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The World’s Largest Cruise Ship

Last week Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines welcomed their newest ship the, Oasis of the Seas to it’s homeport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. While I usually don’t get wrapped up in the fanfare of the major cruise lines, I found this ship’s story to be a bit different. What got my attention is that it’s the world’s largest cruise ship and the complete polar opposite of what I enjoy about being on the water.

As I read about all the amenities on the Oasis of the Seas, I was struck by how much of the boat is a diversion to the natural world. To get their passengers in touch with nature the folks at RCCL have designed a garden with 12,000 plants and 56 trees called ‘Central Park’, I assume that there isn’t any natural beauty in the Caribbean otherwise they wouldn’t need have an over-sized garden. I hope they at least are growing herbs for their kitchens. Other on board distractions includes, a zip-line, mini golf, climbing walls, and a theme park.

‘Wow,’ I thought to myself as I read the Wikipedia description of the Oasis of the Seas. ‘There’s a lot you can do on that boat. How are we ever going to convince people to come with us? Is RCCL making our trips sound boring?’

Well, I know why people come with us. It’s because we don’t offer all those whiz-bang distractions. We go out into nature and we cruise around at about 6.5 knots. We take our time and we take in the real natural beauty of every place we visit.

The Oasis can cruise at about 22 knots whisking their record-setting 6,296 passengers and 2,165 crewmembers from port to port. When we cruise it’s not with a small city, it’s with 6 passengers and 2-3 crew. Since we carry so few people, passengers and crew become family and forge lifetime friendships. We don’t need mini-golf or theme parks to make a memorable cruise. We have good conversation, great food and real adventure in a natural setting.

I do have to admit that our main distraction is an exercise bike on the pilothouse roof. On our 7-day and 12-day cruises the bike is quite popular for anyone who’s over-indulged in homemade pastries and deserts. While I confess the Oasis’ on-board tattoo parlor is kind-of nifty, if the option of getting a tattoo while on your cruise vacation is the only thing holding you back from making a reservation with us, well then, let us know. We’ll be sure to help you find and consult with the right tattoo artist in one of our destination towns long before you set foot on the David B.

Out-of-the-Way-Places on the David B – Gambier Bay

One evening this past summer Capt. Jeffrey and I were sitting around a campfire talking about out-of the-way places with some friends. They brought up how great it is that what we do on the David B is specialize in taking to people to out-of-the-way places. This is especially true of our trips in Canada’s Inside Passage and in Southeast Alaska. With so many islands, fjords, coves and bays to explore, why would anyone want to spend time on a massive ship with thousands of other people going from port-city to port-city exploring the same old tired trinket shops and over trampled tourist attractions? We wouldn’t. While our cruises depart from the busy towns of Juneau or Ketchikan, it is the out-of-the-way islands, coves and bays we visit that makes cruising on the David B so different.

One of our favorite out-of-the places is Gambier Bay on Admiralty Island. We often make a stop in Gambier on our 8-day cruises out of Juneau or Petersburg. The entrance to this remote bay is though a maze of small islands.

A couple years ago as we were cruising through this maze, one of our passengers Yvonne, was watching the shoreline through her binoculars. Suddenly she and pointed and turned to Jeffrey, ‘Hey, I think I see three bears on the beach!’ She had found a mother with a couple of cubs. Jeffrey slowed down the David B and we were able to watch them for a few moments before they ambled back into the forest.

Admiralty Island is a National Monument with over a million acres of old-growth forest. One thing that makes this island unique is that it is home to an estimated 1600 brown bears, the largest concentration of such bears in the world. The Tlingit people have always recognized Admiralty as a special place for bears and called the Island Kootznoowoo, which translates to ‘Fortress of the Bear’.

Another time when we were heading into Gambier Bay it was raining hard. Jeffrey tuned to me and asked, ‘Could you grab the binoculars and tell me what you see up there?’

‘Looks like breeching humpback whales!’ I confirmed for him with some excitement.

Turning back to the folks sitting around the galley table, I said, ‘Guess what! We’ve got whales up ahead.’

