The Ultimate Cruise Guide

Michael Thompson

Conde Nast Traveller – December 2019

The Seabourn Sojourn arrives in Ketchikan to the pitter-patter of rain. By the time my group of 20 has reached the Tongass National Forest (the largest rainforest in the United States_, ready to tackle a daredevil assault course of zip-lines, suspension bridges and platforms, it has turned into a skin-drenching downpour. No matter, it’s a thrilling way to spend a few hours and a great introduction to the boutique cruise line’s adventurous side. Yes, Seabourn is renowned for spot-on service and sensational food (The Grill by Thomas Keller is a highlight) but the Ventures by Seabourn programme is all about getting out there with back-to-nature activities. And it works brilliantly on this whirlwind trip through the Alaskan wilderness.

In the Mistry Fjords, I join a geologist-led group on a Zodiac ride to the remote far end (it’s too narrow for a ship_, past trees that cling impossibly to sheer cliff edges, cascading waterfalls and swooping birds such as the marbled murrelet and bald eagle, whose white golf-ball like heads can be glimpsed through the trees (a fellow passenger and keen wildlife photographer saw a 300-strong flock fly past the ship, and managed to capture it on camera). Brown bears live in this area, too, and can often be spied on the grassy beaches that jut out into the fjord. 

The next day, setting out from the town of Wrangell, there’s a short hike to the Rainbow Falls: from the head of the Rainbow Trail, a wooden boardwalk winds through the forest and across a creek. We pass native salmonberries and skunk cabbage with giant leaves (a favourite food for bears when they wake from hibernation to get their digestive system working again). Thick fog in the Endicott Arm Fjord and Dawes Glacier puts a halt to kayaking plans, so instead I head out on a Zodiac on what turns out to be the most exhilarating ride of all. As we’re slowly picking a path through the ice towards huge, drifting, startlingly blue icebergs, a chunk loudly splinters off and re-adjusts itself. On the way back, porpoises, harbor seals and a sperm whale are spotted in the water.

On another excursion I visit the Sitka National Historical Park, where a totem pole park dating back to 1906 symbolises the cultural heritage of the Tlingit and Haida natives, and meet the Chilkat people (part of the Tlingit tribe) at the clan house in Klukwan village. After some traditional songs with drumming and storytelling, they show us the smokehouse where hooligan fish are hung up to dry and explain how they are gearing for salmon season (all five types of salmon in Alaska spawn in the trio of rivers that meet near the village, at various times throughout the year). Then it’s back onboard for a glass of punch in the Jacuzzi, gazing out at rugged snow-capped mountains as the ship slowly sails away.