Alaska Inside Passage - Juneau to Ketchikan
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The Alaska of my dreams is wild and vast. Its ice-carved peaks plunge dramatically into its frigid waters, and it is as rich in wildlife as its legendary mines have been in gold. When I awoke one misty morning in a quiet cove in Southeast Alaska, I fell in love with the wilderness right outside my window. The place I had imagined really did exist.
Discovering Alaska aboard the elegant Safari Spirit was a privilege indeed. With a maximum of 12 guests and a crew of 6, she offers an intimate way to experience the remote corners of the Inside Passage in luxury. All cabins are nicely appointed with comfortable beds, flat screen TVs with DVD players, bathrobes, and private facilities complete with heated tile floors and Jacuzzi tubs. Common areas include an inviting salon and dining room as well as a cozy library with a stunning, ever-changing view. Deck space is generous and includes a covered outdoor lounge -- a fantastic feature, given the region's unpredictable weather -- and a hot tub for soaking under the stars. The yacht is further outfitted with four double fiberglass kayaks for exploring on a more personal level.
Our most exhilarating moments, however, were spent watching wildlife from the bow and aboard the skiff. Within the first three days we observed humpback whales, orcas, Dall's porpoises, harbor porpoises, Stellar sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, black bears, brown bears fishing with their cubs, a pair of wolves, mountain goats, and an impressive bird list including many bald eagles! I adore sea otters, so seeing a raft of a couple hundred of the furry creatures bobbing and rolling among the kelp was such a treat. Watching several humpback whales cooperatively bubble-net feeding--so close that we could smell their fishy breath--was fascinating. But the most incredible wildlife encounter was witnessing a pod of five orcas hunting a Dall's porpoise. We were riveted by the extended pursuit, and we cheered as they celebrated with spy hopping, breaching, and coming up right alongside to watch us for a bit. It was a truly rare experience.
Everywhere our Captain led us, whether under sparkling blue skies or a moody Alaskan fog, we were surrounded by majestic scenery. Waterfall ribbons cascaded down glacially etched cliffs and lush forests blanketed the mountainsides. Perhaps most spectacular were the glaciers. We had the privilege of visiting the Johns Hopkins Glacier, an advancing tidewater glacier in Glacier Bay National Park. Out in the skiff among the bergy bits, I was impressed by the sheer power of the jagged fragments calving into the ocean. While we watched the ice fall, spirits were high as the crew surprised us with hot cocoa and liqueurs to help keep us warm in the skiff. Life is very, very good aboard the Safari Spirit!
Delightfully, the pampering went far beyond hot cocoa among the icebergs. We were offered warm cookies each afternoon and popcorn while we watched a movie in the salon. The food was nothing short of indulgent, with freshly baked breads at every meal, Alaskan seafood and other delicious entrées, and sinful desserts. Each evening we were also presented with carefully selected wine to complement our dinner choices.
Most remarkable of all, though, was the outstanding crew on the Safari Spirit. Each and every one of them was accommodating, knowledgeable, and genuinely enthusiastic. They were professional and had personality. The level of education was quite high, and our Expedition Leader, a wildlife photographer and marine mammal expert, did an exceptional job of continually interpreting what we were seeing. We were fortunate to be able to learn about Alaska in a very experiential way.
As my voyage drew to a close in Ketchikan, and I reflected on what an amazing week it had been, the stark difference between the small-ship experience and large cruise ships was perfectly clear. We had visited secluded areas that passengers on an enormous cruise ship could never see. As we followed the wildlife, thousands of people passed unknowingly in the distance, adhering to strict cruise line schedules. And as we visited Saxman Native Village near Ketchikan, the masses gazed curiously through the carving shed windows as we enjoyed a private tour in the company of a renowned Master Carver. We experienced a side of Alaska that few tourists will ever see.
Exploring the Inside Passage on the Safari Spirit was unforgettable. The abundant wildlife, pristine landscape, and elegance of the yacht were eclipsed only by being in the company of a select group of adventurous travelers and first-class crew. It was a truly personal way to experience the vast Alaskan wilderness.