Posted on Tuesday, June 5, 2012 by Peter Knego
Join Peter Knego for part one of his latest trek aboard Lindblad Expedition’s 62 passenger, 152 foot MV NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION for an in depth cruise experience through Southeast Alaska.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2012 unless otherwise noted.
Saturday, June 2, 2012
After a surprisingly pleasant duet of Alaska Airlines flights from Los Angeles to Juneau via Seattle, a Lindblad Expeditions coach was waiting to whisk most of the ship’s new complement of passengers off to the Mendenhall Glacier. My last and only prior visit to Mendenhall was in 1996, viewed for a rain-soaked moment from a cab window before returning to the SS ROTTERDAM.
Lindblad provided free admission to the Visitor’s Center, which has an excellent documentary about Mendenhall and its alarming recession in recent years. There is also a gift shop, an observation room and various exhibits, including a chunk of glacial ice.
Our coach was next off to the Alaska State Museum in downtown Juneau. From there, travel-weary guests were then taken to their home for the next week, the handsome little SEA LION, which was berthed in a small cluster of fellow expedition ships on the northern edge of the harbor.
SEA LION has three passenger levels: Bridge Deck, Observation Deck and Main Deck. On Main Deck, there is a lounge and bar that accommodates all of the ship’s passengers. It features LCD video screens for presentations and lectures and picture windows with a sea-level view.
At the aft end of Main Deck, there is a dining room that also accommodates all passengers in one seating.
I made my way to Category 1 Cabin 305 on the port side of Main Deck. Sandwiched between the lounge and dining room, it is a compact but very comfortable stateroom with twin beds, a writing desk, a pair of picture windows and a modular bathroom with shower, toilet and sink.
After unpacking, I raced the setting sun for a shot or two of our compact ship on sailing day. In order to keep track of guests, there is a magnetic status board at the gangway with pegs that are moved to “on” or “off” positions upon embarking and disembarking.
Open seating dinner was served at 7:00 PM. Lindblad offers a choice of meat, fish and vegetarian entrées, all of which had their appeal. When I ordered a small portion of each, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It began with the Herb Roasted Chicken Breast with Whole Grain Mustard Sauce and Alaskan King Salmon with Citrus Beurre Blanc.
And then, there was a shockingly good Pasta Putanesca with pungent olive chunks and just the right amount of “bite”. Lindblad sources its food locally and uses fresh, wholesome ingredients that are vetted for the lowest possible environmental impact. For instance, shrimp was discontinued from all menus in 2001 due to the effects of shrimp fishing on other species and only wild (versus farmed) salmon is offered aboard Linblad ships.
For this very well sated blogger, it would be an uncharacteristic “early to bed” on the opening night of a very promising SEA LION experience.
Sunday, June 3, 2012
I arose to the ship’s 7:00 AM wake up call to find us navigating spectacular Tracy Arm fjord south of Juneau. Tracy Arm is accessed via Ford’s Terror, a shallow passage that was once the moraine of a vast glacier. Only during high tide is there enough clearance for even a ship of SEA LION’s moderate draft of 8.5 feet to clear. Meanwhile, as the welcome sun beamed down, Health and Wellness guru Amy was conducting an early riser’s stretch class in the shelter of aft Bridge Deck.
I had signed up for the morning kayak excursion in William’s Cove, where we were given a quick briefing before climbing into our single or double craft.
The kayak gave me a chance for some unfettered photos of the ship, herself. The SEA LION looked particularly fetching in her blue and gold hull livery, which she has sported since 2007 when her name was amended with the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC prefix.
And even though SEA LION was built long after curves were banished from marine architecture, she does have a healthy dose of classic camber and sheer.
I next kayaked across the cove to the base of a gushing waterfall, then along the meadow-y shore in search of wildlife before it was time to hop the next zodiac back to the ship.
A wonderful lunch of turkey and cheese on foccacia bread greeted us. There was also a fresh garden salad (with two dressing choices and handy cruets of olive oil and balsamic vinegar) and a tangy bell pepper soup.
SEA LION’s Detroit diesels began to rumble back to life as the ship navigated Tracy Arm.
In all of my Alaska visits, this was my first time in Tracy Arm and it grew more and more beautiful with each passing mile.
In one remote cove, bears were spotted, so our ship slowly and quietly thrust her way in their direction. Aside from a tiny black speck I once saw in Glacier Bay, this was my first official Alaskan bear sighting.
As we worked our way farther up the arm, icebergs became ever frequent and varied.
It was hard to fathom just how tall the cliffs surrounding us were…
…until another expedition ship passed us.
With the blue/white wall of South Sawyer Glacier visible over the bow, SEA LION hove-to to allow her fleet of zodiacs to be launched. I would be in the first group to zip as close as possible to the glacier.
But first, we buzzed over to a gushing waterfall.
We next sped through large clusters of bergs while SEA LION slowly maneuvered her way up the arm.
We eventually overtook the SEA LION, at times very cautiously, in order to not disturb harbor seals and their newborn pups.
We maneuvered off to the far side of the mighty glacier, witnessing two large calvings from its more active opposite face. The visual display was followed seconds later by a crackling and thundering sound that echoed through the canyon.
On our return, a small berg was plucked from the chilly waters.
Before SEA LION made her way out of Tracy Arm, she paid a short visit to Hole in the Wall Falls, her nose within feet of its spray. Not to be outshone, a black bear suddenly appeared, then disappeared as it foraged in the undergrowth.
It was a day of exhilaration to the point of exhaustion but Linblad/National Geographic’s Alaska had one last thrill in store as a voluptuous moon rose outside my picture window.
End of Lindblad LION’s Share Of Alaska, Part One
Much More to Come…
Very special thanks: Patty Disken-Cahill, Marc Cappelletti, Martin Cox