Alaska cruise Vancouver to Sitka
May 27 - June 7 2022
American Queen Voyages - Ocean Victory
American Queen Voyages includes a pre-cruise hotel night at the starting city with all of their cruises. I think this is wonderful since I always recommend getting in at least a day prior to the cruise. Besides relieving some travel stress having the day before gives you time to explore the city where your trip starts. Our cruise started in Vancouver however when looking at flights I found much better options for flying into Seattle. I had always wanted to take the train from Seattle to Vancouver so I thought this was perfect. However I was disappointed when arriving at the train station to find that due to staffing shortages the train wasn't running so they were taking us by bus. Let me just say it was a not pleasant surprise. The bus took twice as long and requires everyone to get off the bus and get their bags to go over the border. I do not recommend the bus.
We made our way to the pre cruise hotel which was the Hyatt Regency Vancouver. It was a great hotel conveniently located not too far from the port with plenty of things in walking distance. Transfers to the ship were included but they were in the afternoon so we had the morning to explore. I realized the nice part about the later transfer was the port was pretty empty even though there were quite a few big ships also leaving the same day. We boarded our ship and explored a bit before it was time for the safety drill and and sail away.
Day 1 and 2 - Inside Passage and scenic cruising
Our first 2 days were sea days where we learned what was to come on our cruise. We got to see the mud room and request boots and raingear if needed. We also learned about the zodiacs and what wildlife we might see along the way. There was a leader from the Tlingit tribe onboard that gave a few talks about life in Alaska.
Day 3 - Ketchikan, AK
We made our fist stop which was Ketchikan. I have been there a couple times on bigger ships and was a little disappointed that our small ship that can go places the big ones can't was stopping here. We were also docked at the port that is a bit of a ways out of town so we had to rely on shuttles to get into town and back to the ship. There were a few big ships docked right in town so it was a bit crowded, but not as crowded as I have seen in before covid. The cruise did include an excursion which was a city highlights tour but since I have been there before I chose to skip that. There were also some premium excursions available for book for a fee but none of those appealed to me. It was just nice to wander around town, grab some lunch, and do some shopping.
Day 4 - Misty Fjords
This is what I have been waiting for - an expedition day! We started out with a zodiac ride and got really lucky to have an Orca go past us rather close to our boat. After lunch it was time to kayak! They were keeping us travel agents together so our kayaking group was a big larger than the other groups so it took quite a bit of time to get everyone out on the water but it was a nice paddle. Misty Fjords is almost 2.2 million acres of National Monument Wilderness so it is a wonderful protected area for spotting wildlife. I had been to Misty Fjords on my first Alaska cruise but it was via floatplane from Ketchikan so it was nice to go back and spend time on the water.
Day 5 - Wrangell Island, AK
We are on land again but this time in a cute small town that the big ships cannot stop at. It is the 3rd oldest town in Alaska. There was an included heritage tour along with some premium excursions for purchase. We opted to explore town on our own. We found a little pizza shop for lunch that has the most delicious crust I think I have had. Everyone in town was super friendly and genuinely seemed happy to have us. One local even said that the residents of Wrangell are the friendliest of all Alaska. There was a Petroglyph Beach that was an easy walking distance so we headed there to check out some of the carved rocks.
Day 6 - Bay of Pillars
Another expedition day. We started with kayak in the morning and this time they split our group up so the more experienced paddlers got to do a bit more. We came across a bunch of otters and I loved watching them watching us. After lunch we did a zodiac ride but didn't really see much of anything new. It was still fun just to be out on the water. Alaska's cruise season is rather short from May - September but there are big differences in what you will see based on when you visit. In May and early June you will see a lot of snow topped mountains and floating ice but you also have a lot of melting snow creating lots of amazing waterfalls. We got to see a lot of them on this cruise some of which looked like they started miles above of us as we looked up from the zodiacs. Mid June - July is salmon running season so that the time go if you want to see them and the bears grabbing them out of the water. June and July also tend to be the rainiest and most crowded though. August tends to offer nice weather and usually clearer skies so if you are looking for those photos filled with flowers and mountain tops instead of clouds August can be better. You can spot wildlife anytime you visit though.
