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.
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!
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 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.