West Bloomfield Fishing Trip to Alaska

Members of the WBHS ski and golf teams (both JV) traveled to the far-reaches of the United States for our annual gathering. As mentioned before, this group goes back to kindergarten/elementary school. While we normally do a ski trip, this year we mixed it up with a fishing trip to Alaska. Chris wasn’t able to make our last big trip to Austria, which ended right as the pandemic was unfolding in March of 2020.

Chris did a great job of organizing our travel after hearing about it from a friend. We all flew to Kenai, AK, which is a 20 minute flight from Anchorage. We stayed for 5 nights at the Tower Rock Lodge, which is on the Kenai River where we fished for a couple days. I had no idea what to pack, so I packed all my ski gear. It turned out to be a lot like skiing … cold, rainy skiing.

Our first day of fishing was the most scenic. We headed to Crescent Lake in Lake Clark National Park, which is only accessible by float plane or boat. We took the former, which was an adventure in itself. Once landed with our gear unloaded, we took a couple boats down river. Immediately we saw a couple bear cubs playing along the shore, with their mother nearby. This was only the first of many bear encounters and sightings throughout the day.

We were fishing for Silver Salmon, but caught some Pinks and Dolly Varden trout, which are not good for eating. The fishing was tough and we didn’t get our limit, but two other guys in another group didn’t catch anything all day. The challenging fishing was made up for by a very scenic and thrilling plane ride home. Our pilot seemed to be inspired by Top Gun Maverick, as we flew up and over the crest of a range and descended down a narrow canyon. I wished I had some video, but most importantly we lived to tell the tale.

We generally had breakfast and dinner at the lodge, which was always prepared and served beautifully. The food was really good. Thursday after breakfast, we walked a hundred yards to the river and fished the Lower Kenai all day. We were split 3 and 3 into two boats and neither boat hit their limit (3 Silvers per person). The limit just prior to September 1st was only 2 per person, which we did achieve.

Our Halibut charter on Friday was cancelled due to high winds and rough seas. We ended up on the Lower Kenai again with the same groups, but we switched guides. This meant we got to spend the day with Bear the dog, who comforted us through tough times. I think our boat only caught four keepers that day, though we did throw back a couple Pinks.

The weather and seas on Saturday were much nicer. We got up for a 5am departure and a 90-minute drive to Homer. I haven’t been on that many boats, but when we boarded Big Dan’s fishing vessel, we knew it was something special. He said it was the nicest sport fishing boat in Alaska and I don’t have a reason to doubt him. It was an almost brand new all-aluminum catamaran with four outboard Yamaha 425 V8s.

We cruised about 90 minutes to our fishing spot. We did an experiment where half the group took Dramamine and the other half didn’t. I didn’t, and honestly, I didn’t feel great. Nick, it turned out, wasn’t feeling 100% either, but we both gutted it out.

Halibut fishing seemed to be a lot easier. We started pulling up keepers almost immediately. There are a lot of regulations in fishing. For halibut, you must catch one smaller than 28″ and the other can be any size, so the goal is as big as possible. All of us got our big ones except Nick, which meant that every time there was a fish on, he had to reel it up. Nick caught 3 skate and a flounder while trying to get his limit. He was grinding hard and digging deep to bring up those fish.

It turned out to be surprisingly difficult to catch our last few small ones as the tide and conditions changed. I think we ended up being just one short when a line got caught in one of the props and we had to limp home on 3 engines. Once that was sorted in the marina, we made our way back to Kenai. Someone caught a halibut that was almost 7 feet long and 300 pounds, which we saw on the way out.

The cook prepared our halibut cheeks as an appetizer and cooked some of our halibut as our final entree. The rest of our fish was sent to the processor to be cleaned, packed and frozen for our return trip home. Five of us split up the fish and I’d guess it was about 30-35lbs each.

Even though I live the closest, it still took me 3 flights and about 15 hours to get home. I can’t really complain because Nick just got home and Mike might still be flying to Laguardia.

This was another epic trip in the books. I mostly came to hang out and take pictures of these guys fishing, but I had fun getting mine, too. One of the kids asked me if I was having fun and I said it was fun, but not pleasant. Fishing is hard work. I wouldn’t normally stand out in the cold and rain for 7 hours, bouncing bait off the river bottom about 12,000 times. But, it was worth it to spend some solid time together.

We’re already talking about our next trip. Chris feels like we missed out on King Salmon season and Nick is wondering why we don’t go somewhere warm to golf. I’m always game for anything and hope we can try it all (before we can’t).

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Disney Cruise to Alaska (or Watching iPads on a Boat)

Grace’s mom turned 70 this year and her wish was for a family vacation. It was decided that we would all go on a cruise to Alaska. Disney started sailing to Alaska this year, so it made our decision easier given all the kids going.

