Heed the call of the wild with a cruise to Alaska

By Special Guest Blogger Kathy Witt

The more I see as I sit here among the rocks, the more I wonder about what I am not seeing.”

-Richard Proennek, naturalist, conservationist, writer, and wildlife photographer 

This is the mystery of Alaska. It is a place of wonder, with whole worlds in and beyond the glaciers you see right before you, the mountains that loom in the distance, the wild behind the horizon.

Last month, cruising Alaska also meant a return to Canadian waters  after an absence of two to three years due to the pandemic. The first two cruise lines to arrive in Canada were Holland America and Princess Cruises, both among a number of cruise lines offering different ways to explore Alaska, from small ship active adventure expeditions to larger ship voyages offering a classic cruise experience.

Glacial Bay National Park and Preserve. Photo credit: nps.gov/glba/

CLASSIC CRUISE EXPERIENCE, AMBIENCE

Holland America Line (HAL) celebrates seventy-five years in Alaska in 2022, bringing all that experience plus an elegant fleet of six ships to themed cruises and cruisetours that last from seven to 18 days. It also offers more cruises to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve for viewing the magnificent tidewater glaciers than any other cruise line. Enhancing the epic splendor of these journeys are rangers from the National Parks Service who come aboard to narrate the geology, history and ecology of Glacier Bay, calling out wildlife sightings and answering questions along the way.

Onboard, dining options range from poolside burgers to fine dining with a gourmet flourish, with tastes and atmospheres moving from authentic Italian to classic French to Asian traditions. The cruise line is known for consistently outstanding cuisine, paired perfectly with the pours available in the wine cellar, all selected by internationally acclaimed wine critique James Suckling. Throughout, HAL retains that touch of old-world cruising aesthetic blended with twenty-first century amenities and refined shipboard atmosphere.

Entertainment blends enrichment, with the Lincoln Center Stage bringing chamber music concerts and afternoon recitals; BBC Earth Concerts immersing guests in the wonders of the world through its natural habitats and wildlife; and deep dives into the destination through the talks, shore excursions, food demos and more are offered through its EXP programming – Explorations Central Discovery Center.

For the 2022 season, HAL resumed cruises to Alaska from the port Vancouver, Canada, and between Vancouver and Whittier. (Zuiderdam was first to Alaska, arriving in Vancouver on April 28, followed two days later by Koningsdam on April 30.) Three different seven-day itineraries are offered, including Alaska Inside Passage.

UNEXPECTED, UNCROWDED, UNFETTERED ADVENTURE

Expeditions to see humpback whales, sealions and other wildlife; hiking to outback country in Glacier Bay National Park; an evening kayaking to a shoreside campfire; biking an island teeming with bears. UnCruise Adventures’ ethos eco-focused and sustainable travel that is culture- and community-centric. Its seven-, 12- and 14-night small ship sailings are all about active fun, discovery and exploration.

UnCruise Adventures’ Wilderness Adventurer glides into Neka Bay in Alaska.
Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Enhancing the experience, both aboard and ashore, is the number of guests – less than 90 on most ships and as few as 22 on one – sharing in the adventures. Life onboard is casual and relaxed. Meals and pastries highlight local ingredients. Gear for snorkeling, paddle boarding and kayaking is available. Features like entry fees to national parks, UnCruise-only activities and shore visits and wine, beer and liquor (including daily signature cocktails) are included. Adding a personal touch to each sailing are the expedition guides and guest experts.

Kayakers explore Glacier Bay with UnCruise Adventures. Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Joining the list of themed Alaska adventures this season is the new seven-night “Wild, Woolly and Wow” itinerary, featuring Chichagof Island. (UnCruise Adventures has the only permit to visit this minimally populated island, one of Alaska’s ABC islands and fifth largest island in the United States.)

CASUAL FUN TIMES

Celebrate Carnival’s Big 5-0 with a cruise to Alaska.
Photo: Carnival Cruise Lines

The emphasis is firmly on round-the-clock, come-as-you-are fun aboard Carnival ships – especially in 2022, Carnival’s fiftieth anniversary. Lip sync battles, deck parties, karaoke, mini golf, top deck waterpark, a piano bar that rocks out with all the old familiars, jars and jars of colorful candy at Cherry on Top, Punchliner Comedy Club and Suess at Sea for the little ones (which includes a Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast featuring special appearances by Cat in the Hat and Thing 1 and Thing 2) and so much more.

Nashville Hot Mac #BigChickenShaq

The watering holes are equally fun, with an island-inspired pub; a mystical, magical cocktail “pharmacy;” beer station; and a martini tasting that is all about the showmanship and kicky flavor combinations, like spicy chipotle pineapple. Dining is also lively, with outdoor venues Big Chicken (the restaurant of Carnival’s CFO – Chief Fun Officer – Shaquille O’Neal) and Guy’s (as in Fieri) Burger Joint and indoor Streets Eats and Steakhouse.

