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Alaska Up Close

May 22, 2012 By: Susan Young Travel Agent


Kayaking in Hobart Bay
Alaskan Dream Cruises and other small-ship operators in Alaska offer adventures such as kayaking in Hobart Bay.


Small ships and


seem perfectly made for each other. While big ships sail by Alaska’s mountain waterfalls, small ships often sail right up to them. Small ships maneuver close to Alaska’s rugged shorelines and linger in small coves. Cruisers often have more opportunities and the time needed to spot bear, moose, marine life and other wildlife. Small ships, which can carry as few as a dozen guests or up to 350, also deliver a more intimate, personal cruising experience.

Ports too can be unique. Sitka, once the capital of Russian America, is a hot spot for wildlife encounters, native Alaskan culture and Russian heritage. Given its remote locale, Petersburg is simply not visited by many large ships. So if your clients don’t want to travel with thousands of others through Alaska, they might appreciate a discussion about small-ship cruising. What’s new this year?

More Ships: The small-ship Alaska fleet continues to expand. InnerSea Discoveries recently acquired the 76-guest Wilderness Explorer, which agents will remember as the former, 86-guest Spirit of Discovery. InnerSea also operates the 76-passenger Wilderness Discoverer and the 60-passenger Wilderness Adventurer in Alaska, both of which sail weeklong Inside Passage cruises this summer between Juneau and Ketchikan.



Whale watching is one of the many exotic experiences on small-ship cruises.


After significant renovations, Wilderness Explorer begins sailing active, adventure cruises between Juneau and Sitka this month. The new weeklong “Northern Passages and Glacier Bay” itinerary spends three days exploring Glacier Bay, as well as other time spent in Icy Strait, Chichagof Island and Peril Strait.

In Glacier Bay National Park, a park ranger, along with shipboard expedition guides, will lead hiking and kayaking expeditions within the wilderness area. One unique feature? Wilderness Explorer will carry a “human-powered watercraft,” built specifically for the line’s Alaska use. Two people sit in the middle and peddle, and up to six people can paddle. It will be used to explore the inlets in Glacier Bay that are closed to any motorized vessels. The line has trialed it in Hawaii and says the response from guests has been positive.

For agents with clients who have the time and money, the new itinerary can also be combined with the line’s voyage between Juneau and Ketchikan to create a two- or even three full week vacation.

After the recent renovation, Wilderness Explorer has three cabin categories—21 Trailblazer, 13 Pathfinder and 4 Explorer cabins. Bed configurations include twin or queen with many more now convertible, depending on client needs. Cabins have flat-screen TVs with DVD players, iPod docking stations and eco-friendly bath amenities. All cabins feature a large view window.

One hot tub has been added on the bow. A sauna, exercise equipment and gear storage lockers for guests were added to the aft sun deck. The lounge bar was expanded with the addition of 10 taps serving a selection of microbrews and cask wine. A swim step was added to the ship’s main deck aft; it will serve as a launch pad for excursions and host a platform that can launch five kayaks at once.

InnerSea’s sister line, American Safari Cruises, also offers soft adventure but in a more inclusive, luxurious cruising experience. American Safari recently added the 86-passenger Safari Endeavour, formerly Cruise West’s Spirit of Endeavour, to its fleet and has given the ship a major renovation to transform it to an upscale vessel.

The line reduced the number of cabins to provide added comfort and more space in guest accommodations. Accommodations now have twin beds (some convertible to one larger bed) and king beds. The five stateroom categories include three Master Staterooms, 21 Commander Staterooms, 12 Captain Staterooms, three Admiral Staterooms and four Commodore Suites. Suites were created by merging two former staterooms and adding new step-out balconies. All staterooms have one or two outside-view windows. Other amenities added to the ship were two massage rooms, two hot tubs, a sauna, exercise equipment, a wine bar and library.



InnerSea Discoveries
InnerSea Discoveries has developed a paddlepeddle vessel for exploring Glacier Bay inlets closed to motorized vessels; it was first tested in Hawaii (shown here).


American Safari also operates the 12-passenger Safari Spirit, 22-passenger Safari Quest and 36-passenger Safari Explorer on Alaska voyages.

More Lines: There’s a new player in the small-ship Alaska marketplace this year. American Cruise Lines, a Guilford, CT-based line best known for its East Coast and Columbia/Snake River voyages, is debuting voyages on both the Mississippi River and in Alaska this year.

Starting June 2, guests will sail on the 100-passenger American Spirit to Glacier Bay, Icy Strait, Petersburg, Sitka and Tracy Arm. The voyages are seven to 11 nights and operate either roundtrip from Juneau or between Juneau and Seattle.

The line describes its voyages as adventure-filled but operated in a more refined and elegant setting than on some other lines. Built in 2005, American Spirit has large staterooms with private balconies and all interior entrances; the average stateroom is 248 square feet.

Public space amenities include multiple lounges, open seating for dining and elevator service to all decks. Shore excursions are included in the cruise fare, as is a complimentary cocktail hour each evening. A complimentary pre-cruise hotel stay is included for voyages departing from Juneau.

