Nick Varney

Nick Varney

Unhinged Alaska: Helpful tips for those contemplating a high seas cruise

It’s not at all unusual being asked by distant relatives if I think it’s safe for them to blow a wad of cash on a cruise to Alaska

I recently received a few emails referencing timely tips that I’ve offered over the years concerning ocean cruising. One message claimed that they had heard one of my commentaries about cruise ships on public radio and wanted to know where they could get a list of my concerns when it came to booking the perfect maritime adventure.

I was rather bewildered because the last time I recalled being on the air, was never. Well, maybe once. It was encouraging to know that at least I had one listener.

It’s not at all unusual being asked by distant relatives old enough to leave etchings on the walls of caverns if I think it’s safe for them to blow a wad of cash on a cruise to Alaska.

Most inquiries came from those who were concerned about stories they had heard about various ocean vessels experiencing fires, being damaged in storms, experiencing unfortunate encounters with docking facilities and sundry miscellaneous mishaps that did not reflect well on what are portrayed as stately steel monarchs of the sea.

I admit that I have heard of some mishaps occurring in various parts of the world but Alaskan cruises have been rated as top notch by my friends and relatives who have travelled on them such as Princess Tours, which seems to own half of Alaska with a lease-option to buy the rest.

I’ve always recommended that they sail with well-known and established professionals and ignore offerings from outfits with names like Crisis Cruises or Take a Gamble Tours featuring flag ships christened Fat Chance or Knot A Prayer III.

They also needed to be cautious if their company’s brochure offers a special cut rate fare in the rowing section or 75% off any accommodations below the water line.

I also suggested that they think twice if the tour includes free scuba and snorkeling lessons prior to debarking and/or distributes pamphlets proclaiming the cardiovascular benefits of treading water.

They should seriously reconsider their choice of transportation if the welcome magazine includes a coupon for complimentary deck wear consisting of a choice between matching float coats or survival suits. This, of course, all predicated on the completion of a pre-launch questionnaire inquiring as to their preference in emergency rations and what skills they might possess in open sea raft navigation.

Final cautions:

If one decides to ignore all of the above forewarnings and go for broke by purchasing tickets and jetting off to their point of demarcation, they will still have time to reconsider and flee down the gangway if, during boarding, they notice the following anomalies.

1. The pier is jam-packed due to fact that the captain is having a fire sale from the previous cruise.

2. The ship’s bow resembles the bulkhead of a “lowest bidder” ice breaker.

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

4. Your cabin has drop-down oxygen masks and the Bon Voyage fruit basket contains a flare gun and an emergency locator beacon.

5. There are handles on your mattress with instructions tacked to the headboard explaining how to use it as a floatation device.

6. You spot a hundred-dollars-a-square betting pool chart in the crew’s lounge on how far they’ll make it before having to initiate a Mayday.

7. The cabin steward shows up at your door with a large coil of rope with a weight attached and hands you your rotation assignment for standing bow watch to take soundings as the ship plies the inland passage.

8. During the welcoming cocktail party, you notice that the sloshed dipstick mooning the dockside crowd is the navigator.

And, finally, if, just before you sail, you chance upon several crew members attempting to jump ship just after cast off, you probably would have been better off opting for a boat trip through Disneyland’s, “It’s A Small World.” Not only that, if the craft swamps, you can always wade ashore.

Feel free to send this cautionary treatise to those who are contemplating a marine adventure north. Thus, if things go Titanic on them, it relieves you of any culpability in their decision making.

Nick can be reached at if he isn’t busy getting prepped for several clan members headed north in a couple of rented land yachts because none of them can swim.

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