This Travel Journal submitted by Nancy Shivers details her Alaska small ship cruise with AdventureSmith Explorations, on the Alaska’s Western Passages cruise aboard Westward. Read the day-by-day account of her and her husband’s travels of the Inside Passage!
My husband and I left our Juneau hotel on a gray morning and eagerly made our way to the waterfront in search of the M/V Westward, our home for the next 8 days. For months we had been looking forward to meeting the other six passengers who would share this adventure with us and now the time had come! As soon as we located the proper dock and met the others gathered there, I felt at ease and knew that all would be well. If possible, I was even more excited than I had been when I awoke a few hours earlier.
The crew took our bags on board and then ushered us onto the boat for the first time. We had some instruction regarding how to move about safely on board and then got to do a bit of unpacking. I was so impressed with our cozy, efficient cabin. There was a place for everything and more room than I had envisioned. Three open portholes let in the brisk, fresh air.
Our chef, Tracie, is a marvel. I do not exaggerate when I say that the food I ate on the Westward was some of the best I have ever eaten, anywhere.
After a bit of time in our cabins, we were served the first of what was to be many incredible meals on board. Our chef, Tracie, is a marvel. I do not exaggerate when I say that the food I ate on the Westward was some of the best I have ever eaten, anywhere. Lunch that first day consisted of asparagus soup topped with fried crawfish croutons and lobster oil, accompanied by fresh baked focaccia bread. Delicious!
After lunch we made our way to our night’s moorage and saw our first humpback whale while cruising in Endicott Arm. We all “oohed” and “aahed” when the huge, dimpled back skimmed the surface and the tail gave a flip as the whale dove. The enormity of those mammals coupled with their grace is truly breathtaking.
After dropping anchor, we had a delicious halibut dinner (each course paired with a wine) and then we all settled into the salon where the Captain, Bill, read us some passages relevant to our beautiful new surroundings. I was wondering how I would sleep without complete darkness but I needn’t have worried. We slept very soundly!
This was our first full day on the Westward and we were up early, ready for whatever adventures the day would bring. Tracie put the coffee on and breakfast was promptly served at 7:30am. Each day, breakfast was a gorgeous spread, generally consisting of eggs, (often poached and served with vegetables and meat), fresh fruit, and a “boatmade” pastry or sweet bread. It was consistently yummy and fueled us for the day’s activities. Genius.
We got up quite close (or so it seemed) and we could hear the deep groan of ice falling as the glacier retreated in the summer temperatures. It was difficult to comprehend the profound nature of what we were witnessing.
After breakfast we headed toward Dawes Glacier. The air became colder, the icebergs more prevalent and the colors more vivid. The various shades of blue were so brilliant it seemed jewels were drifting by us on the water and we spent quite a bit of time finding shapes in the ice. It was like a floating sculpture gallery! As the temperature dropped, we all kept adding layers of clothing until, finally, I believe we may have been wearing everything we had packed! We got up quite close (or so it seemed) and we could hear the deep groan of ice falling as the glacier retreated in the summer temperatures. It was difficult to comprehend the profound nature of what we were witnessing. We saw countless harbor seals on top of the icebergs, including many newborn pups. They have such personality! They often appeared to be gazing right back at us, as curious about us as we were about them.
After our lunch (where we had glacial ice for our drinks), Kristin, our naturalist on board, gave us brief but thorough kayak instructions and then we set out for our first paddle in Ford’s Terror. There were many waterfalls and it rained quite a bit but we were prepared and had a great time. As soon as we returned to the Westward, Bill took us by skiff to the shore where we went on a short hike up to an overlook where John Muir had stood over 100 years before. Truly humbling.
We had another extraordinary dinner, Bill offered a fireside reading about John Muir, and we settled contentedly into our bunks. What a day!
This was a big day for wildlife sightings! Along the way to Brother’s Island we encountered a playful group of Dall’s porpoises who seemed to enjoy swimming at our bow. Bill told us the term for this is “bow-riding.” It was thrilling to sit right at the very front of the boat and peer down at them as they jumped in and out, dove into the water, popped back up on the other side of the bow, and then swam back again. They are beautiful creatures! Dall’s porpoises can swim over 35 mph and they were definitely slowing way down in order to play with us. I think there were probably six to eight of them, maybe more.
