Posted July 10th, 2013, 11:24 PM
Superlative is rare. Good happens frequently, excellent much less often. But truly outstanding experiences, the ones that stand alone in one's ever-expanding life memory, are seldom and savored. Such already is, and forever will be, the Inland Passage cruise we completed on June 29, 2013 aboard the "Alaskan Dream."
We have never been on a typical cruise ship, and never will be. As long-time bareboat sailors, we are physically-active folks who like to be 5' off the water, not 100'. So when we decided in the fall of 2012 to forego another trip to the Caribbean and visit Southeast Alaska, we considered only a small vessel with size-limited ports of call and culturally-enriching participatory activities. Universally positive web reviews narrowed the options to Sitka-based Alaskan Dream Cruises, and any initial concerns about their relatively short history vanished with additional research into its parent company, Allen Marine.
Sitka to Glacier Bay, Tracy Arm (North and South) to Hobart Bay, Kake to Orca Point, Petersburg to the Mendenhall glacier and falls, Taku Harbor to Chapin Bay - each was an exceptional new adventure. Every day brought up-close encounters with humpbacks, orcas, sea lions, eagles, bears, porcupines and deer. The snow-capped mountains, splashing waterfalls, dense green forests, placid waters and bright-hued wildflowers were magnificent from afar, but even more beautiful when viewed from feet to inches away. Spontaneity and flexibility were the watchwords. Spot whales aport? Slow down and watch! We don't have to be anywhere other than where we are right now!
The scenery and environment were beyond words. But this voyage was made special by the people. Generations of Tlingit and Norwegian culture were brought alive by dancers young and old. We learned a boatload of interesting information from our on-board cultural specialist, Leonty, and nature guide, Larisa, not by formal lectures but through unhurried conversations among friends. The depth of their knowledge, their love of the land and people and their enthusiasm to share was simply awesome!
As a group of veteran sailors, we were specially appreciative of the almost unlimited access to the bridge, and to the maritime skills demonstrated and knowledge imparted by Captain Erik and his crew - Dave, Patrick, Nate, Jon, Matt, Nick, Traci and Alex. There is just nothing like watching and listening to consummate professionals doing what they love. And swapping sea tales with these new friends while vicariously navigating and "driving the boat" from the pilothouse was an unexpected bonus without price!
Hospitality was not only remembered but emphasized. Each day while we were out on another excursion, hotel manager Heather and her assistants expertly prepared our cabins for another restful night of sleep. To our gastronomic delight, Chef Briana, sous chef Raymond, baker Kimberly and their assistant Mark surprised us at every meal with a choice of soups, salads, breads, entrees and desserts that would surpass fine dining restaurants ashore. Half-portions, splits, one of each - no request was refused by the lead steward Deseray and her assistants Jayde, Stacy and Michael. Behind the bar, Chelsy not only mixed up an excellent daily special to accompany the hot social hour hors-doeuvres, but could not be stumped if someone wanted a favorite libation instead. And not to be forgotten - the 24-hour coffee and tea stand and daily 3:00 pm fresh homemade cookies!
How was all this accomplished? We think it's a matter of attitude, respect, competency and relationships, and that it starts at the top and flows down. Allen Marine's CEO David Allen and his wife Lauren probably learned it from Dave's parents, Bob and Betty. From our first contacts with Eileen in the booking office to our final personal goodbyes with the entire crew (and Dave and Lauren's daughter Zaide) lined up on the debarkation ramp, we encountered nothing but friendly, outgoing personalities who seemed to genuinely like each and what they were doing. Hiring people who are privileged to enjoy what they do for a living and those with whom they are doing it just naturally results in treating clients and customers well.
We can't think of a better example than Captain Erik. The depth of his knowledge and experience were obvious, befitting his responsibility for the safety and comfort of his passengers and crew. However, we also soon came to appreciate his calm demeanor and gentle hand, both with the vessel and its crew. Erik operated the "American Dream" like a good pilot flies a plane, caressing the rudder and throttles to smoothly keep the "Alaskan Dream" on course at the right speed. So to with the crew. Even when things went slightly awry, as they will on any vessel, Erik never once raised his voice or seemed upset as he set about correcting the situation. Always the able seaman and perfect host, Erik is also a natural motivator and mentor.
In short, a wonderful and wonder-filled voyage on a unique vessel with an unmatched crew. Thank you!
Mark and Gail
Jim and Anne
Jeff and Beth