Those of you who have been to Alaska may recognize this as one of the magnificent tidewater glaciers in the Inside Passage, the southeastern coastal portion of Alaska that’s made up of many islands and breathtakingly beautiful vistas. It’s a route that many fishing and cruise ships follow and for good reason. The fish are abundant and the sights are spectacular, as I found out on my recent vacation, which started in Vancouver and ended in Anchorage. In between the Canadian city on the front end and the five days spent inland in and around Denali National Park at the end (which I’ll post about later), I took a seven-day cruise through Alaska’s Inside Passage. Never having taken a cruise before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Will I get seasick? Will I get cabin fever? Will I be bored on the ship? Do I have to dress up for dinner all the time? Will the food be good? Will I eat way too much? Will there be nice people aboard? Will I have time to see things on land? Do they really play shuffleboard on ships? The answers, I am happy to report, are: no, no, no, no, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes, although I did not actually play shuffleboard (but I did sing karaoke and even danced a line dance.) Want to take a virtual trip with me through some of the sights we saw and food we ate? This is a long one, so grab yourself a cup of tea. Here are my travel mates – my husband and our friends Lilli and Bob: I had expected the food onboard to be just mediocre, but in the case of the dining room, where we ate each night, it was downright delicious. There are also a couple of “specialty” restaurants on board, including Sabatini’s, the ship’s answer to Italian food. We tried it one night, but it was less than exciting to put it nicely. Maybe it’s because we all know what good Italian cooking is, but we were all disappointed with the food at Sabatini’s. We far preferred the main dining room, where the food was better. The first night for instance, I ate a seafood pate and broiled salmon. They weren’t going to set the culinary world on fire, but they were both quite good and nicely presented on the plate.
If you didn’t like what you had ordered, no problem – just select something else from the menu. There were at least three courses each night, with various options for each course, plus a plethora of desserts to choose from too. Our seating was at 8:30 p.m. with a table right next to a window, so the views never left you as you were dining. I wasn’t prepared for the long hours of daylight. Here’s the sunset on our first night at sea, which was close to 10 p.m. Later on the trip as we sailed farther north, it was still light at midnight. I woke up earlier than I wanted to the first day after departure, but peeked out onto the balcony and saw this misty view as we headed north: There are lots of things to do onboard while sailing, including lectures on the local cultures, geology. I caught up with a couple of movies I hadn’t seen as well. But for many people, eating is the main event. The cafeteria is kept open practically 24 hours, giving gluttonous passengers a chance to eat at any time of day or night. In the dining room that night, we ate halibut and filet mignon. Both were delicious.
Dessert wasn’t bad either. We were heavy into chocolate that night: chocolate mousse and chocolate soufflé with zabaglione.
Our first port of call was Ketchikan. It’s a cute little town situated right by a river, a perfect home for all those salmon I was planning to eat. The town is mainly dependent on tourism and fishing and is typically the first stop for many ships traveling the Inside Passage. When you’re in the salmon capital of the world, why not visit a salmon hatchery and learn all about the life cycle of the salmon? You’ll pass lots of rushing streams where the salmon swim upstream to spawn: This area was teeming with eagles too, and we must have seen dozens of them during the day: Some close enough to look right in the eye: Although there are lots of shops here, if you take a short ride outside of town you’ll have a chance to see why Ketchikan is also known as the totem pole capital of Alaska. I hadn’t seen so many totem poles since Vancouver. The three major native tribes of the region are the Tlingits, the Haidas and the Tsimshians. We visited an actual native village called Saxman where we saw dozens of totems and learned a little about the symbolism of the large poles, all carved from red cedar.
Lilli and I couldn’t pass up the small stand featuring halibut fish and chips, but we tried to be reasonable and shared this portion. The sunset that night was hauntingly beautiful: The next day we stopped in Juneau, the state’s capital. The museum there holds lots of interesting exhibits about local tribes, the influence of Russian culture and the area’s gold mining history.
But there’s so much to see and do outdoors that it was hard to stay indoors for long. We went searching for some whales in the nearby waters and took an excursion on a small boat. We were not disappointed, with lots of humpback whale sightings. We got an extra bonus when we rode by this buoy loaded with sea lions and a bald eagle perched on top: We even watched one of the sea lions wrestle with a salmon he had just caught: Next we were off for a short bus ride to see Mendenhall Glacier, the first of many glaciers we would see during our trip. Glaciers form over thousands of years when snow that doesn’t melt accumulates and compacts prior years’ snow into ice. We had heard a lot about the retreating glaciers and this was a prime example. According to a guide published by Princess Cruise line, between 1980 and 1999, Mendenhall retreated an average of 90 feet a year, then sped up – losing 300 feet in 2000, and more than 600 feet in 2004. Better hurry before it all melts.
Back to the ship for dinner and either I must have been preoccupied with my meal, or the food was not particularly blog-worthy. In either event, I did manage to capture a photo of a delicious eggplant dish and my husband eating his much-longed for meal on this trip – spaghetti and meatballs.
The next day we were off to Skagway, Alaska, where the discovery of gold in 1896 set off a chaotic rush by miners hoping to strike it rich. Our friend Bob decided to take a day-long ride up to the Yukon territories to see the legendary White Pass trail in person, but the rest of us opted to stay in town and learn about it in a lecture and film at the visitors center instead. It also gave us the opportunity to roam the town and poke in and out of some of the shops and old-time taverns – not to mention a stop at the local library to catch up on email.
I took every chance I could to eat fish on this trip and that night’s dinner was no exception, although I started with a scrumptious goat cheese sformato.
Dessert was pretty ship-shape too. The last two days of the cruise were probably the most spectacular in terms of scenery, although we didn’t dock even once. We cruised through Glacier Bay and College Fjord to the most awesome sights imaginable – glacier after glacier one more beautiful than the last. Occasionally a whale would stop by: You could watch the glaciers from inside the ship or outside, even from while soaking in the hot tub if that’s what floats your boat: But my favorite place was from our balcony, which we rigged to open up with Bob and Lilli’s adjacent balcony. Time for wine and appetizers and glacier gazing: I don’t know how we lucked out with an unexpected upgrade to a balcony room – with no one behind us and an unobstructed view of the sea to boot. All the better to see those icebergs floating by. Amid all the natural beauty, a dessert extravaganza early in the day tempted us too. But hey, I did work out at the ship’s gym four times. The last night’s dinner had an all-American theme and our waiter Adi, who was from Romania, was appropriately attired: We chose some all-American selections too – New York strip steak and roast turkey:
But what made the meal even more special were some special touches sent by the ship’s maitre d’hotel, Giuseppe Gelmini. Following a culinary demonstration earlier in the day, we chatted and discovered that he was from the same area of Italy as my mother. At dinner we drank a delicious “La Crema” pinot noir courtesy of Giuseppe, who also had the chefs prepare an asparagus risotto for us and a delicious tartufo dessert. What a great way to end our last dinner onboard.
We took a midnight walk around the upper deck for one last time. It still wasn’t really dark out, and we could see Whittier, the ship’s final destination, a short distance away: After a good night’s sleep and one last breakfast, we were off to explore more of Alaska, this time on land. Thanks to everyone on the Coral Princess who helped make my first cruise so much fun. Congratulations to Kate of A Spoonful of Thyme. She’s the winner of the Alaskan products giveaway. Thanks to all of you who left a comment.