20 AUG 2019: I feel like I have the entire sea to myself. On the edge of the planet's largest remaining tract of temperate rainforest, waves are lapping around the S.S. Legacy. We're sailing on one of the cruise itineraries from expedition cruise company, UnCruise Adventures called Alaska's Glacier Country, a 7-night thrilling adventure of Southeast Alaska.

For this city dweller it's like stepping onto another planet, and as soon as we start our cruise, magic  happens when a pod of Orca whales arrive.

Only 30-minutes from the Juneau cruise terminal on a small Victorian steamship replica, one of the small ships from the Seattle-based company, we are dining on freshly caught wild salmon when the captain announces whales approaching starboard.

Whale sightings are a highlight of any cruise, but spotting Orcas remain one of the most elusive occurrences in the world. “Imagine 99.9 percent of the people living on this planet have never seen a live Orca whale in their natural habitat,” says Captain Tim Voss describing just one of the wildlife encounters we witnessed.

Alaska Summer Cruises

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is projecting a 25 percent growth in cruise passengers this season with an estimated 1.3 million cruisers this summer.

Attire and Ports of Call

On The Legacy the attire is casual, with guests wearing wellies and raincoats. Our ports of call are marked by geographic locations, and not towns – like Endicott Arm. Crew and guests give the mandatory “Viking Handshake” as we leave the mothership and the Sea Dragon flat boat that launches kayaks and inflatable skiff boats.

Glacier Bay National Park

In Glacier Bay National Park we set our sights on John Muir territory where the Scottish conservationist canoed the icy waters in search of glaciers. His wild expeditions are carefully documented in his must-read book, Travels in Alaska.

The National Parks system restricts access and proximity to the whales in the tidewaters. Bird calls awaken the senses, and we smelled the pungent odour of the endangered Stellar Sea Lions sunning and grunting on South Marble Island before actually seeing them.

At the park's West Arm – a pair of glaciers stand side by side. The ship's engine shuts off, as we face the sheer white 21-mile long Margerie Glacier and the wider 34.5-mile long black tinged rocky Grand Pacific Glacier. We hear the dramatic crash of ice sheering off in a process known as calving enter the tidal waters. It's only the start of our glacier quest voyage.

Our adventure cruise sails the sheltered calm of the Inside Passage, home to a rugged coastline of sky high walled canyons, hidden coves and glacier-cut fjords dotted by rocky islets.

One morning we took a skiff boat to the “mainland.” It was bear territory, where we meandered through meadows into gardens of wild orchids, chocolate lilies and the bell-shaped cassiope, acknowledging the bear scat. Yet the only thing trying to bite us was an occasional pesky mosquito.  (Watch our video).

Chatham Strait

We sail south down the Chatham Strait, considered the marine highway of the Inside Passage between Baranof Island and the bear-rich Admiralty Island. The federally protected wilderness habitat is home to an estimated 1,600 brown bears, bald eagles and Sitka black-tailed deer.

We anchor by Keku Islands, known for some of the finest tide pooling where extraordinary sea creatures surface during low tide.  A sea garden of clams, starfish and bull kelp has risen to the surface. On the volcanic rock left behind from the glaciation, giant chitons and acorn barnacles hug the salt and pepper surface. Slurping sounds beneath my feet identify clam shooting out air in this mad dash for intertidal survival.

Unique Cruise Approach

The S.S. Legacy typically goes off itinerary. “We aim to go where the animals are,” explained owner Dan Blanchard, “We rely on our crew who get daily local updates of wildlife sightings. We want you to explore one of the best areas left on the planet for wildlife viewing.”

The demographic on my ship leans to the active, curious seniors crowd but there was a young teen and couples celebrating milestone anniversaries.

The Tongass National Forest is the nation's largest forest spanning 17 million acres (68,000 km2).  The Polar Bear Plunge in Glacier Bay National Park allows a view of the shimmering Dawes Glacier.

Expect no live entertainment, no cellphone service or Wi-Fi. UnCruise is all about reconnecting with nature.

Juneau, Alaska

Where to Sleep Silverbow Inn - The 12 room downtown boutique hotel attracts the granola rain boot crowd and is a short walk from the UnCruise dock.

Recommended activities  –Juneau Food Tours offer 1.5 to 3 hour walking tours, to learn about the history of the fishing industry, enjoying samples along the way.


UNCRUISE
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author

Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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