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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
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
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
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.
“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.