would ship the books along with the jam/mustard. Alas, Powell’s had no boxes for shipping. Mike ran around the entire Portland airport, inquiring at every store, turned away sadly every time for want of boxes/shipping options, before finding an unattended FedEx counter. He put the stuff in one of the envelopes and wrote his credit card number on the form, with no idea of who would see it or what we’d be charged. Jam and mustard arrived safely a few days later.... to the tune of twentyish dollars. Live and learn... and then forget and blog about the outcome later! The salmonberry jam is so good, though, that I think it was worth it. But we’re not to the salmonberry part of the cruise yet, so back to the scrubs.

Oh, wait, here’s a pic of the scanning area at PDX. (You know They hate when you take photos. I was very stealthy, pretending to text someone. I love smartphones.)

Portland Airport - TSA Zone

So anyway, it was weird, huh, the way the bath scrubs (wet oils and mushy scrubby bits) didn’t alarm the TSA, but mustard and jam did. We had three times the amount of bath scrub, too. Odd.

When we got home, Mike had to fly to Australia three days later, so that was preoccupying. We were so busy that we only unpacked what he needed for that trip from the red carry-on (pretty much nothing) and otherwise upended the other three pieces of luggage as he got ready to carry as much as possible to Oz. So, it was chaotic.

In the days after he left, I put away most of the unpacking debris but set the mostly intact red carry-on to the side. It only had a few shirts and some sundries - books, cords, etc. - in addition to the scrubs. During that time three of our hamsters died (of expected old age), so I was busy with that and then storing their playthings in preparation to start packing.

So, it was sometime the next week before I finally unpacked the red carry-on, feeling that the house was sorted out enough to enjoy a hot bath with a pyramid of indulgent scrubs from the cruise stacked beside the bathtub.

I saw the stain on the liner of the case, first.

I picked up the plastic bag holding the scrubs. It was slick. I quickly shoved the other items away from it (including my favourite shirt) and carried the bag to the sink.

Inside, the bag was full of oil. I started screwing open the lids to the scrubs. They were all bone dry, like scented salt.

Sigh. Fifty-four dollars' worth of scrubs all made useless because apparently the jars the Norwegian spa uses are leaky.

I kept the bag by the sink for a week or so, dipping my fingers in it to moisturize my hands after washing them, trying to get some value out of it. It was depressing. I haven’t looked at the scrubs since. (A month later I tore up my ankle, so it’s been showers every day since anyway.)

”You’ve got to complain to them,” Mike said from Australia on Skype. “That’s ridiculous. Not only did we not get the scrubs, but it could’ve messed up our other stuff in the luggage.”

It was awhile before I could bear to tell my husband that my blue shirt, one of my few articles of clothing to draw compliments (a perfect shade of blue that I can rarely find), was splashed with repeating ovals where the oil from the bath scrubs had seeped through.

Why didn’t I complain to Norwegian? Because I was so soured on the Norwegian experience by the end of the trip that I didn’t want to deal with them any longer. The cruise was over. We’d never have to sail with them again. The thought of trying to get compensation depressed me. I couldn’t get another shirt like the blue one, and I had visions of Norwegian’s corporate office making me deal with their third-party spa service provider instead of just giving me $54 or a new set of scrubs. But if anyone reading this wants to contact Norwegian and fight on my behalf, well, it would be nice for justice to be served. I’m just not sure how what kind of china it would be plated on.

But this is the Juneau day, and none of that has happened yet. I told Jennette, “No hurry; we have all week,” then we said we’d be back in a few hours for Mike’s haircut.

We popped into the library down the hall to pick up trivia and Sudoku sheets and to look around a bit more. This is definitely the best-stocked library of any cruise we’ve been on, with actual bestsellers and not just an armful of discards from a garage sale circa 1991.

Norwegian Pearl - Library Signs

Norwegian Pearl - The Library

Norwegian Pearl - The Other Side of the Library

Not just books in English, either.

Norwegian Pearl - Variety of Languages in Library

Norwegian Pearl - Variety of Language in Library, Again

Norwegian Pearl - Library Trivia, Sudoku, Crossword

Norwegian Pearl - Library Book Exchange

Of course, I did want to see what today’s “treasure box” Arts and Crafts activity was about, but we were running late.

Norwegian Pearl - Maltings

Oh no, Maltings was empty. Had Steven given up and gone away after another session of no-shows? We sat a few, as did others.