The group included all of the Park kids and families as well as Charles’ parents, and his brother Arnie’s family and in-laws. We flew to Vancouver on Monday, June 27th. In normal fashion, Lucas and Olivia’s passports were issued on June 24th. We spent the afternoon exploring the harbor-side. We planned on meeting the Park clan for dinner (at a Korean restaurant, of course). We ended up walking, which turned out to be a bit of a hike.

We didn’t plan to board the ship until the afternoon on Tuesday, so we spent the day exploring Vancouver (i.e., walking to various malls and food courts). Once on the ship, we got settled in and readied ourselves for our daily rituals of eating and eating.

I’ll be perfectly honest and say that I have no idea where or how far we went on this trip. There was a day at sea. The first stop was up a channel to Tracy Arm, where we saw a huge glacier and where I saw my only whale on the trip. It was rainy and windy on deck.

The next stop was Skagway, which is a town of about 800 people. We didn’t opt in for the excursions because the kids are a little young. We took a horse and buggy ride around the town (which didn’t take long). We managed to get to the post office (after their lunch break) and also went to the public library.

Our second port was Juneau, the capital. We managed to find the one Korean-owned Chinese/Japanese restaurant for lunch. We took a bus to see the Mendenhall glacier. Apparently there are some bears in the area, which Olivia really wanted to see. I wasn’t seeking such a close encounter.

Our final port was in Ketchikan, which seemed the largest city. It was raining, so we just ventured into town for a lunch of local seafood and found a bakery for dessert. Then it was back on the boat for another day and a half cruise back to Vancouver.

On the boat were various activities for the kids including movies and live shows. Lucas was too young to be in the Club or the Lab, so he spent a few afternoons in the nursery (and was never happy about it – boo). Grace got in a couple spa sessions.

My recreation was at night with the guys after everyone went to bed. Given the demographic, there wasn’t really much going on at night, but we made our own fun. Some nights we went to the bar. Charles threw down some U2 and Red Hot Chili Peppers at karaoke and Dave rocked the house with Vanilla Ice. It was probably a good thing there wasn’t a casino on this ship. Instead, we spent time in the arcade. I quickly got over being the oldest only person in there. I faced my old nemesis, Galaga, and achieved my personal high score.

We enjoyed a couple nights in the adult-only restaurant and arranged a private room one evening for everyone in our party. We celebrated Charles’ and Grace’s moms’ birthdays a couple times during the trip.

The kids hadn’t been too exposed to Disney (by design), but their influence is hard to avoid. Lucas has been obsessed with his Buzz Lightyear pajamas and Olivia is only mildly afflicted with princessitis. She enjoyed meeting all the princesses, especially Belle and Ariel. The cutest moment on the ship for me was when we had just come from peeking in on Lucas in the nursery and when we exited, Minnie mouse popped out of an unmarked door in the hallway. Olivia and Minnie were face to face and Olivia spontaneously outstretched her arms for a hug, which she warmly received. It was awesome.

At the beginning of the trip, I anticipated a long week and by the end of the trip, it had flown by. It was a great family vacation.

Several people have asked about the Disney cruise, so these are my observations/recommendations:

  • If you want to see Alaska, I can’t think of a better way to do it
  • If you like going on cruises, the Disney line can’t be beat for kids
  • If your kids are into Disney, they’ll be in heaven
  • Do yourself a favor and get a room with a verandah; we didn’t spend much time in the room, but I can imagine I would have seen many more sights if I could just sit on my own deck and take it in.
  • Frankly, our kids were a little too young for this trip. Lucas was sad to be in the nursery and there weren’t many other kids in there his age. Kids have to be 3 and potty trained to play in the Club or the Lab, which are both great. Even Olivia didn’t want to be in there too long by herself. If she had a companion her age, I think she would have been much better. Older pre-schoolers and elementary school kids can be left largely unattended for most of the day and there are other areas of the ship specifically for tweens and teens. Younger kids wear electronic wristbands and security checking them in and out is pretty tight.
  • Don’t expect too much sun on an Alaskan cruise. Also, even if the pools are 88 degrees, it’s often too cold and rainy to enjoy them.
  • The food overall was excellent and the service was even better. Everyone goes out of their way to make sure you’re having an excellent experience. I would either ingest a tapeworm or pre-order P90X to offset the gluttony.
  • We don’t see ourselves going on another cruise anytime soon, but if we did, I would opt for the newest ship possible. They do their best to keep them clean, but with 2,500 people passing through each week, things get beat-up. The Disney Dream and Fantasy (starts sailing next March) look amazing and appear to be upgraded in every way (40% larger than the Wonder and Magic). These ships sail in the Bahamas and Caribbean.

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