Alaska Expedition Cruises with Victory

Alaska Expedition Cruises.

By Anne Kalosh.

This year’s Alaska cruise season is looking more tenuous as time goes by. Due to port closures and no-sail orders, big-ship stalwarts like Princess Cruises and Holland America Line, at this point, plan just Seattle or Vancouver, B.C., round trips, not the one-way itineraries between Vancouver and Whittier or Seward, and no add-on land tours. Cunard canceled its Alaska season outright, and Norwegian Cruise Line is not sending a fourth ship there after all.

Of the small-ship (Quirky-sized) operators, Windstar Cruises scrapped its 2020 itineraries, too, because Star Breeze is still at the Fincantieri shipyard in Palermo, Italy, where work stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Quirky Cruise detailed earlier, Star Breeze is being lengthened and updated. Instead of debuting in Alaska, the “stretched” ship is now expected to re-enter service in the Mediterranean.

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Victory Heads North

All of this is to say there’s a lot of uncertainty about Alaska expedition cruises for 2020; and about all cruises for 2020. For that reason, many avid cruisers are looking at 2021 instead. And that’s also when there will be a new choice in Alaska to make things even more enticing.

Known best for its Great Lakes itineraries, Victory Cruise Lines (operated by American Queen Steamboat Co.) will introduce its first expedition voyages in The Great Land using a brand-new ship, Ocean Victory.

Alaska Expedition Cruises with Victory

The 200-passenger Ocean Victory with its distinctive X-Bow profile. * Rendering:vVictory Cruise Lines

Vancouver-Sitka Itineraries

These new “Discover Beyond” adventures sail northbound, from Vancouver to Sitka (11 nights), and southbound, from Sitka to Vancouver (12 nights).

A world-class city, Vancouver offers bountiful museums, parks, a noted aquarium and great restaurants and nightlife. Sitka is a picturesque city of Russian heritage and the starting point for pre- or post-cruise adventures, such as a visit to Glacier Bay National Park.

Alaska Expedition Cruises with Victory

The cruises sail between Vancouver & Sitka.

Ocean Victory

Equipped with 20 Zodiacs and dozens of kayaks, Ocean Victory will enable in-depth explorations of Alaska’s natural, historic and cultural treasures. Victory is working with California Polytechnic State University to carry marine biologists, scientists and naturalists among its expedition team of 19 to lead excursions and give lectures.

The 200-passenger Ocean Victory, currently under construction in China, is among the Infinity series of expedition vessels ordered by Miami’s SunStone Ships for charter to a variety of operators.

The Infinity vessels sport Ulstein Design’s patented X-Bow for a smoother ride and reduced noise and vibration. Rolls-Royce zero-speed stabilizers reduce rolling, and a dynamic positioning system eliminates the need for anchors in sensitive areas.

Ocean Victory measures 8,500 gross tons and stretches 104.4 meters/342.5 feet. It has 93 suites, 68 with balconies, nine with French balconies and 16 with panoramic windows.

Ocean Victory cabin in Antarctica

Ocean Victory balcony suite. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

Two restaurants and an open-deck dining area provide choice.

Observation and lecture lounges, a piano bar, library, gym, spa, heated outdoor pool, pool bar and Jacuzzi are among the amenities. A dedicated launching platform will facilitate Zodiac and kayak adventures.

The ship will be served by 100 crew for a high 1:2 crew-to-guest ratio.

Alaska Expedition cruises

With its big windows, the Observation Lounge will be ideal for viewing Alaskan nature and wildlife from the ship. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

Library aboard Ocean Victory in Alaska

And views from the library, too. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

gym on Ocean Victory in Alaska

Workout with a view in the gym. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

Fjordland Conservancy

Itinerary highlights include Fjordland Conservancy, one of Canada’s newest marine parks, home to wolves, deer, eagles, bears and humpback whales. At Kynoch Inlet, a dramatic waterfall drops into a majestic fjord.

Conditions permitting, passengers will explore the Inlet’s Culpepper’s Lagoon with Victory’s naturalists.

Metlakatla & Misty Fjords

Ocean Victory will also visit Ketchikan, “Salmon Capital of the World,” with the opportunity to fish right from Creek Street.

Visit Ketchikan on an Alaska Expedition Cruise

Salmon is big in Ketchikan. * Photo: Seanna O’Sullivan Photography

Metlakatla provides immersion into the rich culture of the Tsimshian people, including a private visit to a long house for a performance by one of Alaska’s best dancing groups. At Misty Fjords National Monument, travelers find lush greenery, granite cliffs and cascading waterfalls wrapped in gossamer mist.

Russian History & Tlingit Culture

Wrangell was originally a Russian settlement, however the Tlingit people were in the region long before Russian traders settled there. Besides learning about Tlingit culture, travelers can look for bears at Anan Creek, take jet boat rides on Stikine River, go charter fishing or see ancient petroglyphs.

Another highlight is Baranoff Island’s eastern coast, where naturalist guides will lead explorations by kayaks and Zodiacs to tucked-away bays at the base of sheer mountains and cliffs.

Also known as “Little Norway,” Petersburg was settled by Norwegians who thought the area looked just like home.

Directly across the water is Kupreanof Island, with hiking trails, while a floatplane experience provides a bird’s-eye view of LaConte Glacier and its dramatic ice fields.

Tracy Arm & Endicott Arm

Rivaling Norway’s fjords, Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm contain the magnificent Sawyer and Dawes glaciers. The 12-night itinerary from Sitka spends two days there, with visits to Tracy Arm, Endicott and Ford’s Terror Wilderness. The 11-night itinerary from Vancouver spends one day and visits Tracy or Endicott, depending on the ice conditions.

Alaska Expedition cruise excursions in zodiacs

Zodiac excursions take you close up to glaciers and ice fields. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Whale country

After a morning visit to the Tlingit village of Kake, Ocean Victory will travel through whale country. As the home of the Five Finger Whale Research Center, the Frederick Sound is world famous for viewing humpbacks, orcas and Dall’s porpoise. A hydrophone will be used to hear the underwater sounds.

Whales on Alaska Expedition cruises

Ocean Victory will travel through whale country. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Fares for the 11-night northbound cruises on May 21, June 11, July 2 and 23, Aug. 13 and Sept. 3, 2021, start at $4,199 per person. The 12-night southbound cruises, on May 31, June 21, July 12, Aug. 2 and 23 and Sept. 13, start at $4,999. A one-time “Hidden Coast” itinerary, 11 nights, from Vancouver to Seattle on Sept. 24, is priced from $4,199.

Port fees, taxes and gratuities are extra.

Ocean Discoverer Joins in 2023

Victory Cruise Lines is chartering a second expedition new build, Ocean Discoverer, to join sister ship Ocean Victory in Alaska in 2023.

For more info on Victory’s Alaska expedition cruises, go to Victory Cruise Lines’ website.

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Whale Watching Tips

Whale Watching Tips

By Raphael Fennimore of Gotham Whale.

This article aims to provide a basic introduction to whales for small-ship cruisers visiting some of the world’s top spots for whale watching. The article describes some common types of whales and where you’ll likely see them.

What is a Whale & Where are They Found?

Whales are a truly amazing group of large marine mammals classified into the biological Order of Cetacea, a group that also includes dolphins and porpoises.

With approximately 90 unique species, cetaceans are found throughout the world’s oceans — from the warm tropical seas, to the icy poles, coastal areas and the very centers of every ocean basin.

Some of the popular small-ship cruising regions for whale watching include New England, St. Lawrence Seaway, Sea of Cortez, southeast Alaska, western Scotland, southwestern Greenland, Antarctica, South Africa, New Zealand’s South Island, eastern Australia and the Hawaiian Islands.

RELATED: A Lindblad Expeditions cruise in the Sea of Cortez.  by Peter Knego.

