Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Is it Alaska calling?

FARIDA MASTER steps onboard Noordam, Holland America Line to find out if she could become a cruise convert.

Is it a sign, I thought when I first received an invite for lunch aboard the Holland-America Line, Noordam anchored at the Queens Wharf.

First, a confession. Unlike other members of the media, mostly travel editors, on the invite list, I’m a cruise virgin. I’ve always preferred to travel by the silver bullet that zips across the blue skies than a luxurious hotel floating on the high seas.

Though after listening to all my friends talk about their cruise experiences, I have been secretly thinking perhaps someday it could be… Alaska on a cruise liner.

What are the chances that the invite reads ‘Savour the Catch’ an Alaskan lunch aboard Noordam. Did someone read my mind?

This could be a perfect taster before taking the big plunge and signing up for a cruise to the Last Frontier.

Open to the idea of being a cruise convert, I for one decide to get off the beaten track (read as taking the motorway to the city) and instead venture out to Queens Wharf by the newly resumed train service from Panmure to Britomart.

Not a great idea after all! The train arrives late at Panmure station and does not take off! We are informed that there is a problem with the signals and will have to catch the bus instead.

Running late, I eventually manage to find a motley crew waiting at Shed 10, Queens Wharf. Such relief to see a familiar face of a well-travelled editor who had some interesting stories to share about his last cruise from LA to Mexico. Formalities done, we are led to Noordam, the medium sized premium Dutch cruise liner named after the northern point on the compass.

Ushered into the Rolling Stone Lounge, with a welcome drink in hand, executive chef Mahendran talks about fresh catch being served aboard Noordam as he gives a cooking demo of the Seared Alaskan Black Cod. With the aroma of freshly cooked cod filling the lounge area, we can’t wait to ‘savour the catch’. But before that we’re given a tour of the cruise liner with a classical décor that accommodates around 2000 passengers.

As we walk through the atrium that sports a glitzy curved green glass stairway and an ornate ceiling, there is an instant sense of old-world charm. A walkaround the world stage where enrichment programmes on the lines of Ted Talk are held, and at the Lido restaurant, library, art gallery, swimming pool, spa, gym, game lounge – speaks of a causal, relaxed environment.

Having worked up an appetite after covering the length of the cruise liner, we are treated to a luncheon at the Pinnacle Grill. For starters we are presented with delectably seared Scallops and Alaskan Crab Salad, followed by a mildly flavoured Parsnip soup with dill yogurt and toasted pistachios. For the mains it’s what the chef had demonstrated at the live station, Seared Alaska Black Cod served with wild berries jam. Keeping in with the theme is a sweet end to the meal, a Classic Baked Alaska.

So why choose a Holland America Line when there are so many cruise liners in the ocean heading to the Land of Glaciers?

Firstly, there is some safety in knowing that they have been sailing for the last 151 years covering over 100 countries and territories including nearly 470 ports of call.

Hannah Baynes, marketing manager informs that the Holland America line has been sailing to Alaska for the last 75 years. Much before Alaska was declared the 49th state (65 years ago)!

“We take pride in going beyond the tourist track to experience places and cultures in an authentic way. You can see more wildlife than any other cruise,” she says.

The reason being a mid-sized ship manages to weave its way much closer to the glaciers and has many more ports of call where the magnificent landscapes and geography defy description.

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