Sunday, August 1, 2010

Food and Fun in Alaska’s Inside Passage

glaciers againThose 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.

alaska map 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:

Rich, Linda, Lilli, Bob at dinnerI 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.

first sunset aboard ship

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:

misty scene

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.

Welcome to 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.

Ketchikan  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?

life cycle of 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:

soaring eagle

Some close enough to look right in the eye:

Eagle stare

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.

Halibut fish and chips

The sunset that night was hauntingly beautiful:

unusual sky

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.

humpback whale 

We got an extra bonus when we rode by this buoy loaded with sea lions and a bald eagle perched on top:

eagle and seals

We even watched one of the sea lions wrestle with a salmon he had just caught:

seal with salmon supper

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.

ship shape dessert

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.

glacier 1 

white caps

glaciers again top and bottom


and closer yet

Occasionally a whale would stop by:

whale's tail

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:

everyone on deck 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:

Lilli and Bob on balcony

drinks and appys on balcony

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. 

viewing glaciers from balcony

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.

elaborate dessert table

The last night’s dinner had an all-American theme and our waiter Adi, who was from Romania, was appropriately attired:

Our waiter Adi

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:

Whittier in the distance 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. 

The Coral Princess

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.


  1. love the shots! Salmon's life cycle is interesting!

  2. What a wonderful cruise! The food is lovely and the ladscapes are mindblowing! A dream place.



  3. I'm soooo jealous! I always wanted to do an Alaskan cruise.... We came close before we left US, but it's a bit far for us now LOL. It looks fantastic!

  4. I shouldn't have read that without breakfast. Now I'm jealous and starving. Looks like a great trip. Northern cruises are a whole different kind of cruise vacation, but they're great. Back in my waitressing days in Halifax, we ran for two solid months in the fall on cruise busniess. It was great.

  5. I've always wanted to go on a cruise to Alaska and all of your gorgeous photos are definitely reinforcing that! Sounds like a fun vacation!

  6. Thank you for sharing your vacation with us. Your photos are beautiful! I've heard that a cruise is definitely the best way to see Alaska. I agree after reading your post. The glaciers and wildlife scenes are fantastic!

  7. Oh Linda, these photos are just spectacular. I am so happy that your first cruise was so great. I have never been on one of any kind ever. I always start to starve when I read your blogs. I loved the shot of you on your balcony, just a great one. And the Pinot Noir was calling my name. I did not realize the food was so fabulous on a cruise... yummmm. I did love that one close up of the Bald Eagle as well... all the photo's were just fantastic.

  8. Oh my goodness!!! Your photos of the glaciers are stunning. Absolutely breathtaking. We took an Alaska cruise in 2007 and loved every minute. I would go back in a heartbeat.

    and....thank you Linda! I am so excited about winning the giveaway.

    I hope the remainder of your vacation is just as scenic and relaxing as the cruise.

  9. I love this post Linda. In 1993 I bought a 26 foot motorhome and drove to Alaska from LA with my dog. It was the summer adventure of a lifetime. Your photos are so wonderful. I have not been back, but the next time I go I plan to take a cruise. How I miss the rugged beauty of Alaska. Sounds like the four of you had a fabulous time. Love how you describe your trip.

  10. Holy smokes! That's a lot of food, how could you NOT gain weight with that Viennese table and all that beautiful food?

    The scenery is beautiful, and your photos are top notch. I love the sea lions w/ the eagle.

  11. Stunning! An Alaskan cruise is on my "bucket list". After seeing your pictures I want it even more!

  12. Hoe beautiful! I would love to take that cruise one day. Your photos are amazing, crisp and stunning.

  13. Absolutely beautiful -- a cruise to Alaska is definitely on our bucket lists! The scenery is magnificent and the Coral Princess' cuisine looks quite delicious!

    I'm not sure if you saw my blog post about my nephew climbing to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, but the glaciers there are also receding at am alarming rate!

