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Carnival Spirit: Alaska
Day 1: Embarkation: Whittier/Anchorage
Day 2: Cruising the Fjords
Day 3: Sitka
Day 4: Juneau
Day 5: Skagway
Day 6: Ketchikan
Day 7: Cruising the Inside Passage
Day 8: Debarkation: Vancouver
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Day 2: Wednesday, Cruising the Fjords
Cruising the FjordsToday Erin and I woke up at 6 a.m. -- still on Eastern time! -- and opened the door of our balcony to a cloudy day and the sound of "white thunder" (glaciers calving or throwing off chunks) in the distance, as Carnival Spirit glided through College Fjord and right up to the Harvard Glacier at the fjord's foot.

Conditions were ideal for glacier viewing and the captain was able to get the ship within 1,000 feet of the glacier, which is 25 miles long and 1 1/2 miles wide. Erin, who is not typically an early riser, let out an "oh wow, look at it," as we threw coats on top of our bathrobes and took seats on our balcony (on Alaska cruises, having a balcony really pays off). The captain was able to maneuver the ship 180 degrees so everyone got views, and the glacier was particularly active, calving what seemed like every few minutes. Every time chunks fell we could hear cameras clicking and cheers from our fellow passengers on other balconies and out on deck (later, at his evening cocktail party, Captain Pier Paolo Scala said this was among the best viewing he had experienced in seven years navigating Alaskan waters).

We cranked up our cabin TV so we could hear commentary by the ship's naturalist, whose insights included the fact some of the blue and white ice we were looking at was more than 400 to 500 years old. The impact of the ice falling into the ocean sounded like minor explosions.

Thrilling! A written description doesn't really give it justice. It started raining but our balcony provided protection (it's funny because in the sunny Caribbean people complain about the balconies being covered, but here it really works). With temps in the low 40's, we would have liked our coffee, which we had ordered the night before for 6 a.m. (filling out the room service card) but didn't receive until 6:40 (after we made a call). So far, our impression is that service isn't as sharp as it could be (as an example, yesterday when we tried to order lattes at the coffee shop, the server told us to wait and got on the phone). Then again, you don't necessarily cruise on Carnival for first-class service ... and our cabin steward and dining room waiters at least were enthusiastic.

As we began to depart from the glacier after a full hour in the fjord, the naturalist pointed out others, including the Smith and Barnard glaciers (all the glaciers in College Fjord are named for eastern colleges because early explorers came from the east). The naturalist pointed out a bald eagle, sea otters and harbor seals, as well as a forest destroyed in a 1964 earthquake (lots of dead trees). Having binoculars helped with the viewing (if you don't have your own you can rent them at the ship's photo shop).

Otherwise, the first day of this itinerary is low key, designed to give people a chance to recover from jet lag and view the scenery. Even though it was a day at sea, activities were kept to a minimum -- options mostly fit into the category of "the usual suspects," like a towel folding class, beauty demonstrations (like Detox for Weightloss), bingo and port talks.

We attended the lifeboat drill at 9:30 a.m. (mandatory), held this day rather than the night before because the Alaska cruises depart later than Caribbean cruises (and with the four-hour difference in time, East Coasters wouldn't appreciate a late-night drill). We noted an attractive guy in his mid-20's standing behind us (a major distraction from the canned drill speech, but another fine example of Mother Nature). Good sign for Erin?

Heading to breakfast we passed the Internet cafe/library and heard this exchange which cracked us up:

Woman: Chippendale Library, that sounds good.
Man: Uh, Chippendale as in the furniture (not the male strippers).
Woman: Ohhhh...

But who could blame the woman passenger for being confused? In designing this ship, Carnival's legendary Joe Farcus used a variety of styles, moved by the "creative spirit" (as in Spirit, get it?). Some of the design is really appealing, like the Deco cigar bar and Egyptian themed Pharoh's Palace theatre. And we really like the funky Italian glass lights at the Lido buffet and the bright hallway art, which includes hand-blown vases in glass cases.

With the skies rainy and the temps cold, most passengers spent the day at sea indoors sipping lattes ($3.25) from the Fountain coffee shop, a counter where coffee and thick slices of what they call "fat" cake are for sale, and comfy seating is nearby; shopping (the boutiques were really crowded) for everything from perfume and fine jewelry to logo souvenirs, $10 watches and duty-free booze; and packing the casino by 10:30 a.m. We resisted buying bling, although I really fell for a blue/green topaz ring with a huge stone. Erin enjoyed two mimosas as we hit the slots (there's a good selection) and we left the casino ahead $10 (yeah!).

Back in our cabin we spent $8.99 to watch the movie "Closer." Carnival no longer offers free movies on this ship and TV selection was boring. There wasn't even CNN (throughout the cruise the channel selections changed but there was TNT, a Chicago station and Nature Channel frequently, and sometimes, but not always, depending on the satellite, ABC, CBS and NBC). For those who are so inclined there are adult titles for $13.99.

At the Lido lunch buffet, Japanese was the featured cuisine in the Asian section (there is also a salad bar, a traditional buffet, a deli section, pizza and a grill). The sushi was okay, the garlicky grilled chicken on skewers divine.

Usually Inside Passage cruises are calm, in my experience -- but we weren't there yet! Heading to Sitka, which is really the last spot of land between Alaska and Japan, rough seas are a distinct possibility. Sure enough, there were wind and swells which put a damper on our nighttime plans. Note to those who suffer sea sickness: Take your Dramamine before you enter this stretch.

I was suffering a tad so decided not to get all decked out for formal night. Those who did make it to the captain's cocktail party were able to meet the officers and enjoy free drinks, with most passengers putting on the nines in the formal dress tradition, even if there were more knee length dresses than long, and few men actually in tuxes (suits prevailed).

Erin ate at the casual Seaview Bistro (a buffet on the Lido deck) and, nice daughter that she is, brought a bowl of pasta puttanesca back for me to enjoy in-cabin. "Law & Order" was about all that was on TV. We conked out early. Lame. We thought we were party animals, but this night we sure weren't.

Tomorrow: Exploring Sitka, Fran and Erin take in the Russian heritage, dine on crab and get to play with giant star fish and anemones. And back on the ship they check out the entertainment and their fellow passengers.

Photo is copyright Kristen Kemmerling/ATIA.
Day 1: Embarkation: Whittier/Anchorage red arrow Day 3: Sitka

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