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SempreMare

Finding Zen in Alaska on the Westerdam

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This is not exactly a day by day trip report… It’s really more about feelings about my first cruise with HAL, and a note of appreciation to everyone who helped me plan my Alaska cruise on the Westerdam last month, especially @CrewNews for maintaining such an excellent site http://www.rogerjett-photography.com/  of useful HAL content.    

 

Your feedback and trip reviews made planning faster and more fun. A key benefit of thorough planning - I could quickly divert from Plan A to Plan B when things changed and 
-    Not waste any minutes evaluating what to do now
-    Not get out of my ‘Zen’ mood.  I just trusted the plan.  i.e., I tried to not re-analyze, “OK, why did I think this place would be interesting?” from my notes made when researching in a spare 5 minutes 6 months earlier.

 

Pics below are only cell phone pics, not my real camera pics, but I wanted to post this before my next work trip across the pond.

 

Two enduring memories of the cruise:

 

-    An overall feeling of happiness and peacefulness that began on the day after embarkation.  Sights like this were just icing on the cake.

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-    The minutes evaporated so quickly.  Physics principles of time seem  different on cruises.

 

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Of course things went wrong, starting with an aggressive homeless man on night #1 after dinner in Anchorage…  Was very glad I keep a “pen" in the external back compartment of my purse.  Thankfully I didn’t need to use it as a kubotan.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01M6CW8DG/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

 

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Placeholder:  I’ll post a separate topic at some point; “Challenges Overcome”.  Once the cruise started, the challenges just didn’t seem to matter. 

The Westerdam’s inner passage cruise from Seward to Anchorage was my first cruise in eons, first on HAL, and first solo vacation ever.  

 

Even with the planning, a lot went differently than I expected when actually in-the-moment, on the cruise, in terms of what I enjoyed and wanted to do or didn’t want to do.  


One example:  
I got into such a zen state that, even though I had thoroughly researched what and where to eat and even what I’d order, for some reason I lost interest in eating and skipped the majority of dinners.

 

This had nothing to do with the quality of the food which I felt was overall good to very good.  Ex:  The first sea day’s singles and solos MDR lunch:  My entree was a moist and flavorful salmon over warm cabbage slaw entrée.  It was perfectly cooked in a way I rarely see salmon cooked - not with a crust like I typically make at home, but more... poached in a yummy broth.  The cabbage slaw had delicious flavor with seasonings unlike most any I’ve had with ‘cabbage slaw’.

 

My rationale in not going to dinners became, in the moment,  “Yes, I could go eat dinner but then I’d miss the sail out and the sail in was so beautiful…”  

 

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I would then go quickly to the Neptune Lounge.  Get several hor-d’oeuvres. 

 

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 Return to my balcony for a while and then check out the sights from the other side of the ship.

 

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I kept canceling or rescheduling my booked specialty dinners till the only one I finally made myself actually use was a complimentary Pinnacle Grill dinner rescheduled to the last seating the night before disembarkation.  Then, magically, during the 1 minute check-in line,  I talked with a wonderful couple whom I had met earlier on the cruise and we spontaneously shared an excellent dinner together and are still in contact.

 

And I was drowning in un-drunk alcohol ;)!   I swear that I really do enjoy wines, liquors, and interesting mixed drinks.   Yet, the alcohol remaining unconsumed or unopened as of Wednesday included:  
 -  The complimentary welcome bottle of Champagne in the suite,  2/3 full.
-  The gift bottle of Syrah from my Travel Advisor.  
-  My own bottle of Chardonnay I bought on board from Seward’s Safeway grocery store.   
- An apology bottle of Champagne from the dining room manager**.  

 

I thought OK tonight I’ll bring the apology bottle of champagne to my MDR dinner and share it with the table whose guests I totally enjoyed during the one MDR dinner meal I attended.  But then, I decided to setup the DJI cam to film the coast again, and check out one of the shows while the camera was filming, and… and… suddenly it was 10pm.

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Oh, and on Day 4 I realized I still had $70 of $100 my beverage gift card to use, yet I was completely out of the sparkling lemon lime water and fruit juice that I brought on board.  Time to drink!    Totally enjoyed the Admiral’s Choice recommendation from the topic about Gin drinks on HAL.    I went downstairs to that bar that was still open late and ordered one.

