Ketchikan, Sunshine and a Memorable Evening

Holland America Line’s sleek Zuiderdam docked in Ketchikan, Alaska on August 16, 2012. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

After a slow and scenic sail back into the Inside Passage, Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam tied up at Ketchikan’s Berth 4 under cloudless skies and unseasonably warm temperatures just before 10am.

How warm is it? I was able to eat breakfast – at 7am – outside on the aft pool deck, without a jacket. Not bad considering it typically rains here for 16 out of 31 days in August. By the time the first passengers disembarked the ship for a day of exploration ashore, it was “shorts and shirts” weather.

The stunnin gweather continued this morning as we sailed towards Ketchikan. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

For those who may be reading this thinking, wow, Alaska has more sunshine than the Caribbean!, hang tight – this is, without a doubt, the finest weather I’ve experienced in Alaska – but it has taken me four rain-filled voyages here in the past to come across it!

Sunlight reflected in the glass doors of Zuiderdam’s quadruple glass elevators. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

But rather than rush off immediately and head into town, I thought I’d spend a leisurely morning enjoying the comfort of the Zuiderdam before trying out lunch in the Pinnacle Grill at 12 noon.

Turns out I wasn’t alone; with this beautiful weather, many guests were up on Decks 9 and 10, sitting in Holland America’s extraordinarily-comfortable deck chairs reading, basking in the sun, or sampling one of the many refreshing bar drinks.

The Pinnacle Grill aboard the Zuiderdam is open for lunch most days for a very reasonable $10 per person. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

For $10, my third experience – and first lunch – at the Pinnacle Grill on Deck 2 was absolutely stellar.  In fact, I should have done this earlier in the cruise; the relaxing environment, spectacular service and succulent food was well worth the price of admission. And I’m not just saying that to be complementary; the Pinnacle Grill can run with the best of them, coming up to par with standards I’m used to experiencing only on luxury cruises. For $10 per person for lunch, Holland America is practically giving this away.

Worth every penny. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Pleasantly full, it was time to leave the Zuiderdam and explore the beautiful town of Ketchikan, Alaska. Known as the “Salmon Capital of the World”, Ketchikan has always been my favorite Alaskan port. There’s just something wonderful about its small, easy-to-navigate size, clever little shops, and picturesque locations that I find tremendously appealing.

Creek Street was formerly Ketchikan’s Red Light district. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

One of my favorite spots for photography is Creek Street, located on the far southern end of the town and made up of timber houses built atop timber supports.

With the Gold Rush in full swing when Creek Street was established, it’s no stretch of the imagination to suspect fortunes were made and lost here. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Of course, Creek Street used to be one of Alaska’s most notorious red-light districts up until as late as the 1950’s. Today, it houses shops, museums and stores, but it isn’t too tough to imagine what this area would have looked like one hundred years ago.  On the other hand, no doubt the Madams who ran their brothels here would have found it difficult to believe that by the turn of the next century, their “dens of sin”, as the papers referred to them at the time, would be turned into shops selling designer soaps and jewelry.

Ketchikan Today: Native History, Gold Rush tales and modern shopping. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

But as I walked around Ketchikan today, I realized how much I’d like to come back here in the off-season to see the true Salmon Capital of the World. It takes – and has always taken – a certain kind of mental toughness to live in Alaska, with their long winters and even longer nights, and no doubt the city takes on a different feel once the last ship of the season leaves and the first snowfall arrives.

Modern-day Ketchikan. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The Ketchikan of the past was a rough-and-tumble place, filled with hardworking men and women who were pioneers of early civilisation here. Like the Tlingit people who called this region home, hardworking summers gave way to harsh, unforgiving winters often filled with sadness, disappointment and despair. No wonder, then, that places like Creek Street popped up here; its boardwalks lit by gas lanterns in the fog of winter, planks creaking underfoot, as the chilled air filled with the whispers of the men and women who came here seeking solace, financial gain, or both.

