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Lessons Learned From An Alaskan Cruise


If you’ve never been to Alaska, you really should add it to your Bucket List. No, I couldn’t see Russia… even with binoculars. But, after being out of the travel loop for the better part of this decade, it was an awakening experience on many levels: air travel, airport security, cruise travel, Internet connectivity, national vs. local politics, tourist economics, American industry, and the world from the vantage point of a couple of upcoming fourth graders.


We began our voyage in Seattle after a day-long flight across the country from Charleston on American Airlines. I’ll think twice before ever flying with American again. What used to be one of the country’s best airlines is now one of its worst. Grumpy employees, lousy service, no complimentary food or snacks of any kind (even on a four hour flight), and $8 for a blanket (more like a tiny bed sheet) and pillow to endure a flight in a cabin which wasn’t much warmer than the inside of your refrigerator. Did we mention their checked baggage fees are tied for the highest in the industry. That’s the only honor that American rightly deserves IMHO.

Hadn’t been back to Seattle since high school days at Queen Anne over 40 years ago. What once was a thriving downtown high school with 2,800 of the city’s brightest kids is now a condominium. All the yuppies and elderly have taken over the downtown neighborhoods including Queen Anne Hill, and there are no kids at least of high school age to be found. Thanks to Microsoft, home prices were stratospheric. Against my better judgment, we stayed at the Sheraton Seattle downtown. I’ve always ranked Sheraton hotels just below Days Inn and Econolodge in the scheme of things. That’s changed. And for the better! The Sheraton Seattle was a first-class hotel with beautiful rooms, a vibrant lobby featuring free Wi-Fi with free Microsoft Surface devices everywhere, and loads of convention business. Still had to pay $10 a day for in-room Internet service, but that appears to be under review.


While there is a choice of cruise ships to Alaska, we picked Holland America’s 1300-passenger Rotterdam. One of the competitors sails out of Charleston during the winter and had three abrupt mid-week returns this winter due to alarming rates of illness. We chose to avoid that one. The good news with the Rotterdam: no reported illnesses on board, impeccable service, spacious suites and balconies, incredible food, great entertainment and a casino, numerous bars (also loaded with Microsoft Surface devices), and never a line waiting for anything. The only minuses would be nickel-and-diming for soft drinks (to the tune of $2.50 each) and industry-standard price gouging for Internet service ($100 for 4 hours of 3G-speed satellite service). Holland America actually is owned by Carnival Corporation, the same company that operates Carnival, Princess, Seabourn, and Cunard Cruise Lines among others.

The silver lining to the cruise was the newly-implemented direct airport transfer program coupled with two flights on Continental, an airline that was everything American wasn’t. Free meals, free snacks, and $6 to use a new 95-channel DirecTV system featuring first-run movies, your favorite TV shows, and free headphones (to keep). With Holland America’s pricey direct transfer program your bags are delivered to your final destination from your cabin on the ship, and Holland America delivers you to your gate via an off-site TSA check-in which is being pilot-tested at SeaTac airport this summer. Talk about a quantum improvement in customer service, this pilot TSA program was one of the highlights of our trip.


And then there’s Alaska. If you’ve never been to Juneau, the state capital, let’s just say it was an eye-opener. My dad grew up in Jonesboro, Georgia, a little town outside of Atlanta. Juneau looks to be about the same size downtown… except Atlanta isn’t next door. In fact, nothing is next door… except Russia (according to Alaska’s former governor). Did we mention there are only two ways to get to Juneau: by plane or by boat. No roads in or out! Just Main Street U.S.A. AT&T had Edge service in town with a download speed that rivaled 1200 baud modems. Pretty bad when you retreat to your ship to read your email via satellite dish. Does this not tell you something about the state capital of Alaska? And the principal industries: cruise ships and state government.

Suffice it to say that, unless you’ve been living in a cave with Osama, chances are you have grown beyond Juneau in almost any category of comparison. A shuttle bus parked close to the cruise ships advertised inexpensive transportation to Costco and WalMart. We skipped that adventure. Can’t help wondering why anyone would set their political compass based upon the "leadership skills" of someone governing (and abruptly quitting the job) in a place as isolated and uninhabited as the great state of Alaska. Think Afghanistan if you need a point of reference. That’s not to say we didn’t have a terrific time in Juneau. Keep reading. We should also mention there was (only) one bar in the city, the infamous Red Dog Saloon. As you would expect, it was loaded with tourists, overpriced beer, and the mandatory t-shirt store next door with bar memorabilia. And, yes, there’s a good reason why they don’t display the prices of the t-shirts. 🙂

ChopperThere was a treat in Juneau, however. Wedged between two glaciers is an isolated dog sled camp that is only accessible by helicopter. They actually train many of the dogs for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race here. The helicopter tour and actually sledding with these dogs was the highlight of the trip and something you wouldn’t want to miss… despite the tour cost (slightly north of $500 per person).

