Sunday, August 21, 2011

Supper at the Gold Creek Salmon Bake in Juneau, Alaska

      After successfully collecting a few flakes of gold during our gold-panning excursion at Gold Creek in Juneau, Alaska, we were hungry and cold. Luckily, the second part of our ship-booked shore excursion included a trip to the Gold Creek Salmon Bake for supper. Our tour guide, Dig-In Dave, gathered us onto our mini-bus for the short drive in the drizzling rain. Upon our arrival, clouds of fragrant smoke, a giant wooden salmon and a folk-music singer welcomed us to the salmon bake site.

Welcome to Gold Creek Salmon Bake!

     The salmon bake is located about a 10 minute drive from the cruise ship docks. There are buses making regular runs back to the ships, so guests can stay as long or as short as they like. At a stand just inside the entrance to the salmon bake was a  friendly soup lady, handing out small cups of hot, creamy clam chowder to the arriving guests. Although the portions were quite small, the soup was tasty and satisfying, and we went back for seconds. For many of us, this was the best part of the meal.

     The fragrant smoke came from the burning alder wood, used to smoke the star of the show, fresh Alaskan salmon. The cook brushed each piece with his "special sauce" before grilling the fish over the open fire. There was plenty of salmon to go around, and an all-you-can-eat buffet stocked with sweet corn bread, wild rice pilaf, Chilkoot baked beans, Cheechako chicken, tossed green salad and Alfredo penne pasta.

Grilling Alaskan salmon over an open alderwood fire

     Free drinks included ice tea, fruit punch, hot tea and coffee. A bar located next to the soup stand and across from the grilling station sold beer and wine.

Waiting for drinks at the bar

     The eating areas were well protected from the light rain by white tarpaulin tenting, and outdoor space heaters kept diners warm. In the background, a Cat Stevens-esque singer, accompanied by his guitar set a folksy mood for this family-style outdoor barbeque meal. A small gift shop on the premises was a good spot to pick up some souvenirs, including a gold panning kit complete with pan, gold-laced Alaskan sand and instructions.

Covered eating area, singer in the background

     I found the food quality to be average, at best. Everything was edible, but not particularly memorable. The salmon had a sweet, smoky taste, which was judged to be good by some of us, but tasteless by others. The same can be said of the corn bread, which was pronounced "too dry" by some, and "delicious" by others. Overall, this stop was a pleasant ending to our day in Juneau, and provided a friendly spot to fuel up and relax after all that gold-panning out at Gold Creek.

Bon appetit!

This article recounts our experience on the second portion of the "Gold Panning Adventure and Alaska Salmon Bake" shore excursion in Juneau, Alaska on July 18th, 2011. It was purchased through Holland America Line on board the Zuiderdam, and cost $79 per adult, $54 per child. This excursion lasts approximately 3 hours in total, and we spent about half of that on the gold panning expedition to Gold Creek, and the other half here at the Salmon Bake.
Gold Creek Salmon Bake on Urbanspoon

Related posts: 
Shore Excursion: Gold Panning in Juneau
Cruising Alaska's Inside Passage on HAL's Zuiderdam
A Balcony with a View: Zuiderdam Penthouse 7046
A Photo Tour of Zuiderdam's Penthouse Suite #7046
White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad in Skagway 
A Taste of Tracy Arm Fjord
Cruising Alaska's Glacier Bay 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Taste of Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska

     It was a misty, damp morning (July 18, 2011) on our Alaskan Inside Passage cruise when our ship, Holland America Line's Zuiderdam, entered Tracy Arm Fjord, one of two fjords making up Tracy Arm-Ford's Terror Wilderness (the other is Endicott Arm). Each fjord is over 30 miles long, and have tidewater glaciers at their heads. We did not make it far enough into the fjord to see the twin Sawyer Glaciers, but we did have ample time to enjoy the beautiful, glacier-carved cliffs rising out of the water dramatically and towering above us on both sides of the narrow channel.