Whale Watching Tips

Breaching humpback in the waters off New York City. * Photo: Celia Ackerman

RELATED: Whale populations in New York harbor are booming—here’s why.  by Simon Worrall.

Minke Whale Watching Tips

A Minke whale in Antarctica.

Due to the very large number of cetacean species and their truly global distribution, this brief whale watching tips article will focus on only the most common cetaceans which small-ship cruisers are likely to encounter on their expeditions.

Whale Watching Tips: Two Categories of Whales

Whales can be divided into two categories — toothed whales and baleen whales.

Toothed Whales:
  1. Have teeth
  2. Hunt relatively large, singular prey

Examples of toothed whales include the sperm whale, known to hunt giant squid, and the orca (“killer whale”), known to hunt seals, sharks, and even other whales.

Other toothed whales include pilot whales, the beluga whale, the narwhal (with its famous spiraling “horn,” which is actually a tooth), and all of the dolphins, porpoises, and the little-known “beaked whales.”

orca Whale Watching Tips

An orca whale.

Baleen Whales:
  1. Do not have teeth
  2. Use rows of “baleen,” which look like the bristles of a brush, in their mouths to filter large amounts of seawater for numerous small prey, such as small fish or krill (a type of tiny shrimp)
Baleen whales

Baleen. * Photo: Celia Ackerman.

Examples of baleen whales include the humpback whale, blue whale, fin whale, right whales, minke whales and others.

Fin Whale Tips

Fin whales feeding.

Whale Watching Tips: Identifying the Common Types

If you think you see a whale while on a cruise, keep an eye on it. Alert a member of the crew so the captain can slow down or perhaps stop the vessel and an onboard naturalist can help you identify the species and characteristics.

Like us humans, whales are mammals, and so they breathe air directly from the atmosphere using their lungs (unlike fish, which use gills to filter air molecules out of the water, with the exception of the lungfish).

This means that whales must be at the surface to breathe, and when they exhale, you can often see, hear, or possibly even smell their cloud-like “spout” that quickly rises vertically up into the air.

This spout, or “blow,” is often the first thing observed when looking for whales. Whalers famously used to cry out ‘thar she blows!’ when they sighted this familiar rising cloud, which also resembles a puff of smoke.

Whale Watching Tips

The blow.

Spouting Humpbacks whales

Spouting humpbacks.

In fact, it is sometimes possible to identify a whale’s species based only on seeing a spout. For example, blue whales have very tall spouts (over 30 feet!), right whales have V-shaped spouts, and sperm whales have spouts that are aimed forward and to the left.

Whale spout comparison chart

Whale spout comparison. * Credit:

If you get close enough to see the whale’s body, then there are several features that you can look for to try to identify the type of whale that you are observing. Note the whale’s approximate size; its color and coloration pattern; the size, shape, and number of its fins; and the place, date, and time where you saw the whale. For more precise identification later, take photos or video of the whales you spot.

Consider sharing your data with “citizen science” organizations highlighted at the end of the article, including Gotham Whale and Happywhale.

To help in your whale identification, below are basic descriptions of some of the most common whales, including details about their size, defining characteristics, and areas in which they can be found.

Blue Whale

Blue whale

A blue whale. * Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Size: Up to 100 feet, over 200 tons
Description: Very long and slender body; small dorsal fin; blue or blue-gray mottled skin coloration; underside can appear yellow
Distribution & Habitat: Global, but not as frequently found in the tropics; solitary; prefers deep waters
Behaviors: Swimming at surface; filter feeding; rare other surface activities


Fin Whale

Fin whale tips.

Fin whale.

Size: Up to 85 feet, over 80 tons
Description: Very long and slender body; dorsal fin present; gray and black coloration; underside white; light-gray chevrons often behind the head; bottom jaw is white on the right and dark on the left
Distribution & Habitat: Global but not as frequently found in the tropics; prefers deep waters
Behaviors: Fast swimming at surface; filter feeding; rare other surface activities


Humpback Whale

Whale watching tips

Humpback flukes.

Size: Up to 60 feet, 40 tons
Description: Predominantly black with varying levels of white on underside, on pectoral fins, and on underside of tail; bumps on head; dorsal fin present; individuals have unique dorsal fin shapes, patterns on the underside of their tails, and shapes of their tails (try to photo!)
Distribution & Habitat: Global; highly migratory; distinct populations; generally give birth in warm regions and migrate to colder regions for feeding
Behaviors: Jumping out of the water (‘breaching’); flipper slapping; tail slapping; interesting feeding behaviors such as bubble net feeding


Orca (“Killer Whale”)

Killer whales

A pair of killer whales.

Size: Up to 32 feet, 6 tons
Description: Black with white undersides; white eye patches; gray or white ‘saddle patch’ behind dorsal fin; individual orcas have unique dorsal fin shapes and saddle patches
Distribution & Habitat: Global but less frequently in tropics; distinct ecotypes and populations; hunt in social pods; can be coastal or offshore
Behaviors: Jumping out of the water (‘breaching’); sticking their head out of the water (‘spy-hopping’); tail slapping; many interesting group feeding and hunting behaviors


Sperm Whale

sperm whale watching

Sperm whale. * Photo: Humberto Braojos

Size: Up to 65 feet, 60 tons
Description: Dark gray body; large rectangular head (1/3 of their body length); thin lower jaw full of large teeth; dorsal fin present; crenulations (bumps) in a line down the back behind the dorsal fin
Distribution & Habitat: Global; prefer deep water for hunting
Behaviors: Swimming; rare other surface activities (breaching, tail slapping)



Dolphin Whale Watching Tips

A Dolphin.

Size: More than 40 species, great variation; 4 – 13 feet, 85 – 1100 pounds
Description: Much variation. Can be solidly colored light to dark gray, pink, black and white, or can be a mixture of these colors in vibrant, streaking patterns. Some have distinctive spots, stripes, or scratches/scars.
Distribution & Habitat: Global, found in shallow waters and far offshore. Typically social and found in groups of a few to over a thousand
Behaviors: Swimming; hunting; jumping out of the water (breaching); and more


Learning More: How Can I Help Whales?

To learn more about the whales and dolphins travelers are likely to encounter on a small-ship cruise, here are some great resources and very worthy organizations that rely on public donations to operate, including:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Mission: “NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Our reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as we work to keep the public informed of the changing environment around them.

From daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings, and climate monitoring to fisheries management, coastal restoration and supporting marine commerce, NOAA’s products and services support economic vitality and affect more than one-third of America’s gross domestic product…”

NOAA whale organizationWhale SENSE

Mission: “Whale SENSE is a voluntary education and recognition program offered to commercial whale watching companies in the U.S. Atlantic and Alaska Regions. The program is sponsored by NOAA Fisheries and Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Developed in collaboration with the whale watching industry, Whale SENSE recognizes whale watching companies committed to responsible practices…”

Whale Watching Tips
Gotham Whale

Mission: “To study, advocate for, and educate about the whales and marine mammals of New York City, through Citizen Science…Citizen Science is a movement to include average citizens in scientific research allowing them to make systematic observations, to collect and process data, and provide general support for scientific study. The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, running since 1900, is an excellent example. Gotham Whale will emulate that model with the vast citizen pool that is New York City.

The whale watching activities of the American Princess and other boatmen provide a platform to collect data and make observations. The many eyes of the pubic make sightings more probable. Gotham Whale will serve as a depository for that data…”

Here’s info on whale-watching day cruises in the New York area aboard the 250-passenger American Princess

Gotham Whale

RELATED: Humpback whales feast in NYC.  by Dr. Merryl Kafka, Director of Education and Naturalist for Gotham Whale 


Mission: “Happywhale inspires kinship between humans and marine life through whale citizen science.

Happywhale tracks individual whales throughout our world’s oceans. We believe that whale watching guides, naturalists and passengers are vital to our understanding of whales. Scientists can only be in one place at one time; by harnessing the power of millions of whale watching enthusiasts, we can expand our scientific knowledge exponentially.

