Unhinged Alaska: Helpful tips for those considering an ocean cruise

I recently received a few emails pointing out recent tips I've given over the years on ocean cruising. A message said they had heard one of my comments about cruise ships on public radio and wanted to know where they could get a list of my concerns about booking the perfect sea adventure.

I was quite confused because I remember never having been on air for the last time. Well, maybe once. It was encouraging to know that I at least had a listener.

It's not at all uncommon for distant relatives old enough to leave engravings on cave walls to ask me whether I think it's safe for them to throw away a wad of cash on a cruise to Alaska.

Most inquiries came from those concerned about stories they had heard of various seagoing vessels experiencing fires, being damaged by storms, unfortunate encounters with wharves, and various other mishaps that did not reflect well on the stately steel monarchs so depicted of the USA fit sea.

I admit that I have heard of a few mishaps that have occurred in various parts of the world, but Alaska cruises have been rated top notch by my friends and family who have traveled with them, such as Princess Tours, the Apparently owns half of Alaska with a lease – option to buy the rest.

I have always recommended sailing with well-known and established professionals and ignoring offers from companies with names like Crisis Cruises or Take a Gamble Tours with flagships called Fat Chance or Knot A Prayer III.

They also had to be careful if their company's brochure offered a special rate in the rowing area or a 75% discount on all accommodation below the waterline.

I also suggested they think twice about whether the tour includes free scuba and snorkeling lessons before disembarkation and/or distributes brochures touting the cardiovascular benefits of treading water.

You should seriously reconsider your choice of transportation if the welcome magazine includes a coupon for free deck clothing, which consists of a choice of matching flotation coats or survival suits. Of course, this all assumed that a questionnaire was filled out before takeoff asking whether they preferred emergency rations and what skills they might have in raft navigation on the open sea.

Final precautions:

If someone decides to ignore all of the forewarnings above and puts everything at risk by buying tickets and flying to their cutoff point, they still have time to reconsider and escape down the gangway if the the following anomalies are noticed.

1. The pier is crowded because the captain is having a scrap sale from the previous cruise.

2. The bow of the ship resembles the bulkhead of an icebreaker, which offers the lowest price.

3. The welcoming concierge and the rest of his staff are already wearing life jackets.

4. Your cabin features fold-down oxygen masks and the Bon Voyage fruit basket includes a flare gun and emergency locator.

5. There are handles on your mattress and instructions attached to the headboard that explain how to use it as a flotation device.

6. They discover a hundred dollar per square foot betting chart in the crew lounge that shows how far they will make it before they have to initiate a mayday.

7. The cabin steward will appear at your door with a large pulley to which a weight is attached and give you the rotational task of maintaining bow watch and conducting soundings as the ship transits the inland passage.

8. During the welcome cocktail party, you notice that the sloshing dipstick surveying the crowd at the harbor is the navigator.

Finally, if you end up encountering several crew members trying to leave the ship shortly after departure, you probably would have been better off opting for a boat ride through Disneyland's It's A Small World. Additionally, you can always wade ashore if the boat is flooded.

Feel free to send this cautionary tale to those contemplating a northern sea adventure. So when things get gigantic for her, that absolves you of any responsibility in decision making.

Nick can be reached at when he's not busy preparing for several clan members to head north in a couple of rented land yachts because none of them can swim.

Anna Harden

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