Misty morning in Tracy Arm Fjord

Entering Tracy Arm Fjord early in the morning, mist covering the tops of the mountains

     The captain had the door to the ship's bow opened to allow passengers to enjoy the scenery from this unique vantage point, and even though there was a light drizzle and the air was cool, many of us ventured outside to take in the 180 degree view of the fjord. Outside on deck, crew members provided hot chocolate and hot coffee, but strangely, no cups. Those wishing to warm up with a hot beverage had to first purchase a plastic souvenir travel coffee mug. Passengers wishing to stay dry and warm inside had the option of similar views through floor-to-ceiling windows in the Crow's Nest.

Door to the ship's bow, otherwise off limits - opened to passengers for scenic viewing

Outside on the ship's bow

Photo of the ship taken from the bow, facing backwards - Crow's Nest windows visible at the top of the ship

As the morning progresses, the mist starts to lift, and the glacier-carved valleys become visible

     The Zuiderdam slowly cruised along Tracy Arm Fjord for approximately two and a half hours before regaining speed for the trip to Juneau, the port of the day (located 72 km north of Tracy Arm Fjord). We passed miles of rugged mountains, steep cliffs and cascading waterfalls until we reached a beautiful blue iceberg floating in the green water, offering just a small taste of the centuries-old glaciers that lay ahead of us. At this point, a smaller excursion boat joined us to pick up passengers and take them further inside the fjord. The Zuiderdam slowly turned around and headed out, pausing in front of a particularly scenic waterfall before picking up speed and heading to Juneau.

Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska

Small blue iceberg marks the end of our trip

Excursion boat heads past us deeper into the fjord, after picking up passengers from the ship

Captain Timmers slowly turns the ship around in front of this cascading waterfall before zooming on towards Juneau

Related posts: 
Cruising Alaska's Glacier Bay
Photo Tour of Zuiderdam's Penthouse Suite #7046  
A Balcony With a View: Penthouse Suite 7046
Cruising Alaska's Inside Passage on HAL's Zuiderdam
Shore Excursion: Gold Panning in Juneau
Shore Excursion: Supper at the Gold Creek Salmon Bake in Juneau 
Shore Excursion: White Pass Railroad in Skagway

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Photo Tour of Holland America Line's Zuiderdam: Penthouse Verandah Suite #7046

     The cruise ship ms Zuiderdam (Holland America Line) was launched in 2002 and is the first in their Vista-class series. We recently sailed to Alaska on this ship in one of the two penthouse suites (Inside Passage 7-day cruise, July 16-23, 2011). According to Holland America Line's website, the penthouse suite measures 1,150 sq.ft., including the balcony. Here is a photo tour of the ms Zuiderdam's Penthouse Suite #7046, located on the port side of the Rotterdam deck (deck 7). The pictures are presented in a roughly geographic order, starting with the entryway.

1) The penthouse suite door is decorated with a plaque bearing its name.

Welcome to ms Zuiderdam's Penthouse Verandah Suite #7046!

2) Inside the foyer: to the right is a butler's pantry with a sink, full-size fridge, microwave, toaster and coffee maker. Dishes and cutlery are hidden in the lower cabinets, as are coffee and tea, but sadly, there is no kettle to boil water for the tea. To the left is a guest bathroom.

Right: Butler's Pantry

Left: Guest Bathroom

3) Directly in front of the entrance, inside the suite, is the dining area. There is a table for six, and behind the table, sliding glass patio doors lead to the balcony. For a review and photos of the balcony, please click here.

Dining table for six, photo taken facing the entryway (door visible to the left). The patio door to the balcony is behind you, and the bedroom is visible to the right. The desk (see #4 below) is to your left from here.

4) In the dining area to the right side of the patio door is a built-in desk and a chair, with personalized HAL stationery awaiting your arrival, as well as ship information and the in-room dining menu. The desk has a window with a view of the jacuzzi on the balcony.

