A Glimpse of Alaska ~ Offer a greeting to someone you don’t know.

How appropriate to read this adage the morning we left Fairbanks to board our cruise ship. We found out cruises are set up to encourage passengers to offer a greeting to someone you don’t know.

From the maître d’s simple request at dinner, “Do you mind sharing a table?”, to planned social activities, one can be as social as one chooses.

Being newbies to cruising, we asked family and friends for tips on making this first venture as pleasant as possible. And of course to not look too lost as we wandered around the ship.

One suggestion we heard – choose the traditional dinner option where you eat at the same table, at the same time with the same people so you really get to know them – we completely ignored. And what a difference that made. We ate with, at different times, different families from Australia, a couple from Singapore, people who were in the process of moving about 15 minutes from us in our county back in SC, and a mother and daughter who lived in the town next door to my hometown in Ohio.

One Australian couple told us about their first cruising adventure. As another ship approached, those passengers started waving, so this couple and fellow passengers waved back. For whatever reason, they didn’t think that if the ships were close enough that people could wave to each other, the ships may be too close! Unfortunately they were. One ‘bumped’ the other and caused enough damage to certain common areas those had to be closed for the duration of the cruise. But that didn’t dampen this couple’s enthusiasm for cruising.

At dinner one evening we met Lucille and Mara, a mother and daughter traveling together. Mom Lucille was in her 80’s and couldn’t count all the places she and Mara have traveled together. Greece was one of her favorites. But the interesting story that held the table captive until the dining room was clearing out, was how Mara left her NY surgery practice due to a disability and was now an organic homesteader in WV building a straw-bale home. It was too expensive to move the original farmhouse to another place on the property, so Mara and her partner tore it down themselves and are repurposing several things – built-in bookcases, a built-in armoire, the mantel, and a section of the wooden floor. They cut it out, joists and all, lifted it out with a fork lift. The joists were removed from the section, and it was refinished and will now hang as art in the new home.

While we waited to board a bus for one of our shore excursions I talked with a woman waiting for her trip. She was a bit tired, having just returned from the Galapagos Islands a week or two earlier. She said she shouldn’t have booked the two trips so close together. “But when you’re 82- years-old you take the opportunities when you get them!” I told her those back-to-back trips would be hard for anyone, but especially for someone 82. She laughed. “I do a lot of things most 82-year-old women don’t do!” I believed her. This was her second time to Alaska, the first being 30 years ago. She said she was sorry she came again because it had changed so much. One of the things I was awe-struck by during the trip was how vast and pristine Alaska is. I tried to imagine how much more so it must have been 30 years earlier. I still can’t picture it. I asked her what tour she was waiting for. She smiled wide, “I’m going out on the boat with Captain Jack and the guys from Deadliest Catch!”

One couple though became more than dinner friends. We arrived in Fairbanks after two flights and one bus ride. Even though it was 10:00 in the evening, it looked like noon and we needed to stretch our leg so we went for a walk through Fairbanks. Another couple had the same idea as we met them a block away from the hotel. They were from Texas. We were from SC. That was all we exchanged. The next day we ran into them again at one of the planned excursions and this time introduced ourselves. His name was Pat and hers was Ronnie. The following morning as we left out room for the next leg of our trip, Pat and Ronnie emerged from the room directly across the hall – we had no idea were neighbors. At that point we decided we were meant to be cruise buddies and we rode the bus together to Denali and found out we had a lot in common.

Once on the ship, we two couples signed up for different shore excursions but made a point to have dinner together twice. Ronnie had us laughing so hard over dessert one night we were all in tears. We didn’t get to say good-bye the last night, just texted to wish each other safe travels home and exchange email addresses. But at the airport the next morning we saw them and got to have a proper good-bye. Will we see them again? I hope so. They have a wedding in Savannah this fall so they’ll be in the neighborhood – sort of. And Charlotte has a direct flight to Texas.

We met so many interesting people on this trip by being willing to share a table with anyone. We heard some fascinating stories that will stick with us for a long time. I wondered what it would be like if we did the same thing back home – offer a greeting to someone we don’t know and just listen to their story.

Statue outside The Sanctuary on the Golden Princess

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