New in Alaska: Cruising the wilds on small ships

Story and photos by Lorry Heverly

www.lorryheverly.com

Alaska is America’s last frontier, a land of pristine beauty and remote wilderness. Here, majestic snowcapped mountains, ancient boreal forests, cascading waterfalls and centuries-old glaciers are highlights of this rugged landscape, and a springboard for adventures in nature.

For many Boomers, exploring Alaska’s Inside Passage tops the “bucket list” of must-see places. But up to now, choices have been mostly limited to glancing at a distant wilderness from the deck of a large cruise ship. And when visiting commercialized ports of call, being herded around in large groups and jockeying for deck space to see distant whale action is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Small ships will offer adventures in the Inside Passage

Boomers seeking an active and up-close way to experience the wilds of Alaska now have a choice with the launch of InnerSea Discoveries' new small-ship adventure expeditions. Starting next month, the M/V Wilderness Adventurer and M/V Discoverer, two newly renovated vessels, will begin journeys to remote eastern and western coves of Alaska’s Inside Passage.

What makes these new adventure cruises different is the variety of daily, active activities like kayaking, hiking, paddle boarding or exploring by zodiac, giving guests a chance to explore Alaska’s natural wonders and wildlife and at the same time challenge the spirit and soul.

InnerSea Discoveries understands that guests aren’t all super-fit adrenaline junkies, so the cruises' activities offer a choice of skill levels -- letting everyone enjoy their experience on their own terms. For example, some guests may opt for a day-long hike while others may prefer a healthy jaunt followed by taking time to photograph wildflowers.

Glacier exploring by Kayak

A typical day

Launch a kayak from the back deck and perhaps you’ll encounter Humpback whales slapping a tail or breeching from the water on their summer migration through the passage. Or carefully navigate through a bay filled with remarkable floating icebergs at the base of a caving ancient glacier. For a real challenge, try the stand-up paddle board.

Sea lions bask in the sun

Among other activities: Discover the flora and fauna along wilderness trails on a guided naturalist walk or hike to the top of a misty waterfall. Board a small skiff or zodiac and scour the rugged coastline looking for brown bear, eagles, sea otters and whales. Best of all, daily hikes, kayak tours, paddle boarding and zodiac excursions are included in the price of the cruise, and whatever activity you choose you’ll be joined by only a handful of other guests.

Totems created at the Klawock Indian villageEvery day is a new adventure where the wonders of the last frontier await discovery. Explore El Capitan cave, the largest in North America. Learn the living history of native Alaskans at the Tlingit village of Klawock. Here, locals captivate guests with tales of their unique customs and traditions. Wander to the woodshed where artisans still practice the ancient art of totem carving. Don a thick wetsuit and snorkel the mineral-rich waters teeming with marine life.

On board

The expedition vessels of InnerSea Discoveries are specially designed to reach remote regions and bays of the Inner Passage, inaccessible to larger ships. Each departure is limited to just 49 guests, offering spaciousness in public areas and on the observation decks. Guest quarters, each with private bathroom and shower, are comfortable with plenty of storage space. After an invigorating day in the outdoors, pamper yourself in the sauna, hot tub on the deck or book a massage.

Once-in-a-lifetime experiences can be found on several optional tours. Get a birds-eye view of a glacier by floatplane. Experience the thrill of hooking a King Salmon or the tranquility of fly fishing an icy stream. Camp overnight in the great outdoors listening to the whales blowing and breaching just offshore.

Cruises on the two newly remodeled ships will operate between Juneau and Ketchikan from May through late August 2011. Prices begin at $1,795 per person, double occupancy.

More info:  www.InnerSeaDiscoveries.com, phone 1-877-901-1009.

King Salmon fishing in the Inner Passage

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