Alaskan Dream Cruises Chichagof Dream Review
7-night cruise from Sitka to Juneau
Big Picture: Who will like cruising with Alaskan Dream Cruises
Outdoor enthusiasts who value slow cruising with a focus on discovering the “real Alaska” will love Alaskan Dream Cruises.
Put another way, if the idea of cruising in Alaska on a large mass-market cruise ship with thousands of other passengers is not your ideal way to explore the wilderness, waterfalls, glaciers, and wildlife of Alaska then you will be in good company. Most of the cruise guests I spoke with on Chichagof Dream were actually quite vocal about their preference for small ships, especially when a large cruise ship passed us along the waterways of the Inside Passage. Besides an affinity for ship size, most cruise passengers liked the cultural immersion programs and wildlife-focused excursions offered on Chichagof Dream.
When it comes to Alaska, it’s all about the outdoors and the richness of culture
Small ship expedition-style cruising on Chichagof Dream is a perfect way to discover the vast, untamed wilderness that most people associate with a cruise in Alaska. The boat can accommodate 74 guests who can choose from a variety of staterooms. There are three common areas where guests can relax and enjoy the views. The spacious lounge, outdoor promenade deck, and dining room are the happening hot spots on the boat and there is even a Himalayan Salt Cave aboard Chichagof Dream, which is a real treat for sore muscles.
Besides relaxing and enjoying nature and wildlife along the route, excursions are designed for small group exploration with Expedition Leaders from the boat. The intimate size of the groups is another benefit of small ship cruising. Expedition leaders are experts on a variety of topics including biology and science, which is helpful for understanding the landscape, wildlife, plants, nature, and indigenous people of the area. There are also plenty of opportunities for independent exploration, especially in ports like Juneau, Petersburg, and Sitka.
True Alaska with Alaskan Dream Cruises
When it comes to picking a cruise line for an Alaskan cruise there are a lot of choices. Travelers will have to make tough decisions regarding an itinerary (Southbound, Northbound, round-trip Seattle or the one I picked from Sitka to Juneau), the time of year to cruise (the season runs from late May through early September), and a cruise ship that will serve as a home base.
To help narrow down the choices, it might be a great idea to choose a cruise that is owned by Alaskans, like Alaskan Dream Cruises.
Guests that appreciate spending maximum time viewing nature while calling on ports that the larger cruise ships can’t access, will appreciate Alaskan Dream Cruises. Also, the fact that Alaskan Dream Cruises is the only cruise line in the area owned by Alaskans has its benefits. Besides logistics and operations details that guests are not aware of, there is a sense of community – put simply you feel like you are cruising on a friend’s boat.
Cultural connections because it’s not just about glaciers, icebergs, rain forests, and wildlife
While the highlights of an Alaskan Dream Cruises adventure include wildlife focused excursions, the cultural immersion programs take center stage. Although the larger ships offer cultural liaisons onboard, the size of Chichagof Dream affords for a personal experience, which lends itself to deeper understanding.
We traveled with Marti Fred who served as cultural liaison during our 7-night cruise. Besides his morning wakeup call, Marti could be counted on to share stories from his traditional homeland. He spoke about growing up in the area and would answer any questions about the cultural heritage and traditions of the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. Asking Marti questions and learning about his culture was a cruise highlight for me.
Onboard Experience: The Vibe
The vibe on the ship is laid-back and casual. There is no Wi-Fi or TV onboard, although most of the trip I was able to receive a cell signal on my iPhone (except when cruising at the glaciers). Midway through the journey, I added another data package to my T-Mobile plan ($15.00 for a week) just in case I went over my allotted data roaming allocation. Of course, switching one’s phone to airplane mode can prevent unforeseen charges.
There is one lounge onboard with ample space for guests to chat, read, or to listen to presentations about a variety of topics ranging from wildlife, nature, geography, geology, history and native culture. There is a well-stocked library with books and games, which were widely used throughout the week.
The outdoor promenade deck has ample space for guests to get a look at the scenery while serving as kayak storage, and housing for a dozen guest staterooms.
The dining room offered meal service three times a day. During lunch and dinner, guests could choose from three entree specials, one vegetarian and the other two that included items such as wild Alaskan crab, halibut, and salmon.
Embarkation for the seven-day Inside Passage cruise took place in Sitka. We arrived a day before embarkation to ensure arrival with plenty of time to enjoy a full day of activities that are included in the cruise fare. Although a pre-cruise stay is not mandatory, it is recommended especially due to limited flights into the area.