Desk with view of the jacuzzi. Patio door to the balcony on the left.

5) Just to the left of the entrance, inside the dining area, is a cabinet with glassware inside. Welcome aboard champagne and bottled water will be found chilling in the stand-alone ice bucket upon arrival, and fresh flowers and fresh fruit (replenished daily) are found on the cabinet.

Wine glasses inside!

6) To the far right from the entrance when you walk in, you will find the living room. Hidden inside the cabinets under the television is a surprisingly comfortable double Murphy bed, which the stateroom stewards pull down each night and pack away each morning.

Large living area with seating for eight.

Murphy bed hidden inside the cabinets under the flat-screen TV. (DVD  and VCR in the cabinet on the upper left side.)

Murphy bed made up for night time, towel animal welcomes you home!

7) To the far left from the entrance is the bedroom. Heavy double doors that latch open can be closed and provide excellent sound-proofing! To the left of the bed is a well-lit built-in vanity table with outlets for the HAL-provided hairdryer (inside the drawer).

King size bed. Floor-to-ceiling window gives a view of the balcony and the great outdoors.

Vanity table and bench - hairdryer in drawer, magnifying mirror and kleenex box on top. (Please excuse the mess!) Ensuite bathroom to the right (shower is slightly visible).

8) The main bathroom is ensuite to the bedroom. Its entrance lies just to the right of the vanity, and can be closed with a sliding pocket door. Inside this bathroom is a round shower with multiple shower heads, double sinks with ample storage space behind the mirrors, and a large jacuzzi tub with a Neptune's (?) head fountain spout mounted on the wall. The separate toilet area has a bidet and another sink. Inside this bathroom you will also find a large walk-in closet with a safe, life jackets and lots of hangers, space for suitcases and a few drawers.

Double sinks (gold varnish partially rubbed off). The shower, which is to the right of the sinks, lies almost directly in front of the entrance from the bedroom (visible in the mirror). Large sized bottles (300mL) of Elemis shampoo, conditioner, bath gel and body lotion are provided, as well as multiple bars of citrus soap. Walk-in closet is found to the right of the shower (entrance partially visible, far right of the photo).

Large jacuzzi bathtub, to the left of the double sinks, with working Neptune's head water spout mounted on the wall. This tub is quite deep and may be difficult to climb into.

Main bathroom's separate toilet area, door located to left of the jacuzzi tub. Bidet is visible in the photo, toilet is behind the door on the right, extra sink on the left.

9) The penthouse suite also has a few art works on display, including a gilt mirror in the bedroom and a statue in the living area. A living bonsai tree adds greenery to the decor.

Gilt mirror in bedroom.

Statue found between dining and living area.

Living bonsai tree next to the desk.

      We throughly enjoyed our cruise in this fantastic suite, which is more like a small apartment at sea than the standard cramped cruise quarters we are used to. Superb concierge service at the Neptune Lounge down the hall and the included unlimited laundry, dry cleaning and pressing services added to our comfort and enjoyment. Be forewarned, though - it may be hard to go back to real life after a week of being spoiled in this home-away-from-home at sea!

Related Posts:
A Balcony With a View: Penthouse Suite 7046
Cruising Alaska's Inside Passage on HAL's Zuiderdam
Shore Excursion: Gold Panning in Juneau
Shore Excursion: Supper at the Gold Creek Salmon Bake in Juneau 
Shore Excursion: White Pass Railroad in Skagway
A Taste of Tracy Arm Fjord
Cruising Alaska's Glacier Bay

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Riding the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad in Skagway, Alaska

     Skagway, Alaska, is located at the top of Lynn Canal on the Northern end of the Inside Passage. We arrived here on a cloudy Tuesday morning, to join the three other cruise ships already docked at the pier. Skagway may have a population of about 860 year-round, but during the cruising season the daily population can swell to 10,000. Many of these visiting cruise-ship passengers will likely take a trip on the historical White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, which conveniently runs right down to the edge of the cruise-ship dock.

