About three years ago I went on a five-week camping trip in Alaska. In a number of places we saw the giant cruise ships, and I thought, wouldn't it be nice if....
Then I started to see the brochures for Cruise Trek. Each year a group of Trekkers goes on a cruise with some of the actors and personnel from Star Trek, and in 1998 it was to Alaska.
I was interested in Alaska because the water was flat. The ship goes up the Inside Passage, and not out in the open sea - much. So I signed up. (The following years I went to the Panama canal, then the Mediterranean , and the other end of the Mediterranean.).
The banquet, the night before the cruise, was enjoyable. Registration took place first, and the guests were mingling, although I didn't speak to any. As an icebreaker, each person was issued with a bingo card, and had to write down the names of people met, so a lot of mingling took place. Then at the banquet registration forms were pulled from a hat for the bingo call. Apart from a badge, required for admission to all Trek events on board, there was a nice booklet and a souvenir windcheater. In addition, there was a pack of signed photos from all the guests, the agreement being that we would not pester them during the cruise for autographs. (Chase Masterson had to be forcibly restrained at times from compulsive autograph signing, and Eric Stillwell and David Ragan-George were only too happy to sign any of their scripts that one bought.)
I was on a table with eight women, which puzzled some, as they believed the idea was to meet your cabin-mates. In the event, I only ran into two of the eight again during the cruise. There were about two thousand passengers aboard, of whom about six hundred were Trekkers. There were supposedly about nine hundred crew, including singers and dancers. There was a disturbing moment during dinner when a lens fell out of my glasses, but one of the ladies had a repair kit, and it survived the rest of the trip. Julie Caitlin Brown sang during the banquet,
but the other guests were not particularly in evidence.
On the ship you were issued a card which let you in to your cabin, but also acted as a credit card (and was charged to your real credit card). Anything you paid for aboard (except Cruise Trek things) went onto this card, and you settled up afterwards. Those who protested that they couldn't poosibly have spent that much were shown their signed receipts!
I was in the fortunate position of having "been there before", and did not sign up for much. One walk in Juneau. Plane and helicopter flights sounded good, but were expensive, and the Australian dollar was in freefall. I spent most of my money on photography. Photographers snapped everything that happened, and the results were displayed for sale. I bought a few, but I also had all my print films developed straight away, because it it pleasant to show them around straight away. Development prices were quite reasonable, except that they translated to about $25 Australian a film. My big mistake there was in getting double prints on the first two films I put in, so I could hand them around. I assumed that the second set would be cheaper!
At the end of the cruise, for the benefit of those not familiar with tipping, both the CruiseTrek and ship's daily bulletins gave the suggested amounts. This came to about $71 US, or over $100 AUD! But at least one didn't have to think about it.
By a short time before sailing I still had no one to share my cabin. Euphoria set in, and I sprayed my belongings all over the cabin. Then he arrived. He had left his passport behind, and was running late. But he proved excellent company. The quality of your accommodation-sharer can have a great impact on a trip.
One of the things I had wondered about was whether we would actually see much of the guests beyond their rostered appearances. They were everywhere, and very approachable. At breakfast a few were rostered to be on a certain deck at a certain time, but the others were around too.
It may be as well to mention who all the guests were. Richard Biggs was there, under a non-discrimination pact which allowed Babylon 5 guests. Julie Caitlin Brown has been on both Babylon 5 and Star Trek. John de Lancie portrayed Q, and Jerry Hardin, recently in The X-Files as Deep Throat 1, was in TNG as Mark Twain. Chase Masterson and Andrew Robinson are from Deep Space Nine, Eric Menyuk was the Traveller, and George Takei was in some old show that was on years ago.
David Ragan-George and Eric Stillwell are scriptwriters, Ron Moore is special effects man for Star Trek, and there was an astronomer in the troupe, Doctor Sada. I missed both his lectures, and his nights of star watching were a disaster, as we rarely saw the sky until we were so far north that there was no night! Overall, the weather was not good, though we had good days. But one could live on the ship without ever going into the weather. There were well-patronised spas on the 11th deck, but a cool wind might make leaving them uncomfortable!
The cruise had a program of events, and issued an essential daily bulletin. But I was so taken up with the Trek events that I didn't get to many of the others. Those I did get to were excellent. There were stage shows with dancers and singers, which must be tricky if the ship is moving about!