Soon after the porpoises left us, there were a number of humpback whales quite near the boat. We actually heard the blow before we saw them, just off our starboard side. That certainly never gets old! Then we passed an island with an outcropping literally covered with sea lions. Hundreds of all sizes and making such noise! What a cacophony! They sounded a bit as if we were close to a racetrack and the cars were revving their engines. We also saw more harbor seals along our way–and that was just the morning!
We actually heard the blow before we saw them, just off our starboard side. That certainly never gets old!
After a satisfying bowl of pho for lunch, we took a beautiful paddle around the island. The water was calm and there was no sign of rain. We had close encounters with harbor seals and one sea lion in particular who seemed to follow and show off for one of our fellow travelers. We decided that he must’ve been attracted to her Kiwi accent! Eagles were high in the trees at almost every glance. We saw so many that we stopped counting early in the trip. Listening to them call to each other from the treetops and watching them swoop down to the water’s surface was an immense thrill for me. Another day in Paradise.
When I first opened my eyes, I glanced out the porthole and saw pink clouds reflected in the water. I knew I couldn’t stay in bed and threw on clothes to head up on deck. It was the most gorgeous morning and the light made everything feel like an impressionist painting. I sat alone on deck, watching the sun peek over the treetops and reveling in the sight of an eagle soaring from a tree, barely skimming the water as I sat only feet away. It was 4:30am and one of my favorite memories from the trip. It was certainly worth missing out on an hour or two of sleep!
After breakfast we put on our mud boots and went for a tide pooling adventure. We saw starfish, eels, crabs, whelks, anemones, sea cucumbers, chiton, urchins and more. So much tidal life in every inch! We all stayed as long as the schedule would allow and reluctantly boarded the skiff (our Alaskan Uber) when it arrived to ferry us back to the Westward. What a glorious adventure and a beautiful day!
On our way to Baranof Island we had more bow-riding porpoises, saw a sea otter and humpbacks too. Once moored, we went for a scenic hike up to Baranof Lake. The water was frigid but Liam, our college intern, decided to dive on in. Ah, youth! He certainly wasn’t in very long. I waded out to my knees and that was plenty for me. On the way back down the trail, we took a detour to some natural hot springs. They were indeed hot! It took a while to slowly ease in on the slippery rocks but it felt wonderful once submerged. The setting was lovely, overlooking a waterfall and we were the only souls around. Before going back to the boat, we were invited in to the Alaska Whale Foundation outpost and heard about their important work.
We cruised on to Ell Cove where we had another gorgeous afternoon paddle with beautiful clear skies above and crystalline waters below. Our happy group celebrated the day with a round of gin and tonics before dinner. Tracie continues to stun us all with her food, both the flavor and the presentation.
Immediately following breakfast, we went off for more kayaking. Another gorgeous morning in Alaska! We headed toward a nearby waterfall, doing some “vertical tide-pooling” along the way. So much fun to drift along in the kayak while examining the treasures nestled in the rocks that had been exposed by the receding tide. There were hundreds of little moon jellies floating in the water, appearing like a constellation in existence just under the surface. We also spotted many lion’s mane jellyfish and a lot of small fish which Liam identified as baby salmon. There were new things to learn around every bend on this trip.
As we made our way back to the boat [via kayak], we had a true close encounter with a humpback whale. Arching and diving, his tail flipping as he disappeared from view.
As we made our way back to the boat, we had a true close encounter with a humpback whale. When we saw his back break the surface nearby, Kristin instructed us to snuggle up closer to shore. Sure enough, after a few minutes of holding our collective breath, the whale was back, arching and diving, his tail flipping as he disappeared from view. Kristin said it was the closest she has ever been to a humpback while in a kayak!
We left Ell Cove, heading for Pavlov Harbor, which was to be this night’s spot to drop anchor. Along our way we again had some porpoises join our voyage. Watching them cavort around the bow is just so much fun! More sea lions and more whales in Alaska! As my dad used to say, “a plethora of riches.”
Once safely anchored, we went right out for a pre-dinner paddle to see if we might spot any brown bears on shore. No luck with bears, but a harbor seal popped up just next to our kayak and gave us quite a surprise. He took up residence on an algae-covered outcropping near the Westward and was still there the next day. One of his eyes was cloudy and we assumed that he had been injured and was most likely blind in that eye. I named him Lefty.