Norwegian Pearl - Maltings Window Cushions

Norwegian Pearl - The Other Side of Maltings

If I’d had the Freestyle Daily on me to check, I would’ve noticed that today Arts and Crafts was in “Bar City,” not specifically Maltings. Although it’s presumably part of Bar City (which appears nowhere on any map, just on the Freestyle Daily), we eventually learned that “Bar City” means “go to the grand piano.”

Luckily we decided to head over to the piano to choose our seats for the trivia starting at 9:30, and of course there we saw another host handing out treasure box kits. “Only one per group!” he admonished. We also saw Phil and Carol, so I had to make sure she didn’t have or want a kit before I took one. (“Oh no, I’ve done all that before.” Yes, it’s not really the sort of thing to do twice, is it?)

The kit looked a bit flimsy and lame, honestly, and not up to par with yesterday’s stickerfest (although, again, I commend Norwegian on offering all of this for free), so I just held it in my hands and pretended I was going to start any minute, while Carol read the library trivia to us.

Norwegian Pearl - Mike in 'Bar City'

Dimity showed up at some point and was insisting that all the smart cruisers go to the shopping talk, and how she always tells her tour groups to sit in the front row so they’re more likely to get free stuff. Isn’t it nice the way cruising can appeal to so many different types of people for so many different reasons? (Me, I’ve seen the shopping talks rebroadcast on the cabin TV, and they make my skin crawl, but I’ve covered this in other cruise reports.)

Trivia was more challenging, so that was fun. (The host was somewhat hard to understand, but not as atrociously so as the guy on the first day. Still, it did mean lots of repeats.) We somehow managed to squeak a win by half a point, getting a modest 15.5 (out of 20).

One of the questions we got wrong was “Which celebrity has a son named Sage?” Of course, by the end of the week, the death of Sage Stallone was all over the news.

Here’s the rest of the team in Bar City, with Lotus Garden above and the entrance to Le Bistro below:

Norwegian Pearl - Lotus Garden and Bar City

I was trying to remember why I was standing up. It wasn’t to take a photo. Then I checked the Freestyle Daily and was reminded that the drink special on this day was something called the “Rebellious Fish.” I’d stood up to ask the bartender what this was.

Bartender: “Orange juice and vodka and (MUMBLE, TURN AWAY).”

Me: “I’m sorry. Orange juice and vodka and... what was the last item?”

Bartender: “Orange juice and vodka and (MUMBLE, TRAIL OFF, AND WALK AWAY).”

Me: “Oh. Uh, thanks.”

Carol: “So, what’s a Rebellious Fish?”

Me: “A screwdriver with a secret ingredient, apparently.”

Later I asked another bartender and was told it was just “orange juice and vodka.” “Oh. How is that different from a screwdriver?” He didn’t know, and neither did the next bartender. The fourth bartender, at the fourth bar, said a Rebellious Fish was “orange juice, vodka, and passion fruit juice.” My curiosity was finally satisfied, but my head was shaking. It should have not been so hard... unless the whole point was to make me feel like I needed a drink.

As it turns out, the story doesn’t end there. Just now as I was typing this, I decided to see if there was a recipe for this drink online. According to the Cruise Critic blog post, the ingredients in Norwegian Cruise Line's Rebellious Fish are passion fruit liqueur, orange vodka, orange liqueur, orange juice, and sparkling wine. Also, it’s served in a fishbowl.

What the hell, Norwegian? What. The. Hell.

I’m not much of a drinker, but I would’ve loved a souvenir drink served in a fishbowl.

Now I’m kind of mad and have to take a break from typing. I mean, I thought I’d come to rueful, “laugh about it later, although sometimes with a bitter edge” terms with this cruise. Now I find out Norwegian failed us even more than we knew.

I need to find out if there’s another cruise line that serves fishbowl drinks. I will sail with them and order two. Two for each hand.

It was time for Mike’s follicular makeover. At first I tried to wait in the spa waiting room.

Norwegian Pearl - Spa Waiting Area

But the privacy screens made this dull, so I went to check out a couple of Piers Anthony books Mike had scoped out in the library. (Currant Events and Stork Naked, to be specific.) Also, my scrubs were ready, so I wanted to go back to the room with them anyway.

(“I have your scrubs,” Jennette called out to me when I was sitting in the waiting area. “Oh wow, so soon? Thanks.” “Oh yes, I knew I better hurry up and make them because I knew you’d be asking about them.” What? I’d specifically told her there was no hurry and that I’d get them sometime later in the week. People.... argh.)

