Safari Endeavour Cruise Review by firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sail Date: May 2016
- Destination: Alaska
We went at the beginning of May expecting cold weather and rain most days. Southeast Alaska is the thin coastal part of Alaska north of Vancouver. It can be very wet as the annual rainfall is 1,550 mm. We were told to bring layers of clothing, raingear, wellington boots, gloves, scarves and beanies. In the event apart from some drizzle in Ketchikan, there was no rain, the skies were blue every day on the ship, and the sun shone during the day. While we took some cold weather clothing, the raingear and wellington boots were provided on the ship. We were told that May and September are the best months to explore the Inside Passage, and so we were very fortunate to have picked May.
We were on Safari Endeavour’s first trip of the season. The crew was fresh and enthusiastic. The ship wasn’t full (it can take 84 passengers). The people in the three small towns we visited during the week were happy to see us. The curator of the excellent Ketchikan museum told us: “We can’t wait for the cruise ships to arrive at the start of the season, and we can’t wait for them to leave at the end of the season!” At the height of the season there can be as many as five large cruise ships - each with more than 2,000 passengers - in any of these small ports at one time. The number of visiting tourists then outnumbers the number of local residents significantly.
We flew from Seattle to Ketchikan. From the 1800s this small isolated frontier town has relied on fishing, salmon canning, timber and the occasional gold strike. These days fishing and the large cruise ship tourists are the main source of income for the town.
We spent a night in Ketchikan at the Inn on Creek Street, an old Victorian hotel with an excellent restaurant next door. Creek Street was the red-light district up until the 1950s. The next morning we walked up along the creek past the original houses on ‘Married Men’s Walk’, named for its original purpose! At the top of the creek is a salmon run which helps the salmon migrate upstream in June. That’s when the bears come out of hibernation to feed. We spent time in the museum and walked along the waterfront where there was one very large cruise ship and our own very small ship away in the distance. We were glad that we were on the small one!
We had a comfortable twin-bedded cabin on the Safari Endeavour. It had generous storage and a small but adequate en suite. The food on board was excellent. It was varied and delicious, very attractively presented, served by a small team of staff, and cooked by a small team of real professionals. The chef came into the dining room every day to give us a description of the food to be served at lunch and dinner. There was a choice of a vegetarian or other option, and he also catered for other special requests. One afternoon the chef gave us a tour of his galley. What his team produced in such a small space was miraculous. The barman in the lounge, Daniel, created different cocktails and served special snacks every evening. As an added bonus all the drinks were included in the price of the trip!
The Southeast Alaskan scenery is stunning. There are vast empty seascapes, with high mountains covered with rain forest and still capped with snow in May. Everywhere there were high waterfalls cascading the melting snow down into the sea.
Most mornings we anchored in a secluded bay, and were given the option of at least two activities – a walk (easy, more difficult or a bushwack), kayaking, paddle boarding, or a trip on a skiff (a large 14-person rubber duck). Swimming could also be an option, but the water was freezing at this time! Each activity was led by a guide, each of whom was an expert in wildlife. One specialized in bears, another in whales, and another in sea otters and sea lions. One of the guides gave an illustrated talk on their subject in the lounge after dinner most nights. Lindsay, the whale expert, had studied whales in Namibia and South Africa. When she took us out on a skiff in Traitors Cove and spotted a pod of humpback whale, she whooped with joy.
One day we stopped in Wrangell, an isolated town of only 2,400 inhabitants with a small fishing harbour. Noticeable was the large stack of shipping containers. This is because the only access to all the towns in Southeast Alaska is by sea or air. We were treated here to a presentation about the local Indian culture, the Tlingit tribe, in a replica Indian long plank house. There was also an excellent small museum in the town which gave us a good insight into life here in the early settler days.
On other days we walked in a rain forest, kayaked for the first time, walked along a beach exploring all the pools and beach life, and went out in skiffs exploring the scenery in other isolated locations.
We saw many sea animals - whales (mostly humpbacks and some orcas), seals, sea lions and sea otters. These otters intrigued us. They swim on their backs with a small rock under one of their flippers. They use this to smash their catch before swimming off with the rock safely back in place! Bird life is fairly limited apart from Bald Eagles. They look like the African Fish Eagle but with a different call. Also fairly common are flocks of guillimots. They spend much of the time under water before coming up in a different spot. On land we had hoped to see brown and black bears and moose. It was too early to see the bears although one was spotted on the shore one day. On one of our walks our guide saw the backside of a departing moose. All we saw was its spoor and droppings.
On the last day we sailed 55 km. up the Endicott Arm to the most amazing Dawes Glacier. The ship could not anchor as the fjord is 800 feet deep. We all climbed into the skiffs and went up close to the glacier. We watched as it was calving (large parts falling off into the fjord). This was one of the highlights of the week – as was the celebration afterwards. Our guide took us into a sheltered rocky cove and produced hot chocolate laced with peppermint schnapps – a brilliant drink! On the way back to the ship, she picked up a small piece of glacier ice from the fjord, and offered us shots of peppermint schnapps over ice! And to make this last day even more special while watching whales after dinner, we caught a glimpse of the northern lights!
We ended our week in Juneau, the capital of Alaska. It’s another small frontier town with some impressive state administration buildings squashed in between the sea and the mountains. Over breakfast the Un-Cruise chief executive came on board and greeted us warmly. The vibe among the crew made all the difference to this trip. They all mucked in and did everything. The waiting staff also cleaned the cabins; the captain and his officers, as well as the massage and yoga staff, helped launch and organise the returning skiffs and kayaks for the activities. The whole atmosphere was very personal. On the last night at dinner the captain introduced every single member of the staff, and when we disembarked the following morning, each member of staff was on the quay to bid us goodbye.
Alaska’s Inside Passage is amazing. It’s scenery and wildlife are incredible, and taking a small ship with such personal attention is the way to go!
250,000+ people have entered their email