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December 19, 2012

TRAVEL: Alaskan cruise sails from fog into fjords

In mid-August, I boarded Holland America’s ms Oosterdam after spending two sunny, rainless days in Seattle where the temperatures hovered in the mid-80s. At 4 p.m. the  ship weighed anchor and set sail for Alaska. It would be a first time visit for me.

I spent a good three hours getting acquainted with the ship and skimmed one more time my seven-day, five-stop itinerary. Unfortunately, the good weather came to an abrupt halt when I woke the next morning to find that we were traveling through a rather dense mist, and I began making a list of things to keep me busy onboard on our "day at sea."

The late morning gallery tour proved interesting as a small group toured the compact area where 134 assorted chefs, cooks and service staff prepare the meals for as many as 1,850 passengers and another 800 crew members. The kitchen stats are staggering , starting with a dish washing area which can clean up to 5,000 plates an hour.

"The kitchen operates 24 hours a day," said the executive chef, leading us past four, 48 gallon soup kettles and up to the clam shell griddles, which can sear meat on both sides simultaneously with temperatures that can reach 500 degrees F.

At a follow-up session in the Culinary Arts Center, where food demos are given daily in a comfortable auditorium, I sat and watched a talented carver from Thailand create unbelievable figures out of things watermelon and eggplant.

In the Explorations Café, where I ordered a cappuccino and checked my email on a ship computer, passengers can check out a book, play chess, or simply sit in comfortable chairs and gaze out the window in search of whales and dolphins.

After dinner, I managed to catch the ship comedian’s rollicking show in Vista Lounge, then caught Miss Augie’s Sing-Along session in the Piano Bar and danced a bit to DJ Brett’s rock tunes in Northern Lights.

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