When I came back, no one else was in the haircutting area, so I asked if I could stay and take some pics of the occasion. The Scottish snipper didn’t mind. (I think her name was Leanne? She was quite nice and thorough.)

Norwegian Pearl - Mike Being Styled at Sea

Norwegian Pearl - Spa Chair and Mike's Hair

(Yes, of course I swooped down and grabbed a bit of hair for the Smash book.)

Mike, Shorn

There he is, newly shorn in Alaska.

”Mike,” I ask as I type this, almost four months later. “How did you feel about your cruise haircut?”

”I thought it was good; what did you think? I mean, not perfect, but... hmmm... I felt like she left the front a bit long?... I don’t know. All in all I was happy with it, and it was novel getting it done on the cruise.”

(I liked it, too. Cost: $35 plus automatically included 18% tip, for a total of $41.30.)

Time for a little lunch before the Tri-Bond Quiz at 12:15. (We had no idea what it was, but it sounded new and interesting.) The MDR had failed us for lunch, as had the Blue Lagoon. Our experiences with dabbling in the buffet hadn’t been very good so far, but we’d give it a proper try now.

Here’s another thumbs-up to Norwegian: they clearly label their soup stock.

Norwegian Pearl - Something They Do Right (Label Soup Stock)

If you want to see me complain a bit about Carnival instead of Norwegian, here we go: it’s very unclear which bases are used for Carnival’s soups. When I asked John Heald about soup bases on his blog, he asked the head chef then pasted the chef’s reply that all of the seeming-vegetarian soups I had listed were meatless. Ooookay, but when I looked up those same soups in the Carnival cookbook, several of them used chicken or beef stock for the base. Also, Carnival waiters have, upon realizing that I always order the vegetarian entree, warned me off certain soups, like the Yukon potato, for having a meat base. I think Carnival’s head chef perhaps has an underinformed idea of what “vegetarian” means. So, good job, Norwegian, for not only understanding that people would like this information, but for providing it in writing without making passengers play the grapevine game.

(That said, can I trust a company that labels tofu as cheese.... every single day?)

The made-to-order pasta station appealed right away. This is something we often enjoy on the better casino buffets at home. I especially liked how filled pasta - cheese tortellini - was an option.

Norwegian Pearl - Made-to-Order Pasta Station

I asked if I could have tomato and Alfredo sauces mixed together, and this was not a problem.

Otherwise, nothing on the buffet really spoke to me, not even the desserts. The pasta dish was okay, which was such an improvement over the past two days that I couldn’t really complain.

The Tri-Bond Quiz was a wordplay mindteaser. The host would list three things, and we’d have to think of a word that went with all three. Once again, he was very hard to understand, and we weren’t the only ones who were busy trying to find a relationship between words only to discover (when someone asked for yet another repeat of the same question - and who could blame them?) that we’d misunderstood what he said.

Still, it was a good game premise, and we were pleased to have survived into second place. (The couple from Canada, the ones who asked yesterday if we could play as a foursome, leading to all kinds of awkwardness, were the winners, coming out a good three points ahead of us for a near-perfect score.)

Time to relax in the room and enjoy the balcony a bit. As we neared Juneau, the shoreline showed signs of human life.

Nearing Juneau

Juneau - Coast Guard Is Ever Vigilant

“Does he have to actually stand right at the gun?”

Being Bitey

Did I mention that I got rid of my grey hair for the trip?

Juneau - Parasailing-Like Man

Juneau - Radiance of the Seas

Radiance of the Seas, our first time to see a Royal Caribbean ship in port. (We used to see Mariner of the Seas in the distance, but that doesn’t count.)

A friend had told me that Holland America got the best berths in Alaskan ports. (From what we saw, this seemed to be true.) As I was researching the trip, I saw that Norwegian actually gets the worst berth in Juneau, down beyond where the other ships docked. I decided that “worst” was probably still not actually bad: after all, a shuttle is provided to the main terminal area.

Juneau - Norwegian Jewel Just Left

Norwegian Jewel had just left, clearing the way for us.

Juneau - Port for Norwegian

See, we’re not that far from Diamond Princess. Why do people complain? Tsk tsk. (Foreshadowing alert!)

We’d arrived before our scheduled time of 2 p.m., so I was optimistic that debarkation would be smooth. Still, we waited until about 2:20 to head down to the gangway....

