I flew to Juneau via Seattle. Arriving in Juneau at 10pm it was still light and very warm, which was a pleasant surprise as I was preparing myself for my first cold cruise. I had a couple of days in Juneau to enjoy the clement weather and take a rainforest canopy tour, visit Glacier Gardens with their unique upside down trees, and ride on the Mount Roberts Tramway.
After watching various huge cruise ships dock in Juneau our ship the Safari Endeavour arrived. She carries just 86 guests so was tiny by comparison. I embarked and set sail for Glacier Bay National Park. Although the ship is small, it really had everything you need on this type of cruise including some gym equipment and two hot tubs, a nice bar area, plus a good sun deck, which is used when the ship is in the Sea of Cortez. All dining is waiter service apart from breakfast, and drinks are included. Breakfast on board was buffet style offering a good choice. During this time the Tour Leader would announce what the activities would be, what we can expect to see, and also advise what you need to wear. I was well informed throughout the trip which was a great help. Very importantly they have rain jackets and trousers plus rubber boots for everyone, also water bottles and binoculars, so everything you need.
The experience once on board is nothing like being on a traditional cruise. The vessel, although very comfortable, really is just a means to an end…exploring the Alaskan wilderness and immersing yourself in the destination.
On the first morning I was woken by Jill our Captain around 5.30am with a very gentle intercom message saying "Killer Whales port side"…a far cry from my normal wakeup call! I grabbed my warm coat and camera and scurried out on deck. This was my first experience of seeing a pod of whales and they were actually trying to kill a seal…nature doesn't get more real than this. The seal was using the ship to hide so actually bringing the spectacle to us. I had mixed feelings about this, as I knew it's just part of nature… but am happy to say the whale does not win every time.
Travelling with us was Flip Nicklin, a photographer for National Geographic with thirty years' experience studying whales. He was incredibly interesting and we learnt a lot about his life as a photographer, and saw the amazing photos he'd taken through his career. During our time in Glacier Bay National Park a local Ranger joined us to give local expertise and insight, again enhancing the experience. Unlike regular Alaska cruises which spend just a few hours in Glacier Bay National Park, our itinerary gave us two days of exploration. We enjoyed trekking and kayak trips, and also small boat trips winding through huge icebergs that have fallen from the glacier. I could not get over just how isolated we were in this spectacular wilderness.
There is plenty to do throughout the day, for all levels of ability. I personally really enjoyed the kayaking trips, and was happy paddling around for hours in and out of little bays, with the odd sea lion popping its head out the water to just look at you and say hello. The kayaks are very stable and it really was a slick operation to get you on and off the ship via the fantail at the aft.
On day four we set course for Icy Strait, the richest whale waters in South East Alaska, and we were not disappointed. Right from the start there was so much activity that I did not know where to look first, with humpback whales galore.
Towards the end of the cruise, we visited Thomas Bay, which is renowned for its hiking. Over the course of a few hours we saw a variety of birds, porcupine, deer as well as the stunning scenery. I also saw brown bears but this was from the ship in the afternoon, and again when we were on a small boat trip. The guides are incredibly experienced and with this being North America safety and compliance are of utmost importance.
One of my best memories was after a morning of kayaking having lunch, with everyone buzzing about the morning's events and what they had seen and done. After all the excitement of the morning I felt like relaxing so I stayed on board in the afternoon and simply sat in the hot tub watching the humpback whales breaching in and out of the water. It was the most incredible sight, and all from the comfort of a hot tub!