Yacht 'safari' offers luxury plus spontaneity

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ABOARD THE SAFARI SPIRIT -- American Safari Cruises caters to upscale nature lovers and includes in its asking price such luxury touches as private limousine airport transfers, shore excursions and flightseeing.

The product, better known in the 49th state as Alaska Yacht Safaris, arguably is not priced for the budget-limited traveler.

But if you think its rates make it much more expensive than its large-ship competitors, think again; its inclusive fares compare more than favorably.

By the time passengers on larger ships have spent extra (noncommissionable) dollars for shore excursions, flightseeing, kayak rental, wine and cocktails and the rest, the relative prices of the two cruise vacations are nearly a wash.

Whether your clients are true adventurers or prefer to stay inside and observe nature through the yacht's wide windows, chances are excellent that they'll see what they came for up close -- really up close.

The advantages afforded by the maneuverability and the size of the 12-passenger Safari Spirit and the 22-passenger Safari Quest, the company's two vessels, become especially clear when a passenger spots a bear and her cubs in the bush or a family of river otters near shore.

At that point, anyone interested in a closer look is shepherded into a waiting Zodiac for a quiet approach, just close enough to enjoy the sight without upsetting the wildlife.

Alaska's great unspoiled wilderness and the state's cultural heritage are the focal points of the cruise line's operations.

Native villages and cannery towns, private receptions with local artists, wildlife, trekking through rain forests and soaking in natural hot spas are the order of the day.

The yachts drop anchor in secluded coves overnight, and the long Alaska summer days leave time for kayaking or for an impromptu -- escorted -- hike ashore.

During my cruise on the Safari Spirit, wildlife sightings included a couple of black bears with cubs, a brown bear, a wolf (swimming between islets), a moose and her two calves.

Also, a family of river otters, seals, steller sea lions, an elephant seal, humpback whales, gray whales, a pod of orcas, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall's porpoise and a smattering of mountain goats as well as bald eagles.

The expedition leaders were trained naturalists, as are all of those employed to escort ASC sailings.

Who are American Safari Cruises' clients? Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have chartered the company's yachts.

But passengers on our Safari Spirit cruise were of more modest means than those two megabillionaires.

There were two couples in their early 60s from the East Coast on their first cruise; a semiretired older couple from Florida who spent two years planning their summerlong Alaska adventure, and a Southern California couple in their 40s with a 16-year-old son.

All seemed to be equally impressed with the product.

Attire was definitely casual: denims, flannel shirts and hiking shoes all week; there was not a Gucci bag in sight.

Our stateroom was surprisingly spacious, and the amenities included lots of closet space and drawers, a lighted dressing table, a large marbled bath with a spa tub and shower plus room to walk around three sides of the queen-size bed.

Despite its relatively small size, there are nooks and crannies on the Safari Spirit to enjoy a quiet moment alone.

An attractive solarium on the observation deck (dubbed the "sky lounge") is one; the enclosed stern area off the main salon is another.

It also is permitted -- even encouraged -- for guests to perch on a well-padded banquette in the bridge and chat with the captain en route.

Meals are multicourse fine-dining events, prepared and served with flair.

American Safari Cruises
Phone: (800) 862-8881
Web: www.americansafaricruises.com

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