....only to find shoulder-to-shoulder crowds throughout the deck.

Apparently there was some delay. Well, things happen. Just bad luck. It’s not like we were in a hurry, though, so no problem.

Once disembarkation did begin, we let the crowd thin before joining what turned out to be a slow-shuffling queue. It was okay until we got off the ship and had to stand in the icy rain on the pavement between the ship and the covered walkway. We had an umbrella in the cabin, just for the sake of thoroughness. I love the rain and don’t mind getting wet, but I wanted to keep our options open. I hadn’t thought to bring it off the ship with us because, one, it wasn’t raining when we left our cabin, and two, I hadn’t expected to have to stand on the dock in the rain.

Eventually we were up to the covered ramp seen in the photo above. Mike was shivering and wanted gloves, another item back in the cabin. “Are you kidding?” I asked. And he wanted a hat. Carol and Phil were also not very comfortable. “Pfffft. You wusses.”

I was just teasing. When I was a little girl growing up in Michigan, sometimes the snow would be a couple of feet high, but I’d still go out to the mailbox at the end of our long driveway wearing only an above-the-knee nightshirt and a pair of moon boots. Sure, it would feel brisk, but I liked it. I’m one of those people who sets the AC to one notch above “meat locker.” If you play the soundtrack of my life backwards, you can hear someone repeating, “Don’t you want a jacket?”

But even for me, luxuriating in the rain and wind that were balms to my parched desert soul, by the time we stood out in the open at the top of the walkway for several minutes with no shuttle bus (except for Norwegian tours) in sight, this was getting old. And I wouldn’t have minded a hat.

We had a snakeline approaching a little building, where the line wrapped around. We (yes, by now me too) looked enviously at the people who were pressed against the building, enjoying the protection of eight-inch eaves. A shuttle bus came. It seemed to hardly make a dent in the line. We waited.

This was my fault. Phil and Carol had let us suggest the ship. Mike went along with my recommendation. Okay, so this was actually our second choice after Phil vetoed HAL (which we fully supported), but I still felt like the worst daughter-in-law ever. No one was complaining, but sometimes it’s hard to talk when your teeth are chattering. Much more of this, and someone was going to take Mike aside and pointedly bring up annulment.

As we got closer to the building, we found there was a price to pay for brief snatches of shelter. The stench.

Oh, the stench. The sewage-y Port-a-Potty full blast stench. People’s complaints were muffled by their coat sleeves over their mouths, afraid of what might seep into their systems otherwise. Oh grody.

It was a wonderful thing to be around the building and out into the wet again. As another bus came, we hoped there would be enough room this time for us.

I tried to count the empty seats. I tried to count the people ahead of us in line.

C’mon. C’mon...


We were on. It smelled like wet dog inside, but the heaters were running and we were on our way.

Total time from stepping off the ship to getting on the shuttle bus: about 30-35 minutes.

That doesn’t sound like much if you’re thinking about Disneyland queues (Toy Story Mania is totally worth it), but it’s a long time to be in the cold rain, waiting for a shuttle just to get to the other end of the dock. Taxis would have made a killing if they’d been allowed. (Which is my way of saying Norwegian should’ve let them.)

Hopefully what we experienced was an unusual circumstance, but next time I’d think twice about picking a cruise ship that has to do a shuttle when other lines have more direct options.

And so we were dropped off at the terminal at about 3:30. Everyone (including us) rushed into the big store across the street from the ships to buy all the things that standing still in the cold wet will make you want. (With a clusterfluff around the entrance as people paused to get photos with a Sarah Palin cutout.) Carol got an umbrella. Mike got gloves (which started coming apart the next day) as well as two hats. One was a fitted-knitted, and the other was one that he found even more warm and comfortable but felt was a bit silly. I begged him to get it.

Juneau - I Was Sold Immediately


Mike and I wanted to take a shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier, while Phil and Carol wanted to wander and maybe get a coffee, so we parted ways.

We walked up the street a little before turning to go back down to where all the booths were, selling shuttle and other tour tickets.

Juneau - Tagging Even Here

Tagging? In Alaska? Sigh.

I have to admit that I did something bad, but I did it ironically, so that’s okay. I’ve already said how much I hate the shopping talks and the chain jewelry stores. I mean, I loathe them. It was a shocker to step off the shuttle bus here in Juneau and see an artificial village of “Diamonds International and Friends” all set up. I feel bad for the people who might not have realized that downtown Juneau, with plenty of cool little shops of interest to tourists, was only a block away. The area was pretty, but it might as well have been unpacked from a box stamped Acme Cruise Terminal Kit.