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Things I loved, big and small: 

I loved being on the balcony (Neptune Suite) and watching the landscape change minute by minute as we sailed into and out of ports in Alaska.  The extra long Alaskan daylight and gorgeous weather showcased such beautiful images.  

 

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That hill in the Tongass Narrows while leaving Ketchikan looked magically lit up.  Watched it with my binoculars till I couldn’t see it anymore.  So much for Friday night dinner…

 

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I loved the Westerdam. 
First impression from outside:  Wow.  Handsome ship.  No garish paint job.
Second impression:  Wow.  That’s a lot of steel.  I hope it floats.  @CrewNews would have told us if it didn’t float.  


I loved that there weren’t bumper car races or a million kids.  It just seemed so… serene like a “proper” cruise should should be with lots of teak and a real promenade deck for walking around the entire ship.

 

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I loved looking at towns like Haines and Ketchikan nestled against the hills. Wondered what it would be like to live in those towns year round or even just in summer.  

 

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I also loved taking it all in from my in-room desk that faced out the window.  I could still keep an eye on the gorgeous scenery changing while doing other things (writing a friend, figuring out my camera mounting accessories, enjoying room service breakfast etc.) 

 

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My favorite day was probably Glacier Bay day because that was when I realized how happy I felt.   It was a dream day:  sunny blue skies, beautiful sights for 12+ hours, no real time-table to be on.

Though here was the official timetable:

 

u3vXMjQ.png

 

Enjoyed the crew and really enjoyed 3 of the travelers I met, 2 of whom have kept in touch.

 

Enjoyed every single excursion and the variety between them, everything from the train ride into the Yukon from Haines / Skagway to the small 6-person Harv & Marv boat in Juneau to the Exit Glacier hike in Seward.  

 

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Saw a family of whales including the most adorable baby whale trying to do everything its 65 yr old mom and dad were doing, sea otters, seals, etc., on the Harv & Marv Juneau excursion.   On the Phillips 26 Glacier cruise from Whittier before the cruise, saw dozens of glaciers and amazing nature and wildlife.  I would be totally happy doing these same excursions again.

 

Narration on many of the excursions was 10 star excellent.  I was impressed at how much energy the speaker put into it and the relevant interesting detail.  Ex:  The person with the microphone on the Haines to Skagway fast ferry ride explained everything we were seeing, and with some humor.  I wished I had taped him.  This was just a transfer.  He could have ‘phoned it in.’  He did not.  I tipped him.

 

Loved the town of Seward.  Such an awesome feel to it.

 

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Loved shopping in Ketchikan. Rain Barrel.

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Enjoyed the 10:00am pea soup service on Glacier Bay day. 

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Loved the pre-cruise “critical situation" that occurred on board the Phillips 26 Glacier cruise from Whittier.  Somehow the other Phillips ship had received both ships' rations of frozen chocolate chip cookie dough.  The captain stated they did not want to deprive us of the afternoon freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, so there would be a boat to boat transfer.  Of course I immediately started thinking about the risks of 2 big boats being that close together in a place where they are normally never that close together (RIGHT IN FRONT OF A GLACIER no less), what if the glacier calves at the wrong moment, collision, survival minutes in water this cold.  (Like those insurance commercials that show someone’s visualization of disaster situations unfolding ;-).  So…  maybe we don’t need the cookies? 
 

In any event, right in front of one of the glaciers, the Surprise Glacier maybe?,  the Bravest (name of ship who absconded with our cookies) transferred to my ship our frozen chocolate chip cookie dough in a BIG box from a BIG fishing net  to another fishing net transfer.    Hand off person on the Bravest warned, “It’s heavier than it looks.”  Indeed.  Not sure the receiver was strong enough to be handling the receiving fishing net, because the whole box dipped downnnnn into the glacier water for a couple seconds right after the transfer. I thought we were all about to witness man overboard. They really needed 2 people on the stick end of the fishing net - one in the middle and one towards the back.  Despite the brief dunking, warm cookies were delicious.

 

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I loved going to an evening Mass.  The room was almost full!  This was my first mass alone.  Loss is hard...  But overall the mass was good for my soul.  I have never been to a mass with playing cards on the ceiling like this before  .


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Loved the shower mat.   Standing on it felt like a foot massage.   Most shower mats are ick.  This one provided traction like it’s supposed to do, but most of all, felt GREAT to stand on.  

