Michael Wien of Alaskan Dream Cruises

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Michael WienAlaskan Dream Cruises, a small-ship start-up that launched this year with two vessels, is marketing its second season with new itineraries and port calls in southeast Alaska. Michael Wien, vice president of the Sitka-based firm, talked with cruise editor Donna Tunney about how the company differentiates itself from competing small-ship lines in the region.

Q: Your marketing tagline is "True Alaska With True Alaskans." What does that mean?

A: The owners of Alaskan Dream Cruises, Bob and Betty Allen, are Sitka residents, and the company is a combination of native and resident Alaskans. Our call center is in Sitka, and our goal is to hire as many employees from the state as possible.

We work with the local community to make sure our guides are local residents, to the greatest degree possible. And we are very passionate about providing our guests with opportunities to meet local people. The Allens also own Allen Marine and Allen Marine Tours, which has been providing shore excursions to the big cruise ships for many years.

Q: The company operates two ships, the 49-passenger Alaska Dream and the 66-passenger Admiralty Dream, a former Cruise West ship. What's the atmosphere like onboard?

A: It's very casual, a jeans-and-sweater experience, although at dinnertime some people have a tendency to put on their favorite flannel-colored shirt. People are embracing the atmosphere.

Q: Are children welcome?

A: Yes, they are welcome ... but guests need to be cognizant that these are smaller boats with activities such as lectures in the evenings. If families are looking for a high level of children's activities, this might not be the best fit for them.

Q: What are some of your new ports of call for 2012?

A: Wrangell, Prince of Wales Island, Skagway and Haines are new, and we have exclusive access to Hobart Bay. Our excursions are included in the cruise fare.

Q: How did you manage to get exclusive access to Hobart Bay?

A: Hobart Bay is owned by one of the native corporations, and Alaskan Dream Cruises is part native-owned, so through the relationships of the family [owners] we have access to this area.

Q: Alaskan Dream Cruises faces several small-ship competitors in the destination. What is different about your product?

A: First and foremost, it's Alaska as a destination that's important, and we want to say that however people decide to visit is a good option.

At our company, we make sure they have a rich cultural education. Every day and evening there's a different activity that allows them to be exposed to what life is like in southeast Alaska. For example, we host a salmon and king crab bake at Orca Point Lodge that starts with the chef demonstrating how it's filleted. Then there's a barbecue, and guests can walk around the lodge [which Allen Marine owns].

This isn't available on any other cruise. We also take guests to Petersburg, a small fishing village with a Norwegian heritage.

Q: The company's website, www.alaskandreamcruises.com, indicates that your chefs specialize in preparing locally produced foods.

A: Yes. We believe that one of the reasons people want to visit Alaska is to experience the local food, so we work with local suppliers to bring on fresh seafood, and we use local distilleries and breweries to supply spirits.

For cruise news and updates, follow Donna Tunney on Twitter @dttravelweekly.

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