Juneau - Souvenirs and Jewelry Stores

Alaska-Juneau Mining Company

Cruise Port Retail Crap, Even in Juneau

I mean, Del Sol? In Alaska?

One time, in Mazatlan, we were dumped in the “Golden Zone” for an hour of shopping as part of a tour. The “Golden Zone” is probably nice if you’re staying at one of the guarded and gated resorts, but we were left to entertain ourselves at the shops across the street, a smaller and far less scenic version of the Jewelry Corridor in Juneau. With nothing else to do, we stopped into a couple of places to get their free charms. The charms were little pieces of crap, jewelry-wise, but they were fun to have as souvenirs, and we felt like we were getting some revenge on these companies with their slimeball sales tactics by then not buying anything.

Well, the coupon book handed to us on embarkation was full of these offers for free charms and pendants and such.... but they also had a set of Alaskan-themed souvenir coins and charms that looked, honestly, a bit cool. Still cheaply made and worthless, sure, but the OCD nostalgist in me kind of wanted to collect them in every port. We could relive our Mazatlan revenge and get some silly goodies!

And if I grabbed a few pendants along the way, well...

The participating shops were all right there, and within 15 minutes I had all kinds of loot. (The other shop was down by the Princess berth. We weren’t doing that.) Here’s the amazing bit, though: the sales pressure was low and sometimes non-existent. I really was able to just collect the charm, say no thank you to any invitations, and leave. In one shop they were particularly nice. (I forget the name offhand - short and started with an E.) As we left, I turned to Mike and said, “That was so pleasant and non-aggressive that I almost want to buy something from them.”

Honey over vinegar, people.

If you’re going to do a Free Crapathon, do it in Juneau. It’s fast; they’re nice. Ketchikan might be okay. Do not do it in Skagway. (See how I used the bold type for emphasis? Picture me also waving my arms in slow motion, mouthing Noooooooo.... didn’t that happen with the Giant and Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks once? Just like that.) I’m saying this now because when it comes time to type the Skagway section of this report, I might skip our coin-and-charm-seeking experiences rather than relive them.

We wanted to do the Mt. Roberts Tramway, whose entrance is right there at the terminal, but now it was after four p.m. and we realized we needed to hustle to see Mendenhall Glacier, which closed at six. Eeek. That hour-plus lost at debarkation really caught up with us. Usually I’m hypervigilant about time, but we were having fun just wandering in the grey weather, even just in the tourist area.

Juneau - Tourist and Sled Pups

Mike by Radiance of the Seas

Juneau - Mt Roberts Tramway Base

Many of the tour operators had already shut for the day. I took a photo of the few remaining while Mike used the restroom.

Juneau - Tour Vendor Stalls by Mt Roberts Tramway Base

I watched the ticket stall vendors while I waited. The guys were kind of aggressive with their barking when someone walked by. The female wasn’t. When Mike joined me and we started walking toward the stalls (they all sell the glacier shuttle ticket for the same price, $8, so it doesn’t matter who you pick), one of the guys called out, “Hey! Where are you going?” I pointed to the woman and said, “Right here.” They all got a laugh out of that.

We walked back into the tourist shopping area to get to the parking lot where our shuttle would be waiting. By the way, I don’t mean to say “tourist shopping area” like it’s a bad thing. I’m a tourist and have zero problem with souvenir traps. I’ve survived the come-on gauntlet at La Bufadora, after all. What I dislike is the cruise ship shopping racket that makes misleading claims to passengers about the exclusivity and quality of the merchandise, and then actively steers people away from stores that haven’t paid to advertise, as opposed to just promoting their “shopping partners.” But however one feels, the terminal area is rather gorgeous here.

Juneau - Alaska Shirt Company

Here’s Mike on the shuttle, wearing his other new hat:

Mike on the Glacier Shuttle Bus

Soon we were out of town and on the highway with our conservative-yet-not-too-fond-of-Sarah-Palin bus driver. (Regardless of whether one agrees with a person’s politics, isn’t it unspeakably refreshing to be around someone who claims a certain ideology but doesn’t feel like he or she has to then endorse every aspect of the corresponding political party?)

Juneau - Tip Jar on Glacier Shuttle

Best place to see bald eagles in Juneau? Apparently it’s the dump.