Our platform empowers whale watchers to photograph whales and tell their stories…”

whale watching groups

The Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM)

Mission: “To promote the global advancement of marine mammal science and contribute to its relevance and impact in education, conservation and management…”

Whale watching groups

More about Raphael Fennimore

Raphael recently joined Gotham Whale after helping run the world’s oldest whale/dolphin/porpoise conservation group, The Society for Marine Mammalogy. He also worked in the UK in 2019 on the World Cetacean Alliance’s “Global Best Practice Guidance for Responsible Whale and and Dolphin Watching.” The detailed paper is geared to whale- and dolphin-watching boat operators and guides, but may also be of interest to any whale and dolphin enthusiasts.

Raphael is an IAATO-certified Antarctic Peninsula field guide and most recently helped lead an 80-guest “Whales in Antarctica” expedition in Feb/March (2019) with Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris.

“I am a very passionate believer in the small cruise experience!!” —Raphael Fennimore

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Alaska cruise adventures aboard UnCruise's Legacy

Small-Ship Alaska Cruise Adventures.

By Judi Cohen.

The moment I arrived in sunny Juneau where my Uncruise “Glacier Country Adventure” would begin and end, I knew this would be no ordinary 7-night Alaska cruise. As we were welcomed aboard the 90-passenger S.S. Legacy, UnCruise owner Dan Blanchard flashed the cruise brochure and exclaimed: “These brochures are out of date as soon as they’re printed. Everything on the planned route is subject to change based on the weather, park permits and wildlife sightings — Mother Nature will be in charge.”

With no traditional “ports of call” during the 614-nautical-mile cruise, the Legacy would serve as a wildlife and adventure platform and our comfortable home.

Alaska cruise adventures aboard UnCruise's Legacy

The charming 90-passenger Legacy. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Introducing the SS Legacy

The 192-foot S.S. Legacy, built in 1984 (and renovated in 2018) as a replica of a Victorian-era steamboat, would have fit perfectly into an Alaskan Gold Rush movie.

While there was nothing fancy about the Legacy, I found her Victorian-style décor and furnishings exceedingly comfortable and welcoming.

Her four decks include a sun deck with two hot tubs, an exercise room and lounge chairs. An elevator between Decks 1 and 3 makes it easy for those with mobility issues.

Alaska cruise writer Judi Cohen aboard UnCruise's Legacy

Writer Judi Cohen at the bow of the 90-passenger Legacy. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

The dining room and Pesky Barnacle Saloon are on Deck 1, while the lounge and bar are set on Deck 2 along with some cabins. The rest of the cabins line Deck 3.

Most of the 48 passengers on my Alaska cruise were active and fit with an average age of 50. We had options for morning and afternoon excursions including free and guided kayaking, bushwacking, “yak and wack” (combo kayaking and bushwacking), and skiff tours — tours on small 12-passenger inflatable boats. Morning stretch class or yoga was offered on the sun deck.

An Alaska cruise on a small ship

Excursions by skiff were a daily event on Judi’s Alaska cruise. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Wonderfully All-Inclusive

Adventure equipment (kayaks, paddleboards and skiffs) were carried on a portable launch pad called the “Sea Dragon.” Equipment like walking poles and “Alaskan Tennis Shoes,” aka rubber boots, could be borrowed. And lessons and excursions are included.

Alaska cruise and kayaking excursions

Judi and Lawrence being lowered into the water off the Sea Dragon platform. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Wine, spirits, soft drinks, juices, snacks, coffee and tea are also included. Wine could be ordered by the glass or bottle and Kyle the bartender was open to all requests.

There was a signature cocktail in the lounge before dinner that we enjoyed with hors d’oeuvres daily. Coffee, tea and snacks were always available.

The busy Lounge and bar

Lounge and bar: a hive of activity all the time! * Photo: Judi Cohen

Naturalists & Crew

There were five naturalists and experts on board our Alaska cruise. They were our expedition guides, sharing their knowledge and passion about Alaska’s wildlife, plants and history on board and during our many excursions.

In addition, Kate Troll and Bill Hanson, Alaska residents since the 1970’s, were invited onboard to provide a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to live, work and play in Southeast Alaska. Called “Alaska Insiders,” they never ran short of interesting stories shared in the lounge, dining room and the bow, and during our excursions.

They told us about their careers in natural resources, and their lives as hunters and foragers. The pair spoke about changes in the glaciers, wildlife, local people, variety of salmon, and effects of commercial fisheries. I learned, for instance, that Alaskan salmon is the gold standard due to stringent sustainability legislation.

Kate read passages from her book, The Great Unconformity – Reflections on Hope in an Imperiled World, and spoke about the dramatic changes she has seen in Alaska.

Alaska cruise with UnCruise lecturer Kate Judi with Kate

Judi with Kate, one of the cruise’s “Alaska Insider” special lecturers. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Bill shared a passionate story during a presentation about hunting for venison, discussing their connection to the land and the necessity to eat what they harvest. I was moved when Bill said “there is some sadness felt about killing a deer.” He explained the ritual of putting their favorite food in the deer’s mouth, placing his hand on the dead deer, and saying thank you for giving them food.

The Uncruise team, notably the expert guides, Sarah, Andrew, Jessie, Teresa, Bobby and the expedition leader, Megan, along with  Captain Tim Voss, were all vital in making our awesome Alaska cruise as memorable as it was. No doubt they loved what they were doing and encouraged us to try everything, going out of their way for first-timers like us.

They generously shared their experiences and knowledge during our excursions and onboard the ship. In the same spirit, the captain welcomed everyone in the bridge whenever we were sailing.

On cruising days, the captain excitedly announced wildlife sightings, as everyone poured out onto the bow or the top-deck of the ship. The guides were as excited as the guests to see and talk about the sightings.

Alaska cruise mountain goat sighting

Guides pointing out bearded mountain goats in Glacier Bay. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Alaska cruise wildlife

Bearded mountain goats in Glacier Bay. * Photo: Uncruise

Cozy  & Compact Cabins

Cabins range from 110 square feet to a 600-square-foot two-room “Owner’s Suite” on the sun deck with its own wet bar and library. All have outside windows, and accommodate singles, triples and quads. Each offers a private bathroom with shower, bathrobes, alarm clock, safe, small flat-screen TV with DVD player, and an iPod docking station.

My cabin (306) on deck 3 was a 145-square-foot “Commander” category, with a private bathroom with shower, and a window and a door opening to the outdoor promenade. With fixed twin wooden beds, storage drawers, small desk, and closet with a safe and binoculars (to borrow), we had room to move around and unpack all of our clothing and gear.

A nice surprise was that we could drink the water from all sources on the ship, including in our bathroom.

Cabin #306 aboard the 90-passenger Legacy

Judi’s cabin, #306. * Photo: Judi Cohen

I loved seeing the sunrise from the bow. It was my favorite place on the Legacy. With my hair blowing and the ship’s flag waving, all I could hear was the movement of the water and the call of seabirds.

There is something romantic about being out front on the bow. Day or night, it’s like having a front row seat to the greatest nature show on earth.

Alaska cruise with writer Judi Cohen on bow

Judi on the bow of the SS Legacy. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

One night, we were woken up with an announcement to get out on deck if we wanted to see the Aurora Borealis on the port side. Everyone scrambled from their rooms. Some came out in bathrobes, while others quickly threw on some clothes.

Alas, by the time I made it out the colors remained for only a few seconds, replaced by large white streaks of light in the dark sky. I guess seeing the Aurora Borealis will remain on my wish list for a future Alaska cruise.

The Grand Salon Lounge and Bar

The Lounge on deck 2 was the ship’s hub, with its welcoming bar area that comprised a small library with books and DVD’s (a good thing since there is no internet access on the Legacy). It was the gathering area not only for drinks, but also presentations, games and general relaxation. There were comfortable sofas, marble-topped tables, and large picture windows.

