Dispatch, Alaska: It’s all about what’s outside

Alaska Dispatch series

Johanna in AlaskaCruise Editor Johanna Jainchill has embarked on a land-cruise tour of Alaska and the Yukon territory. She is filing dispatches detailing her adventures there.

Dispatch 4, Onboard the Spirit of Endeavour -- Late in the evening, as we wound through the straits of Glacier Bay, the ship's captain, Michael Fleming, and Matt, a young waiter, put on an impromptu guitar sing-a-long in the dining room.

The Eagles and Bob Dylan were on the set list, as was a lot of fumbling for the right lyrics.

The captain had already shown off his talents earlier in the day when he played a few songs with the Huna cultural interpreter that was brought onboard for the day of Glacier Bay cruising. That was after the national park ranger, who also came onboard for the day, played us a farewell tune on the violin.

Such spontaneity is the way on Cruise West sailings. The small-ship exploration line launched in 1983, as part of the Chuck West family of Alaska tourism companies.  

Capt. Fleming will slow down the 100-passenger Spirit of Endeavour if there is wildlife worth stopping for, such as a pod of orcas on our first evening out of Juneau, Alaska-LamplughGlaciermountain goats on a steep cliff or a grizzly bear scouring for food on a rocky beach in Glacier Bay. The ship's small size allows the captain to get within 70 yards of the shore, as close as I wanted to be from a hungry grizzly bear.

During dinner, Jess, our exploration leader, made a surprise announcement that we would make an unplanned stop at a lodge in Bartlett Cove Lodge, home to the ranger and interpreter. After a full day of glacier and bear viewing from the small vessel, which doesn't have a running track or fitness center, I was grateful to get off and spend some time hiking in the lush forest, especially since in Alaska you can hike until 10:30 p.m. and still have sunlight. Despite a run-in with a porcupine, with its quills ready to shoot, it was a very welcome surprise activity.

Others hung out in the lodge and listened to a ranger give a lecture on Glacier Bay or took a guided forest walk nearby.

Cruise West is all about what's outside, which is good since there is not much on the inside. The 25-year-old Spirit of Endeavour is rather bare bones. Besides the dining room, there is one indoor gathering area -- a lounge that is also a bar, lecture area, hangout, viewing room, internet cafe, library and souvenir shop.

There are no balconies on this ship, and my cabin has simple furniture and a cramped bathroom with a plain white shower curtain. The plumbing is finicky.

Alaska-CruiseWestSpiritofEndeavourThere is no room service or chocolates on the pillows, or any turndown service. And if romance is what you're looking for, this isn't the place for it. Only eleven cabins have double bed capability. The rest have single beds, so anyone who wants to sleep with his or her partner should make a reservation far in advance.

But every room has a window, and that is the most important amenity one could ask for here. Even when I can't rouse myself out of bed for a 6:45 a.m. wake-up call, it is usually followed with an announcement about a humpback whale off the starboard side, eagles fishing off a nearby coastline or seals lazing on rocky outposts. So I just slide open my curtain and enjoy the view.

The outdoor decks are where people, clutching cameras and binoculars, spend much of the time while sailing.

It's a small vessel, so you get know your neighbor -- especially when there is a big nature sighting and everyone is suddenly crammed together.

To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].

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