Alaska, the largest state in the U.S., is a hugely popular destination for its seemingly endless rugged landscapes and incredible wildlife, such as black bears, bald eagles and moose.
While it may sound like the Last Frontier is all about awe-inspiring natural sites, like glaciers and fjords, as well as adventures like dogsledding and glacier walking, there are flavors you’ll want to write home about, too. Alaska’s food scene packs a punch and distinctive “live-off-the-land” vibes.
You’re in luck: Royal Caribbean has four ships with each one sailing there this summer. From May to September, you can choose between Brilliance, Ovation, Quantum and Radiance of the Seas and a variety of seven-night cruises that start in cities like Seattle; Vancouver, Canada; and Seward, Alaska. Pack your appetite because there will be plenty of opportunities to get a taste of the state.
From fresh wild salmon to reindeer sausage, here are seven of the best things to eat in Alaska:
Alaskan king crab is world famous—just think of “Deadliest Catch,” a reality TV show about fishermen dedicating their lives to catching them. The unspoiled, ice-cold waters off Alaska’s coasts are home to many of the world’s largest king crabs, which are popular for their especially sweet and soft meat. King crab season usually takes place between October and January, and they’re most commonly found in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.
This well-known and favorite dish is best kept simple. King crab is typically steamed or grilled and served with loads of melted butter. Get it by the leg at places like Tracy’s Crab Shack, a wildly popular seafood spot in Alaska’s capital, Juneau, that serves them with butter and garlic rolls.
Pro tip: See how these critters are caught for yourself on a Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour in Ketchikan, Alaska. You’ll watch seasoned fishermen bring in 700-pound king crab pots while explaining the ins and outs of the job.
Alaskan fry bread is a bit different from the fry bread you might have come across in the South. While both are pieces of flat dough that are fried until the outside is crisp and the inside is soft and fluffy, Alaska’s version usually uses yeast and dry milk instead of only baking powder, water, flour and salt.
Fry bread can be eaten as a meal or as a snack any time of day and made either sweet or savory. In Alaska, it’s often served with a drizzle of honey or jam made from local berries, though, it can also be served as a side to a hearty stew or as a kind of taco with fillers like ground beef. Try it for yourself at the Frybread Shak in Anchorage, Alaska.
You’ll find reindeer sausage across the 49th U.S. state year-round, whether as a side to your breakfast eggs, at hot dog carts or even as a pizza topping. A bit of a misnomer, reindeer sausage is actually made of caribou meat (Alaskan reindeer), and it’s often mixed with pork and beef.
One of the best spots in Alaska to get a taste is Tiki Pete’s Island in Anchorage, which offers a range of toppings like macaroni and cheese and grilled onions. Wash it down with a beer from Alaskan Brewing, one of the oldest and largest craft breweries in the U.S.
Pro tip: Ships like Quantum and Ovation of the Seas feature a Dog House in SeaPlex, the largest indoor activity complex at sea. You can choose from a list of sausages and hotdogs that feature a variety of flavors and toppings from different parts of the world, like The Big Apple, a chicken sausage cooked with apple.
While practically any fish you order in Alaska will be fresh and tasty, salmon is the local star. The streams and rivers in the Last Frontier are practically full of salmon, so when you order a dish with it, it’s probably been caught just miles from your plate.
There are five types of Alaskan salmon: chinook, chum, coho, pink and sockeye. They all tend to be wild caught, which is why they’re usually leaner and more orange. While each species has its own season, the majority of wild salmon is caught between June and July, though the main season runs from May through September.
Wild salmon can be cooked and served a number of different ways, though many rave about the Alaska Fish House in Ketchikan, where you can get salmon battered and fried, and served as fish and chips or in a smoked salmon chowder.
Pro tip: Several popular shore excursions include a salmon bake, like an experience at Mendenhall Glacier that ends with a meal of grilled salmon, clam chowder, salad, coleslaw and a variety of sides, as well as blueberry pie, s’mores and local beer.
Akutaq, also known as “Alaskan ice cream,” is a traditional Alaskan Native dish that was once made with whipped fat from reindeer, seals, bears or whatever animal happened to have been caught that day, and mixed with snow and wild berries. Akutaq is a word of the Yupik—a group of Alaska Natives—that means “mix them together.”
Today, it’s more commonly made with vegetable shortening, sugar and ice, and served as a dessert at potlucks, birthdays and other celebrations. Generally not found in stores or on restaurant menus, your best bet is getting a taste at Alaskan cultural centers and museums.
Pro tip: Try baked Alaska on board Royal Caribbean ships, a sponge cake with a chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream center and meringue topping.
A wide variety of berries—like blueberries, salmonberries, bearberries and gooseberries—thrive in Alaska mid- to late-summer or even through the first frost. In fact, during this time they can be found growing practically all over the state: Along roads and on hiking trails, you name it. Thanks to Alaska’s super long summer days (it’s not called the “Land of the Midnight Sun” for nothing), these berries (and most plants and crops) grow exceptionally big and juicy.
One of the best ways to enjoy the fruit is in baked goods, like in the form of a wild berry pie. You’ll also find them in wines, jams and syrups. A Pie Stop in Anchorage, run by a grandfather-granddaughter duo, makes a mean triple berry pie, as well as delicious marion (black)berry, blueberry and raspberry pies.
Pro tip: You could also pick your own berries on a Cruisetour before or after your Alaska cruise, adding a day or two to your vacation. These packages include guided, land-based adventures, from a visit to the historic gold-mining town of Talkeetna to a trek into Denali National Park.
Ice-cold, glacier-fed waters are the ideal home for oysters, which is why Alaska’s are so good. They’re usually extraordinarily big and have also been described as especially briny and as having hints of cucumber and melon. The best part? Because they grow in consistently cold waters, they’re available year-round.
Head to The Cookery & Oyster Bar in Seward, where oysters are delivered daily and served either raw on the half shell with pickled horseradish, cocktail sauce and lemon or broiled with bacon, butter and breadcrumbs.
How’s that for a taste of the Last Frontier? Try these dishes out firsthand this summer on any one of the ships that will take you there, which are also chock-full of amazing food—like sushi at Izumi and authentic Italian pasta at Jamie’s Italian—as well as adventures like skydiving on RipCord by iFly or rock climbing high above the ocean.
Take a look at all the Royal Caribbean cruises that head to Alaska here.