Into the Wild: Cruising the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska

Allison Anderson - July 1, 2019

It was 9am and I was sitting in a Zodiac boat scanning the distance for movement, telephoto lens in hand. The Seabourn Sojourn was stopped in the Inian Islands that morning, and I was out on an excursion looking for wildlife with fellow passengers. Suddenly, I heard a splash and turned to see a sea lion just a few feet off of the bow tossing up a fish - it was breakfast time. At once we were surrounded by them, each out for their morning catch, but as my eyes flickered to the sky I realized they weren’t the only ones: half a dozen bald eagles were circling for a chance to snag a scrap. The eagles began swooping and diving as the sea lions continued tossing up fish, and sitting there in the center of it all, I felt like I had stepped into an issue of National Geographic. I knew Alaska was going to be great, but I never anticipated that it would be magical.

Southeast Alaska has been a bucket-list destination of mine for a while now, but each time I’ve sat down to plan a trip, I’ve had difficulty building an itinerary that easily navigates from city to city. Many towns in the southeast region are only accessible by air or sea, and the space between them is wilderness. Trying to plan a sequence of little flights and long ferry rides to get around is daunting (especially when traveling solo) - I eventually threw up my hands and put Alaska on the back burner. So when Seabourn kindly offered to host me on their 11-Day Sojourn cruise from Vancouver to Seward, I leapt at the opportunity. I no longer needed to find a way to navigate through southeast Alaska - I had a captain and ship to do it for me!

I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first cruise. I worried that eleven days on a ship could start to bore me, but thanks to excursions my experience was action-packed. Seabourn offers a wide selection of activities you can sign up for, including seaplane rides, helicopter tours, fishing, whale-watching, kayaking, and Zodiac explorations.

The most immersive experiences for me were Zodiac boat excursions with the Seabourn Ventures team. The boats allow you to get deeper into the wilderness of Alaska and see an up-close look at wildlife and more. I did a tour in three different locations, and each experience was unique in its own way.

My first Zodiac tour was in Misty Fjords - a place I hadn’t heard of prior to this trip. John Muir called Misty Fjords National Monument “the Yosemite of Alaska,” and it is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen on this planet. I spent a quiet morning out on the boat surrounded by misty hills, waterfalls, bald eagles perched in the trees, and seals peeking out of the water. We even spotted a mink!

I got back in the Zodiac on Endicott Arm to see Dawes Glacier. Seals and their pups surrounded us as we navigated chunks of ice on our way up, and when we arrived to see the blue ice of Dawes, a rainbow appeared out of nowhere. It was magical.

My final Zodiac tour was in Inian Islands, and I couldn’t believe how much wildlife we saw: puffins, otters, harbor seals, sea lions, eagles, and more. There was so much wildlife that at times, we were entirely surrounded (see paragraph one!).

I did a variety of other excursions as well. In Ketchikan, I learned how to catch my first-ever fish and had a bonfire cookout on the beach. In Juneau, I took a helicopter up to Mendenhall Glacier where I got to meet real sled dogs and see them in action. In Icy Strait Point, I learned about Tlingit culture in a helicopter ride out to a remote beach where a crackling fire awaited.

One of my most memorable excursions of the trip was a visit to the Kroschel Wildlife Center in Haines. The center is a place for orphaned animals that are indigenous to Alaska, including a bear, wolf, moose, and more. Each animal comes to the center in a different way - one of the newest additions was a two-week old moose, Laura, whose mother was killed by a grizzly. Alaska Fish & Game called the center to coordinate a place for her, which will be her forever home because she was orphaned too young to ever learn the skills needed for the wild. (P.S. It is definitely worth heading over to my Instagram to see more of Laura in my Alaska highlight.)

Something I loved about cruising was how “efficient” it was - you’re able to see more towns in a shorter amount of time because you're traveling between them while you sleep. So instead of having to factor in travel days to get from one place to the other, I woke up to somewhere new every morning. My favorite town to visit was Sitka - the harbor is beautiful and it’s full of little shops and restaurants. I also visited the Alaska Raptor Center there that rehabilitates birds who have been injured in the wild.

As for onboard life, the Sojourn was luxurious, to say the least. Between the variety of pools and hot tubs, spa, gym, casino, putting green, and even a theater with ongoing presentations, there were plenty of things to get up to. I loved watching the 11pm sunsets (Alaskan summers baby!) and looking for wildlife up on the Observation Deck. I also spent my fair share of time in Seabourn Square, the cafe and lounge that offers bite-sized treats and espresso all day long (and it’s all-inclusive… so I definitely went back for seconds). The Sojourn capacity is 450 guests (most cruises are in the thousands), so the atmosphere was pretty relaxed and I loved how the crew always remembered me - by day three, the barista at Seabourn Square knew my regular drink order by heart!

As a solo traveler on this cruise, I felt really welcome. I quickly realized that cruisers are super friendly and eager to meet new people, and by my last day I couldn’t walk down the hall without chatting with someone I knew. I also received an invitation to dinner with a member of the crew every night I was there, so I never had to dine alone (and it wasn’t just me - all solo travelers received an invite). The crew on the Sojourn was absolutely fantastic - everyone was so friendly and strived to make my experience as wonderful as possible. I was genuinely sad to say goodbye to them at the end of my voyage.

But what about the food? For my first cruise, I was concerned that dining on the ship would get repetitive and old - who wants to eat at the same restaurant for nearly two weeks? I was surprised at how much variety there was - menus rotated daily and I don’t think I ate the same dish twice. The Sojourn features four restaurants, ranging from casual, poolside dining to the upscale elegance of The Grill by Thomas Keller. And on the evenings that I wanted to just relax on the balcony of my suite bundled up in my robe, I ordered room service and stayed in.

After arriving in Seward on the last day of the cruise, I transferred to Anchorage to spend a couple of days exploring Alaska’s largest city. I rented a car and drove out to Beluga Point for sunset - a must-do if you visit in the summertime!

I knew that Alaska was going to be a big experience, but nothing could have prepared me for just how spectacular it was. If you get the opportunity, GO. It will exceed your expectations, and if you want somebody else to take care of the itinerary for you, a cruise is definitely the way to do it. Thank you to Seabourn for hosting me on the experience of a lifetime!

For more photos and videos: https://allisonanderson.com/blog/cruising-the-inside-passage-of-southeast-alaska