Sunday, August 28, 2011

Food on a Holland American Cruise: Installment 4

English Breakfast
An omelet for breakfast with a tri-tater
Vegetables being cooked for a Lido lunch
Stir-fry on the Lido Deck
The burger aboard the Holland America MS Amsterdam
Sculpted display with turkey on the Lido Deck
Piped Smoked Salmon in Cucumber Cups on the Lido Deck
Piped Pate on the Lido Deck

The Indian lunch buffet spread on the Lido Deck

Chicken Korma for Indian Lunch on the Lido Deck
The Kheer for the Lido Deck Indian Lunch
Indian-style desserts on the Lido Deck
Chocolate desserts on the Lido Deck
A sculpted melon on the Lido Deck

Caprese Salad
Crab Tower

Chicken Consumme

Beef Satay
Grilled Salmon

Spring Roll
Veal Ragout
Cheese Tortellini
Lamb Shank
Coq au Vin

A Pear Purse
Cappuccino Torte
Cappuccino Ice Cream Dessert
Chocolate Mousse

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Picture of the Day

Grav's Alaskan Adventure: Day 4

I'm in the generational gap between these age groups.
The day was fairly quiet, not a lot to report. We slowly moved up the channel of the inside passage off the western coast of Canada. The ship had a lot of activities and the sun was shining -- however, most of it was geared for one to two generations before or after myself.

There are not very many thirty to forty somethings and all of them are either coupled off or coupled off with kids. If I were not here to take one potentially last trip with my mother, this boat definitely would be the wrong demographic for me. You can only photograph so many island shorelines with snow covered peaks before it gets a little redundant.

I tried photographing some whales with limited success. If you are planning on shooting whales, here is some advice: First have either a good point and shoot with image stabilization with 10x-12x OPTICAL zoom or a 75mm-300mm with image stabilization. I don't really shoot a lot of telephoto, so I have a cheap telephoto that does not have image stabilization. My main lens goes up to 105mm, but that is not near enough to pull in the wildlife and almost anything I shot with my telephoto on the boat was too soft. I will be using my dad's point and shoot for wildlife before this trip is over. Next trip I will either have a better telephoto or a higher end super zoom point and shoot.

Second tip is don't move around too much. It actually lessens your chances of a good shot. It is just like hunting deer, accept you are using a camera and your prey is harder to catch.

After I gave up on scenic photography for the day, I milled around the ship bored out of my gourd. I finally broke down and snagged some trash fiction and drank tea until dinner.

Here is my final bit of advice: Days at sea generally call for formal dining of an evening. We did not realize this and came under dress. They will give you a loner coat, but don't be that guy. It's embarrassing.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Grav's Alaskan Adventure: Day 3

The day started early.  I walk around downtown Sumner just a little after dawn.  I found a nice little bakery called KC's Bakery and Cafe.  They serve breakfast, but that seemed a bit heavy this particular morning. The doughnuts were huge.  For most folks, one would be enough.  However, I was not really in the mood for a doughnut and opted for a piece of cherry strudel. 

The strudel was a flat style as opposed to the roll style more common in the South.  The cherry filling was the perfect blend of sweet and tart.  From the flavor, I suspect they used a blend of local red and Rainier cherries, though I have not confirmed this.  If you are in Sumner and need a bit of pasty, KC's is definitely worth checking out.

A little later that morning, my family and I made the trek to Seattle to get onto the boat.  But we had to make one stop before we boarded.  I had been hearing about this fish market where everything fish is thrown.  I made my way through the Pike Place Fish Market and found my way to the fish market.

Sure enough, I walked in and there was a big crowd pressing around the booth.  I heard “BAG OF ROCKS!” and a responding call for a bag of rocks as a 2-3 pound bag went flying through the air.  I had to wait a while to actually get a decent shot of a big halibut (I think) being tossed  I suppose it's cool and all, but being frank if I had not been requested to check it out, I probably would not have watched more than a half a moment. Various travel/food show have made this place famous, but for my time budget, there were many other things in the far more interesting in the market.

If you didn't wish to fight the crowds around the spectacle, there were several other seafood vendors.  However, there were so many more things to see in the market.  On the ground floor there was a wide variety of of local produce.  You could find everything from lychee to champagne grapes to odd varieties of familiar produce which I had never seen before. If fish was not your thing, there were several meat vendors selling smoked and encased meats. Local artisans were also in attendance selling their goods and wares. Granted, a lot of it was kitche touristy crap, but there definitely were some worth while things available for purchase for those willing to look.

My favorite thing in the market was the French bakery. The chocolate filled croissants were to die for. The original Starbuck's is also in the market complete with its original bare breasted logo. The bottom floor was supposed to be a flea market of sorts, but time was short and I did not have sufficient time to investigate.


Ship boarding was quite interesting. It was very similar to boarding a plane at an airport, though it was much quicker. When you go through the process you are issued a card and have your photo taken. This card is important. It is not just your room key. It also gets you on and off the boat and serves as a credit card. When you set up the cruise they pull around $1200 from your credit card, which is then issued as credits on you ship ID card. Your can use it to pay for anything on the ship. At the end of the trip, any unused credit is then reimbursed to the card. A word of advice: Don't lose your card!

The MS Amsterdam is a very big ship... at least to my mind. It has ten levels including the crew quarters. The Lido deck has an open air pool and hot tubs with a moon roof of ginormous scale which can open and close depending on the weather. It towered over the sail boats moored in the next harbor over. It truly is a

magnificent piece of engineering. The decorations are posh, of the edge of gaudy, not that this is a problem. To my mind, the lavish decorations have a Victorian aesthetic with modern touches. However, it works, and quite well. Between the lavish surroundings and the high attention to detail the staff puts into serving the clientele, my first impression is that I am fixing to be severely pampered for a few weeks.

The other thing important note about this particular cruise for Holland America is the demographic of the clientele. At 40, I am definitely in the minority. Approximately 90% of the guests are 61+. When I spoke with the customer service representative, she confirmed that they specifically target this age group. With few exceptions, those who were not senior citizens generally were traveling with someone who were senior citizens. It is also worth noting that much of the entertainment on board entertainment caters to the senior demographic. Keep that in mind when you are trying to decide who to cruise with.

A note about the food: it is almost all quite excellent. The food on the Lido Buffet is quite good, but there is not a ton of variation on that buffet from day to day. Also, there is no 24 hour kitchen on this boat. I personally find this to be a mistake. Granted, most of there clientele is not got to be up in the wee hours, but a few items which would stay good through the night (pastries, fruit, etc.) on a small food bar would make all the difference. I am a very early riser, even on vacation, and having to wait an hour or more for even the breads and fruits to come out to alleviate my morning low blood sugar leaves me grumpy, and I am not the only client who had issue with this policy for this reason.

The main restaurant is called La Fontaine. Given a choice I would much rather eat there as I would to bellying up to the Lido buffet. The Lido buffet while expansive, really does not change MUCH from day to day. At La Fontaine, while there are a few items on the menu such as sirloin steak and Caesar salad that are available every day, the menu varies from evening to evening. While the menu does not change at breakfast and lunch at La Fontaine, it is expansive enough that one could manage to order something different every meal on a two week cruise. Also, the decor in La Fontaine is a vast improvement over the cafeteria aesthetic of the Lido buffet.

Well I think this covers enough for today. Tomorrow is a sea day. I am not sure how much I will have to report, but at least there will be lots of food and scenery pictures to come.