Journey Through Alaska’s Inside Passage

Although it is rarely represented properly on a U.S. map, Alaska looms large over North America – it’s actually twice the size of Texas. For the traveler, this means you could spend months exploring “The Last Frontier”—mountain climbing in Denali National Park, biking in Fairbanks, fishing for Sockeye, and exploring Juneau, the state capital. With a coastline longer than all other states combined, many people choose to cruise Alaska on their first visit in order to cover a lot of territory in a short amount of time.

Home to Mt. McKinley (North America’s highest peak), massive fjords, glaciers the size of Rhode Island, the northernmost rain forest, and the treacherous Chilkoot Trail, Alaska combines geography, earth science, and history lessons all rolled up in one unique vacation. An Alaskan cruise usually means a trip through the Inside Passage—the coastal route that weaves through the thousands of islands, coves, and bays that dot the Pacific Coast.

We chose a one-week cruise with Regent in order to minimize days at sea and also to make time for both a pre- and a post-trip. And, a smaller ship allowed for more stops and excursions. Before flying to Anchorage and embarking on our cruise in Seward, we spent several days in Seattle, which I covered in previous posts, “Seattle Top Spots” and “Four Days in Seattle.”

Seward, Alaska

Our cruise began in Seward, a busy fishing port on the Gulf of Alaska’s coast

At the conclusion of our cruise, we spent a few days in Vancouver (the subject of my “Canada’s Outdoorsy Urban Oasis” post). Many cruise lines follow this same route, from Northwest to Southeast and in reverse. Other ships embark from Seattle and can last 10 to 14 days. To take advantage of the most outdoor activities, the best time to cruise Alaska is summertime, when days are longest and temperatures are warmest. But, definitely pack lots of layers, a waterproof jacket, boots, hats and gloves, because the weather can change rapidly.

Regent Cruise

To reach Hubbard Glacier, we sailed through Yakutat Bay

Our days were exciting and included a JetCat Sitka wildlife tour, a scenic helicopter tour, a hike through Juneau’s rain forest and a walk to Mendenhall Glacier, and a trip back in time at the Skagway Gold Rush Museum. Our ship offered a wide range of active excursions: kayaking, biking, and dog sled adventures. In the summer, the fog can roll in quickly, so excursions can be cancelled at a moment’s notice, so backup plans are necessary.

Early one morning, we gathered on deck to watch as the ship approached one of the highlights of the cruise—Hubbard Glacier. This “river of ice” measures 76 miles long and 7 miles wide and it is the state’s most active glacier. It is very common to see sheets of ice separate themselves from the glacier, and crash into the sea with a loud crack that can be heard for miles. These pieces, christened icebergs, filled the bay and we watched in awe as these icy-blue splendors floated past the ship.

Disenchantment Bay

Pristine Disenchantment Bay

Hubbard Glacier

From a distance, Hubbard Glacier’s size is deceiving –it’s actually more than 30 stories high!

The one-week cruise made stops in several ports: Seward, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan (covered in my post “Fish & Feast”). The scenery and wildlife viewing in between ports was equally magnificent and kept us up on deck with camera and binoculars in hand as we scanned the horizon for humpback whales and porpoises.

Although this was a long journey, we look back on our visit to the 49th state grateful for our eye-opening experiences and reassured that the wilderness does still exist. And, even though Alaska is so large and so far away, upon our return, we felt a little bit closer to it.

Alaska iceberg

Although they got a bad rap in “Titanic,” icebergs are quite beautiful


Tongass National Forest, the heart of the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest

Mendenhall Glacier

Easily accessible, Mendenhall Glacier is located just 12 miles from downtown Juneau

Skagway, Alaska

In Skagway we took off on a helicopter tour

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Seattle: Top Spots to fill the Stomach and the Shopping Bag

Seattle: Top Spots to fill the Stomach and the Shopping Bag

It has been said that an army travels on its stomach.  The same could be said for traveling families. My last post, “Four Days in Seattle, the Emerald City,” highlighted the best of what to do in this eclectic city, nestled between Puget Sound and Lake Washington.  Taking advantage of a summer-time visit filled with sunny days, and with the Four Seasons Seattle as our home base, we covered a lot of territory, exploring the sights and taking breaks to browse through the shops.  What surprised me about this city was how hilly it was — like a mini-San Francisco.  All of this urban hiking left us hungry, and as with any adventure away from home, sampling the local cuisine was paramount.

