All aboard

We woke up at a decent hour this morning, cramming everything into our bags and making sure our car was okay in the parking lot—we just couldn’t justify paying $20 a day for the port parking. I do have a Seattle friend whose car was stolen back in 2005, but the thief was kind enough to leave a note saying he’d return it later, which he did, complete with a few dollars in change to account for the gas he’d consumed. Let’s just say that’s not the way folks perform grand theft auto in our nation’s capitol.

After showering and making sure we had all of our 7,289 belongings, everything ranging from fold-up umbrellas to playing cards to extra underwear, we headed out for breakfast at the Portage Bay Café. This is a catering business-turned-series-of-three-restaurants that features organic and locally grown, sustainably farmed food. Their motto is “Eat like you give a damn.” A little arrogant, but I get the point. More interesting to us, if I’m being honest, was the challah bread French toast and the all-you-can-pile-on toppings bar. Two orders of French toast for us. Susanne also ordered a decaf latte and I a double skim mocha. Seattle really knows how to make a coffee drink—the latte was rich without being too acidic, and my mocha tasted just this side of sweet, which is how I like it. If I wanted super sugary, I’d ask for chocolate milk heated up. At the toppings bar we indeed piled up, but taking care to follow their instructions: take as much as you want, but eat what you take. I couldn’t bear, however, to eat the bland apple slices, and I’m really dismayed that in Washington State, they save the worst apples for the residents and send the tastiest ones out of state. The rest of the fruit—the strawberries, raspberries, peaches, and blackberries—were terrific, as was the lightly sweetened whipped cream, and the organic maple syrup had a nutty complexity of flavor that I’ve never before tasted. I’m kicking myself for forgetting to ask where it originated.

Leaving the port of Seattle

Leaving the port of Seattle

After eating too much we waddled back to the car and got whatever else we deemed should come on the cruise with us. I called a taxi service. It was at this point that I realized I’d forgotten to pack black dress socks, so I hoped I’d be able to purchase some on the ship. I really didn’t want to look like a schmuck in my gorgeous tuxedo, replete with white Russell crew socks.

The taxi driver picked us up and looked a little astonished at all the bags we were carrying. We never pack this heavy when we’re flying. All we needed was a steamer trunk. And geez, it would have been so easy to find 2 cubic inches of space for black dress socks.

Coming up to the pier, we saw the ship. It dwarfed everything else in the marina. We had an immediate moment of exhilaration, and next of a weird sense of pride that yeah, our boat is big! Our boat! Big big big! This was then replaced, as the taxi pulled over to drop us off, at irritation with our temporary floating neighbors, who were some of the most clueless humans walking I’ve ever seen. We dropped off our heavier bags and made our way to the long, winding line to show our passports and get on the boat. It was at this point that they asked us to fill out a “Health questionnaire.” Their concern for whether we had recent coughing, fevers, or diarrhea was not urgent enough that we couldn’t all be using the same pencils to fill out our forms, a rather magnificent and ironic way of spreading disease around the ship right at the start of our voyage.

Standing in line, I sang one line of the love boat theme to Susanne, since this was a Princess cruise, after all. Two women in front of us told me to sign up for karaoke night, and then basically warned Susanne that they might steal her man from her! They clearly do not know Susanne. Or me, for that matter.

We made our way onto the ship. Geez, it was big. We walked around, familiarizing ourselves with the layout, mostly of the hot tubs, bars, and eateries. The cigar bar really needs to be better ventilated, and casinos just depress us, so we checked out the other options. Somehow the shuffleboard court keeps eluding us, though we found the nicely appointed exercise room and the amazingly tacky nightclub, high up above the very stern of the ship. All of the furnishings in the “Skywalker’s Nightclub” revolve around stars, except one quarter of the seating, which is in a paisley pattern. I am trying to wrap my mind around why.

Finally we found the “boutiques” on board. Lots of clothing, and should you have forgotten your cufflinks, there are several to rent or purchase. Black dress socks, not so much. Right now my options are the following:

1. buy black shoe polish and permanently discolor my athletic socks
2. ask our steward if he can lend us some of his socks
3. break down and buy black pantyhose

Apparently I am the first person in the history of Princess Cruise Lines to leave behind his socks. And the first formal night is tomorrow, before we will have reached port in Juneau.

Touring the ship, we came upon the spa area. They told us excitedly that we could fill out a raffle ticket for a chance at winning a free spa treatment. Cruise newbies that we are, we picked up more tuberculosis-covered pencils and filled out little cards. Make sure to come back at 5:30, they said, smiling, and somewhere in the distance, I heard a siren song.

We were in good company. Something like 150 people crowded into the spa area to attend the raffle name-pulling, since one had to be present to win. As people flooded in, I started wondering if they were going to give us a one-hour seminar on time shares in Boca. No, just a lecture on all of the spa services, which ranged from the delightful—hot stone massage—to the more esoteric—homeopathic liquid movement to reduce edema. Slowly, the head of the fitness center pulled out raffle tickets, usually to the beat of loud, thumping techno music, and the people around us nearly drooled in anticipation. These folks would have assembled for a raffle on ice water. We left a little early, wanting to get out of there before 150 crazy-for-any-bargain people were ready to leave.

The ship does move slightly with the waves, but it’s got a pretty firm footing overall. We’ve noticed that the drinking lounges and bars seem to be over the places where the engines cause more vibration and noise—maybe the ship designers thought drunk people would notice the movement less. Whatever the reason, it’s fortunate that not all of the ship translates the rotation of the propellers into shuddery movement.

The Golden Princess at her berth

The Golden Princess at her berth

One other note: I think it’s just an awful idea to have an entire section of the ship’s library dedicated to maritime disasters. Really, I don’t want to read about the Titanic while I’m in the middle of the cold ocean. Hopefully I don’t have to explain why.

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