Carnival brings the party to Glacier Bay on its Alaska sailings.
Photo: Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival has several ships sailing Alaska, including Spirit, Splendor and Miracle, with each offering a full menu of shore tour options, everything from dog sledding in Juneau and catching a lumberjack show in Ketchikan to gold panning in Skagway and wildlife spotting in Sitka.

NEW PRINCESS, IMMERSIVE PROGRAMMING AND PUPPIES

Princess has been bringing adventurers to Alaska for over fifty years and knows how to show its guests a thoroughly magnificent time, both on land and at sea. Appealing to active cruisers with a zest for discovery, the line offers 12 unique itineraries and more than 20 cruisetour options, operating five upscale, custom-built wilderness lodges for its cruisetour passengers.

Majestic Princess (the sister ship to the new Discovery Princess) sits grandly in Glacier Bay.
Photo: Princess

As one of the six Princess ships cruising the Great Land in 2022, Discovery Princess marks her inaugural season as the youngest ship in Alaska. The 3,660-passenger Medallion Class ship brings next-level technology via a wearable device, Ocean Medallion, which expedites service and personalizes attention to each individual guest; enormous, made-to-entertain suite balconies – the largest at sea; Broadway-style productions in the state-of-the-art Princess Theater; and puppies, lots and lots of puppies.

Part of the line’s signature and award-winning North to Alaska program, Puppies in the Piazza give guests a chance to meet sled dogs and the handlers who train them for a life of dog mushing. New to the program this season are unique wine and seafood pairings, featuring entrées like fresh salmon with premium wines available only in Alaska; hot beverages headlined by “spiked” hot chocolate recipes; and Alaska beer and spirits experiences, including tasting flights, locally brewery tours and cocktails like Glacial Ice Chilled Martinis.

Princess has a unique program through its Discovery partnership to bring sled dog puppies onboard for Puppies in the Piazza. Photo: Princess

Princess had the distinction of having the first ship arrive in Canada this season since April of 2019, when Caribbean Princess called at Victoria, capital city of British Columbia. The four-day Pacific Coastal voyage arrived on April 6 before heading onward to Vancouver.

COUNTRY CLUB CASUAL

The line known for small ship luxury brings even more of its trademark welcoming elegance to Alaska in 2022. Oceania Cruises 684-guest Regatta underwent a redesign so transformative with new rich, warming color palette, shimming chandelier lighting, marble bathrooms and new and thought-provoking art that it is being called a re-inspiration.

Oceania’s cruises in Alaska bring guests the wide-open skies and cobalt glaciers of The Last Frontier.
Photo: Oceania Cruises

Suites and staterooms are sumptuous. Dining is gourmet with a plant-based focus. Afternoon tea is accompanied by a classical string quartet. The spa is designed with a holistic approach to wellbeing. Shows are inspired by the locale. Live piano music invites guests to gather or cocktails and conversation. An English-inspired library delights with thousands of books, including mysteries, classic literature and guidebooks. The overall onboard ambience is relaxed and casual amidst sleek splendor – jacket and tie not required.

Better than new, Regatta is the flagship of the Oceania Cruises fleet and features a beautifully re-inspired ambiance.
Photo: Oceania Cruises

The Regatta’s medium ship size means it can slip into ports larger ships cannot, like Alaska’s Wrangell Island, a former Tlingit Indian stronghold and Russian outpost, home to the Wrangell Museum and ancient petroglyphs. Onboard enrichment opportunities enhance the cruises – not just to Alaska, but to all Oceania destinations – with historians, naturalists and other experts offering lively programs.

About Kathy Witt

Kathy Witt is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer who writes a monthly syndicated travel column for Tribune News Service, is a regular contributor to Kentucky Living, Georgia and Travel Goods magazines and RealFoodTraveler.com as well as other outlets like County. She is the author of several books, including Cincinnati Scavenger (Fall 2022) Secret Cincinnati and The Secret of the Belles, and is working on another travel-themed book for Fall 2023 release. Kathy is a member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), Authors Guild and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Follow Kathy on Instagram, Facebook, and Linkedin.

Sitka Salmon Shares: Fresh Fish from Cold and Clear Alaskan Waters to Your Door

Sitka Halibut with Pesto & Pasta

      Taking the concept of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) from land to sea with their Community Supported Fishery (CFA), Sitka Salmon Shares isn’t about radishes, green beans, and other vegetables. Instead, takes the concept of The concept is instead of,  each month during the fishing season your share of fresh caught and flash-frozen seafood arrives at your door. The seafood is harvested from Alaskan and North Pacific waters by small-boat fishermen (equivalent to small farmers) and you can choose the type of fish you want—salmon, halibut, black cod, and Dungeness crab (to name a few).

