All 33 passengers gathered in a reception room at the Goldbelt Hotel in Juneau on the day of our sailing. Bags were tagged and left there for transfer to the ship. Sandie was the American Safari representative at the reception room, and she offered a wealth of knowledge about the Juneau area, as well as what to expect onboard the ship.
Our fellow passengers were a mix of ages and nationalities, with a primary age range of 50-70. There were four younger people on our particular cruise, between 20-40 years of age, but no children. Most of the passengers were US residents, but we also had passengers from the UK, Australia, and Canada.
Mid-afternoon we all boarded a bus for a short trip to Mendenhall Glacier, which is located just north of Juneau. We stayed at the visitor center for about an hour and a half, viewing the glacier and the local wildlife. There were several black bears, a bald eagle, porcupines, and assorted other wildlife present, with most located less than 20 feet away. There is an elevated walkway that permits safe viewing of the bears from this short distance as they caught salmon from a small creek. It is also noteworthy that this was our only "organized excursion" during the entire trip.
By 5:30pm we were back in Juneau and it was time to board the Safari Explorer, which was docked directly across the street from the Goldbelt Hotel. The crew of 16 people met us at the dock, and each of them took one travel group on board and showed them to their cabin. Our crew person was Megan - the first officer. The crew was all American, by the way, and generally a very well educated and well spoken group. Boarding took all of 20 minutes, during which we dropped our hand bags in our cabin and found that all of our luggage was already there, and then it was off to the lounge for beverage of choice and hors d'oeuvres.
By 6:30pm we had cast off and were departing Juneau for a protected anchorage near Glacier Bay, where the ship would anchor for the night. Unlike larger cruise ships, American Safari's small ships sail during the day and anchor at night. Sailing time often presents opportunities to see whales and other marine life, which is clearly much easier to do during daylight hours than at night. And although the ship's engines are not so loud as to prohibit sleeping, it was much nicer to sleep with them turned off for the night.
American Safari's cruise philosophy is stated as "Luxury in the Pursuit of Adventure", which fits the experience we had quite well. This was definitely an expedition cruise with ample luxury in the process. Daylight hours were spent either cruising to our next destination and whale watching, or with the ship at anchor and most of us out and about in the kayaks or "Zodiak's", or out hiking in the woods with one of the two naturalists from the crew. Kayaking through the bergy ice near the face of a glacier was amazing. Pictures just don't do it justice. And while were watching a couple of young brown bears cavort along side a small stream for a few hours one morning, the crew brought mugs of hot chocolate with Godiva liquor right to our kayaks!
We did make two ports of call, other than Juneau. We stopped at the Glacier Bay Lodge in Bartlett Cove on day three, where we dropped off the park ranger on our way out of Glacier Bar National Park and Preserve. We were able to use the Wi-Fi system at the lodge to check emails, as the ship does not have internet connectivity. We stopped in Petersburg on the afternoon of day four for a few hours, which is a small fishing village south of Juneau, where we went ashore and walked through the town while the ship was provisioned.
Meals were always a pleasant social affair. A menu was published each day, with a single choice for breakfast and lunch, and two entrée choices for dinner. If anyone wanted something different than what was on the set menu, all one had to do was ask and they cheerfully supplied you with something else that you were happy with. All of the fish was extremely fresh, and spoiled us for eating salmon in the lower 48 in the future. The chef and his galley crew did a great job of feeding us very well. Dani and her service staff did a great job of serving everyone. Any request was greeted with a smile and clear interest in satisfying your request if at all possible. It was very much like sailing on a private yacht with a group of friends.
There is no dress code, no formal nights, and in fact very few rules at all. Most people dressed appropriately for expedition cruising, with active wear being the order of the day. Dinner was no exception, as whales could be spotted at any time. Meals were interrupted by whale sightings more than once, and happily so.
There was a cocktail hour in the lounge before dinner each evening, during which Elaine prepared unique drinks for your pleasure, or simply supplied your old favorite with a smile. A unique daily selection of several cheese and hors d'oeuvre options were presented. This was a wonderful time to talk with everyone about their day's adventures, or simply get to know the other passengers better.
The Mariner Cabins make up the bulk of available rooms. They are adequate, but just slightly on the small side. The Tempurpedic queen size beds were wonderful. All of the cabins have windows or a glass door or both that open onto the side of the ship, so there are no interior rooms. There are two larger classes of rooms, which are suites with sitting areas. The two suites on the lower deck open directly onto the lounge and dining room, and would be a good choice for people who are at all mobility impaired. The two suites on the upper deck are the nicest accommodations available.
All-in-all this cruise was a wonderful experience for my wife and I, and we would sail again with American Safari without hesitation. This cruise was one of the few trips we have made where everything was as-advertised, or better.