Sailing on a small yacht certainly differs from a cruise on the large ships carrying thousands of passengers. The American Safari Cruises Safari Explorer carries a maximum of 40 passengers, all outside cabins.
My Alaska cruise started in Juneau with a tour of Mendenhall Glacier. We met at the Gold Belt Hotel, part of a native owned corporation. The hospitality room makes it possible to drop luggage and tour Juneau before the tour to the glacier. Equipped with a host and refreshments, this room was also available post-cruise and provided a more comfortable space to wait than the any airport could.
I dropped my luggage off early and explored downtown Juneau before returning in time for our included trek to the Mendenhall Glacier. Had I known that it was possible to see Russia from Juneau, I would have spent more time seeking out whatever vantage point it is that gives easy viewing of Russia.
We had perfect weather and visibility for visiting Mendenhall, which is just a short way out of town. Juneau has only 30,000 people and is entirely landlocked. I heard stories of people who thought that they would rent a car in Juneau and leave from there to explore the rest of Alaska. That’s only possible using the ferry to get you and your vehicle to a place that has roads that go somewhere.
Before reaching Mendenhall, we stopped at a view point where we photographed the distant expanse of ice. When we reached the site, I headed to the lake in front of the glaciers to take some photos. There is a longer path to get nearer the glacier, but we didn’t have the time to do that. After watching kayakers and simply enjoying the view, I walked to another area that supposedly offered the opportunity to see bears.
Now, I am terrified of bears, a result of a grizzly bear being shot in the campground where we stayed at Honeymoon Lake in Jasper National Park. Nevertheless, I try to conquer my fears and pretended that a sighting would be an ordinary occurrence and one that wouldn’t scare the bejeezies out of me.
On the first path I followed, there was a blocked area restricting visitors from proceeding beyond a point with a sign indicated that there was excessive bear activity in the area. I turned around and headed to another area where I watched the salmon in the stream thinking that a bear might stop by for a snack. Eventually, a small bear appeared and headed down the stream in the opposite direction.
I remained calm and thought that I would head back to the first area that I had visited. Amazingly, there was a crowd of people there observing a sow and her cubs. I caught a glimpse of them and took a few photos, thinking that if these bears should decide to come beyond the fence and into the area where the people were that I would have a better chance of escape than some of the others who were watching.
I remember being in Yellowstone and watching a man with a cane get way too close to a buffalo. How he would make an escape in case the buffalo charged baffled me. Nobody was stupid enough to venture too close to these bears, which eventually wandered off into the brush. It was time for us to head back to the trip anyway. I thought that perhaps this sighting was a good omen for the rest of the trip that would focus on wildlife viewing or at least I hoped that would be the case.
Back in Juneau, we went to the dock where the Explorer berthed. Our luggage had already been taken to the yacht from the hotel, so we had only to board the ship. The entire crew lined up and greeted us as we came down the ramp. My cabin was B8, a double cabin on the middle deck where most of the cabins were. A few larger cabins were on the lower and top decks.
As luck would have it, the CEO of American Safari Cruises was sailing with us. Watch later for an podcast featuring an interview with him.
My luggage wasn’t in my room, but one of the crew members shortly came by to see if I had my luggage and then retrieved it for me. The cabin has a storage closet at the end of the bed, a large drawer under the bed and a vanity with drawers next to the bed. I found plenty of space for all of my gear. As the focus of this cruise is adventure, it was not necessary to pack formal wear or high heels. Of course, a guest has the option of dressing up, but casual dress fits best with the experience.
As I unpacked, I realized that I had forgotten a jacket that I had forgotten that I owned. Stupid on my part, but I had brought plenty of layers to handle the weather. Besides, I much prefer cool weather to the heat and that has nothing to do with my age.
Most of the activities take place on the lower deck, which has the dining room, bar, lounge, library and two staterooms. This is also the sports deck where we will board the skiffs and kayaks. We all gathered in the lounge for an overview of what to expect. Most memorable for me was the chef’s warning that the portions would be small. That was definitely fine with me, but it turned out that small portions are relative as I quickly learned at the first meal.
The first evening quickly passed by with many of the passengers mingling after dinner. We anticipated better weather than Juneau had been experiencing. My late night thoughts were of wildlife, glaciers and lots of sun.
Next : The accommodations on the ASC Safari Explorer