Join the Burgess Traveller’s community:
When you tell people you’re heading to Alaska, they immediately assume you’ll be cruising the Inside Passage – a spectacular coastal shipping route extending from Puget Sound in Washington State all the way up to the far reaches of Alaska.
It’s a fabulous way to check out some of the most inaccessible coastline of the United States, and easy to see why all of the big cruise companies have offerings here. But it’s not the only way to go. Ditch the big crowds, casinos and endless queues on the liners for an Alaska small ship experience and you’ll find yourself up close and personal with True Alaska – it’s people, it’s wildlife, and of course those breath-taking landscapes.
Read on for a snippet of life aboard the 143 ft Admiralty Dream as we cruise from Sitka to Juneau on locally owned Alaskan Dream Cruises’ last cruise of the season.
The Alaska Small Ship Experience:
Everyone has retired to the lounge, hot chocolates in hand, to defrost after the frigid cold that comes from being on deck a quarter mile from the face of a large glacier. The walls of the fjord tower over us on both sides of the ship and above the domestic hum of drinks being served and quiet conversation, the klunk of small icebergs skating along the hull echoes through the room.
We spent the day cruising through the Tracey Arm Fjord with the sole purpose of sightseeing the great icy blue of ancient glaciers. The two we saw today – South Sawyer and Sawyer – are “twin” glaciers, meaning that while once conjoined, through time and seasons they have now retreated back through the gullies they created to become two. It’s incredible to imagine, looking up at the tops of the mountains, that these majestic rivers of ice were once so big that they rode over the summits that are now the sole domain of mist and cloud.
Getting down to ice level
South Sawyer Glacier created a stunning backdrop for our breakfast, after which we split into three groups to head out off the boat and explore at sea level. The “DIB” – basically a large inflatable dinghy – holds 16 passengers comfortably, even cushioned as we are by multiple layers and our lifejackets. It’s difficult to twist around to see the sights (whiplash is a very real threat, our driver tells us with a straight face) but we’re cosy and boarding is a no-fuss process off the back of the Admiralty Dream.
Today the ice is so thick in the water that we’re only able to get within a mile or so of the face. Even so, the photo opportunities are plentiful and we have a great view of the many Harbour Seals that have gathered on the bergs. While today they’re just hanging out, our resident naturalist tells us that they habitually come here to give birth to their babies – the bergs mess with whale sonar so they’re reasonably safe from their main predator, the Orca.
Our driver is an inherent multi-tasker – as are all the crew on the Admiralty Dream. Casually alert at the tiller he simultaneously navigates icebergs, watches out for interesting wildlife and fields curious questions from the passengers. A South East Alaskan local, he grew up in Kake (a small Tlingit community we visited on Day Two) before moving to Sitka to work in the Allen Marine shipyards. He is quiet but friendly and more than happy to share both the knowledge and personal experiences he has gained from having grown up in this spectacular corner of the world.
Everything about this cruise is flexible except for the mealtimes (cookies appear in the bar at 3pm sharp), so when our driver spots a seal swimming just in front of us he stills the boat and quietly turns it around so everyone has a chance to see. We spend several minutes nudged up against the cliff face watching mountain goats trip-trap happily up seemingly vertical slopes, and he makes sure everyone has time to grab that iconic shot of the Admiralty Dream silhouetted against the glacier before returning us to our warm cabins onboard the ship.
It’s raining now but the drizzle, while cold, only serves to enhance the beauty of the fjord. Mist hangs romantically among the peaks and pine trees, and as we motor back down the Tracy Arm Fjord the water transitions from the silky grey of glacier silt to a clear, almost emerald, green. It’s easy to see why the crew unanimously voted this their favorite destination on the 7-night cruise.
Later, when the sun starts to drop towards the horizon, we’ll all return to the decks – rugged up and cameras at the ready – for our nightly whale watch. But for now, the barman is back from his stealthy polar plunge and waiting, armed with glacier-fresh cocktails, a smile, and stories from cruises past. It’s Cookie Time.
What you need to know
Alaskan Dream Cruises, a division of locally owned Allen Marine, operate a fleet of four expedition-size ships out of Sitka, Alaska on a variety of cruise itineraries ranging from 7-10 nights in duration.
Pricing starts at USD$498 per adult per day (based on a twin-share cabin) and includes pre & post cruise transfers, all onboard meals & snacks, all expeditions / shore excursions, safety equipment and some alcoholic beverages. Discounts are available for children aged 15 years and under.
Depending on the itinerary, your crew will include a selection of naturalists, cultural heritage guides and National Park Rangers who provide lectures onboard and may accompany you on shore excursions.
HOW TO GET THERE
- Alaska Air fly to Sitka from Anchorage & Seattle several times a day.
- The 3-hour trip stops in Juneau en-route but you’re able to stay on the plane if you’re in transit.
- Watch out for the later flights which make 3-4 stops along the Alaskan coast.
- DO pack your sense of adventure. Expedition style ships are more compact and basic than traditional cruise liners but what they lack in facilities they make up for with accessibility to the destination and a family-like atmosphere.
- DO invest in an extra long lens. If you’re into wildlife photography, a 400mm zoom will be your new best friend. I managed with 28-300mm but would have loved a little more reach when the bears came out to play.
- DO allow a few days either side of your cruise to explore Sitka and Juneau. They are both fantastic destinations in their own right and well worth a few extra nights.
- DON’T forget your appetite. The meals on board the Admiralty Dream were exquisite, with several courses offered for both lunch and dinner. Let them know in advance if you have any special dietary requirements.
- DON’T over pack. The dress code on board is casual, wet weather gear is provided, and there are no “formal” nights to glam up for. Take comfortable weekend-wear and save the extra space in your suitcase for camera equipment and reading material.
Anita | Burgess Travellers
Anita Burgess is in the business of making memorable family moments. Soccer mum, travel broker & writer, she’s happiest with a camera in her hand and the sand between her toes. Find insider travel tips and inspiration for your memorable moments on her blog, Burgess Travellers, or get in touch if you’re ready to make your holiday happen.
DISCLAIMER: I was hosted in Alaska on a travel agent FAM trip. However, all opinions expressed in this article are my own and are not in any way influenced by my hosts. This post may contain affiliate links for products I love. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. All affiliate products and companies are recommended by Burgess Travel Co and may or may not be products used by the featured traveller. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.