Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Full Suburban: Surprise Alaska cruise made even better with playing cards

By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

Two weeks ago, my husband Logan and I – along with Logan’s mom, her sister, and four of his siblings and their spouses – jumped through all the required hoops and managed to go on an Alaskan cruise. And can I just say, WOW. Alaska did not disappoint; it was completely, absolutely, unabashedly gorgeous.

We began planning the cruise in the fall of 2021 as a surprise birthday present for Debbie, my mother-in-law. An Alaskan cruise was something she had always dreamed of doing, so keeping it a surprise until her birthday in April was pure torture; we could hardly wait to have her share in our excitement.

The days leading up to the cruise were full of nail-biting moments, like when one brother- and sister-in-law realized their passports had expired, and another sister-in-law had her negative COVID test results lost by the lab less than a day before we were supposed to board.

While I didn’t have any mishaps of that magnitude, my preparations for the trip were in no way perfect. If I could sum up my biggest pre-cruise mistake, it would be watching the blockbuster movie “Titanic” mere days before boarding the ship.

“This looks just like the grand staircase where Leonardo DiCaprio’s ghost greets Kate Winslet after she dies” and “Imagine what this dining room would look like filled with water” were just a few of the conversation stoppers that I uttered during our cruise.

It didn’t help that one part of our itinerary included an early-morning sail down a narrow fjord, complete with large floating blocks of ice that my active imagination could well envision were the same size as the one that sunk the Titanic (which they most definitely were not).

Icebergs aside, the thing that I should have been most afraid of on the cruise was the card games. Oh, the card games. Every night after dinner – and often during the day if we weren’t stopped at a port somewhere – the whole family was playing cards.

The extended Ditto family is notorious for loving endless rounds of games, each with intricate rules and methods of play that are way out of my league. Up until a few years ago, I would join in (somewhat begrudgingly) any time a card game was pulled out. But I can no longer muster the will to try to understand the rules or strategy necessary to excel among the highly competitive Dittos.

I may refuse to play most of the time, but I love being around my family and will sit at the table with everyone, engaging in conversation if their concentration levels will allow. But sometimes even that waxes old when the game has gone on for an hour or two.

“Does no one have a good book to read?” I wailed one night when a card game was still going strongly at midnight and all I could think about was snuggling up in my bed and diving into the murder mystery I’d brought along on the trip.

A Ditto family favorite that got hours of play during the cruise was Skull King, a pirate-themed game that I believe was created by evil minions in purgatory.

Here, I quote directly from the 27-page Skull King rule booklet:

“There are 4 suits of cards numbered 1-14 in the deck. There are three standard suits; Parrot (green), Treasure Chest (yellow), Treasure Map (purple), and the trump suit: Jolly Roger (Black). Jolly Roger cards outrank (trump) the other three suits.”

I know this makes sense to many of you – that you’re nodding your heads like all the other Dittos and saying, “Yes, yes, go on.”

But my brain is not built for such things. My brain already wants to explode.

The rules go on: There are about 90 billion “special” cards that add even more confusion (some might call it “fun”) to the game: cards like pirates, mermaids, a kraken, a white whale, and even cards with “advanced pirate abilities” that can add cards to your hand or give you bonus points if you bet the right way. The Skull King defeats all cards except Mermaids. Pirates defeat all cards except the Skull King. Mermaids defeat all numbered cards and the Skull King. The kraken blows up the whole round and makes everything moot anyway. And on and on and on.

By this point, I’m praying for an iceberg. Are we having fun yet?

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at