Some Cruisers Are Smarter Than Others
Virgin cruiser Josh Dean took readers' tips on a trip to Alaska, to see just how helpful they were--and came back with some advice of his own
The steak was top-notch, though, and I definitely got my money's worth. Patrick Robinson, of Rupert, Idaho, suggested that I'd feel better about indulging my appetite if I used the stairs instead of the elevators. Tyler and I took Robinson's advice, getting exercise on our frequent trips between our cabin (on the main deck, level 5) and decks 11 and 12, where the food, pool, and most of the action are. It may not have added up to an hour on the treadmill, but come on, it's not like we went on a cruise to lose weight.
One place you all failed me, however, was the packing list. There are many things that one might find handy on a cruise to Alaska; multiple pairs of shorts aren't one of them. And yet that's what I had--three pairs of cargo shorts, plus a swimsuit. Things I did not pack, but should have: a waterproof jacket, hiking boots, binoculars, and basketball shoes (there was actually a court onboard). I learned the chilly way that Alaska is cold and wet in the summer: They don't call its coastline a rain forest for nothing.
Norwegian seemed to assume that I would pack more appropriately. When my tickets came in the mail, the envelope included what I considered an absurd number of luggage tags, each imprinted with my cabin number. The company clearly expected me to prepare for a polar expedition; given the random cold-weather gear I had to pick up along the way in ports, I should learn to take a hint. But I had another plan for the tags, thanks to Alan Sweitzer of Kalamazoo, Mich.: Use them to label personal items like binoculars. That way, if you leave your stuff somewhere, the odds are much better you'll get it back.
As a man who once permanently misplaced four cell phones in a single summer, I considered the idea genius. I labeled a bag containing a paperback I'd already read, and then left the bag on the pool deck. When I returned to my room hours later, the bag was on my bed. Obviously, something more valuable might not have fared so well. But while I may be the kind of idiot who packs three pairs of shorts for an Alaskan cruise, I'm not so dumb as to intentionally leave my binoculars by the pool.
Wendy Maloney, from Vienna, Va., suggested bringing a handful of wire hangers in my luggage. How much of a difference would they really make? I packed them anyway, and was glad. My stateroom, like most hotel rooms I've occupied around the world, was woefully short on hangers. I left the ones I added to the closet to help out the cabin's next passenger, as Maloney instructed.
Not that you need more than a few extra hangers. The Sun's rooms were surprisingly comfortable, but there wasn't a whole lot of closet space--even for two guys who packed poorly. I followed the lead of Jane Tague from Westerville, Ohio. She hangs a shoe organizer over the back of the bathroom door, using it to store toiletries, keys, cameras, and whatnot. In fact, the shoe organizer was the perfect place to stash my running shoes. And there they stayed for the remainder of the trip.
By the end of the cruise, I was jotting down tips of my own. (You think writers get free subscriptions?) Most had to do with packing the right clothes. But if I could get you to remember one thing, it's this: Nobody points out how good the food is on land. Though I enjoyed almost every meal onboard the ship--you'll never be bored--by far the best meal I ate was during our final stop, in Wrangell.
Very few cruise ships visit the fishing village, so their intermittent arrivals are much anticipated. Local merchants set up tables hawking crafts, cold drinks, and fish prepared any number of ways right at the dock. Tyler and I tried some étouffée before setting off on a hike, and it was so delicious we vowed to have a bowl when we returned. But by then, it was all gone. My recommendation: Eat the étouffée for breakfast. Not that lunch was disappointing; at an unassuming trailer named Memories, the owner plucked salmon, shrimp, and halibut--all caught that morning--from a tub of ice and cooked the best fish and chips I've ever had. Plus, it's rare to get fresh wild shrimp. We sat there for so long that we barely made it back onboard in time.
The last afternoon was an at-sea day that covered hundreds of miles of gorgeous Inner Passage channels between Wrangell and Vancouver. Over the P.A. system, the cruise director announced a disembarkation briefing. I already knew that I could skip it. I'd overheard a crew member explain that if you can carry all of your own luggage, you get to leave first. Otherwise, you wait your turn, and the boat is emptied in shifts.
Maybe I know a thing or two about packing after all.