Written By: Jeff Behrens, Captain / Owner of Fantasy Cruises
Only possible on a Small Ship Cruise in SE Alaska!
My name is Jeff Behrens – Captain of the M/V Island Spirit. My wife, Catherine and I operate Fantasy Cruises cruising our 32 passenger vessel in SE Alaska. The closest part of Alaska from the lower 48 states, the region known for Tidewater Glaciers, Coastal Brown bears and Humpback Whales. Set aside in 1898 by President Roosevelt, this forested group of islands, known as the Alexander Archipelago makes up approximately 300 miles of tourist heaven. The region is heavily traveled by over 1 million cruise ship passengers each and every season. (Typically from May through late September) It’s a great way to get a glimpse of Alaska. But-who only wants a glimpse? Don’t buy a tour every day in another crowded Alaskan town-join a Small Ship Cruise where the vacation is the entire adventure!
Have you ever offered your passengers a cruise experience like cruising in their own yacht? Have they ever had a chance to anchor in a quiet remote bay, surrounded by wilderness, wildlife and perhaps a humpback whale blowing in the bay? Or, watching a brown bear turning over rocks on the shoreline for their daily meal? Or maybe, just maybe you’ll enjoy a treat with 16 – 18 humpback whales feeding and playing in SE Alaskan waters after their long winter vacation in Hawaii.
These awesome photos of Humpbacks breaching and feeding in Frederick Sound where shot by wildlife photographer and photography teacher John Greengo. John teaches all around the world on various photography topics in the wild. These images were taken during a 9 day Small Ship cruise aboard the MV Island Spirit. Approximately 25 students with varying skill levels were able to photograph Humpback Whales, river otters, Black and Brown Bears, porpoise and more on their trip. The above photo even shows a mom teaching her young calf how to breach in open waters while our ships guests stood by in open wonder and astonishment!
What makes Small Ships unique in their vacation experiences?
- Most Small Ships limit their nighttime cruising, offering quiet nights in wilderness settings.
Imagine enjoying your favorite cocktail as the sun sets in a wilderness bay where the worries of the world disappear over the horizon? Speaking of cocktails-most small ships offer complimentary beverages on their cruise vacations (check with your small ship provider)
- Small ships visit bays and small villages never seen by the masses on those large floating cities.
Imagine taking a walk in a small Alaskan village only enjoyed by local Alaskan’s and their friends or visiting mariners cruising Alaskan waters for their summer vacation? Maybe visit a local Mercantile opened in 1899, in a town first frequented by Tlingit tribal natives.
- Small ship companies typically include most tours and excursions sold by the big ships. On small ships, the entire cruise is the excursion. Imagine paddling around in the ships kayaks or exploring in the ships small boats. Your onboard naturalist or cruise host narrates and educates you about the local area, flora and fauna.
- Imagine watching a Glacier “Calve” from the deck of your Small Ship. Up Close and comfortable with your crew at your beck and call. Most Small Ships serve hot drinks as they visit these “storis blue” behemoths in the comfort of their small ship. Imagine tons of blue ice all around you and the aroma of Hot Chocolate on the viewing deck. It doesn’t get any better than that. Listen to the “Sharp Crack” of the calving Glacier and watch for Harbor Seals on the ice flows.
- Enjoy a walk in the wilderness! Small ships often have permits for beach walks or strolls through the forest. Issued by the US Forest Service, these permits allow small ship passengers a chance to interface with the wilderness. Imagine a campfire on a remote Alaskan Shoreline?
Imagine cruising in pristine wilderness, enjoying the shimmering icebergs, bergy bits and growlers of Endicott Arm by Dawes Glacier, one of Alaska’s many tidewater glaciers. Upon coming around a rugged bend in our small ship we look to see a lone human in his wet suit seemingly standing in a wave. Upon further investigation, this person is actually standing on a surf board and appearing to stand still in a large wave by the shoreline. We race for our cameras, but, at that moment the wave wins and the surfer is carried away in the current.
What we’ve seen is the entrance to one of Alaska’s most scenic places. A small Glacial carved Canyon known as Ford’s terror. A place unique in SE Alaska. A place that stands out as a cut –diamond in this land of many. Approximately 70 miles south of the capitol, Juneau, this spectacular canyon is a short distance from wonderful Dawes Glacier, yet it is almost impossible to visit unless you have the time and determination to make it happen. Hidden behind rushing water flows, turbulent at the least, is a serene sheer walled canyon far away from the crowds that visit Alaska. Few ships will wait for the tide to turn revealing a peaceful entrance to this deep canyon in the “Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness” as designated by the US Forest Service.
But if your ship (Small Ships only here), takes the time to visit, you’ll enter a deep canyon. A canyon of sheer cliffs, dense forest shorelines where Mountain goats, Black and Brown bear frequent and call home. A place to explore and kayak or enjoy by small boat, exploring the young rain forest of spruce and hemlock at the water’s edge. Watch for eagles, and many seabirds in the fjord. You’ll likely see harbor seals and porpoise as well. Search out your small ship carefully here. There’s one, the Island Spirit (operated by Fantasy Cruises) which spends a full night in the canyon. (The only one that takes the time to enjoy this grand place.)
Imagine anchoring in one of the world’s most beautiful places? If you’re lucky enough to cruise on a Small Ship that spends a full 24 hours in Fords Terror, prepare to have a day like no other. Kayaking up close and personal to the shoreline looking for sea creatures and watching for brown or black bears. You may also spend time with your ships naturalist on an exploration of the inlet or perhaps it’s an unbelievable shoreline campfire and marshmallows in the wilderness. If this is roughing it-I’m in!
So, if you’re looking for a cruise unlike any others you’ve tried. Try a Small Ship. The comradery built between a small group of like travelers is unlike any thing you’ll find in the big ship world of tours and glitz. These small ships offer experiences sure to please. Especially, if you are open to the world behind the big towns of Alaska and long to see the “Other Alaska”, away from the crowds and close to nature. Visit small towns that only the locals can enjoy. Visit the Glaciers in only a way that small ships enjoy – unrushed and quietly in awe of their majesty.
Finally, Imagine being anchored in a small bay, your stateroom window open just a little for that wonderful fresh air, you’ve snuggled up with a good book and a glass of your favorite beverage after a wonderful day of scenery, wildlife, good food and exploration. The small ship you’ve chosen doesn’t sail at night so your evening is always peaceful. This ship, the “Island Spirit” is especially peaceful since she runs on batteries at night, with no noisy generators to interfere with the wonderful Alaskan Solitude. Make a few entries into your journal or perhaps step back in time and write a postcard, we’ll visit Tenekee Springs tomorrow and you can drop it in the local post office. For this town of 90 folks or so our visit will be a big event. For us, it’s another day in our 9 day cruise of a lifetime!
You’ll come home with a whole new view on cruising!
This article was written by Captain Jeff Behrens. Jeff and his wife operate a Small Ship cruise company-Fantasy Cruises. They offer 9 day Small Ship cruises in SE Alaska as well as pre and post season 2 week repositioning cruise in the spring and fall. Captain Jeff has been piloting small ships for 28 years now. He and his crew of 10 spoil up to 32 passengers on their small ship the MV Island Spirit. Jeff worked for corporate America after attending Villanova University in the late 70’s, then decided to run his own ship in 1988. He’s never looked back.