After we had a lifeboat drill and sailed, there was a cocktail party where the guests were introduced. Every night there was a disco in the Navigator Club, and I believe some of the actors partied on each night, but I faded out. On the first day, spent cruising the Inside Passage, there was a panel with Andy, John and Jerry, and the dealer' room opened. It was tiny, and had a queue for a day or two when open. On this day, too, the actors earned their money.
In the afternoon the actors set up, and all the Trek people lined up to be photographed with them. This took hours. The photographs cost US$25 each, or about AUD$42, but I bought mine. I was surprised at how many lined up to be photographed but didn't buy. (The photos stayed on the wall.)
There were a few whales near the shore the first day, and many hoped they would appear in greater number as we sailed, but that was all we saw.
In the evening dinner was formal. We had our photographs taken as usual.
On Sunday we were in Ketchikan, our first stop, from 7am to 3pm. It rained. But I wandered around. Like Juneau, the capital, the town is accessible only by sea or air. The roads go nowhere. In the case of Ketchikan, also because it is an island, but the terrain is largely vertical. There were ravens all about, and as we left bald eagles were all along the shore.
In the afternoon, Eric Stillwell and David Ragan George held a writers' workshop, for which I had paid. In my case it was a waste of money, because they were going through the guidelines for getting published, or having scripts accepted, and I was familiar with it already. There was nothing about how to write. But I did buy a script and get it autographed, and it was an enjoyable interactive experience.
Overlapping this was a Costume Contest and games, which I forgot about! It was in the Celebrity Theater, a venue able to stage complex productions, and was very entertaining, from reports.
Monday was a whole day in the capital of Alaska, Juneau. It was overcast all day. My only excursion for the trip was a walk. We went up in a cable car (tram) into the fog, and walked about. Luckily the tram ticket lasted all day, so when the cloud lifted I went back up, and had a good walk, reaching patches of snow, and having a dot on the horizon pointed out to me as a bear. A comfortable distance to view a bear from, was the popular sentiment. During the day I went down to the library to send an email home, and ran into Chase Masterson there.
Before we left, a group photo was taken. I had wondered how this would be possible, but it was simple. We stood on the dock, and a photographer eight stories up pressed the button a few times.
On Tuesday we were in Skagway, site of the turn-of-the-century gold rush. There were four ships in town, and the streets were awash with people. There was a walk I remembered, which I thought left from the old cemetery, so I trudged down. My memory was wrong, but it was a pleasant walk though long, and there was a beautiful waterfall there. Later I found the correct path, up to Lower Dewey Lake. The sign said 0.5 miles, which sounded all right. I had forgotten it was all up hill! But once I reached the level walking was comfortable. I came across Andrew Robinson walking with his daughter (I think), and asked if I could take their photo.
In the afternoon George, Chase and Eric (Menyuk) had their panel. There was a charity auction, compered by Eric Menyuk, who seemed to be the default compere for anything, and excellent at it. He is just completing his Law studies, and may be a barrister rather than an actor soon. Auctions are not of interest to me, so I left after taking a photo. Incredibly beautiful scenery was passing outside. But since the sun was by now setting about midnight, there was always beautiful scenery!
On Wednesday we spent the morning watching a glacier, and many of us could have stayed longer. For the fans, a good time to get a few more photos of the actors, as they enjoyed the sight of ice collapsing into the sea about a mile away! The weather had become fine.
Afterwards we had a technical session with Ron Moore, and later a panel with Eric Stillwell and David and Karen Ragan George, which managed to be entertaining without being informative. Nothing was revealed about the new film.
I was getting a bit tired. The next item was a two hour performance by Jerry Hardin of his Mark Twain one-man show. I thought I would take a photo or two and leave, but I stayed for the whole show. He had complete makeup, and was brilliant. I thought it started a bit slowly, but it improved quickly.
On Thursday we visited Valdez, which was of interest to me personally, because I had never been there. The weather was lovely, and I decided to walk into town. My estimate of the distance turned out wrong, as it was about five miles, and took an hour and a half. I was continually passed by the shuttle buses which I rather stupidly hadn't realised existed! But it was a lovely walk, and I took some photos.
I wondered whether any of the crowd who spent time on the exercise machines every day had considered walking in.
