Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Alaska Day 1: Sailing Away from Sitka Aboard the Wilderness Discoverer

Did you know that in Sitka in early May it gets dark around 10:30 p.m. and starts to get light around 4:30 a.m.? Yeah, neither did we, which is why we didn't think to sleep with the shades closed. Oops. After a few more hours of sleep we set out to find some breakfast, wandering around town for a bit before finding a cute little cafe called The Back Door for coffee and sweets. It was definitely a place that catered to locals and it was nice to sit among people that lived and worked in the community.

After breakfast we decided to walk down the waterfront to the Alaska Raptor Center on the other side of the Sitka National Forest. Unfortunately, what we didn't know was that the Center is closed on Saturday and Sunday. Thankfully, they have some of the raptors in their outdoor habitats so while we weren't able to talk with the employees and learn about the birds, we were able to visit with some hawks, owls, and beautiful eagles.



Because we had time to kill before we had to be at the hotel for our transfer to the boat, we took the opportunity to hit up some of the outdoor outfitter stores to supplement the gear we'd purchased before going on the trip. Based on recommendations from a local, we invested in some waterproof neoprene gloves for kayaking, and because my point & shoot waterproof Olympus had proven unreliable earlier that day, we also picked up a waterproof plastic pouch so that I could take my iPhone hiking and kayaking throughout the trip. (Side note: Ultimately, what I bought was $29.99, so much cheaper than an Otter case, but I'm not sure the pictures that I took were worth the bother since the plastic got fogged up and dirty pretty quickly.)

It was finally time to make our way to the boat and we were very excited! We found ourselves in line behind the sweetest, most adorable older couple from Victorville, CA, a few miles from where I grew up. (While Hesperia is a tiny town in the middle of the desert a couple of hours from LA, we tend to meet a lot of people from there. Just last year while in Lake Tahoe we met another couple who were visiting from Hesperia.)

Our first impression of the boat was ... shocking. Of course we'd seen pictures on the internet, and read reviews on Cruise Critic, but I just didn't understand exactly what the boat would look like in person. It seemed so ... small. I wondered immediately how all the people standing in line were going to fit, or just how much space we'd have in our room. After shaking hands with the captain and crew, we were welcomed aboard, shown to our room, and then given a nice cocktail from the bartender Chris in the forward lounge. Following our introduction to the ship, we also completed the safety drill and learned about how to evacuate in case of emergency.


We booked the Pathfinder cabin, which is an upgrade from the Trailblazer cabin in that it has a committed queen size bed and a door to the exterior deck. First, a word about the bed. Not gonna lie, we were worried. Outside of travel, food, and wine, a good bed is one of our chief indulgences, and most hotel beds just aren't great. I'm happy to report that the memory foam queen mattress in room 305 was great, and I should know since I took a lot of naps! The bed, because of its size, takes up most of the room. We had a small sink outside the head, which was combined with the shower, a vertical armoire for our life vests and most of our clothes, and a handful of hooks for our gear. My only complaint about the room configuration is that we could have used 3-4 more hooks for hanging up our clothes and other items. The cabin's location was extremely good for impromptu wildlife sightings in that we just had to step outside our door. On nights when we had a few rough seas, it was also nice to be able to keep our door open to let fresh air in. The one thing I would warn future guests about booking this particular room is that due to its location right before/after the door to get into the bowels of the boat we had a lot of people accidentally walk into our room instead of into the passageway. It happened four times on one day. Normally it wasn't a problem, but on one day I was laying in bed (covered) after having gotten out of the shower and one of the stewards accidentally walked in. The only thing he saw of me was my shoulders (no more than you'd see with a strapless maxi dress), but you can tell he found the encounter rather awkward for a few days afterward.

Having never cruised before in any capacity, we didn't know what to expect on the first day. After the safety briefing and drill, we did some unpacking and explored the ship while sailing out of Sitka to our first destination, the Magoun Islands State Marine Park. I can't remember what dinner on board that first night was, but I can tell you that almost consistently we were very happy with our dinner options. My favorite meals throughout the trip, however, were the lunches. Breakfast is usually fruit, some baked good, oatmeal, bread/bagel, cereal, eggs, bacon, and an additional hot item. Both it and lunch are served buffet style, while dinner is a sit down affair. Almost immediately our stewards proved how great they were by remembering our names and our drink preferences. I knew I shouldn't have been surprised but every time Emily asked me if I wanted an iced tea, I couldn't help but to smile. When Chris the bartender would anticipate my beer order, I would smile. Truly great service from really lovely people. Again, I don't know what the experience is like on other boats, but on the Wilderness Discoverer, the service is outstanding, friendly, and above all, comfortable. I don't know if I would have loved the trip as much as I did were it not for the fabulous service and knowledge we consistently received from everyone on board.