This year, ultra-luxury line Seabourn offered its first cruises to Alaska in 15 years. What’s in store for Seabourn Alaska 2018? Back in June, I hopped aboard the 450-guest Seabourn Sojourn in Vancouver to see what the line had to offer on a 12-day voyage up to Seward.
Having cruise to Alaska almost a dozen times since 1998, I’m no stranger to the region or its ports of call. Seabourn could have come back and simply offered a standard cruise up to Alaska and it would have likely pleased the line’s discerning past guests. Instead, Seabourn pulled out all the stops. It crafted a series of unique itineraries that call not just on ports in Alaska, but within British Columbia as well. It developed one-way voyages between Seward and Vancouver, and mixed those in with roundtrip cruises out of the latter.
As the icing on the cake, Seabourn introduced its Ventures by Seabourn program onboard that blends expedition-style experiences ashore with more traditional excursion options, together with an onboard expedition team that better mimics small-ship adventure cruising.
In doing all of this, Seabourn created one of the most unique cruises currently on offer in Alaska: a proper luxury cruise that offers expedition elements to those who want it, while featuring all the amenities and entertainment of a much larger ship to those looking for a more traditional Alaska voyage. It’s the best of both worlds, and it’s available on Seabourn Sojourn.
A New Side of Alaska
Even if you’re new to luxury cruising or to Seabourn, the line’s itineraries in Alaska will likely pull you in. My voyage stopped in two of Alaska’s most famous ports of call, including the State capital, Juneau; and the self-proclaimed Salmon Capital of the World, Ketchikan. Both towns are highly walkable and offer plenty to do right from the ship, and both also offer some pretty amazing shore excursion experiences further afar. Juneau is located next to Mendenhall Glacier, which offers flightseeing and dog-sledding opportunities, while Ketchikan is noteworthy for its whale and wildlife watching.
Seabourn Sojourn impressed me, though, by bypassing Skagway in favor of its lesser-known cousin, Haines. Situated at the end of Lynn Canal just south of Skagway, tours via high-speed ferry were offered to this famous Gold Rush town, but Haines proved to be the perfect counterpart.
In Haines, I found the “real” Alaska: a small town not overrun by cruise ship passengers, where off-the-beaten-path opportunities were present, both in-town and out in the majestic Alaskan wilderness. With only the 450-guest Seabourn Sojourn in port, guests weren’t left to battle crowds aplenty as in Skagway.
But Seabourn also found time to spend deep in Alaska’s backcountry. Entire days were devoted to cruising little-visited Misty Fjords, which typically is only accessible by booking an extra excursion from Ketchikan. An entire day was spent in Glacier Bay National Park, and in Endicott Arm south of Juneau.
Where other cruise vessels pause for just hours or even minutes, Seabourn Sojourn lingered. Other cruise ships sailed past us during our time in Endicott Arm, eager to race into ice-locked Tracy Arm for barely an hour. But there we sat, all day, at anchor, while tours of the shore line and kayaking excursions ran from the ship.
Seabourn’s most exotic itineraries include ports of call in British Columbia, like Prince Rupert, Alert Bay, and the traditional home of the Kitasoo and Xai’xais peoples, Klemtu. The latter is particularly impressive, as the islands boast the same approximate population as the guest capacity of the Seabourn Sojourn. Here, Seabourn has arranged with the local First Nations to invite its guests to an authentic Potlatch ceremony as an enhanced cultural experience.
Ventures by Seabourn in Alaska
While in Alaska, I tried to participate in as many Ventures by Seabourn excursions as possible. Unlike an expedition cruise, these excursions come at an additional cost, but one that is well worth the price of admission.
The Ventures by Seabourn collection consists of adventurous experiences ashore that would be difficult to find anywhere else. They are conducted by the dedicated Expedition Team aboard Seabourn Sojourn, and are universally superb in terms of quality and information received.
I enjoyed kayaking in Endicott Arm, which utilized Seabourn Sojourn’s onboard complement of kayaks. We departed right from the ship, and were given all the necessary safety orientation briefings to handle ourselves on the two-person kayaks in the water and around the ice. Despite the rain and the fog, the views of the fjord – and the views of the Seabourn Sojourn – were unparalleled. The only time I’ve ever done something similar to this was on a small, 60-passenger ship in Alaska; a nice experience, but nowhere near the luxury offered onboard the Seabourn Sojourn.
I also tried my hand at two Ventures by Seabourn hikes: an intermediate, easy hike in Wrangell, Alaska (one of my favorite, least-visited Alaskan towns), and an advanced hike to the ice caves of Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. The former was an easy hike that made for a pleasant afternoon outing in the woods; the latter was exactly as Seabourn had described it: an advanced all-day hike over rough and changeable terrain. For those who think that luxury cruises might not be all that active, these Ventures by Seabourn hikes deliver all the physical activity you can handle – and then some.
Seabourn Sojourn: Perfectly Suited
Seabourn Sojourn was never expressly designed for Alaska, but she is perfectly suited to cruising in this region.
Alaska is often wet, windy and chilly. Sometimes, though, it can be beautiful, with soaring temperatures and cloudless blue skies. Ships that are best in Alaska are ones that are suited to both types of weather – and Seabourn Sojourn fits that bill.
Seabourn installed heaters on many of Seabourn Sojourn’s public decks to keep things warm during inclement weather, and they work like a charm. She also offers plenty of covered open deck space both forward and aft that makes scenic cruising a pleasure in any weather condition. Public rooms have oversized windows at every turn, and a massive skylight positioned over the ship’s central spiral staircase ensure that natural light floods in throughout the ship.
When the weather is nice, Seabourn Sojourn excels. Her pool deck is beautifully laid-out, and the ship even has a hot tub stationed all the way forward at the tip of her bow; an area that was popular in any weather condition. With just 450 guests onboard, things are never crowded, and that means that there is always a great seat by the pool, or at the Pool Grill. Even prime viewing spaces at the railings never seem to get competitive; something that definitely cannot be said of larger, more mainstream cruise ships in Alaska.
On the suite level, I was pleased to see how deep the balconies aboard Seabourn Sojourn are. In good weather, my balcony kept me shaded from the sun, and in inclement weather, its depth kept me from getting the worst of the wind and the spray that would come up. I sat outside and read my book as we sailed the Inside Passage, sipped champagne in Glacier Bay, and generally used my verandah more than I ever would have expected.
Of course, suites aboard the Seabourn Sojourn are no slouch, either, with fabulous beds, great marble-clad bathrooms stocked with Molton Brown toiletries, and plenty of living space.
Seabourn Alaska 2018
Seabourn Sojourn returns to Alaska again in 2018, offering a series of 11, 12, and 14-day voyages that either depart roundtrip Vancouver, or sail between Vancouver and Seward. Seabourn Sojourn will also sail a special 20-day “Alaska & America’s Gold Coast” voyage between Vancouver and Los Angeles on September 25, 2018. Those looking for a really adventurous voyage might like to hop on her May 16, 2019 cruise between Japan and Vancouver: a 21-day journey from Kobe through Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, and Southeast Alaska.