Posted on Monday, July 30, 2012 by Peter Knego
Peter Knego embarks on a deluxe Alaskan expedition on board American Safari Cruises MV SAFARI ENDEAVOUR.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2012 unless otherwise noted.
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Only a few short weeks after my last trek, fate had me back in the realm of The Last Frontier State to sail aboard American Safari Cruises newly introduced SAFARI ENDEAVOUR. The latest and by far largest member of the three ship, Seattle-based fleet of cruise yachts, the sparkling SAFARI ENDEAVOUR has just emerged from a top-to-bottom refit.
Even though I tend to dismiss Alaska’s main cruise hubs as far too commercial on busy cruise ship days, Juneau can be both charming and friendly when not engulfed in a sea of visitors. From the Baranof Hotel, where the American Safari Cruises coach delivered us, we took a walk along the waterfront, then back to welcoming and very reasonably priced “Bea’s Bakery” for a panini and last surf on its free-flowing wifi waves.
At 4:00 PM, we walked down to the landing where the handsome little SAFARI ENDEAVOUR awaited. The ship was built in 1982 as the NEWPORT CLIPPER for Clipper Cruise Line and served as the SPIRIT OF ENDEAVOUR for Cruise West before being purchased by American Safari earlier this year. The recent refit transformed the ship by morphing a number of smaller cabins into larger units so that the 1,500 gt vessel now only carries a maximum of 86 guests. Boarding time was at 5:00, allowing me a chance to get some photos before the ship filled up.
The ship has four passenger decks, beginning at the top with Bridge Deck and leading down via Upper and Cabin to Main Deck. The aft portion of Bridge Deck, which is called the Outdoor Lounge, has open and sheltered spaces as well as some exercise equipment.
On Cabin Deck, there is a handsome lounge that can accommodate the ship’s entire passenger complement. It features windows on three sides and access to a wide open bow area that would prove very popular for wildlife and scenery viewing. The Lounge has a full service bar (all but top shelf drinks are included) and up-to-date AV equipment for presentations as well as the occasional movie screening or cocktail/dance party.
On aft Main Deck, the dining room, which also accommodates all passengers in one seating, has picture windows with a sea-level view.
In the forward portion of the room, there is a wine bar with self-service access to a number of barrels dispensing Proletariat wines and a variety of bottled vintages as well as tall stemware. Directly across from the wine bar on the port side, there is a newly added, cozy library with a large picture window and volumes of guide books about the places the ship visits (Alaska and the Sea Of Cortez) in addition to a selection of films on DVD.
Hotel manager Terry took time out of a frantic turn-around to show us some cabins, including the newly added Commander Suites, which have separate bedrooms and sitting areas, a French balcony and a large bathroom with bathtub.
We would be occupying a comfy Captain’s Stateroom on starboard Main Deck with a large picture window, king-sized tempur-pedic bed, writing desk, flatscreen television with DVD player, I-pod dock, closet and bathroom with shower.
Right on their 5:00 PM cue, our fellow guests arrived. After a thorough boat drill, there was a welcome aboard gathering in the Lounge. I had sailed with master chef Mike Graziano on a recent SAFARI EXPLORER Hawaii cruise and knew that every day would yield a delicious appetizer. He got the week started with a gorgonzola mascarpone torte with figs, pistachios and lavender honey.
As we started to mingle with our wonderfully diverse fellow passengers, some from as far as Birmingham (England), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Germany and Switzerland, the little SAFARI ENDEAVOUR loosened her lines and sailed past a bastion of massive cruise ships on her way to Glacier Bay.
Each night, American Safari serves up a suggested white and red wine to accompany dinner. There is also a wide selection of other included wines, champagne and drinks at beck and call.
ASC provides a meat, fish and vegetarian dinner entree choice, each prepared from sustainable, locally-sourced ingredients. Chef Mike is a master at creating attractive, tasty and healthy cuisine with Mediterranean and Asian influences. In addition, there is a pastry chef who bakes delicious fresh breads, croissants, scones, cookies and desserts throughout the day. For my first dinner, I had the pan-seared halibut with an olive and roasted bell pepper tapanade, asparagus and rosemary potatoes.
The Alaskan summer twilight lingered well after dinner as SAFARI ENDEAVOUR sliced her way through the glass-like waters of Lynn Canal.
Monday, July 23, 2012
Shortly after breakfast, SAFARI ENDEAVOUR pulled into Bartlett Cove near the entrance to Glacier Bay. As most of the ship’s guests hiked the Forest Loop Trail, I headed to the Glacier Bay Lodge for an hour or so of wifi access before shutting down all outside communication for the next week. Love it or hate it, this particular ship has no computer terminals and no e-mail access.