 

LOVED complimentary laundry.  Even my most delicate scarf was beautifully done.
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Nifty interior of the closet across from the makeup area.  Those things in the back are drop down shelves.  Do other HAL ships have these?   Being able chango-presto from dress space to folded clothes space is SO clever.  

 

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< placeholder for One other thing I really liked.  Needs its own different topic. 


Appreciated how itinerary building in Google Docs made trip execution effortless. I added 1 doc per event, per excursion, or important thing to remember to do at a specific time of day.  
Titled each doc as: < yyyy mm dd tttt - Event Name>   
This resulted in a self-sorting itinerary beginning to end of trip, easily searchable on my phone.  SO happy I did this.  
Made it easy to build the itinerary in the months leading up to the trip when I just had 10 min every so often.

 

 

** The Apology bottle of Champagne from the Dining Room Manager was for being served Kiwi on my room service breakfast fruit plate.   
Yes:  The night before I had written on the room service breakfast card “kiwi allergy”, circled it next to the fruit plate selection. 
Yes:   I had submitted in advance the medical form about my Kiwi allergy.  Despite doing those 2 things, the kitchen staff put Kiwi on my room service breakfast fruit plate.

 

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My zen mood prevented me from being upset about anything.  I called Room Service simply to ask,

“Would it be OK to eat just the sliced banana in the separate dessert glass with Saran Wrap over it?  Because… given that I have anaphylaxis reactions to Kiwi which IS on the plate, I need to know if the banana and kiwi were cut with the same knife? "

 

Within 5 minutes, a very concerned dining room manager and 2 HAL crew were in my room….  Dining room manager gave me a new fruit plate, 2 HUGE bananas, and OMG more alcohol.  Another bottle of Champagne.

 

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In my zen state I simply told the apologetic dining room manager something like, “It’s really not a big deal.  If I die, I've had a great cruise.”  
 

Edited by SempreMare

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HI SempreMare,

Wonderful photos, so happy you had a great cruise.  We are all so lucky to be alive and experience such beauty.  When you are in that state, you are correct, you get the big picture and can just relax and enjoy.  Things that might bother other people just roll off, it is no big deal in the big picture.  Life is good.

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Lovely photos and I enjoyed your commentary. So glad you enjoyed your cruise. 

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Indeed, Alaska should be a zen experience and it should be experienced more than one time. 

 

What a nice review!  Please pass on to others what you have learned so they too can have their own zen moment in Alaska.

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Fantastic review and stunning photos.  We’ve cruised to Alaska several times and loved it.  

 

Crew News, in my opinion, is an Ambassador to Alaska with all the info he provides! 

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Thanks for your excellent post, love your attitude, photos, and your take on the cruise! So refreshing to see such positivity and joy, with so much negativity, complaining, and whining from so many here. Wish more people would still have that sense of wonder and thankfulness.

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It was wonderful to read your post and see you got to experience Alaska as you did. Yes, you are bombarded with spectacular beauty, but being able to let it reach past your eyes to your soul is so fulfilling. Your "zen" was the perfect description. I'm ready to go back (and I was just there in May). 

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Just looking at the pictures, since we were last on the Westerdam, it appears that the appetizers in the evening have improved greatly.  We could make a meal out of them.

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts and photos!! We did the 3 week cruise on the Maasdam. Even though it was our 5th Alaskan cruise, we didn't eat in the MDR once. The scenery on this cruise was so spectacular, we couldn't make ourselves stay inside. 🤗

 

Cheers, Denise 

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Can completely relate to missing dinner.  We were on the Maasdam June/July this year.  We spent the evenings in the Crow's Nest from Happy Hour/Sail Away until the light faded which is really late that time of year.  Sometimes dinner was just the hor-d’oeuvres at Happy Hour.  Just could not tear ourselves away from the views.  

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Thoughts on positivity vs negativity here on the forum:  I actually feel that the critiques of HAL and big and small help create a better experience for me: 

 

- It set my expectations.

- It helped me select better excursions.  Ex:  @Oakman58's review of his Westerdam Alaska tour mentioned Hal's Juneau whale watching excursion I was booked on was too crowded.  So I switched to Harv & Marv's 6-person boat and loved it. 

- Some people who complain here probably also added write in survey comments for HAL or write to HAL.  If HAL responds, and my perception from the crew is that they do, this creates a better experience for everyone.

