Top 10 Reasons to Cruise Alaska on a Small Ship
By Nancy Mueller
I have a dream job. As a travel writer, not long ago I got to explore Alaska’s Inside Passage aboard the Island Spirit of Seattle-based Fantasy Cruises. At 128 feet with a 7-foot draft, the owner-operated ship cruises up close and personal to nature’s wonders.
But herein lies the rub of living my dream: being the designated travel writer on board our small ship means that every time you see another spellbinding scene, practically every other moment, someone quips: “Okay, you’re the hotshot writer. How are you going to describe that? Where are the words for that?” Fair enough. And my answer is usually along the lines of: “I have no frigging idea.” The experience is that expansive, that elusive, that profound. Go ahead. You try to catch the wind. Try to measure spirit. Try to contain the boundless. Try to cap infinity. Yeah, you know what they say: it’s a dirty job all right, but someone has to do it. Might as well be me.
Here, then, are my “Top 10 Reasons” to stop whatever it is you’re doing, pack your bags, and go now to Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago via a small ship cruise like ours where big ships only dream of following:
10. Impress your friends at the next cocktail party with your new vocabulary, like: “isostatic rebound,” “nunataks,” “katabatic wind,” “storis-blue,” “calving glaciers,” and “glacial erratics.” Sure, everybody knows what it means when whales “breach” and “sound,” but how many know what “spyhopping” or “lobtailing” mean, or how humpbacks are able to sleep without drowning? (Hint: it has to do with shutting down one cerebral hemisphere at a time.) After this trip, you’ll be ready for your own naturalist’s certificate when you’ve got a naturalist on board to teach you, like we did.
9. Hop in one of the ship’s inflatable watercrafts, or experience the serenity of kayaking solo, if not with others, to get on a first-name basis with Alaska’s wildlife: “Bo” bears, and “Eddy” eagles, and “Sydney” sea otters – oh my! And don’t forget “Harry” harbor seals and “Hilda” humpbacks.
8. Remember what it’s like to have your wish be another’s command, just like when you were a baby. Wah! Want binoculars? Right here. Wah! Like another drink? My pleasure. Wah! Need to be left alone? You got it.
7. Enjoy one-of-a-kind gourmet meals prepared by a trained-chef, who slaves away day after day in the galley below just for you. If the thought of savoring a typical meal of prosciutto-wrapped halibut fillets and Arborio rice risotto, or chicken cacciatore with white wine and tarragon, followed by vanilla panna cotta with biscotti, or orange ricotta cheesecake, sounds at all appealing to you, a tour like this is for you.
6. Escape the crowds and casinos. Meet as strangers, leave as friends, with a group as diverse as any wildlife you’ll find in the Alexander Archipelago. Want to hobnob with President Eisenhower’s former army nurse? She’s here. Rub shoulders with a naval architect or ship designer? Check. How about that fiddle-playing pastry chef? Got it covered.
5. Explore uncharted waters with a dog-loving, poet-writing, fun-loving raconteur Captain who believes “Sometimes you just have to make your own fun, you know?” and who takes as much delight in the joy of discovery as you do.
4. Finally understand what Simon & Garfunkel’s song, Sounds of Silence, is really all about when you’re anchored in a secluded bay or inlet with no other boats or lights in sight, and the ship’s engines are shut down for the night. Become engulfed in silence that’s only broken by the whoosh of a passing
porpoise, the cry of a bald eagle, or the splash of a frisky sea otter.
3. Get off the treadmill and disconnect from your cell phone and the Internet. Feel what’s it’s like to wake up each morning with only a vague sense of where you’ve been and where you’re going, with no set time for getting there – and not because of a hangover.
2. Visit remote towns like Tenakee Springs, where the canine companions of local inhabitants nearly outnumber their masters; a place where the proprietor of the general store is only too happy to open up the closed shop when you’re in town.
And now the drumroll, please . . . my #1 reason to Cruise Alaska’s Inside Passage on a boat such as the Island Spirit of Fantasy Cruises:
1. Enjoy all the comforts of home in a wilderness of fierce beauty, unmarred by hubris or oil cataclysms, that’s only accessible by small ship cruises like the Island Spirit. Just remember to keep your feet off the furniture, please.
- Travels in Alaska – John Muir
- Where the Sea Breaks Its Back: The Epic Story of Early Naturalist Georg Steller and the Russian Exploration of Alaska – Corey Ford
- The Inside Passage to Alaska – Art Wolfe
- A Great Pacific Map – Southeast Alaska and Inside Passage: Coverage from Seattle to Skagway
- Southeast Alaska Tourism Council – www.AlaskaInfo.org
All photos: Nancy Mueller
Travel writer Nancy Mueller always has her eyes set on the horizon scanning for her next grand travel adventure. Australia and Antarctica are still on her bucket list.