I just got back from a cruise to Alaska with my lovely friend Gabrielle. I'll post photos later, (after they've finished uploading to Dropbox. I only took 900 or so,) but I wanted to process some of what I felt on the trip and I think writing about it will help me do that.
It's a strange way to vacation, cruising. 3000 people, most of whom have never met before, living within inches of each other for a week, crowding into lounges and theaters, gift shops and dining halls. Cruises are billed as relaxing getaways. It's an odd way to relax, in such close proximity to so many strangers. Maybe the disconnect between the ideal and the reality would have seemed less broad if our destination had been less grand in scale, but Alaska... Alaska is breathtaking in its enormity. It is pure wilderness, and to have it sullied by the hordes of capitalistic cruise goers... it just felt wrong.
We had a famous naturalist on board with us who has lived in the wilds of Alaska and has many well rehearsed tales to tell. He's published books about his adventures and even had one of them produced by PBS as a television program of some sort. He gave lectures on the ship about his life in Alaska, his adventures in nature and with the natives. He is very practiced at making everyone listening feel as though they want to throw off the shackles of modern civilization and brave the wild unknown. I couldn't help looking around me at all the pampered guests who can't cope if the waiter brings them regular Coke instead of diet, all of them with the fervor burning in their eyes that said, "I am mighty! I will conquer this great land! I will go on a wildlife viewing excursion and I will return to tell the tale! I will have photos to prove it!" (Gab, I do not mean you. I don't know anyone who gets more pure enjoyment out of being in nature than you do.)
I should state at this juncture that I enjoyed my cruise, that the vast majority of the people we met were lovely, friendly folks, and that I very much enjoyed being waited on hand and foot. I also liked the touristy things we did. We went on many fun excursions. I just don't feel like I've seen the real Alaska. And while I was enjoying being waited on I felt ashamed of myself for enjoying it, for allowing it. I guess I felt like it was all a big show. We were all participating in this grand charade of pleasantness and politeness, but underneath I was causing a lot of people a lot of inconvenience and because it's their job, they smile and pretend like they enjoy it too. My hope is that the people who work on the ship and in the towns we visited and on the tours we took really do like their jobs, but I know I'd have a hard time tolerating, let alone enjoying a lot of what they do.
I guess I'm still myself, even on vacation. Crowds make me uncomfortable, or I should say small-talk makes me uncomfortable, because I know I'll be quizzed later. You meet someone and exchange pleasantries. This might happen 20 times a day on a cruise ship. Two days later you meet the same folks, they ask you how you are, how you enjoyed your insert excursion name here, how your mother is feeling after her recent surgery, if you've heard any more about the news story you were discussing the last time you met, and if that strange rash that might be developing on the arch of your left foot ever came to anything. If you are me, you struggle to remember a single detail about them. I HATE THIS SCENARIO. And it happens all the time. I do come from a long line of social retards, so I guess I come by it honestly. Sigh.
Gabrielle will read this and never want to go on another vacation with me again. She is a lovely traveling companion. There aren't very many people I could stand to share a room with for 8 days, or who would willingly tolerate the same amount of time with me. She is the best vacation buddy. She puts up with my cluelessness and odd ways. She's been my friend for 23 years and I feel grateful to have her in my life. She gets me to do things I'd never do without her, things that would never occur to me. She knows how to have fun and she has a bright, optimistic nature that I admire and envy.
I'm not sure if I will cruise again. I have to decide how I feel about the whole rich person being waited on by poor person thing... It's most certainly the least expensive way to see Alaska. I don't think you could drive there for what we paid for the cruise, let alone have accommodation and food included. (And the food! The FOOOOOOD!!! Cruise food is pretty darn fabulous.) Plus it's a long drive. Looooonnnnggg. You'd have to have a month off to do it properly, and who can swing that?
Those are my thoughts for now. I'll post an obscene number of photos soon.