This Alaskan-owned cruise line is founded by long-time Alaskan day cruise company Allen Marine. The cruise line offers small-ship cruises through SE Alaska on three ships.
General and family-specific cruise itineraries offered, both with on-board cultural and scientific guides.
My kids are well-traveled, and they all decided our Alaskan Dream cruise was the best vacation they've experienced. Alaskan Dream has been offering intimate and educational small ship cruises for three years now, in addition to running Alaskan-owned Allen Marine (day excursions and wildlife cruises) for 40+ years. This company is well-known in Alaska and has an excellent reputation.
We opted to try one of their new family cruise itineraries, departing from Sitka and ending in Ketchikan in July 2013. Every stop on our 9 days onboard was fantastic, and the kids were in heaven even while learning so much every day!
After experiencing SE Alaska on a small ship (only 27 passengers during our cruise), I don't think I could ever see it on a mega cruise ship. We were so close to the water, we could hear the humpback whales breathing (really!). We sailed from Sitka to Juneau (where we stopped at the Mendenhall Glacier, downtown/tram area, and the dog sledding summer camp), Orca Point Lodge (Allen Marine's day lodge where we feasted on king crab), Sawyer Glacier (where we could navigate right to the edge of the ice in our Zodiac (DIBS) boat, Hobart Bay (private bay only native-owned Alaskan Dream can access), Petersburg (where we experienced Norwegian dancing, geocaching, and bike riding), Kasaan (to tour the oldest standing Haida whale house and try our hand at canoe carving), Metlakatla (the only SE Alaska reservation, to take part in tribal dancing and drum making) and Ketchikan. Along the way, we rode RTVs to bear watch, navigated Zegos (personal watercraft) on hidden, remote bays, kayaked, and sailed into fjords large cruise ships could not access. We saw bears, whales, seals, sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, and countless sea birds.
YOUTH LEADERS AND EXPEDITION LEADERS:
All Alaskan Dream cruise ships have a scientific leader and native-born cultural leader onboard the entire trip, both of whom offer educations talks and participate in all shore excursions, hikes, zodiac trips, and meals. On the family cruise, we also enjoyed two youth expedition leaders, who offered the kids activities and crafts every day onboard ship (always in theme with what we were seeing on our itinerary), guided the kids in creating trip journals and drawings, and accompanied us on every shore excursion. All four of these individuals were fantastic. On Alaskan Dream cruises, there are not 'kids' clubs' where you can drop off your children and leave them, but there is always something engaging for the kids to do, and there are certainly times when the youth leaders are in charge, giving parents a break.
Our cultural guide Koo Hook especially enhanced our experience with his entertaining stories and social personality as well as with his teaching. All the guides taught us about SE Alaska in a very natural way: the entire cruise was very interactive. We weren't just learning during talks on the ship (though we did have briefings most evenings). We learned as we went, the guides offering knowledge as we explored bays and while on hikes.
STATEROOMS and ONBOARD AMENITIES:
The Baranof Dream included a galley and dining room, comfortable lounge with bar, a large sun deck, several additional viewing decks, and comfortable staterooms. Our rooms were small, but had plenty of storage and every room had a window with view. All had private bathrooms with showers. The beds were especially comfortable! Kids cannot sleep in rooms unattended, so we divided them up with an adult in each stateroom. Since the rooms are not adjoining, I wouldn't have felt comfortable with the kids in their own room anyway.
The lounge offers a large screen with map showing our progress through SE Alaska at all times, which proved very useful, and the bridge has an open policy, so the kids and adults could talk with the crew and Captain Stu any time. The kids had opportunity to learn about navigation, knot tying, and the nautical life.
We saw wildlife at all turns on the Baranof Dream! Our journey started in Sitka, where we boarded one of Allen Marine's day boats for a Sea Otter and Wildlife Cruise that eventually met up with the Baranof Dream on Day 1. Before we had even officially started our cruise, we had seen a brown bear, bald eagles, sea otters, a stellar sea lion, seals, and sea birds. On the Baranof, we kayaked along the shores of Hobart Bay to spot numerous black bears, boarded their ever smaller Zodiac boat to get within feet of humpback whales, and spotted seals on icebergs at Sawyer Glacier. We nosed up to waterfalls, calving icebergs, and the cliffs of fjords. No large ship could have offered us this up-close and personal view of wildlife and scenery!
The food aboard the Baranof Dream was to die for. We were never hungry! On this family cruise, both an adult menu of gourmet, fresh fare was offered in addition to a kids' menu with smaller portions of the adult offerings along with staples like mac and cheese (delicious!), burgers, hot dogs, and the like. Our kids tried many new foods, as kids could order off either menu. There was always a vegetarian offering as well as two additional (usually a seafood and a meat) and every meal included gourmet desserts. The bar was usually open for business starting every afternoon, and a coffee and hot chocolate tray is always available. In the mornings, the pastry chef put out hard-to-resist muffins and pastries, and breakfast was a full-breakfast following the continental. Needless to say, we were well-fed!
On Alaskan Dream Cruises, all shore excursions on the itinerary are included in the trip cost, and they were all very well planned (it was so nice to leave all details, including all transportation, to someone else!). Several times on our trip, shore excursions were added or changed for the better; the team was always willing to make adjustment or seek even better opportunities. Two examples: we added a dog sled summer camp experience in Juneau as a surprise stop, as well as an afternoon docked at Metlakatla, a small native village on SE Alaska's only reservation, where we were treated to dancing and drum making. All excursions were family-friendly, but just as engaging for the adults as the kids. We were quite active, often kayaking, bike riding, walking, or hiking, but any excursion could be adapted or opted out of. Amid our favorites: riding RTVs along logging roads in Hobart Bay and visiting the totem park and whale house in native village Kasaan.
Book early for possible cruise discounts, and definitely call the Alaskan Dream office (located on-site in Sitka) to talk with the staff to find the perfect sailing for your group. They are great about matching families and finding what would work best. The kids on our cruise ranged from 6-14, and all had a valuable experience!
Disclaimer: We experienced Alaskan Dream Cruises as guests of the cruise line, for the purpose of review.