Everyone dropped what he or she was doing, tossed on some rain gear and ran out of the galley door.

As we neared the whales, Jeffrey slowed down and stopped the boat. No one else was around. The only sounds were of us whispering to one another, the whales feeding, and the tinkling of millions of raindrops splashing on the water’s surface. Together we stood on deck in our rain gear with our binoculars glued to our eyes. There were two whales, a mother and her calf. When they would dive, their backs would arch up to the sky and slowly they would lift their flukes (tails) into the air and then gracefully descend beneath the surface. Sometimes we would hear the water falling from their raised flukes as they dove.

When they fully disappeared, our eyes would linger at the ‘footprint’ left behind. Each one of us wondering, ‘Where will we see them next?’

It was hard to put the boat in gear and leave the whales.

Once we are inside Gambier Bay and the anchor is down, I always grab the spotting scope and start scanning for bears. You never know when a big brown bear will come down to the beach. As I’m cooking dinner, I’m always waiting to hear someone shout, ‘Look, over there!’

Being in Gambier and other out-of-the-way places like it are what Capt. Jeffrey and I love the most about operating the David B.

Out-of-the-Way-Places on the David B – Yuculta and Dent Rapids

One of our favorite out-of-the-way routes in Canada’s Inside Passage goes through Yuculta and Dent Rapids. The approach to these twin rapids must be timed just right.

In the evening before going to bed, Capt. Jeffrey will open up his book of current tables then ask me, ‘Can you hand me a note pad, I need to double check what time we’ll get underway tomorrow.’

‘Sure,’ I say handing him the paper. It only takes a couple of minutes to do the calculations, but he likes to double check the tides and the currents just to be on the safe side.

‘If we get there at the right time, the Rapids will be really disappointing,’ Jeffrey tells folks as we pass Harbott Point on one of our Northbound Inside Passage cruises.

We’ve been away from Bellingham for two and a half days now and Jeffrey’s been busy working up the suspense of ‘making it through’ these fast moving tidal streams.

‘The water in Yuculta and Dent can run up to 7 knots when the current is flowing at max flood or ebb,’ he explains, as we leave our previous nights anchorage in Desolation Sound’s Prideaux Haven, ‘All that water’s trying as hard as it can to get through the narrow passages we’re about to go through. As the water moves faster it makes whirlpools, over falls and standing waves. You really don’t want to be there at the wrong time.’

With so much cold, fast running water, the area is also rich in nutrients and the islands surrounding the rapids are teaming with wildlife. Last May I counted 89 bald eagles in the approximately 4-mile stretch from Harbott Point on Stuart Island through the rapids to Hall Point on Sonora Island. Besides the eagles there were also 11 Stellar sea lions and tons of Bonaparte Gulls.

Two years ago on a southbound trip we arrived at Hall Point; I looked out the door of the pilothouse and saw two or three splashes. Jeffrey and the Mate, Sean were in the pilothouse as well as one of our passengers, Trish.

‘Hey Guys! There are a bunch of Pacific White-Sided dolphins out here!’ I shouted.

‘Look over there! ‘Sean or Trish called out with fingers pointing to Sonora Island. ‘Are those orca whales over there?’

Orca

Sure enough, near the steep walls of Hall Point were a pod of orcas fishing for salmon. Like us, the dolphins and orcas were waiting for slack current. It was magical. The morning sky was bright blue and all around us the whales and dolphins were feeding.

When the time came and current went slack, Jeffrey turned the David B towards Dent Rapids and safely guided us through Dent, the Devil’s Hole, and Yuculta rapids.

Besides the beauty of this route and the amazing feeling to be surrounded by orca whales and dolphins, a truly special thing about cruising through lesser known routes and out-of-the-way places like Dent and Yuculta Rapids is that they are inaccessible to the mega cruise ships.

Thinking About the David B vs. Big Cruise Ships

I was wasting time on Facebook this morning and an ad for one of the large cruise ship companies came up. I only caught a glimpse of the headline before I switched to another page, but the headline went something like We take more people to Alaska than any other company. I don’t remember the exact wording, but it started me thinking that what we do is the exact opposite. We take fewer people to Alaska than most any other cruise company. In fact we only have space for 18 people to cruise with us in Alaska during the 2010 season. That’s not a lot when compared to the 3000 or so people that Princess or Holland America put on their boats most every day.

