The World at My Fingertips
I'm a "nester"—one of those people who travels in a car or on a plane with my backpack sandwiched between my feet. It doesn't matter that the space I occupy is only large enough for a three-year old, or that I can't stretch out my legs because my bag is in the way.
Throughout the one or ten hour drive or flight, I unzip and dig and pillage for candy bars, earplugs, Purell, hardcover books, magazines, newspapers, a pillow, my iPhone, iPad, laptop, camera, medications, headphones, trail mix—I could go on. The point is: I have everything I need at arms length, even though my pack weighs over fifty pounds and is likely causing irreparable nerve damage to my neck. On any given trip, this access to things I need (or might need) gives me comfort and somehow makes me feel smart and prepared.
You never know when you might need that extra Ziploc baggie or yesterday's New York Times crossword puzzle. Because of the brilliant contents of my pack, I can alleviate boredom and hunger. I can work, educate and medicate myself, and kill germs. I can write the great American novel without ever leaving my seat, while simultaneously watching the movie Bridesmaids. I am an invincible superhero.
That's also what it feels like to be aboard a large cruise liner. I get to have it all and don't have to go far to get it. It's better than a backpack; it's a floating luxury resort with views that change hour-by-hour and day-by-day. From my window, I might see a breaching whale before I go to bed and a spectacular glacier calving when I wake up. I don't have to go anywhere; the ship does it all for me. I can play golf, get married, play blackjack, go dancing, swim laps or watch a movie all en route to Ketchikan or Glacier Bay National Park. Why is this important? When you're in Southeast Alaska, it can rain...well...a lot. On a mega cruise, you're assured a solid and worthwhile vacation, regardless of the weather or unpredictable flora and fauna. Even the food offers variety and quality. I might want Italian for lunch and steak for dinner. If I'm hungry at 11pm, I can simply order room service, which is perfect since I've likely consumed all the energy bars in my pack by now.
Then, there's the social aspect. I've had luck on small boat cruises where I enjoyed the company of my 20 to 80 or so companions. There was an Australian woman who was part of the prime minister's cabin. A man from India who worked on tiger conservation projects. A marine biologist who was in her seventies and took the polar plunge off the ship's bow. A man who used drones for aerial photography. There were also people I avoided, especially when deciding on a table at mealtime, or signing up for day-trip to ride in a small skiff and go hiking. On a mega ship, you never have to socialize with the same people twice—unless of course you want to, and no one will catch on or be offended. Or, you might find 1,000 new best friends and do a house exchange with all of them. New Zealand next winter, perhaps?
All the things I've mentioned here might account for the staggering number of nearly 1 million visitors each year who choose to explore Alaska via a large cruise ship. It's also why we've dedicated a good portion of this issue to cruising, including a first person account aboard a large ship in our new Itinerary department, as well as a feature on what to do in five popular ports of call.
As for me, I'm ditching the backpack in favor of a cruise ship this summer. I'm pretty sure I can fit everything I need onboard.