“Good morning Wilderness Discoverers”! It was the first thing I heard every morning through the speakerphone in my cabin: a friendly greeting at the start of a new day and an invitation to breakfast. The Wilderness Discoverer is a small cruise ship operated by InnerSea Discoveries on their routes in southeast Alaska. I was one of 66 guests and 24 crew on an eight-day cruise through the Inside Passage from Juneau to Ketchikan. I didn’t need much motivation to jump out of bed early each morning – I was simply too excited just being in Alaska – but the friendly voice and the prospect of another sumptuous breakfast to kick off a new day of adventure and fun were certainly enticing.

The Wilderness Discoverer Inside Passage cruise.

Each of my seven mornings in Alaska started with a hearty breakfast and dreamy views of the Alaskan wilderness.

Chunks of ice in the jade-coloured water of Tracy Arm fjord.

My Inside Passage Alaska cruise

It soon became clear to me that a cruise aboard a small ship is the ideal way to explore Alaska’s Inside Passage. The small size of the ship enabled us to sail through remote areas, providing us with close-up views of impressive fjords and glistening icebergs, and allowing us to moor in pristine coves.

Cruising into the Tracy Arms fjord.
We passed this amazing iceberg along the way.
The icebergs in Tracy Arms fjord up close.

More flexibility

Another advantage is the flexibility to change the itinerary whenever opportunities arose to spot wildlife or whenever local park rangers were available to board the ship and tell the guests about the area. On one occasion, the ship made a detour into a bay where a pod of whales were spotted.

We made a little detour to see a pod of whales.

We also stayed a little while longer in the breathtaking Tracy Arms fjord as the captain invited three local rangers who were camping on a little island to come aboard. They stayed for lunch and told us wondrous stories about the flora and fauna in and around the fjord.

The Tracy Arms fjord with the massive Sawyer glaciers at its head.

A bewildering experience

One evening after dinner, one of the deck crew came running into the lounge and excitedly told us to look outside. As we opened the windows, I noticed the ship slowing. I looked out and was treated to scenes no one will easily forget. In the distance, we saw several pods of humpback whales lunging: coming up from the deep with their mouths open and gobbling up the herring near the surface. As they breached the surface, they snapped their jaws close and disappeared into the water. It was a bewildering experience watching these giants of the deep breaking the surface of the water in turns with their powerful jaws wide open.

We also saw lots of wildlife along the shores and the captain could easily manoeuvre the small ship to get closer.

We spotted different types of whales.
And many sea lions.
We followed a pod of porpoises via the ship’s underwater cam

With only 66 guests on the ship, excursions and other activities were easily organised. The ship’s staff were always at hand to help us gear up (safety is a top priority… as it should be) and we would set off on a boat excursion within minutes. I was really impressed by the knowledge of the crew. They could easily delve into great detail about the geology of the area and the wildlife and talk about their experiences with an infectious enthusiasm.

Excellent service makes the difference

The service on board the Wilderness Discoverer was excellent. With 24 staff serving 66 guests, you can be sure that we were spoiled! It’s always great to wake up in the morning with a friendly voice through the speakerphone, then being greeted by your name with a sincere smile and a fresh cup of coffee in the breakfast room. They kept us busy during the day: arranging shore excursions, hikes, kayak trips; and entertained in the evenings: I’ll never forget Captain Dano’s story-telling – with his big voice and animated gestures, he captivated the guests with Alaskan tales and legends. The ship’s staff, from the captain to the technicians and the kitchen crew, certainly made the difference. Their friendliness, gracious hospitality, knowledge and professionalism played a pivotal role in making this cruise special.

The owner of InnerSea Discoveries, Dan, reminds us where we are: “This is Alaska!”
Service with a smile and infectious enthusiasm on board the Wilderness Discoverer.

Another factor that contributed to the success of the cruise is the superb food served on board. A hearty breakfast was followed by a lunch with salads and soups (I loved the Alaskan seafood chowder). Delicious canapΓ©s were served during Happy Hour whilst dinner was an elaborate affair (the fresh dungeness crabs and lamb chops were the absolute highlights!). The wholesomeness and great variety of the food (from local Alaskan specialties to Mexican and Asian themes) kept everyone in good spirits throughout the cruise!

Meal times, activities & menus were displayed on tv screens
Salads and soups for lunch.
The kitchen crew cleaning dungeness crabs in Wrangell

Something for everyone

There was a broad variety of activities to keep us on our toes throughout the cruise. Hikes were categorised by their levels of difficulty: from leisurely strolls through the temperate rainforests to advanced-level hikes to lakes and glaciers. There were also boat excursions around fjords, kayaking, snorkelling, fishing tours, jet-boat tours, sightseeing by seaplane and camping on a small island. Guests could opt to go on any of the excursions or simply laze in the lounge or on the deck with a good book.

