Welcoming the Alaskan Wilderness

By Sally MacMillan

Sailing out of Canada’s spectacular port city of Vancouver on a crisp spring evening, toasting the occasion with a glass of perfectly chilled Champagne, sets the tone for a leisurely seven-night cruise to Seward, Alaska.

We’re onboard the recently refurbished Regent Seven Seas Mariner, an exceptionally spacious and luxurious ship for only 700 passengers – and, of course, the 445 crew members offering an uncompromising level of service.

A day’s scenic cruising through the Inside Passage allows time to explore the ship, take in an entertaining lecture by anthropologist Terry Breen about the history, culture and wildlife of the vast 49th state, then meet the captain and officers for cocktails in the evening.

Seven Seas Mariner is elegant, inside and out. Over the course of the cruise, we sample just about every restaurant, cafe, lounge and bar; I didn’t manage to squeeze in a massage or facial, but the Canyon Ranch Spa is a beautiful, calm space and offers an extensive spa menu.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC) has invested US$125 million on ‘Explorer-ising’ its fleet of sister ships – Seven Seas Mariner, Voyager and Navigator – since launching its uber-luxury flagship Seven Seas Explorer in 2016, and Mariner looks and feels magnificent.

While the entire ship received a facelift, its restaurants were stripped to the steel and completely rebuilt – the main dining room, Compass Rose, is decked with crystal chandeliers and chic marble walls; Prime 7, the ship’s specialty steakhouse, features dramatic lighting and a rich cream-and-blue colour palette; and Chartreuse, the French restaurant that made its debut on Seven Seas Explorer, replaces Signatures. The standard of wining, dining and service in all venues is exemplary, although being something of a Francophile, Chartreuse is my favourite.

Mariner’s luxe all-suite accommodations range from two extraordinary 260-square-metre master suites through 13 categories of beautifully appointed sanctuaries.

All suites have private balconies, 24-hour room service, a minibar that’s replenished daily and free WiFi; guests staying in Concierge Suites and above have a free night’s pre-cruise accommodation and those in Penthouse Suites and above have a personal butler.

Our deluxe veranda suite on Deck 8 is gorgeous, decorated in stylish, restful shades of blue – and it’s always lovely to be greeted with a bottle of Champagne and a bowl of fresh fruit when you embark.

At our first port of call, Ketchikan, a few hardy sun-lovers bask by the newly minted mosaic-tiled pool, even though we are surrounded by rugged snow-streaked mountains.

RSSC offers an impressive range of complimentary shore excursions at every port (plus optional ones for an extra cost if you want to elevate your onshore experience).

In Alaska, the focus is on adventurous activities such as fishing, flightseeing, wildlife-spotting, dog-sledding, canoeing and hiking as well as cultural tours encompassing ancient Native Indian culture and more recent history.

Ketchikan, like two other ports we visit – Juneau and Skagway – is a former gold-rush town. It’s also known as the salmon capital of the world, so fishing expeditions are popular; floatplane and boat trips to nearby Misty Fjords, part of the massive Tongass National Forest, are among other exciting excursions on offer.

The Totem Heritage Center is a short walk beyond Ketchikan’s busy waterfront boardwalks and well worth a visit. It houses one of the world’s largest collections of original, 19th-century totem poles along with contemporary Northwest Coast art and traditional artefacts made by Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people.

Alaska’s intriguing capital, Juneau, has a smaller population than Anchorage and can only be reached by sea or air, but its citizens have long resisted attempts to move the capital elsewhere.

The Russians famously sold Alaska to America in 1867 for US$7.2 million, or about two cents an acre. Evidence of both cultures abounds, from the Russian Orthodox St Michael’s Cathedral to Totem Park, a battleground where Tlingits fought the Russian fur hunters in 1804.

Seven Seas Mariner offers 24 signature excursions: the helicopter glacier trek, which drops guests on the mighty Mendenhall Glacier for a two-hour guided walk on the ice, is a thoroughly exhilarating experience. Even more popular is dog-sledding on the glacier, which also involves a scenic helicopter flight (make sure you sign up well in advance).

Then there are brewery tours, canoeing on Mendenhall Lake, salmon bakes and gold-panning adventures. Whale-watching in the evening is another unusual option – Mariner stays in port until 11pm when it’s still light in midsummer Alaska. Local operators guarantee whale sightings and give guests a US$100 refund if the humpbacks don’t come out to play.

The historic White Pass Scenic Railroad is Skagway’s main attraction. Built between 1898 and 1900, the railway winds its way from sea level to about 915 metres at the summit.

Immaculately maintained trains haul vintage and reproduction carriages along 32 kilometres of vertiginous mountain passes and gorges, through tunnels and past what was once the world’s tallest cantilever bridge.

It’s a thrilling journey, and humbling to learn how thousands of desperate gold prospectors in the 1890s made their way on foot along the hazardous Chilkoot Trail.

Our final landing is at Sitka, a picturesque port that only allows a limited number of smaller cruise ships to dock there. Sitka’s history is a rich and bloody entanglement of thousands of years of Tlingit ownership and a century of Russian colonisation.

The Russians famously sold Alaska to America in 1867 for US$7.2 million, or about two cents an acre. Evidence of both cultures abounds, from the Russian Orthodox St Michael’s Cathedral to Totem Park, a battleground where Tlingits fought the Russian fur hunters in 1804.

Our guide takes our small group in and out of misty bays, where silence drips from ancient spruce and hemlock trees and reflections hardly waver on the still water. It’s magical, but sadly we don’t spot any bears.

