Posted on Saturday, June 16, 2007 by Peter Knego
PEARL In The Passage Blog (NORWEGIAN PEARL To Alaska) by Peter Knego
PART ONE: June 17, 2007: I am comfortably situated with my laptop and a very cooperative ethernet connection in Cabin 11096 on aft/starboard Deck 11 of NCL’s newest, most spectacular Jewel Class ship, the NORWEGIAN PEARL. The cabin is an extremely attractive mini suite with rich cherry wood veneers, a king-sized bed, separate sitting area (with thoughtful extras like a fruit basket and a daily plate of hors d’oeuvres), flat screen television and verandah. It is now 11:15 PM, just an hour after the last of twilight’s glow vanished off our port bow. A southbound Celebrity MILLENNIUM-class ship has just passed.
The PEARL departed Pier 66 (which is adjacent to the historic Seattle waterfront district) at 4:00 PM today, leaving Princess Cruises’ SUN PRINCESS and HAL’s NOORDAM at the less scenic southern terminal. We pulled away as muster drill ended and many passengers were still toting bright orange life jackets back to their staterooms.
I managed to be the first to await the reopening of the Garden Cafe, where a lovely sundried tomato and mushroom pizza, freshly cooked penne with marinara sauce (extra garlic and pine nuts) and my mandatory salad mountain (dressed in balsamic and olive oil, of course) were selected, layered in Parmesan, and devoured by a full length window. A long morning with a delayed flight and extra airport congestion had brought me to the ship too late to begin my Freestyle dining frenzy before the drill, so I was ravenous.
As the mounds of food disappeared from my two plates, the downtown skyline and renowned Space Needle shrank into the horizon, giving way to the pine-capped, rocky, suburban shores of Puget Sound on the starboard side and a maze of gorgeous green San Juan Islands on the port side.
A bit later, a workout in the Body Waves Fitness Center was eased along as the sun broke through the gray dampness, adding a silver sheen to the turquoise waters. Far off in the port distance, the jagged, snowy peaks of the Olympic Mountains were piercing the clouds.
The PEARL encountered a bit of chop as she entered the unprotected seas of the Juan de Fuca Strait on her approach to the southern tip of Vancouver Island. The quaint skyline of Victoria was silhouetted between rolling hills and pine trees as we continued northward, back into the protected waters of the sound. Another network of islands and a bright red tanker were overtaken on the starboard side, all bathed in a spectacular golden hue.
At 8:00, as I joined the m
edia group in the handsomely furnished Stars Bar, we were passing Tsawwassen, where two Victoria ferries were tied up. Occasional dark floating objects teased our orca-conjuring imaginations as hors d’oeuvres and potions were imbibed.
It was a great joy to just make this a “far niente” evening of relaxing, reading, and writing. The plan is to sleep in tomorrow and get fully refreshed as this precious PEARL plows northward through the spectacular Inside Passage.
June 18, 2007: Necessity overrode guilt as I left the little colored dial on my cabin mailbox turned to red “Do Not Disturb” status until a groggily indulgent 10:30 AM. Parting the light-proof curtains caused momentary blindness, but once sight was restored, my eyes were refreshed by deep green forested hills, a rocky shoreline and brilliant blue sky. The Inside Passage would vary in width and scenery throughout the day as we played hide-and-seek around various islets with yet another Celebrity MILLENNIUM-class ship. Far off in our distant wake, another large new ship was following our course.
I brewed a nice pot of coffee and gradually readied myself for lunch, which I enjoyed en plein air in the Great Outdoor Cafe on aft Deck 12. There was time for some reflection, note scribbling and a stroll around the PEARL’s fantastic promenade. It was great to see so many people enjoying old seafaring traditions like lying in cushioned deck chairs under warm blankets and spirited games of shuffleboard. The deck is soothing on the feet as it is cushioned in a thick rubberized surfacing. On the sunny port side, a cool breeze kept the less hardy at bay.
For a couple of hours, I joined the press group for a nice get-together in the Bliss Ultra Lounge. I am, indeed, a horrendous bowler, but thoroughly enjoyed the sympathetic company and the delicious tapas. Somehow, I cannot remember my score (48 perhaps?), which may be for the better.