Seattle will not disappoint the food-lover with its bountiful seafood, fresh, locally produced ingredients, and focus on sustainable fishing and farming.  Fish plucked that morning right from the waters surrounding the city is not only common on menus, but expected.  With so many choices, the following list is by no means complete, but it’s a good start in helping you to plan a trip.  And, if you have more than a few days to spend here, consider renting a car or joining a tour, and taking an excursion outside the city to catch a glimpse of the beautiful and lush state of Washington.

Seattle Seafood

Seattle offers the freshest of seafood

The First Starbucks: A must-see for the caffeine addicted, near Pike Place Market.

Seatown Seabar & Rotisserie: With its outdoor-seating and location outside Pike Place Market, it’s the perfect spot for fresh seafood and people watching.

Elliot’s Oyster House: On Pier 56, stop here for lunch after a morning visit to the aquarium. Afterwards, stroll along the waterfront or ride the giant ferris wheel.

Plaka Estiatorio: Located in the historic and hip neighborhood of Ballard, this authentic local restaurant serves all the Greek specialties, like spanakopita and souvlaki.

Ray’s Boathouse: On the shores of Ballard not far from the Locks, enjoy casual seafood with a beautiful view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

Wild Ginger: Located downtown, the city’s best Asian restaurant covers the whole Pacific Rim: Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Malaysian and more. Order the Buddha Roll, Seven Flavors Beef and the Sichuan Green Beans — delicious!!

Barolo Restaurant: When you get tired of seafood, this is a great choice for Italian. Located downtown, it’s casually elegant, and features old-world dishes with a contemporary twist. My kids loved the rigatoni with organic, lamb ragu.

Serious Pie & Biscuit: Just a few blocks from MOHAI Museum in the Westlake neighborhood, its specialties are personal-size pizzas made in wood-burning, stone ovens and biscuits topped with everything. It’s all served at communal tables.

Art Restaurant & Lounge: Located in the lobby of the Four Seasons Seattle Hotel, we celebrated our last night in town with delicious Northwest cuisine and dramatic sunset views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic mountains. And, our gracious server, a native of Alaska, engaged our kids with talk of our upcoming cruise up north.

Plaka Estiatorio

This authentic Greek restaurant is a great place for dinner in Ballard

Stop by these Seattle shops, all founded in the Pacific Northwest:

REI: Located downtown, this is not just an outdoor equipment/clothing store, but an indoor/outdoor adventure! Walking through the mini forest to enter the store, my kids were amazed by the 470-foot mountain bike test trail, which leads to a waterfall, and inside, the 65-foot tall rock climbing tower. They even had a “steep terrain” area to test out hiking boots!

Columbia: Located downtown, we picked up some extra outdoor sportswear for our next stop on our trip: Alaska. It’s well stocked — perfect if you forgot to pack something, which we did.

Fran’s Chocolates: Two words: “salted caramels.” Located on First Avenue, in the lobby of the Four Seasons Seattle hotel, this specialty chocolate shop is addictive—trust me, just go there. And, they give out free samples.

Nordstrom’s: Not far from Pike Place Market, this is the famous retailer’s first location.

Fran's Chocolates

Stop by Fran’s Chocolates for a taste of its irresistible confections

Fran's Chocolates

My son, Jack, puts his spending money to good use

If you have time:

Mt. Rainer National Park: On a clear day, you can see this majestic snow-capped mountain from downtown Seattle, and it’s only about 75 miles away.