WP&YR Train at the dock in Skagway: View from Zuiderdam

     This narrow-gauge railroad was dreamed up in the midst of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, when tens of thousands of gold seekers stampeded north to chase their dreams of striking it rich. It is an engineering marvel, having been built through miles of rocky mountain terrain in harsh weather conditions. Amazingly, the railroad was completed in just 26 months by 35,000 men, between May 1898 and July 1900. In 1994, it was named an "International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark" by the American Society of Civil Engineers, a designation that it shares with other man-made structures such as the Eiffel Tower and the Panama Canal.

     Today, the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad operates during the summer tourist season, carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers up to the White Pass Summit (elevation: 2,865 ft) and into British Columbia and the Yukon, Canada, following the route of the gold stampeders.

All aboard!

     We took a shore excursion combining a northbound train to Fraser, B.C. with a bus ride back on the Klondike Highway, but the train ride can also be booked as a round-trip. We were welcomed aboard our train by uniformed conductors who seemed to have stepped out of the pages of a history book. Inside the  clean and comfortable train car, there were large windows, padded seats and a convenient restroom located at the back. A non-working cast-iron wood stove lent an air of nostalgia to the wood-paneled interior.

Our WP & YR parlor car
     The trip to Fraser took about 90 minutes, winding through 27 miles of wilderness on the climb up to White Pass Summit and beyond. This scenic train ride took us through many steep turns, crossing trestle bridges and passing through two tunnels along the way. Travelers looking out the left side of the train on the way up were rewarded with many beautiful panoramic views of the valley below, with its rushing waterfalls and flowing rivers. The right side of the train offered views mainly of the side of the mountain.

Heading into Tunnel Mountain
View from right side of train

     An on-board guide provided commentary of the history behind the main sights along the way, such as Black Cross Rock, Dead Horse Gulch and the tallest steel cantilever bridge in the world, which is now no longer in use. An especially exciting aspect of this trip was the opportunity to step outside onto one of the train's platforms, located in front or behind each car, and see the panoramic views unimpeded by glass windows. The smell of pine forest and the sound of the train's wheels turning on the tracks added an exhilarating depth to the experience of this special journey.

Tallest cantilever bridge in the world, near WP tunnel (used until 1969)

Nearing the White Pass summit!
     As we climbed higher, the pine forests gave way to a more barren landscape, with small lakes of glacial water sprinkled among the rocks. Upon arrival in Fraser, B.C., we waited on board the train for the Canadian customs agent to check our passports, then disembarked and joined our bus for the ride back to Skagway.

Arrival at Fraser, B.C., Canada

This article is about the first part of our shore excursion "Gold Dredge, White Pass Rail & Scenic Highway", that was purchased through Holland America Line on board the Zuiderdam. Overall, this excursion lasted almost 5 hours in total. The train ride was approximately 90 minutes. The tour cost $169 per adult and $99 per child. We took this excursion on July 19, 2011.

Related Posts:
Cruising Alaska's Inside Passage on HAL's Zuiderdam
Shore Excursion: Gold Panning in Juneau
Shore Excursion: Supper at the Gold Creek Salmon Bake in Juneau 
A Taste of Tracy Arm Fjord
Cruising Alaska's Glacier Bay

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Cruising Alaska's Inside Passage on Holland America Line's Zuiderdam

Zuiderdam at the dock in sunny Ketchikan

     Our group of ten recently returned from a week-long cruise through Alaska's Inside Passage on Holland America Line's Zuiderdam. This round-trip itinerary from Vancouver, B.C., offered a chance to sail through the Inside Passage, stop in Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, as well as cruise to Tracy Arm Fjord and Glacier Bay.

