As I boarded the Spirit of Endeavor, I immediately realized that on
this cruise there would be no enormous midnight buffets, no Las
Vegas-style comedy shows and casino games, no conga lines by the
pool. For that matter, there was no pool.
This small-ship journey through southeast Alaska’s Inside
Passage was not about the resort lifestyle or party-hearty hedonism
inherent on a mega-ship. While I, for one, thoroughly enjoy the
eating and entertainment, buffets and bars on the gigantic boats,
Cruise West is proud to proclaim that you’ll get none of that.
Instead, this trip is designed for travelers who prefer to set
themselves apart from the Macarena-dancing crowds. It is for people
who want to get as close as possible to the wildlife, wilderness
and wonders of our nation’s largest and most pristine state.
Because the 102-passenger Endeavor, like the entire Cruise West
fleet, is miniscule compared to huge ships, we could venture into
narrow channels and waterways and dock at remote ports. Sometimes
we passed so close to the shore that I felt like I could grab a
branch off a pine tree. From the ship’s bow, I spotted soaring bald
eagles, bears loping on a grassy knoll, sea lions plopped on
boulders like so many fat slugs, whales spouting and porpoises
frolicking all just a few feet away.
The journey began in Juneau, where, as part of the cruise,
everyone spent the night at either the Goldbelt Hotel or (in my
case) the Westmark Baranof. While the hotel is somewhat rundown,
its location is ideal a quick walk from the waterfront, as well as
downtown stores, restaurants (my favorite: Twisted Fish), and
nightlife (most famous: Red Dog Saloon). The next day our luggage
was collected from our hotel rooms and transferred to the ship, and
we boarded the Endeavor.
After a few days, I began to think of the cruise as a watery
road trip just as casual, spontaneous, and almost as flexible. With
just 60 passengers onboard, it wasn’t long before everyone knew my
name. When we came upon a dozen or so whales near Tracy Arm, the
captain turned off the engine to give everyone a chance to grab
jackets, cameras and binoculars even though it meant interrupting
lunch and leaving half-eaten desserts on the table.
When we reached Glacier Bay, the ship stopped to pick up a
ranger who chatted with us for hours, so we had ample time to learn
about the forbidding walls of ice. When we ventured into waters
thick with floating chunks of ice, the captain allowed us to climb
into skiffs, 12 at a time, to get within touching distance of the
blue-tinged icebergs. And when our ship happened upon a juvenile
bald eagle bobbing in the water, unable to fly away, we paused for
more than an hour as the crew sought ways to rescue the distressed
bird. (Can you imagine the captain of a big ship doing that?)
On long, lazy sea days, crew members joined guests in the lounge
for games of Yahtzee or Scrabble. There were no “formal” nights
jeans, fleece and hiking boots were perfectly acceptable dinner
wear. (Several male passengers said they specifically chose this
cruise because they couldn’t bear the notion of donning a tuxedo.)
It was all so laidback, in fact, that we had no keys for our cabins
and no safes. Though I initially felt uncomfortable leaving my
wallet, passport and possessions unprotected, I soon agreed that it
was sort of nice to have one less thing to keep track of.
We docked for a few hours in Skagway, the charming and
well-preserved gold-mining town, where we took a tour aboard bright
yellow streetcars. Then, I, along with many other Endeavor
passengers, spent the rainy morning on a three-hour, roundtrip
train ride to British Columbia via the spectacularly scenic White
Pass & Yukon Route. Later that day, we stopped in Haines. Since
there’s no phone service in town, residents communicate with each
other via the local radio station, which broadcasts personal
messages every afternoon at 4:30 p.m. I opted for a rafting
excursion there, which was disappointing in the utter lack of
wildlife sightings, but the guide more than made it up with his
tall tales and witty observations. He pointed out that single men
vastly outnumbered single women.
“So for the ladies, the odds are good,” he noted. “But the goods
are odd.” Other ports of call included Sitka on Baranof Island,
where the Russian influence is apparent in everything from the
restaurants to the ubiquitous nesting dolls displayed in store
windows. In Petersburg, known as “Little Norway” for its heavy
Norwegian influence, even the police station is decorated with
prettily painted pastel flowers, and homes sport friendly vilkommen
signs. We also docked in tiny Metlakatla on Annette Island,
Alaska’s only Indian reservation. Here the Tshimshian people,
decked out in traditional red and black garb, treated us to
storytelling and ceremonial welcome dances.
I sorely missed the fitness center, spa and nightly
entertainment of the big ships. Yet in hindsight, I am grateful
that my memories of Alaska aren’t filled with visions of buffets
and bars but rather of a captain who brakes for whales and bald
|SELLING TIPS FOR AGENTS|
1.Passengers who have cruised on large ships with
extensive workout facilities should be forewarned: There’s no
opportunity for physical activity onboard. Make sure your clients
are comfortable being sedentary for long stretches at a time.
2.Cruise West is ideal for clients looking for a
more “exclusive” Alaska cruise experience, but don’t necessarily
care about traveling in luxury. There’s no pampering onboard, and
cabins are pretty spartan, lacking balconies or even windows that
open. But, the ships nonetheless attract a highly educated,
3.If you have clients who have stayed away from
large ships because they hate crowds, and can’t stand the thought
of standing in a buffet line with 2,000 people, suggest Cruise
West. There’s nothing like a small ship experience in Alaska, and
it’s a great way to “break clients in” to the idea of cruising.
4.On the other hand, if you have a client who’s a
“loner,” Cruise West isn’t a particularly good choice. It’s hard to
stay anonymous in such close confines. It’s perfect for those who
would enjoy a cozy, family-style friendliness and getting to know
their fellow passengers.
5.The ship does have wireless Internet access in
the lounge, but it can be pretty spotty. Some days, it won’t work
at all, depending on the vessel’s location. Make sure your clients
know that they may be “out of touch” during this cruise.
Itinerary: Juneau to Ketchikan or reverse, with
same-day stops in Skagway and Haines, Sitka, Petersburg and
Metlakatla. The ship explores, but does not stop at, Glacier Bay
National Park, Misty Fjords and Tracy Arm. Departs every other
Thursday, through Sept. 8. Prices start at $3,925; deluxe rooms
start at $5,175; per person, double occupancy. Includes overnight
stay in Juneau.
Commission: 10 to 15 percent, plus additional
incentives and bonuses for