How much does the US government spend when a US cruise ship enters another US port? Is the continual paranoia which has engulfed this country since 9/11 become so intense, so overblown that when a ship enters a port the Coast Guard is called out in a gun boat? Obviously the answer is a resounding YES, as you can see from the enclosed picture. When I stood on my balcony, cases packed and ready to go downstairs to finally get off this claustrophobic can, I was dumbfounded when a gun boat pulled up alongside us, with its machine guns manned and pointed directly at our starboard side. ‘ We are American citizens!!’ I shouted at the top of my lungs, whilst waving my white handkerchief. This was all received with much amusement from our neighbors in the room next door. The coast guard followed us for at least thirty minutes, moving back and forth alongside and then behind the ship. Why they did this, I would never find out, but it completed its task with one final swing past our room and then just vanished. It was as if the war had ended and our victory was confirmed. Perhaps this was standard procedure, perhaps not, but in any event, in my humble opinion, it was an unwarranted show of force and complete waste of tax payers money! I dislike guns at the best of times, but as you can see, this was a gun armed and probably ready to shoot in the event of trouble. The only trouble I could foresee was going to be getting 3000 overly fat people down a very long narrow gangway and onto dry land. The ropes were being tied and the ship was being prepared for just this purpose, when I received a call that it was time to descend that dreaded staircase one last time to deck 7, with bags in hand and hope in heart.
“Was that show of force all for me Erickson?” I asked in my usual sarcastic manner. He had no idea what I was talking about or perhaps he just didn’t want to discuss it, but when I asked him again, he really had no idea why we’d been followed and made a point of telling me he’d never seen such a boat on any of his previous cruises, either to Alaska or indeed any place else he’d traveled. Lying bastard!
Escorted down a further 2 flights of stairs, we found ourselves in the dining area of one of the ‘posh’ restaurants we hadn’t had the pleasure of frequenting. It was distinctly purple and drab. We sat. We sat some more. We watched, (our window seat had a bird’s eye view of proceedings),as 3000 people tried to exit the boat. It was a laborious process, but even more laborious was the small talk coming from Erickson. He wanted to get off the boat as much as we did, he had a trip planned with some of his colleagues and he kept a close eye out for the customs officer that was supposed to come on and interview us and the time on his watch, in order that as soon as she showed, he could GTF as quickly as possible.
His phone rang. “I need you to email your hotel and air reservation to my superior on the 7th deck” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“The company needs confirmation you are going to go home”
“Where else would I be going Erickson??” I was puzzled and confused as to why anyone would really care where I was going, but, with all the info on my iPhone and readily available, I pushed a few buttons and sent the schedule to whoever was demanding to see it. What I didn’t realize as I pushed the ‘send’ button, was that not only was my plane reservation for two days hence on that email but also that I had failed to delete the conversation with my business partner Lisa stating clearly and in black and white that I had made up an excuse just to get off the boat. There was NO emergency. “Fuck” I thought, ‘what if the customs officer reads that email?” I shit my pants. I could only imagine the conversation.
“Well Mr Z, we understand you have a family emergency?”
“Take a look at this email. Is this an email you sent? Does this email clearly state you think this cruise is a waste of your time, that it’s filled with fat ugly morons and that you think US law is a fraud?” This was just some of the terminology I’d used when, in desperation, I’d emailed Lisa to make all the arrangements that would get me out of this mess. And now, unwittingly, I’d passed them on to US customs. Shit!
Miss Rowntree walked into the room at that precise moment. She was representing US customs and Immigration. She was really pleasant, asking us if we had a hotel for the night in Juneau, or did we need assistance. She then asked us if we had any fresh fruit in our bags, and after answering no to both questions, she proceeded to place a little piece of green sticky tape on all our bags. That was it! We were free to go. I couldn’t believe it. She didn’t ask anything else, didn’t care what my email had read and more importantly, didn’t even explain to us the process of the Jones Act. It was Christmas, Hanukkah and my birthday, all rolled into one! Freedom!
We were escorted off the ship and driven to out hotel, about a 6 minute drive or 10 minute walk, as we later found out.
It was over.
On reflection, there are many things I would have done differently. The first of which was NEVER to have booked that damn cruise in the first place. We spent two brilliant days in Juneau, escorted by an incredible tour guide we’d found called Dennis. He took us where we wanted to go, when WE wanted to go. We weren’t tied in to eating with undesirables, WE were the undesirables! This was the vacation I had imagined. I saw eagles, bears, salmon, glaciers and waterfalls. We ate good fresh food, and slept in peace without 3000 people annoying the crap out of us every minute of every day. I now knew how I would come back to Alaska next time and how to tour it the correct way. I now knew that Alaska was indeed somewhere I wanted to return, and finally, I definitely knew that I was the lucky one, because these other 3000 poor bastards were stuck on that boat another 5 days, and that was something I could never have done.
I filled out the survey from NCL, you know, the one you get in your email from every company you speak to nowadays. When I filled it in, I asked for someone from NCL to call me so that I could explain to them in person my misgivings and thoughts on how they as a company could improve the whole experience. As of today, I have not hear a peep, nor do I expect to. And so, my sea sickness pills still sit unopened in my drawer. My fears of puking up all across Alaska never materialized, but now I have the experience to tell all of my friends that unless you are a complete lazy bastard who likes to eat all day, and sit around while the world passes you by at the speed of impudence, then stay off the boats and stick to dry land. Alaska had me hooked from the moment my feet got off that boat, and I can almost guarantee it will do the same for you.