In 2009 we were both working full time, living on an island off the coast of Washington state. The perpetual cold gray rainy weather was killing the native Floridian in me. The quiet slow life of the island in general was dragging both my spouse and I down. An exciting day was one of our favorite foods being on sale at the local grocery store. We were in our late twenties and felt like our early sixties. In the winter it was pitch black by 4pm! The transition to this island was slow, and little by little we had lost our zest for life. We just waited each day for word when we would be leaving the island and kept our fingers crossed it was for warmer more densely populated pastures!
Then my in laws decided to retire fully and as their gift to themselves they wanted to take all their children and their respective spouses on a cruise to Alaska. I was terrified to say the least. As a native Floridian, I hated anything and everything about cold weather. Having never been to Alaska or knowing anyone who had been to the frozen tundra of a state, I was NOT loving the idea of being cold for a solid week. In addition, in all the years my spouse and I had been married, we had not spent a significant amount of time with either side of our families due to the call of Uncle Sam to various duty stations around the country. We were quite literally going to be stuck on a boat next door to his family….for an entire week. We had three dogs and a cat at home that were quite needy. We had not traveled away from home before while living on this island, and had to locate a pet sitter we could trust with our little pack. We also had to get time off from work, buy some warmer clothing, and do some research on the ports to see what we were getting ourselves into on this trip! The leap of faith I needed to do this trip was great indeed! We are both of the age to have seen the movie Titanic in theaters, multiple times if we had wanted. What could go wrong? Small boat in cold water with ice bergs in the pitch black, sure lets do that for a vacation!
As the months ticked by and our trip loomed in the distance, we sort of felt like finding any excuse we could to not do this trip. It would be too expensive, our dogs would miss us too much, our respective employers could not go on without us in our integral positions, the cat had a cold and no one else could care for it but us, right? Oddly enough, none of that was really true in the weeks leading up to the trip. We were T-minus one week and counting down for this trip. I guess we are going on a cruise! As we packed our suitcases, our formal clothing bag (because who doesn’t wear formal gear to the great state of Alaska?), and the various bathroom accouterments a week away from home required I started looking forward to our adventure. The journey started to feel real! Little by little, the stress of everyday life got a little further away from the forefront of my mind and replaced by the experiences I had coming in the next week. Smiling a little more each day, the details of our absence from our “normal life” fell into place in both our professional and personal lives. One afternoon I looked over at my spouse watching him pack and fret over every detail of the requirement for each item going into a suit case (something he still does to this day over a decade later), I had a new found appreciation for him in my life. In that moment, I saw someone who cared deeply that his family was provided for and had a great vacation. Seeing him wanting to anticipate every bump and turn because he wanted this to be a fun get away together made my heart melt. He could have been equally nervous about spending a week with his family and his wife in the same place, but looking back I prefer to think of it my way.
The morning of our departure we had the car packed and final pet care instructions printed out on the counter in the kitchen. We kissed the animals good bye, told them to behave for the pet sitter (because dogs and cats always listen to what their owners direct them to do), and took off on a new adventure. We had no idea how much this trip would change our outlook and be the impetus for new path to happiness for us for the rest of our lives. Gazing out the window as the trees whizzed by was calming, stopping for lunch at a highway fast food establishment that did not exist on the island we lived on was a rare treat, and the trip just seemed like a better and better idea the closer we got to the ship. We didn’t have any clear idea what we were in for, but I think after the months of preparation we felt more in control of the situation. About a four hour drive, an hour wait at the border between the US and Canada, and a few wrong turns in Vancouver, we turned a corner and got our first glimpse of our home for the next week. It was huge, shining white and glorious! The anticipation was amazing, it was suddenly very real we were going away! Up until that point we were just on some strange road trip for the day. We parked, grabbed (read struggled) our luggage to the porters, and filed into the terminal to start our cruise to Alaska. The rest of the family was already onboard since they flew in the night before, we would be the last to arrive since we drove. Flooded with excitement and nervous to see his family, we made it through security screenings, check in, and then up the glassed in gangway to our ship. We walked into the floating oasis on Deck 4 and took in the glory of lights, glass, artwork, and architecture. We could not have pictured this!
Even though the atrium area was jammed with passengers taking in the visual stimulation of the ship, holding plates of pizza slices, juggling carry on luggage pieces, and holding small unhappy children by the hand to keep them from running away, it was titillating. The ship was buzzing and stirring with activity; a lively group of college co-eds celebrated with goofy group photos in the corner, grand parents sat quietly resting in comfortable chairs at an elegant bar, mothers instructed kids to finish their pizza before they could eat their desserts. We worked our way over to a bank of shimmering all glass elevators that gave a vantage of both the interior of the ship and the landscape encompassing the ship itself outside. We took our quick ride to the top deck to meet up with his family. The doors opened to the interior of the ship, we rounded a small corner, and there lay the pool, pool bar, aisles and aisles of matching chaise chairs, and the amazing view of downtown Vancouver past the white railing. With family found, hugs, greetings, and small talk commenced. Family photos were taken, wind blowing the women’s hair in every direction, including up! There were smiles and laughter and story telling within minutes. My in-laws are expert cruisers and had done this very trip just a few months before. We listened to them tell us about each port and the neat things that were unique to that city. I was genuinely looking forward to this trip now!
Over dinner we discussed what everyone wanted to do at each port. For one stop, in Hoonah, Alaska, the boys had already arranged for a chartered deep sea fishing trip for halibut. At the time there wasn’t much to this tiny Inuit village, but my spouse and I decided to ride down the Zipline. This would be the first of many thrilling adventures we have since signed ourselves up for over the years! Another port, Juneau, Alaska, we had a family trip that included whale watching, a view of Mendenhall Glacier, and a salmon lunch at Orca Point Lodge. Our third port was Skagway, Alaska. While the family chose to do a wilderness train adventure, my spouse and I chose to walk about the small town and take in the sights. The week ahead of us was going to be new experiences, shared memories, beautiful landscapes and majestic wildlife. First though, we had to get dropped through a metal grated floor and live to tell about it!