A TOUCH OF KISMET: ALASKA, INTRODUCTION TO CRUISING

by Tessa Lorien
(Los Angeles, CA)

A TOUCH OF KISMET: ALASKA, INTRODUCTION TO CRUISING

By Tessa Lorien

It was July 2005 and it had been a very difficult few years. The many stresses of life, work, and business school had taken their toll on me. It was also a horribly hot summer in Southern California and I was close to breaking point. One day, I said to my husband, “take me on a trip NOW, before I lose it! And take me somewhere cold because I can’t handle this @#$%^&* heat anymore.” So we looked for the coldest place we could think of and settled on Alaska.

We started calling travel agents and looking into tours and cruises, and one of the agents was a lady named Kismet who booked us on a seven-night Celebrity cruise sailing from Seattle to the Hubbard Glacier and back. I was on the phone with her, trying to decide whether we should go for it or not when she said "don't worry about anything, just do it, I know it'll be wonderful." So I made the decision right there and then and little did I know that it would be the start of the best years of our lives – a wonderful time of traveling to exotic places that would erase the stresses of our busy lives and fill our marriage with romance and magic. I found out later that Kismet means "destiny" or "fate" in Turkish and indeed it was that fateful phone call that changed it all for us.

We spent a couple of days in Seattle, exploring the fish market and visiting the world’s first Starbucks. We went to the top of the Space needle and saw our ship waiting at the dock looking, from that distance, like a little toy boat.

It wasn’t until we got on board that we realized just how enormous these cruise ships are. Most people are not aware that the larger cruise ships are about the size of US Navy aircraft carriers and much larger than most cargo/container ships. The only ships that are larger are the supertankers. The larger cruise ships carry about 2,000 passengers and about 1,000 crew members. They have swimming pools, restaurants, theatres, discos, casinos, bars, shops, basketball courts, libraries, Internet cafes, and anything that anyone would possibly dream of on a vacation.

If anyone says that they don’t want to go on a cruise because they’ll be bored on a ship, that person has never been on a luxury cruise ship before. It’s pretty much impossible to get bored on a cruise ship. If anything, there’s too much to do. I always come back form my cruises exhausted because I did too much and still have regrets because there were so many other things that I wanted to do but simply could not find time.

We sailed from Seattle, and our cruise took us to Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, the Hubbard glacier and then back to Seattle going through Alaska’s spectacular inside passage.

It had been a long time since I had been at sea and I’d forgotten the amazing feeling of peace that comes over you out on the ocean. My father was a sailor, a captain of cargo ships and tankers and I had sailed with him many times when I was a little child. After he retired from sailing he became a professor of maritime studies, thus ships and the sea had always been a part of my life and that bond was rekindled on this, my first cruise vacation.

I’d also forgotten the enormous appetite that comes over you when you’re at sea. The first day, we had about 20 meals. Breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, high tea, pre-dinner cocktail with hors d'oeuvres, dinner, after-dinner ice cream, midnight snack…this unfortunately is one of the pitfalls of cruising.

If you’re not careful, you can eat yourself to oblivion on the first day and end the cruise about 80 lbs heavier than when you started. Luckily we caught ourselves, and after that first day, limited ourselves to three meals, dessert only once a day, and forced ourselves to exercise everyday and take the stairs instead of the elevators. Thankfully we managed to end the cruise, and all subsequent cruises, without gaining any weight.

Alaska was spectacular, a lovely, vast place of breathtaking beauty. I spent most of my time glues to the windows watching the brilliant blue waters, lush forests, and majestic mountains.

For someone who hadn’t ventured out of the Los Angeles area for years, this was like refreshment to the soul. Living the city life, working in downtown, rushing from work to business school and back to work, and seeing only freeways and concrete for many years, I was stunned by the space, the greenery, and the sheer beauty of this place.

We arrived in Juneau, the state capital, and took the tram up Mt. Roberts. There we hiked a few miles and enjoyed the amazing views and cool clear air.

We also visited Skagway and Ketchikan, small towns along the route. In Skagway, we had the good luck to see a family of bears at very close range. There was a mother bear with two cubs, and surprisingly, one of the cubs was a white bear. He didn’t seem to be an albino, because he had a brown nose and brown paws, but he was white for some reason. Our tour guide said “daddy must have been a polar bear.” Hmmm?

The highlight of the cruise (besides the bears) was the visit to the Hubbard Glacier. We saw icebergs in the water as we approached and finally we came to the glacier itself.

It was a freezing cold morning, but the crew, wonderful as always, were serving coffee and hot chocolate laced with brandy. The glacier was awe-inspiring, cold, greenish gray, and so strange and unlike what we are used to that I felt like we were in another world. The sounds of the glacier were strange too, eerie groans and creaks and cries as the thousands of tons of ice rubbed and pushed against each other. Every few minutes, there would be a huge roar as large chunks of ice fell off the glacier and crashed into the ocean.

It was a spectacular finale to our first cruise, and from that trip onwards, we were hooked. Cruising is such a wonderful way to travel. You can see many places without having to move from hotel to hotel, take crowded flight/trains/buses, stand in lines at the airport, or keep packing and unpacking. You unpack once and settle down in luxury, and don’t worry about anything till the end.

You enjoy fine dining, spectacular Las Vegas or Broadway-style shows, excellent service, pampering of every kind, and you see amazing places at the same time. I vowed from that time that I would never go on a non-cruise vacation ever again. The cruises we have been on and the places we have seen have changed my life so much and added so much happiness and peace and joy to my life that I give thanks every time I think of that travel agent who booked us on that first fateful cruise!

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