    My husband and I took our first cruise to new England and Canada on the debut year of the Queen Mary 2 for s special anniversary, and we were also upgraded to a balcony room. I wonder if cruise lines do that to first time cruisers in the hopes that we get "hooked" on cruising? We enjoyed the experience very much but haven't had a chance to be sophomore cruisers as yet. :)

  14. I am living vicariously through you - somthing Paul and I have always dreamed about - Vancouver and an Alaskan cruise. The shots are just spectacular. I did love the sea lions on their makeshift man-made island. And eagles and whales and ..well the food. All so memorable. All inviting.

  15. Congrats to my friend, Kate on her win. Linda, I have to say that your photos were stunning. Back in the day, when I was a travel agent, I've visited these ports, but arrived via tour bus. I have never cruised to Alaska, but it's been a dream I've had for quite some time. I told my husband he had to look at your blog. I need to step up saving for this trip. I thoroughly enjoyed your tour-- reminds me of the 16 or so cruises I've taken. You feel like a Princess in every way. Back to reality, eh?

  16. Hello, Linda. I'm a friend of Kate's and saw the link to your blog. We just returned from a similar trip to Alaska, and I loved seeing your great photos -- some close to ours and some very different. Looks like you had a terrific first-cruise experience.

  17. Stunning photos Linda. Someday I hope to head up to Inside Passage.On a cruise it is my understanding that food is nothing short of spectacular.

  18. I just finished reading and staring at all your photos with my coffee next to me. That scenery is awe inspiring, I too, love the shot of you on your balcony, the perfect set up with you and your friends! Lets not even get into the food, I'll take up all your space, but that sformato, wow! The shot you took on the deck with everyone one is surreal and I love the icy blue colors of the glaciers.
    What a trip!

  19. Great whale Photos! Watching whales in their own environment is a unique experience.

  20. No surprise that you came back with striking photos of Alaska but I didn't expect all this posh food, YUM!

  21. Oh WOW...this makes me want to go ASAP to Alaska. Beautiful pictures!

  22. Foto splendide. Grazie per aver condiviso con noi questa vacanza. Un abbraccio, buona settimana Daniela.

  23. I love your pictures it looks like a super cool place to go...thanks for shearing

  24. Your photos are wonderful, Linda. You've renewed my interest in taking that cruise. It's been on my list for ages and somehow hasn't managed to make it to the top. I've never taken a cruise and this looks like the perfect first experience. Thanks so much for sharing.

  25. WOW Linda! Spectacular photos! And I can't believe how close you got to those bald eagles! How lucky that you got upgraded to a balcony room, the balcony was my absolute favorite part of the entire cruise. And looks like you had the same menu onboard as we did, I recognize a lot of those dishes. We tried to visit the salmon hatchery in Ketchikan but got there after it closed so glad to be able to see your photos. Can't wait to read about Vancouver :)

  26. The food looked fantastic, but those other pictures! WOW is all I can say. I really feel as if I was there with you. Thank you so much for that post, which I'm sure took AGES to put together. Really glorious pictures.

  27. What gorgeous photos. In another life I'm sure you were a tour guide. It looks and sounds as though you had a wonderful holiday. It's wonderful that you were able to travel with good friends. That always adds a great deal to a trip. I hope you have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

  28. You did a phenomenal job at capturing the essence of your Alaskan cruise---the pictures are stunning! My husband and I took an Alaskan cruise on the Coral in 2005, and cruised from Whittier south to Vancouver so the weather got warmer as we cruised south! We have cruised quite extensively over the past 10 years, but we both agree that Alaska is by far our very favorite cruise destination. Spectacular!

  29. Wow, what a great way to see such a grand state. Your photos really capture it all, Linda. I can't get over how clear that glacial water is - and all that food! What a fabulous trip you must have had.

  30. What a wonderful trip. Your photos are amazing, truly capturing the beauty of Alaska. Really enjoyed reading your post!

  31. I am in complete awe of your cruise and trip to Alaska! What a beautiful experience. Thanks so much for sharing all the pictures with us. I have always wanted to take an Alaskan cruise and it has definitely moved up on my list after reading this. Looks like Princess cruise line treated you well.

  32. Thank you for taking us aboard with you. The pictures of food and scenery are wonderful.

  33. i never wanted to go to alaska until i saw your pictures... now i can't think of anything else!

  34. Great pictures, but you missed the best town in the Inside Passage -'Petersburg'! ;) For more pics look at Mr.Kitchenroach's blog.