My Solo 7-Day Alaska Cruise: How and Why

IMG_0075Over the past year, I have transitioned from being a full time college professor to being a freelance voice teacher, singer, and travel advisor with Travelex International. Summer is a scary time for an educator since income is reduced, but I’ve become pretty good at saving thanks to my budgeting app that I mention later. While I might be a bit crazy to book an Alaska cruise with a somewhat uncertain future, I knew that everything would work out (without going into debt)!

I usually cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line because they have studio cabins, which are intended for solo travelers. In case you didn’t know, solo travelers usually have to pay for 2 people, and that’s really annoying! NCL’s studio cabins are great. They are 100 square feet, but they’re so well designed that it’s comfortable enough. Even if they were not so well designed, I have no interest in spending time in my cabin, except to sleep and shower!

ncl_Bliss_Studio.jpeg
NCL Bliss Studio

One of my favorite features about the studio cabins on NCL Bliss is the “virtual balcony”. It might sound cheesy, but it is a the screen to the right of the bed, and it shows you what is happening on the outside of the ship. The regular interior cabins don’t have that, so this is a nice little perk. You can also always turn the television (to the left of the bed) to “a view from the bridge” which shows what the captain sees in front of the ship. Another fun feature of staying in a studio is the Studio Lounge, which is sort of a living room and gathering place for solo travelers.

The Studio Lounge on Norwegian Bliss
NCL Bliss Studio Lounge

The “studio host” will have daily meeting at around 5:00 to organize activities, dinners, etc for those who want do things with other people. I have made some really fun friends this way, and I am still in touch with them. My FAVORITE thing in the Studio Lounge is the coffee machine. It is an automatic espresso machine that grinds fresh beans and brews espressos, lattes, and cappuccinos for free. This may not sound like a big deal, but if you want espresso elsewhere on the ship, you have to pay for it. This machine made my mornings so much better!

In searching for an Alaska cruise, I considered NCL Joy, Bliss, and Jewel. Jewel was actually the least expensive cruise, but it was a one-way cruise. While that is actually appealing, it complicates getting flights. If the cruise leaves from Seward, AK, you fly to Anchorage and make your way to Seward, which is over 2 hours away. That is fine, but it would be best to have one or two days to enjoy the area before the cruise. I didn’t have that option on this trip. Then you disembark in Victoria, B.C. and have to fly home from there. I decided that round trip from Seattle was a better option for me.google map anchorage seward

That left me to choose between Bliss & Joy. I sailed on Bliss in May of 2018 and had an amazing experience. I also got to know a lot of the staff and wanted to see some familiar faces. Joy was originally designed for the Asian market but was reworked for US sailings. While it would have been fun to sail on a different ship, I chose Bliss.

I use YNAB (You Need A Budget), which really has changed my financial life. It is a budgeting app that works a bit differently. You place money into categories as you make it, so every dollar has a job. Travel is a priority, so this has allowed me to make it a priority while paying my other bills!

That is the How & Why of my Alaska cruise. I will soon publish a post about the actual cruise, which was wonderful!

Belated Post from June 26/27

I began my final morning feeling pretty well rested, and the sun was shining beautifully, so I decided to go out for one last stroll. There was an area that I had passed on the tram several times but had not explored, so I decided to take the 18 min ride there. I walked around for about 45 min, took some photos, and took the tram back to the hotel.

Amazing Breakfast!!!

Bloemenmarkt (I assume this translates to “flower market”

I did not eat any of these baked goods. They were just so pretty

Just Amsterdam Amsterdaming

Fortunately, check-out was noon, so I just relaxed until about 11:45. I took the public transportation to the airport, which was super easy. The walk to the train station was 7 minutes, I bought a ticket, and then I was on the very comfy train. The ride was only about 10 minutes. I got to the proper terminal and through security easily, and I found my airport lounge, where I hung out for about 4 hours. I’m thinking ahead to my coming week, so I thought it best to just rest. They had a lovely lunch buffet with salads, pumpkin soup, and a couscous dish. I found a seat, had my lunch, did some things online, and took a short nap.

