Small Ship Cruise Line Review: Alaskan Dream Cruises

Alaskan Dream Cruises

Alaskan Dream Cruises is owned and operated by the Allen family, who are Native Alaskans. Their five small, comfortable, no-frills ships embark on interesting exploratory itineraries in Southeast Alaska visiting the smaller ports to include Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Indian culture, home-grown Norwegian heritage and remnants of Russian America, plus wildlife ashore and at sea, fjords and glaciers. The parent company Allen Marine was established in 1970 and is now run by the third generation of Allens. The boat building business produced 19 ferries for NY Waterway, including the one that rescued passengers from a flight that landed on the Hudson River. The family also operates two lodges that are visited on some itineraries.


ShipsYears Delivered & Passengers: ADMIRALTY DREAM (built 1979 & 58 passengers); BARANOF DREAM (b. 1980 & 49 p); ALASKAN DREAM (b. 1986 & 40 p); CHICHAGOF DREAM (b. 1984/renovated 2017 & 74 p), and for charters MISTY FJORD (10 p). New to the fleet in 2019 is the KRUZOF EXPLORER, a former Bering Sea crab fishing boat converted to a spiffy 12-passenger cruise vessel with just 6 cabins.

Admiralty Dream. * Photo: Alaska Dream Cruises

Admiralty Dream. * Photo: Alaskan Dream Cruises

Passenger Profile: The line attracts all ages, and as some of the cabins have a third or fourth berth, the line is attractive to families who like sharing an out-of-doors adventure. On family departures, a youth expedition leader is aboard.

Passenger Decks: ADMIRALTY DREAM and BARANOF DREAM are three deckers, while CHICHAGOF DREAM and the catamaran ALASKAN DREAM have four. KRUZOF EXPLORER has just two. MISTY FJORD, available for charter, has two decks. None have an elevator.

Price: $$  Expensive, bearing in mind what’s included below.

Included features: Most shore excursions, kayaking, hiking and DIB watercraft explorations; rain jackets, pants and boots; evening hors d’oeuvers; a glass of wine or beer with dinner; and airport and hotel transfers. Optional excursions include salmon and halibut fishing, helicopter to a glacier, dogsledding, and rainforest ziplining,

Itineraries: 6, 8, 9, & 11-day Southeast Alaskan itineraries, previously May to September, now start the season in mid-March, with differing emphasis, leaving from Sitka, Ketchikan and Juneau, avoiding the big ship ports except for embarkation and disembarkation points. Ask about the several 8-day family cruises that feature a Youth Expedition Leader, suitable for ages 7 and up. Visits made to a science, raptor (birds of prey), and bear rescue center. A new 10-day itinerary for 2019 using the recently acquired KRUZOF EXPLORER operates July to early September between Ketchikan and Sitka and visiting Glacier Bay, Sitka, Admiralty Island, Tracey Arms, Wrangell, Metlakatla and Misty Fjords National Monument.

Alaska's majestic mountain scenery is best seen from a small ship, not from a towering floating block of flats. * Photo: Ted Scull

Alaska’s majestic mountain scenery is best seen from a small ship, not from a towering floating block of flats. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go? Local Alaskan expertise with three generations of experience; intimate atmosphere and shared experience aboard truly small ships while seeking out wildlife, native culture, small town life and the majesty of Alaska. Visits to Native villages will include one of more other these peoples – Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. Animals that may be seen and black and brown bears, mountain goats, black-tailed deer, and possibly wolf and moose.

When to Go? Cruises operate from March to September over five different itineraries. MISTY FJORD, for example operates beginning in March. Visit Alaska as it wakes from the winter.

Cabins: All outside cabins with view windows and bed configuration of twins (some at right angles to one another), queens or doubles. Some cabins have a queen and single or two upper berths, designed for families.

Public Rooms: All five vessels have a forward viewing lounge and dining room, a bow viewing area, and open sun deck. Catamaran ALASKAN DREAM additionally has covered after deck.

Dining: One open seating for all meals with typical menus that reflect Alaska’s produce and seafood. The latter may include king salmon, halibut, rockfish, shrimp and crab.

