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Small ship cruising in Alaska

black bear alaska
What you talkin bout? Credit AdventureSmith Explorations

If the big ocean liners packed with 2000 passengers and another 1000 crew is not your thing, then how about this for an intimate experience…

Alaskan Dream ships (there are 3) have around 23 cabins and 19 crew so this cruise is designed for those who want a quieter voyage, to meet others and the opportunity to explore out of the way places that the bigger ships can’t get into.

They cover the southeast of Alaska and have native interpreters and local guides onboard to ensure you get the most out of your trip. Plus each day there are complimentary shore excursions to take advantage of.

Kerry Cook from Francis Travel Marketing has just returned and wrote a report about her experience which I’ve picked the eyes out of to give you an insight into what you can expect…



Twin cabin Alaskan Dream
Small cabin – large windows!

Whether you book a standard cabin or the owner’s suite, they all have large windows which means you’re never at a loss for scenery and wildlife viewing.

20 of the cabins are quite small and your luggage will need to be stored under your bed, but hey, you’re cruising around Alaska so you’re really only in here to sleep or get changed. But if space is an issue, book one of the 2 vista cabins with remarkable views, or the Owners Suite which would suit a family of 4.

What to do onboard

The Forward Lounge: this is a homely space and a great opportunity for the daily catch up with fellow passengers, especially if the ship isn’t fully booked and there’s only 20 of you!

Observation deck
Amongst the scenery on the Observation Deck

Visit the captain: the Bridge is open to passengers to wander in and have a chat to capt Eric. Afterall, he does boast he has the best view, so encourages his guests to join him.

The observation deck is a huge open area on top of the ship for the most amazing views of Alaska’s best side. With so few passengers, it’s easy to stand against the railing to see the hidden gems and photograph the glaciers, a breaching whale, a bald eagle, bears and lots more.

Cheers! Head to the bar in the forward lounge for the evening’s presentations about the day and what is in store for tomorrow. Fresh cookies are baked about 3pm and before breakfast there’s fruit and pastries to tide over those extra hungry passengers.

Let’s get to the food

Crab starter
Crab starter, anyone?

The meals are bursting with fresh ingredients and beautifully presented. Breakfast offers everything from porridge to pancakes, bagels and lox to eggs on toast. But hold onto your waistbands, for lunch and dinner are both 5-course meals (of course you may not wish to eat that many!) You’ll have a choice of dinner rolls, salad and soup, then 3 choices of main meal (called entrée) and a dessert. Steak and chicken breast is always available, otherwise you’ll be served the dish of the day by creative food genius Brianna, the chef.

What you’ll see and do

Dawes Glacier
Ice calving off Dawes Glacier. Credit AdventureSmith Explorations

Because these ships are small and the company has been operating day tours for 40 years, they have great connections. Of course, every Alaskan cruise needs to have the iconic spots covered so you will see Frederick Sound, Tracy Arm, Hobart Bay, Wrangell and Glacier Bay National Park.

You’ll also see off-the-beaten track places like Kasaan, a town of 50 people in the woods where you can learn how to carve a totem pole. Walks through the forest here are great, but bring your wet weather gear – it is, quite literally, a rainforest!

Thorne Bay
A floating house at Thorne Bay. Credit AdventureSmith Explorations

At the mighty metropolis of Thorne Bay, population 450, we watched a man sculpt a bear from a log of wood with a chainsaw.

Jetboating on the Stikine river provides another chance to see the wildlife up close under snow-capped mountains on a pristine river. This is the border between USA and Canada and the highlight was seeing a Bald Eagle in her huge nest.

We go Zego! Credit AdventureSmith Explorations

Exclusive access to Hobart Bay means you can play on sea kayaks and all-terrain vehicles with no other cruise ships in sight. From the kayaks we watched bears on the shore just metres away while following our guide. Easy peasy and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Try the Zego. It’s a larger version of a jet ski with a lever to make you go forwards or backwards. Even the 75-year old was trying out her figure 8’s!

Drive an ATV through the wilderness. This turned out to be the most fun of all our onshore activities, exploring tracks through the forest, looking out for more “native” Alaskans and just stopping to drink in the views.

Sea lions Alaska
Sea lions pose for a pic. Credit AdventureSmith Explorations

You’ll cruise Endicott Arm and Orca Point to the Dawes Glacier where the views will mesmerise you for hours watching orca gracefully dive and listen to ice calving from the glacier.

At Juneau our offboard acivities included a traditional American campfire with smores. Ever heard of smores? It’s short for ‘some more’ and is the sticky and delicious combination of Graham crackers, toasted hot marshmallows and chocolate which melts and you smush together into a patty and consume!

Being such a small ship, we docked at the mouth of Glacier Bay and were able to get off and explore this part of the forest after spending yet more hours in awe of the enormous Margerie Glacier while eating lunch onboard.

Our cruise ended in Sitka where the crew gave their last presentation the evening before and we were each given a disk with images for us to take home.

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!