Take a deep dive into the Alaskan wilderness without the crowds on a small-ship cruise line

Say the words “Alaskan cruise,” and visions of oversized ships hauling hordes of tourists instantly come to mind. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Kayaking in Alaska ice and clouds
The Kruzof has kayaks available for daily excursions. Image by Alaskan Dream Cruises

As the state’s only Alaska Native-owned small-ship cruise line, Alaskan Dream Cruises offers an angle the big guns don’t, traveling through lesser-trafficked waters with far fewer passengers than your average liner. The largest member of the fleet holds a reasonable 76 people, while the latest addition, a 128-foot expedition vessel (formerly a Bering Sea crab fishing boat) called the Kruzof Explorer, allows for just 12. They've both inspired a slate of fresh itineraries for 2020, designed to get adventurers into the unspoiled corners of Alaska’s Inside Passage.

A pod of whales cast a bubble net in Alaskan waters
A pod of whales casts a bubble net in Alaskan waters. Image by Alaskan Dream Cruises

“Travelers continually ask to go off-the-beaten-path to push further into Alaska’s culture and remote wilderness,” Alaskan Dream Cruises director of sales Douglass McLatchie said in a statement. “It’s exciting to have the Kruzof Explorer in our fleet now and to have the capabilities to comfortably sail into these seldom-explored parts of Southeast Alaska.” The small vessel's new routes were developed over the course of a month and range from seven nights to nearly two weeks on the water, allowing cruisers to spend time in small local communities, look for wildlife like whales, bears, sea lions, and moose, and go fishing, trekking, and kayaking, all in stunning environs.

Each itinerary is unique, says marketing director Zakary Kirkpatrick, but they all visit the western side of Chichagof Island, a designated wilderness area with a rugged coastline and narrow passages best explored by inflatable Zodiacs. The least expensive of the three options is the seven-night “Ultimate Glacier Bay, Wilderness, and Wildlife” trip, which, true to its name, stops in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for three days. That's more time than the line has ever spent there on one journey, affording plenty of opportunities for kayaking in Dundas Bay, hitting the glaciers, and communing with nature.  

A brown bear on the rocks by the water in Alaska.
Wildlife sightings can include brown bears, harbor seals, sea lions, orcas, and more. Image by Alaskan Dream Cruises

Sailing between Sitka and Ketchikan, the nine-night “Remote Alaska Adventure” provides “a chance to soak in the natural hot springs of Baranof Warm Springs, as well as explore the western side of Prince of Wales Island, a place very few travelers have an opportunity to experience,” Zakary says. It also visits Dall Island, Glacier Bay, Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, and the Alaska Native community of Klawock, with a cruise by Admiralty Island National Monument for a glimpse at the bears.

a totem in the woods in Kaasan
The village of Kasaan is devoted to preserving indigenous Haida culture, and it's home to an array of historic totems. Image by Alaskan Dream Cruises

At the top end of the scale, both in terms of time and investment, the 12-night “Alaska’s Grand Coastal Discovery” is a deep dive into the region that winds its way through the entire Inside Passage, “from the small community of Yakutat in the north to the Alaska Native village of Metlakatla in the south,” Zakary says. Lituya Bay is another highlight, as are the glaciers and the remote bays.

Going a bit bigger passenger-wise, the Chicagof Dream's new itinerary for 2020 is the nine-night “Alaska’s Inside Passage Sojourn,” which covers the area from Glacier Bay to Metlakatla, passing through the small villages and towns for an introduction to the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian  indigenous cultures.

Kayaking in Alaska on a sunny day
Kayaking in Alaska on a sunny day. Image by Alaskan Dream Cruises

When the Kruzof was acquired earlier this year, president and owner Dave Allen and his daughter Zaide sat down with the operations team, “pulled out the charts, considered all the most beautiful areas and remote stretches of Southeast Alaska that they’ve experienced as life-long Alaskans, and designed the itineraries to travel through those places,” Zakary says. “A 'True Alaska with True Alaskans' experience.”