How to Pick Your Best Alaskan Cruise

Coming to Dawes Glacier
Coming to Dawes Glacier

Going on an Alaskan cruise is expensive and it will cost you a fair amount money even if it’s the cheapest one you could possibly ever find. Besides airfare and hotel accommodations you will often be paying for port fees and taxes not listed on the ‘Too good to be true’ bargain-basement rate. Those hidden fees more often than not make your incredibly cheap cruise maybe not quiet as cheap as you thought.

I would like to suggest that maybe it’s time you stopped looking for the cheapest possible cruise that shoehorns you into a one-size fits all vacation package. Please spend a few moments and start thinking about what you really want in a cruise. You have worked long hard hours to earn a well spent cruise vacation and you should get what you want, and not just what big industrialized tourism tells you that you want.

As the owner/operator of Northwest Navigation Co., and the Motor Vessel David B, a six passenger cruise boat that carries people on cruises from the San Juan Islands in Washington state to Southeast Alaska, and the beautiful Canadian Inside Passage, I’ve spent years obsessing over the different types of cruise experiences that you have to choose from.

Kayaking in No Name Cove
Kayaking in No Name Cove

From my perspective, I truly believe that the owner/operator cruise is the best possible choice for Alaska. You get so much more local knowledge, flexible itineraries, meals prepared especially for you, and the ability to see and experience sights and wildlife that are not accessible to bigger operators. I do however understand (sort of) that the cruises we offer are not everyone’s dream vacation and with this in mind I hope you will spend some time factoring in your own unique personality with the style of Alaskan cruise you are dreaming of.

When I’m taking a reservation or talking with prospective passengers I am able to tell quickly if the person on the other end of the phone is a good fit for our style of cruising. When someone is interested in coming aboard the David B, we want to make sure we are the boat for them since they will be spending their hard earned vacation with Capt. Jeffrey and me. If the person on the other end of the phone  wants a quiet wilderness experience where they can get off the boat and wander a remote Alaskan beach with the hopes of catching a fleeting glimpse of a wolf or if  they want to drift silently among the humpback whales in Frederick Sound, then we are probably a good fit. If the person on the other end of the line is not really as interested in experiencing nature as they are in simply being able to say they’ve been to Alaska and seen a bear, a whale and a glacier, and if that person is looking bigger amenities such disco balls, casinos, and Broadway-style productions night after night, I recommend they try elsewhere.

To help you choose your best possible Alaskan cruise before settling on the cheapest cruise available, I’ve come up with a list of questions you’ll want consider for your Alaskan cruise. If you choose cruise that is right for you, you’ll be rewarded with a lifetime of happy memories. To help you narrow down your list I have divided the cruise industry into four sub-categories:

  • Owner/Operator – Usually run by a Captain an 1-4 crew and generally range from 4-12 passengers.
  • Small Ships – Usually run by a local corporation and carry up to 250 passengers.
  • Medium Ships – Run by both local and national corporations and carry between 250 and 1000 passengers.
  • Large and Extra Large Ships – Run by multi-national corporations are carry between 1000 and 6000 passengers.
Humpback Whale
Humpback whale near Gambier Bay

When you are are trying to make a decision about what size of boat you would like to cruise on here are some things that can help you pick your best Alaskan cruise:

Imagine yourself on each size of boat and which ever one causes you to smile the most is the size you should go with. If you are still having trouble deciding think about the following.

  • If you love boats and enjoy the chance to get some hands on experience or just want to have a boat to yourself, then an owner/operator cruise is a good place to start your search.
  • If you don’t like crowds, but you want to be on a ship with a few bigger amenities then a small ship would be good for you.
  • You are ok with crowds and you want the village like feeling of ship-board life with restaurants, bars and swimming pools, then I’d look at the medium sized ships.
  • If you love big, big, big, and want to just blend in with the crowd and you enjoy climbing walls, on-board marathons, dance clubs, swimming pools, gyms, different restaurants, and public address systems, then the large and extra large cruise ships are for you.

Think about what kind of tour you would like to go on.

  • Are you interested in first hand wilderness? Try owner/operator and small ships.
  • Do you want to feel like you are on the water? I suggest owner/operator and some small ships
  • Do you want the boat you are on to anchor overnight in quiet coves and bays? – Owner/operator and some small ships
  • Would  you like to go for walks on the shore or in the forest? – Owner/operator and some small ships
  • Do you enjoy being around just a few people? – Owner/operator and some small ships
  • Do you feel more comfortable with a crowd? – Small ship or large ship
  • Are you interested in spending time touring big ports? – Large ship
  • Do you like shopping for gifts, t-shirts and jewelery at a number of different ports? Medium and large ships.
  • Do you want to book off-board excursions such as helicopter tours and Zip-lines from your ship? Large, medium some small and a few owner/operator.
  • Do you want a cruise that is custom? – Owner/operator
  • Are you looking for the cheapest cruise? – Large ships
  • Are you going on a cruise for the big amenities, such as movie theaters or swimming pools? – Large ship
Cannery Cove
Cannery Cove, Pybus Bay, Alaska

I sincerely hope that as you plan for you perfect cruise you really do spend more time judging a cruise by more than just its ticket price and I hope this article helps guide you to the perfect cruise. Check out our website if you would like to see more about cruising Alaska on a owner/operator style cruise.

