Saturday, August 16, 2008

Alaska Cruise - Day 7 (VIctoria, British Columbia, CANADA)

Friday August 15

Our last day at sea… sigh… but it’s not over yet. We choose to sleep-in a little bit with the early rise yesterday. When we got dressed and stepped outside our cabin, our neighbors just stepped out as well and asked if we were going to the Mariners Club (HAL’s frequent sailors program) brunch today. We didn’t even know about it since it is our first cruise with Holland America. They were nice enough to invite us so we enjoyed a very nice breakfast despite sleeping through the official one.

We sat opposite the middle couple from the Marriage game. Niels had the pepper crusted steak. Not a bad breakfast I’d say. The very nice thing was that one of the things that we saw as a possible improvement was that there wasn’t a lot of ‘Holland’ on the ‘Holland America Line’. No stroopwaffel! (Although we did get both the Dutch and American news summaries on a couple of days). However, at the end of the brunch we got a nice Old-Dutch style delft tile. Nice!

The rest of morning and early afternoon were filled with a very low-key playing of some Gin 13 and 2 rounds of Catan. Speaking of those two games… On land it is a pretty clear-cut pecking order. Niels wins Gin 13 and Jen wins Catan. Not so much on the ship. Jen won most of the Gin 13 games and in Catan the winner also wasn’t as clear cut as usual. Game 1 Jen got stuck with the same 3 numbers for both her Settlement and her City and guess what… those 3 numbers kept being rolled over and over and over again… Very frustrating--to Niels. Obviously, Jen won that game, but the next game was to be different.

Niels finally got some good placings and after some frustrating moments where Niels had a TON of cards but couldn’t do anything. Jen did point two things out to him and after listening to his wife’s advice (not a bad thing to do…) he was able to put the game away leading to the complete role-reversal in the gaming world.

Next on the list for today was the event with the most mixed feelings; packing up. The Holland America disembarkation calls for having your checked luggage ready outside your stateroom by 1am and with the Oosterdam Superstar coming up at 4pm and the last port of call Victoria at 6.30pm we decided to get it done early so we didn’t have to worry about it afterwards.

By playing the games and packing we kind of missed a few things we kind of wanted to do during the morning and afternoon, but the one thing we really wanted to see was the final of the Oosterdam Superstar. This time it would be a little different from the previous rounds since it was a different song and a different venue, being the main show lounge the Vista Lounge, the same lounge as were the major shows were performed. The race was very interesting with a visually impaired performer (makes it extra difficult to do Karaoke if you can’t see the words), a country star (who should have won), a regular guy with a regular voice, a Neil Daimond impersonator with a very goofy personality and… ‘Al from Juneau’ which was actually Christian contemporary artist Wayne Watson signed up by one of other artists on the Spirit West tour.

The change in venue was nice, but for some (like the regular guy with the regular voice) the change in songs wasn’t all that great. However, when ‘Al from Juneau’ did ‘You can call me Al’ the crowd was fully engaged again. In the end the Neil Diamond impersonator won, but most of the crowd thought it should have been Mallory from Missouri (the country artist).

After the Superstar competition we were sailing into Victoria, BC. Niels has been there before in 2003 as part of his ‘Tour Vancouver Island 2003’ vacation with the Vriend family, Zuidhof family and some other friends added in for good measure. Niels has a bit of a soft spot for Canada, so today was a bit special. Around 6.30pm the hallway and adjacent places leading to the gangways where clogging up fast and the line reached way past our stateroom into the hall.

At about 6.20pm Niels was crazy enough to wiggle his way through the crowd to pick up the Cruise DVD, but found that we were misinformed about the time it would be ready (7pm instead of the 6pm we were told) so slightly disappointed he wiggled his way back through the crowds.

When the ship was cleared by Canadian customs we were informed they opened another exit so about 5 minutes later we were off the ship on Canadian soil. It was a gorgeous day with temperatures in the mid 70s, a nice change from the low 60s we had most of the time in Alaska.

The walk through Customs was a breeze since the ship had been pre-cleared, so they waived everybody through. On the other side of customs outside on the parking lot of the cruise terminal there was the regular frenzy of getting the right tourists to their right booked excursion operators. We had booked a horse-drawn carriage tour, kind of thinking it was a more romantic tour for just the two of us, but turned out to be a regular tour, with 2 Belgian horses pulling a carriage with about 20 of us. That was a bit of a disappointment, but we had a good time anyway.

We started our tour in the James Bay neighborhood with a large number of heritage homes which are all designated as historical buildings. It is the oldest residential neighborhood on the west coast of North America that is north of San Francisco. Pretty interesting sight to see after the some of the more run-down neighborhoods in Ketchikan. We followed Douglas Street north to downtown Victoria and got to see the Parliament building, the Empress Hotel, the Royal BC Museum and the Inner Harbor.

We turned onto Government Street heading south to the Emily Carr house. Emily Carr (December 13, 1871 – March 2, 1945) was a Canadian artist and writer heavily inspired by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. The Canadian Encyclopedia describes her as a "Canadian icon". For most of the people on the tour (read: non-Canadians) she is more often described as “Who?”… ;-)

Our tour continued on to Beacon Hill Park where we got to see a very rare completely white peacock, palm trees and the world’s tallest totem pole. We also had a very good look at the Juan De Fuca Strait which separates Vancouver Island from the Olympic Peninsula in the USA. The condos looking out over the Strait are a bit pricy. The retirement home charges $5000 per month… Better save up, I guess.

For the remainder of the tour we looked out on the Olympic Peninsula heading back to the cruise terminal. We debated going back to downtown, but with a 1 hour wait to get a shuttle and DJ getting on Mommy’s nerves again (literally), we opted to stay at the terminal. We walked to end of the pier and took some beautiful sunset pictures and some of us in front of the MS Oosterdam and our stalker ship during the cruise the MS Golden Princess. The pictures look doctored, but we promise we didn't use a green screen! Around 8.30pm we went back onto the ship and toured the ship one last time taking some more evening pictures, stopped at the Lido deck for some dinner before retiring to our stateroom.

Just outside our stateroom we had a perfect look at some of the games they organized for the Indonesian crew in honor of the Indonesian independence from the Netherlands in 1948. They had a tug-of-war (touwtrekken) competition and a potato-sack (zaklopen) competition. Right outside our window. Perfect.

It was coming up on 10pm and with our disembarkation time set to 8.15am the next morning we went to bed for one final night at sea. Good night.

No comments: