Safari Quest Cruise Review
Itinerary: The Famed Inside Passage - May 2011
The Mystery Birthday Trip is over, but what a fabulous journey getting there!
Back in February 2011, Jacques began thinking of a way to celebrate my 70th birthday, something other than a party which he didn’t feel he would have the energy to organize since he was soon to have his second knee surgery.
He contacted my cousin-in-law…”cowboy” Bob to learn about his family cruise to Alaska and received very positive comments like “Alaska is as beautiful as any place I have seen. The family was wild about the cruise”. Encouraged by this report Jacques proceeded to the internet and found small boat cruises with a maximum of 22 passengers, and with plenty of adventure in the cruise itinerary. That was it!
Sometime in April I received, through the mail, a MEMO from Jacques with the heading “Event Planner for Carolyn’s 70th Happening”. The memo went on to say…”What follows is what you need to know at this time to enable you to prepare for our departure early Thursday morning the 26th of May.” The rest of the memo described the weather we would encounter on this mystery trip and a list of clothing I needed to pack. Among many things the list included hiking boots, fleece and a swimsuit. Hmmmm. My frequent questions were answered with “you will know the answer when the time is right”.
On May 26th we arose at 4:30 a.m. and boarded the Sky Ride bus at 5:05 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m departure on some flight to somewhere. Oh I was having so much fun with this surprise. How often as an adult do we get a real surprise? There is always some clue that the surprisee picks up on so that the effect of being totally surprised is diminished. As you know Jacques decided to keep this a total secret! NO one, not even God knew. :>)
First clue came from the information on my boarding pass. We are flying Frontier to Seattle, WA. Hmmmm Patrick and Jenny no longer live there, what’s with this as a destination? Upon arriving at SEA-TAC airport we immediately picked up our bags and shuttled to another concourse for a flight -let me check my next boarding pass. Oh my gosh it says Alaska! Be still my heart. We visited Alaska three or four years ago and we get to go again?
Sure enough, as we near Juneau, I see out the window the narrow green valley that is our approach to the Juneau airport. Breathtaking! Our hotel shuttle arrives and takes us 15 minutes down the road to downtown Juneau and the Gold Belt hotel. Jacques has arranged for a top floor room overlooking the harbor, he left no detail to chance! I’m awestruck. We unpack then stroll to the shopping and restaurant district two blocks away. Our first order of business is to seek out the perfect restaurant for supper, only a few hours from now. After working up an appetite on our continued stroll we headed back to the cruise ship dock for a seafood supper at the Twisted Fish, twisted because the Chefs put a new twist into how seafood is typically prepared. We approved. Yum.
May 27th we started the day with breakfast at the Sandpiper Café two blocks the other direction from the hotel. I ordered one of their breakfast favorites, sourdough ricotta pancakes, Jacques ordered Mandarin-orange French toast. Their coffee passed muster, that’s important don’t you know.
Curious as to where we were going with this day I asked that question and Jacques continued his mantra “you will learn the answer when the time is right”. Okey dokey. We had the day to fill so we spent two hours exploring the Alaska State Museum which provided a beautiful overview of many of the native Alsaka people complete with what materials they used to make their weather proof clothing, how they built their boats and kayaks, what food they ate, how they acquired it and on and on. Excellent museum. From there we visited the Juneau-Douglas museum which was all about the settling of Juneau, then we climbed the hill to the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox church the only church of its kind in the world. Jacques gave his all to this day of walking and standing. He’s my hero! We selected the Red Dog Saloon for lunch. Lots of atmosphere including sawdust on the floor, a live ragtime piano player and memorabilia hanging from the walls and rafters. A glass of Alaskan Summer Ale accompanied each of our meals.
Important bulletin: after lunch I was told we were going on a dinner cruise this evening so we could chill until 5:15 at which time we would present ourselves for dinner.
We had hoped for an afternoon coffee and homemade pastry at a local bakery but discovered at 4:00 that it closed at 3 p.m. Instead of coffee and since we had some time to kill and since we were checked out of the hotel (I was curious about what that meant) we went to the Juneau Visitor Center and laid on the lawn in the warm sun and rested.
Finally I was informed by my personal guide that it was time to mosey over to the dock across the street from the Gold Belt hotel. It was 5:15 p.m. We walked down the long covered approach to the dock where a large, beautiful Yacht was tied. On the way down Jacques asked me to have my camera ready to video tape what was about to happen. Video tape what I asked. Jacques’ answer was mysteriously vague.
We were met by a young fellow who said he was the Skipper of the Yacht, the Safari Quest, how could he help us. Jacques announced we had arrived for our dinner cruise. There was a pause. “Sir, I think you have the wrong boat”. “Oh no, said Jacques. I have tickets that tell me this is the boat”. I’m shooting the video all the while. “Sir, we do not offer dinner cruises, only 7 day cruises”. The camera is still rolling. At that moment, also walking down the ramp, comes a group of people who look like they are also expecting to board this boat. More boat staff arrive on the scene and these people are now checking in. Dutifully I continue to film the activity changing my position to be able to capture what is being said. All passengers were now on board and the Skipper asked us if we are the Adam’s because we are the only passengers missing from the 7 day cruise roster. I stop recording, turn to Jacques and ask “we’re going on this cruise”? I burst into tears!
