Alaskan Dream Cruises Review:
Sailing Through Culture & Wilderness
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I stand in awe… of the towering walls of the fjord. Of the towering totem pole, surpassing all trees around. Of the face of a cracking, cerulean glacier. Of a humpback whale breathing right in front of our boat. These are the special, perspective-shifting moments of a small-ship Alaska cruise – and all ones I had the privilege to experience first-hand with Alaskan Dream Cruises.
I first learned about Alaskan Dream Cruises several years ago, when attending a professional travel writers’ networking event. After my 2017 cruise with a fellow small-ship operator, I was intrigued to experience how different – or how similar – ADC was to other companies in the same part of the industry. I had the chance to discover that on a September 2021 cruise (rescheduled from 2020, of course!).
Based on my experience, I wanted to write an Alaskan Dream Cruises review for you, the reader who might be considering whether this company and their itineraries are the right Alaska cruise for you. There are lots of considerations when choosing to invest in an Alaska cruise – whether that’s a mega-ship or a small ship like ADC operates – and this post will give you the intimate, honest details of my weeklong experience aboard the Alaskan Dream.
Read on to learn more about what it’s like on an Alaskan Dream Cruise – with plenty of photos to inspire you too!
In this post, I promote travel to a region that is the Lingít Aaní of the Tlingit people. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Different Alaskan Dream Cruises Itineraries
Alaskan Dream Cruises offers a number of different itineraries sailing around Southeast Alaska; they have 10 different routes planned for 2022, including the one that I did in 2021, Alaska’s Glacier Bay & Island Adventure. I’ll share more detail about my specific experience below, but I wanted to highlight some of the overall details to show you how almost anyone can find an Alaskan Dream Cruises itinerary they want to experience.
ADC itineraries range from 5-night/6-days to 9-nights/10-days in length, but half of their itineraries are the standard 7-night/8-day style (including the one I did). Itineraries typically start and end in the three big cities of Southeast: Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka; one itinerary (the Outer Coast Exploration) visits Yakutat which is really unusual for Alaska cruises!
Additionally, only about half of ADC cruises have a “set” itinerary when starting out – that is, they show a route on the map that you can use to understand the ports of call on that itinerary. The other half are more fluid; the ADC website lists the potential overnight stops and ports of call and notes that the itinerary will be flexible based on weather and wildlife. (The “fixed” itineraries are also flexible, as you’ll see in my own itinerary breakdown below.)
All this means that this means you can not only choose 1) how long you want to cruise and 2) where you want to start and stop, but also 3) how flexible/rigid you want your plans to be. If you’re more adventurous, ADC has itineraries that will give you a completely unique experience that maybe no other ship will take; if you prefer to know exactly what you’ll be visiting and (more or less) when – they have itineraries for that too.
Our Glacier Bay & Island Adventure Itinerary
When choosing our Alaskan Dream Cruises itinerary, I personally went for an average length (7-night/8-day itinerary) more-fixed route – I wanted Mr. V (and me) to experience specific things and know what story I’d be able to tell you here. That’s why I chose the Glacier Bay & Island Adventure itinerary, which I’ll tell you about in detail so you can decide if this is right for you.
(I’ll also note that I looked back at the route I sailed with UnCruise back in 2017, and wanted something that was similar enough to compare the two experiences but still different enough to appeal to people who might not be sold on that experience.)
As I mentioned above, ADC cruises are all flexible itineraries – even for those that have a ‘more set’ route. That included our cruise: due to weather, we flipped around a few of the days a few times. We also skipped two of the planned stops entirely, including Pelican (a small town near great bear viewing opportunities) and Thomas Bay (near Baird Glacier, which I also visited on my last cruise). While I didn’t remember these omissions until just now writing this review, I wish they had been addressed – especially Thomas Bay, which should have been possible since it’s a protected waterway.
In any case, here’s a look at the actual day-to-day itinerary we experienced aboard the Alaskan Dream on our Alaskan Dream Cruises.
Day 1: Juneau to Glacier Bay
Our itinerary – the final run of the season – started out in Juneau. After spending the morning hiking and eating at a few favorite spots we’d identified in Juneau, we met up with our group at the ADC hospitality center, which is right in downtown Juneau (and directly across from our hotel).
