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The views are absolutely unparalleled. (Image: Britt Thorson / Seattle Refined)

Pack Up, Leave Now: The Hood Canal vacation you've been missing

I don't mean to brag, but I'm pretty knowledgeable about the goings-on of this region. Being born and raised here, mixed with my wonderful job - gives me a pretty great landscape for knowing the who's, what's and where's of the Pacific Northwest.

But I am a blank page - a complete tabula rasa - when it comes to the Hood Canal. Never been, never fully understood if it was actually a canal, never fully been positive what state it was in, etc. etc.

My TV colleagues Gaard Swanson, Matt Black and Matt Scholz recently traveled down that way on a shoot for our Honda One Tank Trips promotion - specifically to Alderbrook Resort and Spa. The footage and stories they brought back made it an easy "yes" when I was serendipitously invited on a press trip there just days later. Get a chance to see the elusive Hood Canal AND a seemingly picturesque resort all at once? I'm no fool.

Let me tell you a little something about press trips; they're a doozy. You are usually treated like royalty, but every single minute of your time is usually packed with spokespeople and seminars. Everyone you meet is putting their best feet forward to pamper you, feed you and show you the VIP experiences they offer. The idea being you'll like it so much you'll want to shout it from whatever rooftops you have access to. But here is what a lot of those places get wrong: a good travel writer shouldn't want to be treated like a VIP (unless they're doing a piece specifically about high-end treatments). You want to be given the exact same experience that Mr. and Mrs. Joe Schmoe would get when they picked XYZ Resort for their honeymoon or staycation. The goal should be (and at least it is here at Seattle Refined) to give your readers a realistic look at the destination, not a super duper polished up version of it.

So given that, my main takeaway from Alderbrook was that...they got it. I was in a group with three other members of the press (Jess Estrada from Fresh Jess, Sami Marquez from Healing Lifestyles and Ellie Lillstrom from Houzz and Apartment Therapy), pretty much consistently throughout the tour our hosts would remind us that whatever we were partaking in at that moment (dinner cruise on the Lady Alderbrook, body scrubs at the spa, Plein air painting on the canal) was something their guests also get to do to. It got to the point where I was like...."Wait, so you're not doing anything special for us?"

I kid. But do you see what I'm saying? I walked away feeling confident that I got an experience that, if you're reading this article and decide book a stay there, you would get too. And I can't say that for all of the places I've been lucky enough to visit.

Don't get me wrong - the perks of Alderbrook are not to be diminished by their stellar press trip etiquette; sorry if I got a little off topic there. I just wanted to give a good preview of my time and point out a difference I saw in them that I don't see often.

But now, on to what you care about....the goods. I came away being struck by five key parts of the Hood Canal resort and spa.

The Views
In answer to the above question, no - Hood Canal is actually not a canal. It's a natural waterway, not man-made - but let's be honest, the scenery doesn't give a hoot what it's called. Alderbrook knows what it's working with - the entire resort is facing the water, with views from almost every room (I say almost because no, I did not enter every single one of the 77 guest rooms). Fire pits and lawns lines the water, and a single picturesque dock leads out to private boat moorage and the home of the aforementioned Lady Alderbrook. Yoga classes are offered by Michelle Pugh of Joonbug Yoga right on the water at sunrise, and every now and then Plein air painting classes with Rob Kamin. The views are the selling point of the property, and everyone at Alderbrook knows it.

The Spa
It is, after all, called Alderbrook Resort and Spa. The 3,500 square-foot spa is attached to a fitness center, steam room, dry sauna, glass-enclosed heated saltwater pool, and an outdoor patio with (you guessed it), a view. But this might be the one place on the property where the magic actually happens inside the four walls, and not outside in the fresh air. Fan favorites are the scalp massage and the Harvest Glow scrub/massage ($150) combo (offered October only). Spa Director Ashley Shinkle likes to draw on her surroundings and seasons when choosing treatments but keeps some things the same like the Intraceuticals skincare line. Pro Tip: Spend as much time here as possible. Ashley and her staff are wonderful, and their talents, products, and services are well worth the splurge.

The Staff
One thing I always look for when on press trips (and I hate to give away my secret) is the interaction between whichever employee is leading our tour (usually a General Manager or Marketing Director), and other employees. Does the VP have any idea who the bartender is? Has the maid ever seen the Director of Guest Services? This can say a lot about a place and the vibe/community they give off. You would think this wouldn't affect guests....but it does. A friendly environment where people know each other's names and seemingly enjoy their jobs is infectious. In this case, I was happily surprised - nay, shocked! Both Marketing Director Katheryn Kamin and General Manager Shaun Tucker greeted everyone they saw by the first name throughout the entire trip. Everyone! My heart instantly warmed - this was truly a family resort where everyone is on the same team.

The Food
I know, can you believe I waited until the fourth bullet to call out the food? No offense at all to Chef Josh Delgado - who fed us so well that I'm still working off the additional pounds. Does that name sound familiar? Delgado used to be Executive Chef at Camano Island Inn and Chef de Cuisine at The Barking Frog Restaurant at Willows Lodge. With a pedigree like that, it's no wonder the bounty of the Hood Canal called to him to serve, and serve us he did! Fresh seafood especially (shocker, I know) was the name of the game during our stay...but the kid in me walked away LOVING the black huckleberry juice & ginger beer drink we had every. single. night. Chef Delgado blessed us with his presence a couple times, and there is no other way to say this but: dude is just cool.

The Activities
Jake Geist, the Guest Experience Manager, said it best: "On some of our feedback forms, we were hearing from guests that there wasn't enough to do. As a local, I was like 'What are you talking about'? But that just made us realize we needed to make activities easier and more prominent for guests to partake in. And believe me, no guest will ever be bored at Alderbrook again. I've already mentioned the Lady Alderbrook cruise, Plein air painting classes, the spa, yoga classes - but how about hiking the many trails, forest bathing (no actual bathing involved, if you have no idea what this means like I did), golf, geocaching, kayaking and more. Whether you want a jam-packed family adventure or just want to curl up in the window nook of your room with a judgment, but it's all definitely there for you :)

When I called my sister after the trip was over, I exclaimed, "This place is a hidden gem!"

"...Umm, Britt. Hood Canal is not hidden, you weirdo. Maybe just for you."

Burn, but she's right. How did I go this long without experiencing this wonderful place? Well, the wrong was righted and I'm already looking forward to my next visit - everything that I loved from this fall visit I'm guessing will be even more beautiful this winter.