Support KPLU-FM and 6 Other Western States NPR Station’s Online Auction

Starting tomorrow, February 18th through February 27th, you can support KPLU-FM and six other western states NPR stations with their online auction. We’ve donated a San Juan Islands Weekend Getaway trip for two. The retail value is for $1390.00 and bidding starts at $695.00 you could win a fabulous weekend on the David B for a steal and support great national and local news and jazz all at the same time! Here’s some more information and a link to our page on the auction’s website for a sneak preview.

Happy Bidding!

Boat, Bike and Hike in the San Juan Islands with the Austin Sierra Club.

Bicycling on San Juan Island
Bicyclist on San Juan Island

Once again this year we are working with Chuck Byrd of the Austin Chapter of the Sierra Club to put together a San Juan Islands outing. This year’s trip will be August 24-27 and will include two days of causal easy to moderate bicycling on Lopez Island and San Juan Island.

On this trip you’ll enjoy beautiful scenery and easy riding on the pastoral islands of San Juan and Lopez. Highlights include a stop at the Lime Kiln Lighthouse/Whale Watch Park and a visit to the Lopez Island Vineyards. You’ll also be going on some great hikes with beautiful panorama views of the San Juan and Gulf Islands. Throughout the trip David B will be your home base while you ride with all your meals and accommodations included. For more information on this itinerary…

Bike ready to get on the ferry
Bikes ready to get on the ferry

Please note this is a Sierra Club members only trip. Contact the trip leader, Chuck Byrd at 512-292-6985 or for information, reservations, or how to become a member of the Sierra Club.

If you live in the Austin area and would like more information on this trip, come see us at the Austin Sierra Club’s March 2nd Outings Meeting. We will be giving a presentation on our San Juan Islands cruises and answering questions. For times and directions, read more…

Shipyard Update – Getting Ready to Pour a New Babbitt Stern Bearing

A couple of years ago we replaced our old Babbitt stern bearing with a new high-tech plastic. Last week we discovered when we removed the propeller that the new bearing had shifted and was somewhat chewed up inside the housing. This was one of those projects we had not planned on doing since we were under the impression that it was good-to-go forever. The question that Jeffrey has been pondering for the last week has been whether to try another new plastic bearing or to go back to the original technology of 1929 with a poured Babbitt bearing.

We decided to go with the Babbitt option since the bearing that we replaced had lasted for more than 75 years and the new one had lasted for just two.

In case you are wondering what Babbitt is, it is a soft-metal concocted by Issac Babbitt in 1839. It’s properties were developed specifically for engines as a way to decrease the amount of expensive oils being used to cool brass bearings.

In 1848 Babbitt applied for a patent and submitted numerous letters and references concerning bearings that were being tested with his soft-metal. The letter below is from the Secretary of the Navy and describes the benefits of using the new metal for bearings.

Washington, April 15, 1842.

Sir : Referring to a conversation with you this morning upon the merits of Babbitt’s anti-attrition metal, I beg leave to submit, that Mr. Babbitt’s invention consists of substituting a soft unctuous metal, for the hard brass or composition heretofore used to sustain the journals and other moving parts of machinery; which soft metal is enclosed in ribs or ledges of harder metal, to prevent its being spread by the weight of the shafting or pressure.

This metal has been long enough in use fully to test its merits, and I have no hesitation in saying, that it is one of the most valuable improvements, in the construction of moving machinery, that has come to my notice.

The effects produced are,

1st A great diminution of friction.

2d. A saving of oil to the extent of one half or more.

3d. An economy in the original construction, as the brasses which receive the journals may be made much lighter when lined, than when they come in direct contact with the hard metal.

4th. A saving in repairs, as the soft metal will wear longer than the hard, and they may be relined at small cost.

5th. A saving of fuel consequent upon a reduction of friction.

My opinion is, that the introduction of this metal into the government steamers will be of essential service.

I herewith transmit a copy of a letter from Capt. J. Erricsson,>the engineer employed by Captain Stockton to superintend the machinery of the ” Princeton,” United States warsteamer, which gives his view of the subject. Long experience in the use and construction of machinery, entitles his opinion to great weight.

I am, with much respect,

(signed) S. V. MERRICK.

Hon. Abel P. Upshdr,

Secretary of the Navy.

So now that we’ve decided that we are going back to a Babbitt bearing Jeffrey’s dream of playing with hot molten metal is going to be coming true this weekend or early next week. We have 20 pounds of Babbitt on the way and it’s a special lead-free mixture of 88% tin, 7% antimony and 3% copper. We will be melting down and pouring between a mandrill and the housing. Once it’s cool we’ll be able to break it free and send it to a machinist who will be boring out and in a couple of weeks we should have a shiny new stern bearing.

I’ll be posting pictures of the pour when it happens so standby…

Here’s a link to the Patent Report published in 1848.