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Alaska ho! And back again

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Something that might not come across well in my blog is that I have a very high threshold for the spectacular. This means that it takes a lot to impress me ;)

Last week, I found myself sitting at the dining room table of a cruise ship with complete strangers who were trying to one-up each other. The alpha female dinner companions were comparing the sizes of their kitchens back home.


Ironic that these same people complain how they don’t have enough time to plan for meals, cook and do the dishes and yet they boast about the size of their kitchens. Thank goodness for Ma Bell and delivery service because I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about their kitchens (or mine for that matter).

Flickr: Star Princess

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself so let me rewind and explain a bit. I was on a cruise to Alaska with my family for the last week. It had been planned for awhile so luckily for me, everything was already taken care of by the more anal responsible members of my family. All I had to do was pack and show up with my passport.

We sailed out of Seattle for a 7-day cruise on the Star Princess to Alaska along the inner passage with stops at Ketchikan and Juneau. We sailed through Tracy Arm and made another stop at Skagway before turning around for Victoria and back to Seattle.

To be perfectly honest, I was really blasé at the beginning of the whole trip. Like I said, it takes a lot to impress me. We got plenty of snow and ice this winter in my part of Canada. And if I needed a reminder, I could always open up the fridge for ice.

Flickr: White Pass & Yukon Trail

Okay, so not to be a total party pooper, the glaciers and mountains were kinda majestic.

But since this is a finance blog, let’s talk about money.

For my floating hotel, it was a little less than $100 per night. This included meals, cruise entertainment and tips which they tack onto your stateroom bill anyways. The truth is, I don’t know the complete cost of my trip along with plane tickets, 3 night hotel accommodations in Seattle, transportation, food and admission fees to tourist traps destinations.

Yeah, this is a finance blog but I never promised to be a good one ;)

Since the trip was booked by family members who have a way more dominant DNA gene for being cheap, I knew that I was in good hands. I’m figuring less than $1500 for a 10 day vacation which I don’t consider to be that expensive for where we were and all that we did.

We saved a lot of money by booking our own shore excursion in Alaska. We’d look at excursions that the cruise provided and tried to mimic the itinery. For example, a trip to Mendenhall Glacier and a salmon hatchery in Juneau cost $39 per person through the cruise ship. Finding your own transportation via shuttle would run about $7, and admission to the Mendenhall Glacier was $3.00 and $3.25 for the salmon hatchery. That’s a total of $13.25 vs $39. Another example of saving costs was when we took a train ride in Skagway through the White Pass & Yukon Route. On our own, it was $103 but through the cruise, I think the same thing cost $112 with the only difference being a 10 minute walk to the train station. This all can add up. We also went back to the ship for all meals as well. Heck, why not? We paid for it.

I can’t take credit for all these savings as they do take some preliminary research but it is a way to stretch your dollar if you’re budget conscious. If I had organized the trip myself, I probably wouldn’t have bothered and paid through the nose for not doing the research. That’s only fair for being a dumbass and I expect it. This brings me full circle to the story I began this post about – the traveling mates I met while on board the ship. It’s really interesting to get a glimpse of people’s expectation of money.

I don’t know what it is about cruise ships that bring out lofty ideals in people’s minds. I admit that after hearing about “formal” dining nights, I expected food to be superb. This wasn’t always the case. I mean, the food was okay but it wasn’t top quality and I’m not that much of a connoisseur. I do know presentation and having soup drip on the outside of your bowl is what I consider a no-no for quality dining. And this happened on more than a few occasions with plates as well. But seeing as it was all inclusive meals with the stateroom for less than $100 a night, it was a bargain.

Flickr: Snail

So here I am sitting at the dining room table with others while they bluster about how wonderful the gourmet food has been. And in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, dude, you can’t even pronounce escargots correctly. Just say snails for cripes sake like it says in the description. And it’s not pronounced minesTROAN soup, it’s minestronKNEE. Also, it’s not sockKEY salmon but sockEYE salmon. I get the fact that we want to present our best to the outside world but when you’re so out of your league, stop the ruse of pretending to be the upper crust of society.

My dinner companions also compared the locations of their staterooms – if they had a suite or an outer stateroom with a window and at which level. Mine was at the lowest passenger deck and in dead center of the ship. I get motion sickness quite easily so I was popping dramamine pills daily. A stateroom in the middle of the ship with little turbulence suited me just fine thanks but you can tell that it was looked down upon. Now why would I pay more for discomfort for the sake of appearances when I could see the telltale sign of a motion sickness patch on the back of ears?