Activities & Entertainment: Educational talks aboard and guided trips ashore and in DIB skiffs. Kayaking and hiking exploration. A custom-built kayak launcher eases boarding kayaks. Itineraries include an evening at Orca Lodge for dinner, exploring the beach, shoreline and marine-life pool.

Kayakers and a bear face off. * Photo: Alaska Dream Cruises

Kayakers and a bear face off. * Photo: Alaskan Dream Cruises

Special Notes: Open bridge policy for hobnobbing with the captain and mates (when conditions warrant). A related company operates pre- and post-add-on itineraries that includes fishing, hiking, exploring the rain forest, Denali National Park, etc. Be sure to read The Featured Articles to get the expedition line’s flavor.

Along the Same Lines: Un-Cruise Adventures and Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact: Alaskan Dream Cruises, 1512 Sawmill Creek Road, Sitka, AK 99835;; 855-747-8100 or 907-747-8100.



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Tahiti cruise

Tahiti Cruise

By Heidi Sarna.

Note: Star Clippers isn’t sailing in Tahiti these days (though Paul Gauguin Cruises is), but you’ll get the picture. Read on.

It was as much the prospect of long overdue togetherness as the allure of Tahiti that motivated three busy working women living on opposite ends of the earth to coordinate their schedules. The South Pacific island chain is one of the most mythical, romantic and dreamed about places on the globe, not to mention one of the most remote. To make the trip happen, my husband held down the fort at home in Singapore and played soccer dad; Los Angeles school principal Rachael put the assistant in charge; and Chrissy happily fled the dreary March weather in New York.

Our Tahiti boondoggle came almost 20 years after our first exotic girls-only getaway to Guatemala a year after we graduated from college. A couple of decades later meant our reunion retreat had a slightly different feel, with the chatter of wide-eyed idealists fresh into adulthood replaced with talk of tough times, confidence found and fine lines. But we had traveled so far to do more than dish about husbands, boyfriends, and fat thighs, we trekked to French Polynesia to reconnect with nature too. From the decks of a rugged 19th-century style clipper ship, we set off to explore the Pacific like the Polynesians and the Europeans did centuries before.

We appreciated the creature comforts of Star Clippers’ 1991-built Star Flyer, from carpeted cabins with televisions to a cozy restaurant, but what mattered most was the authentic sailing experience created by the four-masted ship’s full sails, rigging and teak decks. When conditions are right, the Star Flyer shuts off its engines and moves under sail power alone. We spent nearly every evening watching the sun set from the top deck with the wind in our hair and the bow sprit bucking in the surf, clearing our minds and feeding our souls. Before bed, it was back on deck to stare up into the star-dusted inky black sky and listen to Rachael, our very own amateur astronomer, point out the constellations.

The Star Flyer in Tahiti in 2009. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The 170-passenger Star Flyer couldn’t have suited our tastes better. Though our lives have taken their own twists and turns through the years, we’re still in sync on the style of travel we prefer (adventurous), the kind of fun we like (goofy and down-to-earth), and the people we like to do it with (each other). We’re a trio of 40-somethings with a bohemian edge and a strong-as-ever streak to try anything once.

The Itinerary

Our voyage included stops at two of French Polynesia’s five island groups, the Tuamotu and Society islands. A vast area stretching across thousands of miles of the Pacific Ocean, most of French Polynesia’s 118 islands and atolls are what’s left of extinct volcanoes. Many islands are surrounded by gorgeous lagoons, palm-fringed motus (islets) and barrier reefs teeming with underwater sea life. The remoteness of French Polynesia means it’s never over-run with tourists and doesn’t feel over-developed.

Spiritual Snorkeling

From one port to the next, we were continually awed by the stunning color of the teal-blue lagoons. The best snorkeling was near the island of Tahaa. We signed up for the “Coral Garden Snorkel Drift” and were taken via speedboat to a site near a remote motu. In single file, our small group glided atop the clear water, looking down at the spectacular scene. Fuchsia sea anemones exposed their noodle-y appendages and ridged clamshells seem to smile with bright purple and green lips. I’ll never forget the psychedelic colors of the Checkerboard Wrasse fish.

On the way back, we three stared into the horizon lost in thought as the boat zipped through the gorgeous landscape, and were reminded of a similarly magical boat ride we took off the coast of Belize two decades before.

