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Alaskan Adventures Await on an Expedition Cruise


Our writer opens up his journal pages to recount his experiences in Alaska on Lindblad Expeditions' National Geographic Quest.

Zodiac boat pulling in close beside glacial iceZodiac boat pulling in close beside glacial ice; Photo courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions

I arrived in Juneau today to board the National Geographic Quest with 89 other passengers for a weeklong expedition to Sitka through Alaska’s Inside Passage. Our ship is operated by Lindblad Expeditions, noted for its cruises to more than 40 remote destinations. It’s my first cruise with Lindblad, and I am already impressed with the ship’s design, the spaciousness of my cabin, and the knowledge and approachability of the ship’s crew and onboard team of lecturers, guides, photographers and cultural experts.

Tonight, we gathered for happy hour, followed by dinner in the dining room, where we’ll eat all our meals. It features big windows for looking out at the passing scenery. I had pasta Bolognese, one of four entrée options on the menu, which includes a vegetarian dish.

The Quest powered south through the night to Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness. When we awoke this morning, a heavy mist hid much of the towering rock cliffs on either side of us. We knew that Sawyer Glacier awaited a short distance ahead.

Before heading out, we indulged in a breakfast buffet loaded with options.

Under a gray, misty sky, we boarded the Zodiac boats to get a closer look at the glacier, weaving our way through small icebergs where harbor seals were resting with their newborn pups.

We rounded a bend for our first glimpse of Sawyer Glacier towering ahead. Our guide idled the Zodiac’s motor, and in the quiet, we just watched. Suddenly, we heard what sounded like cannon fire. Massive sheets of ice were cracking, explained our guide. A few moments later, Sawyer let go of an enormous piece of itself, the large chunk of ice producing its own thunder and mighty splash when it fell to the sea.

After dinner, I attended a lecture on iPhone photography in the forward lounge. Those tips will come in handy.

Tonight, the Quest will sail to Mitkof Island and the fishing village of Petersburg.

A Zodiac boat exploring Alaska’s Inside PassageA Zodiac boat from the National Geographic Quest heads out to explore Alaska’s Inside Passage; Photo courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions

Early in the morning, a group of us took the Zodiacs to nearby Kupreanof Island for a 3-mile hike along the Muskeg Loop trail. We are officially in bear country, and our guides, one up front and another at the rear, carried bear spray in the event of a close encounter.

Later, I found myself walking the peaceful streets of Petersburg before taking an afternoon Zodiac tour of the bay. We saw some of the kids and preteens from the Quest taking turns operating a remote submersible beneath the bay, shooting real-time video to a computer. I learned that their excursion was part of the ship’s National Geographic Explorer program for young cruisers.

Sailing north early that evening through Chatham Strait, the Quest came to a quiet halt. Nearby, we saw a humpback whale with her young calf playing joyfully in the shallows just offshore. Some passengers were wiping away tears at the sight; others roared with delight each time the calf breached.

The evening lecture delved into the geology, climate and human history of southeast Alaska. Then I came back to my stateroom to write about today’s adventures. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

When morning arrived, we found ourselves in Security Bay State Marine Park. I joined other passengers to begin the day with a forest hike along wild game trails created by the comings and goings of native wildlife. We were on alert for bears that never showed.

After the hike, I paddled across flat water in a kayak to explore on my own. In big schools, pink salmon the size of my finger danced across the water’s surface, many of them jumping to prepare their muscles for their future long migration from the sea to their freshwater origins of birth, where they will spawn and die.

I followed behind them softly.

Back in the forward lounge that evening, we listened to a lecture about how forests are constantly changing.

We sailed overnight through Icy Strait to Cross Sound, where the Pacific pours in and out of the only entrance to the northern reaches of southeast Alaska.

sea lions on top of a rockPod of Steller sea lions sunning themselves; Photo courtesy of state of Alaska/Brian Adams

Just after breakfast, the crew lowered the Zodiacs into the water so that we could tour the Inian Islands archipelago.

Humpbacks kept showing themselves, and we rode close enough to them to feel their power and grace but not so close that we would disturb their journey. In the Zodiacs, everything in the sea happens at eye level.

Making our way to vertical cliffs ahead, we found ourselves surrounded by a large group of Steller sea lions that began swimming and jumping all around us in what looked like a cross between a stunning water ballet and a drunken frat party.

We eventually left the sea lions behind and made our way deeper into the Inian Islands, where we encountered orange-beaked puffins and mother otters carrying their pups on their chests.

But we just couldn’t resist: We headed back to the crazy sea lion show.

calving glacierA calving glacier; Photo courtesy of state of Alaska/Brian Adams

Just after midnight, the Quest sailed for Glacier Bay National Park, home to Margerie Glacier.

When we awoke this morning, the wind was ripping across the bow, so most of us huddled in the forward lounge with binoculars, scanning the cliffs for signs of life. It didn’t take long for us to spot snow-white mountain goats high above us. We marveled at their ability to move across the vertical terrain.

Exiting Glacier Bay National Park, the Quest sailed south across Icy and Chatham straits to secluded Ushk Bay. Captain Paul Figuenick waited for a slack tide to get us safely through the Sergius Narrows.

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We spent the morning touring Ushk Bay in the Zodiacs. Not long into our tour, a Sitka black-tailed doe stepped out of the darkness of the woods, moving to the water’s edge to watch us closely.

Later that afternoon, we left the bay, sailing to Salisbury Sound just outside Sitka, our point of disembarkation.

Standing alone on the bow of the ship, I noticed movement in the water. Another otter, I figured—until the sea exploded. It was a humpback calf breaching again and again, sending up great plumes of water and thudding mightily as it landed, a sound that echoed off the mountain walls around us. Suddenly, I was surrounded by my fellow passengers taking in this magnificent show.

Tonight, we were treated to a slideshow of our week’s adventure, with images that had been submitted by the passengers.

During our week at sea, I had chatted with Don Vivrette, of Laguna Beach, California, who was on board with his granddaughters. As we neared the end of our voyage, one of our conversations stuck with me. He had described watching his youngest granddaughter, Avery, dipping her hands in the water and pulling out glacial ice while they rode in the Zodiac.

“She had this incredible expression on her face,” said the seven-time Lindblad cruiser. “That made the trip. We could have stopped there. That’s why you do this trip.”