Thursday, August 18, 2011

Small Ship Alaska Cruises Are Getting Bigger

It wasn’t that long ago that the demise of Cruise West spelled less choice for cruise passengers who want to visit Alaska in a more intimate fashion. However, in less than a week this month, two small-ships cruise lines have announced new, bigger small-ship options for Alaska in 2012 and 2013.

American Safari Cruises
Last week American Safari Cruises announced it will more than double the capacity of its fleet of three yachts offering inclusive adventure cruises with the addition of an 86-guest small ship. The Safari Endeavour, formerly Cruise West’s Spirit of Endeavour, (pictured upper left) will undergo major renovation to transform it into an upscale vessel ready to sail in Southeast Alaska in summer 2012.

The yacht-style ship will sail weeklong cruise in Southeast Alaska from May to September. Roundtrip from Juneau, Alaska, the voyages will follow similar itineraries to those sailed by the yachts, with two days exploring Glacier Bay National Park and expedition cruising in Icy Strait, Frederick Sound, Thomas Bay, Chichagof Island, Ford’s Terror and Endicott Arm. Two-week cruises from Seattle to Juneau and reverse will be offered in spring and fall.

An extensive renovation project will add American Safari Cruises’ exceptional comfort and refined atmosphere to Safari Endeavour. The guest capacity of the yacht-style ship will be reduced 16% from 102 to 86 guests with a mix of twin (some convertible) and king beds. Five stateroom categories include three Master, 21 Commander, 12 Captain, three Admiral and four Commodore Suites. The suites will be created by merging two former staterooms and adding new step-out balconies. All staterooms have one or two outside view windows. Other amenities being added to the ship include two massage rooms, two hot tubs, sauna, exercise equipment, wine bar, and a library. Cuisine is innovative and fresh with seafood and produce purchased locally whenever possible. All meals will be served in the ship’s elegant dining room. An all-American crew of 34 will ensure attentive service with a guest-crew ratio of 2.5 to 1.

Even further on the horizon, American Safari Cruises is also acquiring the Safari Legacy, formerly the Spirit of ’98 (yep, another former-Cruise West vessel). Preliminary plans are for it to operate summers in Alaska’s Inside Passage beginning in 2013 and fall and spring on the Columbia/Snake Rivers.

InnerSea Discoveries
On the heels of a sold out inaugural season in Alaska, InnerSea Discoveries announced yesterday their acquisition of the 76-guest Wilderness Explorer, which also formerly sailed in the Cruise West fleet as the 86-guest Spirit of Discovery (pictured lower left). After significant renovations, the ship will sail active, adventure un-cruises between Juneau and Sitka, Alaska beginning summer 2012.

Itineraries will spend three days exploring Glacier Bay National Park, and move on to Icy Strait, Chichagof Island, and Peril Strait. In May and August, two-week cruises between Seattle and Juneau (and reverse) will be offered.

After the refurbishment, three cabin categories will consist of 21 Trailblazer, 13 Pathfinder, and 4 Explorer cabins. Bed configurations include twin or queen with many more made convertible during renovation. Cabins will feature flatscreen televisions with DVD players, iPod docking stations, and eco-friendly bath amenities. All cabins feature a large, view window.

During renovation, two hot tubs will be added, with one on the bow and one on the aft sun deck. A sauna and exercise equipment will also be added to the aft sun deck. The lounge bar will be expanded with the addition of 10 taps serving a selection of microbrews and cask wine. To ensure ample space for included adventure activities, a new swim step will be added to the ship’s main deck aft. The extra space will serve as a launch pad for excursions and host a state-of-the-art kayak launch platform able to quickly and safely launch five kayaks at a time.

Other shipboard amenities include complimentary on-deck yoga classes, a large resource library, well-stocked DVD library, and board games. A professional masseuse is part of the crew and massages are available for a fee. An underwater camera mounted on the ship’s bow will stream video from the underwater world to flatscreen televisions in all guest rooms and the lounge. Healthy and hearty meals feature fresh ingredients including locally caught Alaskan seafood. A 3-1 guest to crew ratio ensures attentive service.

Similarities and Differences
A National Park Ranger will board the ships of each line for the full duration of visits inside Glacier Bay to provide interpretation on the area’s history, culture, geography, flora and fauna. The park ranger, along with shipboard expedition guides, will also lead guests on hiking and kayaking expeditions within Glacier Bay.

With an emphasis on exhilarating explorations in Alaska’s wilderness, expert naturalists on all cruises lead hiking and kayaking tours of varying lengths and activity levels. Other adventure activities include stand-up paddle boarding, skiff explorations, and whale watching. Flexible itineraries and few set port times allow the ships to seek out wildlife and maximize viewing time.

Although the sister-companies each feature active, adventure cruises that allow passengers the freedom to engage in many activities, there are differences in their onboard product and fare structures. The more-inclusive American Safari cruise fares include all from-the-yacht activities and equipment, transfers, hand-crafted meals, fine wine, premium spirits, and microbrews, a massage, and all port charges, taxes, and fees. Tipping is discretionary, but a hefty 5% to 10% of the fare is suggested. Fares for the less-inclusive InnerSea Discoveries cruises still cover a lot, including transfers and all activities except optional excursions. Port charges, massages, spirits, and gratuities are extra.

Visit their websites at American Safari Cruises and InnerSea Discoveries for more information.

Photos Courtesty of American Safari Cruises and InnerSea Discoveries

1 comment:

Serge said...

It's no surprise that these cruise ships are getting bigger since these cruise vacations are increasingly becoming more affordable thus more people get to enjoy it more often these days.