The Klondike Dining Room

The dining room on deck 1 was bright and warm with large windows, an old-fashioned tin ceiling, two-tone wooden pillars and carpeted floors. It featured a mix of booths along the windows with larger round tables in the center.

Dining Room with swinging doors into Pesky Barnacle saloon

Dining Room with swinging doors into Pesky Barnacle saloon. * Photo: Judi Cohen

I enjoyed sitting with different guests at each meal since there was no assigned seating. We regaled each other with stories about the day’s adventures and talked about the day ahead.

Swinging saloon doors from the dining room opened to the Pesky Barnacle Saloon with wrap-around windows and a poker room vibe. It was the perfect place to play cards or just enjoy the panoramic view. On our sailing, the space was also used as a place to gather before excursions, don lifejackets, put on sunscreen, and fill our reusable water bottles.

Getting ready in the Pesky Barnacle

Getting ready in the Pesky Barnacle lounge. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Mealtime was Pure Joy

With many active and fit guests on our Alaska cruise, there were healthy options that also satisfied cosmopolitan foodies like my husband and me. All of our meals were served in courses, like dining in a restaurant.

Breakfast was served at 7:30 or 8:00am depending on the planned activities, and always included choices of eggs, yogurt, fruit, bacon, and fresh squeezed orange juice. A daily omelette made with a choice of carmelized leek, manchego, artichokes, chorizo and other ingredients.

And if that wasn’t enough, there were frittatas with roasted peppers and a crispy kale topping, blueberry pancakes with whipped cream, a full English breakfast, and cornflake-crusted French toast with bananas foster topping.

Full Breakfast with all the fixins

Full Breakfast with all the fixins. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Lunch one day included bison chili, vegetarian chili or a mixed salad with hardboiled eggs, shredded chicken and tortilla strips. On another day we had the choice of BBQ brisket, pulled jackfruit with coleslaw, mac ‘n cheese, or a salad with sockeye salmon.

There were no bad choices! Delicious freshly-baked breads, pastries and desserts accompanied every meal.

Following happy hour in the lounge, dinner was served at 6:30pm. Our dinners always started with a homemade bread and an appetizer or antipasti board with cheeses like baked brie, gruyere or blue-cheese custard, nuts, poached apples or other jams and berries.

An appetizer shared board with blue cheese, date topping, carrot butter, fruit, nuts and fig bread

An appetizer shared board with blue cheese, date topping, carrot butter, fruit, nuts and fig bread. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Our plated dinner included a meat, fish and vegetarian option. I found it difficult to choose one night from among beef tenderloin with mushrooms and demi-fried shallots, Coho salmon with rhubarb marmalade and pickled strawberries, or the vegetarian beet Wellington with leek cream and roasted radish.

Two of my favorite meals were the pepper-crusted lamb popsicles with fenugreek curry and the poached ling cod with cilantro basil oil.

Lamb Popsicles with fenugreek curry and charred broccoli.

Lamb Popsicles with fenugreek curry and charred broccoli. YUM! * Photo: Judi Cohen

Our all-you-can-eat Dungeness crab dinner was both a gourmet treat and a learning experience as we mastered how to crack the claws and pull the meat out of the shells.

Dungeness Crab Dinner with guests from Australia, UK,and California

Dungeness Crab Dinner with guests from Australia, UK and California. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Chef Cooper kept bringing out large bowls of crabs. It was quite a messy job and I concluded that it would not be wise to order Dungeness crab on a first date!

Alaska cruise dining on Dungeness crabs

Chef Cooper with Dungeness crabs galore. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Desserts were beautifully presented and always worth saving room for. The pastry chef’s creations included pumpkin cake with fresh whipped cream; fruity pebbles, candy floss and root beer macarons; and salty toffee brownies that could all have come from the finest gourmet bakery!

Dessert, fruity pebbles and candy floss macarons

Delish dessert: fruity pebbles and candy floss macarons. * Photo: Judi Cohen

A Week of Non-stop Adventure 

Map from bulletin board, updated daily

Map from bulletin board, updated daily. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 1: Juneau

We were welcomed aboard around 4pm by the captain and crew, shown to our cabins and given a safety briefing. Before we knew it, our Alaska cruise had begun and we were on our way to Glacier Bay National Park.

With almost 15 hours of daylight at this time of year, we enjoyed the golden sunshine on the bow until late in the evening.

Day 2: Tidal Inlet & Glacier Bay National Park

We anchored in Tidal Inlet with breathtaking views of the snow-peaked mountains, rocky shores and the glassy smooth water for most of the day.

Alaska cruise reflections in the waters of Glacier Bay

Stunning reflections in the water in Glacier Bay. * Photo: Judi Cohen

I was very excited that my husband and I, along with nine other guests, chose to take the “Kayak 101” lesson with Bobby from the expedition staff. After 90 minutes we were both confident and comfortable in our kayak.

Judi and Lawrence in a Kayak

Judi and Lawrence at the Kayak 101 training, at Tidal Inlet in Glacier Bay. * Photo: Judi Cohen

We were thrilled to embrace this learning opportunity and could hardly wait to kayak again on our Alaska cruise.

Alaska cruise kayaking

Judi fell in love with kayaking on her UnCruise Alaska adventure. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Following lunch, Ranger Caitie, who boarded at Bartlett Cove wearing her National Parks uniform, gave an orientation session on Glacier National Park. She noted that “only two large cruise ships, four small ships, and a few kayaks are allowed in the park at a time.”

So this part of the trip felt like a privilege, especially since we would be in the park for two full days!

Judi with Ranger Caitie before she departed in Bartlett Cove

Judi with Ranger Caitie before she departed in Bartlett Cove. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

As the Legacy sailed along Tarr Inlet in Glacier Bay, Kate pointed out the partially hidden Grand Pacific Glacier in the distance where Canada meets Alaska.

We slowly approached the majestic blue-veined Margerie Glacier and Ranger Caitie requested a moment of silence. We stood on the bow listening to the glacier grumbling and bergy bits growling and crackling in the water all around the ship; it was a highlight of my Alaska cruise.

Alaska cruise approaching Margerie Glacier

Approaching Margerie Glacier. * Photo: Judi Cohen

With the clear skies, we were able to see the snow-covered jagged peak of Mount Fairweather, the highest mountain in the Canadian province of British Columbia.

Lawrence on the sundeck

Lawrence on the sundeck. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 3: Lamplugh Glacier & South Marble Island

A planned morning skiff ride and beach walk near the magnificent Lamplugh Glacier quickly changed to just a long skiff ride after a brown bear was spotted a short distance away on the beach and another bear was swimming towards the beach.

We passed slowly by the odorous South Marble Island with lazy sea lions and seals making belching and farting noises. Meanwhile, loads of seabirds were flying overhead. Humpback whale blows and flukes could be seen in the distance.

Alaska cruise wildlife includes Sea Lions

Sea Lions enjoying the sunshine on South Marble Island. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Before lunch about half of the passengers and many of the staff did a “polar plunge” off the Sea Dragon into the frigid waters of Glacier Bay. The rest of us cheered them on (I have to admit, I hate cold water and couldn’t fathom jumping in!).

Alaska cruise UnCruise Polar Plunge

Polar Plunge in Glacier Bay. Brrrrr! * Photo: Judi Cohen

We then sailed to drop off Ranger Caitie at Glacier National Park headquarters in Bartlett Cove. Along the way we saw many bears digging for food on the shore — and we could see them without binoculars, that’s how close they were (this could never happen on a big-ship cruise!).

The sight of a mother brown bear with two fuzzy cubs was my best Mother’s Day gift ever! My Alaska cruise was even better than I had imagined.