Stunning weather made it easy to explore this cozy little town. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

But there’s a reason Ketchikan has always been a favorite of mine, and that is that there are some spectacular local shops here, staffed by wonderfully-friendly locals who call this small city home year-round. It’s also highly walkable; even from our location at the newer Berth 4, Creek Street was an easy 20-minute stroll away. For those who didn’t relish that much walking, the town provided a free shuttle from our berth to the heart of downtown. Well done, Ketchikan!  Go give your colleagues in Juneau a friendly, “why can’t you do the same?”

Back Onboard Zuiderdam: charting a course south. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

As we set sail and charted a course south for the Inside Passage and Vancouver, I took the opportunity to explore the Zuiderdam a little more. Bathed in the setting sun, the Crow’s Nest on Deck 10 proved to be the perfect sailaway spot, before venturing to the Explorer’s Lounge on Deck 2 to listen to Adagio perform classical music.

The Crow’s Nest: the perfect place to watch sunset. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

….and what a beautiful sunset it was. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The beautiful Pinnacle Bar makes an enjoyable pre-or-post dinner watering hole. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Before I knew it, 10:30pm had arrived, and with it, Holland America’s famous Chocolate Dessert Extravaganza.  For something that used to be a cruising staple, only a handful of lines offer anything that comes close to what was put on here aboard the Zuiderdam this evening.

Holland America’s signature Dessert Extravaganza, poolside! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Desserts of all shapes, sizes and types lined the entire midship Lido Pool on Deck 9, under the cover of the glass Magrodome roof.

Ranging from simple to simply amazing, these desserts were as much the object of photography as a culinary delight meant to be devoured rapidly.

Mmmmm…calories. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

I’m not a big dessert person, so I settled on a treat of the liquid sort: a Spanish Coffee set aflame before being doused in whipping cream and topped with a straw.  If the taste was amazing, the preparation was astounding; suddenly, a crowd of onlookers was gathered around me as Zuiderdam’s capable bar staff worked their magic!

No one will go hungry or un-satisfied at this HAL tradition! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

When I first sailed with Holland America on a short 3-day cruise aboard the Oosterdam in early 2005, I was instantly hooked. I chose them because my late Grandmother had always sailed with them, aboard the 1984-built Nieuw Amsterdam. So, at the age of 23, I resolved to sail with HAL. And I remember being just blown away by the interior design of their ships and the quality of their service, so much so that I immediately booked a second HAL cruise. I was happy, and so was my credit-card company.

Working Her Magic: a flaming Spanish Coffee takes shape! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Now, at nearly 30, I’m no longer the youngest onboard. No one fusses over me like they used to. I am a two-star mariner with over 30 days on HAL ships under my belt, a second career, and a passionate love of cruising that has taken me to voyages around the world on lines I could have only dreamed about back in 2005.

As the evening wears on, fog envelops the Zuiderdam – my favorite condition when at sea! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

In many ways, I’ve ‘come home’ this week. And much like home, the Zuiderdam is as warm and welcoming as I remember.

As Robert Service once wrote, “It is the beauty that thrills me with wonder; it is the stillness that fills me with peace.”

Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report from aboard Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam returns tomorrow for another glorious day of sailing the Inside Passage, bound for Vancouver. 


2 Responses to Zuiderdam Live Voyage Report – Day 6

  1. Nicholas Sabalos, Jr., CDR, U.S. Navy (Ret.) says:

    You are so gifted in being able to capture the essence of being aboard a Holland America Line ship, Aaron! As I approach the 200-day level with HAL, I can honestly say, no one else has done a finer job at describing the ambience, routine, TLC, under-stated elegance and sheer joy of sailing aboard a HAL ship.

    As we would say in the world’s navies: “Bravo Zulu” (Well Done!), Aaron!

  2. Aaron Saunders says:

    200 days! I am envious Nicholas – and your kind words mean a great deal. I am thrilled that I managed to accurately describe why you (and I assume countless of other devoted Mariners) love HAL.

    I hope you enjoy your next voyage coming up – please do let me know how it goes!

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