     The Zuiderdam was launched in 2002 and has a passenger capacity of 1,916, with 817 crew members. It was the first ship in HAL's Vista Class series, and has since been joined by sister ships Oosterdam, Westerdam and Noordam. The Zuiderdam has at times been criticized for it's bold and bright color scheme (a first and last for HAL), and we were not fans of the gaudy reds, purples and golds that were sprinkled liberally throughout the ship. However, the service was, for the most part, outstanding, and the crew members uniformly friendly and cheerful.

Purple and fuchsia decor of Explorer's Lounge

Orange column, fuchsia carpet, gold walls, green statue!

     Our room stewards, Rudy and Wayan, were top-notch, and seemed to have an uncanny ability to sense the minute we left our cabin so they could rush in and have it spic-and-span before we got back from breakfast or dinner. They were easily tracked down for special requests, and answered every question with a smile. The nightly towel animal left on the bed was a treat the children looked forward to each day, as well as the chocolates that accompanied it!

Towel swan

     Since we were sailing in the Penthouse Suite, we had access to the superb concierge services of Charmaine and Jaybee in the Neptune Lounge. They handled our shore excursion bookings, arranged our nightly dining reservations, and provided general information when needed. The lounge was open from 7:00am to 8:30pm each day, and always had snack food and a coffee/cappucino machine available for a quick bite or caffeine fix. Hot chocolate was available also, upon request, and a selection of Harney & Sons premium tea.

Neptune Lounge: snack bar, juices and coffee machine
Seating area of Neptune Lounge

     We ate in the main dining room, the Lido buffet, the Pinnacle Grill for breakfast (reserved for suite guests) and had in-room dining. In general, the service was good but slow in the main dining room (except for the Master Chef's Dinner night, when the service was exceptionally quick). Dinnertime sometimes dragged on for two hours, which was difficult for our small children. The Lido buffet was a good alternative to grab a quick slice of pizza or plate of pasta for the kids, and the main dishes offered here in the evenings were the same as those in the main dining room.

Table at the Pinnacle Grill

     The only real problem we encountered aboard the Zuiderdam was with in-room dining. We found that if we arranged for delivery at a certain time in advance (as with breakfast or through the Neptune Lounge), the food arrived on time. However, one night we ordered coffee and a slice of chocolate cake, and ended up waiting over one hour and a half before the order arrived. Another time, we ordered lunch and received a telephone call from the in-room dining manager to see how we liked our lunch before it had even arrived! After that we stuck to ordering in advance, and had no more problems.

     We chose this particular cruise for the itinerary, and we were not disappointed. In fact, there was so much to see outside the windows that we found we did not have time to explore the Zuiderdam fully. We did use the Lido deck pool. Since it has a retractable roof, it is ideal for Alaskan itineraries, where the weather is unpredictable and can be quite cold. During our cruise, few passengers ventured into the pool, and we often had it to ourselves. There is another pool, this one located aft outdoors, and we once saw several courageous swimmers belly-flopping in on a cool day at sea. This deck offered an excellent place to sit comfortably and enjoy the beautiful sights outside.

Lido Deck Pool, roof retracted in sunny Ketchikan
Aft pool, sunny Glacier Bay
View from aft deck, Glacier Bay

     Overall, the main attraction of this cruise was the spectacular Alaskan scenery and outstanding itinerary. The Zuiderdam is an older ship, and in some places, does show her age. However, we enjoyed the facilities that we took advantage of, and would not hesitate to recommend this cruise to others.

Wonderful crew of Zuiderdam

Related posts:  
A Balcony with a View: Zuiderdam Penthouse 7046
A Photo Tour of Zuiderdam's Penthouse Suite #7046
Gold-Panning in Juneau Shore Excursion
Supper at the Gold Creek Salmon Bake in Juneau 
White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad in Skagway 
A Taste of Tracy Arm Fjord 
Cruising Alaska's Glacier Bay
Tea Time on Holland America Line 
Canada Line: Cheapest way to get from Vancouver Airport to Port
Galley Tour aboard the Zuiderdam