Sunday, July 25, 2010

Gluttony on the High Seas: Our Alaskan Cruise

Never say never.

I swore I'd never go on a boat again after a disastrous cruise in 2003 (13 nights on the stormy Mediterranean sea, most of them spent in bed, violently seasick ). That is, until my parents invited Kris and I to join them on an upcoming family trip. My dad sounded so hopeful and excited that I couldn't say no, and that's when I found myself agreeing to go on a 5 night Alaskan cruise. Omigod, what had I done?! I'm the type of person that gets seasick in a swimming pool!

Well, thank goodness for seabands and non-drowsy dramamine. And I made sure to book a balcony room so I could see outside my cabin (very important when your inner ear gets confused rather easily). Check out the gorgeous views from our balcony:

I ended up feeling pretty good during my time onboard the ship, but that didn't save me from hours of boredom during 2 seemlingly endless days at sea. How much bingo and afternoon trivia can a person take? What else was there to do but eat? (and eat...and eat some more...)

But even I was shocked at our gluttony when I finally uploaded our cruise photos - on our last day at sea, we ate a total of 8 times in 12 hours!

9:30am sit-down breakfast:

12:05pm pastry extravanganza buffet:

1:08pm pizza poolside:

2:16pm hot dog at the grill:

2:44pm pavlova at the buffet (somehow I'd missed this during our first pass thru the pastry extravaganza):

3:45pm afternoon tea:

7:00pm sit-down dinner:

10:05pm soft serve ice cream on deck:

The worse part of it was that the food wasn't even that good (typical of cruises) and did not feature any local Alaskan fare, but we obviously have a hard time saying no to free food, especially when it's staring us in the face at every turn.

On most nights, dinner took almost 3 hours from start to finish but I'm realizing now that it was probably our table causing the kitchen backup (with the crazy number of dishes we ordered). And forget about after-dinner entertainment, poor hubby had to practically carry me (half-conscious from a food-induced coma) from the dining room straight to our cabin every night.

Mid-cruise, after getting bored of the same dining room night after night, we opted to have dinner in one of the specialty restaurants, a Cajun-themed steakhouse (my dad had become fixated on the broiled lobster tail he'd seen on the menu) and that's where I tried alligator for the first time. Unfortunately, the gator rib I received was full of cartilage, fat and a ton of miniature bones. I spit it out after one bite. Upon seeing my disappointment (and beginnings of a food tantrum), Kris quickly gave me a bite of his portion and you know what? Alligator tastes just like dark meat chicken!

At our 2 port-of-calls, we found even more opportunities to stuff our faces:

Tracy's King Crab Shack in Juneau:

King crab roll...with a heaping portion of sweet succulent crab:

As longtime fans of the
Deadliest Catch, we were excited to find out that some of their king crab is caught by the Time Bandit!

Fish & chips on the pier in Ketchikan (pricey and a bit of a tourist trap, but I never say no to fish & chips!):

Sam McGee's on Creek Street in Ketchikan to load up on foodie souvenirs:

Spruce Tip Jelly

Made from the delicate tips of a spruce tree.

Yes, it really does taste like a tree, a little funky but refreshing all the same. It smells like a walk through a fragrant pine forest.

Salmonberry Jelly

Salmonberry grows wild in Alaska and we spotted some as we were walking around Ketchikan.

The taste is milder than a raspberry (a close cousin) and its slightly floral scent reminded me of honey.

Birch Caramel

For some reason I was expecting this to taste sickly sweet (like molasses) but its deep caramelly flavor was truly sublime, with the perfect amount of sweetness. Can't wait to try some over ice cream (but I could honestly eat it straight from the jar).

Kelp Marmalade

This doesn't taste much different from citrus marmalades, but as a lover of all things seaweed, I bought a jar for the novelty factor. While we were at Sam McGee's, we also tried donut-shaped
kelp pickles (forgot to take a photo, oops!) which were also tasty, similar to bread and butter pickles.

A sticker of a mother polar bear with her cub designates that all our souvenirs were actually 'Made in Alaska':

We'd also pre-booked the
Alaskan Chef's Table excursion in Ketchikan but it was cancelled last minute because hubby and I were the ONLY 2 people on a ship of two thousand passengers that were willing to pay extra to taste local delicacies. This tasting menu was meant to be one of the highlights of our trip, so of course we were disappointed, but it's not like my rapidly expanding waistline really needed another 5 course meal.

We did, however, go on a
whale watching expedition in Juneau. Yes, I'm not only a glutton, but a glutton for punishment, braving yet another boat, this time a waterjet-propelled catamaran heading out to Auke Bay during inclemental weather (our early May cruise was the first sailing of the season so it was still chilly up north). I guess we could have stayed inside the heated cabin with the other passengers, sipping hot cocoa and happily munching donut holes, but instead, we held on for dear life while being tossed around on deck, getting pelted with freezing rain. My teeth were chattering and my knuckles had turned white from the death grip I had on the rails but I refused to leave my vantage point, determined to spot a humpback whale. Fortunately for us, the local whales were loving the lousy weather that day and we encountered no less than 6 humpbacks within a couple hours! One of them came so close to our boat that it scared the crap out of our pilot. As the humpback surfaced alongside the boat, Kris snapped a shot of its massive blowhole:

Here's a video we took of a humpback on a feeding dive, including the tail coming up and flipping over (aka 'the money shot'):

We also saw several bald eagles (their white heads made them easy to spot):

And some lazy sea lions:

After that extraordinary whale watching experience, stopping at the
Mendenhall Glacier on the way back to our cruiseship was a bit anti-climactic. But it was definitely pretty:

Icebergs that have recently broken off from the glacier are blue (the color has something to do with the way light refracts through the dense glacier ice):

Some more of our vacation pics...

Downtown Juneau, on a typical day of 'liquid sunshine':

Ketchikan, on a rare sunny day, taken from the bow of our cruiseship:

A masterfully carved totem pole in Ketchikan:

A horse-drawn trolley ride in Ketchikan (loving the haircut on the blond horse):

One of Ketchikan's famous Stair Streets, wooden stairways designated as public streets (houses are situated several flights up, can you imagine the nightmare of moving day?!):

Downtown Vancouver, taken from our cabin's balcony right before we disembarked:

I've now had a couple months to reflect on my first Alaskan cruise and even though I'm still not a fan of cruising, I had a great time overall. The locals we met on shore in Juneau and Ketchikan were fabulous ambassadors for Southeast Alaska. We got to experience an extraordinary whale-watching tour and visited our first glacier. We indulged in delicious Alaskan king crab in Juneau and encountered bizarre tree-flavored jelly in Ketchikan. And I finally grew my sea legs (thank you,
SeaBands). However, the next time I head to the 49th state, I'll definitely be doing a land tour so I have more time to try local delicacies and extreme cuisine (akutaq ice cream here I come).