Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Last Blog Post About The Cruise

Honest, this is going to be the last post about my vacation. I swear. Promise.

As you may remember, my wife and I have recently returned from an Alaskan Cruise. It is the best vacation that we've ever had, although, that's not really saying that much.

When my wife was a child, her parents, two sisters and a brother would hop into the car and drive to Panama City Beach, Florida.  Once there, her dad would drive up and down the beach trying to find a hotel to stay in because they never made reservations. Something about long distance phone rates and it makes way too much sense to make reservations.

My vacations as a child were spent in either: Johnson City, Tennessee (where Old Man Manis' people settled) or  Grenada, Mississippi (where Inez's kin settled).  Fireworks were legal in Mississippi so I spent our vacations dodging firecrackers thrown by my brothers.

Our cruise was The Tracy Arm Fjord Cruise. This is basically the southeastern part of Alaska.  It has four stops: Ketchikan, Juneau. Skagway, and Victoria Canada. The stops are where you go on your excursions.

It may not come as a big surprise, but the more expensive the excursion, the cooler it is. If you want to see a whale (and not just those at the buffet, ho, ho) you are going to have to spend some cash.

Our excursion in Ketchikan (which is sort of like an Alaskan version of Gatlinburg, Tennessee except diamond stores replace chocolate makers) was to ride on a fishing vessel that was in the TV show "The Deadliest Catch".  It pretty cool because we saw a real live squid. We also saw a ton of Bald Eagles.

As far as I'm concerned, our country has the best bird on earth: The Bald Eagle. It is the meanest motor-scooter and the baddest go-getter of all of the birds.  But, in Juneau, we saw the baddest of the bad: Lady Baltimore.

Her Name Should Be "Lucky"

Lady Baltimore is a ten-year-old Bald Eagle that was shot in beak and left for dead. She is also blind in one eye. She was found and saved. Now she sits on this mountain in Juneau looking all bad. She wins the coolest animal of the year.

Skagway was the scene of a little vacation hiccup.

My wife had talked with some friends who did the same cruise the year before. When they were in Skagway, they did a musher camp. That is, they went to a camp that taught you all about dog sledding and let you ride in a sled pulled by a dog team. Then you get to hold some puppies that will eventually pull a dog sled.

When we were purchasing the excursion, our salesperson was Natasha Fatale, who used to be a spy with Boris Bodenov.  My wife specifically asked for the musher camp so we could ride in a dog sled and so we could hold the puppies.  Natasha said, "Oh, darling, you can do that but you can also do this one and take the train into Canada".  Again, my wife asked if we would get to ride on a dog sled and hold puppies.  Natasha said, "Oh, darling, yes and for $80 more you can do both".  Hey, for $80 extra we could ride on a dog sled, hold puppies, and ride on a train?!  Sign me up.

Open Your Wallet

Well, in Skagway, we spent maybe 45 minutes in the musher camp. It was very interesting mainly because my only point of reference with dog sledding is Yukon Cornelius. They only had two puppies, which had to be passed around like a hot potato because our bus was going to leave at any second.  Then we took we seemed to be the longest bus trip in the history of mankind to hop on a train.  But we were in the prettiest part of the world.

There were no poodles in the musher camp we were at

Our last stop was Victoria, Canada. It is a beautiful town. But it was cold. So cold, the Canadians were shivering.

Even though it was our best vacation ever, this trip was to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. Like I said at the outset of this series, I never thought I'd be married thirty minutes much less thirty years. 

Last year, they found a lesion on one my wife's vertebrae. As you know, she is a cancer survivor. As you know, cancer never gives up.  The doctors feared the worst: bone cancer. My wife had a deep core biopsy of her  T-7 vertebrae and she was in a lot of pain for several weeks. Then came the news: the lesion was benign. Another bullet dodged.

Instead of terrible trial, we had in incredible trip. That's what made this vacation special.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

North To Alaska

"North to Alaska
You go north, the rush is on" 

I will be honest with you. Even though I majored in history in college I don't know much about Alaska.

Here's what I know:  "Seward's Folly", Sarah Palin, and my daughter-in-law's parents used to live there. I think I had an uncle and aunt stationed there at one time. That's about it.  Oh yes, it is big. Bigger than Texas, something Alaska will never let Texas forget.

Alaska is one big old honkin' state.

We arrived at our pier on Friday and saw our boat. It was the Celebrity Solstice. It was one big old honkin' boat.

Imagine a Hilton Hotel that floats. That is what the Celebrity Solstice looks like.

First, though, you have to get on the boat.  Getting on the boat is sort of like a vacation version of Ellis Island. There is a lot of people and a ton of luggage. It is could be described as organized chaos if it was organized. To me, it was sort of overwhelming, but then again, I used to get overwhelmed at Six Flags Over Georgia.

We were "Aqua Class". This is what "Aqua Class" means:  It means we are better than most of you lowly riff-raff people. You know, the people we were a part of until we bought our ticket. Now, there was a level above "Aqua Class". They were called "The Rich Snots"-not by Celebrity but by my wife and myself. We're not above class warfare.

