October 8, 2018 – Sea Day

This day was our 5th wedding anniversary. Five years ago on this day, we were married in San Diego at the County Administration building on the waterfront in downtown San Diego. We have been together more than 26 years although we were only married in 2013. We got no cake from the ship…..what a shame!

This was our second sea day of three between Dutch Harbor and Petropavlovsk, Russia. Jorge’s morning show featured Comedian/Magician Bodane Hatten. Spencer taught us how to make an easy creamy parmesan polenta and potato gnocchi with a gorgonzola cream sauce. Michael Hick lectured on Russia and how all countries have their own personalities. The personalities can change like people from time to time, but they all have personalities. He discussed prominent figures in Russian history like Ivan the Terrible who killed his own son and Catherine the Great who had her own husband locked up and executed. For a long time, Russia has been obsessed with its land mass being larger than any other in the world.

Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on October 9th but since we will be crossing the international date line on the 9th, we celebrated the holiday on the 8th. For dinner we invited Spencer, the chef from America’s Test Kitchen, to join us. Spencer is from Long Island, New York, and quite accomplished for his 27 years. He is well educated, has had wonderful work experiences and loves what he does. This is his second year working on ships and he loves the lifestyle, people and his job onboard. He has a gentle manner about him and loves to interact with the guests onboard. He is working on some new cooking shows to present during our cruise.

The entertainment was a show performed by the Amsterdam singers and dancers titled That’s Life. It was an eclectic mix of songs from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. as might have been performed in a jazz club.

October 7, 2018 – Sea Day

Masked Ball

This was the first of three Sea Days on the way to our next port of call, Petropavlovsk, Russia. We attended the morning show with Cruise Director Jorge who interviewed the assistant cruise director Amanda. Amanda comes from a background of sports and cheerleading and runs health and fitness activities onboard. She hosts a sit and be fit, water aerobics a morning stretch.

In America’s Test Kitchen Spencer showed us how to make southern biscuits with a pimento cheese and fried pickles with a homemade ranch dressing. Not probably something that we would make, but interesting to see how they are made.

The seas continue to be rough and the skies are mostly gray with scattered showers. We look forward to sunshine and clear skies.

In the main dining room, they served a spectacular brunch from 11:00 to 1:00. It was a four-course fixed menu. The first course was an assortment of pastries, fresh squeezed orange juice served in mini glass milk bottles with colorful straws, coffee and tea. The second course was a cold sampler plate with all of the following in bite sized servings: fresh fruit skewer with granola parfait, Caesar salad, bay shrimp cocktail shooter, Norwegian smoked salmon on brioche, deviled egg with Osettra caviar, prosciutto and coppa on six grains baguette and Beecher and Maaslander cheese on crackers.

The main course consisted of all of the following: vegetable omelet pot with crispy oven roasted bacon, sautéed jumbo shrimp, a breaded fried chicken tender, tenderloin medallion a la minute with béarnaise sauce, steamed broccoli and home style roasted potatoes, biscuit and gravy and a stack of quarter sized pancakes with Dickinson’s maple syrup.

Dessert included a small chocolate crème caramel, a pecan pie bite and a mini baked apple strudel.

Michael Hick lectured on the Aleutian Islands. This string of islands has an extraordinary number of active volcanoes and one island was also used to test an atomic bomb years ago.

The black and silver gala dinner had folks dressed up in suits and long gowns. The dining room chairs were covered in black and silver fabric covers and the linens were changed to match. Party favors of masks for the masked ball later in the evening were placed at each place setting on the table. Favorites like filet mignon and crab legs were included in the menu.

The evening’s entertainment was a pianist from Manchester, England, who performed a variety of music from the classics to the contemporary. He enjoys mixing a classic song of the past with a song from artists like Michael Jackson or Lady Gaga. He was accompanied by the Amsterdam band.

At 9:30pm there was a Black and Silver Masked Ball in the main showroom. The Station Band that normally performs in the Crow’s Nest was set up on the stage for the music. Guests brought a variety of masks from home or wore the masks provided at the Gala dinner for a festive evening. Kent and Mark observed from the balcony in the theater. Later in the evening a chocolate surprise arrived with waiters carrying trays of delectable chocolate treats. It was a wonderful sea day filled with more temptations of food than anyone needed but we managed to enjoy it all.

October 6, 2018 – Dutch Harbor, Alaska

Russian Orthodox Church Interior


Russian Orthodox Church Exterior

Dutch Harbor Landscape

Dutch Harbor Bald Eagles

Sunrise was not until about 9:15am this morning. Dutch Harbor is located in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska with a population of about 4,500 inhabitants. Dutch Harbor in the 1760’s was part of the Russian fur trade and until the mid 20th-century, natives, Russians and their descendants comprised most of the population. The name Dutch Harbor is really the name of the bay located between the islands of Unalaska and Amaknak. In the 1890’s a dock was built on Dutch Harbor and folks began booking passage to Dutch Harbor. During World War II the military built a runway next to Dutch Harbor and after the war private airlines took over the runway and booked people on flights to Dutch Harbor.

