American Safari Cruises -- Alaskan Adventure (Part 4)

| September 12, 2008

This small adventure cruise line offers close-up views of Alaska without sacrificing comfort.

Summing Up American Safari Cruises I cannot think of a better name for this cruise line based on the wildlife and natural phenomena we saw. It is a safari in the sense that you are communing with nature. It is an adventure where the experience is as wild and unpredictable as nature itself.

Safari Explorer is the company's largest ship, and at 36 passengers that means they are all pretty small. This onboard experience is most like a European riverboat in that the pre-set selection meals are gourmet quality, with fresh ingredients from local markets, and that excursions are all included in the price.

The small passenger load and sheer excitement of the shared experience meant we all became friends on a first-name basis within a few days. I dined with everyone on board at least once. The average age was surprisingly young, with at least seven ladies sailing solo (whether married or single).

*** See the entire American Safari in Alaska Photo Gallery here    

The company CEO was onboard, affable and gregarious. The bridge has an open-door policy, so we spent many hours talking with the captain about navigation and other topics. Each cabin comes with binoculars and each passenger is assigned life vests for the skiffs and kayaks. Raincoats, umbrellas, rain pants and rubber boots were always available for anyone who wanted them. Fortunately, we had great weather almost every day.

click on pictures below for larger images:

Loading the skiff from the yacht   Hiking through the Alaska rain forest   A young and active crowd

The line sails in a lot of regions -- all of them American. In the summer it has three boats in Alaska. In the winter the vessels move to Hawaii and the Sea of Cortes. They also visit the Pacific Northwest, Columbia River and the wine country of Washington State.

No one was a repeat cruiser on our voyage, but all had one thing in common: Whenever we passed a mainstream cruise ship they all said, "thank goodness we aren't on one of those." (Except me, of course.)

This is a different kind of experience from mainline cruising and would be my top recommendation for Alaska and other regions where wildlife abounds. It is for active people who want to hike, kayak, get close to nature and meet new people to share the vacation experience. You can go solo on this cruise and be assured that you will make friends easily.

Take the best camera you can find. You will have hundreds of opportunities to take great pictures. The ship will supply binoculars and umbrellas. Bring clothes you can layer and especially a hat.

One thing you will not get on this cruise is regular access to the outside world. Alaska may be the United States, but cell phone service only crops up for about an hour on two days of the cruise. There is a stop Sunday night at a lodge with web access, but only for an hour. The next chance for web access is Wednesday afternoon in Petersberg. If you MUST have access, get a Verizon network laptop broadband connector. This will give you a few extra hours in certain regions.

This cruise is not cheap. The seven-day cruise we took is listed at $6,295 per person for 2009. This is more expensive than a seven-day Alaska cruise on a five-star luxury line like Silversea or Regent. It is a far different experience, and if you add in the amazing up-close shore excursions included with American Safari you might pay more on another line. But on Silversea, you get many extras you will not get on American Safari, such as a 300 sq. ft. suite with veranda, butler service and 24-hour room service.

*** See the entire American Safari in Alaska Photo Gallery here    

There were a couple of minor irritations -- such as the lack of connection to the outside world. A friend described the dining service as "collegiate," meaning they really aim to please, but sometimes drop the ball. It's hard to eat bread and butter with no plates, and often we sat with no food while everyone else was already on their entrees just because we were sitting with the vegetarians. It's a little embarrassing to have to ask your waitress for your food when it is late, but if you want it hot, you had better.

This is not a real cruise, it is a personalized adventure by small ship, which is by no means guaranteed on a regular cruise ship no matter how many stars it has. When you are on American Safari you are part of the family. Like a family, they may make tiny mistakes but you forgive them because they are so darn nice.

Everyone receives a complimentary massage -- a nice touch. So is the hot chocolate with Baileys served in insulated cups the moment you come in off the skiffs. You may pay a lot, but I doubt you could walk away disappointed.

Included in Your Fare

  • Exclusive Shore Excursions
  • Premium Wine, Beer, Liquor
  • All Meals Aboard Ship
  • Kayaking and Small Boat Exploration
  • Onboard Expedition Leader
  • Airport Transfers
  • All Taxes, Port Charges and Fees

Not Included in Your Fare

  • Airfare To and From Your Home City
  • Super-Premium Wine, Beer and Liquor
  • Discretionary Gratuities to Vessel's Crew -- Typically 5-10% of Fare
  • Travel Insurance
  • Optional Pre- or Post-Night Hotel Stay

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