Issaquah: It’s a former mining town, and now the second fastest growing suburb in the state. We went to visit my cousin, but I would recommend to anyone. There’s lots of mountain hiking trails, lush green forests, a quaint town center, a salmon hatchery and much, much more.

Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

Stay tuned for my next post…. Fish and Feast in Ketchikan


Four Days in Seattle, The Emerald City

Four Days in Seattle, The Emerald City

Until this summer, I had only associated Seattle with coffee, Bill Gates, and the setting of one of my favorite sitcoms, “Frasier.” The little drawing of the skyline with the Space Needle prominently featured in the opening credits always intrigued me.  Having already booked a summer Alaskan cruise (covered in my post “Inside Passage,”) I jumped at the chance to add on a visit to Seattle before meeting our ship, the Regent Seven Seas Navigator, in Anchorage. It’s a three-hour flight from Sea-Tac airport to Anchorage or a two-and-a half hour drive to the Canadian Border, which makes Seattle the perfect jumping off point if you are headed to points north. The visit also gave the four of us (my husband, our two sons and me) a chance to spend time with my cousin and her family who have recently made Seattle their home.

Emerald City is actually the official nickname for this seaport, surrounded by lush evergreen forests, which is unusual for a coastal destination. Our four days, although too brief, gave us a taste of all that this eclectic city has to offer. Yes, it has earned its reputation as rainy for most of the year, but a visit to Seattle in the summertime will surprise you with many warm, sunny days and daylight extending past 9pm. To make the best use of our time, we booked a hotel in the downtown area, the Four Seasons Seattle, which enabled us to walk, take public transportation, or taxis to any other part of the city. And, we also rented a car for road trips to the suburbs. Having a hotel with an outdoor pool also came in handy after long days of touring, and since the weather was so mild, we made good use of it.  The hotel’s outdoor deck, overlooking Puget Sound, was the perfect spot to end the day.

If you only have a few days to spend in Seattle, here are my top picks of things to do. (Bolded items are hyperlinked to the related websites):

Seattle Space Needle
A view from the top of the Space Needle

Things to do:

  • Seattle Space Needle: Built for the ’62 World’s Fair, make this your first stop to get a bird’s-eye view of the whole city. Reserve in advance online.
  • Monorail: After visiting the Space Needle, jump on the Monorail for the one-mile ride back to downtown.
  • Pike Place Market: Seattle’s famous public market with lots of stalls selling fresh local produce, fish, crafts and baked goods like yummy bear claws.
  • Seattle Aquarium: Perched on Pier 59 overhanging Puget Sound, it gives you a great view of Pacific Northwest creatures including adorable otters and seals.
  • Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI): The name sounds dull but the museum is definitely not! It’s a great way to learn Northwestern history through hands-on exhibits and historic photos and memorabilia—like the set from Seattle-themed TV show “Frasier.”
  • Boeing Factory Tour: This was a huge hit with my kids. Located in Everett, 25 miles from downtown, this tour takes you through Boeing’s commercial jet assembly plant, the world’s largest building by volume, where the 787 Dreamliner are assembled. Book online in advance.  We drove in our car, but van tours are also available; contact your hotel concierge or front desk for information on tours and public transportation.
  • Ballard Locks and Fish Ladder: A real engineering feet, this mini Panama Canal comprised of locks, or water elevators, enable vessels to pass between Puget Sound and Lakes Union and Washington. After watching the boats, walk to the far side of the bridge and check out the salmon that make their way to spawning grounds by using specially built ladders. This was of extreme interest to my kids who have recently become avid fishermen, and a real learning experience for anyone interested in the life-cycle of Seattle’s famous fish.

For more information, check out my recent article: Seattle: Top Spots to fill the Stomach & the Shopping Bag

Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

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Boeing Factor Tour

Welcome Center for the Boeing Factory Tour: cameras and phones are not allowed in the actual factory.

Puget Sound

A view of Seattle’s Great Wheel on Pier 57 from the pool deck of the Four Seasons.