          It’s a great way to try new fish as well such as lingcod, Kodiak jig-saw rockfish, and Bairdi crab and there’s the option to sign up for the Sitka Salmon Share. That’s a variety of low-impact caught salmon—keto, sockeye, and coho as well as salmon burgers—from several fisheries and waterways so the difference in taste can be enjoyed. Prices vary depending upon what you order, and you can cancel your membership whenever you want. And for those with shellfish allergies or who just don’t like the taste, you can specify non-shellfish if you like.

Sitka Salmon Shares is now a completely integrated boat-to-doorstep seafood company. They have a lovable group of fishermen-owners who deliver the fish to their small processing plant in Sitka, Alaska, where they custom-process the catch with a laser focus on quality and traceability. Sitka Shares has two Good-Fish Hubs in the Midwest, which allow then to deliver rtheir fishermen’s catch directly to your doorstep (or to your local farmers market or restaurant).

At Sitka Salmon Shares, you’re joining a community of artisan fishers, healthy eaters, foodies, and Alaskan adventurers in our collective efforts to rebuild America’s seafood system from the ground up. All of us together are actively supporting responsibly sourced seafood and independent, family fishermen who fish in much the same way their grandparents did.

Nene’s Halibut with Garden Pesto

  • 1 – 1.5 pounds halibut
  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 teaspoons finely chopped chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 3 teaspoons chopped thyme
  • 3 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400.

Pierce squash all over with knife and microwave for 6 minutes.

Split long ways to open the squash and remove the seeds.

Drizzle flesh with 1 tbsp olive oil

Season halibut with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder on both sides.

Brown butter over medium high heat until it foams and smells nutty. Mix with squash strands. Place squash flesh side down on a baking sheet lined with foil. Cover with foil and bake 1 hour or until the skin of the squash is easy to poke with a fork. Scrape out the spaghetti squash meat.

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat in a skillet and sear halibut 2-3 minutes on each side. Reduce heat, cover, and cook an additional 3-4 minutes until the halibut flakes,

While the squash is roasting, combine 1/3 cup olive oil, lemon juice, chives, thyme, Parmesan, garlic, and salt & pepper (to taste) in a mason jar. Shake to combine.

 Place a portion of buttered squash on each plate and top with a piece of halibut. Spoon pesto over the halibut and squash.

Marsh’s Grill-Smoked Sockeye

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus nerka

Where they’re caught: SITKA

 Season: June – August Culinary

Profile: Sockeye’s robust and bold profile holds up to spicy and savory sauces, and is great roasted and sautéed.

  • 1 pound Sockeye Salmon Fillet
  • 1 wood plank
  • 1 cup wood chips
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sea salt
  • 4 ounces Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 cup chopped dill
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • Salt & pepper

Soak the wood plank and the wood chips in water for 30 minutes Place wood chips in either a smoker box or wrap in aluminum foil with some holes poked through.

Mix the sugar and salt together and coat the salmon with the mixture.  Allow the salmon to cure in the fridge for 30 minutes.  Once cured, rinse the salt and sugar off of the salmon, pat dry, and place on the wood plank.

Heat your grill to a low temp, around 200 degrees (use a small amount of charcoal banked to one side of a charcoal grill, or turn on one burner of a gas grill to low.) Place the wood chip packet directly on the coals or burner. Allow it to start smoking, about 5 minutes.

Place the wood-planked salmon on the side of the grill away from direct heat. Close the grill and cook for about 30 minutes until the salmon is just cooked through

Combine sauce ingredients while the salmon is smoking. Season with salt & pepper to taste and set aside.

Serve the salmon with the dill sauce on the side.

Marsh’s Pro-Tip: For an extra level of flavor, try adding herbs or other aromatics to the salt & sugar cure such as lemon zest & thyme, or juniper berries and dill.

Black Bass Tempura with Lemon-Herb Dipping Sauce

  • 1 (12 ounce) black bass fillet, cut into 3 smaller fillets
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dill, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 quart vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup seltzer
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Salt & pepper

In a small bowl, combine cilantro, parsley, dill, lemon juice, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Set aside.

Mix together cornstarch and flour in a medium bowl. Just before frying, whisk together the egg yolk and seltzer water and add it to the flour. Gently combine the ingredients using chopsticks, being careful to not over-work the batter.  It’s OK to have small lumps.Heat oil In a fryer or a medium saucepan, heat vegetable oil to 375 degrees.

Dip the black bass into the batter and then carefully drop into the hot oil.  Fry until crisp and lightly brown, about 2-4 minutes. Drain the cooked fish on paper towels and season with a sprinkling of salt while still hot.  Serve with the herb sauce on the side.

 Pro-Tip:  Have extra batter?  Try frying some vegetables such as sweet potato, large onion slices, carrots, or zucchini to serve with the fish. 

Share your finished dishes with us #Sitkarecipes More recipes and culinary inspiration at www.sitkasalmonshares.com/recipes @sitkasalmonshares /sitkasalmonshares