Mama Brown Bear and Two Cubs

Mama Brown bear and two cubs on Mothers Day! * Photo: Judi Cohen

After dinner, we all went for a walk to see the Huna Tribal House on the shoreline of Bartlett Cove. We admired the carved totems and the exterior painting representing the stories of the Glacier Bay clans.

Guests walked along the one-mile Bartlett River shoreline trail or just relaxed on the sandy beach near the dock to enjoy the colors and listen to the sounds of the birds.

Huna House Bartlett Cove in Glacier National Park

Huna House in Bartlett Cove in Glacier National Park. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 4: Neka Bay Wildlife Extravaganza

The Legacy was anchored in the untouched wilderness and the quiet calm in Neka Bay. Our morning skiff tour turned out to be a wildlife extravaganza, with eagles, gulls, golden plover, pigeon guillemot, harlequin ducks and sliders.

Alaska Cruise Bald Eagle Sighting

A majestic Bald Eagle sighting. * Photo: Judi Cohen

We were treated to humpback whales blowing and breaching, and harbor seals and porpoises playing near our skiff.

When we returned to the ship, I decided to do some free-kayaking for an hour before lunch in magical and serene Neka Bay.

Judi and Lawrence free-kayaking in Neka Bay

Judi and Lawrence free-kayaking in Neka Bay.

In the afternoon we were dropped off on a rocky beach with an array of spitting clams, starfish that were 10-20 inches across, and red rock crabs. Here we would experience a two-hour bushwack.

Giant starfish on Judi's hat before bushwacking trek.

Giant starfish on Judi’s hat before bushwacking trek. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Our guide yelled “aaayo” loudly many times to let any bears know that we arrived. Unlike a hike along a marked path, bushwacking required effort and attention as we made our own way through the forested and mossy undergrowth. We stopped to learn about the moss, fungus and flowers and even tasted some of them.

Judi bushwacking

Judi bushwacking! * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

I worked up quite a sweat and peeled off my layers of clothing right down to a T-shirt! When we made it to a clearing, we spotted a lumbering brown bear and quickly planned a detour back to our skiff.

Our many bear sightings were definitely a very special feature of an Alaska cruise on a small, nimble ship like the Legacy, that can meanuever close to shore.

We sailed all evening and night to Thomas Bay, also called “The Bay of Death” or “Devil’s Country.” As the story goes, early prospectors reported seeing “Kushtaka,” the shape-shifting creatures of Tlingit tribal legend that can take the form of man or otter.

We passed Huna, a fishing village, that is now a cruise ship dock with the longest zipline in North America. Thankfully we did not stop here!

Captain Voss announced that a pod of Orca killer whales were on our port side. He stopped the ship so we could enjoy them bobbing and moving gracefully. The guides even lowered a microphone into the water to hear them better.

Killer Whales portside - binoculars focused

Killer Whales port side: binoculars focused! * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 5: Scenery Cove & Baird Glacier 

Our morning excursion was a skiff ride in Scenery Cove, just in front of Baird Glacier. We navigated around large oddly-shaped grounded icebergs of many colors, which is only possible in a skiff with a very experienced operator familiar with the changing tides and water levels.

We did an easy guided hike in the afternoon up to Cascade Creek to see a winding waterfall that flowed from the top of the mountain down through rocks and forests. The mist from the waterfalls made the steep rocky stairs very slippery, so ropes were available along the sides for stability.

Hiking at Cascade Creek Alaska

Hiking at Cascade Creek. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Day 6: Robert & Crow Islands, Plus Woodspit

This morning our skiff was surrounded by dozens of playful Steller sea lions as we soaked in the lush green surroundings. We spotted Arctic terns, puffins, cormorants and murrelets and other birds.

Lawrence and Earl on a skiff

Lawrence and Earl on a skiff. * Photo: Judi Cohen

On our way to Woodspit in the afternoon, we were on a whale search and sure enough Captain Voss spotted a pod of Humpback whales.

Humpback Whale fluke

Humpback Whale fluke. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The breaching whales put on a show that lasted a couple of hours. The ship turned several times so we could get the best views.

What a show!

On the bow watching humpbacks

On the bow watching humpbacks. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 7: Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier — The Highlight of my Trip!

This was the highlight of the trip for me as we sailed through the sapphire-colored near-frozen waters in Endicott Arm surrounded by turquoise icebergs. I was on the bridge as we sailed through this tranquil paradise with waterfalls, forests and ice.

On the Bridge with Captain Voss heading towards Dawes Glacier

On the bridge with Captain Voss heading towards Dawes Glacier. * Photo: Judi Cohen

On our skiff tour we heard the crackling of icebergs in the water as we moved closer to the face of Dawes Glacier — over 600 feet tall and a mile wide. We witnessed the thundering sound of the calving glacier when giant chunks of ice broke off and crashed into the water without warning, creating waves that rocked our skiff.

It was a sobering reminder of the reality of climate change and a dramatic way to end the cruise.

Day 8: Disembarkation in Juneau

When we disembarked in Juneau, Dan Blanchard took us on a fascinating tour of downtown Juneau pointing out the rich history of prospecting and gold mines. We had succulent Alaskan halibut and chips on the pier and took in our last views of the beautiful cloud-shrouded mountains, lush forest and choppy seas before our transfer to the airport.

Lawrence Cohen enjoying our last Alaskan Fish and Chips on the dock in Juneau

Lawrence Cohen enjoying our last Alaskan Fish and Chips on the dock in Juneau. * Photo: Judi Cohen

End Note

I was grateful for the opportunity to be unplugged and disconnected from my normal wired life, and reveled in reconnecting with my body and curious spirit on this very special Alaska cruise. Blessed with a week of sunshine, I enjoyed all of the adventurous activities and up-close wildlife sightings in the water, on land and in the sky.

My interest has been piqued, and I look forward to seeing more of the untouched wilderness and incredible miracles of Mother Nature in Alaska. I hope to return again one day for more adventure and genuine UnCruise hospitality!

UnCruise’s 7-night “Glacier Country Adventure” cruise starts at $4,795. per person; click here for more details.

Alaska cruise aboard UnCruise's Legacy

The Legacy is an excellent way to explore Alaska’s Inside passage.

QuirkyCruise Review



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Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

By Peter Knego.

My Lindblad Expeditions “Among The Great Whales” adventure aboard the brand-new 100-passenger National Geographic Venture began at San Jose del Cabo at the tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. It was a three-hour drive up the Pacific Coast and across rugged desert terrain to the CostaBaja Resort overlooking the Bay of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

“Among the Great Whales” itinerary. Note the order of ports may vary. * Map: Lindblad Expeditions

A nice buffet dinner under the stars provided an ideal way to unwind and meet fellow shipmates, about 100 well-traveled Americans and a scattered few from other countries.

Nearly everyone on board the 7-night cruise was there to see and get up close to the wildlife, sea lions, birds and especially the whales. Many guests were avid photo takers who appreciated the official photographer‘s tips with techniques.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

All aboard as the National Geographic Venture prepares to depart San Carlos! * Photo: Peter Knego

On Board

The next afternoon, we crossed to the Pacific Coast to join the brand-new National Geographic Venture; aka NG Venture.

Introduced in early 2019, the 238-foot, 2,380-gt NG Venture is a sparkling, state-of-the-art expedition ship with a fleet of eight zodiacs and 24 kayaks. The US-flag ship is fitted with stabilizers that would come in handy in open ocean conditions.

The ship has four decks connected by a lift and two stair towers. The layout includes a lounge, dining room, shop, gym, an open bow observation platform, an open bridge (conditions permitting), a sheltered stern terrace and a platform for boarding kayaks and zodiacs.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

The interior portion of Lounge Deck begins with the Lounge, which can seat all guests at once and features a bar, library, numerous LED screens and a rotunda-style podium called the Circle Of Truth for presentations by the ship’s expedition team. * Photo: Peter Knego

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

At the aft end of Lounge Deck, the Dining Room can also seat all guests at once and features floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides. * Photo: Peter Knego

Due to an approaching storm, instead of overnighting for a morning bird-watching excursion in Bahia Magdalena, we sailed off to Laguna San Ignacio, a protected whale feeding ground about 100 miles up the coast. It is a site made famous by the likes of John Steinbeck and Jacques Cousteau.