We then went as a group to the Alaska State Museum, where we were given a short introduction and then allowed to roam the museum as a private group. (Wherever possible, ADC arranged for our group of all-vaccinated travelers to experience attractions solo, as a pod.) As I mentioned in my Juneau guide, this museum is fabulous and well worth a visit even if you’re not doing an ADC itinerary that includes it.
After that, we boarded a motorcoach that took us out to Mendenhall Glacier; this is the popular spot near Juneau where you can see a glacier quite closely. There, we had time to hike around – especially out to Nugget Falls, which is a nice 1-mile hike each way and visit the visitor center.
However, while we were there, the mega cruise ship passengers visiting Juneau for the day began to arrive; we went from being a group of ~24 enjoying the area pretty much on our own to being surrounded by literally hundreds of people from bus after bus. It reminded me once again why mega-ships are not my style – it Disneyland-ifies even the incredible wilderness of Alaska when you have to queue up for every view.
Back on the bus, we made our way to Auke Bay, which is where Alaskan Dream Cruises moors their boats. This is different than UnCruise, which has moorage right in downtown Juneau, and made the departure a bit less exciting, since we weren’t sailing away from the ‘big’ city into the Alaskan wilderness (we were pretty much already in it).
As we sailed away from the dock, we got to meet our crew and enjoy our first dinner together; we also made a detour for some whale watching, as we spotted Orcas – an uncommon sight! We sailed through the night on our way to Glacier Bay National Park. (This was actually the first change in our itinerary, since we were supposed to have our first dinner at ADC’s Orca Point Lodge but foul weather forced a re-ordering so we could enjoy OPL when we visited the next night.)
Day 2: Glacier Bay
We woke up on the first full day of our Alaskan Dream Cruises in Glacier Bay National Park! The weather was iffy as we sailed deep into the park for some glacier viewing. Specifically, our route took us to Johns Hopkins glacier (as opposed to the other option, which was Margerie & Grand Pacific glaciers).
There we spent time navigating up to a close but safe distance from the face of the glacier and watched it to see any ice calving. (There were a few decent icefalls, but nothing like what I saw on my John Hall’s Alaska/Stan Stephens Cruise through Prince William Sound in August – that was my best luck ever!) During this time, Mr. V and I were both down in the bow viewing area of the boat, which was my favorite place for viewing; Mr. V. ended up moving to the top deck a lot more as the cruise went on.
We then began navigating back out of Glacier Bay, which took most of the midday and was plagued with some intense rain and rough enough waters to make several people (including me!) a bit seasick. This underscored that we made the right call switching our itinerary around, as we were on a protected waterway in Glacier Bay, rather than traveling an exposed waterway as we would have otherwise been. I took some Dramamine and laid low through the afternoon while we did a little wildlife spotting.
In the afternoon, we sailed back out to improved weather and tied up at Bartlett Cove, the main(land) visitor area for visitors in Glacier Bay. We went on a short, easy hike (the Forest Trail) and had time to visit some of the other sights in the area. Before shoving off, several people – including Mr. V – did a polar plunge, jumping into the frigid waters and earning themselves a spot in the “Killer Whale Club.”
That night, the weather forced us back up Glacier Bay, where we anchored in Geikie Inlet. While there are no glaciers visible here anymore, I did wake up around 1am and spot the northern lights – ticked that one off my bucket list!
Day 3: Glacier Bay to Orca Point Lodge
The next morning, we had some time to explore Geikie Inlet, which was an exciting chance to get off the boat. There were three excursion options: kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, or a skiff tour. Mr. V and I opted for the skiff; we zoomed around looking for wildlife, which included a very distant brown bear and a golden eagle. A humpback whale – likely one of the ones I heard in the Inlet the night before while shooting photos of the northern lights – also came into our area which was a great experience.
We then spent the rest of the day sailing back toward Juneau and Orca Point Lodge. This day lodge is owned by Alaskan Dream Cruises and a common stop on every itinerary that passes the area. We had a prime rib and Alaskan crab dinner (which was, to be honest, only okay compared to the quality of the rest of our meals) and time to stock up on souvenirs (which we did).
The real highlight was the campfire out front; while the wind was strong and cold, Mr. V and I posted up there with glasses of wine and got to meet the lodge caretaker. It was a lovely time until we had to head back to the boat and sail away.