The US purchased Alaska on October 18, 1867 making Unalaska part of the US territory. The US Navy recommended that a base be built here in 1938 with the first army and navy troops arriving in 1941. Dutch Harbor is one of the few sites, besides the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in American territory, to be bombed by the Japanese during World War II. On June 3, 1942, 20 Japanese planes from two aircraft carriers of the Imperial Japanese Navy bombed Dutch Harbor targeting the radio station and the petroleum storage tanks. 43 Americans died during the attack that lasted two days. By 1943 there was a peak of 10,151 sailors and 9,976 soldiers stationed here.

In the 1950’s, Unalaska became the center of the Alaskan king crab fishing industry and by 1978 it was the largest fishing port in the US. A 1982 crash in king crab harvests decimated the industry and the mid 1980’s saw a transition to bottom fishing. Today, Dutch Harbor is ranked as one of the top fishing ports with more than a billion dollars transferred each year. Huge harvests of pollock and cod from the Bering Sea are part of this total. The Discovery Channel reality television series Deadliest Catch has been filmed here since 2005.

The town offered guests the opportunity to take a school bus into the town center where there is a Safeway supermarket, a fishing supply store and a hotel. The ride took us less than ten minutes but it had begun to rain about the time we arrived into town.

We walked the 2.4 miles to the local Russian Orthodox Church in the rain. In 1825, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Ascension was built in Unalaska and it still stands today. It is one of the oldest churches in Alaska and is significant as the site from which Missionaries brought their religion to the local Aleut people. The young priest was giving the tourists a history lesson on the three-room church and its altars with many icons painted on canvas. Given the distance to the church and the weather, there were not many ship passengers who found their way to the church. By the time we left the church the weather had improved dramatically and the sun came out making the walk back to the Safeway so much more enjoyable. We joined our fellow passengers, Anna and Sandy, who also live in our condo building in San Diego, on the walk back.

The winding streets of the islands follow the sea making the walking fairly easy. The surrounding hillsides were covered in a multitude of hues of greens and golds as the fall colors began to set into the vegetation. The only other color remaining was some lavender colored clover flowers. Many bald eagles were spotted around the town on top of ship masts, telephone poles and light posts. One couple of eagles even had a juvenile with it. Several fur seals were spotted in the water as we crossed a bridge from one island to the next. At the sailaway party in the crow’s nest we were able to spot several whales as we sailed out of Dutch Harbor.

The evening’s entertainment was called Alaska in Concert. This beautifully produced film showing scenes of Alaska produced by BBC Earth was accompanied by seven of the musicians onboard. The film showed extraordinary scenes of bears, whales, salmon, foxes, bald eagles and more in their natural habitats.

October 5, 2018 – Sea Day

The weather was once again gray and overcast with large swells and plenty of white caps in the ocean. After five days at sea people are anxious to arrive in a port and see land.

The morning show featured the cast of four women who perform as the group called VOCE. They are only a small number of vocalists who perform as the group called VOCE. The entire group consists of about 15 women who perform on ships as well as at community and corporate events around the world. Most of the women come from musical backgrounds like television shows, Broadway/West End shows and commercials and perform with the VOCE group when they are in between gigs. What a wonderful opportunity for these women to all work together.

Ian gave a talk on things to see and do in our port of call Dutch Harbor, Alaska. He spoke extensively about the variety of fishing vessels in the area due to the enormous demand for seafood in the world. The oceans around Alaska are fine fishing grounds for many types of fish and crab including the famous wild salmon.

Spencer in Americas Test Kitchen showed us how to prepare both baked salmon and poached salmon. He made it look so easy to prepare and promised that if we followed the recipe we would have the most delicious and moist salmon.

We have been eating all three of our meals in the dining room as a way of controlling our portions of food. The portions are very reasonable and we have been attempting to make reasonable choices about what to eat so that when we arrive home can still fit into our clothes.

The afternoon included a lecture on the Geo Politics of the Pacific by Michael Hick. He spoke about the games that countries around the world have played over history to control parts of the world or to protect shipping routes.

Mark joined the 5:00 GLBTQ & Friends Meet Up with Kent and several others.  Not too many have joined the hour meeting yet.  We hope others will as time goes by.

The evening entertainment was a young Australian comedian/magician by the name of Bodane Hatten. His act was not particularly new but he was fun and entertaining.