Representatives from the cruise line greeted guests at the airport and coordinated transfers to pre-cruise accommodations. We stayed at a B&B and other guests stayed at an assortment of hotels scattered around the town.
The next day everyone met at the Alaskan Dream Cruises hospitality room where we met some of the staff and crew from the boat. After a brief introduction, we boarded busses and went out to Sitka hotspots like the Alaska Raptor Center, Science Museum, Totem Park and Fortress of the Bear. In between tours we went back to the hospitality center and enjoyed lunch.
After a day of touring Sitka we headed to Chichagof Dream, the fifth ship in the Alaskan Dream Cruises fleet.
In Sitka, we boarded in Jamestown Bay outside the home of Bob and Betty Allen, the founders of Allen Marine (the parent company of Alaskan Dream Cruises). After embarkation, we cruised the winding narrows north of town searching for bald eagles, sea otters, bears, whales, and other wildlife.
Kuiu Island’s Saginaw Bay
This is one of those locations that big ships can’t access. We spent the day kayaking the bay and going ashore via DIB boats, which are shallow water expedition craft. Small groups of people went for a guided tour of the shoreline at low tide, and it is truly amazing at what can be found along the way. Our knowledgeable guide Sara was an expert on the habitat and pointed out marine fossils, shells, kelp, and scat.
Another small town not accessible by large cruise ships is the fishing village of Petersburg. After breakfast, we headed into town to experience Scandinavian hospitality at the Sons of Norway Hall where local youth performed a folk-dance and we were given light refreshments and cookies. After the show, we had free time and the option of a walk in a nearby bog. Our Expedition Leader offered insight about the ecosystem during this easy walk to see muskeg and an abundance of flora and fauna.
Scenic Cruising – Tracy Arm Fjord
We spent all day enjoying Tracy Arm and the glacial fjord looking at pristine waterfalls, icebergs, seals, and granite cliffs. that rise from sea level. Passengers onboard watched a Princess Cruises ship pass us only to turn around after a very brief stop far away from Sawyer Glacier. This really made all of us appreciate the fact that we would join a few other smaller boats for the day in one of the most beautiful areas on the planet. Ice conditions permitted us to navigate the entire length of the fjord with a lengthy stop for DIB excursions.
We were once again reminded about the value of small ship cruising when we were passed by a large Princess Cruises ship. Passengers onboard watched a Princess Cruises ship pass us only to turn around after a very brief stop far away from Sawyer Glacier. This really made all of us appreciate the fact that we would join a few other smaller boats for the day in one of the most beautiful areas on the planet. Ice conditions permitted us to navigate the entire length of the fjord with a lengthy stop for DIB excursions.
In Juneau, we boarded buses bound for Mendenhall Glacier where we had enough time to hike to Nugget Falls.
Mendenhall Glacier is easily accessible and draws many visitors from the large cruise ships and travelers to Southeast Alaska. The river of ice is 22 miles long and ends at Mendenhall Lake.
Upon completion of the tour of the glacier, we broke into three groups and took turns going to a local Alaska Dog mushers camp. But before that, we had free time in downtown Juneau where my daughter Sophia and I went to The Mount Roberts Tramway for a little exploration and photo shoot. As if that was not enough, in the evening we were treated to an amazing dinner at Orca Point Lodge where we feasted on crab and salmon.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Our first stop was Glacier Bay Lodge in Bartlett Cove where we picked up a Glacier Bay National Park Service Ranger and a Native Huna Tlingit interpretive naturalist. The rest of the morning was spent meandering our way to Reid Glacier where we spent the rest of the day exploring. There were two activities offered, one was a kayak paddle and the other was a beach landing on an unspoiled shoreline to explore a tidal flat via DIB.
Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve is a gem. It features tidewater glaciers, countless fjords, and snow-capped mountains. The park provides habitat for many animals and we saw a bear foraging for food along the shore, two wolves, Steller sea lions, an Orca whale, otters, eagles, Arctic tern, and Black-legged Kittiwake.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve Day 2
Our cruise had a unique itinerary because it was a family-themed cruise and we overnighted in Glacier Bay. On the second day in the park, we cruised to Margerie Glacier and the adjacent Grand Pacific Glacier. After spending some time at the glaciers, we headed back toward Juneau (slowly, mind you). We stopped at Bartlett Cove to drop off our ranger and cultural guide.
We stopped at Bartlett Cove to drop off our ranger and cultural guide. We were able to dock for a little bit and had a chance to visit the 2,500-square-foot Huna Tribal House, which was open to the public in 2016.
Overall, amazing cruise. Perfect for those travelers who want to get up close and personal with Alaska.