Day 7 - Petersburg, AK
On land again, and our first really rainy day (we got really lucky with the weather since SE Alaska is part of a temperate rainforest you usually have rain every day). This is another town the big ships cannot get to so it was nice to enjoy the small town vibe again. This town was founded back in 1910 by a Norwegian and it turned out a lot of people from Norway ended up joining him here so you almost felt like you were in Norway when walking around. I have always thought Alaska and Norway were very similar. There was the usual included excursion and a couple premium options. One of the premium was a sport fishing experience. I did not try it but it did sound like a fun an adventure. The Sons of Norway Hall is where you can experience a bit of the culture from Alaska's Little Norway. Here we were treated to a private dance from the local kids and tried a few local pastries. It was a cute experience.
Shortly after leaving Petersburg our expedition leader, Jess, announced that there were some Orca off the front of the ship. What I love about expedition cruises is the Captain can decide to stop or change course if we spot some wildlife. While keeping a safe distance away our ship pretty much sopped and allowed us to watch these playful Orcas for over an hour! It really was the highlight of the trip for me. We later found out it was 3 pods of resident Orcas that were pretty much just playing around and showing off for us. They were rolling around, tail flapping and spy-hopping (term for when they pop their head out of the water like the photo below). Then just as the ship decided to turn around and get back on our way one Orca decide to breach! I of course had walked right to the back of the ship as soon as we started sailing away so I could watch these guys as long as possible so I had a perfect view of it. One thing I have learned from 4 visits to Alaska is that trying to capture the perfect photo means you really do miss out on just enjoying yourself so I did not have a camera out at all and totally loved just watching!
Day 8 - Tracy Arm
This was our last expedition day (if you ask me they need to add more expedition time if they really want to call this cruise an expedition) Today we were going to be getting close to a glacier. Unfortunately not by kayak though. Today was zodiac only. Our group got really lucky and we saw a lot of calving with some humongous pieces falling off the glacier while watched. Our guide said the one piece was probably as big as a 2 story building. It sounds like thunder when it happens and then you will feel the waves is creates as it crashes into the water. You cannot get too close to the glacier due to this but our zodiac drivers were always within safe distance. We also saw some momma and baby seals but not as many as I saw last year in this area.
Day 9 - Kake, AK
Well this was supposed to be our last stop but unfortunately we were not able to go on shore. They did bring some locals onboard to talk and perform for us though. Kake is a tribal village and 70% of the residents are of Tlingit heritage. This is the location of the tallest totem ever carved from a single tree. We could see if from the ship but it was a bummer not to get to stand in front of it.
Day 10 - Sitka
Sitka is where our cruise ended. You could choose from a couple premium excursions here all of which pretty much got you to the airport. There are a couple of hotels in town so if you wanted to enjoy Sitka a little more you could stay over. The airport is very small so not a lot of flight options so that could be another reason to stay over a night. I however opted for a long day of traveling to get home. We flew out of Sitka to Seattle and then had a few hours before our red-eye flight back home which connected in Philly before getting us back to FL. It was pretty much 24 hours of traveling. This is why it can be easier to get to Europe from the East Coast instead of Alaska. It was a wonderful cruise though so well worth the time to get there.
Overall Cruise rating
Ship - 5 Stars. Beautiful small luxury ship with all the extras needed for expedition.
Food - 3 Stars. This was a tough one for me because for a luxury cruise I just do not feel like the food was up to that standard and if you know me you know I am not a foodie person. The only reason I even give it 3 stars was because there was an option to order steak and lobster for dinner every night. I am hoping part of the food issues were from supply chain problems. I really hope they will start including local foods and more variety.
Excursions - 2 Stars. I think this is an area they really need to work on if they want to be an expedition cruise. There just was not enough expedition time. They need to add some hikes, bushwhacking, and beachcombing. The culture excursions are nice for an expedition there has to be as much adventure as culture.
Ports - 4 Stars. I loved the 2 small towns we stopped in. I also understand that things happen so while is was a bummer to miss one port that can happen on any cruise. I would avoid the big port like Ketchikan and instead build in some time to get to on land on uninhabited islands.
Crew - 4 Stars. I would love to give them 5 stars however there was still a bit of learning to do. Plus I also know there are shortages thanks to covid so that definitely played a part in the service. The dining staff were always eager to please but without enough of them things were a little slow. The guides onboard were friendly and knowledgeable.
I would definitely recommend this cruise. As a brand new ship and new destination for American Queen Voyages I do think they have some things to work on but it was a true luxury small ship experience in Alaska which is hard to find. I also believe they will improve on the things that were lacking.
I have been to Alaska 3 times in the past 5 years and each time has been a totally different type of trip. Alaska is one of those places that you could even do the same exact trip 3 times and each time will be totally different.
I used to think of cruising as something I only wanted to do somewhere with warm weather so I always balked at an Alaska cruise. I finally decided to cruise Alaska in 2016 and then I wished I hadn't put it off so long. Alaska is a gorgeous place with so much to see and do. It is always chaging too so even if you have been before there is still reasaon to go back again!
7 night Round Trip Seattle or Vancouver
This was what my first Alaska cruise was - technically mine started in Fort Lauderdale and went through the Panama Canal before heading up to Seattle and I added the 7 night Alaska cruise onto that.
This is is the typical cruise that most people will take and it is a great way to try Alaska and see if you like it. This cruise will take you to the main tourist areas in Southeast Alaska but it is sort of just a taste of Alaska. Alaska is so huge that just visiting that small area is just the tip of the iceberg literally. These cruises will generally visit Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway. They will also include some sort of glacier. The best cruises will go to Glacier Bay but those permits are very limited so that isn't possible on every cruise. Other popular options are Hubbard Glacier or Tracy Arm. Either way it is just breathtaking to get to see a glacier up close.
1 Way Cruise - Northbound or Southbound
These can be a 7 night cruise but the best thing to do is a Cruisetour. They will either start in Seattle or Vancouver or end there. The other end is usually Anchorage. This way you get to see the same areas at the 7 night round trip cruises but then you also get further North in Alaska. Adding a Cruisetour onto the cruise gives you the opportunity to really explore Alaska on land. This is the option that will give you the scenic train rides and a chance to get into Denali National Park. My second visit to Alaska was a Cruisetour followed by a 7 night cruise southbound to Vancouver. We started up in Fairbanks and worked our way back down to Anchorage to get our cruise going South. Getting to see more of the land portion of Alaska really gives you a better perspective of how huge Alaska is and how much the weather can vary.
Small Ship Cruise in Alaska
This was my most recent way to see Alaska and this is way to go if you are looking for more of an adventure and less touristy stuff. Our cruise didn't stop at any other towns during our 7 nights. We were in Glacier Bay for 2 days whereas my previous cruise on the big ship only had a few hours to explore it. Small ships can get into smaller areas and closer to wildlife so it is a different experience. These cruises can either go round trip out of an Alaskan port or sometimes they also go one way. Ours was round trip out of Juneau but some will do one way like Juneau to Ketchikan. Those towns you begin or end in will be your option for shopping.
No matter which way you choose to see Alaska you won't be disappointed.
Arrival in Juneau
We got off the plane in Juneau and were met by an UnCruise representative who directed us to the van that would take us to the hospitality center. We grabbed our bags and they were tagged to go right to our room on the ship. We had a couple hours to explore Juneau before boarding. It was so different to be there without any big ships in port. It was also sad to see how many of the shops were either still closed or worse had signs that said out of business. Hopefully the ships starting back up in July will bring some businesses back to life.
