We have sailed on a number of small expedition ships and have found this to be our preferred way of cruising. We had a wonderful first week in which the Wilderness Explorer met all of our expectations.The Wilderness Explorer did not have the luxury of some of the ships we have experienced but the price was quite a bit lower and on the whole, the first week represented very good value for money. The second week however was very disappointing and I would not recommend it at all.
Firstly though the advantages. During the first week, there were some good hikes and excellent opportunities for paddle boarding and sea kayaking. . The main benefits for us were the excellent staff especially those helping with the sea kayaking and the small skiffs. The staff were also quite knowledgeable and seemed to genuinely try to make the experience enjoyable for everyone. On most evenings, there was a lecture after dinner and it was interesting to hear from the staff about aspects of the environment or Another great aspect of the trip was that we were able to visit many places which would have been inaccessible to larger ships. This was a real bonus as some places such as Misty Fijords were truly spectacular. It was also wonderful to be in places where our ship was the only one to be seen and which seemed to be true wilderness areas remote from other people.
The food on the ship was quite good and very plentiful. There was plenty of variety and lots of salads and vegetables. Except on the final night, all meals were served buffet style. There was also bar where it was possible to purchase cocktails and other drinks and nibblies were served before dinner.
In summary, every day during the first week was filled with interesting activities, beautiful scenery and opportunities for exercise.
The second week was a very different story. We had booked for the cruise in Australia and I did not realize that there was an opportunity to disembark the ship in Ketchikan. Only a third of the passengers remained on board for the second week- most of whom were other Australians. During this time we had full three days at sea where it was not possible to leave the ship at all. The ship was simply too small for this to be a pleasant experience.
Additionally, our mid range cabin was very small and very cold so it was a pleasant place in which to relax. The other days, while pleasant, were spent in areas which could not be considered wilderness areas. I think that the whole week was oriented towards bringing the ship back to Seattle at the end of the season.The staff too, seemed to relax after most of the passengers left. Even on the days which were not at sea, many of the staff seemed to be not as helpful as they were during the first week and we had the feeling that they were simply wanting to finish the cruise. I can understand this as the staff must have worked incredibly hard all season and were probably ready to move on to other aspects of their lives.
Finally, we were slightly annoyed that one of the staff made it very clear that a ten per cent tip would be expected at the conclusion of the trip. We know that this is common practice but it still irked.