As an itinerary example, the line’s seven-night Juneau roundtrip voyage spends time at Glacier Bay, Icy Strait, Hoonah and Sitka, cruising the Inside Passage, Petersburg, Tracy Arm and Dawes Glacier. In Glacier Bay, park rangers will provide guests with onboard, enrichment-focused commentary.

More Small-Ship Options: If clients want to cruise like an Alaskan, then consider that Alaskan Dream Cruises is owned by the Allen family, members of the Tlingit Kaagwaantaan Clan. Operated from Sitka, the line is starting its second season of sailings. Cruises are three to 13 days and feature new itineraries and ports of call.

“Our itineraries and local connections allow travelers to get under the surface of Southeast Alaska and really explore the small towns and under-the-radar destinations,” says Michael Wien, Alaskan Dream Cruises’ vice president of sales and marketing. “We are Alaskans showing off our state and sharing the places that are truly special to us.”

Among the new itineraries? Alaskan Dream will sail a seven-night trip focused on lesser explored destinations including Hobart Bay (for kayaking), Petersburg, Thorne Bay and Kasaan, which is home to Alaska’s sole remaining Haida clan house. Select Alaskan Dream Cruises’ itineraries feature Glacier Bay, and the line operates a comprehensive 13-day “Alaska’s Glacier Bay and Inside Passage” voyage.

All cruises include complimentary shore excursions ranging from eco-adventure to cultural experiences.

For example, guests might spend a full day whale watching or hike a newly rebuilt trail in Tongass National Forest.

The 42-passenger Alaskan Dream was renovated in 2011. New this year, the 66-passenger Admiralty Dream was renovated with a new lighter color scheme in the cabins and public areas; its forward lounge has also been redesigned.

Another small ship line, Fantasy Cruises, operates nine-day, all-inclusive Inside Passage cruises. Guests sail on the 32-passenger Island Spirit, which has a top deck observation lounge and staterooms with inside access and large windows. One perk is a hosted bar before dinner every day and wine with dinner every night.

Among the less visited ports guests might experience is Petersburg, a Nordic community with fishing boats, salmon canneries and traditional heritage. As an example of the off-boat cultural programs, Fantasy Cruises’ guests can visit the Sons of Norway Hall for a catered dinner by local residents.

Back on board, guests should sleep well. The Island Spirit shuts down its engine and generator nightly and runs through early morning on battery power, so guests hear only the natural sounds of the wilderness at night.

Operated since 1979 by the McIntosh Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization, The Boat Company operates the 24-passenger Mist Cove and the 20-passenger Liseron. The vessels operate weeklong voyages between Sitka and Juneau; fares include such perks as an open bar, shore trips, transfers and hotel accommodations for the first Saturday night in either Sitka or Juneau.

Over the years, The Boat Company has reinvested between $25 and $30 million of its revenues back into conservation. The firm’s nonprofit status means that some of your client’s cruise fare is tax deductible. Experiencing the real Alaska and preserving the Great Land’s natural resources and beauty is a high priority; the line practices sustainable ecotourism.

This is a line that attracts clients who want to really connect with the land. Naturalists provide expert commentary during excursions. Hikers can spend as much time off the boat as they like—hiking forest trails or beachcombing along tide flats. Canoes and kayaks allow guests to explore hidden coves and scenic shorelines. This line’s ships also have fishing licenses, so clients who dream about fishing for halibut or salmon can do so. The ship’s crew will clean, pack and freeze the client’s catch.

New this year, The Boat Company is partnering with Philippe Cousteau and EarthEcho International to create a new educational program for guests; it’s focused on the ecology of southeastern Alaska.

Celebrating 30 years in Alaska, Lindblad Expeditions offers eight- to 12-night cruises on the 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Bird or the National Geographic Sea Lion. Its product was extensively profiled in our February 28 issue.

In partnership with National Geographic, the line has launched a new Undersea Alaska Program. A diver will head up to 80 feet down below the water to film marine flora and sea life. Guests will view live and taped footage during their cruise and listen to hydrophonic audio recordings.

If clients prefer total luxury and a ship that’s a tad bigger than those mentioned above, they might consider Silversea Cruises 382-passenger Silver Shadow, which sails this summer on weeklong cruise between Vancouver and Seward.

The itinerary includes days of cruising the Inside Passage, Tracy Arm and to the Hubbard Glacier, as well as port calls at Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Sitka. In addition, the ship has a 10-day and 11-day roundtrip Alaska voyage from Vancouver this year.

Multiple small ship lines provide voyages that vary in their level of adventure, cultural experiences, ports of call, accommodations, and style of onboard service. So clients have a slew of choices for 2012. Best of all, most of these voyages are highly inclusive, giving agents a better commission check than what might be earned on most big-ship Alaska cruises without land add-ons.



Admiralty Dream
The 66-passenger Admiralty Dream sails to Tracy Arm.


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About the Author

Susan Young
A veteran of 100-plus cruises, Susan J. Young, is senior contributing editor for cruises – covering ocean, river and niche cruises for Travel Agent and

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By Susan Young | May 22, 2012
Take a small-ship cruise to Alaska for an up-close encounter with wildlife and marine creatures.