And yes, the women really did compare the sizes of their kitchens. I’ve only witnessed this in males before by overcompensating with their cars. I wonder if their bras were padded…

But the biggest kicker was when these “high rollers” objected to being charged with a liqueur they thought were samples. It’s funny to see how people gravitate towards “free”. Since I don’t drink I had declined. And I had a suspicion that it wasn’t free but people were too polite to ask the question and they got caught. Then talks of the waiter misrepresenting and seeing the captain were discussed. I mean come on… After all that talk of staterooms, kitchens and gourmet food they were complaining about a $4.00 drink? So much for appearances.

At the end of the vacation, I bet I had as good a time as they did at the fraction of the price. I can’t claim credit for the savings because I’m not your typical frugal finance blogger. But I also don’t consider it a badge of honor for being stupid. And trying to be something you’re not, especially for strangers is just that.

20 Responses to “Alaska ho! And back again”

  1. on 21 May 2008 at 8:41 amAdil

    Hey Mariam,

    I gotta say that, although I hear you when you talk about people’s attitudes (being penny wise, pound foolish.. flaunting their status, etc), I can’t say I agree with your rationale about paying less for the rooms and cruise extras.

    As you admitted, you would’ve paid the higher prices, because you don’t have enuf frugality in yourself to take the time to do the research and avoid the money pits. That is exactly what you pay for when you’re paying the higher costs – someone else’s time to organize things for you or, in other words, a service.. As long as (i) your time is worth more than the savings or (ii) you just love having things done for you (admit it, you’re the same way when it comes to cooking food!), you’re better off paying the higher price.

    I also believe that, for the most part, you do get what you pay for. When you say that you had as much fun for a fraction of the price, to me, that’s like saying, “My watch is just as good as his Rolex because it also tells time but it didn’t cost me an arm and a leg.” In fact, he paid for more than just the ability to tell time. He also paid for the feeling that he gets everytime he wears that watch or everytime someone compliments on his watch – ie. for the experience that comes with wearing that watch. Sure, you could argue that these are created wants and that’s he’s been brainwashed by ruthless marketing, but it doesn’t change the fact that he paid for the experience. I too am guilty in this respect.. Just the other day, I was presented with two “Corn Flakes” cereals – one from Kellogg’s and another from an unknown brand. The Kellogg’s was twice the price of the unknown brand, but I still paid for it, because I had grown up on Kellogg’s cereal. The mere memories of eating Kellogg’s in my childhood was the deciding factor – again, an experience. Yes, I admit, I was a target by Kellogg’s and they got me when I was young.. :)

    Anyhoo, I digress.. My point is that, normally, the more expensive rooms are more expensive for a reason and it’s wrong to assume that everyone who pays for the more expensive room is stupid. Maybe their beds are of higher quality. Maybe their beds are bigger. Maybe the linen is 1000-thread count instead of 100-thread count. I know I’d like to wake up to the beautiful view every morning. The only question is, how much would I be willing to pay for this experience?

    The reason I’m going on a rant here is because of an experience I had recently when I was planning a trip to Italy with a bunch of guys who were on a tight budget.. They just couldn’t understand why I wanted to pay more than 25 euros/night for “just a place to crash.” They couldn’t understand that I’m beyond hostels and sharing rooms and washrooms with other strangers; that I dont’ want to hear what the other people in the next room are doing and that I want a quiet place to sleep at night; that I have standards when it comes to the cleanliness of the room. All these factors contribute to the fact that I’m willing to pay 50 euros/night for a hotel room.

    Bottom line, contrary to popular belief, money can buy happiness! :)

  2. on 21 May 2008 at 8:44 amfathersez

    Cool! Alaska would be as exotic as they come for us in equatorial Malaysia.

    I don’t know if I would enjoy such a holiday considering that I consider 18 degrees freezing. But the photos are spectacular.

  3. on 21 May 2008 at 10:36 pmmoneyrelations

    Heya Adil,

    I actually agree with a lot that you said. I know money flows through me like a sieve and my family tells me I should cut back but I always explain that that’s why there’s a service industry – to serve people like me for a self imposed lazy ass tax. :) Getting wealthy by being miserly is not that far away from misery to me.

    But I do wonder if people realize what they are paying for. Take your Rolex example. Do they know what makes that Rolex 50k? Do they appreciate the craftsmanship… I dunno, the precise nature of the watch, the bling or would a replica watch do? As I’m told by some very discerning friends, there are some amazing fakes where you can’t tell the difference. You get the same feeling of prestige and who’s going to call you out on it?

