Okay, like everything else, this took long enough – but Alaska was AMAZING! The towns are quaint and there is so much incredible, natural beauty. It is absolutely stunning.
Isn’t that just amazing? FYI if you are interested in seeing a TON more pictures from Alaska you can check out the album on my personal Facebook page. The album is public, so you should be able to see it – if for some reason it doesn’t work for you, shoot me a message.
Our cruise ship sailed out of Washington, so we ended up staying one night before in Seattle. We got in late afternoon, so we needed to grab some dinner. While Grandpa was contemplating Cheesecake Factory (and I was screaming, “DEAR GOD, PLEASE, NO!!” in my head) I managed to get some advice from the desk person at our hotel and managed to drag the grandparents over to Pike Place Chowder. The original location is in the market, but they have an outpost in the Pacific Place Mall and it was close enough to the hotel to not overwhelm my grandma. They were close to closing, but they were still serving chowders. The grandparents got New England Clam chowder, which was pretty delicious. I ordered the Seafood Bisque which was phenomenal. According to their menu it has: Pacific Cod, Northwest Salmon, Calamari, Oregon Bay Shrimp, simmered in a creamy, aromatic tomato-basil broth. Apparently it was also voted “Nation’s Best” at Rhode Island’s Great Chowder Cook-Off. It was probably the best soup I’ve ever had. EVER.
Our first full day at sea was a “formal night” which means you have to be dressed up to eat in the dining room. Well we dressed up but we didn’t eat in the dining room. It almost seems silly since meals are included in the price of the cruise, but Holland America offers a couple other “pay” dining experiences. That is for an extra fee, you can pay to eat in one of the fancy restaurants. Since everyone who I was with booked their cruise through Auto Club, the travel agents hooked it up with a coupon to eat at the Pinnacle Grill. And let me tell you, if you’re cruising Holland America, it’s TOTALLY worth it. I actually thought it would be a lot more, since my meal was technically not included with the coupons but it’s only $25.oo US additional! The meal we ate would have been MUCH more expensive to eat at a steakhouse like Ruth’s Chris or something and it was the same caliber of dining.
I highly recommend this extra special meal.
Our first port of call was Ketchikan. My uncle and I had an incredible excursion there. We hopped on a small boat and were taken to a remote island where we were taught basic survival skills by a guy who was born and raised in Ketchikan. Apparently it is a requirement for all 8th graders going into high school to spend three days on an island like the one we were on with what they can pack into a coffee can. Having the necessary survival skills is imperative in a small town with so much wilderness surrounding it and such extreme weather. As part of our excursion we got to sample something similar to what the kids might consume on one of those trips. We were each given a paint can with supplies inside and ended up making a little soup out of cous cous, dried blueberries, furikake, and tea brewed from Devil’s Club. Devil’s Club is this big leafy plant native to the area – prickly on the outside (like nettle) but serves some medicinal purposes and makes a tasty tea! It was actually pretty good. The top right photo in the collage is the fire I started. I was one of 3 people who managed to get a fire going (the other two were young boys!) and I was pretty proud of myself. Yeah, Girl Scouts.
Another great part of this tour was we got to pull up some traps that the company has in conjunction with the university looking for the non-native green crab, which would be an incredibly invasive species, which would definitely damage the native ecosystem.
It looks like these guys have a website and that you can book this particular tour even if you’re not coming from a cruise ship! If you’re ever in Ketchikan cruise ship or not, I highly recommend this tour. It was so professional and the guys we interacted with the most I can still remember their names! Our survivalist was Jeff, and the naturalist on board was Casey. (Casey seemed a little excited that we were from SoCal since apparently he was from Huntington Beach??)
Allen Marine Tours – Alaskan Wilderness Survival Tour
We were in Juneau a couple days later where we saw Mendenhall Glacier and toured a salmon hatchery. But since I’m all about the food, the highlight of the day was the Salmon Bake! This was included as part of our tour, but again it looks like something you can do without booking it through a cruise line. If you’re ever up that way, again, I totally recommend this. The food was GREAT! The salmon was served with this like brown sugar glaze, and the cornbread and pasta salad were delicious. The blueberry cake for dessert was yummy, and clearly these guys like their jobs – check out that guy photobombing in the picture on the left of the collage! I didn’t even notice until I had gotten home and uploaded all the pics to my computer, but that guy giving me the cheesy thumbs up is one of the best pictures I have from my vacation!