We are escorted by the Skipper to our room on this beeeeautiful Yacht and now the real adventure begins. I learn that this is an adventure cruise with the focus on exploring everything that is wild in Alaska. I’m stunned and excited at once.
The Safari Quest is a 120 foot Yacht that sleeps 22 guests, cruises at 10 knots and has a crew of nine. Our days unfolded like this: coffee and first breakfast of cold cereal, fresh fruit, homemade muffin and juice were available in the Salon by 5:30 a.m., Full breakfast at 8:00 a.m.. Lunch typically began at noon which followed a mid morning snack of homemade cookies. Appetizers began at 5:30 always with an open bar and supper followed at 7:00 p.m. served with the appropriate white and red wine. The kitchen staff were a five star chef and his assistant pastry chef.
There was one morning when first breakfast was served at 5:30 a.m. with a 10:00 brunch to accommodate a 6:00 a.m. choice of activity , a hike up Gloomy Knob, a kayak paddle along the shore or a skiff ride for bear and mountain goat viewing.
The weather was both moody and beautiful. Two of the seven days were sunny, most of the days were either totally foggy or cloudy with sun-breaks. I loved the cloudy/foggy weather. Snowcapped mountain peaks and glaciers would appear then disappear. The scenery was framed by holes in the cloud. The temperature was brisk. When standing on one of the three decks, with the boat moving at 8 to 10 knots, the wind required the observer to wear protective gear from long underwear and fleece to total wind coverage and gloves. Exhilarating!
Our journey took us south out of Juneau cruising slowly for miles through a rugged ice-covered mountain range into Endicott Arm. At the end of the fjord is Dawes Glacier which actively calves icebergs into the fjord. This morning because the seas and the wind were calm we paddled our two person kayaks through the ice filled frigid water to the base (a safe distance away) to watch the breakdown of the glacier. Our cameras were poised for more than an hour to capture the action. Our concentration was interrupted when one of the skiffs pulled up to each kayak and staff offered us a thermal mug of hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps. Our frozen fingers were barely able to grasp the mug. What a delightful surprise.
As we continued our journey around Admiralty Island we had many kayak opportunities along the way to Glacier Bay National Park. We paddled to a beautiful cave like grotto, we explored the shoreline of our overnight coves looking for bear and delighting in the numerous bald eagles perched in the Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock and Yellow Cedar. A skiff was always available for non-kayakers. Our final kayak excursion took us to the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers at the far end of Glacier Bay. The bay was filled with all sizes of ice chunks which required skillful avoidance. Margerie glacier was actively calving huge bergs of ice which caused enormous waves to fan out to our kayaks. Facing the oncoming wave protected us from capsizing. The beauty of the glaciers, fjords, coves, forests and mountain peaks is beyond words. Even our hard won photos fall short of displaying Alaska’s wild beauty.
Hopes and expectations were fulfilled by the abundant wildlife we saw. Because of the nature of our cruise we were never in a hurry to reach the next destination. Our crew and guests had binoculars glued to their faces most of every day. If someone spotted a bear on the beach the Yacht was halted, the skiffs loaded with guests and we quietly motored closer to shore for a better view. The mountain goats made viewing almost a virtual experience as they were always in the highest reaches of the cliff walls around us. They looked like left over snow from the past winter. Our crew knew the migration routes of the humpback whale and positioned us for the greatest viewing opportunities. We slowly motored or just sat in the water for hours watching the breaching and feeding activities of the whales. Everyday was about discovering more of Alaska’s wild features. We visited a remote fish hatchery and learned about the production, reintroduction and the life cycle of the Coho salmon in the area. A Glacier Bay National Park ranger spent two days on board schooling us on the life of glaciers, moose, bear, goats, otters and other sea animals as well as the myriad of birds, including puffins, who call Alaska home.
We hiked to natural hot springs on Baranof Island and were served a glass of Champagne while soaking in the soothing waters. :>) Two other hikes took us into the moss covered forests primeval, along streams that were favorite fishing areas for the bear. We did see fresh bear tracks and three piles of fresh scat. We were extremely vigilant on these hikes.
Places called Wood Spit, Takatz Bay, Kelp Bay, Basket Bay, Chichagof Island, Sisters Island, Sitkoh Bay, Point Adolphus, Icy Strait, South Marble Island, Bartlett Cove gave us clues as to what and who have influenced the humanization of Alaska. Certainly the indigenous people and their language, explorers, settlers, scientists, and geological features have made their contribution to the naming of glaciers, rivers, mountains, bays, islands and cities .
Following two days exploring Glacier Bay, our Yacht the “Safari Quest” completed its loop around Admiralty island returning its precious cargo – 19 eager explorers - back to Juneau.
Oh yes, somewhere in every 24 hour day we slept. Usually between 10:00 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. With only 3 hours of actual dark then the sky became bright again, our eyes opened.
I told my sweet Jacques every day how much I appreciated all that he did to create this most amazing 70th birthday gift. Both his effort on my behalf and the adventure are the sweetest gifts I have ever received.
Thank you my sweet man.
One more thing I would like to add and that is that every aspect of ASC's "production" was top drawer. Linda's recommendation at Sunstone Tours & Cruises for the Goldbelt Hotel was perfect; I could observe the arrivals of the three ASC yachts. On the Friday afternoon of our return Carolyn and I watched the travelers who followed us board Safari Quest and as the ship turned and slid out of the harbor we both had tears in our eyes. We could anticipate the week's adventure all over again.