We normally are not big fans of taking cruises. But sometimes it is the best way to see an area. We did our last trip in 2011 to Alaska through a combination of flights and boat day tours. This time we wanted to spend more time on the water and not in the towns and cities. We broke our Covid shackles by taking a seven-day, six-night boat journey with Alaska Dream Cruise from Sitka to Juneau. No, it wasn’t one of the huge, multi-thousand-plus passenger ships that sail during the night and disgorges its masses into cities during the day. We choose a small, 50-passenger ship that gave us an opportunity to explore much smaller, more sheltered, more intimate sites than is possible on large passenger ships. It also permits activities such as kayaking that are not feasible on big ships.
And, other than its origin and destination points, the ship forgoes stops in the string of small, tourist-clogged, shopping streets of coastal cities on the main channels and allowed us to explore nature at sea level and on wilderness hikes, rather than from the deck of a large ship.
And, as always, we augmented the itinerary. We spend a day on our own at the beginning of the trip in Sitka. And we added a few days at the end to explore Juneau and Skagway. This is a summary of our itinerary and highlights. The links go to more in-depth blogs on what we saw and did.
Day 1: Fly from San Francisco to Sitka, spending the remainder of the day and night on our own exploring Sitka. Places to explore include Sitka’s Sheldon Jackson Museum, National Historic Park, Science Center, and raptor and bear refuges.
Day 2: More Sitka exploration and boarding our boat to begin our Alaskan voyage.
Day 5: Taku Harbor and exploring the remains of an old salmon cannery
Day 6 and 7: Two days in Glacier Bay. Most cruises can only spend one day in this beautiful place. We were fortunate to have 2 days viewing glaciers, scenery, and wildlife
Day 8: We disembarked our boat at 8 AM and spent the morning and afternoon in Juneau. We took a later afternoon plane to Skagway, a gold rush town, where we spent the night
Day 9: We spent the entire day in Skagway, flying back to Juneau at 5 PM. Skagway’s National Park Service exhibits and guides, especially at its Visitor Center, but also at its Soapy Smiths Parlor and Mascot Saloon facilities were highlights.
Day 10: Continued exploring Juneau including the Mendenhall Glacier before leaving Alaska to go back to the lower 48. In addition to the glacier, the highlights were Juneau’s State Museum, with an honorable mention for dining at Tracy’s King Crab Shack.
Tips for Visiting Alaska
Boat tours of Alaska are not cheap. Nor are taking planes between places to visit or to get off the beaten path (as we did in 2011). A large ship could be the most economical way to see a lot of the state. But there are tradeoffs as to what you see and what you can do. Research your options and choose what works best for you.
- Will you be happy with the room layout and size. We knew we would be on an older, small boat but we were more than a bit disappointed by the very few postage-stamp-size rooms that were still available when we made our reservations and by the tiny (roughly 10-square foot) “shoilets” (shower-toilet combinations) in our room. In hindsight, the pictures of the room, while accurate, did not do justice to the amount of maneuvering we had to do to stay out of each other’s way. And after seeing the rooms and hearing stories of the equally cramped quarters of the marginally larger queen rooms (most of which were offered as complimentary upgrades to people who held reservations on 2020s canceled cruises), we discovered that most others participants had similar issues.
- Will you have the opportunity to get off the boat and where? Our smaller boat offered the opportunity to kayak and to get off at small inlets and islands. Although this was supposedly for adventurers, we were still limited on off-boat opportunities and wish we had more time exploring on land.
- Where can the boat go? Smaller boats can get closer to glaciers and other locations. Larger boats may have to skip some of these sites.
- Will there be a naturalist on board who provides presentations on the geology, the wildlife, and the ecosystems of the areas you explore.
- Read reviews on the food and crew if available. Our crew was very capable and helpful. But the food, while passable, was not very good. Most of the dishes looked good on the menu, and for the most part, on the plate. But virtually every dish (and especially the protein) was overcooked. Requests for medium-rare protein, much less rare came to no avail. We were, however, pleasantly surprised by the size and range of the wine list that, while offering only basic wines, provided decent options and reasonable prices, including one of our regular, everyday wines.
- Do you need wifi access or not? Some boats have it and some do not. We were told that AT&T had better coverage in Alaska than Verizon (we had Verizon and only had mobile access in Juneau or when we found a wifi spot cruising by Juneau or at Glacier Bay).
- Getting to Alaska is not inexpensive. As long as you are there, try to add time to the beginning or end of your trip to explore other places.
- In the smaller towns, the hotel may arrange to pick you up from the airport or boat dock. It never hurts to ask.
Would We Take a Cruise Again?
Our cruise was something of a mixed bag. Given that we normally dislike and avoid cruises (except where necessary to explore areas that can’t be easily accessed or seen by land), it was not a typical cruise. We, along with the small engaged coterie of adventurous, nature-loving explorers were rewarded with up-close views of the majestic South Alaskan coastline of the steep, waterfall-embossed cliffs and fjords, forays into the rainforest wilderness, surface-level explorations of the turquoise glacier waters and waters by kayak and encounters with a wide range of wildlife.
Bottom line: the pluses outweighed the minus and this was a great way to see areas we wouldn’t have seen in other ways.
Links to Our 2011 Trip to Alaska