Bright and early Monday morning, the Alaskan Dream van picked us and our luggage up at Frank and Gloria's Place and brought us to the "hospitality room" near the marina in downtown Sitka. Here we received an orientation to our day in Sitka and the small ship cruise we'd be taking to meet our home for the next 8 days, the Baranof Dream.
Before going on about Sitka, I'll say a little about Alaskan Dream Cruises and Allen Marine, it's parent company. Allen Marine makes and restores boats for their own use and for sale to other companies, such as the ferry system in NYC! They also conduct day trips on local waterways, and cruises like ours, for 5-10 days in Alaska's Inside Passage. Based on our experience, it is an extremely well-run company of remarkable integrity. It also appears to be seamlessly and authentically integrated into the local Alaskan culture and economy, to the mutual benefit of both. These are all reasons why we chose this company to cruise with, and it more than met our expectations.
Sitka is one of the oldest settlements in the native and European history of Alaska. For thousands of years it was the home of the Tlingit people. In recent history, a little over 200 years ago, Russia claimed the area to benefit from hunting the sea otter (to near extinction). In 1867 the United States purchased Alaska from the Russians, but Sitka retains much of its Russian cultural heritage. As in so many encounters with native people, the history of the interaction is not a happy story. However, as we learned on our cruise, the Tlingit culture is still alive and it's people are making an organized effort to maintain and revitalize it's community, language and practices. We were fortunate to see evidence of that throughout our voyage.
Now Sitka has a fishing and tourist economy primarily. It has a thriving small downtown area with galleries and restaurants of interest to tourists. The cruise ships come to town almost daily. However, we enjoyed our day in Sitka without any large crowds.
After our orientation, we were given complimentary passes to several of the local attractions: the Russian Bishop's House, the Sheldon Jackson Museum, St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the Raptor Center. One of the nice things about Alaskan Dream Cruises is that the cost of ALL land excursions is included in the cost of the cruise, so there is none of the nickel and diming to death that some complain about in the larger cruises. We had the morning to explore Sitka, then we were to board one of Allen Marine's small tour ships by noon.
|Sitka marina with cow parsnip or Indian celery in the foreground|
|Fishing vessels in Sitka marina|
|Remarkable collection of Native artifacts in the Sheldon Jackson Museum|
|Detail of Native Alaskan regalia|
Our further rainy exploration of Sitka took us to Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel for a taste of the other most formative culture in the area. Father Nicholas gave us an informative lecture about the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, including an introduction to some of the more famous icons of the Virgin Mary: a Theotokos "Not Made by Hands" and "Our Lady of Sitka" to which multiple healings have been attributed.
After a quick look in a few shops it was time to board our small boat (also a part of the Allen Marine Company) for a "Sea Otter and Marine Life Quest," which would basically transport us to the Baranof Dream, our actual cruise ship.
We got our first glimpses of sea otters on this leg of our journey, but from afar. It was a pretty rainy, foggy, cloudy trip, but it was all new and beautiful. After a few hours of weaving our way between many large and small islands we finally saw our ship waiting for us in the distance.
Drawing closer, we gathered ourselves to transfer to the ship. Our luggage was already on board. Fortunately the water was very calm, making the short walk in the light rain across the gangway between the two ships rain easy.
We were all pretty excited to see our cabins. Our suitcases were set out on our bed, ready to unpack into the closet and drawers.
Our cabin was equipped with a sink and vanity, a combination enclosed shower and toilet, queen bed, two chairs and two small bedside and end tables. It had lots of lighting and sufficient outlets for all our gadgets, plenty of towels, toiletries, hair dryer, and even complete sets of rain gear!
The Baranof Dream is a recently refurbished ship that just joined the Alaskan Dream fleet last year, so all the fixtures throughout are new. The cabin walls are wooden beadboard, the floors newly carpeted. Everything from our bathrooms, to the dining room, to the decks was fresh and super clean.
|The "shoilet" combo toilet and shower, with sweet smelling cedar plank flooring.|
|The "no-knock knot" to be hung outside the door as a do-not-disturb sign.|
As soon as we were unpacked we all met up in the "forward lounge" for a ship orientation from Captain and crew. First we were instructed on how to put on our life jackets and what to do in an emergency by our "hotel director" Erik. Then we were welcomed by Stu Vincent, our illustrious caption, who does not usually work on the ships these days. He's now the "Captains' Captain" of Alaskan Dreams, but was covering for an absent captain. Like all the crew, Captain Vincent was always accessible, friendly and generous in his assistance. The ship has an open bridge policy, which means that passengers are welcome any time in the room on the top deck where the boat is driven, except during mooring or emergencies.
In a short while we were invited to the daily social hour complete with hors d'oeuvres, and then dinner was announced on the intercom in every room. I'll say here for the first but not the last time, that the food was outstanding. We were free to sit wherever we wanted at every meal. One beer or wine was complimentary with dinner. There was always a choice of at least three entres, with burgers, steak or chicken as substitute options. I think we had our first Alaskan Salmon that night.
After dinner we lingered on the various decks watching the twilight slowly fade, silhouetting the mountains, silvering the clouds, and deepening the dark blue waters of the Peril Channel to black.
Finally we wandered off to our cabin and our bed, ending the long first day of our Southeast Alaska adventure.