Well, guess what? Turns out that it’s not what you ask, it’s WHO you ask. This morning, Dad found the Port Manager, who told him that there would be no buses, no hire cars and no transportation of any kind to get to Anchorage, because P&O had told them NOT TO COME. They CANCELLED everything. Buses, taxis, hire cars, the works. The fact that the train is not running because it’s too early in the season for the track to be passable is just the final icing on the cake. Once again, P&O have screwed us and this time, they have done a brilliant job. If you don’t pay them SEVENTY-FIVE POUNDS to take their shuttle bus, you’re not leaving town. Simple as that.
So we didn’t. We didn’t go to Anchorage and we didn’t go to the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Centre, which is only about five or six miles out of town. There was simply no way whatsoever to get there.
There is a bus company that advertises on the local map, called The Magic Bus Company. When we rang them, they said they had been told not to come by P&O and that, anyway, they only run their “daily transportation service all yr round” on days when there are, and I quote “a lot of people”. Now, bearing in mind that quite a lot of crew have been allowed off today, we’re talking somewhere in the region of 2,500 people. That’s not enough?!
Princess Cruises come here regularly and they have shuttles and tours organised and all sorts of stuff arranged, including discounts for their passengers. But P&O can’t or won’t use the same services as their SISTER company – remember, both Princess and P&O are owned by Carnival and your loyalty points are transferable between the two.
So, we couldn’t leave, even if we wanted to, so we didn’t.
Luckily, Whittier is a lovely little town. Insanely friendly (to the point of offering lifts in cars to strange British people). Prices aren’t cheap (four quid for a share size bag of Walkers/Lays crisps), but it is SO cut off, you can’t blame them! This used to be an Army town and, prior to 2000, the only way in or out was air or sea. In 2000, they cut a tunnel for the train to go to Anchorage and four years later, Princess Cruises starting stopping here. The tunnel now takes cars and trains (it is the longest combination tunnel in America – 2.5 miles), the Army has gone, and the place is definitely going to attract much more attention in the coming years. They already have pre-printed postcards and t-shirts, which puts them ahead of some other places we have been.
Dad thinks the whole place must be heavily subsidised, because they don’t seem to DO much, and yet there is serious money swilling around. In fact, the only thing of any size in the whole place is the marina, which is absolutely jam-packed with boats. I reckon every resident must have their own, including the children, and we’re not talking tiddlers, they’re BIG. There are a few under 40 feet, but not many. But there is nothing else to spend it on, I suppose. There is one bar/pub/diner/disco/nightclub (the Anchor as aforementioned) and one hotel with a bar and a restaurant (which opened today for the summer season). That’s it. There is one supermarket, a museum and the building they all live in. Other than the little seafood cafes and gift shops by the water and two restaurants (the Chinese and the posh one in the hotel), that’s IT. No cinema, no theatre, no art galleries, no amusement arcade, no parks – in fact, virtually no grass at all – nothing, absolutely nothing to alleviate the dullness of what it must be like to live here, particularly in the winter.
There is major construction under way. They have already built a special concrete pier for the cruise ships, and now there is a new slipway under construction to get boats into the water more easily. There must be a building involved as well, because there are some monumental girders lined up on the quayside. What I really need is to come back again in a year or so and see what they’ve built!
One nice touch I noticed is that the Disabled logo is embossed on the number plate of the car, so it can’t be stolen or misappropriated like blue badges can.
Anyway, so we pootled along the waterfront, going into each and every shop, because every single one had gifts and souvenirs available, be it a chandlery, a shop selling fishing rods and bait, or a cafe, before taking the underpass under the railway lines (no movement there, obviously) and going to the Anchor Inn for lunch. The diner is on the first floor, so mum only had to climb about five stairs. The food was superb although the service was a little vague in places and the portions were, as you might expect, vast.
We sat with Nancy, the friend of Merle’s that was conned out of sharing her cabin. Merle had returned to the ship early because she was too angry to enjoy herself. The ship has apparently stopped changing her Australian dollars into American dollars. They’ve done so for the past five months that she has been on board, but now they won’t any more. Apparently because this is not a world cruise. Although if you click on ‘world cruises’ on the P&O website, this cruise does come up, we tried it. She was, understandably, apoplectic with rage.
Everyone has their last straw, and today mum and dad may have had theirs, with the excursions business, and Merle had hers with the refusal to change her money. P&O just have no respect for their customers, whatsoever. It’s astonishing that they even still exist, if this is the way they treat probably their best customer. Merle is has been on Arcadia since January (that’s five months) and is going to join Adonia at the end of this cruise for the next four months. If this is how they treat HER, imagine how little they care about the rest of us!
After lunch, we crossed the eight railway lines – one line and seven for shunting – and made sure we had visited every shop on the waterfront, including the one selling kosher hotdogs.
We then wended our way back towards the ship, and stopped at The Inn at Whittier (the hotel next to the ship) for tea. Their wifi wasn’t free, but five dollars an hour is still cheaper than the twelve pounds an hour it costs on the ship. I filed a few emails in folders, but then I got talking to Nancy and it all went a bit by the wayside after that. I returned to the ship around six, while Nancy went off in search of more purchases.
What I didn’t realise until I came to leave was how cold the bar was and how stiff my muscles were and how chilled I had become. The floor was stone, which doesn’t seem wise in Alaska, and by the time I got back to the ship, I was chilled to the bone. I had to put my fleece on, despite not feeling the need for it all day, and keep it on throughout dinner. I felt quite ill and shivered repeatedly. I am now back in my cabin, with the air con turned to hot, which I’ve never had to do before in my life. Time for an early night with an obliging duvet, methinks.
So there you have it. P&O have screwed us over for possibly the last time and Whittier is lovely. Book a hire car before you go there if you want to see Anchorage. Or go on a Princess cruise instead, where you will probably be treated as if you matter.