On a slow boat to China – Sept. 28, 2013

We left Whittier, Alaska on Saturday, September 21, on a voyage that will ultimately take the Diamond Princess to Tianjin, China – the port of call for Beijing. Not counting the day we left Whittier and the day we arrive at Tianjin, the cruise from Alaska to China is 14 days in all. The first six days after leaving Whittier are “sea days”, no ports, just moving steadily in a southwesterly direction at about 18 to 20 knots until we arrive at our first port, Muroran, Japan on the northern island of Hokkaido on Sunday, September 29th.

Our ship traveled south from Whittier, first passing south of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula and then Kodiak Island. The Captain announced that we could expect rough seas and he would make a decision about navigating north of the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea or remaining south depending on the weather and the seas. It must have been rough in both direction, because the captain chose a course north of the Aleutian Islands and we experienced rough seas as the ship steamed west towards Asia. The first and third days at sea were particularly rough with seas of 12 to 18 feet. Although I’ve only seen a few episodes of Deadliest Catch, I feel I’ve now had a small taste of how rough the Bering Sea, can be. I can’t imagine braving it on one of those small fishing boats in truly bad weather.

25 hour days: One of the real advantages of traveling this itinerary westward is that every day is a twenty five hour day. Every night we set our clock back one hour giving us one extra hour of sleep. We’ve taken advantage of this perk. The strange thing was crossing the International Date Line. We skipped from Tuesday, September 24th directly to Thursday, September 26th. All of you experienced Wednesday, September 25th, but Holly and I missed this day completely. We are getting the day we lost back – one hour at time – as we continue to travel west and cross time zones.

What is it like to spend five days on a cruise ship in the North Pacific and the Bering Sea in the fall? Well, overall it’s pretty nice, especially when the seas are not heaving. The modern cruise liner has all the amenities to keep one comfortable, entertained and above all well fed. There are seven dining rooms, a buffet restaurant, a hamburger/hotdog grill, a pizzeria and an ice cream bar. There are seven bars/lounges/nightclubs. There is one gym. This unfortunate ratio tells the sad story of my non-diminishing waist-line.

This is a photo of Horizon Court, the cafeteria style dining room:

Holly with one of our waiters in the “International Dining Room”. This dining room has traditional cruise dining with assigned tables and seatings for dinner. We are “anytime diners”, we don’t have a specific dining room and time for dinner. The International Dining room is open dining for breakfast and lunch. I’ve also attended a couple of wine tastings here. Mostly we are eating our dinner in the three dining rooms designated for anytime dining. There are two specialty dining room, a steak house and an Italian dining room that are also available for anytime dining, but require an additional fee. We enjoyed the steakhouse, but did not find the Italian dining room to be particularly good, and certainly not worth the additional $25 fee each.

Planning your day around the meals and the entertainment and activities available starts with “Princess Patter”, the daily news and activity letter, the crew leave at your door every evening for the next day. The Patter has a schedule of all the ships activities and entertainment for the day.

I’ve fallen into a pattern of attending back-to-back lectures in the morning at the Princess Theater. The first lecture is a “Port Talk” with Heather Hopkins Clement. Heather provides practical information about the upcoming ports we will visit. What to do, see, buy, eat, etc. The second lecture is a very interesting lecture series on the history of Japan by Dr. Jim Leavell. He presents his information with humor and tells the story of the development of Japan from 1600 to the 20th century as cohesive, entertaining story.

We’ve attended several of the shows in the theater and overall they are pretty good. Pretty much what I expected for cruise ship entertainment. We’ve also seen a few movies. The most memorable was the night we saw Iron Man 3 “under the stars”. The Diamond Princess has a “Jumbotron”, a billboard size TV, on the top deck next to the pool. I can see how this would be really nice in warm climates, but in the Bering Sea in September, it’s cold and rainy. Regardless, one night, Holly and I braved the elements and watched Iron Man 3 under blankets, (and under a deck to shield us from the rain). We were the only passengers foolish enough to be there.

The Diamond Princess has a central atrium that extends from deck 5 to deck 7.

There is internet access, although it’s pretty expensive. Internet access is sold in blocks of minutes. I purchased 400 minutes at the start of the Alaskan cruise and so far I’ve used almost all.  I’ll be buying more before this cruise is over.  We are trying to husband our internet minutes, so we aren’t doing any web surfing. We log on, update our email, down load the WSJ and NYT, post our latest blog articles and logoff. The WIFI seems to work pretty well in our cabin and almost everywhere on the ship, so there’s no real need to go to the ship’s Internet Café.

Here’s a picture of one of the two pools with hot tubs (not counting the spa). One pool area is open to the elements, the other (pictured below) is enclosed in glass.

Holly has attended some arts and craft activities. She is underwhelmed. They don’t seem to be prepared to handle the number of ladies (and yes it’s almost entirely ladies) by having enough materials, equipment, etc. for each session. I’ve attended a couple of photography classes given by the staff of the photography studio.

This morning we passed the Kamchatka Peninsula and several smaller islands, part of the Kuril Island chain, that look to be volcanic in origin. The Kuril Islands were Japanese territory until the end of World War II, when Russia claimed them. The fact that Japan and Russia still contest these islands is one reason Japan and Russia never signed a peace treaty at the end of WWII are technically still at war today. For more information go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuril_Islands and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuril_Islands_dispute

I’d love to get you
On a slow boat to China,
All to myself alone.
Get you to keep you in my arms evermore,
Leave all your lovers
Weeping on the faraway shore.

Loesser: copyright 1948.

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