Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Conquering a Fear of Flying

Amongst my friends and family, I can count a number of engineers, students of physics and science and just generally really smart people who could readily explain the aerodynamics of flight. And yet...something in me (possibly the laws of gravity, laws of physics, laws of nature) refuses to believe in this technology (I basically consider that flight falls into the realm of magic). But I don't have the luxury of time and money that a John Madden or a Whoopie Goldberg have and so I must resort to air travel upon occasion.

This doesn't make it any easier. Ask Gerry. He will definitely tell you that the term "white knuckle flyer" doesn't begin to describe me. I'm always amazed and relieved when we reach our crusing altitude, disturbed by any in-flight turbulance, and my "beads" get quite the work out during landing. And like a moth to the flame, my "crash-dar" is in full operation when scanning headlines, web updates or even movie descriptions for all things pertaining to air disasters.

So it was with more than a little reluctance (and a great deal of trepidation) that I agreed to make our return trip via float plane (a plane that actually, INTENTIONALLY?, lands on water? What are you, nuts?) I was determined to not let my very, VERY real (though others might describe it as somewhat irrational) fear detract from an otherwise amazing adventure.

We checked in with our pilot from Kenmore Air at the Coal Harbour Marina. It truly had turned out to be a gorgeous September day and Chuck (a pilot specifically requested by Carol) assured us that the flight would be calm and beautiful. Sounded good to me! After checking our passports and a few final (just in case) photos, we were ready to board the aircraft.

THAT LITTLE THING IS OUR PLANE? Okay, take a deep breath - you can do this. Our "luggage" was loaded and in my capacity as tour director you can be assured that I did everything possible (just short of actually weighing the pieces) to make sure that everyone strictly adhered to the 24 lb. luggage limit! Once on board, we were given the usual pre-takeoff instructions (fasten your seatbelt, if need be the floatation devices are clear in the back of the plane - obviously they don't get used a lot...good thing I can swim. What's the water temperature this time of year? Once we reach our cruising altitude...not very darn high...our flight attendant will be by to serve drinks...whiskey, vodka, brandy. I wonder where those came from???)

And then we were cleared for takeoff. Carol was flying co-pilot (though Marne had volunteered, the group thought it best if she stayed back in the cabin with the rest of us). Takeoff was amazingly smooth - if not for the noise of the plane (yeah, it's pretty loud) it would hardly have been noticeable. I wondered if we were going to fly over or under the Lionsgate Bridge?

And then we were up...above (but not so far above that we didn't have a magnificent view of) the coast, the water and the islands below us. Though we didn't see any whales, we did see a number of large ferries and even a couple of cruise ships.

The view was incredible as we flew over the San Juan islands and places I remember booking reservations for when I worked for Kenmore Air (Friday Harbor, Eastsound, Rosario's). Following the map we could see as we flew past Everett and Edmonds, the I-5 freeway and finally to Lake Washington.

Our pilot circled around and landed the plane in the lake, smooth as silk and headed for the Kenmore Harbor. Kudos to Chuck! It was perhaps the smoothest landing I've ever experienced - land or water. And though I just knew that this was an exceptional flight, that the stars would always align so that I could be guaranteed of this particular pilot and this amazing weather, by the time we reached the pier I was already thinking that this group should be planning our next adventure to Victoria via floatplane!
~later, tw

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Oh Canada!

The day was just beginning to break as we made our way under the Lionsgate Bridge and into the pier at Canada Place. Carol and Mark (the ones who retired early the night before) were up and exploring, checking out the sites of Vancouver as we approached. A Holland America ship was chasing us into port.

Packing to leave is typically a bittersweet affair indeed but staying in the Penthouse Suite made it a bit easier (as most of us left with many, many souvenir "gifts" and reminders of our one night of luxury - soaps, sewing kits, stationery, a Princess canvas bag and even slippers - basically anything that wasn't permanently nailed down!) Good thing we weren't flying back commercially to the states as we might have had to pay for extra luggage!!!

Though we were scheduled to disembark fairly early (before 8 am - what's up with that?), there was still plenty of time to enjoy breakfast in the dining room. Of particular interest this trip was the "raisin doughnut". Clearly it was accurately named for there was only a single raisin to be found in each doughnut.

After breakfast we headed for the Elite Lounge (for those with holding Elite or Platinum cards OR for the "PPs"). We arrived with only about 5 minutes until final call for disembarkation but we were determined to enjoy all the amenities of our one shot at being "PPs".

Then it was off to customs, immigration and locating our limo. A nice ride but I now think all paparazzi's should be banned from photographing limousine ingress & egress - there is absolutely no real dainty way for this to be accomplished. And we tried a number of them - crawling, duck walking, rolling around the seats (made a bit more difficult by the amount of laughing taking place as well!) The coveted seats seemed to be found on the back bench (which required no gymnastics!):

First up, we stopped in Stanley Park to see the Totems and across the waterfront back at our ship. It was shaping up to be a gorgeous day in Vancouver and there were already many people out and about. We would check to see what everyone was looking at whenever we arrived - and finally figured out that they thought we were the celebrities! I imagine they were quite disappointed when we all popped out of the vehicle.

