Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Alaska... a breath of fresh air

HALLIE EPHRON: This summer my husband and I took a long-anticipated trip to Alaska. We flew to Sitka and boarded a small cruise ship (40 passengers) which, for 8 days, meandered along Alaska's Southeast Inside Passage--the web of waterways in the part of Alaska that dribbles down alongside Canada's British Columbia.


It was, as the cruise company's name promised, an Alaskan Dream--the perfect cruise for people who hate boats, hate crowds, aren't up to jumping in and out of kayaks and rappelling down glaciers, but want to get up close to nature, learn a little history and local culture, while indulging in fabulous food and breathtaking scenery. This miraculous combination travel agent Carla Plaster-Camp (The Escape Artist) found for us. 


I was celebrating my birthday. A big one. So I decided to gild the lily, burn a ton of frequent flyer miles, and fly first class (Alaska Air, Boston to Sitka via Seattle). My first time. When I found out how much extra it costs, I opted for first class one way only.

Can I just tell you, flying first class is pretty fabulous. The stewardess knew our names. Sadly neither of us are big drinkers but we could have gotten truly plastered. 

Here's breakfast on the plane. Melon cubes (unlike in fruit cocktail, each one tasted like real fruit), artistically arranged. A truly delicious scone. Followed by a delicious (really) omelet. And later, lunch.

And yes, the seats are comfy and no one minds if you recline. You're SUPPOSED to recline. 

On the boat, our room was tiny, a full-sized bed and just enough room to walk to the bathroom... which they call a shoilette. It's a broom closet-sized space with a toilet at one end and a shower head at the other, and in between you pull a curtain unless you like to shower and pee at the same time.

Every space is used. So under our bed were... big honkin' rubber boots. Mystery writer that I am, I immediately thought there was a body under there. Maybe a passenger who (for some reason) had failed to disembark?  Freaked me out.




Our ship was small enough that it could go where those big floating hotels can't. Here's my husband bird watching from the bed. We saw common murre, murrelet, tufted puffin, horned puffin, pigeon guillemot, Pacific loon, black oystercatcher, glaucous-winged gulled, black-legged kittiwake, willow ptarmigan, a ton of bald eagles and ravens.





We had glorious weather--8 days sun. Spectacular sunsets. And walks through what felt like Pacific rain forest.



And there were whales. Orcas went gliding by. But the Humpbacks were the big deal. Lazing along. Breaching. And most extraordinarily, bubble-net feeding. Here's an explanation of what they're up to. 



The glaciers were this amazing iridescent blue. And in case you don't think the glaciers are shrinking, they told us that last year the glacier completely covered the rock face at the water's edge.

We acquired some new vocabulary words.


And watched a sports fisherman weigh and gut a 250-poud halibut. (He'd caught two of them.)


Which brings us to food. It was spectacular. Alaskan king crab. Halibut. Cod. Salmon. Shrimp. All caught in local waters and prepared by an  head chef. There were fresh-baked cookies each day at 3. And cocktails to die for. 



Bidding a fond adieu... I hope we'll be back.

What's your BIG TRIP when you have that BIG BIRTHDAY? 

70 comments:

  1. Wow! What beautiful views and the food sounds amazing. Looking at your pictures made me ache to be there. I better start an Alaska cruise savings account. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. I don't know that I'll ever take any kind of big trip, whether it is on a big birthday or not, but I know that I would like to go to Ireland or Hawaii if I had my choice.

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  3. Glorious Hallie! thanks for taking us along...

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  4. I think I'll go on the one you describe! Wow. Or to the Galapagos, as Roberta just did. And I haven't ever been to Australia and New Zealand. So many places to see, so little time...

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  5. Did you see any roadside shops selling gas, live bait...and espresso? An enduring memory of an unforgettable Alaska trip. It is truly an amazing place

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  6. Wow! Gorgeous....! Amazing.
    (And every birthday is a big one now)
    And now I’m thinking about where... can’t wait to hear all your ideas!

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    1. I second you on "every birthday is a big one now" and suggest that every birthday has always been and will always be a big one. I believe it is ever so important to mark each birthday and to begin a new year with that day...make new year's resolutions on my birthday, not on January 1.

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    2. Every birthday Elisabeth? Hey, every morning is a big one for me now, get up, get coffee, check obits. If I don't see my name, it's a big day.

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    3. I agree that every birthday is special. In my opinion each day spent on this earth is a gift. So when the birthdays come around I say enjoy them; do whatever brings you the most happiness!

      I have a big birthday coming up in a year and a half, and I won't be able to afford to go anywhere special. However, for me a couple of hours spent at a bookstore brings about as much happiness as a vacation would to somebody else, so I'm going to do my best to get to a bookstore on or close to my birthday, and spend a little more money there than I normally would. My gift to myself!

