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The Traveling Quilter: A Quilter's Cruise to Alaska

By Merry May

Editor's Note: Doreen Speckmann died suddenly leading a group of quilters on a tour of Ireland in 2000. She was teaching them line-dancing in a pub in Limerick when she unexpectedly collapsed. This article, published here in 1999, recounts the many pleasures of touring with Doreen, who is very much missed by quilters around the world. Other quilters are now leading these and similar tours. Check with this and other tour companies for opportunities to mix the pleasures of quilting and travel!

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Sun Princess when docked at Ketchican, Alaska

If you've ever had an urge to visit Alaska and/or enjoy visiting out of the way places with great scenery and lots of wildlife (we're talking both animals AND people here!), you owe it to yourself to sign up for the next Doreen Speckmann quilter's cruise to Alaska!

I know, I know... you think cruises are expensive. However, you can get an inside cabin (no windows, but who needs them if you can find lots of places on the ship to relax and gaze out at the wonderful views?) for under $200 per day (per person), no kidding! This includes your room, all of your meals from arrival through departure, nightly shows, live music every day from early afternoon until about 1 or 2 A.M. in a variety of "flavors," a disco with no cover (plus karaoke a couple of nights), someone to entertain your children if you choose to take them with you, an onboard casino, shops, pools and hot tubs, great views, AND quilting classes with Doreen Speckmann and Mary Stori. NOT included in the charges are your drinks (including soft drinks), the casino (plus bingo), photographs taken by one of the onboard photographers (although purchasing them is optional), and tips for your cabin steward, dining room waiter, and maitre d' (the estimate for total tips is about $60 per person for the whole week).

The cruise itself was really great. The activities onboard, plus the opportunity for offboard excursions while we were in port kept us plenty busy, but we still managed to squeeze in some stitchin'! The quilting group was seated together for dinner, which was nice (with several of the tables in front of big windows). We saw lots of eagles (they sit on top of the pilings like the seagulls do here on the east coast!), orcas and humpback whales, Dall's porpoises (an arctic porpoise), sea lions; some people saw a black bear; as far as I know, nobody saw any moose, though. (I've always wanted to see what the rest of a moose looked like; so far I've only seen their heads hanging on walls.) On our way from Seward to Anchorage to catch our return flight, most of the people on our bus saw mountain goats (we couldn't see from our side of the bus, so we just had to take their word for it!).

I brought a whole extra (overnight) suitcase full of fabrics to use during the onboard classes with Doreen and Mary, but only managed to complete one humpback whale block. (Hey - I wanted to have some options!) After I had packed my extra bag o' fabrics, I looked at my fabric stash, thinking that there might be some extra room in there; not a chance! But that still didn't stop me from keeping the economy healthy during our visit to Dirce Ann's Quilt Shop in Skagway! 

We boarded the Sun Princess in Vancouver, British Columbia. Our only regret there was that we only had one day to explore Vancouver. We did manage to find Gastown, which is the historic part of Vancouver featuring lots of interesting shops. There's also a steam clock there across the street from Starbucks Coffee which toots its horns on the hour and half-hour.

Our first port stop was in Ketchican, which is known by a couple of different names: "Salmon Capital of the World" and/or the "Rain Capital of the World." (Of course, there could be other names that we weren't told about!) Ketchican gets over 160 inches of rain each year (that's over 13 feet!), and I believe it! A postcard I bought there showed "clouds going back for a refill," as well as their daily weather prediction: "If you can't see the top of the mountain, it's raining. If you CAN see the top of the mountain, it's gonna rain."

While in Ketchican, we took a trolley tour (word to the wise: when visiting Ketchican, get off the ship and hook up with one of the local tour companies, rather than paying twice as much for the ship-sponsored tours). Our guide was entertaining and informative; pointed out some eagles for us, told us of some local legends, took us to the Totem Pole Village, where totem carvers were working, and then dropped us off at Dolly's House, a former house of ill repute, as they say. Suffice it to say that if you visit Ketchican, be sure to check out the decor in Dolly's bathroom!

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(Left to Right) Peggy Dailey (Merry's mom), our Gold Panning tour guide, Mick McHugh, and Merry, holding her tiny vial of gold flakes (not even enough to fill a tooth!)

Our second port stop was in Juneau, where my mother and I went panning for gold in the morning, then on a whale watch in the afternoon. That evening, we disembarked to be shuttled by members of the Capital City Quilters to their meeting place, where we enjoyed show 'n tell and delicious homemade goodies. (This was not their regular meeting night; they did this just for us!!) Doreen brought a whole suitcase full of wonderful show 'n tells, some of which the cruising quilters hadn't seen before. Mary Stori also had some samples to show us, in addition to providing a fabulous fashion show for us throughout the cruise, by wearing different outfits each day which she had made and embellished.

Our next stop was in Skagway, where my mother and I were able to catch the local Elks Lodge's production entitled "The Days of '98." This was a play about the town's gold rush days when it was dominated by the notorious Soapy Smith. What a treat! Be sure to catch it next time you're in Skagway. (And again, do it on your own rather than through the ship's excursion for some big savings.)

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An Orca, or Killer Whale, seen near Juneau.

After leaving Skagway, we were a bit relieved to have a couple of days of relaxed cruising as we visited Glacier Bay and College Fjord. The glaciers were all calving, or breaking off. What appeared to be fairly small chunks of ice breaking off were large enough to actually rock the ship for a few minutes. (This was no small ship, either; it held almost 2,000 passengers, plus 900 crew members.) As we were travelling, quite a few people came inside to tell us that they had seen whales and sea lions nearby.

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The whole quilting gang the last night of the cruise.

Once we reached Seward, everyone disembarked in a very orderly manner.  (We heard from the more seasoned travelers that on some ships this part can be a nightmare.) Our bus took us to Anchorage, where some of us had to meet flights to take us back to the real world; most of the quilting group continued their trip on an overnight train trip to Denali.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip which was made easy by Linda, our tour guide from Specialty Tours. If you've ever thought about taking a cruise to Alaska, I have but one question to ask you: "What are you waiting for?"

Specialty Tours offers a number of different destinations for many different tour groups. For a complete list of their upcoming tours (including a Doreen Speckman tour to Australia next year!), call them at (800) 677-9412, or at (727) 796-7555, or fax them at: (727) 797-1477. ... And when you go, be sure to send me a postcard!

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