After walking off the ship, we were greeted by shuttles going to whale-watching cruises, glacier hiking tours, shopping districts, etc. And where did most people go? They piled into the one that said “Shuttle to Walmart.” WTF, people?
Since the kids only experience with whales consisted of trips to Seaworld, I decided to take them on a whale-seeing excursion, which they quite enjoyed.
This boat had a naturalist, a very nice girl named Christine. She was quite knowledgeable and helpful, but as I listened to her answer questions it occurred to me that she could start making up answers, and no one would know. “Those are McFlurpy Whales. They only eat penguins and eucalyptus leaves, and so every day migrate to the waters between Australia and Antarctica to feed, returning to Alaska by nightfall to care for their young.” And the tourists would take pictures, say “Oh, I’ve never heard of those” and go home to spread the story.
The tour boat sold a few souvenirs, including smoked salmon. So to drum up sales they gave it out on crackers as a snack. Several people lined up to buy some, and I heard this exchange.
Mrs. Uglyhat: "I love this! Can I buy some?"
Boatgirl: "Certainly, ma'am. Here you go, genuine Alaska smoked salmon."
Mrs. Uglyhat: "No! Not the salmon! I can buy that at home. I mean the crackers! They're wonderful."
Boatgirl: (taken aback) "Uh... Those are just Ritz crackers."
Mrs. Uglyhat: "Well I love them!"
Boatgirl: “Um, we’re just selling the salmon.”
I personally thought Boatgirl should have just sold her a box of crackers for $20.
So the kids saw whales, and impressed Christine with their knowledge of Orcas. This consisted of them screaming “Shamu! Shamu!” loudly at every passing whale (humpback and orcas). Or wave that they thought was a whale. Or floating seaweed.
After the whale-watching trip we walked around town. Unfortunately, Juneau has the usual gift shops selling the usual local T-shirts, ulu knives, hats, humorous boxer shorts, and a CD of songs by "Trapper Dan" (it’s called Bear Essentials, and the cover features a naked man with a strategically placed guitar).
We took the kid on a hanging gondola tram ride over town, to the top of Mount Roberts. With our usual remarkable luck we got to share the trip with 2 idiotic women who were arguing over whether or not the gift shops in Juneau would accept American dollars. Fortunately, their argument ended when one of their husbands turned out to be terrified of heights. Every time the gondola shook a little he’d scream.
The kids favorite attraction was the waterfront statue of Patsy Ann. She was a Bull Terrier that was the Juneau community dog in the 1930’s. Although born deaf, she could always tell when ships were coming, and would greet them.
After leaving Juneau we were sitting on deck watching the scenery go by. At one point we saw a large bear wandering along the shore. As word got out people ran over to the side of the shop, watching, pointing, and taking pictures. After a few minutes of this the bear suddenly stood up and began waving at us.
Obviously, this local has WAY too much time on his hands.
Perhaps the oddest occupation you encounter on these cruises is the ship's professional shopper (sometimes called the "Shopping Consultant". This is, I suspect, a coveted position. It consists of a lady who's entire job is to go buy expensive jewelery and clothes ashore, then come back and report to the passengers about how wonderfully she was treated at various places. Since she only shops at places that have paid Cruiseship Lines a fee to appear in the shipboard advertising, one has to take her endorsements with a grain of salt. But certainly, given the amenities of a decent cabin, food, and a shopping expense account, it sounds like a delightfully cushy job.
Dinner has become quite entertaining. My 16 year old nephew, Greg, can’t eat gluten foods. So the awesome dining room head waittress, Marlina, comes to our table at dinner each night to show him what’s on the menu for the following day. This way Greg can pick what he wants, and they make sure it’s safely prepared for him.
Now Greg is a good guy, but he’s also a typical teenage boy. Marlina is a stunning beauty from Eastern Europe, and Greg has discovered that if he pretends to be near sighted, Marlina bends closer to him with the menu, and he gets a better view of her cleavage.
Ah, to be 15 again.
I’m really not much of a gambling person (I’m cheap). But I do like blackjack. Since they had a tournament that was only $20 for 30 minutes play, I decided to enter for the hell of it.
So at the appointed time I went down to play. In my time slot there was only one other guy, and a gorgeous dealer with a thick accent. I sat down at the table, and she looked at me.
Ms. Dealer: “You are here for BJ?”
Dr. Grumpy: (taken aback) “Uh, excuse me?”
Ms. Dealer: “BJ. You are here for the BJ, correct?”
My inner voice: “Wow! For $20 that’s not a bad deal!”
Dr. Grumpy: “Um, yes, blackjack.”
The other guy at the table whispered to me “She said the same thing to me. Damn near gave me a heart attack.”