I saw this sign at the washroom in Stanley Park - there was a women's restroom, but apparently the men's restroom was pulling double duty as both a Men's Restroom and the Fire Sprinkler System (I wonder how many volunteers it requires to put out a fire? I would imagine that it would depend on the size of the hoses?):

Back on board the limo and we were headed thru more of the park and to see the Lionsgate Bridge up close. As we drove thru the park, the police were trying to close the road for a race that would be taking place. All traffic, other than our limo, was stopped (it's good to be the king - or at least travel like one!)

We made a brief stop at Granville Island to check out the marketplace there and then it was time to head for lunch (already?) at Floata Seafood Restaurant for traditional "dim sum". Clearly some of us enjoyed this particular type of dining more than others but I think all of us had a good time.

After lunch it was time to head off to Gastown to see the gasworks clock (in operation for over 100 years) and do a little bit of shopping. Then we were driven around to see the site of the opening ceremony for the Vancouver 2010 games, the countdown clock and then we went in search of Murchie's Tea Shop (highly recommended by our breakfast companion on the Pacific sailing last Friday). Our original destination was closed but Andy found another one at the Mall in West Vancouver. It's a wonderful tea shop and several bags of tea found their way into the limo.

We made a final stop at a pub nearly Stanley Park (I will have to try to find the name of it). It was very near the waterfront and those amongst us who found "dim sum" not entirely to their liking found the sliders and sweet potato fries a wonderful substitute (along with a round...or two...of Guinness, beers and pear cider).

All too soon our day in Vancouver was coming to an end and it was time now to make way for Coal Harbour Marina for the final leg of our adventure. We left the luxury of our limousine behind us as we headed to the seaport and the float plane that awaited us.

Next up: Terri's Fears Ungrounded

~later, tw

Monday, September 28, 2009

Celebrity Cruising

After dinner, we went in search of entertainment on-board. I wasn't too sure what to expect since this was, after all, just a one night cruise. We opted to head for the Vista Lounge and see the "Visionary Comedian" Paul Wildbaum (part comedian, part mime, part maestro). Mark was determined not to become a "victim" - an audience member hauled up on stage to become part of the act. I'm not entirely sure that Mr. Wildbaum didn't overhear him - either that, or he correctly identified Mark as someone with handbell experience.

That doesn't exactly explain how Michael was selected as well (unless the comedian was just looking for a couple of "ding dongs") but I don't think their performances embarrassed either themselves of the rest of the gang (here's a video of the performance):

Afterwards, Mark & Carol headed back to their cabin to enjoy the luxuries of the penthouse and the rest of us went off exploring. The Golden Princess has "Movies Under the Stars" - a large screen outdoors by the pool and Gerry & I went to check it out. The staff was just arranging the chaises lounges (and thoughtfully putting out additional blankets as it was quite chilly!). The movie that night was "Star Trek" at 10 pm and the scent of theatre popcorn already filled the air.

Since we had already planned to join the rest of the gang for "Cinemastic" (the large production show in the Princess Theatre) we couldn't stay for the movie. But it is definitely on my "bucket list" of things to try on my next cruise!

The show was amazing - songs from all the movies, the singers were great, the dancers were wonderful and it even included a bit reminiscent of Cirque d'Soleil trapezee work. Though it was late when it got over, the gals wanted to check out the Skywalker Lounge on the opposite end of the ship. It is accessed via an escalator that goes thru a futuristic tube to reach the bar - which is the highest point on this ship and the guys assured us that the view is amazing (when not completely overfilled by the twenty-something dance scene...another time, I guess!

Here's a photo of the Golden Princess (I might have been one of the sister ships) that shows the escalator tube at the back of the ship that takes you up to Skywalker Lounge (Gerry shot this photo as we flew over the ship on our way back home...but more on that later!):

Finally it was off to bed for all of us. Trying to squeeze in as much as I could in the limited time in our penthouse, I decided to conclude the evening with a dip in the jacuzzi. Note to self: probably not the best idea to put bubble bath in a jacuzzi (the result is something along the lines of bathing in whipped cream - not exactly unpleasant, but the challenge is trying to get rid of all the bubbles when you're done!)

Next up: Our limo awaits!

~later, tw

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Our new green boarding passes indicated we were now 'preferred' and we were whisked out of the line for the "common folk" and into our own private line for embarkation. In just a matter of minutes (too quickly for photos - if they would have even allowed it), we were boarding the Golden Princess for our fabulous one-night cruise to Vancouver, B.C. I haven't a clue as to why Princess decided to upgrade our four couples to Penthouse Suites. One night of pure luxury that we will most likely never experience again and we were determined to make the most of it!