Juneau - Dump With Bald Eagles

Our driver kept up a nice patter about all the sights (including pointing out closer bald eagles on rooftops) as we drove along.

”Juneau Rush Hour.”

Juneau - Rush Hour

Juneau - Bobby Flay Watch Out

I laughed at seeing the Mesa Grill. (Bobby Flay has a restaurant called Mesa Grill here in Las Vegas. It’s pretty delicious.)

Our first glimpse of our first glacier.

Juneau - First Glimpse of Glacier

We disembarked just after 5 p.m., with the driver warning us that there’d be a shuttle at 5:45 and another one at 6, and after that we’d have to arrange for a cab.

Mendenhall Glacier Entrance

As we walked from the parking lot to the entrance, I was a little miffed with myself for not giving us much time here. But we were having fun back in town just walking around, too. Oh well.

The Glacier was dirtier than we expected but still a majestic sight.

Mike at Glacier in Other New Hat

Mike suggested that we leave the interpretive viewing area and walk to the shore. (Obviously we didn’t have time to go up to the Visitors’ Center or see any of the trails there.) I hesitated, but it was worth it.

Juneau - Visitor by Mendenhall Chunk

Juneau - Mike at Mendenhall

Juneau - Ice at Mendenhall

Juneau - Mendenhall Glacier

Mike made a video on his phone.

That’s my jumper sleeve at :08. You can’t say I never let myself be video’d.

Besides, I also made a video.

(This is why I don’t make many videos.)

(I did sacrifice crispness to let YouTube fix the shakiness somewhat.)

We stood there a bit, just looking around, then hoofed it to the shuttle stop where a large crowd was waiting. Look at those lovely clouds.

Juneau - Glacier Shuttle Stop at Exit

Luckily when the bus (larger than our shuttle there) arrived, we all fit, just. Maybe the last shuttle back would’ve been less crowded, but it also could’ve been worse, and since another 20 minutes wouldn’t have given us enough time to do more anyway, it seemed wise to leave now.

I think an hour would’ve been a perfect amount of time (since we’re not hikers) at Mendenhall, but then you read reports of people who were bored and restless with a 45-minute tour stop, so everyone is different. I mean, ideally we could just live in Juneau and go for three hours every day, hiking among the bear cubs with a big dog or three in tow, and after we’d get hot hazelnut cocoa in town and muse about life before our sudden and mysterious independent wealth, and then we’d go home and watch some Netflix and drink a slightly different kind of cocoa, maybe a nice orange cocoa, if such a thing exists. (Maybe the patent on orange cocoa is the source of our wealth.) But when on a cruise with limited time in port, an hour at Mendenhall sounds good.

Our driver for the trip back was also very nice. He offered to let people off downtown (which is just a short walk from the shopping area) if they wanted to look around before walking back to their cruise ship (or ship shuttle). Since we’d already spotted two things we wanted downtown (glacier silt soap and gourmet popcorn), we took advantage of this.

I really regretted not having a couple of days to mosey around Juneau. It feels more like a small town than a capital city. (The urban population is just over 17,000. Total population ~32,000. Somehow I hadn’t noticed that in the pre-trip research.)

Juneau - Downtown Cinema

Juneau - Doll Museum and Bookstore

Juneau - Downtown Gets Cuter and More Interesting a Short Walk From Cruise Ship Shops

Juneau - This Sign Probably Wasn't Done for Free

(You know why I took that picture. Okay, I try to stick to picking on big places that make errors in their signage, but this one was just so weird and kind of funny that I couldn’t let it pass. I’m not sure I’d want them to fix it, even. But has no one ever been tempted to grab a maroon Sharpie and quietly neuter that comma?)

We did get some popcorn from a very nice guy, but we didn’t chose well (for us) on the flavours. We have a gourmet popcorn place here in Las Vegas (“Popped”) that’s pretty amazing, so we’re spoiled. It’s funny because at dinner the night before, we’d been trying to think of business ventures that were doing well in the United States but haven’t shown up in Perth yet. Gourmet popcorn came up. So, it was a laugh to then see a gourmet popcorn place the next day and again in Skagway. (None of the shops in Alaska are anything like Popped, though. Taste is an obvious difference, plus Popped does fun things with liquid nitrogen, and the store - well, their original store, since I haven’t been to their two new locations - is snazzy with cute tasting globes. So, if you’re an Australian entrepreneur looking for a new angle to work, come to Las Vegas and learn how to do it right... and that way when I get to Australia I won’t have to go without my Marilyn Monroe popcorn, a white chocolate blend with edible glitter.)