My new hobby is airport lounges. They’re all different, and this one was quite fancy.

I got to the gate for my KLM flight and asked if I could use the priority boarding lane since I’m always in Zone 1 with Delta. I wouldn’t care about that, but I was thinking of overhead space for my bag since I would need to get off the plane as quickly as possible. I was preparing for getting to the theatre to see Audra McDonald in “Lady Day.” The flight was delayed a few minutes. That wasn’t so bad, but then we taxied for what seemed like 30 minutes. I thought we were driving to London! Finally we took off. The flight was very brief, but they served a beverage, and sandwich, and a cookie faster than I’ve ever seen. As we were flying over England, we seemed to really slow down, and we had to circle London a bit before landing. That delayed us even more. I got off the plane very quickly, walked past everyone, and ran to border patrol. I couldn’t believe the line. It appeared that an entire Asian country had just arrived in London. I asked if there was any way to get through more quickly, and I was told that I could apply for a frequent traveler thing with the UK. I’ll think about that. I wonder if they would have helped me if I had explained my situation?? Oh well, the line moved constantly, and I was through it in a reasonable amount of time. I then started running again to Heathrow Express, which is supposed to get you to Paddington Station in central London in 15 minutes. I forgot that if you were at terminal 4, where I arrived, you had to take another train before you can get on the Heathrow Express. There was a 15 min wait for that train. It finally came and got me to the Heathrow Express that was departing at 7:03. The show was at 7:45, and I almost didn’t even get on the train since I also had to take a 20 min tube ride to Leicester Square and then walk to the theatre. I got on anyway, and we got to London at around 7:20 or later. I ran like a crazy person through Paddington Station and don’t even remember seeing the station. I had my Oyster Card (London’s subway card) in my hand and tried to enter, but didn’t have enough credit for the ride. There was a free machine, so I went to reload. My first three attempts at using my credit card didn’t work, but I finally got it to work, ran down the escalators, made it to the platform, and the train came right away. It moved pretty quickly to the station I needed, and I again ran out of the station. I wasn’t sure which exit to take, so I just chose one, which was a horrible choice. I ended up in the bottom of a souvenir shop and had to find my way out. Finally, I found my way to the exit and made sure (with my phone) that I was going in the right direction. That was not easy on the uneven, brick sidewalks of London. I had to stop and walk a few times to regroup. Also, it was pretty a pretty warm night in London, so I was really working up a sweat. Finally, I saw the theatre in sight, and I ran across traffic to get there right at 7:44. I had read that there was no late seating for people sitting on stage, so this caused more stress. Security at the door needed to inspect my bags, I had to pick up my ticket, check my bags at the cloakroom, and be escorted to my seat. The man who appeared to be the house manager was rushing me along, understandably. Finally, I was in my seat onstage, a hot, sweaty, shaking mess, and I was sitting with a lovely Canadian family. I took off my jacket, rolled up my sleeves, fanned myself with my ticket, and enjoyed the music that the combo was playing. I really needed some water, but there was no way to get it. The band played a few numbers before welcoming us to “the club” in Philly. Audra McDonald (Billy Holiday) came on stage, holding a drink. I have not read a synopsis (programs were £4, and I didn’t have any cash), but I believe this show happens at the end of Billy Holiday’s career when she was a heroine addict and an alcoholic, etc. I also assume that this was just supposed to be what one of her shows would have been like. She talked a lot about different things in her life. Sometimes the pianist would try to get her to sing a song. Sometimes she wouldn’t want to sing the song. As the show progressed, her condition deteriorated. She was drinking a lot, could hardly walk, would get emotional about certain stories, and at one point, she left the stage. She came back with a small dog but could hardly walk. From my vantage point, I sometimes was making eye contact with her, but sometimes I was watching her from behind. As the show ended, I was watching from behind, and I’m not quite sure what happened. She was singing a song, and the song continued, but she sort of stopped singing. I’ll have to watch the HBO special to see it all from the front. Then it was over. She bowed, I said “brava” as she walked by me, and I went to collect my bags. I told the person there that I was the crazy person who made it at the last minute. She said that she remembered me, but she had a bit of trouble finding my bags. I got them, though, and I stood outside the front of the theatre. It was much cooler, which was great, and I wondered whether she and the cast would come out to talk to the crowd. I didn’t see the stage door, so eventually I decided to walk around the theatre to see if I could find it. I made one left turn and didn’t see anything. Then I turned again, and saw it with a rather small line of people waiting! I was the last person in line, but when Audra came out, she came right to me (the last shall be first). I had met her once before about 17 years ago, so I wasn’t exactly star-struck. I told her how I had sent her a tweet to tell her that I was trying to make it from Heathrow and how I was a hot, sweaty mess after running through London to get there. She laughed at my story, thanked me for coming, and took a quick photo with me. That was certainly the icing on the cake. Of course, I desperately wanted to see her perform this role, but also I wanted to make use of the ticket that I had paid for, almost equally. She is a wonderful singer and actress, and it was inspiring to see her do this. The show was better than I expected, as I forgot that I was watching Audra McDonald on stage several times. I always say that things work out. This time I didn’t even fully believe that they would work out for me to make it on time, but that belief was certainly reaffirmed from this experience. Actually things more than worked out since I had the chance to meet Audra and take a photo!