Kayaks in Scenery Cove.
Boat excursions like this one to the North Sawyer glacier were in small groups of up to ten.

I especially enjoyed the hike to Baird Glacier.

Hiking across the mud flats to Baird Glacier

To soothe our sore muscles after a long hike, we could go for a massage or sit in the hot-tubs. Mind you, these are hot-tubs with spectacular views!

A hot-tub with spectacular views of Alaska!

I had the time of my life on board the Wilderness Discoverer cruising through Alaska’s Inside Passage. The scenery was breathtaking but the crew certainly made this cruise one that I’ll never forget. With their friendly hospitality, they helped create a convivial atmosphere which everyone enjoyed and from which new friendships blossomed. A huge thank you goes to InnerSea Discoveries for inviting me on this cruise. It certainly was a dream come true!

Note: I was invited by InnerSea Discoveries to join this cruise. As always, all views expressed above are mine, and mine only.

27 Responses

  • Wow, what an incredible experience. Your photos are stunning – especially the glaciers and wildlife. How cool to go on such a small ship!

  • […] times to make sure it wasn’t a beautiful dream. This fjord was definitely a highlight of my Inside Passage Alaska cruise! Scroll down to follow my cruise through the Tracy Arm fjord in […]

  • Hello Pat,

    Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I really enjoyed the cruise with ISD and I’m sure you’ll have a great time.

    Best regards & have a wonderful cruise & wedding anniversary!

  • Thank you for this write-up! This is the exact trip we will be taking in about a month following a land tour out of Anchorage. Packing is a bit of a challenge, but we are really looking forward to this trip to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We took a small-ship cruise to British Columbia on Cruise West several years ago, and although they are no longer in business, I can’t say enough about how wonderful the experience was. I’m expecting the same great service from ISD aboard the Discoverer. Small ship cruising is the only way to go to see these unique areas. Reading this article just gets me more excited to see Alaska for the first time!

  • A couple of friends are going on an Alaskan cruise 2 weeks from today as their honeymoon destination…I bet it will be great!

  • Been to Alaska a lot. Once we did the big cruise ship, but our day cruise our of Seward was the BEST! I love Alaska, but you need to do more than just cruise. You should visit, Homer, the State Fair, the Farmers Market in Anchorage, Denali, Talkeetna, and I could go on for days. There is so much to see here!

  • Love the fact you had hot tubs on the deck while taking in the fjords…good photos Keith!

  • i just caught myself dreaming away, seeing myself kayaking in Alaska (while behind the computer at wortk). thanx Keith! Robbie

  • Nice. Alaska was never really on my “list”, but my aunt and uncle were just there and came back with such amazing photos, now it is. πŸ™‚ Sounds like you had a great time.

  • Thank you Vera for your comment. Yes, if you’re planning a cruise in Alaska, I can highly recommend choosing a small ship cruise. You have to go! It’s pretty mind-blowing! πŸ™‚


  • I am simply green with envy (and I don’t get seasick, so I KNOW it is envy). Going to Alaska on a small ship is next up on my MUST DO travel list. This looks like a perfect choice, Keith. Lucky you. And Thanks for sharing your great pictures.

  • Hi Nancy & Shawn,
    Yes, a small ship is definitely the way to go. The crowd was very mixed, from a couple in their 80’s (who were celebrating their 60th anniversary & brought their whole family along) to couples on their honeymoon and a father with his two sons (about 8-10 yrs). There was also a surprising mix of nationalities, US/Canadian but also people from New Zealand, Australia and the UK.
    It was a very active cruise but what I really liked about it is that you can choose the level of difficulties for the hikes (1-3) and do as much or as little as you want.


  • Hi Keith, great post & pics!

    We’ve been to Alaska four times now, all with the big ship companies, and even though those trips were great, the small ship option you did looks amazing!!

    It just looked so much more intimate & active then what the bigs guy offer and it wasn’t about shopping in each port. πŸ™‚

    Just curious, with such a small crowd onboard what would you say the typical average age was? And were their any kids aboard?

    Again, great post!

    Nancy & Shawn

  • Looks like an amazing trip! The views and wildlife are impressive and it seems like everyone working on the ship is extremely enthusiastic πŸ™‚

  • Haha, good thinking huh? That hot tub had some pretty spectacular views. πŸ™‚
    Thanks Mei!

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