Best AK cruise “excursion” yet!
We have been on three Alaskan cruises, our first was just my immediate family, my bride and two kids about six or seven years ago. On our first trip I became convinced that everyone should do this at least once, the experience is indescribable, pictures or television or writing about the magnificence of the place will never adequately convey what is there to see and do.
The kids were never crazy about a cruise to AK, probably because we spent our time seeing, not doing. We adults are stunned just looking at brown bears feeding in a river or stream or shoreside. We are happy to see the mountains, glaciers, the wonder of God’s creation, but the kids want to climb the mountains, slide down the glaciers and swing from the trees so they would often rather STAY ON THE SHIP AND PLAY BASKETBALL OR VIDEO GAMES or whatever kids do in the kids club on NCL. While surprising, probably understandable if one can manage to try to get into the heads of kids. They want to DO stuff, not LOOK AT stuff.
Our trip with Baranof did both, although the kids are older now they still want to DO STUFF. Cool stuff. With cool people.
I’m a pretty experienced and knowledgeable fisherman, mostly the gulf coasts of Texas, Loud and Florida but as the song goes...”I’ve been everywhere, man..”. Not fishing in AK though. And although I find a rushed fishing trip off of a cruise ship...well, I’ll just say I’d prefer to fly in and stay a couple of weeks, book with an outfitter and get after it, learn all I can and as my bride might say, get too serious about this.
Our trip included 15 from our extended family. On our first cruise to AK, as we were steadily pointed north through Puget Sound I resolved to make sure my parents went with us someday. We finally completed this mission, My mom was on this trip. I booked with Baranof with a unique request. Mom’s side of our family can trace our roots to ancestors who were recipients of a land grant issued by the Provisional Gov’t of the Republican Texas, so roots and traditions run deep. Among her most cherished memories are days as a child spent crabbing with her dad, mom, brothers and sisters along the Texas Gulf Coast so I wanted to arrange a special trip for her...crabbing for Dungeness crabs in Alaska with her grandchildren. Baranof is a fishing outfitter but I took a shot and called. “No problem, we’d be happy to”.
We started our trip, were met by three guides, my boat was captained and served by Chris Baldwin. Being a good fishing guide is a really unique and tricky job...they never know who they’re dealing with, could be novices, perhaps someone with ridiculous expectations, maybe rude or disrespectful people, maybe guests who don’t speak English, might even be a Russian billionaire (yes, he did that) and sometimes fish just aren’t biting. Or maybe they are...maybe guests just can’t set the hook, maybe weather doesn’t cooperate...the list is endless and often the captain gets the blame...or credit. Chris was a spectacular host, patient and fun with the kids (teens on our boat), knowledgeable and willing to answer my constant questions, I wanted to soak up as much as I could as this was my first fishing trip in AK; he is patient, fun, funny, interesting, eager. Chris is also enthusiastic, efficient and contributed to a unanimously agreed “best thing we did” on our cruise to AK.
Once all three boats were loaded up with 15 people from 8-75yrs old, all outfitted in provided gear, boots, jackets and pants we were off. Dropped crab traps and went fishing. We caught countless rockfish, other fish I can’t remember the names of. Once adequately stocked for lunch, we had a little time so we trolled for salmon, caught several and finished by running traps that had only soaked for 3hrs or so. I’m positive that the collective excitement on our boat when pulling these traps, kind of mundane and routine for Chris took him completely by surprise. Kids messed with the crabs, took pictures and we threw back undersized. Chris told a story of once dropping a go-pro camera with a trap, documenting that crabs are turds. (My words). They will defend their trap, fight and even kill each other defending the bait that they’ve found. (I’m fully aware of the dynamics here...no lectures necessary). I found that interesting and a little funny.
We returned to dock, Chris cleaned our catch and joined us for lunch in a back room of the restaurant right there at the dock. We were served by an extraordinarily talented chef who had taken time away from an upscale restaurant somewhere (I’m embarrassed that I didn’t take note of his name) but Chris said our chef is doing this for fun...he’s doing it because in his “real” job he rarely has a chance to interact with his guests, no time...wherever it is it is busy so he’s in the kitchen most or all of the time. I can’t remember his credentials but he’s not just a “cook”. He is an extraordinarily talented chef with a passion for his craft and loves serving and seeing his delighted guests as he works. He got word that I’ve wanted to try spot prawns for years...a bowl FULL of them appeared in front of me, sautéed and absolutely fantastic! Appetizer was some salmon/shrimp spread that was out of this world. Our fish was fried, broiled, I’m not sure what he did but it was ALL unbelievably good. My bride won’t eat anything fried but asked for seconds on the fried rockfish with just prepared tartar sauce. Best cole slaw I’ve ever eaten. Dessert was huckleberry something...some kind of cake that was out of this world.
I cannot document blow-by-blow the other guides but I heard nothing but compliments. Our group of fifteen was beyond satisfied, this experience was the highlight of our trip.