Mostly we just looked around, but Mike said we had to go into the Juneau drug store because he “needed” soap. This was one cruise where he couldn’t live with the shower gel. I thought he was just being his fussy self until I found out that Phil and Carol also couldn’t abide the gel and had brought their own soap. Now I just think all Aussies are fussy with unseemly prejudices against shower gel.

I have to admit to having my own soap fetish. So, after Mike purchased his pack of pink Dove bars (Next morning: “Why do I smell like roses?!”), we headed to the distinctive Glacier Smoothie Soaps shack.

Juneau - Glacier Silt Soap

There aren’t enough words on this page, so let’s go ahead and paste in my entire Yelp review.

Let's face it; the shack is adorable. As our shuttle to Mendenhall drove past, I spied the Glacier Silt Soap store sitting all picturesque on the corner. THUMP! That was me whacking my long-suffering husband on the arm. "We're SO going there!"

Despite not being a girly girl at all, I'm a sucker for artisan and unusual soap, and soap that lives in its own dollhouse makes me just squee and fall over like a short-legged bunny.

Alas, a late arrival in port coupled with the worst debarkation system I've ever experienced on a cruise ship (reason #7 not to book Norwegian for Alaska) meant that time slipped away in Juneau faster than we'd planned, and so we found ourselves on the doorstep of this twee soap paradise about three minutes before closing time.

Not a problem. The two ladies within were welcoming and reassured us not to hurry. The charm stayed on even when my husband refused to look at the "manly" soaps and went all Aussie on us Yanks with his frank discussions of the high prices of their products.

This wasn't because he's a jerkface, though, but because he's a serial soap killer. The man murders multiple bars of Irish Spring in a single week. If it doesn't come in an economy pack, the price is going to be too high. I've seen him with a fancy glycerin bar - the poor thing never had a chance to see another shower. In fact, I have to use shower gel instead of soap lest we perish under the Vesuvian ashload of soap scum that he brings into our marriage tub.

So, the fact that I keep buying soap that he can't use and that I dare not use is probably indicative of some deep psychological flaw, but, hey, pretty soap!

However, the cost of the soap wasn't just high for Mike's brutal purposes. The "Glacier Smoothie" soaps run around $9 each, or 3 for $24. This is definitely a gift soap, and in that light, it's a nice trinket for the right person. (Hint: I am the right person.)

The packaging is lovely: each bar is protected by plastic then placed in a cotton drawstring bag of coordinating color, to which a metal tag is attached. The tags are meant to evoke the tracking system used by miners during days of yore. The soaps themselves all have names and descriptions mean to conjure Alaskan imagery. I chose "Fireweed Fluff," "Sea Pickle," and "Five-Minute Forecast." The first two had bold semi-opaque looks while FMF was a rugged, milky blue. (See my photos.)

In the name of good reviewing I opened up Sea Pickle just now (two months after purchase) and gave it a try. What's interesting is that the bag smelled one way (nice) but the unwrapped soap smelled rather different (but also still nice and probably closer to the described scent of lime and ginger). I don't do well with "perfumey" products, and neither of these scents bothered me. I also have sensitive skin, but it takes several uses for a "bad" soap to get to me, so I'll have to update this review later if there are any issues. Assuming my hands aren't covered in boils. Typing with boils popping might short out the keyboard.

The soap IS glycerin, so don't set it down in a wet soap dish where it will slowly melt away like my dream of winning the lottery despite never bothering to buy a ticket. (I decided to use a little terrycloth cushion to act as a glycerin soap rest. Yes, that's my Martha moment of the year. Alert Pinterest.)

Aftermath? The fragrance was barely noticeable on my hands afterward, unlike, say, industrial public toilet soap. Suds developed slowly, making this more of a creamer than a frother. The brochure included with each bar suggests that the glacier silt within has moisturizing properties, and perhaps my hands do feel a little softer, actually. Again, I'll update the review if anything interesting happens over time.

All in all, the Glacier Smoothies shop was pleasant to browse and the soap makes for a distinctively Alaskan gift. Cut the price by 20-30%, and you could call it a five-star experience.

I can update the review to say that at some lazy point I started just putting the soap directly into the damp dish, and has NOT melted away like other glycerin soaps, or at least not at the same speedy rate. I’m definitely a fan.