    If you can afford a real one then go ahead, knock your socks off. I can get pretty shallow :) I have no problems with any of that if you have other priorities taken care of first.

    I just feel that some of the people I met on the boat were misrepresenting themselves.

    There is such a thing called price targeting yourself and I read a book called Undercover Economist that explained the term. Given… er, two boxes of corn flakes that probably tasted the same or had the same nutritional value, those who are less price sensitive would get Kelloggs :) That is why they place the more expensive items at eye level and the no-names at a more discrete location. Again, I’m cool with that as you go with what you know best and there’s marketing and brand loyalty. But if you have the disposable cash, don’t bitch about a $4.00 drink when you’re playing the part of the laissez-faire traveler. Be consistent and have full knowledge of why you’re paying for the goods/services that you are.

    I, um, ran into a self-professed redneck a lot. Accidentally. Riiight. Hell, I don’t know if he thought we were on the Love Boat but he tried to impress me but I’d be much more impressed if he could read and pronounce the dishes. Gourmet, my ass.

  4. on 21 May 2008 at 10:51 pmmoneyrelations

    Hello fathersez,

    Hah, thanks so much! I worked hard to find those photos in Flickr ;) I liked their pictures better than how mine turned out too as it didn’t do the scenery justice :) The photographer in the family has yet to sort out his pictures and burn them for us on dvd.

    Oh, and I have been to Malaysia too. If I remember correctly, I was in KL, saw the Twin Towers, and I believe there was a water park there? I then went on and spent most of my time in Malacca. I have friends in KL and would love to go back to experience their hospitality. Had a really good time when I was there and from what I hear, it’s really bustling :)

  5. on 22 May 2008 at 2:52 amcandyw

    Vacationing Alaska sounds like a cold ride on a ship though I am sure it is nice. I was raised in the midwest with high snow so I would never go anywhere with it .. but it sound fun and I have already been to alaska once along time ago. love the pictures and the tale you tell. lots of money….. ohhhhhhhh

  6. on 22 May 2008 at 3:00 amGreat Adventure

    Alaska is beautiful but for a real adventure, where you don’t have to pack your parka, a scuba vacation in Florida is the best. With alittle patience, you can get a relatively cheap flight and hotel and best of all, there’s no charge to see the fish.

  7. on 24 May 2008 at 7:05 amAdil

    Hey Mariam,

    I think we’re on opposite sides of the same equation.. :)

    I agree with most of what you say with the exception of that Rolex example.. I will maintain that watches made in Switzerland are superior to anything made in China. That may sound a bit naive, but you can’t argue with the fact that the Swiss folks have honed their skills and technologies over generations – something that can’t be copied. Sure, a replica Rolex may look the same from the outside, but so do Ferrari replicas, and I know you wouldn’t be calling them the same thing even just cuz they can both take you from A to B. Furthermore, a Rolex is a type of watch that is handed down over generations (as long as you follow the owner’s manual’s scheduled maintenance and tune-ups.. no jokes!)- you’d be lucky if a replica lasted you thru a decade.. Of course, I’d be a moron to suggest that the $10-100k price tag is worth it.. You’re definitely paying a fee to join this exclusive club.. As the robustness of the replica market can testify, there are a whole lotta people who wish they were also part of this club.. :)

  8. on 24 May 2008 at 10:21 pmNancy (aka money coach)

    ah, money relations, you’re always good for a laugh and some provocation :)

    my take: money that goes towards genuine quality, even when something of lesser quality would do the job, is worth it. The trick is figuring out if there’s a difference in quality, really, or not. I still haven’t fully mastered that…

  9. on 25 May 2008 at 11:08 amWooly Woman

    I agree with you and Nancy, my concern is not about paying more necessarily, but paying more for something that is not worth the extra money, or, for myself, not worth the prestige (never understood this part personally). I have heard this cruise is spectacular, sounds like you had a good vacation. Many years ago I took the ferry up this way and did some sightseeing, hiking and exploring and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

  10. on 27 May 2008 at 2:34 pmJames Wilcox

    I’ve been on several cruises in the last 10 years. Once to Alaska on Celebrity, Once to the eastern Caribbean on Carnival and once to the Mexican Riviera on Carnival. Of the 3, I preferred Celebrity but all were good. I think the food on Celebrity was the best.

    As far as staterooms go, unless you are extremely wealthy, I don’t see much need for space on a cruise ship since most of your time is going to be spent either by the pool, by the bar, or in the casino. Add to that the numerous shows and events on board, plus the shore excursions and paying up for a higher level stateroom doesn’t make sense for me, even if I could afford it.