Day 4: Tracy Arm Fjord to Wrangell
After sailing through the night, we awoke in Tracy Arm Fjord. This area has several great fjords and tidewater glacier viewing opportunities; further south you’ll be in Misty Fjords National Monument which it is not part of.
Our captain skillfully navigated us up the narrow, steep, breathtakingly beautiful Tracy Arm toward Sawyer and South Sawyer glaciers. We spent time glacier watching at the astonishingly blue – though not very active – South Sawyer Glacier, but didn’t need to set out in the skiff to do this, as the Alaskan Dream is a fast, agile ship that can handle the ice-filled waterways near glaciers. (The skiff you see is from a different Alaskan Dream Cruises ship that was also at the glacier when we were.)
Midday, we all retreated inside to warm up and sail back out of Tracy Fjord. We turned south down the Inside Passage; our final goal was the town of Wrangell, which is only accessible (from this direction) through a narrow waterway at certain tides.
To wait for our tide timing, we spent the afternoon in a small wilderness bay. As we pulled in, we saw a moose on the beach, a real treat! We had the chance to disembark and go tidepooling, as well as to hop in kayaks for an hour. Mr. V and I did both – it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon, getting on land and working our bodies a bit after a few days of rest and indulgence aboard.
In the evening, we continued sailing south, and passed through the Wrangell Narrows around 10pm when tidal conditions were right. (I was bummed about this timing as the Narrows is a really cool experience I had on my last cruise and Mr. V wanted to see this – but what can ya do about tides, am I right? 😂)
Day 5: Wrangell to Petersburg
We woke up just outside the small city of Wrangell. This was one of my favorite places on my last cruise, and also one of the only ports of call on that itinerary; this time it was the first of several Southeast communities we would visit.
For the morning, we had an option: we could explore Wrangell on our own and do a few hikes, or switch to a smaller jet boat and take an excursion to LeConte Glacier, provided by a local tour company. This was an extra fee that 75% of people chose; Mr. V and I decided to do a little hiking and explore town instead. We climbed Mt. Dewey and also took a shuttle to hike out to Rainbow Falls; it was a great morning of working our bodies – despite the healthy drizzle that’s so common in Southeast Alaska, especially during the autumn.
In the afternoon, local guides met us and provided a tour of the Wrangell Museum as well as Petroglyph Beach. I had an incredible conversation about the Wrangell Institute with one of our guides, Heidi; through the course of the conversation, she shared family experiences of life as an Alaskan Native for her and her family members.
At Petroglyph Beach, Heidi and her niece Brooke guided us to some of the petroglyphs – many I missed on my first visit – and taught us about Tlingit culture and history in the area. Altogether, the outdoors, culture, and history made Wrangell one of my favorite stops on the itinerary (again).
After a lovely day, we set sail again back through the Wrangell Narrows (at night again, drat!) toward the town of Petersburg, our next destination.
Day 6: Petersburg to Kake
We awoke already anchored in Petersburg, which sits at the north mouth of the Wrangell Narrows. Petersburg was established by Norwegian immigrants – fishermen who recognized how similar this part of Alaska looks to their home country –, and that cultural heritage is still present today. In addition to many elements downtown bearing Norwegian designs, Petersburg is home to a Sons of Norway Hall and several memorials. That’s where we started our day, with a cultural and dance demonstration from local children.
After that, we had the remainder of the morning to explore Petersburg on our own; Mr. V and I went for a walk downtown, hiked the Hungry Point Trail, and even spoiled our lunch at an incredible spot we found, The Salty Pantry. It was nice to have some time to explore on our own and discover new things for ourselves that nobody else on our trip did.
(I also learned later that there’s a petroglyph beach here near Petersburg and several more cool hiking trails, so I’d love to return someday!)
We set sail from Petersburg at lunchtime, and spent the remainder of the afternoon whale watching – and by golly did we see whales! During this time of year (September) the last humpback whales are still in Alaskan waterways, eating before they migrate south for winter.
We came across probably 30-35 whales feeding and swimming in Frederick Sound north of Petersburg, and spent hours being awed by these incredible creatures. While we didn’t have a whale experience quite like that one off the coast of Maui a few years ago, it was a close second!
We anchored for the night in a small bay around a point from the native community of Kake, our destination tomorrow.