Idyllic Motus

Another highlight was the barbecue lunch the crew prepared on another idyllic motu near Tahaa. After snorkeling a few feet offshore and checking out the long spined sea urchins hiding in the craggy coral, we sat under the shade of palm tree and nibbled on seafood kebabs and sipped Hinano beers as a troupe of traditional Polynesia dancers in grass skirts and coconut shell bras shook their lower halves in impossible ways and a chorus of ukuleles serenaded them. My eyes welled up with tears at the sheer beauty of the scene. The music and the searing blue sky and sea behind the dancers created one of the most amazing moments of my traveling life.

Tahiti cruise

The classic dancers in grass skirts on a motu in French Poly. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Legendary Bora Bora

In Bora Bora, we signed up for the “Shark and Ray Feeding” snorkeling tour. Our motorboat moved through the azure lagoon towards the reef as we sat soaking up our surroundings and the twin peaks of Bora Bora behind us (unfortunately, our guides didn’t think anything of throwing the anchor overboard into the coral instead of using a mooring buoy). Our small group followed the two hunky guides, each with fistfuls of chum, into the sea. Soon surrounded by stingrays, we giggled and shrieked and latched on to each other like school girls as the creatures rubbed up against us.

At the next spot, we snorkeled near a group of black-tipped lagoon sharks (the Star Flyer’s many optional dive trips led to plenty of shark sightings). The excursion ended at a quiet beach where the pastel sea was as warm as bath water and the sand powdery soft. The guides scaled trees, gathered coconuts and hacked them open and we ate the delicious white meat inside.

Tahiti cruise

The twin peaks of Bora Bora. * Photo: Heidi a

Another interesting tour was a short visit to a pearl farm on the Rangiroa atoll to see how Tahitian black pearls are farmed and produced; afterwards, we each bought a pendant as a keepsake of our trip.

Onboard Fun

To teach us all something about where we were going, Cruise Director Frederic, a tall charming Belgian with sun-streaked shoulder-length hair, lectured in English, German and French from the open decks about French Polynesia’s geography, history and culture. He was also the MC of evening entertainment, which ranged from campy crew and passenger talent and fashion shows to silly games like the Miss Bora Bora contest that had everyone in stitches.

At the weekly pirate night party, always-creative Chrissy outdid us all with her eye-patch, painted-on beard, and knife-in-mouth spot-on pirate imitation. Some nights, after-dinner entertainment was mellower and mood setting, including a viewing of the 1935-version of the film Mutiny on the Bounty shown on deck and another evening, a fascinating short documentary called Around Cape Horn with footage of a tall ship in a storm in 1929.

Tahiti cruise

Pirate night theme party on board. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

A big part of the Star Flyer’s appeal is the accessibility and friendliness of the crew. The captain and his staff welcome questions and expect them, and passengers are periodically invited to climb the masts and help heave the lines. We enjoyed harmless flirtations with Frederic and jokes with the poker-faced Vitaliy, a navigation officer form the Ukraine. The three young Swedish water sports assistants were popular, not just for their boy-band looks, but for their helpful attitude; they showed no impatience with three 40-somethings who couldn’t water ski quite as well as they remembered.

The open-air Tropical bar on deck is the ship’s social hub. We were definitely among the youngest passengers on board by a couple of decades, but no matter, it was a young-at-heart, outdoorsy crowd who enjoyed mingling over mai tais and sharing stories of shark sightings and dolphin encounters.

Chilling in the bow sprit net! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

When some down time was called for, we hibernated in our cozy little cabin for a snooze or a gab fest. I claimed the bunk that folded down from the ceiling, while my two friends took the pair of beds below. The nautical décor was cute — navy blue carpeting with golden knots — and the storage space was adequate for Chrissy’s extensive girly dress collection, my mishmash of linen and denim, and Rachael’s practical earth-tone duds.

We didn’t mind the tight quarters one bit, after all togetherness was the whole point and French Polynesia needless to say, was the ideal rendezvous.

Click here for more info on Star Clippers.

