North to Alaska
The 2016 Hillsdale College cruise of southwest Alaska aboard Crystal Serenity (27 July-3 August) provided an impressive visit to a spectacular state. Accompanying the fine dining and entertainment was a crew which could not have done more. Crystal Cruises seems to own all the highest ratings in the business, and it’s easy to see why. There’s no separate bar bill, and they’ll deliver up to two bottles a day to your stateroom. No one could drink this much! Tips are included, nobody duns you for handouts, and you’re not presented with a list of “estimated gratuities” on your last day aboard.
Crystal ships offer more than average public space. We had only 1000 passengers (much less than capacity), aboard an 820 foot, 69,000-ton ship), so it never felt congested. As they used to say at Brooklands racing circuit: “the right crowd and no crowding.” More passengers are usual, however. On 16 August Serenity set sail to Alaska again with 1700 customers on a 28-day cruise from Vancouver to New York via the Northwest Passage. She is the largest ship ever to navigate that course.
Aside from the attentive staff and perfect organization, there was nightly entertainment at four or five different venues. Bar room piano player Perry Grant kept us at the Avenue Saloon 9:30-12:30 every night, as he played, sang and interviewed guests. Perry has a touch: never too bawdy, always fun. He seems to know hundreds of tunes, hardly ever repeats one. For those of “a certain age,” it’s a memorable combination. We understand he has a small army of followers, who sign on wherever he goes. Here’s Perry’s version of “My Way.”
(We couldn’t get enough. This one’s for you, and you know who you are….)
The route began from Vancouver to Juneau, Alaska’s capital. There was a sea voyage the Hubbard Glacier, then to the Alaska towns of Hoonah, Skagway and Ketchikan. We reentered British Columbia via Nanaimo, and ended in Vancouver. Well organized excursions (extra cost) were available, but you could easily pass a day walking around a town, or just relaxing on the ship.
We aren’t cruise folk. Viking’s Danube River cruise, with 180 aboard, is more our style. We confess to hankering for a canal barge for twelve, a big ketch for six, or the Claymore II, supply ship for Pitcairn Island, which takes three days to float six passengers to the storied hideaway of Fletcher Christian and a handful of rebels after the Mutiny on the Bounty. That we enjoyed a “big” cruise speaks volumes of Crystal quality and Hillsdale’s organizing.
The College’s educational program is a great way to while away days at sea. Our speakers were an eclectic mix. Hillsdale President Larry Arnn always has worthwhile things to say to thoughtful people. Worrisome things these days, with so many uncertainties facing America and the world. Victor Davis Hanson spoke about Athens and Sparta, eloquently and well, not without parallels to modern problems. John Steele Gordon, the historian and columnist, spoke about his illuminating book on the Washington Monument and other obelisks.
Screenwriter Michael Walsh said movies don’t really start off to be liberal or conservative. If you want to write one of those, you’re on the wrong track. What matters—despite Hollywood’s reputation as a hotbed of wealthy lefties who can bear any tax burden levied on the rest of us—is the story line: “The Godfather could have been set a million years BC and would still have been a success because of the story line.”
Walsh incidentally wrote a great prequel/sequel to Casablanca called As Time Goes By, which all Casablanca fans should read. The prequel explains why Rick Blaine(who grew up in New York as Itzhak Baline) could not return to his home town. The sequel describes how Elsa, Victor, Louie, Sam and Rick helped to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, “the Butcher of Prague.” So now you know how that happened.
David Goldman was so riveting on the demographics of Islam and the Middle East that I bought his book. Prompted by a Turkish waiter, I also asked him about Turkey, which is worthy of a separate post.
For information on future Hillsdale cruises, click here.