If the thought of massive ships barging through the Inside Passage leaves you cold, Alaskan Dream Cruises offers a small-ship experience with a difference.
This is a relatively new line, formed in 2011 by the family behind Allen Marine Tours, which have provided jet-boat trips in Alaska for more than 40 years.
The Allens, who are native Tlinglit Indians, have made a point of employing other indigenous crew and guest speakers from the southeast of the state. Combined with a refurbished vessel that accommodates fewer than 42 passengers, Alaskan Dream Cruises stands apart in this crowded market.
Arguably its greatest dealbreaker is the exclusive access to Hobart Bay. Guests aboard the Alaskan Dream have the whole site to themselves overnight, with plenty of time to go kayaking or zipping along the glassy water on a Zego runabout (like a large jet-ski). On land, guides lead a path through coastal rainforest on ATVs.
In a destination that is famous for cramming six superliners into one port, it’s a treat to be alone in Alaska.
The itinerary is planned so that Alaskan Dream avoids the big ships as much as possible, and gets in close to the glory of Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm. Only in Juneau is it impossible to avoid the hordes – but there is one way to escape. Alaskan Dream offers the option of a guided walk along the Mendenhall Glacier, landing on the ice by helicopter. To be walking on a glacier is an amazing experience after days of gazing at them.
Wearing ice-friendly boots, we are led around the blue-white wonder, exploring its tall walls and deep crevices, and at a flowing river of water, we stop to scoop up a handful for a drink.
Back on board is another opportunity to imbibe an iceberg, when the bartender uses a freshly crushed piece to create ‘glacier martinis’. I’m fairly sure this makes them healthy!
The nightly social hour is a great way to meet your fellow passengers. My voyage saw an affable mix of American, British, Australian and New Zealanders, mostly aged between 40 and 65.
One evening we feasted on locally caught king crab at Orca Point Lodge – another wilderness retreat not used by any other cruise line. Guest speakers from the local Tlinglit tribes joined us, explaining the sights, history and traditions of the region, as did the young native Alaskans on board the ship, Kevin (Kaadushtoo) and Howard (Koo Hook), who shared stories of their culture and childhoods.
For details, see alaskandreamcruises.com.