For dessert that evening, Tracie had a special treat in store for me. She baked a dark chocolate cake with lychee cream and candied ginger glaze, then presented it to me with one candle to wish upon. Everyone sang Happy Birthday and I blew out the candle. It was the best birthday cake I have ever had. What a perfect day to begin a new decade! The light was just too beautiful to go below deck, so we lingered a bit longer before turning in.
Woke up early to gray skies and a bit of rain. I went up on deck, hoping to spy a bear or two. Still no luck, but we did see Sitka deer and our seal friend at his post. Even the gray skies hold so much beauty. I love how the low-hanging clouds bring definition to the mountains. After another scrumptious breakfast (oh, the muffins!), Captain Bill gave us a tour of the engine room before we got underway. The seas turned a bit rough and we were unable to spot any whales during the morning.
We found calmer water in Hanus Bay where we stopped to take a lovely hike to Eva Lake. The trail was so lush, with a wide variety of ferns, flowers, trees, and fungi. There was a lot of evidence of bear activity so we were sure to make plenty of noise going around each bend in the trail. We saw two immature bald eagles with their parents, a red breasted sapsucker, a loon on her nest, a merganser with three babies riding on her back, and other bird species as well. As soon as we were back on board, Bill told us that he had seen a mother brown bear and cub only 10 minutes after we started up the trail. Just a few minutes later as we were leaving the bay, we spotted them! Glad to see them from the boat and not on the trail!
We anchored in Saook Bay for the night where the waters were as smooth as glass. We stayed up for a while after dinner, visiting with other passengers and having a night cap. I slept so well on board. I think part of it was the fresh air and gentle rocking of the boat. Bliss!
We woke to much calmer seas today but skies were gray and it was quite a bit chillier than the days before. The weather matched my morning mood, knowing that this was our last full day on the Westward. As we left Saook Bay, it began to rain in earnest and we were afraid that the good weather had left us.
Miraculously, when we got up and were ready to go, the weather had improved dramatically. It was as if Alaska had given us a parting gift!
A few hours later, after reaching Krestof Sound, we ate lunch and then rested in our cabins for a while, waiting on the tide to come in so that we could kayak in the desired spot. Miraculously, when we got up and were ready to go, the weather had improved dramatically. It was as if Alaska had given us a parting gift! Our kayaking trip was another remarkable exploration of what lies below the surface: more starfish of every color; anemones; sea cucumbers, with beautiful fan-like extensions; jellies of all sizes; etc.
Our final dinner was four courses in a Japanese style, each paired with a delicious wine, hard cider, or sake. The food was unlike anything I have ever had and was just as beautiful as it was delicious. Just as an example, dessert was dark chocolate pâté with plums, matcha foam and shaved chocolate. Incredible!
After dinner we all went into the salon where the crew presented a slideshow of the week we had just spent together. I doubt I am the only one who got a bit emotional. Before leaving the next day, we were all given a copy of the slideshow, a detailed map of where we had been, a list of the plants and animals we had seen and all of the menus from the week.
This has truly been the most memorable trip for so many reasons.
I got up early and went on deck in order to have just a bit of quiet time before leaving this tranquil spot. Clear skies and mild temperatures today make it even harder to think about leaving. Soon, the crew weighed anchor and Bill pointed the bow toward Sitka, our final stop on this amazing adventure. The Westward was docked by 10:00am and we hesitantly disembarked, saying our reluctant goodbyes to the crew. Kristin served as our tour guide to a few of Sitka’s sites and then it was time for us to go. I definitely shed some tears when we said goodbye to the new friends we had made. Tracie rode along with us to the airport and kept us company until it was time to board our flight to Seattle.
This Alaska trip exceeded every expectation in every way possible. I truly will hold a piece of it inside me forever. Farewell, Alaska. Until next time!
This Travel Journal submitted by Nancy Shivers details her Alaska’s Western Passages cruise with AdventureSmith Explorations. The Westward, one of our small ships to Alaska, is on our curated list of Alaska yacht charters and is perfect for a full boat charter cruise. Read all Small Ship Cruise Reviews for more insights from our alumni travelers and experts, or contact one of our Adventure Specialists to learn more about these small ship cruises and wilderness adventures: 1-877-620-2875