ASC’s weekly Juneau departures include two full days inside Glacier Bay, providing guests a very rare opportunity to hike and kayak within the National Park. We departed Bartlett Cove with an extra guest in the form of a park ranger, who, with a little help from a young guest, provided an interesting narrative on all things Glacier Bay.
A few short hours later, the SAFARI ENDEAVOUR approached the Steller sea lion sanctuary of South Marble Island. Just as their playful grunts and groans became audible, so did their “aroma”.
Although there would be no kayaking today, we assembled on aft Bridge Deck for a kayaking lesson from expedition leader Matt Szymanowicz.
As Matt demonstrated the basics of keeping a kayak buoyant, sea otters floated effortlessly by in the silver-green waters.
The eastern flanks of Glacier Bay were shrouded in a mysterious mist as the SAFARI ENDEAVOUR sailed north towards Tarr Inlet.
The chill and gloom of Glacier Bay could be quickly remedied by a quick dip in the sheltered hot tubs on aft Upper Deck. There is also a small sauna nearby.
On this cruise, SAFARI ENDEAVOUR passengers were privy to some fascinating lectures by renowned photographer PF Bentley. In his introductory program, the Molokai-based photo-journalist shared some of his iconic images, including shots taken in the White House during his Washington D.C. beat for Time Magazine when he had exclusive access to everyone from the Clintons to Bob Dole and George W. Bush. In addition to sharing his work, he would also offer up a number of helpful photography tips.
After dinner, the SAFARI ENDEAVOUR rounded Roberts Island into the Tarr Inlet and pivoted off always-spectacular Margerie Glacier. This would be my fifth visit to the world famous tidewater glacier, which is almost guaranteed to generate at least one relatively spectacular calving.
At the end of a long day, our ship slowly turned and left Margerie and the far less heralded Grand Pacific in her wake. Unlike the other ships that make rather perfunctory visits to the scenic spot and then head back out, SAFARI ENDEAVOUR sought out an anchorage in Reid Inlet, where she would spend the rest of the night.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
After breakfast, we headed up for a view of Reid Inlet, which is fed by a glacier of the same name. The day would provide a choice of two of three exploratory options which included zodiac rides, kayaking and hiking near the glacier.
Another thing I really like about these smaller expedition ships is their open bridge policy, allowing guests to visit and chat with the navigation officers, conditions permitting. The ENDEAVOUR has a rather large wheelhouse for a ship of her modest size.
In the late morning, we boarded a zodiac that took us to the head of the inlet, where it made a beach landing in the lunar terrain adjacent to the glacier.
We crossed through a silty intertidal zone and up to a rocky trail that led us to the north side of the glacier.
While the vegetation was relatively sparse, patches of brilliant flowers sprouted alongside a network of criss-crossing streams.
From afar, Reid looked deceptively small but up close, it was quite a different story. We managed to set foot on a stable patch of ice before climbing up the embankment off the north side of the glacier.
From the rocky terrain across from Reid, its true scale could be appreciated. Once a tidewater glacier, it now barely touches the water at the end of the inlet, dropping its pillar-like calvings onto the barren terrain where they gradually melt away.
As we hiked back to the zodiac, a pair of oyster catchers hobbled past with their carrot-like beaks and matching blood-orange feet.
On the stern platform, ASC provided a handy scrub brush and some clean water to get the glacial mud off our boots.
Like many other expedition ships, the ENDEAVOUR has a magnetic status board where guests move little trivets to indicate when they leave and return to the ship.
After the chilly expedition, we returned to steaming hot black bean soup and fresh salads with homemade, lemony, dill dressing.
Right after lunch, we geared back up for our first tandem kayak adventure into Reid Inlet. We passed almost all of the same sights seen earlier but this time from a water-level vantage.
Our loop took us as far as the beach at the base of the glacier, then back across the opposite side of the inlet.
Expedition leader Matt was kind enough to allow us a detour past the bow of the ship before we clambered back on board.
We exchanged several layers of expedition gear for gym clothes and headed up to the workout area on aft Bridge Deck for a romp on the ellipticals. The air was so crisp and view so inspiring, time pedaled by quickly.
I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for all of the ships we had spotted on northbound courses just an hour or two earlier that were now heading back out of the bay. HAL’s STATENDAM looked particularly nice with the Fairweather mountain range behind her.
Another gorgeous dinner began with a golden beet salad with feta cheese and pine nuts in a champagne vinaigrette, followed by pan seared White King Salmon in brown butter sauce served with twice baked potato and green beans with roasted tomatoes. I asked for a taste of the sun-dried tomato pesto and goat cheese stuffed tomatoes, The third option was a slow roasted Prime Rib with red wine demi glace. And dessert was a banana bread pudding with white chocolate rum sauce.
Life on board the SAFARI ENDEAVOUR had fortunately only just begun….
End of Part One
Much more to come….
Special thanks: Page Saurs, Sarah Scoltock, Matt and Terry