Paddleboards, kayaks and gear are available to guests.// © 2011 InnerSea Discoveries
Adventure travelers are a curious breed. For many, it's the fascination with the off-the-beaten path discovery that lures them to explore a destination. InnerSea Discoveries fills that niche with its "un-cruise" concept. The new brand is geared toward active travelers who want to go beyond the regular port calls, enjoying modern comforts at moderate price points.
Sister brand American Safari Cruises has been sailing Alaska since 1997, offering luxury yacht cruising with gourmet dining. According to Dan Blanchard, CEO of both brands, the two lines are specifically geared toward different clientele.
"Our American Safari clients want to dabble in adventure, but they do not want to embrace it," he said. "InnerSea is what I have always wanted to do because it reflects who I am."
For our 2010 seven-night preview cruise testing the route and service of Innersea's Eastern and Western Coves itineraries, packing was a breeze -- the most formal items I packed were jeans and a fleece. Everything else was geared toward hiking, kayaking, beachcombing and a possible Polar Bear Club swim. Daypacks, binoculars, rain slickers and pants, mud boots, dry suits for water pursuits and, even, compact trekking poles were available on the ship, in addition to the single and two-person Necky kayaks, paddleboards, snorkeling gear, fishing poles with tackle and inflatable skiffs for exploring.
Each day, there were stories to tell over a mug of warm cider during the late-afternoon cocktail hour or while feasting on local seafood. One memorable evening, we were treated to fresh-from-the-sea oysters from a local oyster farmer and his family who came onboard to join us for dinner and discuss sustainable oyster operations in the area. Every day, a naturalist's presentation illuminated some of the more subtle details and stories of Southeast Alaska.
Carrying 49 passengers each, Wilderness Discoverer and Wilderness Adventurer are heavily renovated Glacier Bay vessels, whose retrofit includes DVDs and iPod docks, saunas, exercise equipment and Tempur-Pedic mattresses. Yoga classes and optional massages are available onboard. The top-deck hot tub is a favorite spot to soothe tired muscles before sunset, when eagles can be seen swooping near the treetops of nearby forests.
We rarely encountered other vessels in the secluded coves, fjords and bays.
As one shipmate said, "It felt like I was the first one to be doing and seeing these things."
My own Marco Polo moment came when I was paddleboarding in a small quiet bay.
The friend I was with shouted excitedly, "Look, there's a whale and her baby!"
Careful to balance my board, I turned and saw them a few hundred yards away, a mother and her baby gracefully gliding into the bay from the open sea. Both spouted spray and blew noisily as their mammoth bodies moved passed us.
That's exactly why the "un-cruise" is a welcome addition to the cruising market. The raw authentic experiences of the moment and the ability to get up close and connect with the environment are the focal points of InnerSea Discoveries cruises.
Cruises start at $1,795 for a seven-night Western Coves itinerary from Ketchikan to Juneau; the Eastern Coves route travels in the reverse direction and offers a completely different itinerary. The line also schedules 14-day cruises.