There was not a lot to the town, and soon I had to wait for the shuttle buses. There was not enough time to walk back. I wandered around until the queue had diminished, and found that a few of the guests had done the same. George Takei, Chase Masterson and Julie Caitlin Brown were all lined up. It turns out that standing in queues is a good way to see the stars.
Back on board, Julie and Richard had their panel from 1pm to 2pm. They must have offended the gods of Cruise Trek, because they were rostered at the only time available to eat lunch. (There were at least two places where one might eat lunch, the buffet and the dining room. In the dining room one had to stick with one's rostered first or second sitting, and one's table, and lunch took a long time. I only tried it once. The food at the buffet was excellent, and quick.) Opting to eat, I just caught the end of their session. This was followed by Starship Races, where each of the actors had a ship, a die was tossed to see who would move, and gambling took place, organised by the casino staff. Not being interested, I took a couple of photos and left to watch the scenery. We were spending the afternoon cruising the College Fiord, so called because all the glaciers in it were named after colleges.
The afternoon continued to be crowded. There were videos at 3.45, and at 6pm Andrew Robinson read another of his diaries of Garak. (Would someone as paranoid as Garak keep a diary?) Following this entertaining performance, many of the celebrities sang or acted in an Entertainment Hour. Of the singers, many were very professional and sang with musical accompaniment, and George Takei sang without. John de Lancie's wife sang "I Can Do Without Q", and Chase Masterson sang "Latinum is a Girl's Best Friend." Richard Biggs did a Shakespearean monologue, and John de Lancie appeared with the woman who had been playing the harp in one of the lounges, for a preview of his upcoming Hollywood Bowl performance of Peter and the Wolf. "And the cat is played by.. the harp. And Peter is portrayed by.. the harp."
This was an excellent wind-up to the cruise. The next day was something of a downer. We had to be up around 5am, and started unloading about 7. We got to stand in the rain as people argued about who should be in what bus, then drove the three hours to Anchorage with most aboard dozing and missing the scenery. I caught a fairly small plane to Seattle, where the cruise passengers could be identified by their inability to stay awake, then a similar jaunt in an even smaller plane to Vancouver.
In the Seattle airport I sat with some of the Trekkers. When I said I was going to a hotel in Vancouver one of the locals said that was great. If I and the other two got a taxi it would be cheaper than the Airporter bus! My mathematical subconscious was screaming at me, Don't do it! But I was too tired to argue. In the event, it turned out that our hotels were far apart. The taxi driver, as is common, was unfamiliar with the English language and (genuinely, I think) didn't realise we were going to two different places. When we reached their hotel, they only offered to pay half the current fare, regarding themselves as a unit, and I was too tired or polite to argue. As my hotel was still $10 away, I ended up paying $25 instead of the $10 the Airporter would have cost (and I could have bought a cheaper return ticket.) Ah, well, I was "home".
I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. I took enough time in Vancouver at either end to recover from traveling. With six hundred Trek fans aboard, and my own natural reticence, I doubted that I would have had the opportunity to speak to any of the guests, but apart from the encounters mentioned I ran into George Takei in the ship's library when we were both exploring the ship, and gossiped for a few minutes - and it was me who retired from the conversation (because I was running out of small talk). On the last night the (excellent) pianist, Maurice, came over to gossip with me, because he had heard my accent, and he had worked in Australia for years, and wanted to know how some of his old mates like Bert Newton were doing. We talked for a while until Julie Caitlin Brown came and dragged him away.
I was also conscious of some decorum required in taking photos. Three mornings I found myself in the same little section for breakfast with Andrew Robinson and his family. I always had my camera (I start to shake if I go anywhere without it), but I felt it would be an imposition to take photos there. But where the guests were with us out the back for rostered breakfast duty, I could shoot without qualms.
Here are a few odd photos which did not seem to fit into the story above.
Each year the cruise is in a different place. The following year it was through the Panama Canal, on October 14th, and the following year in the Mediterranean, in May. Rumours, probably wrong, had it around the Greek Islands later. The brochures seem to be lying around at conventions, and there is a web page, http://members.aol.com/cruisetrek/cruisetrek.html. Their email is email@example.com, and address is P O Box 2038, Agoura Hills, CA 91376-2038.
Of those (few) aboard whom I spoke to, most were intending to miss Panama (probably because they couldn't afford two years in a row!) and go to the next.