Wilderness Explorer Cruise Review
Itinerary: Northern Passages & Glacier Bay Plus Denali - June 2012
We had Cabin 303, Trailblazer with twin beds.
Cruise - I can't say enough about this week! It was the best adventure we have had in years. Luckily, there were only 33 passengers so our group was small enough to get to know everyone. We kayaked, hiked, and explored on the skiff 2-3 times a day, even snorkeled. We saw SO MANY whales that even the crew was mesmerized. The very first night we saw a pod of orca. Another evening, it was as if the humpbacks put on a 2 hour show for us - cooperative feeding (eschelon and bubble net) and broaching 4-5 times in a row. All passengers and crew were on the deck watching and applauding! the sea otters were there too, taking advantage of the fish left over from the humpbacks and laying on their backs eating with their front paws. At the same time there was a group of 10-12 puffins feeding.
In addition to the wildlife, (we saw mamma grizz and cubs, sea lions by the hundreds and an octopus while snorkeling), the crew of the Wilderness Explorer was extremely knowledgeable and friendly. Our hikes were very educational due to the expertise of our naturalist group leaders. We explored marshes and tidal basins and bush-wacked our way through alder forests, while shouting "Hey, Bear" to ward off any predators. The glaciers were gorgeous and we rode a skiff over to walk up and touch one (another group hiked up the mt to walk on it). We kayaked through glacier waters where we pushed mini icebergs out of the way. The weather was rainy and misty most days, sunshine maybe twice during the cruise, but it didn't matter to us. The animals were still amazing to watch and photograph. We just wore our boots and rain gear and kept on going.
Recommendations we would make for future Wilderness Explorers: take warm clothing that you can layer (if needed) as well as extra socks and waterproof hats and jackets. It's NOT necessary to take your own water/gum boots. They were supplied at Kantishna as well as on the ship, but do take a pair of inserts that make the boots more comfortable. Storage on the ship is limited so try to take only what you need - no dress clothes are needed on the ship. The passengers ranged in age from 14 to 86. Knowing that it is an adventure cruise - not a luxury cruise, any age is welcome and would be catered to. An extra day on either end of the trip is nice.
Hope I didn't bore you with these details, got carried away with my description. You are welcome to use any portion of my letter in your promotions. Wish we were able to take this kind of trip more often. We'll have to see what happens in the future.
Denali Land Tour - We were awed by the cruise, but a little disappointed by the land portion. Fairbanks was nice - great accommodations, glad we stayed an extra day - interesting museum, rented a car to drive around, saw some of the area - not much else there. Dome train nice, but only for a 3-4 hour ride. The bus ride to Kantishna through the wild animal preserve was interesting - driver very good at spotting wildlife despite the fact that it was pouring the entire trip and next day. -- No controlling the weather but it was disappointing and I understand, not unusual. Clouded in most of the time.
We liked Kantishna Lodge, cabin and people very much, wonder if it is ever nice weather there. At the suggestion of another guest, we took Kantishna Air out of Kantishna to Denali train in order to see the mountains. It was well worth the cost. We had an awesome view up over the clouds of Mt McK. and Alaskan Range. Tell your customers about this option - the Kantishna Air guy comes around every evening to offer air trips. The 7&1/2 hour train ride from Denali to Anchorage was terribly boring and we were seated with a tour whose guide talked the entire time. (I guess that some people like that.) It would have nice to take Kantishna Air direct to Anchorage (the pilot recommended that). We spent about 12 hrs in the hotel overnight in Anchorage before leaving for Juneau.
I understand why you recommend Goldbelt Hotel for the guests because they have good accommodations for the cruise line passengers. However, we were glad that we stayed at the Best Western Grandma's Feather Bed. They offer free transportation to town and to/from airport. Nice people and interesting rooms. The restaurant was just OK, and they were very short staffed. Again we rented a car for the 24+ hours we were there, so we could go up to the glacier and travel around the area. We liked Juneau a lot despite the pouring rain again (but on the return trip the sun was shining).
—Gale & Tom Whitworth