You can see the receipt and the edge of two souvenir freebie coins (I was trying to make a hidden Mickey) at this link, and here’s a mediocre photo of the actual soaps.

If you don’t get to go to the shack but still want to get some Fireweed Fluff while in Alasky, we later saw Glacier Smoothie soaps for sale in both Skagway and Ketchikan.

Juneau - Cigarette Butts Are Litter

The ship was in port until 10 p.m., but places were closing up. The Tramway was still open (we assumed), but we were pretty hungry and had planned to eat with Phil and Carol for our first MDR dinner on the ship. Despite our dining experiences on board so far, asking Juneau to deliver good Mexican food seemed the riskier choice. (Mexican was all that had caught our eye as something “interesting” in town to justify eating off-ship. Of course, those who eat salmon, seafood, etc. face far more temptation.)

We scrambled onto an about-to-depart shuttle. The ramp at the AJ Dock was far lovelier now than it was during our forced death shuffle earlier in the afternoon.

Juneau - Ramp at the AJ Dock

Norwegian Pearl - Pengy Towel Animal

Turndown service already? I was so pleased to see that our steward kept our animal from the night before. People always talk about saving their animals throughout the cruise, but we’d never been so lucky. Hooray! (Please place a tickmark in the happy-face column.) You can also see our bags of soap and popcorn and, oh yes, sea salt/caramel Godiva chocolate bars from the drugstore. (Because they were better than the sweets on the buffet.)

Summer Palace was quite busy. We never ate at Indigo, the other MDR. Why? Because the dinner menu had slightly more appeal at Summer Palace on this night, and after this night, we never ate in the MDR again.

The four of us ended up seated at a big, round table for six in the middle of the room. Between the din and the large table, we had to raise our voices a bit to talk. The elegant, intimate vibe we’d enjoyed during our previous meals was threatened by a sense of being in a well-organized mess hall, but I suppose that’s the truth of all cruise ship dining rooms. Just usually one is lucky enough to be too glamoured by the rest of the dining experience to see it lurking underneath.

A slightly smaller table a little off center stage would’ve made such a difference, and I would suggest that any foursomes or twosomes hold out for that. We didn’t know better at the time, and I should also make it clear that I don’t blame Norwegian for this bad luck. This is part of how they make freestyle dining work. I’m far more likely to criticize the two-tops on Carnival Splendor that put you at funky chicken arm-length to the couple next to you, and of course we’ve passed up many cruises on Carnival because Anytime Dining was already sold out. (And the anxiety of hoping for and begging for a two-top when we cruised anyway was never very pleasant.) I’m just saying this wasn’t a great table for a pleasant dining experience, and others might keep it in mind.

I started with a tomato and onion quiche. Oops, took a bite before I remembered to take a photo. I really was hungry. Sorry!

Norwegian Pearl - Tomato and Onion Quiche

The quiche was nice enough. Mike had it, too.

For the main course, Mike chose to have his very first encounter with pot roast.

Norwegian Pearl - Mike's First Pot Roast

Mike pronounced it okay but not really his thing. Since nothing really appealed to him on the menu, it was interesting for him to try something new.

Norwegian Pearl - Mushroom Rav in Congealed Sauce

I had the mushroom ravioli served in congealed sauce. It was... hmmm... not too objectionable once I got past the sauce. It would be fine if I’d nuked it up out of a box from the grocer’s freezer section then ate it on the sofa, watching TV. I just had higher expectations of the MDR.

Dessert for most of us was chocolate raspberry truffle cake.

Norwegian Pearl - Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cake

It’s not really fair to comment on this when memories of the previous night’s chocolate napoleon were still in our minds. It was better than what we’d tried from the buffet. There.

Over dinner, Carol and Phil told us about the 50s/60s music trivia we’d missed and asked us all the questions they missed, humming the tunes, which was pretty fun. Dinner extended past movie clip trivia, which left us with only the comedian as one of my starred possibilities. (Mike had considered signing up for “Bowling with the Stars,” a tournament played near midnight with the ship’s entertainment hosts, but he'd changed his mind in the morning.)

It was just as well. We all had early tours in Skagway the morning. Phil and Carol had decided to book the train ride then Liarsville camp. We’d already arranged a tour driving up the Klondike Highway to Fraser, British Columbia, then taking the train back. So, while we would’ve liked to have seen the comedian, an early night with some cabin downtime sounded even better.

09 December 2012 |






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