The Alaska Fish House in Ketchikan has an ideal location on the silvery waters of the Inside Passage. It also has exceptional food — creamy smoked salmon chowder and half-pound servings of king crab legs freshly harvested from icy seas off Alaska — and, as a result, long lines of customers when cruise ships dock from late spring through late summer.
As I waited to get to the head of the line the last time I visited, I felt as though I was wasting precious onshore time. If I were making the trip this year, I might be able to avoid the problem. Princess Cruises is partnering with Alaska Fish House and other well-known Alaska eateries this summer to serve the restaurants' food on Princess ships.
"The idea is to go to local dives that everybody loves and bring the food onboard," said Lisa Syme, a Princess spokeswoman. Besides Alaska Fish House, Princess, with seven ships sailing the Inside Passage this summer, will serve crab cakes from Tracy's King Crab Shack in Juneau and mermaid burgers from the Skagway Fish Co.
It's all part of a new cruise trend that is bringing local cuisine onboard, whether it's West Indian curried chicken on a Carnival Cruise Lines voyage to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands or artisanal charcuterie and cheeses during a Celebrity Cruises voyage through Italian waters or a Caribbean-themed cooking demonstration by a celebrity chef on a Holland America Line cruise through the region.
At Princess, the Eat Like a Local program is an effort to make dining more appealing to families and younger passengers.
"We want to shake the buffet stereotype and also make it easier for people to go on excursions and still be able to try special foods in the various ports," Syme said. "Sometimes active families aren't able to do both because the lines are too long at the local dives." Princess is working with the participating restaurants to learn their recipes and standards so the foods served onboard will be authentic, she said.
Besides offering local restaurant fare, Princess partnered with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute to feature a variety of Alaskan foods, including crab, salmon and halibut, in the main dining rooms and specialty restaurants. Princess chefs have been trained by Alaska seafood chefs to capture the flavors of the state.
Disney's cruises also feature a full local-cuisine program.
"When I'm on vacation, I don't want to eat what I eat at home," said Jennifer Haile-Tinn, a Disney spokeswoman. "I want to try new things. So we make it easy for people to do that by offering local foods.
"For instance, if I'm at home, I might not try the escargot because I might not like it. But if I'm on a cruise to Europe and it's on the menu, I'll go ahead and try it."
This summer in Norway, Disney's onboard "Frozen" celebration will include a menu of traditional Nordic fare and special dishes inspired by the 2013 Disney film. Mediterranean sailings will include Bella Italia menus focused on Italian foods.
In Alaska, passengers will celebrate sailing through Tracy Arm, a spectacular fiord 45 miles south of Juneau, with an onboard salmon, halibut and elk tenderloin barbecue on the upper decks of the Disney Wonder. The fiord, a cruise highlight, is ringed by mammoth glaciers, rugged mountains and towering waterfalls.
The local dining trend also extends to cocktails. Many cruise lines have revamped their bar offerings to include drinks with a local theme. Carnival passengers who sail to St. Thomas can try a Painkiller, with two types of Bacardi rum mixed with coconut and pineapple and orange juices.
Norwegian Cruise Line teamed with mixologist Gabriel Orta of Miami-based Bar Lab to design a series of handcrafted regional cocktails, including Spritz to Europe, a twist on the Pineapple Express using Belvedere vodka; Rum to Bermuda, a variation of the Dark & Stormy using Gosling's Black Seal rum; and Punch to the Caribbean, a spicy piña punch containing Bacardi Superior.
Cruise tip of the week
Many cruise lines prohibit passengers from bringing liquor onboard. They may allow one bottle of wine or Champagne per person. You may have to pay a corkage fee if you drink it in one of the dining rooms.