The Cabin Accommodations

My Category 3 cabin had a comfy queen-size bed, two picture windows, a writing desk, plenty of storage space, and bathroom with shower. Being the most forward cabin, it was a bit bumpy that first night as it took the brunt of the pounding waves and succumbed to some serious “corkscrewing” — that dreaded combination of pitching and rolling.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

There are no keys to access cabins on the National Geographic Venture, including Category 3 stateroom 202, shown facing port.  All staterooms do lock from the inside and are stocked with eco-friendly amenities (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel — in shower dispensers) and soap. * Photo: Peter Knego

Thankfully, for those like me with motion sickness issues, the ship provided an abundant supply of delicious ginger chews and meclizine tablets. Both were effective.

As for the Venture’s other accommodations, the top-grade Category 1’s have large picture windows that look out to a narrow promenade, a sitting area and an expanded bathroom. Category 2’s are slightly smaller but come with a private balcony.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

The NG Venture’s Category 1 staterooms have picture windows that look out onto the Observation Deck promenade. * Photo: Peter Knego

Categories 4 and 5 are the most economical, and thus smaller and lower in the ship, which can actually be a good thing when the seas get rough.

The lack of televisions provided a chance to fully disengage from the chaos of the outside world.

 First Excursion Ashore

It was gray and cooler than expected when we finally reached the shelter of Laguna San Ignacio the next afternoon. That first Zodiac ride in the chilling wind and rough surf would add to the sense of adventure and ultimately pay off in spades.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Zodiacs are accessed via a platform on the stern of the ship. * Photo: Peter Knego

Strangely, this entire week in the Baja region would be about ten degrees cooler than in California where I live, so I was glad to have brought a sweatshirt and waterproof windbreaker along.

No matter what the weather conditions are, you can never go wrong with layers!

Peter all layered up in Baja! * Photo: Peter Knego

After a beach landing, we transferred from the ship’s Zodiacs to locally operated pangas that buzzed us deep into the gray whales’ turf. All around us, the giant cetaceans were “spy hopping,” or projecting their massive bodies vertically out of the sea to get a peek above the surface and then falling back with a giant splash.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

A pair of gray whales doing their “spy hop” maneuver at Laguna San Ignacio. * Photo: Peter Knego

Our guides explained that this gravitational shifting also helps them digest the little crustaceans and other tiny creatures they had come to gorge on.

As our panga returned to the beach, a “friendly” (a baby gray calf) surfaced alongside just long enough for us to pat its barnacle-encrusted skin before it vanished back into the bubbly realm.

Click below: When a whale breaches within touching distance, it is called a “friendly”.


Sunsets & Sunrises

Back aboard the National Geographic Venture, dinner was slightly delayed so that we could gather on the bow for a startlingly beautiful sunset. For that lingering transition from day into night, our slice of the world was bathed in an almost fluorescent orange and magenta glow.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

San Ignacio’s sunset over the bow. * Photo: Peter Knego

The next morning, it was all about Zodiacs and pangas and the pursuit of more whales.  The seas were not only teeming with majestic grays, but provided a side show of dancing dolphins, the occasional leaping manta and scores of sea turtles.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Pangas, breaching grays and the mirage-like National Geographic Venture at Laguna San Ignacio. * Photo: Peter Knego

With the sun beaming on the jagged purple peaks of the Sierras De La Gigantes in the backdrop, it couldn’t have been more exhilarating. Although there were no more close encounters of the “friendly” kind.

Racing Ahead to Avoid a Storm

For the next 36 hours, the National Geographic Venture made a mad south-by-southeasterly dash for Cabo, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez.  For a delightful interlude on that first afternoon, dolphins frolicked in our bow wave.

Click above to view dolphins escorting the National Geographic Venture on her southbound journey.

Thankfully, as the Venture kept ahead of the storm, it would be a relatively smooth ride. I enjoyed the ship, dining, enrichment lectures and fellow guests, free of the trance-inducing effects of meclizine.

Dawn of a New Day

Day six began with the night sky morphing from ink blue into a lovely shade of pre-dawn purple-essence.

With coffee in one hand and camera in the other, I worked my way up to the bow platform to join fellow guests as the rising sun cast its first rays on Friar’s Rocks. The iconic formation at the tip of Cabo San Lucas is also known as Los Arcos.

Sunrise on Friar’s Rocks, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. * Photo: Peter Knego

Scores of tiny craft were heading out of Cabo’s small harbor to join us in welcoming the new day and the National Geographic Venture’s transition from the open Pacific to the Gulf of California, or as it is more commonly called, the Sea of Cortez.

After breakfast, the Venture motored to the outskirts of another small marina, that of San Jose Del Cabo, where we boarded zodiacs for a short ride ashore. I opted for the combined bird-watching walk in the estuary and time to wander the old town, with its historic mission, shops and galleries.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Birders in the San Jose Del Cabo estuary. * Photo: Peter Knego

Whales Whales & More Whales

Back aboard in time for lunch, we felt the gentle rumble of the Venture’s diesels propelling us into deeper water for an afternoon spent chasing humpback whales. With each breach and fluke, there were gasps, the frenzied clicking of camera shutters, and the occasional groan of someone who just missed capturing the action in pixels.

Another spectacular sunset serenaded us as we gathered on the stern terrace, where the al fresco bar was opened up for the first time during our trip.

On most nights, one of the naturalists would give an excellent presentation on the marine life, history and lore of the region.

Highlights were lecturer Marylou Blakeslee’s readings from John Steinbeck’s and Ed Rickett’s “The Log From The Sea Of Cortez,” describing their pioneering visit to the Baja Peninsula. I also greatly enjoyed expedition leader Bette Lu Krause’s tales of being a young female mariner in a male-dominated sea.

Day seven began with an early morning blue whale sighting as the Venture neared Isla San Francisco. I signed up for the morning kayak ride in the relatively sheltered bay, seizing the opportunity to not only get up close to a rocky outcrop of pelicans but to snap some nice, up-close views of our ship.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Kayaking off Isla San Francisco. * Photo: Peter Knego


Click above to experience the National Geographic Venture from a kayak’s perspective.

After returning the kayak, I joined a guided walk into the tide pools on the other side of the narrow strip of land linking the two halves of the islet. Expedition team members pointed out numerous starfish species, urchins, crabs, sea cucumbers and other saline fauna.


Lunch on the ship was followed by a snorkeling expedition. Lindblad provided the gear, including wet suits, as the sea temperature was in the mid-60s.

My adventurous Australian snorkeling partner Haney and I encountered some pretty exciting sea life, including a rare zebra eel, schools of positively fluorescent fish and some adorable yellow puffers.

Another zodiac ride to/from the ship allowed us to change gear for an afternoon hike that unfortunately had to be aborted midway due to severe winds.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Isla San Francisco overview. * Photo: Peter Knego

As we kayaked, snorkeled and hiked, our expedition leaders pieced together an exciting last segment of the voyage. Taking advantage of the extra day gained by skipping Bahia Magdalena we would head to Puerto Escondido.

Sightseeing Alternative

Here, the next morning, local drivers took us on a ride back to Bahia Magdalena on the Pacific Coast to board pangas for another chance to enjoy an all-day expedition amongst the whales.

Those, like myself, who opted for the alternate choice, would be driven up into the Sierras de la Giganta for a visit to the historic Mission San Javier.