October 4, 2018 – Sea Day

The seas continue to be choppy and at times you need to catch yourself from falling while attempting to walk around the ship. We continued to find fellow travelers with whom we have traveled previously on other extended trips like the 2013 World Cruise or the 2016 Far East Voyage.

The morning show hosted by Jorge, our cruise director, included an interview with Polish performer Kuba who performed on the main stage a couple of nights ago. After the morning show we attended a talk by Ian about the Bush Pilots of Alaska. These small planes are able to take off and land on uneven terrain or even the water in all types of weather making them very versatile in transporting people and supplies to all parts of Alaska.

Guest chef Denise Vivaldo gave a cooking demonstration creating a wilted spinach and arugula salad with an egg on top and a shrimp and corn salsa dish. Both of these dishes looked easy to prepare and the corn salsa was amazingly colorful with red peppers, corn and cheese.

The afternoon included a lecture by Michael Hick about the Pacific Ocean and the many countries and explorers that crisscrossed the Pacific during the late 1800’s. Mark spent a fair amount of time working on jigsaw puzzles in the library listening to lonely elderly women.

After dinner in the dining room we enjoyed the Amsterdam singers and dancers in a performance titled 1000 Steps. The cast of four singers and six dancers did an incredible job as the ship rocked and rolled with the motion of the ocean.

October 3, 2018 – Sea Day

This third day at sea the fog had cleared and we had patchy spots of sunshine throughout the day. The seas were still slightly rough with the ship rolling over the swells and white caps causing you to have to watch your step as you move about the ship.

Mark attended the morning watercolor class painting a small Alaskan landscape scene while Kent read the morning newspaper in the library. Next up was a brief talk by Ian about Alaska’s Iditarod race where we learned that the race was started as a medical necessity to transport medical vaccines for diphtheria to inaccessible areas. Today the race is watched around the world.

The afternoon included a lecture by Michael Hick on Captain Cook and the near mutiny at Dutch Harbor. Cook very accurately mapped all of the Alaskan territory in the late 1800’s while at the same time on a secret mission to find another shorter trade route to Europe.

At 4:30 we attended the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Reception where the captain introduced the ship’s officers in charge of the different departments onboard the ship. Free drinks and appetizers were plentiful.

The evening was a gala celebration with a black and gold theme. The dining room chairs were covered in gold and black and the dining room staff all wore captains’ hats. The popular surf and turf or steak and lobster were served along with escargot and white chocolate soufflés.

The entertainment for the night was an all woman’s group called Voce comprised of four female vocalists from Europe and Australia. They sang songs from opera to pop and everything in between.

When we returned to our cabin we found yet another small gift had been left for us. This night we received a lanyard with a leather case to carry your ship’s cabin card.

October 2, 2018 – Sea Day

On this second sea day the weather was slightly improved with less fog and random spots of sunshine.

The morning included a lector by Ian, our port lecturer, who gave more detailed information on things to see in the upcoming ports of call in Japan and China. This allowed us to confirm our selections of shore excursions and to book them with the office.

Mark attended the America’s Test Kitchen where guest chef Denise Vivaldo was cooking up a steak and quinoa dish as well as a carrot and ginger soup. Denise has assisted many celebrities with the writing of cook books, worked on television cooking shows, and run a Los Angeles catering kitchen for celebrity events, etc.

In the afternoon we attended a lecture with Michael Hick about Alaska’s Gold Rush in the late 1800’s. He also discussed how Alaska was once called a territory, a region and then finally a state.

For dinner we met up with a woman traveling with the Cruise Specialists group by the name of Clydie.

The night’s entertainment was a multi-instrumentalist and vibraphone virtuoso by the of Kuba. Kuba is from Poland although he currently lives in Nashville. He had an interesting and entertaining show.

Back at our cabin we found another gift. The gift on this evening was a small Moleskin travel journal perfect for making notes in or taking ashore.

October 1, 2018 – Sea Day

It was the first of five days at sea until we reach the port of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands chain. By early morning the ship’s fog horn began sounding, alerting us that the weather outside was not especially bright but instead a heavy fog. The fog, clouds and light rain persisted throughout the entire day.

Mark attended the first day of watercolor class although it was just a short introduction with no painting involved. There was a morning show hosted by Jorge the cruise director on each of the sea days. At the show Jorge interviews members of the crew aboard the ship. On this day the guest was a gentleman from England by the name of Ian that is the onboard port expert. Ian lectures about each port that we will be stopping at to give guest ideas about things that they may want to see, things to shop for, as well as local cuisine and places to eat.