    That being said, the rest of the experience on a ship is the same for everyone, that’s kind of the point. It’s not like an airplane where the first class passengers are sectioned off. Everyone is treated like royalty. Only the cost of the rooms changes. So, spend that extra $1k on a stateroom if you want, it really doesn’t matter except in your own experience. I for one, prefer the simpler rooms because I’m only ever in them for about 4 hours a day (sleeping between 4am and 8am).

  11. on 27 May 2008 at 11:20 pmmoneyrelations

    @ Adil

    I never thought of handing down a Rolex before, but then again, I’m not a guy. I guess that would make a whole heck of a lot of sense to spend it on an heirloom. I was just thinking of people getting a fake Rolex for some extra bling but not long term. Heck, I wouldn’t even care if it didn’t last 3 years.

    @ Nancy and @ WW

    Hi guys.

    Sometimes we pay for stuff and neither quality nor service is justified. We just don’t know any better but hopefully, we don’t flaunt our ignorance and notify the world we’ve been had.

    @ James

    Must have been some parties :)

    I have heard great things about Celebrity (just everything was a notch better than everyone else) Cruising is definitely something that I’d do again. There are some great deals to be had. And I lol with all the diamond stores ashore when the population is like 800. I hear it’s run by the cruise lines and when they are done in Alaska, they head off for the Caribbeans. Did you encounter that in your travels?

  12. on 29 May 2008 at 2:46 amAdil

    Yea, I could totally see an heirloom watch being a guy thing.. being handed down father-to-son type deal.. only thing is I’d want to be sure I have a son before investing that kinda dough.. but in the meantime, I’ll make do with my replica Tag Hauer/Breitling/Philip Patek.. 18 months on and still running strong! :)

  13. on 30 May 2008 at 1:51 pmEsme

    OMG, I laugh out loud when I read this post. It’s funny how some people are so pretentious. I mean i totally wouldn’t make fun of someone who says…”how do you say this? MinesTRON?” But if they pretend to be all high class and pronounce it wrong, it’s fair game.

    Alaska look very pretty. My friends and I were thinking of doing a road trip one day.

  14. on 01 Jun 2008 at 11:15 ammoneyrelations

    @ Adil

    Yeah, now girls have jewelry that their mom leaves behind but what do guys leave? I know power tools are great and all, but somehow it isn’t the same thing… :P

    @ Esme

    Me neither as I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. But when you’re uncertain, you ask questions and you don’t put up a front. That’s when it grates on my nerves and I have to bite my tongue. And I do try to control myself on the blog ;)

  15. on 03 Jun 2008 at 6:06 pmTom

    Great post. I remember going on a cruise a while back and I was amazed by how cheap the trip really was! Most people think that when you’re on a boat 24/7, it’s going to get a little boring but there’s so much to do, it’s insane.

  16. on 04 Jun 2008 at 10:06 amlissie

    Ha – I love the idea of cruises – but I get sea sickness crossing the river as they say! I am cheap too – so at least the 2 might combine! I would love to do the Inside Passage 1 day. I am also considering a European river cruise better scenary too than your average ocean cruise and if you need a change of scene you can ride along side

  17. on 04 Jun 2008 at 7:55 pmmoneyrelations

    @ Tom

    Yes, they really do a lot to accommodate the guests. Now, admittedly, they cater to the older folks but there is still sports to be played like golf simulation or mini golf, the spa, gym, pool, etc. There are single get togethers obviously and even GLBT (I think I have the acronym right) get togethers as well. I don’t know how organized either one was but they really try to please.

    @ lissie

    I get sea sick on one of those bicycle paddle boats, canoes, etc… Me and the sea don’t get along ;) But just get the dramamine in me and I’m fine :)

    Seriously, I can’t say enough about cruising. I’d definitely go again due to the price, the accommodations, the food… and you’re freaking moving to boot!

  18. on 06 Jun 2008 at 1:36 amHigh Return Investing with Dax

    Sounds like a great trip. Its on my “list” of places… you know the one you wonder when you’ll ever have the time to complete. :o (

  19. on 27 Jun 2008 at 8:54 pmLuxury Destinations

    I have found the perfect solution for sea sickness: river cruises! I have a short list of must do ones: mainly in Europe. But I would also love to cruise the Mekong – there is an operator which goes all the way from Saigon to Angkor Wat: that would be very cool: maybe when I make it big in IM

  20. on 23 Jul 2008 at 1:08 pmDavid

    good to read such a great article and the great pictures.You have a good sense of humor, i can tell. keep it up!

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