Over the past few days we have seen bald eagles, ravens, porpoises, sea lions and dozens of Dall sheep, but I’m still hankering for a bear-sighting.

While we are sailing close to the magnificent Hubbard Glacier the next day, I’m advised by Dagmar, Mariner’s destinations services manager, that the best time for bear-spotting is late July, when the salmon are running – which gives me the perfect excuse for booking a return voyage on Mariner to one of the world’s most awe-inspiring wilderness areas.

 

The Details

Regent Seven Seas Cruises is offering an array of seven-day Alaska sailings aboard the newly renovated Seven Seas Mariner between Vancouver and Seward from June to September 2019.

Fares start from $6480 per person (twin share), based on a Deluxe Veranda Suite. For more information and fares on all Regent Seven Seas Cruises, call 1300 455 200 or visit rssc.com.

Why you Should be Booking an Alaskan Cruise Right Now

Few experiences can top seeing the stunning U.S. state of Alaska up close from the comfort of a luxury cruise liner on the high seas, and now is the perfect time to book

By Staff Writer

More than 37,000 Australians took an ocean cruise to Alaska in 2017, according to CLIA’s Cruise Industry Source Report. This scenic destination is more popular than ever, and with the 2018 Alaskan May-through-September cruise season complete, 2019 voyages are cruisers’ radar, with the peak booking period for Alaskan cruises for next year already underway.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has responded to this traveller demand by offering 17 Alaskan voyages aboard Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner vessel from the 16th May through to the 30th September, 2019, ranging from seven to 12 nights.

During the voyages, Seven Seas Mariner will cruise the Inside and Outside Passage, visiting ports in Anchorage, Icy Strait (Hoonah), Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway and Wrangell, as well as the majestic Hubbard Glacier. As the only cruise line to offer free unlimited shore excursions in every port, this is one of the most magical and memorable ways to see Alaska.

“Luxury travellers are increasingly interested in visiting Alaska and a cruise is truly the best way to see all of the beauty the destination offers,” said Regent Seven Seas Cruises President and CEO Jason Montague. “Guests who voyaged to Alaska return home and post their awe-inspiring pictures and stories on social media, prompting people who haven’t yet sailed to The Last Frontier to book their own luxurious Alaskan cruise for next year. It’s a trend that becomes more pronounced every year, especially after the season ends. No camera lens, Facebook post nor tweet can truly capture the beauty and sheer awe of what it feels like to sail up close to a glacier or see an eagle soar overhead.”

In 2019, the cruise line’s Alaskan voyages will feature guest lecturer Terry Breen, a renowned, published Alaska specialist who has been sailing the Inside Passage for over 20 years. And off-board and back on solid ground, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ immersive land experiences create a deep connection between the guest and the destination. The plethora of adventure-style shore excursions, all included in the voyage’s one all-inclusive price, include:

Mendenhall Glacier River Float

Guests experience Alaska’s spectacular natural beauty on a scenic rafting adventure down the Mendenhall River, with stunning views of floating icebergs and mountain peaks.

 

Tongass Rainforest Nature Hike

Passengers can discover the diverse flora, fauna and history of the world’s largest temperate rainforest, on display as one of Earth’s vital ecosystems.

 

Ocean Raft Adventures

On this exciting and memorable ocean rafting adventure in Sitka, guests board an Adventure Raft, flying over ocean swells at speeds up to 80 kilometres per hour, and feel blasts of fresh air in the open seating raft. Along the way, seabirds, whales and sea otters appear en route to the ravaged volcanic coastline of Kruzof Island.

 

Spasski River Valley Wildlife and Bear Search

Regent Seven Seas passengers will get to observe bears, deer and bald eagles in their natural habitats from an elevated observation area in the remote Spasski River Valley.

 

Craft Beer and Spirits Tasting Adventure

Guests can sample a wide selection of beers and spirits at a brewery and a distillery, both of which use glacial water and local ingredients to produce remarkably flavourful beverages.

 

Regent also offers pre- and post-voyage land programs for Alaskan cruises, with an all-new Ultimate Rocky Mountaineer Land Program being introduced to the 2019 program. A five-to-six-night experience, guests will embark on a train ride through the iconic towns and cities of the Pacific Northwest, along the spectacular Canadian Rockies. Soak-up dramatic scenery from the comfort of custom-built glass-domed carriages, complete with award-winning service and exquisite five-star dining thoughtfully created by executive chefs and presented in astonishing surroundings.

To make this peak Alaska booking season even more appealing, recently Regent Seven Seas Cruises has introduced special youth rates on Alaska sailings and a special limited-time package when guests combine their Alaska voyage with a pre- or post-cruise land program.

Young travellers can enjoy Regent’s Club Mariner  Youth Program aboard all 2019 Alaskan sailings, while children ages 5 to 17 can participate in a range of specialised enrichment activities that educate youth on Alaskan culture, wildlife and nature, and includes games and movie nights. Each program is designed and supervised by friendly and professional youth counsellors.

The Details

All-inclusive Alaskan fares start at $7,370AUD per person, which include unlimited shore excursions, WiFi, fine wines and spirits, fine dining, pre-paid gratuities, and a host of other amenities.

Youth age 17 and under can sail free on select 10- and 11-night Alaska voyages, and for $675AUD on select 7-night Alaska voyages in 2019.

For more information about Regent Seven Seas Cruises or to receive a brochure, guests can call 1300 455 200 (AU) or 0800 625 692 (NZ), or visit www.rssc.com.