On a small expedition-ship cruise in Southeast Alaska, pristine wilderness is the main attraction. Sure, you will forego casinos, spas, gyms and a late-night club scene, but what you get in return makes it an excursion you will never forget. Three boutique cruise lines sail Southeast Alaska’s famed Inside Passage—Uncruise Adventures, Alaskan Dream Cruises and Lindblad Expeditions—each one offering its own brand of adventure.
If you have ever experienced a grand cruise in the company of thousands of other passengers, this experience will be quite different. Boutique ships carry 100 or fewer passengers, sometimes as few as 10, depending on the size of the ship. It’s a more personal experience, often with flexible itineraries, plenty of outdoor activities and a high crew-to-passenger ratio.
Of course, an obvious advantage of cruising on a small ship in Southeast Alaska is close-up access to places where large cruise ships cannot sail. Wildlife, glaciers and, well, everything seems to be within arm’s reach. Passengers tend to have one thing in common: a keen desire to experience the spectacular natural world of Alaska. This is the very dictionary definition of “expedition”— a journey or voyage undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose, especially that of exploration.
Daytime activities include kayaking, paddle boarding, hiking and naturalist-led excursions in a skiff. Whale watching in Southeast Alaska waters is a daily occurrence. Evening activities on board usually include naturalist talks and Native Alaska cultural presentations.
Every small-ship cruise line is taking extraordinary measures to ensure passengers and crew are observing health and safety protocols and making sure all public areas and passenger cabins are deep cleaned.
Seattle-based UnCruise Adventures has been sailing for 25 years. This award-winning cruise line operates five expedition vessels in Southeast Alaska. Ship capacity ranges from 40 to 86 passengers, so passengers don’t have to tussle with crowds or stand in long lines. Cruises with Uncruise Adventures last from one to two weeks and cover a variety of itineraries, like Alaska Fjords and Glaciers and the popular Glacier Bay National Park Adventure.
Alaska-Native and family-owned Allen Marine operates Alaskan Dream Cruises, providing a true insider experience. Sailings embark from Sitka, the home port for the cruise line, and passengers can choose between an array of vessel sizes among their six vessels, accommodating from 10 to 76 passengers. Expeditions last from six to 10 days. A whopping 11 Itineraries cover more of Southeast Alaska than any other cruise line. Wildlife viewing is one of the main attractions on any Southeast Alaska small-ship cruise, and the Alaskan Dream Cruise crew know where the best wildlife-viewing opportunities are. If there’s wildlife along the route, like a concentration of humpback whales, they will linger to give passengers the best possible wildlife-viewing experience. Guests can also hire the 10- and 12-passenger vessels for custom charter cruises for their private party of family and/ or friends.
Lindblad Expeditions has partnered with National Geographic to operate their cruises. Nature, wildlife, the wilderness and our relationship with the natural world are the main attractions on a Lindblad cruise. They operate three ships in Southeast Alaska, with a passenger capacity ranging from 62 to 100. Itineraries focus on Southeast Alaska, like the Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness itinerary, but those who wish to explore more of Alaska can opt for additional itineraries, such as a 22-day cruise from Ketchikan to Nome, which includes a stop in Russia.
American Cruise Lines, of riverboat-cruising fame, sails the 175-passenger ship American Constellation in Southeast Alaska. The 269-foot American Constellation has been outfitted to navigate coastal waters. With six passenger decks, it is much smaller than a mega-cruise ship, but considerably larger than the expedition-style vessels operated by UnCruise Adventures, Alaskan Dream Cruises and Lindblad Expeditions. On American Constellation, passengers get some of the amenities they would enjoy on large cruise ships (but on a smaller scale), such as more public lounge areas, a library, a fitness center, as well as onboard entertainment, like live musical performances.