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Planicus Antarctica Robert van Poppelen-Oceanwide

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Snapshot: Oceanwide Expeditions, based in the Netherlands, offers some of the most active and creative onshore adventures in the industry, almost exclusively in the Arctic and Antarctica regions. The ships are comfortable and efficient conveyances, not luxurious expedition cruise ships, with the exception of the brand-new HONDIUS to join the fleet in summer 2019. The focus is the destination, and this experienced firm provides a team of experts to see that you can get the most out of your expedition on foot, snowshoes, skis, and in kayaks and Zodiacs. The ships are considered basecamps.

Planicus Antarctica Robert van Poppelen-Oceanwide

Planicus in Antarctica.* Photo: Robert van Poppelen-Oceanwide Expeditions

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers: The fleet includes four vessels, and they will be profiled separately, so look at the ship and the itineraries it undertakes.

A new ship, HONDIUS (178p) arrives in summer 2019. She will have a Polar Class 6 (1A-Super) certificate and offer accommodations from suites to triples and quads that may be booked as shares for those on a budget.

PLANICUS was built 1976 for Royal Dutch Navy, bought by Oceanwide and rebuilt in 2009. She operates in Antarctica and the Arctic — 116 passengers occupy 53 cabins and with shower and toilet. The largest are 10 twin superiors at 226 sq.ft., 2 twin deluxe at 161 sq. ft., 26 twins (all aforementioned with windows), 9 twins, 2 triples (1 upper berth), and 4 quads (2 upper) all with potholes. All cabins have a TV, while superior has a refrigerator, coffee and tea maker, and internet connections. The décor is attractive if plain.

Twin-bedded cabin, Planicus. * Photo: Oceanwide Expeditions

Twin-bedded cabin, Planicus. * Photo: Oceanwide Expeditions

The main lounge is forward with individual chairs and booth seating at tables, with good views and a bar, and the restaurant doubles as the lecture room. Food is referred to as hotel quality, so nothing fancy. The deck space is generous with ample room for all to see what’s around them.

Buffet dining on Planicus. * Photo: Heiner Kubny-Oceanwide Expeditions

Buffet dining on Planicus. * Photo: Heiner Kubny-Oceanwide Expeditions

ORTELIUS was built in 1989 in Poland for the Russian Academy of Sciences and has a 1A ice classification. She operates in the Arctic and Antarctica. The ship carries passengers in four-berth cabins with portholes, three-berth with portholes, two-berth with portholes, and twins with two windows, twin deluxe with three windows, and superior with a double bed and two or more windows. The last two categories add TV, coffee and tea maker, and refrigerator.

Ortelius in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. * Photo: Oceanwide Expeditions

Ortelius in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. * Photo: Oceanwide Expeditions

The restaurant operates with buffet service of hotel standard food. The lounge has a bar and there is a lecture room. Ample outdoor deck space is available for viewing.

Ortelius in pack ice. * Photo: Arjen Drost-Oceanwide Expeditions

Ortelius in pack ice. * Photo: Arjen Drost-Oceanwide Expeditions

REMBRANDT VAN RIJN was built early 20th century as a herring lugger, rebuilt in 1994 as a 3-masted Dutch schooner, and most recently updated in 2011 with modern interiors and navigation equipment. She operates with diesel engines and sails mainly in Greenland and also occasionally Iceland — 33 passengers occupy 1 triple cabin with porthole, 9 twins with porthole, and 6 twins without porthole. All have upper and lower berths and shower and toilet.

Rembrandt van Rijn. * Photo: Kees Beekman-Oceanwide Expeditions

Rembrandt van Rijn. * Photo: Kees Beekman-Oceanwide Expeditions

The restaurant has long tables and buffet dining, and doubles as the lecture room. A separate bar has stools and a lounge. On deck, there is ample open space.

Triple Cabin. *Photo: Monica Salmang-Oceanwide Expeditions

Triple Cabin. *Photo: Monica Salmang-Oceanwide Expeditions

NOORDERLICHT was built in 1910 in Germany as a 3-master schooner serving as a light vessel, hence the name, and 1991 she was rebuilt with two masts and her present configuration. The vessel operates in Spitsbergen and the Lofoten Islands — 20 passengers are accommodated in 10 cabins with upper and lower berths and wash basin, with 4 showers and 5 toilets nearby. Frosted ceiling glass brings in light from above.

