Travel

Cruise season in March? They may not be using megaships, but local operators are out on the water

It may come as a surprise to folks who live Outside, but cruise season in Alaska is up and running. In March.

“We’re almost completely sold out for March,” said Kelly Bender, co-owner of Lazy Otter Charters in Whittier.

To be clear, Lazy Otter offers a single 3.5-hour cruise each day, not a multi-day journey like the big ships.

“March is funny,” said Bender. “There are some real challenges. But the bluebird days are really spectacular.”

Lazy Otter has two boats, the Voyager, a 30-passenger catamaran, and the Qayaq Chief, which holds 20 people. Both boats have a ramp off the bow. “All of our tours offer beach landings, so you can have a snowball fight on shore,” said Bender.

Springtime cruises go out to the Blackstone Glacier and Beloit Glacier. Bender said guests are seeing otters, sea lions, bald eagles “and mountains that are covered in snow … right down to the beach.”

Lazy Otter charges $175 per person for the cruise from Whittier.

“Cruise” really isn’t the right word for a trip with Mako’s Water Taxi in Homer. Mako’s fleet runs year-round, ferrying people and supplies out to residents across Kachemak Bay from Homer’s small boat harbor. When you call during the offseason, you’re likely to get one of the boat captains. I was able to reach Kari Hendrich as she was helping some folks off one of the boats.

“We’re doing a lot of ride-along bookings,” she said.

The ride-along offers folks a chance to join a pre-existing trip to see some of the sights in Kachemak Bay. According to Mako’s online rate sheet, the price is $50 per person. If you have four people, you can book a two-hour wildlife tour around the bay. Mako’s also offers a package to Seldovia that includes a boat ride to Jakalof Bay, a taxi into town, 11 miles, and a plane ride back to Homer.

In Seward, Major Marine Tours and Kenai Fjords Tours both are offering four-hour cruises in Resurrection Bay.

“We started running our Spring Wildlife Cruises on March 5,” said Kirsten McNeil of Major Marine. “We visit all the coves, including Humpy Cove and Thumb Cove. If the weather is good, we sail to Spire Cove, which is on the other side of the bay just south of Bear Glacier.”

McNeil said they haven’t seen any whales yet. “Usually there are a few humpbacks and some orcas this early,” she said. “But we’ve seen eagles, mountain goats, sea lions, seals, Dall’s porpoise and otters.”

Major Marine’s spring cruise sells for $89 per adult, although there’s a 20% discount if you stay overnight at the Harbor360 Hotel. An overnight stay gives you more time to visit the Alaska SeaLife Center.

April is right around the corner and that’s when the bigger boats start sailing in Southeast Alaska.

Capt. Dan Blanchard, founder of UnCruise Adventures, refers to April as the “Alaska Awakening” season.

UnCruise’s fleet consists of ships that hold between 22 and 86 guests. The Wilderness Explorer, with room for 74 guests, is slated to run four week-long trips in April, starting April 8.

The itinerary features stops on Chichagof and Kuiu Islands, plus up-close visits to several glaciers, as well as a day in Glacier Bay National Park. The sailings start and end in downtown Juneau.

But UnCruise offers a whole list of reasons why April is a great time to explore Alaska on a small ship. There’s less rain, the bears come out of hibernation, the whales already have arrived and there are very few other ships in the area.

The regular prices for the April cruises are much less than in peak months like July. For example, you can cruise on the April 8 itinerary for as little as $2,995 per person, double occupancy. In peak months, the same cabin sells for $5,195 per person, double.

UnCruise is offering $750 off per person — $1,500 per cabin — off select cruises in April, May and June. There are other discounts available for the line’s Glacier Bay cruises.

Between now and April 15, UnCruise Adventures is waiving its single supplement charge, according to spokesperson Liz Galloway. Contact UnCruise Adventures for more information: 888-862-8881.

Starting in mid-May, Alaskan Dream Cruises offers some deep discounts on its small-ship itineraries departing from Sitka or Juneau.

Zak Kirkpatrick, a spokesperson for the line, said there are two ships sailing this itinerary in May, “the 54-passenger Admiralty Dream and the 76-passenger Chichagof Dream.”

The normal price for the eight-day/seven-night “Last Frontier Adventure” cruise starts at $3,795 per person, double. But Alaska residents can sail for as little as $1,500 per person, double occupancy. The cruise starts in Juneau and ends in Sitka, or reverse.

Highlights of the cruise include visits to Glacier Bay and Endicott Arm, plus a stop in Petersburg. The cruise also includes an evening visit to Orca Point Lodge, a private wilderness lodge near Juneau, but off the road system.

“All the meals are included,” said Kirkpatrick. “We have a naturalist team and guides, plus evening presentations. We’re an Alaska Native-owned company so there is a cultural emphasis on the cruise.”

Additionally, Alaskan Dream Cruises is offering an Alaska resident special on its 9-day/8-night “Inside Passage Sojourn” on the 49-passenger Baranof Dream. Usually, this cruise starts at $5,195 per person. Alaska residents can sale for as little as $1,995 per person, double, on the May 14 sailing only.

The longer itinerary affords two port calls on Prince of Wales Island, Thorne Bay and Kasaan. Also, there’s a stop in Metlakatla and a trip into Misty Fjords National Monument.

While itinerary details are available online, Alaska resident discount reservations are not allowed. Travelers must book those over the phone: 855-747-8100.

If you have your heart set on a big ship for a cruise of Alaska’s inside passage, prices are lower for early-season sailings.

Fly to Vancouver, British Columbia, and catch the Norwegian Jewel for its sailing on May 2. Ports include Juneau, Skagway and Glacier Bay. Disembark in Seward on May 9. Prices start at $449 per person for the weeklong cruise when booked at Alaskacruises.com. That does not include port fees or taxes. Also, the lowest price features an inside cabin.

There’s an even earlier cruise for an even lower price: Holland America’s Zuiderdam sails north from Vancouver on April 27 for a weeklong roundtrip itinerary that includes stops in Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway. The price is $399 per person online.

If you want to get out on the water, there’s an itinerary for you in March, April or May.

Scott McMurren

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at zoom907@me.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.

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