Due to our "high" level, we were allowed to enter the boat first. We were processed by the processing people and given cards (sort of like room keys) with your names on them

However, first, you had to get your picture taken. For memories. There were times when I thought the whole purpose of the cruise was to have your picture taken.  I am happy to report to all of my fans that our first cruise picture was totally like all the pictures taken of Mr. and Mrs. Manis. Mrs. Manis looks like a total doll. Mr. Manis looks like a total goob. It is a super power I have.

We boarded the ship and were given champagne. This has never happened to me in Gatlinburg.

I'm not quite sure what champagne is. I know you are supposed to pour it over your head when you win The World Series.  Hawkeye Piece on "M*A*S*H" once said, "Champagne is ginger ale that knows somebody". 

After the champagne, we were allowed to our stateroom. It was about as big as our last hotel room in New York.  The bathroom was real small but it had THE BEST SHOWER ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH.

We then decided to check out the Oceanside Café.

Note, unlike some other cruises that I've heard about, this cruise did not have a 24-hour T-Bone Steak buffet or a 24-hour ice cream station. It had "specialty" restaurants that were determined by your cabin class. Our restaurant was "Blu".

But the entire ship could go to The Oceanside Café, which should have been called "The Golden Corral of The Seas".  Here you enjoy seeing everybody trying to eat everything. Something about buffets brings out the pigs in people.  It was like they were eating their last meal.

This is probably because the first thing you do besides drinking champagne and pigging out is to go to the safety class.  This was a good thing for us because we were going in an area that has icebergs and everybody has seen "Titanic".

The safety class shows you were your  life jackets are in your room (under your bed). That's about all I got from it. But we did hear from our captain. He said, "I've never gotten lost going to Alaska. Twice in a row".  I must say, the captain was a very funny man.

After the safety class, it was time to set your phone to airplane mode! I mean, Set Sail! 

Next Time:  Life on The Boat.

Saturday, June 4, 2016


I'm sure there are a lot more depressing words than "Back from vacation" ("President Donald Trump" and "President Hillary Clinton" are two that come to mind), but there's not many.

My wife and I have just returned from a week long Alaskan Cruise to celebrate our thirtieth anniversary.  There was a time in my life when I thought I wouldn't be married thirty minutes, much less thirty years.

The day before the cruise, we spent the day in Seattle, Washington. It has the bluest skies you've ever seen if it isn't cloudy and rainy.

It seemed like a great town, if you are into coffee and everyone wanting to be a socialist. I kid, I kid.

Oddly enough, Seattle sort of reminded me Gatlinburg, Tennessee, except without funnel cakes. It was very hilly and had lush greenery growing up the hills. I wouldn't have been surprised to see a "Hillbilly Golf" sign stuck on a hill.  Of course, the sign would have said "People's Mini-Golf Where Everyone Wins and Uses The Same Bathroom".

It was cooler temperature-wise than Atlanta. Strange for all of the rain Seattle gets as a port city, it was not very humid at all. It was a very pleasant 55 degrees.

We stayed at The Hotel Ballard which is a "boutique" hotel in the Ballard section of Seattle. I'm not quite sure what a "boutique" hotel is except that it is pretty nice. The front desk help pronounced my last name correctly on the first try, which never happens.

 The Ballard section of Seattle is kind of like Greenwich Village in New York. No fast food restaurants. Lots of coffee shops where I assume everyone makes 30 dollars an hour. Two "vinyl" or record shops across the street from each other.

Telephone polls were plastered  with Music Marketing 101 signs. The most prominent one was for The Great Spiders, Invisible Hand, and Night Boss concert at "The Sunset". These are actual Seattle bands. In Nashville, they would have been chasing that neon rainbow, but in Seattle they must be chasing that mythical flannel shirt.

The Great Spiders

Seattle is known for their coffee. I stopped in at The Ballard Coffee Works. It was a fine cup of Joe.

There were a lot of little nick-nack stores. One store, in this peaceful section of the Worker's Paradise of Seattle, feature gnomes  getting eaten by Godzilla.  They also had a gnome smoking a cigarette.  Cute, I guess.

One store featured my favorite sign: "Sasquatch for President".   Underneath it was a bumper sticker: "Dogs Welcome, People Tolerated"
Ok, I couldn't find the sign on Google, but here it is on a shirt

When you are in Seattle, you have to go to the Pike Place Market. We went and it was an experience. There were lots of flower shops and of course, The Throwing Fish Guys.

The Throwing Fish Guys are at  The Pike Place Fish Market and it is probably the best free entertainment on earth. If someone gave me a choice between a Justin Bieber concert or watching The Throwing Fish Guys I would go with The Throwing Fish Guys every time.

God Bless America
It was at Pike Place where I encountered a Typical Manis Issue or a TMI.  I called the town's only cab company for a ride back to the hotel.  I know, I know. There's a little thing called Uber now and I don't have to call a cab.  I've always been a little slow on new ideas like Uber and Donald Trump for President.

Me:  "I'd like a cab to come pick me up."
Cab:  "Where are you at?
Me:    " Pike Place Market"
Cab:  "Where's that?"

Pike Place Market is probably the busiest tourist area in Seattle besides The Space Needle. My life.

That was the only glitch in Seattle because we did eventually get a cab and the next day we started our cruise.

Next Time:  North To Alaska