      DebRo

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    4. Oh, Ann, what a wonderful memory of my dad -- he always checked the obits before starting the day. Originally, he did this because his ladies' ready-to-wear business had to be ready for grieving to buy their black dresses. Then, when he was retired and older, "to make sure that [he] had to get out of bed." Dad was a night owl (my mother a lark) and he hated getting up in the morning. May you be blessed with many, many "big days"!

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  7. Triss, we weren't "on the road' at all... for me that's the other plus of this trip. No driving, and almost no riding in a bus.

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  8. Hallie, what a wonderful trip. Alaska is still a wild and magic place. What a joy!

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  9. Hallie, that sounds like a fabulous trip! I think it's really important to treat yourself when you have a big birthday. Last year was a significant one for me, and my company scheduled piccolo auditions for that weekend. I had warned them early on that I wouldn't be available, since I did not want to spend my birthday weekend on my feet all day in a grubby high school, listening to nervous piccolo players warming up. Then I had to decide what I DID want to do because, hey, I deserved more than yet another weekend at home, vacuuming up dog hair. I decided on Santa Fe, since I'd driven through but never gotten to really explore. I was only there two nights, but I spent the weekend wandering through art galleries and gift shops, meeting an old friend I'd only known online, and best of all, just sipping a cool beverage on my private balcony at La Fonda, watching the crows who live at the Loretto Chapel. Heaven!

    This year isn't a a big birthday, but I'll be driving to North Carolina to pick up a leaded glass window and reconnect with an old high school running buddy the week before. The Maestro has scheduled a rehearsal for my actual birthday, and I've already warned him: there had better be cake.

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    1. We were in Santa Fe a couple years ago, visiting a friend. It was uncharacteristically chilly and rainy, so I really want to go back to see it more fully. Even the little bit we managed to see was lovely.

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    2. Picollo auditions! Not what I'd want to spend my birthday doing, either. Gigi, are you a musician?? Would love to hear...

      We've been to Santa Fe a few times and loved it. The art, the shopping, the food, the views... the food. The food.

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    3. I can play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on a variety of instruments, Hallie, but when I stand next to my colleagues at the Dallas Winds, I cannot claim to be a musician. I'm the woman behind the curtain, who makes sure everything is organized and in place so all the musicians have to do is go onstage and be brilliant. I make it easy for them to make it look easy for you.

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    4. I second that! I think Gigi's official title--or one of them, depending on how many jobs she's doing--is Operations Manager. And boy does she! I don't think the show would go on without her.

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  10. What a trip, Hallie! And thank you for the description and photos. How was the water part, and was there any kind of turbulence? I really want to take a cruise like this, but get so seasick on bouncy water. The photo of your hubby birdwatching in bed is my favorite!

    Alaska is the only of the fifty states I've yet to visit, and we have talked about taking a long car/camper trip from Cincinnati to someplace in Alaska. Steve's been there half a dozen times or more, and all over the state. Two summers in a row he worked on a National Geographic show called Land of Ten Thousand Smokes. He would probably resist the idea of a cruise, but he could drop me off for one on my own!

    I thought this would happen on my birthday this year, but since it's tomorrow chances are pretty slim. LOL

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    1. Happy Birthday tomorrow darlin'

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    2. Karen, I get seasick, too, and on this cruise there was NO turbulence. It's all INLAND Passage. No open ocean. Shores on either side always clearly in view. However, we also had perfect weather. So I can't speak to what happens if the wind picked up.

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    3. Thank you, Ann, dear.

      That's wonderful news, Hallie. I think I could take a little, if I had meds with me. But not for an entire week of cruising.

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    4. Happy birthday, Karen. I think the driving trip to Alaska would be a huge present all by itself.

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    5. Hallie, I was going to ask the same thing. Rick would love this trip--we talked about doing something similar the year B'con was in Anchorage, but the dates didn't work out. However, with my vertigo issues (like Lucy's) I worry about what the ship motion would go to my inner ear....

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    6. Happy birthday Karen!

      Deb, I bet you’d be fine on that trip. More to come on the boat trip we took recently, but with a liberal dosing of Dramamine, I was mostly fine

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  11. What a wonderful way to celebrate a birthday! Your trip sounds amazing and the pictures are absolutely gorgeous. Thanks for sharing them with us . . . .

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  12. Alaska is on my bucket list, although Julie gets seasick on a car ferry over a river, so I may have to go alone. I'm envious of you Hallie. Didn't you get to Iceland last year?

    My last big birthday event was in 2000. J called me at work to tell me French & Saunders were going on tour in the fall and she'd got us tickets.

