On a day most of the world spent enthralled with the royal wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton, InnerSea Discoveries hosted a royal event of their own. On a small pier at Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle a crowd gathered. Nowhere near the size of the crowd in England waiting for a glimpse of the prince and his bride, but for a small-ship cruise line whose adventures in Alaska are geared to avoid crowds of any sort, this was a rather large gathering.
The Wilderness Discoverer sat tied to the dock, her sister ship the Wilderness Adventurer tied to her side. Behind her sat the Safari Explorer, and across from her bow the Safari Spirit, both of American Safari Cruises, the parent company of InnerSea Discoveries.
The afternoon began with tours of the Wilderness Discoverer and the Safari Spirit. Meanwhile the Safari Explorer admitted passengers on board, bound for Alaska as soon as the festivities ended. Work continues on the renovation of the Wilderness Adventurer, soon to make her debut. The Wilderness Discoverer also had passengers loading for her “maiden” voyage, a weekend cruise to the nearby San Juan Islands.
American Safari cruises provides a more luxurious place to stay while exploring
the wilds of Alaska, Hawaii, or Mexico, but InnerSea Discoveries is all about adventure. Large cruise ships travel port to port. These ships travel cove to cove, exploring all the wild places the big ships sail past. Guests touch, smell and sometimes even taste nature only seen in passing from major cruise lines.
I had the chance last September to experience the InnerSea Discoveries itinerary on a media cruise aboard the Safari Quest of American Safari Cruises. This was the adventure of a lifetime, one I would recommend to anyone who wants to see the real Alaska, away from cities, tourist shops, and crowded ports.
On that cruise, we watched whales swim freely in their natural habitat, hiked on Forest Service boardwalk trails, and in one place bushwhacked our own trails. Passengers kayaked in waters inhabited only by fish and seals. While the rest of us went hiking one day, my husband caught a 60 lb halibut while out in a kayak by himself.
Kevin, the expedition leader, took us on a skiff tour through a fjord full of ice bergs. Everyone got to touch and even taste one. Walking on Baird Glacier, our group discovered that up close glaciers are not so white and pure as they look from a distance. Trusty Alaskan tennis shoes make the best footwear for walking through the squishy jello-like mud on the glacial moraine.
Stikine River. At Yes Bay we went salmon fishing with Yes Bay Lodge, saw black bears at the Neets Bay Fish Hatchery, and took a float plane ride over the Misty Fjords. All these activities took place on the Eastern coves trip from Juneau to Ketchikan.
Before we left for that trip, we saw the Wilderness Discoverer in dry dock in Ballard, undergoing the beginnings of a complete renovation. InnerSea Discoveries has taken two vessels once destined for the scrap yard and given them a rebirth as comfortable vessels bound for adventure. Each ship had an underwater camera installed so passengers can watch fish swim under the boat on the flat screen TV in each guest room when the boat anchors up.
The rooms seem small at first glance, but on this sort of cruise the room is just a place to sleep. During the daytime, when not out hiking, kayaking or viewing the scenery from a skiff, guests will likely spend their time in the hot tub or watching the scenery go by. Not much time for sitting in a room, even though these rooms look much nicer than in their past life on these boats. Where once they had glorified camp cots, they now have real beds.
The newly renovated dining room had tables set up for a meal, and a buffet
counter just waiting for the addition of food. Self-serve espresso and coffee accompanied by hot chocolate and Tazo tea stood invitingly on a counter top under a rack of cups. The bartender at the well-stocked bar waited patiently to serve any guest desiring a drink. A large flat screen TV at the bow showed scenes of wild Alaska, with racks of books on either side and plenty of places to sit.
On the stern of the boat, they have a kayak launcher. Passengers get in the kayak on the back of the boat and it slides out on rollers into the water. Upon return to the ship, the kayak rolls right back up again. No need to climb in or out of the boat in the water.
Time came near for the christening. I staked out a spot on the bow of the Safari Spirit where I had an unobstructed view of the bow of the Wilderness Discoverer, and just one pole to either work around or include in any photos of the Wilderness Adventurer.
Captain Dan Blanchard, owner of American Safari and InnerSea Discoveries climbed up on a podium on the dock. He mentioned that the green color of the hulls symbolizes both the green practices of the company and the Forest Service boats of Alaska. After a bit of history on the company, and how they came back with a bang after once nearly going under, he turned the microphone over to business partner Tim Voss. He had his say and then Captain Dan introduced the captains and some crew for both vessels, as well as the ladies doing the honors of breaking champagne bottles for the christening.
First each lady, Naomi Sture on the Wilderness Discoverer and Ral West on the
Wilderness Adventurer, gave a little speech. Naomi, a long time at one point only office employee of American Safari, referred to herself as the godmother of that vessel, and asked for a divine hand to always keep it safe. Ral talked a bit about the history of how her and her husband acquired the two vessels when Glacier Bay Cruiseline went under and immediately thought of Captain Dan as the right person to lease them to.
Both christeners held up a green leaf (or at least a green cedar branch at any rate) which Dan said historically symbolized a safe return to dry land after a voyage. The captain of each ship is to keep that safe through this inaugural season, and throw it into the water of the Ballard Locks when they return to Seattle next fall. They broke the champagne bottles simultaneously, followed by loud horn blasts from all four ships.
Captain Dan called Captain Marce of the Wilderness Discoverer and Captain Jeff of the Wilderness Adventurer up to the podium with him. After hugs and handshakes, he officially handed power of control of each ship to its captain. For Marce this is somewhat of a homecoming, as she once captained the Wilderness Discoverer under Glacier Bay, and was the one to bring it in for its final docking under their ownership and hand over the keys.
Finally Captain Dan announced that the inaugural season has sold completely out. Plans of a one-ship with just over 40 passenger capacity expanded to two ships with 60-70 passenger capacity. It seems the time has come for this venture. Prospective guests may want to plan ahead and book for next summer now.
I wish them well in this project. While I haven’t sailed on these ships, I know their itinerary provides an excellent adventure. Its a wonderful and memorable vacation not available anywhere else that I am aware of.
Update 2014: InnerSea Discoveries has now combined with American Safari Cruises under the name Un-Cruise Adventures. They have added more ships as well as other destinations, with more new places to visit in the works for future voyages.