Inner Sea Discoveries
The Line in a Nutshell
Once upon a time, there was a great little small-ship line called Glacier Bay Tours and Cruises, aka Glacier Bay Cruiseline. Owned by an Alaska Native corporation, it specialized in extremely casual, off-the-grid cruises in Southeast Alaska, spending most of the time kayaking and hiking in wilderness areas and only occasionally visiting port -- and then usually such small, out-of-the-way ports that it was like touching down on the moon. That line went belly-up in 2006, leaving a gap in the Alaska cruise market that was only partially filled by the much pricier Lindblad Expeditions and several small niche operators.
Now, though, that gap seems ready to be filled. Up in Seattle, the folks who own high-end American Safari Cruises were at press time about to start up a brand-new small-ship line offering adventure cruises at a fairly reasonable price point, and employing the excellent Glacier Bay Cruiseline vessels Wilderness Adventurer and Wilderness Discoverer. The line's cruises will focus on wilderness hiking, snorkeling, inflatable boat and kayak excursions, beachcombing, and whale-watching, with optional activities like caving, glacier walks, river rafting, stand-up paddle-boarding, fishing, and overnight backpacking and kayaking. Essentially, the Glacier Bay experience is being re-created under a new name, with somewhat more comfort onboard and, we hope, more success. The brand is expected to debut in May 2011.
Since InnerSea Discoveries had not yet debuted at press time, we'll just clue you in to what we do know. As to its nearly identical vessels, the 156-foot, 72-guest Wilderness Adventurer and 169-foot, 88-guest Wilderness Discoverer were built originally by and for American Canadian Caribbean Line (now Blount Small Ship Adventures), and have all the exploratory features that line always builds into its vessels, principally an incredibly shallow draft that allows them to access shallow waters. There's also a dry-launch platform in the stern so that passengers can board their kayaks right from the ship. Prior to their introduction by InnerSeas, both vessels will undergo extensive refurbishment, duding up what were very spartan interiors during the ships' days with ACCL and Glacier Bay. Cabins, which before were the most basic of boxes, will all be modernized, with simple but appealing decor, Tempur-Pedic memory foam mattresses, and iPod docks. Unfortunately, nothing can be done to improve the existing cabin bathrooms, which are minuscule "head-style" units, in which the toilet is essentially in the shower stall.
The main public lounge will be redone with a lodge/pub feel to encourage socializing in the evening. The bar will have a dozen microbrews in addition to wine and liquor. Hot tubs, saunas, exercise equipment, and yoga classes will jazz up the formerly nonexistent menu of onboard feel-good features. Each vessel will carry a fleet of stable sea kayaks, fishing poles and tackle, binoculars, and daypacks for guest use, and be fitted with an underwater hydrophone so guests can listen to whale-song. Naturalists will lead excursions and give lectures onboard, and other guests will occasionally board to provide their insider's perspective on Alaska living. Cruises will sail in Alaska's Inside Passage, operating between Juneau and Ketchikan, and visit natural areas like Prince of Wales Island, Sea Otter Sound, Baranof and Kuiu Islands, Frederick Sound, Admiralty Island (known for its bear population), and Endicott Arm.
We have high hopes for this new brand, having sailed Wilderness Adventurer twice during her time with Glacier Bay Cruiseline -- and it'd be fair to say that those trips spoiled us for a lot of other cruise experiences, truly going where other cruise lines didn't, wouldn't, or couldn't. On our Alaska trip, we stuck so resolutely to the wilderness that we literally saw more whales and bears than people during the course of the week. Try saying that about a megaship cruise.
Per-person prices are expected to run between $2,500 to $3,000 per week. Typical per diems are $255-$340.
A note on passenger capacity: During their inaugural 2011 season, Adventurer and Discoverer will be sailing with a maximum of 49 guests per sailing, but a company spokesperson tells us they anticipate going to full capacity during their 2012 season at least aboard Discoverer.
Wilderness Adventurer sails Alaska from Juneau and Ketchikan (summer).
Wilderness Discoverer sails Alaska from Juneau and Ketchikan (summer).