More food on aft Deck 12 as the PEARL wound through more archipelagic terrain, then the necessary but abbreviated workout. At 6:15, there was a nice cocktail party in Spinnakers, then we were off to our delightful dinner in Cagney’s Steakhouse at 7:00 PM. Enhanced with a mellow merlot, my meal consisted of crab cakes, a fresh Caesar salad and a perfectly roasted chicken with sides of steamed asparagus and a baked potato drenched in sour cream and chives. For the $20 per person surcharge, one gets a $100 per person dinner and service in this deservedly popular venue.
We raced off to the Stardust Theater to catch the Second City improv show. What a joy it was to sit in a huge shipboard theater (with excellent sightlines) and watch a show that relied entirely on the talent and creativity of its five member cast (instead of the umpteenth rendition of “The Music of the Night”, feathered costumes and mind-numbing special effects)! After the show, I was astonished to find the sun lingering like a Shakespearean soliloquy off the starboard bow. It quite literally hung over a distant islet for over ten minutes, allowing me time to run to the cabin, fling open the verandah door and press record until its last rays dimmed into a purple haze at 10:45 PM.
Tomorrow promises to be a very civilized day (with an extra hour of sleep, thanks to the time change) and a 2:00 PM arrival at Juneau.
My magnificent concierge (my first ever, I might add), Alexander Forbes, has located a USB cable so that this blog is no longer entirely dependent upon my prose. More photos and text will be added as internet connections and schedule permit.
End of part one
June 19, 2007: The curtains parted this morning to reveal the snow capped terrain of Southeastern Alaska. A white blip on the bow cam sent me racing up to Starboard Deck 12, reaching the rail of the Great Outdoor Cafe as a small ice berg buoyed along in our wake. I took advantage of the weat
her and good light to capture some of the ship’s outer deck areas after a quick breakfast on the sheltered terrace.
NORWEGIAN PEARL sailed into the Gastineau Channel, past thickly-forested terrain striated in patches of ice and gushing waterfalls too numerous to count. Juneau was soon off our bow, its modest skyline engulfed by towering cruise ships. Most prominent was NCL’s NORWEGIAN STAR, which lay at the Franklin Street Cruise Terminal on the southern outskirts of the town. Behind her, the strand of ships included Princess’ SAPPHIRE PRINCESS and Holland America’s rather traditional looking VOLENDAM. On the waterfront in the center of town were Cruise West’s SPIRIT OF ALASKA and the nicely proportioned SPIRIT OF ENDEAVOUR. In a very skilled series of maneuvers, the NORWEGIAN PEARL pivoted toward the NORWEGIAN STAR, allowing the latter to cast her lines and sail into the passage before taking her berth.
Shortly after the PEARL tied up, my friend, Christopher Kyte, embarked. We descended to the Blue Lagoon Cafe for some comfort food and raced off on our flightseeing excursion to Taku Glacier Lodge. We were taken to the promenade along the waterfront to board a fourteen seat De Havilland Otter DHC-3, which took off in convoy with another four sea planes, flying directly over our ship and along the Gastineau Channel, turning at the Taku River Inlet. The conditions were as smooth as they were spectacular. Small mountain lakes and the misty green glacial waters glistened in the late afternoon light. We soared over a craggy ravine and then arced past a trio of massive glaciers. Their surfaces were mottled, cerrated, and cracked, displaying a spectrum of whites and grays, dirt, rock, and occasional flecks of brilliant blue, like sapphires in divinity.
We made a descent to the Taku River and disembarked at a jetty in front of the historic lodge. There was time to wander, but swarms of freshly matured mosquitoes persuaded us to seek some shelter in the lodge, where a buffet of fresh salmon, cole slaw and ginger cookies was served. Afterwards, I enjoyed an “off-skintastic”/DEET-drenched hike to a nearby waterfall, then sat with Christopher waving electrically-charged swatters in the breeze, feeling a bit of vindication with each zap and pop.
By the time our return flight departed, the skies had grayed with drizzle. Only the SAPPHIRE PRINCESS and NORWEGIAN PEARL remained at Juneau as we made our final descent. 30 minutes later, we were back at the ship, where quick showers removed our sprayed on armor of DEET.
Dinner was in the extra tariff ($20) Teppanyaki Room, one of the most innovative dining venues at sea. We each selected a main entree from the menu (chicken, beef, lobster, shrimp etc.) and consumed the other courses as they were diced and dished up. As the chef swirled cutlery and seasonings into orbit atop sizzling delicacies, we enjoyed a procession of delights from miso soup
to sesame ginger salad, fresh baby shrimp, sauteed vegetables, and egg fried rice in addition to our various entrees.
The evening ended with another near midnight twilight as NORWEGIAN PEARL made course for Skagway.
