Alaska at last

Speaking Out — By Rita Payne

Published on July 22, 2014

This past winter, our son Anthony was invited to attend a conference in Victoria, B.C. in May. So he called me and said he was thinking about taking a trip to Alaska while he was there.

I said, “Check out the cruises, your father and I might go with you.” Going on an Alaskan cruise had long been on my bucket list. In fact, it was the only thing on my bucket list. So with that, Anthony began to investigate.

As it turned out, the cost was quite affordable so we decided to go for it. As soon as Anthony had the travel booked, I went on the cruise line website to read all about it. As a first-timer, I linked into the section on “new to cruising.”

It was a little overwhelming — so many rules and stipulations, some of which I had to ask Anthony to interpret for me. Finally, out of frustration with my “stundness,” he said, “Mom, just call the 1-800 number!”

My greatest concern was when I found out that there would be two formal nights. Needless to say, when it came time to pack, there were no worries about trying to find room for Scott’s suit. It was going to stay right there in the closet where it belonged. Fortunately, he did agree to pack a few collared shirts so that he would have the option of wandering somewhere other than deck nine.

Our cruise began in Vancouver. It was a bit of a process going through customs and registration, but we plodded through and were then ready to board. The moment we crossed the threshold onto the ship, we were squirted with hand sanitizer. This was to be the first of many obligatory squirts over the next seven days. Shortly after boarding, we were greeted over the loudspeaker by our cruise director.

He lectured us on the importance of gastrointestinal disorder prevention. So now having had my phobias kindled, I had to make a beeline for our stateroom to do my inspection. The stateroom was lovely, very clean, and it had a balcony, which was quite wonderful. I was now relaxed and ready to head upstairs to enjoy my first cruise dining experience.

I was grateful at that point for the bit of knowledge I had in physics — knowing that mass can not be created but can only change form. So by consuming monstrous amounts of food to the point where we double our weight, we would not be at risk of sinking the ship because the food was merely transferred from the kitchen to our stomachs. Fortunately, the weather was warm and sunny, so every day, I was able to walk the decks and burn off some of the 9,000 calories I would consume each meal.

The views from the decks were spectacular. And although our six-hour sail through Glacier Bay was the highlight of the trip, the port stops were also quite interesting. The tourist traps were set up just a spit from the docks. There were countless jewellery stores and souvenir shops. Of course, I had to bring back a few souvenirs, so the challenge was to find gifts that had “Alaska” written on them that were actually made in Alaska.

Fortunately, I did manage to find some. However, I do regret not buying Scott the rabbit fur G-string I saw in Ketchican. It would have been perfect for extra warmth on the snowmobile or even for extra protection while utilizing the chain saw. But although souvenirs could be purchased at a reasonable price, the excursions were quite expensive.

In Skagway — known as “the gateway to the Klondike” — we visited an old bordello saloon built in 1897. For $10 each we could go upstairs for a quick peek into the original bedrooms. I figured that was probably was more money than it cost to actually use the bedrooms back in the day. So I decided my $10 could be better spent in the Alaskan fudge store down the street. We did, however, splurge on one excursion since we were saving money by not buying drinks on the ship. (There was no need, thanks to all the hand sanitizing, we were absorbing copious amounts of alcohol through our skin.)

We went on the White Pass train ride. It was spectacular but terrifying — a 20-mile trip to a 2,865 foot elevation. In some places there was only about a foot of ground between the track and a straight down drop into the gulch. At one point the drop was 1,000 feet. I began to hyperventilate. I felt like Wile E Coyote winding around the cliffs, chasing the roadrunner — hoping I wouldn’t meet the same fate. Anthony told me after the fact that he had wanted to go stand between the cars to get some proper photos but he didn’t because he figured I’d “lose it.”

Smart boy. But other than almost losing it on the train, it was a fabulous vacation. So now I need a new item for my bucket list — perhaps to finally agree to ride on the snowmobile. If I can order myself one of those rabbit fur G-strings for the purpose, I might consider it.

Rita Rassenti Payne lives in Pasadena and is a member of The Western Star’s Community Editorial Board. She can be contacted by email at