Noorderlicht. * Photo: Remy Marion-Oceanwide Expeditions

Noorderlicht. * Photo: Remy Marion-Oceanwide Expeditions

The dining room with bench seating doubles as the lecture hall, and the lounge with banquette seating has a bar. The decks are wide open fore and aft.

Noorderlicht at mealtime. *Photo: Jan Belgers-Oceanwide Expeditions

Noorderlicht at mealtime. *Photo: Jan Belgers-Oceanwide Expeditions

Passenger Profile: Most passengers, regardless of age, are physically active, and some in top shape, and they hail from North America and Europe. The full span is 30-80 and most fall between 45-65.

Price: $$ – $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Included features: All excursions as listed in the individual itineraries. Shore adventures such as overnight camping in Antarctica are extra and can be booked in advance. Tipping guidelines are $8-10 per day.


Approaching a polar bear. * Photo: Jan Belgers-Oceanwide Expeditions

Approaching a polar bear. * Photo: Jan Belgers-Oceanwide Expeditions

  • Arctic Region: 7 nights to North Spitsbergen for polar bears, and ringed and bearded seals; 7 nights South Spitsbergen for geology and landscapes; 9 nights for a Spitsbergen circumnavigation; 7 nights to West Greenland for whales and mountain skiing and snowshoeing; 7 nights to Disko Bay, Greenland for bowhead whales, icebergs and fjords. 7 nights for East Greenland for landscapes and Aurora Borealis; 7 nights in the Lofoten Islands (Norway) for Aurora Borealis, hiking, stone age petro glyphs, fishing villages, the narrow Trollfjord, and looking for whales, sea eagles. 7 nights in North Norway for whales and Aurora Borealis.
  • Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia: Antarctic Peninsula 9 & 10 nights; Antarctica Peninsula & South Shetland Islands 9 nights; Falklands, South Georgia , South Sandwich Islands and Antarctic Peninsula 22 nights. Antarctica for icebergs, a varieties of seals, penguins, petrels, and terns; South Sandwich is seldom visited and for Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins; Falklands for Magellanic, Gentoo & Rockhopper penguins, albatross, and shags. South Georgia for Fur & Elephant Seals, King & Macaroni penguins, Wandering Albatross, former whaling station, and connections to explorer Ernest Shackelton, including his grave.
Adelie Penguins. * Photo: Jan Veen-Oceanwide Expeditions

Adelie Penguins. * Photo: Jan Veen-Oceanwide Expeditions

Why Go? The Arctic offers amazing landforms and geology, icebergs and glaciers, whales, polar bears and a wide variety of birds, isolated settlements, and especially in winter, the amazing Aurora Borealis. Antarctica is well known for its bird and animal life in the sea, on land and in the air, and evidence of early expedition trips, remote settlements, icebergs in many forms and array of colors, and some of the clearest air on the globe.

Aurora Borealis, Norway.* Photo Gaute Bruvik-Visit Norway

Aurora Borealis, Norway.* Photo Gaute Bruvik-Visit Norway

When to Go? Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia are northern winter destinations while the Arctic is just the reverse. However, some of the Lofoten Islands (Norway) expeditions take place in the late fall and late winter.

Activities & Entertainment: The focus is entirely on the destination so all activities are geared to going ashore, puttering around in Zodiacs and observing wildlife, unusual land forms and geology from the deck.

Hiking in the Arctic. * Photo: Leika Akademie-Siegfried Brueck.

Hiking in the Arctic. * Photo: Leika Akademie-Siegfried Brueck.

Special Notes: Oceanwide Expeditions has a superb website with lots of information, helpful details and excellent wildlife, excursion and ship accommodation photographs.

HONDIUS is under construction

HONDIUS (178 passengers) is currently under construction in Croatia and is expected to enter service in summer 2019. Her ice classification will be 1A-Super and she will be stabilized.

Along the Same Lines: Other expedition lines that focus on the destinations and not luxury living on board. The use of sailing vessels in the Arctic is a definitely unusual.

Contact: Oceanwide Expeditions, 15710 JFK Blvd, Suite 285, Houston, TX 77031;, 800-453-7245