As told to Teresa Anthofer.
Even if you’ve “been there, and done that,” an expedition cruise offers a unique opportunity to engage with areas of the world that remain largely untouched.
I recently sailed with Lindblad Expeditions on the National Geographic Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness itinerary from Sitka to Juneau aboard the ship Venture. Through a partnership with National Geographic, Lindblad enables travelers to discover the beauty of nature while enriching the experience through the knowledge of seasoned professionals.
The experts on staff included a geologist, marine biologist, ornithologist, cetologist and others. A National Geographic photographer was available to answer camera questions and give tips on capturing magazine-worthy photos. Naturalists made themselves accessible throughout the day to answer questions and presented lectures in the evening.
Instead of sailing from port to port on a predetermined schedule, expedition cruises have the flexibility to stop in places that have been unchanged by docks or ports. The ship’s landing platforms are designed for easy access and fast departures on Zodiac boats. When the opportunity for a wildlife encounter arises, the itinerary changes. Our captain noticed a giant school of herring, so he stopped the ship to let us marvel at the humpback whales that came from every direction to feast. The captain even admitted it was a most amazing sighting!
Expedition cruising is an excellent way to get close to animals and glaciers. We hiked on uninhabited islands and took Zodiac rides to see seals floating on ice, a grizzly bear feeding her two cubs and sea lions playing on the rocks.
The only port we stopped in was Petersburg, where we participated in a dock walk with one of the naturalists (a diver and Alaska native) to see commercial fishermen bringing in the day’s catch.
The National Geographic Venture, which debuted just last year, is a 100-passenger ship with an upscale casual atmosphere. Navigating the ship is easy, as the dining room and lounge are on the same deck and can each accommodate everyone onboard at the same time. The cabins are small but functional with convenient USB outlets for charging electronics. There are also several cabins with internal doorways so groups or families can combine rooms. The rooms don’t have televisions or wet bars, but they would meet anyone’s needs.
All ages of travelers were on this voyage, including families and grandparents with grandkids. The kids program offered scavenger hunts, kids-only Zodiac trips, workbooks and other activities.
After the cruise, my husband and I spent time in Juneau fishing for salmon. Bon Voyage Travel advisors can arrange a fishing charter or other add-on activities for you.
For an expedition cruise, be sure to bring all the suggested clothing, boots and gear so you can have a safe and enjoyable experience. We rented boots and waterproof pants in advance for wet landings and hikes. This is a great option to save money and suitcase space. Plan for chilly, wet weather. This isn’t the type of cruise where you see passengers in dressy clothing!
Expedition cruising may not be for everyone, but if you’ve got an adventurous side, it’s an incredible vacation.