Though Alaska's cruise season traditionally ramps up in May, early-season itineraries from two small-ship operators will spotlight the state's transition from winter to spring.
Alaskan Dream Cruises offers its first 2019 tour on March 16, when the first of five Alaska's Spring Wilderness and Wildlife Safari outings departs from the Southeast Alaska town of Sitka. The six-day, five-night adventure sails on the Misty Fjord, a 10-passenger expedition vessel built for Inside Passage wilderness exploration.
Now in its second year, the tour showcases the channels, mountains and old-growth forests in and around Sitka Sound. The Alaska Native-owned company chose dates that correspond with crisp spring weather, longer daylight hours and other seasonal highlights. Snow hangs high in the mountains, explained Alaskan Dream Cruises director of marketing Zakary Kirkpatrick, which provides a striking backdrop for photography. Spring also offers ample wildlife-watching opportunities.
"Animals are returning and emerging from hibernation. We have humpback whales and sea lions and eagles, and you'll starting seeing brown bears on the shoreline. There's also an annual migration of Pacific herring in Sitka Sound, and that brings with it a flurry of wildlife," said Kirkpatrick.
Because tour demand is lower in the spring than the summer, the March and April cruises typically command lower fares.
"As far as value, it's a fantastic time to visit," Kirkpatrick said.
Value-season rates also apply to UnCruise Adventures' Alaska Awakening departures sailing in April and May. The first of 20 spring excursions departs on April 6, and the schedule includes seven- and 14-night itineraries such as the Alaska's Inside Passage & San Juans Cruise, Alaska Fjords & Glaciers, Northern Passages & Glacier Bay, Alaska's Glacier Country and Glacier Bay National Park Adventure Cruise.
Each spring excursion features presentations by naturalists, photographers, geologists, authors, Alaska Native cultural guides and other regional experts involved in the company's Alaska Insider program.
Guests also have an opportunity to join small-group adventures ranging from hiking and kayaking tours to wildlife-watching outings and skiff excursions on local waterways.
"You have the possibility of northern lights in April. It is a rare sighting in Southeast Alaska, but it can be one of the real surprises this time of year," said UnCruise Adventures president and COO Tim Jacox. "We also get extremely close to calving glaciers and waterfalls. As the snows melt, the waterfalls are even heavier in April and May than later in the season."
Rainfall totals tend to be less in April and May than at other times of the year, adds Jacox, and the Inside Passage sees milder weather than Alaska's interior.
"It's excellent time to be there. The temperatures are a little bit cooler, but there's not that much of a difference from what you get in the heart of the summer," Jacox said. "Feedback on the Alaska Awakening tours has been great. Guests appreciate the value, and they enjoy the overall feeling that Alaska is coming alive."