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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 7: Wednesday, Cruising the Inside Passage
Cruising the Inside PassageBefore we discuss our final day at sea let's explain what this cruise on the Carnival Spirit in Alaska is not. It's not like Carnival in the Caribbean. In fact, if you did not know this was a "Fun Ship" you might think you were on mellower sister line Holland America. There is just not the same over-the-top energy you find on Carnival's Caribbean cruises. The crowd tends to skew older, and folks come here with the number one purpose of seeing Alaska rather than the party hearty, "watch me drink 10 tropical drinks and enter the hairy-chest contest" mindset.

This is most evident on this day at sea. It's a little too chilly outside for pool games and while there are scheduled activities -- arts and crafts (to paint moose pins and string beaded bracelets), the very popular bingo (grand prize: a free cruise for two), a wine tasting ($10 per person), a golf-putting competition, an ice-carving demonstration -- the schedule was not as loaded with non-stop fun as those who have cruised with the line in the Caribbean would expect. No "Newlywed/Not so Newlywed." Not that passengers were complaining (they weren't). Most were still in awe by what they'd seen at the ports -- killer whales spotted on shore excursions and calving glaciers seen from the ship seeming to be the highlights. The casino opened 8 a.m. this morning and remained a popular venue throughout the day. And the Champagne art auction (with free Champagne) also drew a big crowd.

And since we today passed glorious British Columbia scenery -- snow-capped mountains, forests, beaches, small isolated towns -- the mellow-voiced naturalist offering commentary from the bridge was as much an attraction as the cruise director and his bag of tricks.

Erin and I started our day (at 8 a.m.) with heavenly full-body massages ($220 per couple) delivered side by side by two massage therapists. The Grecian-decorated spa, with wood paneling and figurines on the walls, offers comfy massage rooms, ocean view steam and sauna rooms, and a wonderful gym that's tiered (one of my personal favorite shipboard gym designs) so you get an ocean view from nearly every piece of equipment. There's an adults-only whirlpool in the center of the gym. Three exercise classes were offered today, but only the 7 a.m. abs class was free (Pilates and spinning each had a $10 per-person charge). We passed on those.

Since this was our last day, there was the obligatory cruise director disembarkation talk (on such issues as customs, tipping and what to do if you have an early flight) but this one had a surprise visit from the very friendly captain and crew members who bid guests adieu.

Erin and I ignored the t-shirt and Gold by the Inch specials in the shipboard shops, although she did snag some Clinique products at an excellent price, and I bought a carton of duty-free cigarettes for $19.95 (I don't smoke regularly but this was a gift for friends -- and how can you pass up that kind of bargain when cigs in Boston are, like, $7 a pack?).

At lunch we were seated with an attractive guy (my age) from Texas who I had spotted when we came on the ship, but had dismissed since he was with a woman. Turns out she was his sister. We talked for nearly two hours about the trip (which was a gift from his Mom, and which he was loving), jobs, our marital status (single!), and so forth, while Erin chatted up his sis, in her 40's and a really nice gal. The conversation ended when he headed off to the art auction, and I headed off to write. Darn. Why do you always meet the good ones at the end of the cruise and not the beginning?

The other couple at our table told a horror tale of how they had made purchases in Sitka, put them in the X-ray machine as they went through security when they got back on the ship, and had the bag, including expensive jewelry, and disappear. They were still discussing the issue with ship security but were also hoping their purchases were protected by their credit card. This is probably a really isolated incident, but just in case -- and this goes for at the airport, too -- it might be a good idea to put expensive purchases through the machine in a purse or tote rather than a store bag so they are less likely to be noticed.

We spent part of the afternoon on our cabin verandah, watching the passing scenery of British Columbia's Inside Passage and keeping a lookout for the killer whales that frequent these parts (we didn't see any).

Lucky for us, we also got a chance to chat with the charming captain, Captain Pier Paolo Scala, who hails from Sicily. This is his seventh year in Alaska and he's a bit of an addict. He said he likes "the scenery, the challenge of not being on a regular itinerary, which is boring." Scala explained he has flexibility to, for instance, spend more time at a calving glacier or maneuver the ship to get better sighting of a killer whale. He said he likes Inside Passage itineraries like ours that include College Fjord better than those that include Glacier Bay, which Carnival visits only at the beginning and end of each season, because the Inside Passage gets more wildlife -- whales, sea otters, seals and sometimes bears. Scala said even after seven years here he still finds Alaska fascinating and when he's not in Alaska he misses it (he also sails the Mexican Riviera with this ship).

Scala agreed with me that the ports are getting awfully crowded, losing the feeling of being small towns. "Now the owners of the shops don't even have time to look at you. Everything used to be more friendly," he noted. Captain Scala is one of only a few captains (and the only Carnival captain) allowed to perform shipboard weddings -- he said he can now marry both heterosexual and gay couples as long as the ship is in Canadian waters. The Captain did two vow renewal ceremonies for straight couples during our cruise in the ship's chapel.

At dinner, we said goodbye to our waiters and table mates and exchanged contact information with our Australian pals at the adjacent table, us vowing to visit Brisbane and they Boston. We checked out the show production, "High Spirits," which gets points for a "Rocky Horror Picture Show" number with film clips from the cult movie (I was a big fan in my teens). The show's theme is "spirits" and there were ghosts and quasi-religious numbers too. The cast was big -- 16 dancers, 2 singers, an orchestra of 10 -- but again the show was kind of cheesy and did not live up to what I've come to expect from Carnival in the Caribbean -- the energy was a watt lower and so was the caliber of the dancing.

Speaking of entertainment, I forgot to mention that at the end of our port call in Skagway, a local entertainer, Steve Hites, alias Mr. Skagway, came onboard offering an afternoon show, a sort of history of Alaska through folk songs (everything from sea shanties to bawdy Gold Rush tunes). It was excellent and well worth missing your afternoon nap for. Hites and our hot jazz trio in the Deco Cigar Bar were our favorite entertainment on the ship.

Packing took precedence this evening, as our luggage had to placed outside our cabin by midnight to be taken off the ship the next day. Actually, packing was a breeze, despite Erin having really over packed. (Does anyone really need 20 shirts for a one-week cruise? Apparently not, as most were clean.) And Carnival makes tipping easy by automatically adding $10 per passenger, per day, to cover your waiters and cabin steward (we left our cabin dude a little extra since we're not the neatest people alive). You are invited to stuff an extra envelope for the maitre d', too.

Tomorrow, the girls depart in Vancouver and reminisce about the highlights of their mother-daughter trip.
Day 6: Ketchikan red arrow Day 8: Debarkation: Vancouver

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