Our ship could hold 76 but there were only 23 guests in total on our cruise. Everyone did have to be fully vaccinated to cruise so no masks were required on the ship which I was very happy about. After boarding we went through the safety talk and drill and were ready to set sail. We had dinner and after that I was pretty tired since we were now 4 hours behind East Coast time. Even though it was only 9 pm it felt like 1 am to me.
The first morning started with breakfast and then an overview of the activities to come during the week. Mud boots are very important when exploring Alaska with a boat like UnCruise since we would be going ashore on skiffs and have wet landings most of the time. Luckily the ship has a pretty good stash of boots onboard so if you didn't already have a pair of your own there were some to borrow. We also got our PFD (personal floatation device) that we would wear while kayaking. Each day at lunch our activities director would go over the planned activities for the next day and we could choose the ones we wanted to do.
Day 1 - Neka Bay
On the first morning I was still sort of on East Coast time so I was up early and had time to walk around the top deck before our 7:30 am breakfast. I skipped the morning stretch that I did on our Sea of Cortes cruise because for me it was just a little too chilly for that. The day started with the most amazing views so I took that as a sign that this was what was to come all week! Our first day's adventures started with a bushwack. We hopped on a skiff and headed over to an island where we explored the woods and checked out some of the foliage. It was fun climbing over and under logs and stomping in the mud but once was enough of that for me. After lunch our next activity was kayaking and this was much more fun. We got to see a bear hanging out on the shore only a few feet from where we were paddling. We were enjoying some perfect weather and all the crew kept commenting about how great this was. Even better was that since we were such a small group of guests some of the crew got to also get out and enjoy the excursions too. Our bartender joined us on today's kayak which also helped out since there was an odd number of guests signed up to kayak and the kayaks are all doubles. That night we were just at the edge of Glacier Bay and were able to stop at the Welcome Center to walk around. It turns out that this was the only time during our cruise that we would see other people.
Day 2 - Glacier Bay
Today we entered Glacier Bay - which covers 3.3 million acres and part of a 25 million acre World Heritage Site. It is one of the world's largest international protected areas. There are a lot of rules while in Glacier Bay which are all put in place to protect the wildlife. One rule is that we could only have one propeller in the water going at one time. That did mean the excursions off the boat had to be spread out a bit to accommodate that rule. We were anchored up by Lamplugh Glacier and todays excursion choices were a shorewalk, a ridge walk, skiff ride, and kayak. We opted for the skiff ride and kayak options as I really wanted to be out on the water since we had such beautiful sunny weather. Our skiff ride was after breakfast and we got to ride around Lamplugh Glacier a little and check out some of the floating ice. Then we headed the opposite direction and got to check out Johns Hopkins Glacier, which our guide told us she had only been able to see the whole thing once before but after today she could say she saw it twice since there wasn't a cloud or any fog in sight. The Harbor Seals use this area to give birth to thier pups so up until September no boat can go past a certain point. We had a curious male seal watching us and following us a little. The guide told us that the males like to hang out around there because once the females have weaned thier pups (which surprisingly takes only about 4 weeks) they come on back out start the whole process over again. It sounds like for the most part the females are just always pregnant. While we were out on the skiff our guide used a net to scoop up a chunk of the floating ice to bring back to the ship. That ice was out on the top deck the rest of the day and night and still didn't melt. After lunch it was time to kayak! This was so much fun today as we got up much closer to the Lamplugh glacier than we did on the skiff. In the morning a group had done a shorewalk and we were now kayaking over the area they had walked on in the morning because the tides here have up to 25 ft changes. We paddled through all kinds of ice and it was almost like bumper boats with ice. It was amazing to see how much the wind changed as you got closer to the glacier. There are katabatic winds that come off the glacier so we went from warm sunny flat water to paddling through currents and getting blown backwards pretty fast. We kept hoping for some calving of the glacier to happen while we were floating around the area. We heard a few cracks which sounded like thunder but no big chunks came off the front.
