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Cruise Ship Review
Glacier Bay Cruiseline's

Wilderness Discoverer

by Jill Weinlein


Exploring the Last Frontier

"Three grizzly bears are off the port side," announced Richard, a naturalist aboard the Wilderness Discoverer, ending our deep slumber at 6:10am. Rushing from our cabin with cameras ready, we saw a large bear chasing two smaller bears near Sandy Cove in Glacier Bay, Alaska.

Richard explained that a mother grizzly and her three-year-old cub were running from an amorous male. In pursuit of romance, a male will often try to kill a female's cub. As she chased her cub into some brush and out of our view, she suddenly turned and waded into the icy water, staring at our small ship. Like a dog paddling in a lake, the mother grizzly swam towards us about 500 yards away. Richard said this was a very unusual sighting, although bears can swim great distances. Apparently the channel was too wide for her to cross; she turned away from the boat, swam back to land and lumbered away.

Beginning Our Cruise

This was one of many wilderness sightings on our seven-day cruise thorough southeast Alaska. These memorable experiences make the 49th state a premier cruise destination for families. Our cruise began in the capital city of Juneau in late June. Since we had cruised on the Grand Princess ten years earlier, we opted for a smaller ship to introduce our eight-year-old daughter to the last frontier.


Once aboard the 72-passenger Wilderness Discoverer, we checked out our stateroom. Cruise ship cabins are smaller than hotel rooms, and this was the most compact we had seen -- imagine sleeping arrangements inside a small camper. A mirrored door led to the toilet with a shower head above in a closet-sized room. Our daughter, after one look, said, "This is so cool."

[The small village of Petersburg, Alaska]

After a smooth evening sail, we were anchored off the fishing village of Petersburg the next day. Mega-ships can't navigate its narrow passageway, so it's not touristy with T-shirt shops on every corner. A large segment of the population is descended from the original Norwegian settlers. Some residents speak Norwegian and their houses are decorated with colorful floral motif paintings.

Sharon, the ship's Children's Program director, led a group of us on a nature hike. We saw a pair of bald eagles, colorful starfish, sea urchins, ribbon worms, butter clams, periwinkle and crabs down by the tide line. Later while on a salmon cannery factory tour, we watched workers cut salmon into strips in preparation for smoking. After the tour we sampled smoked salmon, salmon sausage and salmon dip spread on crackers.

Before dinner, Saren, another naturalist on board, alerted us to a pod of Dali porpoises on the port side of the ship. We grabbed our binoculars and enjoyed watching these playful black and white mammals frolic in the ship's wake.

Beautiful Days

  • We awoke the next morning to another rare day of sunshine and warm weather. Surrounded by cliffs more than 2500 feet above the water, we sailed up to one of the most dramatic fjords in Alaska, Tracy Arm. Approaching our first glacier at South Sawyer Glacier, we watched harbor seals lying with their pups on ice floes, and mountain goats walking along the peaks of the cliffs. Suddenly we heard the noise of a gunshot, but were told it was the glacier cracking. A minute later the aquamarine-colored ice cracked and came crashing down into the water with an huge splash.
  • [Kayaks at the ready]After lunch, we sailed into the calm Sanford Cove for our first attempt at kayaking. While paddling, we watched a group of black crows chase an eagle away from their nesting area.
  • Another day, after breakfast, we disembarked at the historical town of Haines and walked up to Fort Seward (the only WWII Army post in Alaska). A scenic twenty-minute ferry ride took us to the old gold rush town of Skagway. Four mega-ships and two smaller ships were docked in the harbor. On any day during cruise season, over 10,000 cruisers tramp down the narrow sidewalks and streets buying gold nuggets and souvenirs.
  • A dramatic three-hour ride on the White Pass and Yukon train took us to White Pass Summit near the U.S.-Canada border. It was pricey, but the scenery was definitely worthwhile.
  • The following day, we hiked along the Forest Loop Trail to Glacier Bay Lodge. A park ranger led an evening program and slide show on the beauty of Glacier Bay National Park.
  • Entering Margerie Glacier and John Hopkins inlet we watched tufted puffin swim among harbor seals as the seals fed their pups. Later we followed some humpback whales and counted nearly fifty breaching out of the water. While passing the ABC islands, furry sea otters floated on their backs and cracked clam shells on their tummies.
[John Hopkins Inlet and Margerie Glacier] [Breaching humpback whale]

On our last day we anchored in Katlian Bay and kayaked near small islands. With the tide out we could see colorful starfish as large as dinner plates. After a delicious Captain's Dinner, we went back out into the glassy bay to watch the sunset at around 10:30pm.

Richard gave us our last wakeup call as we docked in Sitka. By 8am we shook hands and hugged the 56 passengers and 27 crew members who had helped make out 7-day cruise one to remember.

Cruising is the ultimate way for families to travel great distances in the North Pacific. The wildlife and scenery of Alaska are awe-inspiring and thought-provoking for all ages.

Photos Courtesy of Jill Weinlein

[spectrum line]

[The writer and her family in Alaska]

Jill Weinlein is a freelance travel writer who enjoys traveling around the world
with her family. She can be reached at weinlein@sbcglobal.net .

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