Ask for Alaska (Part 1) - Cruise the Views

Sunset on a cruise!
Alaska is a huge state and there are many ways to experience it, but frankly, a cruise ship does the job handily. You might be thinking, “What? Me cruise? I’m not my parents!” Okay, settle down, you’re right on that account. But cruises these days are not your parents cruise. Get your rudder out of joint and at least consider it. There are a number of cruise lines (I’ve used Holland America several times which I highly recommend) which will transport you to the Great North, or elsewhere, with ease. A cruise allows you to visit multiple ports and the small Alaskan towns of Sitka, Juneau and Ketchikan among others, which are ideal one day stops. You can plan shore excursions (all cruise ships offer options though at a price) and further explore the area’s temperate rain forest, which is stunningly beautiful, the coast where you can see otters and whales in season, plenty of bald eagles, or shop (which I don’t because it numbs me) or just hang. Plus visiting the small towns you can find cool things like local art, reindeer sausage (which I loved), elk burgers (eh, not so much) and heaps of fresh salmon and crab.  
The kitchen hard at work

Of course cruising also means you can hang out on the high seas and eat. To whit: While cruising on the Holland America ship Westerdam to Alaska, I toured the kitchen and had a private dinner with chef Troy Wastell. Totaling the passengers and crew, the ship holds just under 3,000 people, small by usual cruise ship standards, though considerably larger than parties I host at my house. Consider that on average this particular kitchen puts out 10,000 meals a day (factoring 3 meals per day per person) with the help of 97 cooks, 2 butchers and 9 pastry chefs. Average food consumption per cruise? 1,675 pounds of butter and margarine; over 23,000 eggs get cracked, 1,150 gallons of ice cream are sucked up, and nearly 12,000 pounds of meat and meat products are consumed (I’m not exactly sure what a “meat product” is – meat is either meat, or it’s not). The food is, overall, very well executed with an amazing diversity of choice and is designed so that meals don’t repeat during the week.
Chey Troy Wastell makin' my dinner

The private “Dine with the Chef” dinner, though pricy at about $80, does allow a small group to dine on a 6-course meal with wine paring as Chef Troy cooks your food in front of you. It’s about 3 hours, but you’ll find various foods presented: in my case there was passionfruit baked shrimp, lobster ravioli, veal scaloppini and the beverage pairings included vodka with a potato and cavier appetizer, as well as wines from across the globe. Happily, I meandered back to my state room.

But cruising also allows for nightly entertainment and every ship has plenty of activities for travelers of all ages, and something I need, a gym, and something I don’t need, a spa. Do with it what you will, or hang out on your verandah and stare at the Pacific as you effortlessly glide over it. When I did my first cruise, I hated it. It felt too confining. But choosing the right cruise line for your needs is crucial. Different cruise lines appeal to different demographics: the sedate set, the party cruise, and there are specific themed cruises as well, so do your homework. 
Cruising the views: Me, my wife and the Hubbard Glacier

But try it at least once. It really is a fantastic way to get an overview of a region and if you plan it right, you can cruise for a very reasonable amount, about $150/day. Try that with a hotel, 3 squares a day, gas, and no entertainment! If it’s your first time, make sure you do a shorter cruise first, not a 14-day adventure. Start slowly and work into it. And cruises work best when you grasp the idea that there will be a boatload of people around you, so the more you make friends (you’ll see them on land and on the ship) the more you’ll enjoy your time. Some ships offer behind the scenes tours. As a travel writer a get a lot of cool opportunities, like touring the kitchen with the chef, and hanging out on the bridge with the captain. Always check to see what is offered each day you’re aboard ship; be adventurous and try something new: otherwise you’ll be at the point of no return and we know where that leads. Have fun. Go cruise.
Cruising is easy, as shown here on the Westerdam's Bridge

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