After everyone was back onboard from thier excursions there was a polar plunge. Anyone that wished to jump off the back of the boat for a quick dip in the 45 degree water was welcome to do it. I passed on that since the water needs to be at least double that temperature for me to even think about swimming. There were a bunch of brave guests that did it and then a bunch of crew did it as well. The hot tubs onboard were popular after the plunge. After dinner we were told dessert was being served on the top deck since it was still so lovely outside and we had a very special view. During dinner the ship had moved to be in front of Margerie Glacier. We had seen this glacier on our last visit to Alaska while we were cruising on Princess. She is a very impressive glacier but has changed a lot since we saw her in August 2019. It was amazing to see how much had calved off and how she had retreated. Many of the glaciers are retreating so much that some are no longer over water so are not tidewater glaciers anymore but have become land glaciers. We got to see a bunch of calving while we were floating around in front of Marjorie which was very cool.
After that one of the gudies, Kim, was giving a talk on Whales in the lounge. Since I love whales I was looking forward to it. It was almost like Kim talking about whales just attracted them to our boat! Within a few minutes we heard that some Dall's Porpoise were riding our bow wake. The lounge is in the front of the boat so it made to easy watching right out the window. We saw at least a dozen of them jumping in our waves and just playing around. It was so amazing! Once they got tired and swam off we got back to the talk. After the talk we headed back to our room and within a few minutes the Captain came on the speaker to say Humpbacks were spotted. I threw on my coat and headed out to the bow. Just then multiple humpbacks breached which just a site to see. Even our guide Kim, who loves whales, was overjoyed and said this was really something special. I think we spent a good hour just watching the whales spout, breach, and my favorite part when they dive and show thier fluke. Kim talked earlier about a website HappyWhale.com where you can upload photos of whale flukes and they can use something almost like facial recognition and tell you which whale you saw. A whale's fluke is like a fingerprint and unique to each whale. I did get one photo even though far away that I am going to upload and see if we can find out about at least one of the whales we saw that night.
Day 3 - Glacier Bay
Our cruise had 2 full days in Glacier Bay so day 3 started off with an early sighting of goats on an island we were passing by. Some people saw bears too. Today did not have any morning excursions since today was more about sailing around Glacier Bay. After breakfast we went by another island, this was one full of sea lions soaking up the sun along with a lot of tufted puffins all nesting in the rocky area of this island. We saw a couple mamma sea lions swim by with fuzzy babies sitting on their bellies as they went by. The puffins were also fun to watch since they are not the best fliers or landers.
Later that day we did anchor so that everyone could squeeze in an off the boat activity that day. We had signed up to kayak but the wind had kicked up some pretty good waves so we opted to skiff instead. That is just another great thing about UnCruise: the flexibility to do whatever works best that day. We got to check out some of the crazy kelp that grows in this area. We also came upon an otter who was just hanging out in the kelp. I didn't know that the otters do not eat the kelp but instead they eat the urchins that eat the kelp. So when the otters almost went extinct not that long ago the kelp also almost disappeared since the urchins didn't have anyone eating them. This otter just hung onto a piece of kelp and was floating on his back and let us get pretty close.
Day 4 - Pavlov Bay
We started today off with an open kayak - this was the first and only time without having to follow a guide around. We were shown the area we had to stay in and then we were free to explore on the kayak. It was so fun just going around on our own and we would stop and just listen to the quiet. We saw some eagles that let us get pretty close before they took off. A curious seal came pretty close to us and we were only in about a foot of water in the bay so we were surprised he would come in that shallow. Later we learned that a pod of Orcas had gone by the bay so that was most likely why that little guy was in so shallow. After lunch we went out on a skiff to see if we could find the Orcas since those that saw them earlier knew they went into a dead end bay so they would have to come back out the same way they went in. We found them pretty quick and just sort of followed along watching them swim. There was even a baby with them which was so cute!
