American Safari In Alaska

Luxury in pursuit of adventure

By: Judy M. Zimmerman

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Guestrooms The Safari Quest yacht offers
an intimate way to cruise Alaska.
American Safari Cruises is a fleet of expedition yachts that are an uncommon choice for the uncommon traveler. They ply the waters of Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, Columbia and Snake rivers and Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

Last summer, my 20 fellow passengers on the Safari Quest yacht in Alaska’s Inside Passage differed from the thousands of passengers who prefer to see Alaska from the observation lounge of a giant cruise ship.

Most were seasoned sailors and/or kayakers who could afford a luxurious up-close-and-personal adventure. There were seven couples (three couples traveling together), a family with two teenage sons, a father and his college-age daughter and, fortunately for me, one young lady who became my kayak buddy.

We had arrived the night before the cruise at Sitka, the picturesque former capital of Russian America. A city bus tour the next afternoon included a Russian Orthodox church and the Sitka National Historical Park’s cultural center for Indian history and artwork. We also enjoyed visiting a beautiful wooded park with impressive totem carvings and the Raptor Center, a pioneering wildlife project dedicated to releasing all rehabilitated birds to the wild.

As we eagerly boarded the yacht in a misty rain, eight young women crew members and a male chef greeted us with glasses of champagne in the cozy lounge and bar. At first, the experienced seamen among us seemed a little intimidated by a woman captain and engineer, but they soon realized what an exuberant, exceptionally capable crew they were. We immediately felt like their extended family.

Through the fog, forests, glaciers and icebergs, we began a voyage to places other ships cannot go. We followed the wildlife: mother bears and cubs grazing in the meadows, humpback whales, mountain goats, moose, frolicking Dall’s porpoises, sea otters, tufted puffins, Arctic terns and bald eagles, to name a few.

Leaving the busy cruise routes as soon as possible, some of us boarded a motorized skiff to explore the quiet of the majestic wilderness. Others kayaked, weaving among the floating icebergs that had fallen from the thundering glaciers as they calved into the water.

In addition to several trips each day in the two-person kayaks and skiff, we combed the beach, followed a tranquil forest nature trail, hiked vigorously up to Lake Baranof, soaked in steaming natural hot springs above a thundering waterfall and visited a rare community with only three permanent residents. One avid fisherman even succeeded in catching a salmon from the skiff.

“Holy cow!” said expedition leader Amy Miller, one evening during dinner. “The whales are bubble-net feeding right next to the yacht!” One whale produced a circular curtain of bubbles through which the fish could not pass, while the others exploded out of the water’s surface in a tight synchronized formation to consume their prey. We could even hear their eerie feeding call.

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Guestrooms Glacier Bay is included on
the Inside Passage itinerary.
At Glacier Bay National Park, a park ranger boarded our yacht to give us an insider’s view of the pristine wilderness.

“Glacier Bay is about the size of Connecticut,” said naturalist Kevin Richard. “Located in the mysterious thick sitka, spruce and hemlocks covered with mist, the Tongass National Forest is the second-largest wilderness area on the planet with the greatest ecological health anywhere on the planet.”

Each evening, while anchored for the night in a remote bay, we gathered for a pre-dinner cocktail to chat. The bar was stocked with complimentary wines, microbrews and premium spirits. In the dining room, Amy commented on the day’s activities and briefed us about the next day.

While previous passengers had offered rave reviews, we felt the only disappointment of our voyage was the food. Sometimes the seafood was tasteless and several lunches smacked of fast food.

After dinner, we usually returned early to our comfortable cabins to read or watch a DVD from the yacht’s video library. Four cabins had sliding-glass doors with small step-out balconies. Five had no porthole or view and the other two a small window. The spacious bathrooms were well-appointed.

Some passengers enjoyed a soak in the hot-tub or a workout on the two exercise machines on the top observation deck.

American Safari Adventures promises “luxury in pursuit of adventure,” but luxury comes at a price. Surprisingly, gratuities are not included in the rates. A 5-10 percent gratuity is recommended, to be divided among the whole crew.

If you can round up enough friends, you can rent the yachts as full charters for which good discounts are available. The ships are also popular charter choices for multi-generational families.

“We offer wildlife rather than nightlife,” said captain Dan Blanchard, president and CEO of American Safari Cruises. “Our guests don’t just visit the Inside Passage they play in it.”


American Safari Cruises has recently added two new vessels to its fleet, making a total of five yachts. The 35-guest Safari Explorer and the six-guest private charter Safari Legacy will cruise Alaska’s Inside Passage this year.

2008 prices for the 22-guest Safari Quest’s Inside Passage are approximately $5,700-$8,800 per person, double occupancy. Beginning December 2008, the Safari Explorer will cruise in the Hawaiian Islands. Commission varies.