Nature's serenity is star of Alaskan cruise

Meander through the coastal waters of Alaska on the National Geographic Sea Lion ship.
BY SARAH PHIPPS Staff Photographer sphipps@opubco.com Modified: September 23, 2012 at 12:11 am •  Published: September 23, 2012

Time seems to slow down as the cruise ship National Geographic Sea Lion meanders its way through the calm, protected waters of Alaska's Inside Passage.

By the second day aboard the ship on Lindblad Expedition's “Exploring Alaska's Coastal Wilderness” cruise, the troubles of the real world float away with the icebergs, and life's stress is replaced with the serenity of nature.

The open water is never blanketed with true darkness. During a cruise in June, the sun set around 10 p.m. and quickly rose again by 4 a.m. Nights became days and days became nights. Removed from the routine of daily life, the concept of time was no longer measurable.

The Sea Lion is intimate, typically accommodating 62 passengers in 31 cabins. Life aboard the ship quickly becomes as comfortable as life at home. The passengers form bonds as a family. Strangers become grandparents, friends and siblings floating along the Inside Passage in the far Northwest.

A Lindblad expedition is designed as a learning experience and not simply as a vacation.

“We try to inspire people to explore and care about the planet. And nothing is more important, but it has to come from a place of understanding and that comes from education,” said Marc Cappelletti, director of expedition development, Lindblad Expeditions.

“To bring people out here to educate them on the beauty of Southeast Alaska and how fragile it is as well is immensely important to us because we hope to inspire people this week,” he said

To help with the education is an expedition leader, four naturalists, an undersea specialist, a wellness specialist and a video chronicler. One of the naturalists also serves as a photo instructor to help guests learn about capturing Alaska's beauty with their cameras. The naturalists lead hikes through the forest and cruises on inflatable motorized boats called zodiacs. During cocktail hour in the ship's lounge, they also lead small lectures and recaps of the daily adventures.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in a small dining room where passengers eat together at large and small tables. But, leave your tuxedos and evening gowns at home: Life aboard the Sea Lion is casual.

The food aboard the ship is excellent but the food is not the star of the trip — Alaska is the start, starting with the scenery.

Onboard, guests have a 360-degree view of the mountains and regularly see humpback whales, mama bears and cubs, sea lions and other animal life.

The adventure begins

I arrived in Juneau on a Saturday afternoon in June after 12 hours of changing planes and time zones. By evening, I was personally greeted by Captain Dan Dion as I boarded the Sea Lion.

After all the guests were tucked away in their cabins, the Sea Lion left port around midnight for Tracy Arm.

By 5:30 a.m., a tiny stream of light hit my face waking me from my deep slumber. The sun had been rising for over an hour before its light fell over the mountain peaks and into my cabin. I scrambled to take pictures of the sunrise before getting ready for the day.

Around 7 a.m. a soft, smoothing voice transmitted through my intercom in my cabin: “Good morning, it is beautiful day in Southeast Alaska. Good morning.”

Our expedition leader Lee Fleischer provided the wake-up call we would hear every morning. We came to treasure it, even as it came in the early hours to alert us killer whales were swimming next to the boat.

Easier navigation

The beauty of the Sea Lion is its small size. It allows the boat to travel in smaller passageways. But, it still can't go everywhere, so the ship uses the zodiacs to shuttle passengers to the coastline and small coves.

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