Alaska small ship cruises

The raison d’être of an Alaskan holiday is to get up close and personal to the wildlife and scenery. You want to be able to sail up a glacier valley, dock at a tiny Tlingit town and kayak amongst sea otters in undisturbed waters. All things that are rarely possible when you barge into town on a 2,500-passenger-strong liner. But there’s an alternative: small ship cruising.

Small ships = small groups

Most ships house 70-100 guests. They don’t get much smaller than that simply because of Alaska’s sometimes tempestuous nature; expedition ships need a bit of bulk to brace against icy waters and changeable weather. Fancy cosying up even closer to the sheer fjords and icebergs? Opt for an even smaller sailing trip around the sheltered islands of southeast Alaska. These aren’t expedition ships, but converted fishing boats that sleep up to 10 people. And the smaller the vessel, the smaller your bear watching and kayaking groups.
Don’t think that downgrading on size means stinting on style. Cabins lean towards the comfortable side of things. Larger ships have en suites, while smaller ships have shared bathrooms. If you’re travelling solo, you might need to share a bunk on the 10-person ships or pay a 50 percent-ish supplement. But you never know – you might also get lucky and score your own cabin on an underbooked boat.

Since space is something of a premium, swimming pools and theatres are swapped for natural history libraries, kayak and Zodiac boat storage, and a little lounge where you can get to know your shipmates. And the designer spa is often switched out for a glacier-view hot tub on deck. We know which we’d prefer. The difference is immediate. Instead of announcements over the loudspeakers, you’ll get to speak to wildlife experts face to face. And you won’t miss the on-ship shows when there are wildlife spectacles just off the starboard side.
Travel Team
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Responsible cruising in Alaska

Small size means small impact. It’s practically as simple as that. Many boats are in the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) Green Waters Programme – basically a stamp of approval that the cruise company has reduced fuel consumption, waste and water usage. It’s not a greenwash, either; this is an exacting organisation that checks everything from non-toxic cleaning fluids to seasonal food sourcing.
Small ship crews might use local fishermen to supply the salmon, crab or shrimp, and stock the bar with Alaskan microbrews and Pacific Northwest wines.
There are other ways small ship holidays are leaders in responsible cruising. Instead of using in-house guides as big cruise ships do, they rely on local bear photography experts or Alaska Native leaders to head up their excursions. Sourcing local ingredients for the menu is another way to share the benefit with local communities. Plus, many of the boats are locally owned and built in Alaskan shipyards. The skippers and guides have a deep understanding of their surroundings – and a boatload of anecdotes to go with it.
Photo credits: [Page banner: Diego Delso] [Intro: Un-Cruise Adventures] [Small ships = small groups: Un-Cruise Adventures] [Responsible cruising in Alaska: jchapiewsky]