So why would anyone want to come with us when we have so few spaces available and the spaces we do have are expensive when compared to a bargain basement cruise on one of the big ship companies? It comes down to the quality of your Alaskan experience.

For many people visiting Alaska is a once in a lifetime opportunity and if you want to really make the most of it you should make sure the company you are going with is one that focuses the quality of your experience, not the sheer number of people it carries year after year. Yes, we are more expensive, but what you get when you come with us is a unique cruise with individual attention.

Each morning Jeffrey checks the weather, the tides and the charts before we raise anchor. He also chats with passengers to see which ideas he has for each day really excited everyone before we head out. Every day I wake up at 5am to start to wood-fired cook stove in the galley and begin to make coffee, pastries, breads and all of your meals. Before your cruise I will have talked with you to make sure that I know what foods you like or if you have dietary restrictions so that when you arrive on the boat I have a customized menu made especially just for your cruise.

We feel strongly that carrying only a few people each trip does add to the quality of your experience. Over the time that we have been going to Alaska we have made friends with our passengers and enjoy hearing from them and keeping in contact. They have become part of the family and it is something we are very proud of and something that is very different from the big cruise ship companies.

End of the Season

Well we finished up the 2009 season this past Sunday. It was another great trip. The weather was beautiful. We did have some breezy conditions on Saturday night and Sunday, but it was clear with a full moon and sunny during the day.

One of the highlights of this trip was a walk to Iceberg Point on Lopez Island. We met a nice couple who have a summer home on Lopez and in talking with them it turned out that they and one of the couples traveling with us have a mutual friend.

Jeffrey and I also met up with someone we know from the David B’s early days on Lopez. He’s one of the many Islanders who helped the former owner of the David B get it up and running. He’s a pretty interesting person. He has a foundry on the island that he made himself and now makes Gatling Guns for a company is the South. I think he said Louisiana.

Besides running into interesting people on our walk to Iceberg Point we also spent a bunch of time watching and photographing a couple of Northern Harriers that were flying through the trees and across the dried grass looking for mice and other prey. These hawks are some of my favorites. They have beautiful owl-like faces.

I am a little behind in getting pictures up, but I’ll be posting a few here on the blog and then all the rest on the website in the next couple of weeks.

While we won’t have any trips until May, we will keep posting about winter projects, specials and anything else that’s related to cruising on the David B.

Our First Reviews on Yelp

We just got our first reviews on Yelp.com the other day. I hope others who have been on the David B will start to review us so that anyone deciding to come aboard with us will see what great trips we offer and how much fun it is to cruise on the David B. Below is a link to our Yelp page.

Reviews on Yelp

Kayak Mothership Cruise

Last week we had a great 4-day Kayak Mothership cruise with our guide Tim and passengers Virgina, Steve and Sally. As usual in the San Juan Islands, the September weather was beautiful; sunny, warm and calm. At night the stars were out and the phosphorescence was strong.

Our kayakers paddled the southern end of Lopez Island, through a small group of islands in the San Juans known as the Wasp Islands, Deer Harbor, Roche Harbor, Garrison Bay and circumnavigated Sucia Island. Besides great kayaking we had a wonderful sunset hike to the top of Young Hill on San Juan Island. Here are some pictures from fall kayaking in the San Juans.

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For meals I served up some Cioppino, Salmon Chowder, Almond Crusted Halibut with a Vodka Cream Sauce, lots of fresh baked bread and pastries. Everyone was also happy to have a comfortable bed and hot showers at the end of each day’s paddles.

Information on Kayak Mothership Cruises

Great Article About Small Ship Cruises in Alaska

A couple of days ago I found this article on Frommers Website . I was so thrilled to see someone writing about alternative choices people have to the big cruise ships. If you have a couple extra moments to read it, here’s the link to it.

frommers.com