When visiting Alaska, a small cruise ship can make all the difference.
Imagine waking up to glaciers calving thunderously outside your window. Over lunch, you spot clusters of otters floating playfully on their backs, whales breaching, and seals sunning on icebergs. Your schedule is totally planned for you, and you explore a new town each day. This is the kind of Alaska experience that’s only possible by cruise. And while there are many lines that sail to Alaska—both large and small—we’re believers that the most intimate, active, and enriching experience can only be achieved by small cruise ship. Here are the biggest bonuses we got from setting sail with Alaskan Dream Cruises, a family-owned small ship company that operates cruises right from their backyard in Sitka.
You'll go to small ports big ships can't reach
More than a million passengers per year shuffle through Juneau, and hundreds of thousands through Ketchikan and Skagway, all popular ports that top most big cruise line itineraries. On a small line like Alaskan Dream Cruises, you could dock in a 500-person town called Kake (pronounced “cake”), where you’ll watch native Alaskans perform a traditional dance and carve totem poles as they recount the stories they tell.
The onboard lifestyle is convivial
When you’re not one of 2,000+ passengers, it’s a little easier to get to know people. There are only 76 passengers on board Alaskan Dream Cruises’ Chichagof Dream, which the captain affectionately called, “one big dysfunctional family.” Don’t be surprised when the crew gets to know you by name, the bartender remembers your drink order, and you bump shoulders with your tablemate while on deck gazing at the Northern Lights.
There’s no nickel-and-diming
Board a big ship and you’ll incur extra charges on everything from excursions to special dining menus to alcohol. On many small lines, including Alaskan Dream, excursions, meals, and hotel and airport transfers are all included, as well as a complimentary glass of wine or beer at dinner.
There's no waiting in line
Wraparound lines are inevitable with thousands of passengers, especially at mealtimes and for onboard activities. With a small line, there’s a spot for everyone to dine at the same time, and enough kayaks for an orderly departure.
Active exploration is a priority
If you want to take a bus tour every day, by all means book a big ship cruise. Or book a small one for the opportunity to take lengthier and, if you like, more challenging hikes, walks, and kayaking excursions. Our small ship offered three departures a day, for all speeds and ability levels, led by naturalists who described the flora and fauna in depth.
You can join “The Five Percent Club”
Only five percent of visitors to Alaska’s most popular port of call, Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, set foot on land—the rest view the glaciers from the ship. Small ships can offer the chance to do just that, and believe us, setting foot on the rocky surface just by a glacier can be otherworldly. Alaskan Dream Cruises offer itineraries that dock there overnight, so you get two full days.
You can jump into icy water in front of a glacier
Allowing passengers to jump off the side of the ship is something big ships frown upon. But on Chichagof Dream a few brave souls can take the plunge of a lifetime to gain the line’s coveted “Killer Whale Club” certificate documenting their bravery (or craziness, depending on your outlook). And yes, those glacier waters are freezing, but our ship’s heated Salt Room—like a sauna, but less steamy hot—was a godsend for warming up.
You can feel the difference in a family-owned business
Supporting a family-owned business rather than a corporation can just feel good. Alaskan Dream Cruises’ founders, the Allen family, are deeply involved in their company, so their trips don’t feel like a canned experience. You’ll feel it when you read the story of how they built the company from the ground up via a biography in the stateroom, and when you set sail right from their property’s backyard in Sitka. Ships also stop at the Allen’s Orca Point Lodge, a beautiful property surrounded by wilderness, where you’ll be the only cruisers to feast on all-you-can-eat King crab legs and roast marshmallows over a fire.
Cultural enrichment connects you to the land
There are no race cars, Broadway-style shows, or casinos here. You’re more likely to learn about whales from an onboard naturalist or be moved to tears by a native Alaskan speaking passionately about carrying on their dwindling Tlingit language—the chance to learn about Alaska, from Alaskans, and to feel a part of the fabric of the land.