June 20, 2007: Another blissfully sunny morning greeted us at Skagway. The SAPPHIRE PRINCESS and Royal Caribbean International’s SERENADE OF THE SEAS were berthed in the shadow of the steep mountain across Lynn Canal. Cruise West’s little SPIRIT OF YORKTOWN was tying up at the ferry terminal and SPIRIT OF ENDEAVOUR was slowly approaching the berth on her starboard side.
As we entered the Concierge Lounge/Cagney’s a few moments later, we discovered the NORWEGIAN STAR off our port side. Cruise ship tourism to Skagway has grown incrementally in a short time. It is hard to fathom how such a sleepy little town manages the traffic of ten to fifteen thousand visitors on any given summer day.
Our very quick breakfast consisted of fresh-squeezed orange juice, coffee, a tray of honey-sweetened granola and fresh fruit with yogurt, followed by poached eggs on English muffins. It’s hard to order “light” on this ship!
Our “Ultimate Yukon” excursion departed at 8:30, taking us along the Klondike Highway through the Coast Mountains, the serpentine mirror of Nares Lake and the unique geographic anomaly, Carcross Desert.
Following lunch at the town of Lake Bennett, where more hungry mosquitos awaited, we stopped at Carcross, where the remains of the 1917-built SS TUTSHI (too-shy) can still be seen. The former 120 passenger sternwheeler was owned by the British Yukon Navigation Company and sailed on overnight excursion service until being hauled ashore for preservation in 1955. Sadly, she was destroyed by fire on July 25, 1990. Bits of her fo’c’sle and machinery remain to this day.
We returned to Skagway via the White Pass and Yukon Railway, descending 2,865 feet along thickly forested ravines passing through tunnels, over trestles and past waterfalls for the next ninety or so minutes.
Shortly after we embarked the NORWEGIAN PEARL, the STAR departed. We enjoyed dinner in the reservations-only (but no tariff) La Cucina restaurant. Our table was a smorgasbord of antipasti, from kalamata olives and marinated eggplant with sundried tomatoes to slices of fresh pizza. I had an insalata mista and farfalle with marinara sauce as my entrees and a rich chocolate layered cake with amaretto and vanilla sauce for dessert. We attended the Jean Ann Ryan show, “Sealegs”, which combined classic show tunes with contemporary pop hits, leggy dancers, and some astonishing Cirque-like acrobatics.
Following the show, there was time for more linge
ring twilit moments over the stern as SAPPHIRE PRINCESS followed and Holland America’s RYNDAM slipped out of a nearby passage to lead us into the night.
Thursday, June 21: We clambered out to the balcony as NORWEGIAN PEARL pivoted in Glacier Bay’s Tar Inlet. Soon, the charcoal gray mass of the Grand Pacific Glacier came into view, followed by the more photo-spectacular Margerie Glacier, which managed to calve dramatically just before I brought my cameras out.
We had a nice bridge visit at 11:00, hosted by Captain Trond Kildal, who allowed us to linger and ask some questions as the PEARL entered the breathtaking Johns Hopkins inlet where a vista of snowy mountains hung like a mottled cape over the like-named glacier.
I retreated for some time to work on this blog, then hopped down to Le Bistro, where executive chef, Johan Semmelink demonstrated how he creates two of the extra tariff eatery’s favorite offerings, Moules Marinier (steamed mussels in Sauvignon Blanc cream sauce) and Supreme of Corn Fed Chicken Aux Morilles. I will be having the latter at our 7:00 PM dinner tonight!
A pod of orcas has thoughtfully breached off the ship’s starboard side, allowing me to watch through the balcony doors as I type. We exited Glacier Bay an hour ago and are now heading into Icy Strait. The ever-following SAPPHIRE PRINCESS has stopped to let off the park rangers and looks as though she will be turning into the Gulf of Alaska. It is 4:30 PM and time to post this installment.
End of Part Two
Fashion plate! The lovely Versace serving plates in the Le Bistro restaurant. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Thursday, June 21, 2007, ctd.: Our group converged at Bar City on Deck Six for a variety of very colorful and elaborate martinis and appetizers before our appointed dinner at the nearby extra tariff Le Bistro. I did manage to fulfill my earlier yearning for the Chicken Aux Morilles entree, beginning with the savory and sumptuous goat cheese tart and wrapping it all up with a delicately sweetened apple tart. Sheer exhaustion and an early next morning kept me from the evening’s highly-rated magic and comedy show in the Stardust Theather by Bob and Sarah Trunell.
