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Harold M Heft

Age: 62

Occupation:Executive

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Alaskan Dream Cruises

Ship: Alaskan Dream

Sailing Date: 2012-05-10

Itinerary: Alaska Inside Passage

My wife and I just returned from a terrific eleven-day cruise aboard the Alaskan Dream, a spiffy and comfortable forty-passenger catamaran (motorized), through the inside passage of southeastern Alaska.

We highly recommend the Alaskan Dream for a glorious intimate Inside Passage experience. The value, the company and its staff, the ship, and wonder of southeast Alaska can't be beat.

The executive chef on board offered an ever-changing menu for each lunch and dinner, including soup, salad, entree, and dessert. Flavors ran an international gamut, including Italian, Thai, Japanese, Cajun, and Indian. Local seafood was often spotlighted: king crab, salmon, halibut - but every lunch and dinner included a meat or poultry and a vegan alternative. (The vegans and gluten-free passengers aboard seemed very satisfied with those offerings.) Some of us foraged fiddlehead ferns on a hike one morning and contributed them to the chef, who conjured up a tasty sea salt and garlic saute as a dinner side that night. Fresh fruit and vegetables were always part of the meals. Platings were imaginative and, most importantly, delicious. Full breakfasts - a special entree plus eggs and sides to order, as well as bagel and lox (!) - were served most mornings (twice breakfast buffets preceded early morning excursions). Everyone gained weight on this trip. The dining room was attractively set for tables of six for all meals. No assigned seating, we sat with everyone over the course of the trip.

A fairly roomy cabin, full-size bed with a comfortable mattress and pillows, good linens, a bedside table, cushioned armchair, decent-sized closet with dresser drawers, room to store two duffels easily under the bed, sink with medicine cabinet, and two large bed-to-ceiling windows offering great light and views as we sailed. The shower and toilet were in an enclosed space, a shower curtain kept the toilet dry during showers. Toilet and showers worked perfectly with hot water and good pressure.

The ship: Clean, well-maintained, and surprisingly elegant compared to expectations from the company website (the photos on the site do not do it justice). The first deck forward lounge comfortably sat twenty-five folks or so on arm chairs and a ship's width settee, with ample wraparound windows to enjoy the scenery.

The very well-appointed bar served top-shelf brands and a wide variety of excellent international and US wines. The lounge was the spot for pre-breakfast coffee, fruit and pastries, all-day socializing or reading, end-of-day drinks and tasty hors d'oeuvres, and post-dinner lectures and programs, which included culture, anthropology, geology, local politics, and history. A lot of new friendships were made here.

A partially-covered top deck observation area was perfect to view the countryside as we cruised, offering clear lanes for photography and video. In addition, there were decks at the stern on the second and third decks, plus two observation wings leading off the bridge that were also ideal for viewing. Smoking was permitted only outside on one of the stern decks. Another plus - cabin entry was from an inside hallway rather than from outside which meant avoiding weather and offering better views from the cabin windows. We had no problems with seasickness on the trip; the boat was stable and performed well during the brief times of choppy seas.

The wonderful staff and crew: a mix of experienced hands and newbies, they were - without exception - personable, enthusiastic, helpful, hard-working, and friendly. First-name basis was the ambience on board for all from the get-go. The captain was passionate about the boat and the trip, offering his perspectives on the wildlife and towns and insights on navigating the channels and bays. He and his energetic crew welcomed us onto the bridge at all times - it was an ideal hangout for photography and conversation.

The shipboard experts in Alaskan culture, history, politics, and nature, offered worthwhile insights into the state and introductions to the next day's activities each evening. We were joined by two park rangers for our foray onto Glacier Bay - their knowledge of the flora and fauna, geology, and local village cultures enhanced our day in that glorious park. Local guides led many of the on-shore excursions. The entire trip was professionally managed, with quick responses to the very few issues that came up (needed an extension cord, locked out of room). A team met us at the airport, transported us to our hotel, picked up our luggage and took it to our cabins on the boat, and at trip end, brought the luggage to the airport counter for us. The cruise supervisor on board was resourceful in providing alternative activities when a gale-force storm made the original plan unworkable. And when a town festival popped up on the calendar, the team switched around the itinerary so we could participate in the fun, even though it meant backtracking twice through a difficult channel.

