Tag Archives: Norwegian Pearl

Captain Lars


Sept. 24, 2011

We enjoyed an entertaining presentation by our esteemed Swedish captain, Lars Bengtsson,  who showed slides of the bridge, various crew members, and the most important piece of equipment: a coffee pot. He said if that machine malfunctions the crew takes it out on the passengers. He also surmised this was why 2-3 other ships’ captains bypassed Ketchikan, AK.

(Our Norwegian Pearl was the only one to dock in Ketchikan yesterday. Nice for us to have the town to ourselves. Shop keepers offered discounts up to 50% before closing for the season. The Ketichikan residents were probably relieved when the ship’s horn sounded at 6PM and the last ship of the season sailed away.)

Back to Captain Lars . . . The Pearl was built in Germany and launched in 2006. It took 4 weeks to load all the furnishings, linens, cutlery, pots, pans, dishes, etc etc. We saw pictures of the cockpit with all  the dials and gauges. He assured us they had figured out how to use at least 75% of them. A couple of large red buttons prepare the anchors to be dropped or raised. These have been encased with transparent covers ever since a cruise director leaned back against one by mistake, he claimed.

The enormous Pearl has diesel engines that can travel up to 25 knots/hour. It features “azipods” in which the propellers can rotate 360 degrees. That means it has the ability to maneuver in any direction including sideways–handy when going through the Panama Canal with just 1.5 feet of clearance on each side. The ship needs only 1 meter of depth below the keel for docking in places like Skagway at low tide. Some ports such as Cabo San Lucas are so deep that anchors can’t be used. Instead, tillers are set to hold steady automatically. Stabilizers extend on the sides when necessary, but normally they are housed within the hull–especially when docking!

Passenger capacity is 2394 based on double occupancy (an 1197-room hotel!). There are 12 restaurants, 11 bars, and a 2-lane bowling alley, a first among cruise ships. The whole beast weighs 93,000 pounds–38.8 pounds per passenger–or divided out, our average weight gain by the end of the week. . . . (actually, we were told that 8 pounds is an average weight gain…hmm, the weight of a good-sized newborn).

We saw photos of the laundry rooms with their huge washers, dryers, and pressing machines; the kitchens, including dishwashing area; trash all sorted, recycled, or incinerated; water desalinization and sewage treatment. The ship has the best water and sewage processing in the world: Water generally boils at 100 degrees Celsius but in a vacuum it boils at 60 and saves fuel; solid waste is dried and incinerated; liquids are purified and distilled to drinking level (and here we saw a photo of bottles of Evian water when he joked that they sold it back to us.) Even at this pure a state, U.S. law requires the addition of chlorine and minerals.

After Captain Lars, cruise director Julie Valeriote (from Canada) spoke about additional areas behind the scenes–crews’ quarters (single, double, or up to 6 crew members in a room with bunk beds, storage, desk space, and bath); dining areas, classrooms, and a pool in the bow for crew members only. Not many people used any of the pools this trip–too cold–but the hot tubs were popular. When the swells were high water sloshed out of the pools then back out the other side–very dramatic to watch.

On this last day at sea we will be traveling the Inside Passage all the way to Vancouver. Until about 3pm there will be large swells and most of us look slightly drunk as we walk around the ship. Because of weather conditions (hmm, or maybe a malfunctioning coffee pot) the captain made an executive decision  to skip Victoria. That was a bit disappointing, but overall this has been a wonderful journey. It was a luxury on many levels, including being “off the grid” for an entire week without cell phone or internet. (We could have purchased internet minutes but chose not to indulge. Retreat time!)

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Alaskan Rainforest!


Sept. 23, 2011

For this outing in Ketchikan, AK, we dressed for cold, wet weather and boarded a Grayline bus. Five passengers were on their way to drive jeeps and do some canoeing. Jon and I were among 16 to go canoeing and take a short nature walk into the rainforest.

How beautiful!

Lots of waterfalls on the road to the Lake Ward, about 5 miles north of Ketchikan on North Tongass Highway. We were issued life jackets and ponchos then climbed into two large canoes. With that many paddles no one had to work too hard! Still, we used muscles I remember from teaching canoeing as a camp counselor many years ago.