They don’t appear to have an official website? But check out info on them here through Alaska Travel Adventures
Homer merits TWO places that need talking about!!! First is Boardwalk Bakery. Now I’ll be completely honest, I only had one thing here. But if the rest of the stuff they do is ANYTHING like this one thing, this might be the best bakery ever. We stopped here because the gal, Joy, who led our tour in Homer (I can’t remember the name of the tour company, I’m sorry) told us that the ranger cookies at Boardwalk Bakery were THE BEST. I can’t say I disagree. I got two, and they were worth every damn penny. I found their website. I’m wondering if those gals will ship to me here in SoCal…if not, do you think they’ll send me their recipe?! I think about these cookies a lot. That’s normal, right?
You should feel free to donate to the kickstarter for the documentary that they will be the subject of. That sounds like a worthy cause, no? Baking Alaska Kickstarter
The only problem is their website is terrible. The kickstarter notice covers their whole website. Maybe when they take it down the website looks better…www.boardwalkbakery.biz/
Homer spot Numero Dos!! AK Crab Shack…wow. We were totally sucked in by the sign that said “All you can eat crab.” Alas, the AYCE crab was a little out of our $$$ range. BUT we were hungry and decided we needed to try this place that was basically the size of my living room and smelled delicious. And crab. How can you NOT have crab when you’re in Alaska…that’s just…wrong.
This may have been some of the best (if not THE) best food I ate the whole trip. If I ever find myself back in Homer, this will be my first stop. The crab cakes had coconut on the outside and were served with a sweet and sour sauce. I could have ate the whole basket, but that would have been rude, since I was sharing with my Aunt and Uncle. I should have just grabbed the basket and ran…
The quesadilla was also delicious. The tortilla was nice and crispy and the inside nice and melty and had a delectable mango salsa with just a little bit of a kick. I’d never have thought to put all those things together and it felt a little funny eating a quesadilla in Alaska but it was SOOOO GOOD! Now that I think about it, I should have ran off with this too. Screw sharing.
AK Crab Shack does not appear to have a website, but they are sort of on Facebook
Russian Tea! Put on by the owner of Kodiak Tour Company, DeeAnn, herself, we feasted on Borscht, Piroshkis, and Russian Tea while enjoying the beautiful musical performance of the Kodiak Russian Balalaika Players. It doesn’t look like the Russian Tea experience is on the website, BUT I wonder if it’s the kind of thing that you could join in on through a tour that is booked. DeeAnn seemed SO nice. I bet she’d work with you. If it’s something you can do, you should! Plus the Balalaika Players were AMAZING. Check out the video below.
For more info on Kodiak Tours:
114 Mill Bay Rd
But it wasn’t just the food on tours or on shore that was delicious. Holland America’s dining team does a pretty amazing job. I have to say that this was my first cruise, so I can’t really compare HAL to other cruise lines, but I thought the food was top notch. I will admit I was a little concerned before we boarded that it would be along the lines of bad wedding catering (rubber chicken, anyone?) but the food was tasty, some was very creative, and often it was quite decadent.
Clockwise from top left: Kiwi and Pasion Fruit Pavlova; Olive Oil Poached Halibut; Lavender and Almond Milk Flan;
Filet with Foie Gras melted over it; Escargot; Paté, Caviar, and Smoked Salmon Platter; and Surf & Turf
And in case that wasn’t enough, the 3rd to last night the ship had a dessert EXTRAVAGANZA! (You should hear me say this in person. EVERY TIME it sounds like I’m some kind of game show announcer…) Because sometimes you just need a whole deck filled with dessert at 10 o’clock at night:
And with everything I’ve been talking about regarding losing weight, I was really concerned with all the food readily available that I would gain a little while I was on vacay. But I am happy to report I did not. I didn’t lose anything either, but all things considered I was pretty happy with maintaining. Yup!
For more of an in depth look (ie. More pictures) of what I ate while I was gone (because you know you’re all curious) check out the HPM Facebook Page. I’ll have the pictures posted. Make sure you “like” me while you’re there! #shamelessselfpromotion