The cruise line owners, Allen Marine, have been living and working in southeast Alaska for decades. They know the area intimately and - it seems - everyone in southeast knows and loves them. Locals were genuinely excited to know we were cruising on the Allen family's Alaskan Dream and not a mega-ship.

IMPORTANT! - this is NOT a trip for children. There are long, long stretches of time spent on board contemplating scenery and socializing with new friends which would surpass the attention spans of toddlers and pre-teens. Many of the excursions were cultural and anthropological in nature and would have bored youngsters. Some teens might get into it if they are particularly interested in natural wonders and history - certainly the day at Hobart Bay would entertain them. But be aware, a significant portion of the trip is out of cell phone and internet reach and there is no wireless on the ship.

The Lindblad ship arrived in Petersburg shortly after us - there were many families on board that ship - and we watched with amazement as several teens poured off that ship and remained on the dock, noses buried in their smartphones, texting furiously, while dozens of eagles swooped overhead, diving for salmon scraps from the local canneries. Take this comment as you will, kids and teens would have markedly changed the adult character of our trip, not for the better.

The trip itself: spectacular vistas, plentiful wildlife, fascinating excursions, and mostly decent weather. Although the first couple of days were windy and wet (it IS a rainforest), the remainder of the trip was a combination of in-and-out sun with spotty showers and glorious sunny days when it really counted: Glacier Bay, Tracy Arm, and Misty Fjords. We were well-prepared with a couple of layers (shirt and fleece hoodie) plus a waterproof windbreaker pullover pants. We got everything we were looking for. Flora: vast spruce and cedar forests, hikes thru bogs and estuaries. Fauna: brown and black bear, moose, sea otters, land otters, one porcupine, mountain goats, humpback whales, Minke whales, orcas galore, Dall's porpoises racing the boat, harbor seals, stellar seals, sea lions, and more.

Birds - a birder's paradise: bald eagles, blue herons, mergansers, puffins, wigeons, kittiwakes, arctic terns, gulls, geese, hawks. When something was spotted, the captain maneuvered closer and lingered while we snapped photos.

Impressive, informative museums in Sitka (don't miss the Sheldon Jackson museum of native crafts), Juneau, Petersburg, and Thorne Bay. A haunting, spiritual hike from Kasaan to a 19th century Haida whaling house with several 18th and 19th century totem poles inside and nearby. An invigorating jet-boat trip out of Wrangell up the Stikine River to view wildlife, remote float houses, glacier sloughs and sluices. In Wrangell we got to meet the marvelous Marjy Wood of Tyee Travel, the travel agent who expertly handled our questions while helping us to settle on this cruise.

The wonderful folks we met in every town, who were eager to talk about their home towns and villages and lives with us, and their fervor for living in southeast Alaska. Awe-inspiring mountains, sparkling blue and diamond glaciers and icebergs, tumbling waterfalls, steep and narrow fiord cliffs...we miss these the most in New Jersey. Excursions and activities were not strenuous - this is not a trip for ambitious trekkers - but on-shore opportunities abounded for trail-hiking and there was one day at the company's Hobart Bay facility that offered kayaking and Zego boating in quiet waters among wildlife filled islands, and ATV rides along rising logging roads.

Our traveling companions: an international coterie of mostly senior citizens, many retired, but NOT OLD. Our new friends were engaged, worldly, sophisticated, down-to-earth, and wonderful conversationalists. We hiked, explored and learned together. As you can imagine, on a small boat with a small group, you get close quickly, and this intimate experience is another advantage of this cruise.

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