We passed a steep waterfall (though not too closely!). Several times we stopped in the quiet and shouted to hear echoes sounding for as long as 20 seconds. Halfway around an Blueberry Island we stopped for a snack of dried salmon, bread and jam, goldfish crackers, clam chowder, and hot chocolate or coffee. The tour hosts joked that since we had been on a cruise we couldn’t go more than an hour without eating. The chowder and hot chocolate tasted especially good to me.

After the snack, Matt and Christina led two separate groups on a short mile-long walk into the rainforest. Among the hemlocks and other beauties we stopped by a creek with shale in it. Some of the shale has stripes of gold that gold miners used to mistake for the real thing. Alas, it is not even fool’s gold.

There are snags in the forest–dead trees that are still standing; and nursery trees–fallen logs; all of which provide shelter and nourishment for other forest life. A particular tree fungus called “bear bread” is also used by totem pole carvers to make a model for the actual pole. Rituals and prayers precede the use of any log. In the Tongass National Forest, nature takes its own course. Only logs that fall across the designated trail are cut away.

One tree was hollow enough for Matt, a good-sized young man, to get inside. A little mud won’t deter a guy who will spend his second winter in these woods. We made our way back to the canoes (more snacks available if desired!) then on around Blueberry Island. A light rain was falling and I was fascinated by drops of water that formed bubbles on the surface of the lake and remained there for several seconds before they popped. I haven’t ever noticed so many raindrops do that before: was it the relatively smooth lake surface, the air and water temperatures, the lightness of the rain? By the time Matt finished talking about points of interest around the lake I had forgotten to ask him.

Back to the dock to turn in our paddles and such then head back to town. Shops there were closing for the season so shopkeepers were eager to offer discounts and bargains galore. First we spent about an hour in Discovery Center until it closed. I could easily have stayed another hour there to view its displays of marine and forest life as well as the history of industry like logging, fishing, and mining.

When the Discovery Center pushed us out the door, we did do some shopping. There are some beautiful handcrafted items actually made in Alaska. One shop was way out of my price range but they do carry some wonderful items. In another shop I couldn’t pass up a small wooden bear holding a salmon, a signature wooden whale tail,  or a metal sculpture featuring whale and sea turtle.

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Glacier Bay


Sept. 22, 2011

The cruise ship Norwegian Pearl entered Glacier Bay around 6:30 AM, before most of the passengers were out and about. What a day of beauty!

Two hundred fifty years ago there was no bay. Ice filled the entire region. Glaciers have since advanced and retreated multiple times but the net result has been the gouging out of stone into sediment, shoved into the sea or broken off at the edge in a process known as calving. The ice appears blue because all other colors are absorbed.

Last night decks were cleared due to 60 knot winds. No one was allowed on the open decks. Tables and chairs were pushed to the sides; in the chapel, furnishing were laid on their sides. The captain announced that we might not even be able to enter the bay through a narrow strait. Until 8 or 9 in the morning rain poured. (Remember rain? Austin could surely have used 30 minutes’ worth of this downpour!) We were afraid our view of the glaciers would be heavily obscured by rain and fog.

The skies cleared just enough for a beautiful view of mountains of various elevations, shoreline, rivers thousands of feet in length, glaciers two miles wide, and moraines, We spent an hour in sight of Margerie Glacier, circling around so that both port and starboard had plenty of viewing time. From time to time the sun would come out just enough to illuminate fresh snowfall on mountain peaks.

Three National Park Rangers had boarded the ship early in the morning. Throughout the day they made presentations, answered questions, and provided maps and info about Glacier Bay National Park. As we moved south we marveled at other glaciers such as  Johns Hopkins, Lamplugh, and Reid Glaciers .

Between glaciers and ice fields, the trees were gloriously colorful for the Fall Equinox. Plants of gold and red contrasted with evergreen and deciduous trees, dark rock, white snow, and blue ice. Within two or three hours we had come far enough south to see more signs of life: hundreds of sea lions, several sea otters, and a humpback whale coming up for air with a big blow to clear its nose.

The sea lions appeared to be resting on several small islands, but occasionally they would slip into the water to feed. Sea otters lay on their backs out in the water–we could see both head and tail above sea level. Birds flew or floated on the water. A bald eagle sat in a tree at my eye level.