Friday, June 22, 2007: The alarm rudely awakened me at 5:30 AM, allowing just enough time to quietly slip out of the cabin and join the day’s excursion. NORWEGIAN PEARL was anchored in the splendor of Ketchikan, the town’s dockside berths all taken by Princess’ PACIFIC PRINCESS (2), Regent’s SEVEN SEAS MARINER and HAL’s NOORDAM. My down jacket, wool cap, and muffler were absolutely unnecessary in the already mid-60’s fahrenheit balminess and were promptly returned to the cabin before tendering. Once we had arrived ashore, even our tour guide seemed extra animated as a result of the spectacular weather.
Only six of us opted for this particular tour, which took us to the Ketchikan Lodge, a rustic wooden structure that was built 100 miles south and towed up the inlet several decades ago. Enroute, we witnessed trees full of beautiful bald eagles, awaiting a salmon spawning or two.
The lodge is famous for its fresh dungeness crab, which is caught locally in drum-shaped steel cages. The early hour was not enough to dissuade a number of us from a a butter-dripped eating frenzy and even a chance to hold a live pet crab, aptly named Breakfast.
A 1958-built six seat DeHavilland Beaver arrived at the adjacent jetty to whisk us over the long inlet and the snowy moun
tains, tree tops and frozen lakes of Misty Fjord. Upon our return, I tendered back to NORWEGIAN PEARL, drew the curtains closed, and stole an hour’s worth of sleep.
I took lunch from the Garden Buffet to the cabin, then spent some down time on the port promenade in one of those lovely cushioned deck chairs. I watched as the tenders were hoisted back on board at 2:00 PM and the northbound PACIFIC PRINCESS passed. Post card perfect Ketchikan, the MARINER and RYNDAM (which replaced the NOORDAM) were soon in our wake.
My next stop was the spectacular South Pacific Spa where I had a 3:00 PM appointment with Maricel Castro, who gave me the most wonderful shipboard massage I have enjoyed to date. The Aroma Stone Therapy treatment ($135.00) lasted an hour but its effect lingered for the rest of the afternoon, part of which was spent in the thermal suite (with a view over the bow). I was particularly impressed that Maricel respected my request and did not use a “hard sell” push to get me to buy product that I would never use. Other shipboard spas should take note!
Our 6:30 dinner in the extra tariff ($10) Lotus Garden was yet another Freestyle culinary extravaganza with an Asian-fusion twist. We shared a number of appetizers, from veggie spring rolls to chicken lettuce wraps and ordered our own individual dishes. My meal consisted of a tangy spicy chicken noodle salad and a mouthwateringly tender lemon chicken entree. Dessert was a mandatory banana spring roll, green tea ice cream, and a chocolate birthday cake (made specially for one member of our group) with divinely buttery frosting.
Perfectly, the Jean Ann Ryan show was Geisha Garden, a high tech extravaganza with Cirque-like acrobatic feats that could have been plucked from a recent oscar-winning movie by Ang Lee. The costumes, sets, acrobatics and choreography were especially impressive. Following the show, a large contingent of the ship’s officers and staff came on stage to bid farewell on this, the penultimate evening of the cruise.
It was too cold and windy (what is this, Alaska?) to walk on deck, so we hovered between the Chocoholic buffet in the Garden Cafe, a passenger talent show in the Spinnaker and a nightcap in the elegant Bar Central with its NORMANDIE-inspired setting.
Saturday, June 23, 2007: A late morning awakening gave me just enough time for a cup of coffee before our scheduled galley tour by executive chef, Johan Semmelink, which provided a fascinating behind the scenes look at the various kitchens, preparation rooms and provision storage spaces.
The NORWEGIAN PEARL was moving in the slightly rough seas and high winds off Vancouver Island, so a hoped for visit to the bow for my traditional “face” shot could not be granted for safety reasons.
Christopher and I had our first meal in the traditional Summer Palace dining room. We were seated at a table for two by the full length starboard windows immediately after entering. Our special request for balsamic vinegar and olive oil instead of butter was granted quickly and graciously by the attentive wait staff. I had already eyed my courses (hummus with sundried tomato, a mixed green salad, and a chicken noodle salad) during the galley tour. The room’s decor, inspired by the palaces of St. Petersburg, is rich and thoughtfully rendered. On a completely technical note, the joinery, quality of the fixtures and fittings, and overall finish of these ships is superb and a great tribute to both NCL and the builders, Meyer Werft of Papenburg, Germany.