-  If a HAL team member with a "voice of the customer" role is actually assigned to read the forums and decide whether or not to take action on specific operational issues reflected here, then critique here directly helps too.

 

ps:  Ingredients in the refreshing gin drink I had. 
bGAfuN7t7Kxd2f2OOA7OtSHOT3ORBeayaO_9oINVN9VfAxucHFZfoNHU6Y4cSTrgXuckY24L3td_4JfmBPAMgLkDFb5Ap2pqdfO0_cQ7y_AVRBPsKzntretWte9Azwpppz3KG4XN

Squinting at my pic above... the greenery looks more like mint than basil.

 

When I read that thread on Gin drinks on HAL, I pasted into a Google Doc screen shots of a couple of these to to try on sail away day.   (When actually on sail away day, I only tried the Wang Wang.   Enjoyed it!   Reminded me of Picasso Punches in Orlando's and Miami's Cafe Tu Tu Tango.) 

 

However, when I remembered I needed to start seriously using my $100 Beverage Card late Wed evening, I went to that bar still open on the 2'nd or 3'rd floor.  Glad I took my phone with the screen shot from the menu on @Crew News site, because that drink was not explicitly on that bar's menu.  The bartender seemed vaguely familiar with it but needed a reminder of what was supposed to go into it.   The St. Germain is key!  :-)

 

Edited by SempreMare

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I loved your trip report and thanks for posting all those wonderful photos.  Skipping meals because of the spectacular views is completely understandable.  So much to see, so little time.


Yes, I too think HAL still provides a proper and elegant cruise.  I just returned from an Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Breakaway and I've come to realize it's time to give up on NCL.


Your comment about the playing cards on the ceiling where Mass was held made me LOL.  Too funny.


I'm glad you posted the picture of the drop down shelves in the closet.  That is a great tip.  You could have as many or as few shelves as needed.


Your attitude about the Kiwi incident is amazing.  Zen or not, I would have been ticked off.

 

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Reading the OP's post gave me a very warm feeling :).  The OP sounds like a lovely person (hope to meet her on a future cruise) who seems perfectly suited for HAL.  

 

Hank

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4 hours ago, Oakman58 said:

Skipping meals because of the spectacular views is completely understandable.  

 

Thanks @Oakman58!    Even the non-traditional scenery was interesting - like this strange boat that looked like it had tiny houses on it.

image.png.ecb138c137ea2fae708cf53228fdeb3d.png

 

taken in the Queen Charlotte Strait at 5:15pm after departing Juneau

image.png.67a8d1dc14c75d0735c18d4c1fec90b9.png

 

4 hours ago, Oakman58 said:

Your comment about the playing cards on the ceiling where Mass was held made me LOL.  Too funny.

 

I had to suppress an immediate urge to laugh right after I sat down and looked up!   It was in that quiet moment right before the priest walked in. Therefore,  I did NOT want to make any noise at all, so I just tried to clear my throat to camouflage any laugh.  Not to mention my jr. high instructor, Sister Rose, would not have approved had I been the one to laugh ;).

 

4 hours ago, Oakman58 said:

I'm glad you posted the picture of the drop down shelves in the closet.  That is a great tip.  You could have as many or as few shelves as needed.

 

Definitely! 

 

If I had seen them earlier, I would have had unpacked everything to those shelves instead of to the drawers in the stateroom.  Would have made things neater.

 

I wish I had taken a picture of the hinge part.   If I move, I would build that into my closets. 

 

It was not trivial to realize out how to put them down.  Don't remember what exactly I did, but it took at a minute before I got one to flip down.

 

After I noticed these, I gave my room attendant grief for not sharing all the cool room secrets with me ;).  [ He had asked me when we first met if I wanted a room tour.  I declined because I know from reading here how busy they are on embarkation day, and I'd already read up on what was there.  Note to self:  Don't decline the room tour!  ;-]

 

A couple more random pics: 

 

At 4:10am embarkation morning, I woke up to go to the bathroom, looked out my cabin window where I was staying on Lowell Point, and saw THIS:   the Westerdam sailing in!   (right?)

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Yayyy my ship was coming in!!  I was so happy and relieved to see it had made it! 

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But by the 1 minute it took me to return, it had completely vanished, darn it.  

