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Alaska’s Inside Passage

This exclusive small ship program offers unparalleled access to quiet coves seas lions battle on rocky shores and bears scavenge the beaches. Sheri Hicks recounts some of the most exciting moments of her voyage to the north.

Words can’t express what an incredible journey I recently took to the Inside Passage of Alaska. This would be my third time. How lucky can one person be? Alaska is one of those destinations you never get tired of and this truly was a new and unique experience. My first time to Alaska was with Princess Cruise Line on a BIG ship and I had a fabulous time. I thought it couldn’t have been better. My second time to Alaska was on a much smaller Cruise West ship, and I thought, “Wow, you definitely get to see more on a smaller ship.” Third time was definitely the charm. Our home for eight days was the 36-passenger Safari Explorer – yes I said 36 passengers!

We began our incredible journey in Juneau, Alaska. Captain Scotty and the crew welcomed us warmly and led us to our appointed cabins. The cabins were very spacious and well appointed.

Why was this trip so special? Because of our size, we were able maneuver in and out of secluded coves, and change directions to follow the whales. We were able to take our time, and weren’t on any formal schedule.

We were also allowed to go into the bridge, to talk with the Captain and hang out with the crew. We asked questions about navigation, what all the gadgets meant or how deep the water was, and every question was answered with thoughtful consideration.

We also met “Clarence.” Clarence, who was named by the kids on board, was a humpback whale who decided to put a show on for us for well over an hour. He would roll, flap his pectoral fins and dive, then 14 seconds later breech, causing all of us to hoot and holler for more.

The birdlife was abundant. We saw many eagles, oyster catchers, puffins and cormorants, along with many others I can’t possibly remember!

We had ample time to kayak every day, and for those who chose to be a little less adventurous, two skiffs were available to motor around in.

We visited Glacier Bay Lodge, and had a nice mile-long hike around there. We picked up our Park Ranger Linda at Glacier National Park. She was our guide throughout, and stayed with us for two nights. Linda went out on the skiffs with us to point out Bald Eagle nests, a beached whale that animals have been feeding upon for months, and other sites she was familiar with. We were able to kayak almost up to the glaciers. We were told to stay at least one-quarter of a mile away and we found distance is very deceiving in Alaska. One-quarter of a mile was definitely close enough, especially with the calving going on and the waves they created.

We also sailed by Marble Island, and saw colonies of sea lions and more puffins. When we finally saw the Orcas, we couldn’t believe how much smaller they were than our friend “Clarence!”

At Reid Glacier we did more kayaking, and the braver travelers went on a long hike up and around the glacier.

We also visited Marjorie and Grand Pacific glaciers, and then at Johns Hopkins glacier we really had excitement. This glacier was so much more blue and calved more often. There were lots of seals sunning themselves on top of floating icebergs; some would slowly swim by us, then “poof,” they were gone.

Each time we came back from our adventures, the crew would have special drinks waiting for us, from margaritas, to fruity drinks to a warm “Moose Kiss,” which is hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps.

We also did some hiking along a bear trail in Sitkoh Bay. Bear evidence was everywhere. We actually followed a Salmon stream, and the salmon were jumping all over the place. Fresh salmon kills were left along the trails. Apparently the bears at this time of year just like eating the brain and the belly fat, and leave the rest to the eagles. My group, who did the shorter hike, did not see any bears, but we were pretty sure we smelled one! The group who was way ahead of us actually did see a sow and her two cubs. The group huddled together, and shouted and yelled until she decided to walk away – thankfully!

Our naturalists and guides who accompanied us on our various excursions were so knowledgeable. Katie gave a whale talk for us one evening, and also shared with us a neat little gadget that she put in the water so we could listen to the whales talk to each other. Then Kirk, a commercial fisherman, gave us great presentations on fishing and geology another. Leah, our wellness instructor who did yoga each morning with us, provided complimentary massages! And our group will never forget our new friend Stephanie, who was hired by our tour operator, Orbridge, to serve as our guide. Stephanie also studies the whales in Alaska and Hawaii, and her enthusiasm for the plant life, and even bear skat, was infectious!

This trip definitely rates up there as one of the best I have ever been on. We will definitely continue to offer this Orbridge cruise to Alaska and we hope you can join us again in 2011. Maybe it will be my fourth trip to Alaska!

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