Lindblad’s New National Geographic Venture

Nestled in Baja Sur’s rugged mountains, Mission San Javier was built in 1744. * Photo: Peter Knego

Then it was off to nearby Loreto, a charming Sea of Cortez resort town, where we could savor a Mexican lunch with time to explore on our own.

Last Full Day

Our last full day would be spent in the Espiritu Santo archipelago where the first morning excursion included a swim amongst sea lions followed by zodiac-ing into their feeding ground, where the rock formations resembled the creatures we had come to witness.

Rock formations versus sea lions in Espiritu Santo. * Photo: Peter Knego

Click below for a leaping sea lion snippet.


Late that afternoon, we anchored off Los Islotes where the crew prepared a beach barbecue while many of us headed off on hosted hiking expeditions in search of wildlife and the unique flora of the Baja Sur region.

Hiking at Los Islotes in the Sea of Cortez’ Espiritu Santo archipelago. * Photo: Peter Knego

As the final sunset extinguished itself, we returned to the ship for a slide show recap of the week’s adventure, then ultimately back to our cabins to pack and prepare for our homeward journeys the following morning. 🐋

Click here for a gander at QuirkyCruise’s John Roberts’ photo essay on the Nat Geo Venture.


This particular itinerary with both Pacific and Sea of Cortez ports operates between January and March.

Weather is typically moderate but it can get very windy in the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific swells can be rough at times, especially for a small ship.

What’s Included

Drinks and tips are not included, but excursions are included in each port. In certain spots, weather conditions permitting, there will be a choice of activities from snorkeling and kayaking to hikes of various length and endurance.

Lindblad provides gear for snorkeling (masks, fins, snorkels and wetsuits), but guests must bring hiking boots and shoes that can withstand “wet landings” in the zodiacs. Layers of light clothing are highly recommended.

Rates for  the 7-night “Among the Great Whales” itinerary start at $5,990 USD per person based on double occupancy in a Category 1 cabin.

All images, text and video copyright Peter Knego 2019

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Orion in Antarctica (Lindblad).


Anisha  from the USA.


Lindblad Expeditions.


National Geographic Orion.






January 2019, from Ushuaia, Argentina.


5 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 5

-Cabin Rating: 5

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 4


I’ve been on 1 small ship cruise.


Overall we really enjoyed the cruise; the staff, food, and destination were all superb!!  The other passengers on the ship were all very nice and from all walks of life. Antarctica is a very special place to visit, you really feel like you are on a movie set or a postcard. To be in a place with so much natural, uninhabited beauty is truly once in a lifetime.

The only comment I have is that it takes awhile to actually get to/from Antarctica on the ship, so the activity level is a bit light overall. However, once you are near land there are opportunities to kayak, walk/hike on the ice, and get up close to wildlife (seals, penguins, and whales).

Thank you Heidi for providing info about various trips and igniting the travel bug in all of us adventurers!

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Ira Meyer for One Ocean Expeditions

One Ocean Expeditions

Founded in 2007, One Ocean Expeditions operates expedition-style voyages to the Canadian Arctic, Eastern Canada, Greenland, and Svalbard in the summer and to the Antarctic Peninsula, Falklands, and South Georgia in the Northern Hemisphere winter/Southern Hemisphere summer. Between seasons, itineraries will visit Central America and the Chilean coast.

The two similar ships take less than 100 passengers, hence for Antarctica, all passengers may go ashore at one time rather than in relays with larger ships, a major plus. The newly-added RESOLUTE is an expedition cruise ship taking 184. Based in British Columbia, Canada, this smallish firm sets out to provide a serious appreciation of the Arctic and Antarctica using a three-ship fleet with the AKADEMIK pair originally built as oceanographic research vessels.


In late May 2019, the expedition line announced that the Russians had abruptly cancelled the charters for the AKADEMIK pair, and that One Ocean would operate for the foreseeable future with the RESOLUTE, a fine expedition ship that had sailed for Hapag Lloyd as the HANSEATIC. 

In late October, 2019, in a Facebook post, One Ocean Expeditions Managing Director Andrew Prossin said that the withdrawal of the two ships by their Russian owners was an “unexpected and destabilizing event, and the violation of our contract remains the subject of ongoing legal action.” 

Then in November, the line shut down its operations and cancelled all future sailings. 

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

AKADEMIK IOFFE built 1989, 96 passengers; AKADEMIK SERGEY VAVILOV built 1988, 92 passengers (both ships returned to the Russian owners). In November 2018, the former Hapag-Lloyd HANSEATIC joined the fleet. Renamed RCGS (Royal Canadian Geographic Society) RESOLUTE, the ship was originally built in 1993 and sailed for many years for Hapag Lloyd as the HANSEATIC. She takes up to 184 passengers.


AKADEMIK SERGEI VAVLOV. * Photo: Mark Carwardine, One Ocean Expeditions

Passenger Decks

Both AKADEMIK ships are four deckers and have no elevator. They were built in Finland with ice-strengthened hulls for the Russians to be used as oceanographic research ships and for intelligence gathering. RESOLUTE was purpose built as an expedition ship with a high standard of accommodations and elevators that connect all decks apart from the presentation theater on the lowest deck.

Passenger Profile

Mostly English-speaking, passengers hail from Canada, the U.S., U.K., and Australia. Excursions often have decidedly active content so the age range is a bit lower than with some other lines.


$ to $$$ (Eastern Canada itineraries are the least expensive). On polar region voyages, triple-berth cabins provide more affordability for those traveling on a budget.


June to September, the ships are based in the Arctic Region for 9-to 11-night voyages to Svalbard, Greenland, the Canadian Arctic (Inuit/Baffin Island) and a section of the Northwest Passage. 7- to 12-night mid-summer cruises explore Eastern Canada, that is the Maritime Provinces of Newfoundland, Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Anticosti Island and Nova Scotia.

The Southern Hemisphere season is unusually long, beginning in October and lasting into March. Voyages last from 10 nights for the Antarctic Peninsula to longer ones up to 18 nights that call in at the Falklands and South Georgia as well as Antarctica. In between seasons, the ships will offer Central America (Yucatan, Belize, Honduras, Panama (including canal transit), Costa Rica and Cartagena (Colombia).

Sailing down South America’s west coast calls are made in Chile with transit along its spectacular inside passage to the tip of South America. In addition, the RESOLUTE makes June 7- and 11-night visits to Ireland, Northern Ireland, many parts of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Faroes and Iceland.

Cruising amongst the ice, One Ocean Expeditions

Cruising amongst the ice. * Photo: Ira Meyer, One Ocean Expeditions

Included Features

Expedition gear is the main inclusion and saves passengers having to lug bulky items from home and/or having to purchase them. Provided are wind- and waterproof jackets, bib pants, rubber boots, backpacks, binoculars, and trekking poles. Antarctic overnight camping is an activity on some itineraries, while sea kayaking is an extra cost and requires advance reservations.

Why Go?

Both polar regions offer outstandingly beautiful landscapes, glaciers, fjords (Arctic) and abundant wildlife on land, in the sea and air. In the Arctic, visit isolated villages, and on the Antarctic Peninsula, tour a research station. In the Falklands, visit British colonials and local birdlife in the remote Southern Hemisphere, and for South Georgia, the island provides more birds to see than anywhere else in the world. Learning about historical expedition voyages from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are also draws, and will be a contrast to yours!

Bridge, One Ocean Expeditons

The ship’s bridge provides another passenger gathering place. * Photo: One Ocean Expeditions

When to Go?

Both polar regions are summer seasonal itineraries. In Antarctica, the shoulder seasons — October and November and March — will be closer to the winter season.


Both AKADEMIK ships offer a wide variety of all-outside cabins with windows or portholes, and some can be opened. Layouts can be quite unusual as these ships were built for research, and the original “passengers” lived aboard for long periods of time. The larger cabins have work desks, a sofa, and ample wardrobe space. A few are two-room suites.