Day 5 - Robert and Crow Island
Today was the one day where there was an option for an all day excursion. They didn't really say too much about what they would do all day so we opted to go with the 2 shorter excursions instead. The all day people were given a box lunch and left right after breakfast. We chose to take a skiff ride in the morning and it turned out to be a private skiff for just the 2 of us which was pretty cool. There were 3 seals that were just hanging around the boat that morning fooling around and splashing a bit. I nicknamed them Larry, Curly, and Moe. When I told our skiff driver that she had no clue what those 3 names were from - I felt pretty old then. There was also a humpback hanging around the area so we headed out to check him out. We pretty much just floated around out by him watching where he would go each time he took a deep dive. Then we would go towards his spout and watch some more. After our skiff it was time for lunch and found that there were just 9 of us that didn't choose the all day option so it was a nice small group for lunch onboard. After lunch we did a guided kayak. We paddled out to a small island that was off the front of the boat and we went around checking out the things living close to shore. I was so surprised by the jellyfish - for some reason I was thinking they only lived in warm water. We were also watching as 3 eagles seemed to be getting bombarded by a few crows. We could see the eagle's nest and the crows seemed to be dive bombing so we think maybe they were after some food. After dinner the crew told us they had a surprise set up for us. We found out while we were eating that they had set up a bonfire on the beach so we hopped on the skiffs to go hang out on the beach for a couple hours and enjoy drinks, stories around the fire, and exploring the beach while watching the sun start to set. The sky still looked very pretty at 10 pm which is around the sunset time but it never really seemed to get all the way dark up here. We had been so lucky with our weather all week to have mostly sun and temperatures in the 60s every day. The crew just couldn't stop saying how wonderful it had been to be able to do things they hadn't been able to do in a long time.
Day 6 - Tracy Arm
Our last day onboard was spent in Tracy Arm. After breakfast we all hopped on the skiffs and made our way closer to South Sawyer Glacier. Along the way we went through lots of floating ice. We learned that the smaller ones are growlers, the bigger chunks are Begy-bits, and then icebergs are the really big ones. The best thing about visiting right now and being on UnCruise is that we do things you would never get to do on a big ship - like move from the ship to skiffs without anchoring while in Tracy Arm. The skiffs allow us to get very close not only to the glacier but during this time of year the mamma seals swim up close to the glacier to give birth to thier pups on the large floating ice. Being this far up the arm keeps them safer from the Orcas that would eat them and thier babies. They were a little skittish around us too and sometimes if we got too close the mamma and baby would slide down off the ice into the water to hide. Sometimes they got separated and you could hear the baby seal crying out in what really sounded like it was saying MOM! Some of them didn't seem as bothered by us and didn't move. We saw some pretty cool calving of the glacier before making our way back to the boat. Some of the floating ice was just the most amazing shades of blue. It is so blue because the dense ice of the glacier absorbs every other color of the spectrum except blue so blue is what we see. The denser the ice the more vivid the blue looks.
After getting back onboard we enjoyed lunch and the scenic views as we sailed back out of Tracy Arm. The sad news was that this was our last night onboard so we had to talk about disembarkation and return our borrowed items like the boots and PFDs. We ended the night with a slide show of photos that the guides took all week. It was a lovely way to recap our amazing week and we would also get a link to all the photos via email.
The last morning came all too quickly and after breakfast we were off the boat. Disembarkation on a small ship is so easy. All of the crew lined up on the upper deck to waive goodbye to us and the Captain was on the dock to shake hands. A bonus was the CEO of UnCruise was also on the dock to say welcome back to all of us. UnCruise does include your transfers back to the airport which is also very nice. We had a later flight so our bags were stored and we were free to hang out in the hospitality room or enjoy Juneau. We did a little of both before it was time to head back to the airport. Unlike our journey to Alaska where I broke up our flight with a stop over in Seattle this time we were headed straight back to FL. This meant a red-eye flight which seemed like a good idea at the time. I always forget how tired I feel after a red eye so I might have to remember that for next time we have a long haul flight and opt for the break it up with a stop over somewhere on the way home.
We had an Unbelievably good time on our UnCruise and cannot wait to do another one! I think Hawaii is next up on my UnCruise bucket list! I will post lots more photos to my facebook page soon so if you want to see more check out - My Page
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