We attended America’s Test Kitchen cooking show hosted by a young man by the name of Spencer. Spencer showed us how to prepare garlic shrimp, a Spanish Tortilla which is a potato, onion and egg dish similar to a frittata and cooked in a skillet. We also learned how to make Sangria so that we are all set for a Spanish Tapas party when we return home. We have not watched the cooking show on television but the test kitchen folks spend extensive time researching and perfecting the perfect dishes. In this case they were very specific about the limited amount of olive oil, the best potatoes to use and how to crush the garlic.

We did attend the first of Ian’s lectures where he did a quick introduction of the ports that we would be visiting up to Sydney, Australia. Ian shared a lot of facts and information about the upcoming ports and will elaborate on each of them further in the coming days and weeks.

The afternoon was filled with a lecturer speaking on the history of Alaska and how it was that the United States was able to purchase the vast land from Russia in 1867 for the sum of $7,200,000:  not particularly a lot of money by today’s standards but a sizeable amount at the time. We will be visiting the small town of Dutch Harbor in the coming days which still today has a large Russian Orthodox Church and most of the residents are members of the church.

We had all of our meals in the dining room hoping to limit our food intake rather than going to the buffet upstairs in the Lido where the food is limitless. We had reasonable sized meals but still too many desserts and certainly more food than we would eat at home.

The evening’s entertainment was a comedian by the name of Bud Anderson. He was funny and told some interesting stories about his family and life.

When we arrived back in our cabin after the show we found two messenger bags on our bed to be used while going ashore on our trip. On Grand Voyages like the one we are on; the ship typically leaves small gifts like these in your cabin along the trip.

September 30, 2018 – Los Angeles

L.A. Sail Away Party

Kent at the Sail Away Party

This morning we boarded a bus at 10:00am for a thirty-minute ride from the Westin hotel at LAX to the port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, where we boarded Holland America’s Amsterdam. This would be our home for the next 82 nights as we visit ports of call in Asia and across the Pacific.

By 11:30am we had boarded the ship and began settling in to our cabin. Several weeks prior, we had received a notice from Holland America stating that we could upgrade our standard outside cabin for a veranda cabin with a balcony for a fee. Having never traveled in a cabin with a balcony we decided to upgrade our cabin to a higher floor with a balcony. The cabin is very pleasant with a large sofa and coffee table, a desk with nine dresser drawers for storage and a decent sized balcony with two chairs, two ottomans and a small side table. Waiting for us in our cabin were several gifts from our travel agent including a plate of chocolate covered strawberries, a bottle of champagne and a $50 shipboard credit. The ship was in dry dock earlier this year and so most of the carpeting, drapes and upholstery had been recently replaced or refreshed. The entire ship looked fresh, clean and inviting.

Along our travels of checking in and having lunch we ran into several friends from previous cruises who were sailing on the ship. We saw Bryan, Jim and Gayle, Elaine, Heidi and Andres and some whose names we didn’t know, but recognized their faces. Always fun to catch up with old friends and get reacquainted.

From 1:30pm to 2:30pm most of the ship’s guests enjoyed complimentary welcome aboard drinks and snacks poolside. After the mandatory lifeboat drill we attended the sail away party poolside. At the sail-away party they served up unlimited drinks and endless passed trays of appetizers like lamb chops, samosa’s, empanada’s and hummus. A live band performed cover songs from years gone by.

We enjoyed a nice dinner in the dining room with a Dee and Ken from Alabama. After dinner there was a variety show on the main stage where they gave us a sampling of the entertainment available onboard like the pianist from the piano bar and the trio that plays dance music in the Ocean Bar. The cast of singers and dancers performed as did the Amsterdam band. Jorge from San Antonio, Texas, is our cruise director for the voyage. The cruise director mentioned that the ship has onboard about 870 guests from 19 countries which we found of interest.

September 29, 2018 – Los Angeles

After weeks of planning, we began our next adventure this morning by renting a car in San Diego bound for the Westin Los Angeles International Airport Hotel. There we met up with a group of folks who had booked their Holland America Grand Asia and the Pacific Cruise with a travel company called Cruise Specialists based out of Seattle. Cruise Specialists had arranged for us to join our fellow travelers for a bon voyage cocktail party and dinner at the hotel.

Cruise Specialists had about six representatives from the company to make sure we had a good time and that we all got onboard the ship with no issues.
There were about sixty fellow travelers staying at the Westin for the night who participated in the cocktail party and dinner event. At the cocktail party we exchanged pleasantries with other travelers while enjoying an open bar and a spread of grilled vegetables, cheeses and assorted thinly sliced meats like salami and prosciutto. For dinner we were served a wonderful mixed greens salad topped with fresh berries and walnuts. The main course was an enormous chicken breast breaded and baked accompanied by broccolini, carrots and a mushroom risotto. An apple strudel with raisins and whipped cream completed the meal. After dinner we went straight to bed to prepare for our voyage.