There are certain unique moments and experiences that happen when traveling that are imprinted in your memory for a lifetime. As long as I live I will always remember snorkeling at The Great Barrier Reef, zip lining through a rain forest in Costa Rica and witnessing the post-war horrors at the Museum Of Terror in Budapest. Yet, there have been no other trips that I have taken that have given me more amazing experiences almost daily than the adventure cruise through Alaska’s Inside Passage aboard American Safari Adventures’ yacht called the Safari Quest.
American Safari Cruises has been ranked as one of the best small cruise lines by Conde Nast Traveler and is known for its high environmental standards. Some have referred to this type of trip as the “anti-cruise” because of the unique up close and personal experiences you get both on board and off. There are just 11 beautiful staterooms on board for a maximum of 22 guests, ensuring a truly intimate experience. Camaraderie is one of the benefits of small ship cruises. The captain is quick to point out that while there is an itinerary, it is a loose one and they will go off course to find the best experiences for their guests. The daily activities are often determined by the weather, the tide and the serendipitous appearance of wild life. Several times on the trip we stopped and jumped into a skiff or kayak when a pod of whales was spotted.
The crew adds a lot to this type of touring, and on board each vessel is a naturalist with astounding knowledge of the animals and plants encountered in this untamed area. From the smallest mushroom to the massive humpbacks, our naturalist, Karl, turned each adventure into something even deeper with his breadth of information. The vessel also comes with a chef and pastry chef who provide unique and delicious meals and staff that manages a bar and takes care of the rooms. This is roughing it in style.
One of the unforgettable moments on this trip was being in a skiff and watching humpback whales bubble net feed. Karl explained that this was the most complex feeding ritual of any mammal other than man and of the 25,000 humpbacks only about a hundred are known to do it. A lead female will dive deep below a school of herring and blow bubbles to frighten the fish to the surface while the others circle the school and make noise and use their flippers to create a tight ball of fish. Then, the whales all shoot up out of the water in unison, mouths gapping, swallowing the fish. From our little boat it was a breathtaking moment to watch this complex process ending with these massive yet graceful creatures exploding from the waters.
The wild life abounds around every turn of the boat and the crew is quick to get you an up close view. This trip I watched a mother grizzly sun herself while her two 9-month-old cubs wrestled each other, had curious otters follow me in my kayak, watched herds of 200-pound sea lions jostle for space on a rocky island, and of course watched the orcas and humpback whales feeding only a few hundred yards away.
And then there are the glaciers. This small yacht is able to pull into tight coves and small inlets in Glacier National Park that most boats can’t get in to. Another unforgettable moment was kayaking around the Marjorie Glacier when it gave way, dropping a massive chunk of ice into the bay with an ear popping sound and sending a small tidal wave right toward my kayak.
Still emerging from the last ice age, Alaska is a window to the past, but one hard to see into without the right guides and vehicle. American Safari Adventure Cruises are booking now for the short travel season for 2012. For sheer space, amazing wildlife, and dramatic scenery there is nothing quite like a small ship adventure cruise through Alaska’s Inside Passage.
Dan Dawson is a travel journalist and dedicated world traveler who has written articles for many publications on adventures abroad. Tell him about your favorite vacation spot at www.WonderlustTravel.com.