 

 

I LOVED the complimentary shoe shines.    On Day 1, my shoes looked liked I had walked through the Dust Bowl like in the Ken Burns documentary Dust Bowl.

 

Safe, Umbrellas, Laundry bag, Shoe basket.

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re: Kiwi

4 hours ago, Oakman58 said:

  Zen or not, I would have been ticked off.

 

Yea...  I did take a deep breath and sigh, because I was really hungry and in a hurry as well.

More importantly, an upset response would have helped others with allergies more than the one I had.

 

My usual MO in that situation, a big screw up that affects me, is to go into interrogation mode.

If they can answer my questions, they will realize what went wrong, what they need to do to fix it, and how to operationalize the fix.  It makes the answer-er very uncomfortable to try to answer these questions.  It forces them to go "off script" from just an apology.

 

Also:  I believe it's better to ask for something tangible that will

a) show up as an expense line item on the company's balance sheet  

b) create a non-trivial 'time expense' on someone in the company instead of simply accepting a verbal apology.

ex:  what I told the guy who shipped my under-sink reverse osmosis unit missing a part (then requiring 2 visits from my plumber): 

 "I appreciate your apology.  But something tangible that shows you really want to make this right would represent a meaningful apology."  

 

But on the cruise, the dining room manager was so adorable and  sincerely apologetic I couldn't make myself get out of Zen mode and into Interrogation mode.    When he gave me the surprise bottle of champagne,  I couldn't help but try to be appreciative even though when he left I thought  [ oh my god - more alcohol ].

 

On the good, it only happened once, and,  EVERY time I had room service breakfast after that,  the follow up phone call would include,  "... and there was no kiwi on your plate?"   

"Nope, I'm still alive !" :-)

 

===   Another thing I loved that was surprising: 

I experienced zero wait times for just about everything.   The longest time I remember waiting for anything was in the Lido there was a 6 person line during the salmon 3-ways night.   

(Enjoyed the Tandoori salmon.) 

 

Embarkation day  morning pics at 11:00am

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At 11:22am , here's the checkin team huddle.

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Even when I walked back out to drive back to Hertz at noon to turn in my rental car and return with the lemon lime sparkling water and pomegranate juice in my roller board, there was barely any line.

 

I remember looking back and thinking, "I hope I'm not the only one on this ship!" 

This was at 12:54pm !    I thought the train schedule would have created a line.image.png.255011df9febf117413a0aaf6b42d6b6.png

 

There was no Mariner's Luncheon on my embarkation day, so I checked out the Lido.  At least there were a reassuring # of people there ;-).

 

Edited by SempreMare

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13 hours ago, SempreMare said:

...

ps:  Ingredients in the refreshing gin drink I had. 
bGAfuN7t7Kxd2f2OOA7OtSHOT3ORBeayaO_9oINVN9VfAxucHFZfoNHU6Y4cSTrgXuckY24L3td_4JfmBPAMgLkDFb5Ap2pqdfO0_cQ7y_AVRBPsKzntretWte9Azwpppz3KG4XN

Squinting at my pic above... the greenery looks more like mint than basil.

 

When I read that thread on Gin drinks on HAL, I pasted into a Google Doc screen shots of a couple of these to to try on sail away day. 

...

Thanks for your review!  I was not able to find a thread on Gin drinks that mentions that cocktail.  Would you please share the url?  Also, where is the snapshot above from?  It looks like a HAL drink menu - was it a menu you found on board?

 

Oh, and I'm sorry to hear about that kiwi mistake.  Based on limited experience, I'll say that I'm not surprised that your specifications were not followed.

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1 hour ago, SetAnOpenCourse said:

Also, where is the snapshot above from?  It looks like a HAL drink menu - was it a menu you found on board?

 

Screenshot is from the menu's on @Crew News website page with alllll the beverage menus.

image.png.f65957c2c6d07108ee7aa03d5efc1434.png

 

 

Here's are the ones that looked good that I saved into Goog Docs. 

I also had that 0010 Martini.  Excellent.

image.png.fb55bdb0b97c22fbdd855c9db347ee00.png

 

 

The Gin thread from May: 

 

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What a beautiful trip report, SempreMare!  It looks like you had a wonderful cruise.  We did the Phillips 26-glacier tour and it was so much fun.  Glad you didn't miss out on the yummy cookies!

 

Westerdam is such a beautiful ship.  Thank you for sharing your adventure.

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