    I said, "They're coming to San Francisco?" (We lived there back then.)

    No.

    "Los Angeles?"

    No.

    "Oh wow, we're going to New York!"

    No.

    We flew to London. Best. Surprise. Ever.

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    1. Ann, this cruise is perfect for people who get seasick and hate boots... count me as one of 'em.
      London!!!! You will not get seasick and you can get to Paris by train.

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    2. England, Chester, is on for the spring or summer as my daughter is moving there. 2018 is a big birthday year for Julie, so stay tuned! And put your money on France.

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    3. Ann, I waved as I flew over you yesterday!!! I had a window seat (upgraded to Business Class) which on that ten hour flight is divine) and I watched all the over Lake Erie. Beautiful!!!

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  13. This looks, fabulous, Hallie. Every bit of it. So glad you got to enjoy your trip of a lifetime I hope I'll get to Alaska one of these days. I do think you need to write the mystery of the big honking boots, though. One an Alaskan cruise? I'd definitely read that!

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  14. Hallie, that sounds, and looks, great. Edna and I took a small-ship Alaska cruise (on Cruise West, which I think has gone out of business) for our thirtieth anniversary in 2008. It was great to get in so close and have daily shore excursions, including one into BC. We got close enough to a small island covered with sea lions to appreciate how awful they smell. There was a crew of birders on our cruise, who spent a lot of time arguing. We saw just a couple of whales. The food was very good, but it looks as if yours was fabulous!

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    1. We smelled those sea lions! And actually, smelled whale breath, too. THAT'S how close...

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  15. What beautiful pictures. I'd love to do an Alaskan cruise and so would The Hubby - but he doesn't want to fly to Alaska. =)

    I haven't done a big birthday trip yet. We did NOLA last year (Bouchercon) to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. And we are thinking a cruise to celebrate when both kids are out of high school.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Fly first class! That and a couple of valium and he'll be in heaven.

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    2. Mary, Try telling him he's only flying to Seattle or to Vancouver, BC...much shorter flights. ;-)

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  16. What a fabulous trip, Hallie! I don't have anything on the radar for a big birthday, but I am researching a big trip for me and the kids. We've decided to do something COMPLETELY different for Christmas this year, based on excellent advice from a cousin of mine who was widowed three years ago. She said dramatically changing up the first few holidays were what enabled her and her sons to celebrate, rather than miss their loved one.

    So we're thinking of a Caribbean Christmas! Or someplace warm and tropical. The trouble is, all the easy-to-reach and affordable places have been severely damaged by Hurricane Maria. And, we're dealing with the wishes of a bookish 25-year-old, a party-hearty 23-year-old, and a high school senior who wants to tour historical sites. And me - my ideal is to stick my feet in white sand and have a waiter bring me fruity drinks.

    Any suggestions?

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    1. Oh, it is too bad Puerto Rico is so damaged because it would satisfy everybody's wants!

      Mary/Liz

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    2. Yes to Puerto Rico. :-( Would have been perfect.
      Key West! We have a resident expert. It did not get the brunt of the storms.
      Bonaire... off the coast of Venezuela. Fabulous and fun, sublime snorkeling. It's Dutch.
      Two years ago we rented a house near Tulum in Mexico - through AirBNB. On the water. An hour or so from Cancun. Loved it.

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    3. Firsts are hard, and a family getaway sounds like an excellent idea, complete with tears and remembrances.

      Costa Rica maybe? Or even St Augustine, which ticks all the boxes I think.

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    4. What a great idea to have a 180-degree holiday, Julia.

      Charleston, South Carolina would fulfill all your family's wishes. There are beaches, history galore, plenty of good places to eat and party, and it's a totally lovely place. Plus, you can easily go to Fripp Island or one of the others on the barrier peninsula, and Savannah is less than two hours away. All the college kids (College of Charleston and the Citadel) will be at home with their own families, and the city won't be as crowded, but many hotels in the area have truly lovely Christmas packages.

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    5. Bermuda! It's far enough north that it didn't get the full brunt of the hurricanes and you can catch a cruise ship from New York. There's tons of British naval history there. Lots of excellent bookish things to do, too, and I'm sure your party guy can find himself plenty of party people. I think your friend's advice is excellent. Of course you miss your beloved, but he's the only one who died, and you don't want to get forever frozen in that part of your life. So make some new memories, listen to new music, try a taste of something you've never tried before. Take a moment to stand in a moon gate and wish he was with you, share some memories as you open your presents, but know that it will be okay.

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  17. I'm on it! The hubs bought me a three day NYC weekend that includes Broadway plays! After devouring The Lion King and Beautiful, we rented a car and are wandering the North Shore of Massachusetts. Happy Birthday to me!