From my seat on the stage

I figured, even if I don’t get a pic with her, I’ll have this…
Then I decided to walk around back and found this!
She’s so lovely

I eventually made my way to the tube, which was also a bit of a nightmare. It was hot in the station, and there were delays on the crowded station. Also, I had to go all the way back to the airport. I had booked a hotel room there since I would have to be at the airport at around 7 am for my 9:05 flight to JFK. I finally arrived at my hotel at around midnight, after a long train ride and a bus ride. Going to sleep wasn’t easy, and I didn’t sleep very soundly, after the drama and excitement of the evening. You only live once, though, and I would have plenty of napping opportunities on my two flights home.

My somewhat fancy, old-school hotel. The presidential suite was on my floor, but my key didn’t open it.

I woke up at around 5:15, had an instant coffee that was supplied in my room, got ready, and went to check out. I took the public transport bus to the airport, which was a quick, easy ride.

Bus to the airport

Then I found my terminal and breezed through security. TSA Pre-check definitely worked for me this time. I didn’t actually even show my passport to anyone until I got to my gate. Again, I found the airport lounge and hung out with a bit of coffee and breakfast until 8:05, when my gate was announced. I walked the rather long walk there, and I was able to walk right onto the plane. I was one of the earlier people onboard, so I had time to get myself situated in a comfortable way. We actually took off right on time, which was wonderful and boded very well for my change of flights in NYC.

At JFK, I found my airport lounge, had a snack/light lunch, and relaxed until my final flight home. While there, I made a reservation with Enterprise for a cargo van for cleaning out my house in Demorest (more on that soon). The flight to Atlanta was right on time, and I took an Uber home. The Uber driver was pretty rude but got me home quickly. I dropped my things at home and drove to Enterprise to get the cargo van before they closed at 6 pm. I then got a quick bite for dinner at Tin Drum and drove to Demorest to spend the night. When I got there, I put a few things in the van but decided to inflate the air mattress and go to bed around 9:30. I had a decent night’s sleep and got up the next morning around 6:00 to completely empty the house. I had the van returned to Enterprise in Atlanta by 11:30. Then I finally took a shower, had some lunch, and got ready for a choral gig at GA State at 1:30, which I would be doing the rest of the week. No rest for the weary!

Empty house ready for new owners!

As I’m sure you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this trip. I didn’t just write about the good stuff. It was almost all good stuff, and I’d happily do any of it again!