The first of our suites (Pete & Marne's) was just off the elevator and we anxiously awaited their opening of the door. It was incredible! Gerry & I have cruised a number of times (I think this was my 9th time) and we've always been impressed with the attentiveness to detail, the economy of space even though the room is usually under 300 sq. ft. (roughly the size of my master bath and walk-in closet at home). I've never felt cramped at all (provided there are only the recommended two people per cabin).

But this was spacious and plush. There was a sitting room, a wet bar, a tv, a desk, and a door opening onto our balcony...and that was just in the first half of the cabin! The second room housed the bed, another desk, another tv, two nightstands, a walk-in closet, and another door to the other half of our balcony! The third extremely large room was actually divided into two rooms - the shower and jacuzzi were in one half of the room, the powder room in the other. In all it was nearly 600 sq. ft.

Once we got past the enormity of the rooms themselves, it was time to discover all the little perks that go along with being "Penthouse People" (or PPs as we were beginning to refer to ourselves!): the pre-printed stationery, the complimentary mini-bar, the invitation to a cocktail party with the captain, the spectacular bowl of fresh fruit to welcome us. Soon our cabin steward was inquiring whether we'd enjoy a glass of champagne? Along with the canapes that room service had provided for each of our cabins. We elected to have a "sail away" party of our own on one of the balconies (after we had of course requested that the balcony doors between each of our suites we opened).

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring our ship (and waving goodbye to the Amsterdam which was sharing the pier with us that afternoon).

The guys got their work out playing ping pong and then it was time to head for our "muster" station in the Explorer Lounge. As you can tell, Gerry found this to be quite exciting stuff but everyone joined in on donning their lifejackets.

Then it was off to change for dinner. The menu was "Sailaway Dinner" - one of my favorites on Princess ships as it includes their Mushroom Soup as well as their "Rum Infused Pina Colada Soup" (which is, as you might expect, served in a glass with a straw. You can order this in the bar at any time!) Some us learned important lessons in on-board dinner ordering: if it is plural, it definitely means MORE THAN ONE. For instance, if you order the filet medallionS, you can expect at least two to show up. Plus they won't be so much "medallions" as they will be the Princess 6 oz. filet steaks.

Next up: On-Board Entertainment
~later, tw

And We're Off...

I'd like to say the day began bright and sunny (as it always has on every other cruise I've ever gone on!) but no such luck on Saturday. It had poured buckets in the early morning hours (giving our new roof a true test!) and was gray and drizzling. After a brief moment of confusion (why would Metro change their bus routes/times on the very day I needed to use it?) the seven of us met as scheduled at Kenmore to begin our bus journey.

Sandie guards a mish mash of backpacks, duffles and large bags while the rest of us venture out to document our trip:

First, Marne, Carol & I wait at the sign, then the guys (Pete, Gerry & Michael) check out the route:

As the weather begins to drizzle (again), we all head for the shelter of the bus stop:

Finally, the bus arrives and we board (with correct change in hand!) and get our transfers. We are officially on our way...

Somehow ('s a bit like herding cats) we get off at (or near as we can tell) the correct stop in downtown Seattle and head across the street to make our transfer to the next bus. We tell the driver (I think each of us...) that we are going to Pier 91 (like he couldn't tell we were headed for a fabulous cruise!) We catch very brief glimpses of the ship as we drive by the Seattle waterfront and over the Magnolia Bridge.

The driver stops and tells us this is the Pier. Gerry & Pete take point and are ( they know any other speed?) headed towards the off-ramp for the bridge and the sign that says "Cruise Ships" but some guy pops out of a truck I didn't even know was there and says if we're looking for the cruise ships, we should head down this stairway I hadn't even seen was there. Yeah...riiiiight. Okay, we headed down the stairs and yelling for the guys (to come and watch our backs). The stairs head down but not all the way to the street level - next thing we know we're walking on the catwalk underneath the bridge. Not somewhere I'd like to be in the dark...heck, I'm not liking it in the daylight!

Carol is trying to get our picture as we head down another set of stairs. But she's met at the bottom by an older guy in a uniform standing guard in a little tiny shack. He tells her to put away her camera and for the group to get out our passports - we've entered a secure facility. Yeah....riiiight. While I'm trying to figure out which part of this is actually "secure", Marne is trying to get the guy to stamp her passport. He tells her that's above his paygrade, but if we just follow the well-marked pathway (white paint - seems to serpentine from the bridge to the actual pier) we will find our ship waiting for us.

This is much more easily accomplished by the women than the men and pretty soon a little bus starting honking at Michael (who is clearly off the "beaten" path). The driver wants to know if we'd like a ride to the ship and we all jump aboard.

Next up: The Clampetts Become "Penthouse People"

~later, tw