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    1. AND you have GORGEOUS weather!! Eat lobster. Steamers. Fried clams.

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    2. Dawne, don't miss Marblehead, my hometown. It's a picturesque town on the North Shore. Happy Birthday!

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  18. The big string of 5s. I was 55 on 5/5/05, so I arranged my planned trip to Florence around that date. And that's the day I climbed up to the top of the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore. Massively memorable.

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    1. LOVE Florence! We spent a week in Tuscany in a villa with a gang of friends, and of course Florence is a highlight. I'd like to go back NOT at peak tourist time.

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  19. My family did an Alaska cruise last summer and had a fabulous time as well. It was on a much bigger ship, however.

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  20. Hallie, that all looks fabulous! And the food! Rick has a big birthday coming up in a couple of years (the baby!) so maybe we will look into this. Thanks for sharing!

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  21. Oh, it looks magnificent! Thank you for inviting us along.

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  22. Wow! Happy (big) birthday and thank you for bringing us along on this wonderful trip.

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  23. Hallie, this Alaska adventure sounds perfect to me. No large crowds is a big attraction. My husband and I have talked about doing an Alaska trip, and I plan on showing him your post.

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    1. Email me if you want any more info, Kathy - this tour operator is really terrific. It's a family business and pitch perfect, for me anyway.

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  24. Hallie, what a wonderful trip! It looks like the perfect way to see Alaska.

    Given how often I fly the Boston -Seattle route on Alaska, I'm often upgraded. Let me tell you, people get tanked in first class: Copious amounts of booze on the 7:10 a.m. out of Seattle, 5 vodka tonics out of Boston! Not me! The guy next to me who fell asleep on my shoulder!

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    1. ICK. Fortunately the guy next to me was my husband who hasn't had a vodka tonic in decades.

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    2. Ingrid, people who fall asleep on your shoulder are why sharpies were invented. Just saying.

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    3. My memories of living on Kodiak in the early 1970s are of bars opening before breakfast...just sayin' it may be the Alaskan way to start the day?!

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  25. How fun! I spent my 50th birthday weekend in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I stayed at a lovely B&B (Lovelace Manor) and had all kinds of fun, including a 5K in my new age group.

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  26. Fartsdemper - I. Am. Dying. And you know as soon as the hooligans come home from school I am showing them this. I am delighted you had a well deserved and fabulous trip, Hallie. Happy Belated Birthday.

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  27. I had to immediately forward that picture to my daughters. They were howling.
    That was in Petersburg (I think)... a town settled by Norwegians. They process a ton of fish there.

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  28. Sounds wonderful! We also visited Alaska this past summer. We sailed out of Seattle on a slightly larger ship, the Norwegian Pearl. We had fabulous weather and a great time. Alaska is beautiful. Our last night of the cruise we ended up in port in Victoria B.C. and it was Canada Day. The Canadians sure know how to celebrate. P.S. Flying first class is a an extra special experience.

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  29. Awesome! You must have gone at the perfect time to catch all those whales. I went to Ireland for the Big 5-0 and hiked Croagh Patrick.

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  30. Hallie, what a wonderful birthday trip. I once flew first class.s . This happened before 9/11. I was waiting for my plane back home, only to find out that my plane was delayed for the umpteenth time. I did not want to arrive at home at midnight! I saw another plane, from the same airlines, going to my home airport, so I decided to see if I could get on that plane. I already had my ticket. I walked up to the boarding gate and gave them my boarding pass. They just let me on the plane. My original ticket was for the Economy Class. Well, it turned out that the boarding gate gave me a number and the number was for First Class! I walked into First Class and I was worried that someone with the same seat number would get on and insist that my seat was their seat. The plane door closed and I was still in my seat. Whew! I flew First Class and ate lots of yummy food! The seat was roomy. The other passengers were polite. I got home while it was still daylight. I was happy to be home because I was exhausted from traveling over the country.

    Now I doubt I could do this.

    On another note, my favorite birthday trip was to Disneyland because my birthday was on a weekend. And it was the first and last time my grandfather was able to celebrate my birthday with me in person. He drove to Orange County from Los Angeles to meet us. And my cousin, also his granddaughter, was able to join us from the Midwest. She flew out to SFO to meet us, then us girls with my Mom flew down to Disneyland. That was a fun memory.

    Looks like you had a wonderful time in Alaska.

    Happy Birthday,
    Diana

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    1. Diana, what a great air travel story! I doubt if that even COULD happen again.

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    2. Hallie, I am still surprised that happened. I agree with you that post 9/11, I doubt that could happen again.

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