Finally, we should mention that we chose to make this 10-day trip with nothing other than a 3G iPad in tow. Airport security was a breeze since TSA doesn’t treat an iPad as a computer with the associated knuckle drill. You can leave it in your carry-on bag. And, I’m delighted to report that the iPad met all of our technology needs including email, Twitter, photography support, remote access to our servers, and standard web access to manage a couple dozen of our web sites. Great news for travelers!

We’ll return to our local programming as soon as we get our clocks recalibrated to East Coast time.

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  1. Welcome back.

    How was your VOIP access on the iPad out and about?

    [WM: Where there was WiFi access, VoIP connectivity with the iPad through our PIAF server in Charleston was fine. But there’s no 3G service to be found in Juneau, Sitka, or Ketchikan. And AT&T’s Edge "service" was next to worthless.]

  2. Where else in Alaska did you go? It’s not really fair to judge the state by Juneau alone.

    There have been many efforts over the years to move the state capital from Juneau to somewhere on the highway system, but these efforts have gone nowhere largely because it would kill Juneau.

    When Palin was governor, she got a lot of flack within the state for conducting much of the state’s business from Anchorage, including holding legislative sessions there, and not requiring some of her government officials to move to Juneau, as previous governors had done.

    Though no Palin fan myself, I do think you do her and all Alaska governors a disservice with your comment about the ‘ “leadership skills” of someone governing … in a place as isolated and uninhabited as the great state of Alaska." That isolation doesn’t mean that the governorship doesn’t require leadership skills. Most people don’t think of the difficulties that arise in such a state. Scattered population in small bush villages that are inaccessible by road are just as much the responsibility of the governor as the population in the major cities. Overseeing such things as Medicaid is different in a state where the state must not only cover costs of medical care itself, but also transportation and lodging costs, and to even get to a doctor, a patient may spend a whole day (or two) traveling, having to take a snow machine, bush plane, and airliner. The education needs of a small one room schoolhouses in the middle of nowhere must be met just as much as the 100-school district in Anchorage.

    But as for the quitting early thing, I’m with you there.

    [WM: We visited Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan. It looked like all of them would be dead without cruise ships. At least until the cruise ships appeared, statehood appears to have all but killed Ketchikan’s major source of income: prostitution. As for leadership skills, you’re certainly correct. There is plenty to manage in a place like Alaska. But those problems have very little to do with most of the major issues confronting our country. Palin’s divisive comments aside, I’m glad we at least agree that managers who quit when the going gets tough have no place in state government much less national politics. Just my $.02, of course.]

  3. How the hell does politics have anything to do with this blog. Those comments have turned me away from your website and PBXiaF forever. This is not the time or place for your useless, pointless personal feelings on politics you liberal communist but what should we expect from a career state worker. Wait until I get this all over the asterisk community and how you are using your loyal asterisk followers to push a stupid political agenda. You seem to be slipping in your old age and I think you need to start thinking before posting.

    WM: Nice!

  4. I have to agree

    WM: When we receive comments with fake email addresses or spam-catcher email addresses that make it impossible for us to verify that the poster is, in fact, legitimate, we ordinarily toss the comments in the bit bucket. But we thought it might be helpful to reiterate our policy in light of a couple of diatribes which have not been posted, not because of their content, but because of our inability to verify their authenticity. If you want to post anonymously, this isn’t the proper forum for you. And feel free to exercise your Constitutional right to cancel your subscription at any time. 😉

  5. OK, so, spill the beans.

    How did it feel to pay $100 in order to test the Incredible PBX on the Cruise Ship internet? Huh? Huh?

    You know you want to tell us! 🙂

    Hope you had a great time. I plan to make the trip myself one day … I hope.

    [WM: The $100 was well spent. It kept email from piling up and let us manage our sites using SSH with ease. Unfortunately, VoIP phone access wasn’t really possible because of the poor bandwidth and latency.]

  6. Since my last comment was CENSORED, here’s a rewrite of what I said to Mr. Mundy that made him so defensive:

    Try this one on for size! Mike is right, I come to your site for information about PBXs, not some egotistical spew about politics!

    What the heck do you have to complain about? Most people go to Alaska to get away from it all, and you’re groaning about how bad your internet connect is!?! Did you ever think of the people who put up good money and worked hard (and maybe even risked their lives!) to satisfy complainers like you, for very little profit? How long ago was it that your ancestors were crossing the country in a wagon? And you’re complaining about a four-hour airplane ride with no snacks? You should be ashamed of yourself!

    An how about self-sufficiency? Most people who live in Alaska do not need technology to survive. I bet if all your electronic devices were taken away from you, you’d be a nervous wreck in a few hours.


    Of course, this message will disappear before long, just like my first message. But I promise you, it will be back. And when it disappears again, it will be back again. And when comments get disabled, I’ll take to the blogs, maybe even start my own anti-NV blog. Censorship is awesome, isn’t it?

    [WM: Aren’t fans wonderful. Someday Jason will grow up and have young children of his own. Then he’ll better appreciate that four-hour airplane rides with no snacks aren’t the best of ideas. And, no, we didn’t starve or freeze to death. Jason also will be thrilled to learn that everyone’s iPads worked just fine so nobody got the shakes from tech deprivation. 🙄 ]

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