As one looks at the lower-priced cabins, many will have private facilities, and some will share with an adjacent cabin, while others share showers, baths and toilets along the corridor. A shared two-berth cabin arrangement, without supplement, can be arranged for single passengers; if a second passenger does not book the available berth, you land it solo. For those on a budget, the least expensive route is to book a berth in a triple, one of which is an upper.

RESOLUTE’S cabins are of a high standard, all outside and arranged on four decks. Two categories of suites have large picture windows, bathroom with shower and tub bath, two singles or double beds, sectional lounge with a large desk, iPad, mini stereo, coffee maker, stocked mini-bar and a collection of fauna and flora books. Superior plus and Superior cabins have the sectional lounge and desk and minibar; twin private cabins  the sectional lounge and desk. The lowest category, main deck triple, has a double or twin beds with a Pullman berth that folds out from the wall, sectional lounge and portholes.

AKADEMIK accommodations.

The larger AKADEMIK cabins were built for scientists living aboard for many months. * Photo:: Ronald Visser, One Ocean Expeditions

Public Rooms

Both AKADEMIK ships are similar in size with slight variations in layout of the public spaces, and have a small pool and sauna. IOFFE has a small library separate from the lounge, and both vessels have good observation decks fore and aft. Top decks provide 360-degree views.

RESOLUTE’s plan has the public rooms located aft with a main dining room seating all at once, an aft-facing bar-lounge one deck up, and bistro dining and lounge with an open deck aft for dining in good weather. The highest passenger deck provides for an outdoor pool, gym, solarium, sauna/steam room and wellness center. Forward is an observation deck.


Located on the lowest passenger deck, the seating is open for all meals with buffet breakfast and lunch, hot dishes to order, and three-course dinners. Fancy preparation or gourmet-sounding menus are not part of the package. Food might be best described as satisfying, hearty fare, given the distance from food markets.

Activities & Entertainment

Off the ship, Zodiacs are used for cruising with the expedition staff close to shore, to inspect ice formations, and to approach penguins and other wildlife that live in the sea, on land or on the ice. Zodiacs also ferry passengers ashore. Activities are walking to wildlife colonies, hiking further afield, and for purposes of photography, to exercise some of the skills that the workshops aboard home in on.

During non-polar cruises, activities will additionally include stand-up paddle boarding, cycling, and snorkeling.  The naturalist staff — biologists, naturalists, adventurers, historians, and photographers give talks and shows videos. Additional activities are sea kayaking, ski touring, snowshoeing and camping overnight  Fitness and yoga classes are also scheduled. The navigation bridge is open most of the time for passenger visitation and becomes an additional public space.

Following a whale, One Ocean Expeditions

` Following a whale. * Photo: Ira Meyer, One Ocean Expeditions

Special Notes

All three ships have triple-berth cabins with shared facilities, so expeditions are a more affordable option for those on a budget. The brochure maps are especially well designed.

Along the Same Lines

Numerous expedition lines reviewed on this site visit much the same regions.


USA & Canada (toll free) – 1 855 416 2326; Canada local — 604 390 4900; UK, Europe and the rest of the world — 0351 962 721 836; Australia (toll free)— 1300 368 123 or +61 2 9119 2228; &


Read QuirkyCruise contributor Judi Cohen’s article about her One Ocean Expedition adventure.


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12 Irresistible Reasons to Visit the New England Islands by Small Ship

New England Islands

By Ted Scull.

Having spent many summers on Nantucket Island, one summer on the island of Martha’s Vineyard plus at least a dozen visits, and explored Block Island on foot and by bicycle five or six times, I would never turn down an invitation to go “aboard” anyone of them again. Most people may not know that Newport is on Aquidneck Island. I spent three years of my schooling there and back then a ferry connected Jamestown with Newport, so I was most certainly aware of its island status.

Spending summers 30 miles out to sea was a most exciting proposition. Once we were on island, we stayed put, and off island — i.e. the rest of the world — vanished from my thoughts.

As a child, I delighted in the knowledge that any direction I headed there was a beach, with serious ocean waves to battle or more gentle Nantucket Sound lapping at the shore.


The Town of Nantucket, comprised of 18th- and 19th-century American architecture, is stunningly beautiful because the whaling industry created much wealth. I began to appreciate the design and craftsmanship of the town when I got older, including Main Street’s cobble stones, though definitely not recommended for cycling.

Two of three Starbuck's red brick houses on Main Street, Nantucket.

Two of three Starbuck’s red brick houses on Main Street, Nantucket Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

A Nantucket cliffside beach facing the sound.

A Nantucket cliffside beach facing the sound. * Photo: Ted Scull

Martha’s Vineyard

After whaling died out, the island slipped into a long lull, so it never caught the Victorian-era fever that followed, while Martha’s Vineyard, established as a resort, most certainly did. Oaks Bluff, an early African-American summer colony, shows off a sweeping row of Victorians facing a green that fronts on the sound.

Just inland, a Methodist Camp Association established a community of miniature gaily-decorated gingerbread houses, most with just two rooms on each of two floors. Head out to the cliffs at Gay Head or ferry over to Chappaquiddick Island while stopping at delightful Edgartown en route.

An arc of Victorians at Oaks Bluff, Martha's Vineyard

An arc of Victorians at Oaks Bluff, Martha’s Vineyard. * Photo: Ted Scull

Both islands operate convenient and inexpensive summertime bus networks that allow visitors to reach most places of interest with ease, and half-fares are granted for those 65 and over. The fleet helps keep down the number of cars that arrive by ferry from the mainland.

Methodist Camp Association houses on Martha's Vineyard

Methodist Camp Association houses on Martha’s Vineyard. * Photo: Ted Scull

Related: Exploring New England on a Blount Ship

Newport … Aquidnick Island

Newport on Aquidnick Island is well known for its opulent mansions that were and are referred to as “summer cottages.” You might visit one or two, but also consider the Cliff Walk that meanders in front of a dozen, so you too can appreciate their ocean views. It was my favorite outing when I attended school there.

Newport’s Cliff Walk runs for several miles past “summer cottages” facing the sea. * Photo: Ted Scull

At the same time, don’t overlook Newport’s older lanes of late 18th- and early 19th-century houses just in from Thames Street, the touristy waterfront shopping street. And scattered throughout the town are Truro synagogue (1793), the oldest in America; St. Mary’s, the Roman Catholic Church where the Kennedys were married in 1953; and lovely Trinity Church (Episcopal) built in 1725-26. All are within easy walking distance of each other.

Block Island

Block Island may be the least known of the lot and that has helped keep gentrification in check. The island has strict building codes, hence no extravagant Hampton-style mega-mansions and mercifully little car traffic as the island is compact enough to walk to the beach from the landing, or bike out to the bird sanctuaries and majestic Southeast Lighthouse.

Sited on a cliff it warned ships at sea to stay away from the treacherous shallow waters. Old Harbor maintains its Victorian character of wooden hotels, inns and private houses.

The mid-19th century Spring House on Block Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

Related: New England Cruising with American Cruise Lines (ACL)

New Bedford

New Bedford, Massachusetts rivaled Nantucket for whaling supremacy and that legacy left a rich heritage of handsome houses finished in many heritage styles, with no two alike. They are located just a few blocks in from the harbor where a large commercial fleet is based for lucrative deep-sea scalloping.

While not on an island, most small ship cruises call here, and visitors give high marks to the centrally sited whaling museum.

One of New Bedford’s stately victorians. * Photo: Ted Scull

In the early days of summer stays on Nantucket, we embarked in New Bedford by steamer for the island, a four-and-a-half-hour run that stimulated my initial interests in boats and ships that lasts to this day.

New Bedford's deep-sea fishing fleet

New Bedford’s deep-sea fishing fleet. * Photo: Ted Scull

Both American Cruise Lines and Blount Small Ship Adventures offer one-week cruises.

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