Everyone I know who has been to Alaska has raved about the scenery and wildlife. My husband and I decided a long time ago we wanted to visit, but the question was where to begin. We wanted a trip with a smallish group that offered adventure and personal encounters with nature.
Our decision was made when we discovered the Safari Endeavour. We booked an all-inclusive, seven-night small-ship experience with an itinerary that includes some of the most remote and intricate passages in Southeast Alaska. The fares ranged from $4,795 to $6,795 per person, double occupancy, in a stateroom; $6,795 single.
Last summer's adventure began steps from the Juneau dock as we were greeted by the captain and crew of the newly refurbished 86-passenger vessel operated by American Safari Cruises (now renamed Un-Cruise Adventures). We were escorted to our stateroom, which featured a king bed, flat-screen TV, DVD player and iPod docking station. Minutes later, we sipped Champagne and made new friends in the lounge as the captain let us know that she had an open-bridge policy and we were welcome to visit whenever we wished.
An hour later, as I searched for my husband, I realized exactly where to find him! I opened the door to the bridge, and there he was, chatting with the captain and first mate about their navigation systems and charts. The captain joined us for dinner that evening, and we talked in detail about the ship, her experiences, where we were headed and what we might see.
Our first morning out, at 6 a.m., we were awakened by the captain's voice through the speaker in our cabin inviting us to the bow to view our welcome committee — about 10 humpback whales feeding around us. Their sounds seemed magical. When we eventually dragged ourselves from the bow, it was to fuel ourselves for the day ahead with a gourmet breakfast buffet that included freshly made muffins, breads, pancakes, specialty dishes like crab and spinach frittatas, eggs to order, fresh fruit, yogurts and cereals.
Each day after breakfast our expedition leader announced activity options for the day. We could choose among kayaking, beach or rain forest hikes, paddleboarding and small-boat tours of the bays, inlets and glaciers. There was always time to experience at least two excursions.
The activities varied in difficulty or length to meet passenger preference and ability. While some of us hiked through rain forests to view a pristine waterfall, a hardier group hiked a glacier. There were little surprises, like emerging from a hike to find crew members on the beach waiting to offer us hot chocolate and Peppermint Schnapps or coffee and Baileys Irish Cream.
We also were treated to an abundance of wildlife sightings each day. Whenever the boat slowed down, we knew the crew had spotted something. We saw a mother bear and her cubs playing on a beach, bald eagles perched high in spruce trees, Sitka black-tailed deer, harbor seals and their pups, whales and more whales. We were joined onboard at one point by an expert from the National Park Service who provided fascinating information on the wildlife, terrain, explorers and natural history of the region.
We visited five glaciers, each different and all incredibly beautiful. One morning we kayaked close to Reid Glacier while keeping an eye on a bear on the shore. On another afternoon we motored on a skiff through an ice field to view Dawes Glacier up close, watching in amazement as thunderous chunks of ice fell into the bay.
All the activity made for hearty appetites, and dining on the Endeavour did not disappoint. Early risers help themselves to coffee, tea, pastries and fruit, and then join other passengers for a full breakfast around 8 a.m. Lunches feature soups, salads, meat dishes, sandwiches, pastas and desserts. Hors d'oeuvres are served in the lounge each day during cocktail hour, and dinner entrees include such temptations as ribeye steak, lamb, fresh salmon, Dungeness crab and stews. Vegetarian options are offered at every meal. Premium spirits, fine wines and beer are all included in the fare.
This is an upscale cruise, but I was happy to learn that no formal attire is required. The onboard culture is social and casual, and guests are welcome to dine in whatever is comfortable — including shorts, jeans, T-shirts or even sweats.
Lisa Frobisher is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.