It is now close to 3:00 PM and we are approaching Victoria, BC. We have just passed a tanker and are catching up with the NOORDAM, which will be joining us for the evening in the pretty B.C. city. Yet again, it is time to pack, say goodbye to newfound friends and face the reality of a post Freestyle world!
PART THREE: Conclusion
Saturday, June 23, 2007, ctd.: Alexander Forbes was waiting by the lift to escort the suite level passengers down to Deck 4 for a speedy disembarkation at Victoria. For the extra price, the impeccably executed concierge service has come in very handy throughout the cruise. Kudos to Alexander for not just being unbelieveably efficient, but for always having a smile on his face. I expect that by my next NCL cruise, he will be on his way to hotel director status.
Despite the threat of rain, Christopher and I decided to walk to town, which is about a mile from the port. Our timing was excellent, since Black Ball Line’s 5,135 g, 1959-built ferry COHO was arriving from Port Angeles, Washington. This classically proportioned ship (designed by Phillip Spaulding) resembles a miniature ocean liner and is in absolutely pristine condition, having thus far carried over 20 million passengers on 82,000 crossings in her lifetime. Hopefully, she will continue to make her two to four 1&1/2 hour daily crossings for many more years.
Once we got to Victoria, the rain kept its promise. We sought shelter under an awning not far from the illustrious Empress Hotel and waited it out. There was no particular reason for going to town other than enjoying a nice brisk walk and taking in the scenery. The Victorians maintain beautiful gardens with all sorts of blossoming delights and topiaries, from expansive city parks to the smallest of front yards.
We returned to the ship at 9:00 PM and took dinner at a very casual pace in the Garden Cafe, where t
he pasta bar is truly superb. I had my final penne marinara and massive salad, walked around deck one last time and returned to the glum task of packing. By the time I hit the sack, the PEARL had left Victoria and was picking up momentum on her way to Seattle.
Sunday, June 24, 2007: Announcements and alarms finally awakened us at 8:00 AM. We made a pot of coffee, showered, and dragged ourselves out of our cherry-veneered quarters at 9:15, expecting the usual hassle and misery of disembarkation. Although there was a line on Promenade Deck to swipe our security cards, it went incredibly fast. Once in the terminal, we handed our forms to an officer, were pointed to our luggage color, and left. All in all, the process took about ten minutes from cabin door to taxi!
We checked in at the Westin Hotel moments later and left our luggage in the room. Our friends, Barbara and Harold Abegglen picked us up and escorted us to Tacoma for a quick visit to their lovely home, then off to the next mini-ship adventure, a quick check on the famous streamline ferry KALAKALA, which is currently laid up in a Tacoma backwater adjacent to a fish processing plant.
The KALAKALA’s owners were unresponsive to my requests to see the ship, so it was no surprise when we found the access gate locked. The adjacent warehouse was open, so we wandered through in search of someone to grant permission for a quick photo, but no one was there. It took only a few short moments to find the forlorn ship, which is suffering a slow and miserable descent into decay. I saw her a few years back at Lake Union when she was being evicted from her berth and it appears that she has really taken a turn for the worse. Hopefully, the rust and peeling paint is just cosmetic, but the fact that no one with the funds has seen it fit to restore this magnificent icon of 20th century marine architecture for a new life (mobile or stationary) is incredibly depressing. She would make a dreamy nightclub and restaurant on some lucky waterfront.
From KALAKALA, we headed to the southwestern Tacoma waterfront for brunch directly across from the ferry RHODODENDRON. Her vintage architectural features and pretty green and white livery were a nice complement to a delightful meal.
Barbara and Harold got us back to Seattle just in time for the sailings. From the vantage of the very midcentury modern Edgewater Hotel, we watched as the PEARL thrust sideways into the channel at exactly 4:00 PM and sauntered toward us. A sudden cell of rain and wind followed her like the Furies as she sailed past. Despite the bluster, the sun was shining behind the ship, creating a very dramatic setting. The only thing missing was a Wagnerian soundtrack.
Right on time, the SUN PRINCESS and NOORDAM slid out of their berths in the southern part of the port, heading directly out and into the NORWEGIAN PEARL’s wake.
Very special thanks to: Barbara and Harold Abegglen, Martin Cox, Alexander Forbes, Christopher Kyte, Melissa Nugas and NCL’s wunder-team, AnneMarie Matthews and Carlee Bator!