People lined the edges of the ship, from the 7th deck all the way up to the 14th, with our cameras and binoculars and the warmest clothing we had managed to bring with us. We could retreat for warmth to the Spinnaker Lounge where windows surround the entire bow of the 13th deck or to a restaurant for a hot drink. How many gallons of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate can approximately 2300 passengers and 1100 crew members consume?

pix and videos below. A longer video captures a Park Ranger describing the landscape; a brief 5-second one captures a small icefall calving into the ocean just left of center.

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Ice falls into Glacier Bay

Patti Tana at Sea


Sept. 19, 2011

My feast of poetry on this cruise included Patti Tana’s This Is Why You Flew Ten Thousand Miles. The ‘why’ refers to Lilliana, a girl adopted from China whose parents flew that long distance to bring her to a new home. The parents had prepared a home surrounded by love and decorated the nursery

Parents and prospective parents will go long distances to give birth, adopt, or foster a child. Then for a lifetime they will strive to protect and empower; to love and let go. Ten thousand miles or about ten thousand days may be what it takes to launch a child. She or he is still very much our child, no matter how long we live.

For a time we find ourselves in the sandwich generation when we have both children and elders for whom to care. Parenting is one way to learn the skills needed as parents and grandparents become increasingly frail and vulnerable. Our children may in turn have a chance to assist us in our later years.

Patti writes about living, loving, and “daughtering.” She writes of the delights of parenting and the despair of loss. Many of her poems are very sensual in nature.

I “met” Patti on the phone shortly after I repeated an error in a newsletter. The article had attributed her poem about a garden/gardening to Anonymous. The closing line, “That Patti, she was one hot tomato” did not refer to her demise but of her own wish for her personal legacy. At least that’s how I remember it several years later.

At any rate, Patti tracked me down and gave me a call to correct my mistake. “I’m not dead,” she told me. I enjoyed a delightful conversation with this New York Jewish poet who teaches as well as composes poems. I bought a couple of books from her and she sent me an extra. This Is Why You Flew Ten Thousand Miles, her latest publication at the time, became part of my collection. I loved it so well I bought a second copy for a friend who had adopted a Chinese daughter.

By the way, I also read a book of poems by Hafiz on this trip, but I think he will not call no matter what I say about his poetry!

Here’s a short poem by Hafiz:

The Happy Virus

I caught the happy virus last night

When I was out singing beneath the stars.

It is remarkably contagious –

So kiss me.

“The Happy Virus,” The Subject Tonight Is Love:
60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz, versions by Daniel Ladinsky
Pumpkin House Press, 1996, p. 40.

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Precious Times


Precious Times Sept. 17-18, 2011

Anticipating ten days away in a cooler climate, two extra blessings preceded and accompanied me on the trip. A 92-year old member of the church quietly passed away about four hours after I visited her. This time she probably did not hear my prayer, song, and farewell, but she is fully at peace now and that is a blessing.

On the day of our departure, a long-awaited and healthy baby Sophia Elizabeth was born at home. Her parents, big sister, and countless others count her birth as a special blessing.

These two life transitions filled my heart with a wonderful sense of peace while I packed last minute items for our journey: an Alaskan cruise! Jon planned it all and gave me this gift of a lifetime–something I have imagined only in my dreams.

We flew Alaskan Airlines non-stop from Austin to Seattle. There is just one flight per day, so we spent one night in Seattle before the cruise. We took light rail–SeaTac to the closest station to the port and walked through Pike’s Market to watch fish being tossed around for customers’ entertainment.

A guy named Russell walked with us from the train. He is a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, based in Chicago. Every time he comes to Seattle for the day he makes this trek to the Market. He told us where to find an elevator down to sea level. Walking along the boardwalk, we cheered on a Susan G. Komen fundraising walk. Lots of pink ribbons, outfits, and tutus. Several decorated vehicles carried other happy participants in the fight against breast cancer.

There was no need to ask directions any more–the Norwegian Pearl loomed over the dock with its 14 decks. Embarkation was smooth and efficient. Fourteen staff members checked us in and gave us key cards. That was all we needed to make additional purchases on the ship. Meals were included in the cruise fare unless we wanted to go to a specialty restaurant, drink sodas or alcohol, gamble, or buy clothing, jewelry, art, or souvenirs on board.

Our only additional expenses were a room service fee (added automatically), one glass of wine, and one embarkation photo. Souvenir shopping was all on shore.

Tomorrow we will be at sea all day, on the way to Juneau. Stay tuned for more!