Day 7: Kake to Sitka
On our final full day aboard the Alaskan Dream, we started with more whale watching – humpbacks again decided to grace us with their presence, so we spent time enjoying that before making our way to the tiny town of Kake (population 570). There, we met our guide, Fallon, who led us on a tour of some sights in her community.
We started by learning about carving from a local carver and ended at the world’s tallest single-tree totem pole, which towers over the surrounding trees from a hill in town. There, Fallon gave us a demonstration of Tlingit songs and told us one story from the pole.
This was perhaps the most guided part of our itinerary; I got a strong sense that they didn’t want us wandering around on our own – which makes sense, as Kake lacks a lot of tourism infrastructure even for a small group like ours.
We then embarked back onto the boat and set sail for our final night aboard. Initially, just outside the Kake waterways, we came across more Orcas – meaning we started and ended our cruise with these whales! Then we set sail on a long evening journey to reach our final destination, Sitka.
In addition to a blow-out final dinner, we enjoyed a slideshow of photos shot throughout the week by our expedition leader Erin and had a few final drinks to enjoy the evening. We sailed on pretty much all night to reach Sitka by morning.
Day 8: Sitka
The sun rose on our disembark day as we pulled into Sitka Sound. For the first time, it was a sunny morning suggesting the day’s weather would be nice – and it was!
After breakfast, we all disembarked and took a bus transfer to the hospitality suite; most people were departing this day so we said our goodbyes before the majority of the group went to Totem Park. Mr. V and I skipped this and made our way to our hotel, since we had extended our time in Sitka another two days. This gave us a chance to explore many of the things to do in Sitka without rushing straight to the airport.
Ship Life, Meals & Cabins on the Alaskan Dream
Now that you have a sense of all the things we did on our Alaskan Dream Cruises, I want to cover some of the other parts of the experience.
Daily Ship Life
In general, our days aboard the Alaskan Dream consisted of:
- An early breakfast (usually starting at 7:30am)
- A morning excursion or experience (i.e. glacier viewing, off-boat excursion, etc.)
- Lunch around 12-1pm
- An afternoon on the ship – usually cruising to our next destination – while most people retired to their cabins and took a nap. Mr. V and usually spent this time in the ship lounge, and were occasionally the only ones there.
- Dinner around 7pm
- Drinks in the lounge with an occasional crew presentation (on topics including whalesong, salmon, and seals)
I found that this was a bit too relaxed for my preferences, but makes sense given that we covered a lot of geography during this weeklong cruise. Whereas my Uncruise experience only went from Ketchikan to Juneau, this route went (basically) from Juneau to Glacier Bay to Juneau to Wrangell to Sitka – a much longer distance. That means we didn’t have time for afternoon excursions most days, and spent more time cruising on the ship.
Meals & Drinks
Meals are an important part of shipboard life, so I wanted to touch on that – as well as drinks, which I know are an important consideration for many passengers who are used to the mega-ship way of keeping everyone liquored at almost all times.
First, our meals were all delicious. Our chef did an incredible job whipping up mouth-watering dishes at every meal, including cioppino, bacon grilled cheese, and reindeer sausage and eggs. As you can see from the pictures (a small sampling of the ones I took), everything looks – and was – awesome.
However, it seemed like we had a limited menu compared to what might have been offered at a cruise earlier in the season. As you’ll recall, I said we were the final cruise of the season, and I occasionally got the sense that our chef was being super creative to use whatever she had left in the galley and reduce food waste. Additionally, some “standard” menu options (offered at every lunch or dinner) weren’t available for our cruise – probably because they’d just run out by that point.
Despite this, as I said, the food was great. I doubt any of the other guests noticed or were bothered by this if they did notice.
In terms of drinks, wine is offered with dinner every night, but nothing else is included. Alaskan Dream Cruises does not include drinks (like Uncruise) nor do they offer a drink package (like most mega-ships). This means that you’ll be charged for each drink at the end of your cruise, which I have a feeling resulted in some pretty steep accounts paid to the purser by some cabins, when all was said and done.
Mr. V and I were very conscientious of this since we didn’t want to end up with a multi-hundred-dollar bar tab. (I actually probably would have spent more if I had to pay at the end of each night rather than in one big bill.) This means we didn’t relax as much as we might otherwise have – but we probably had a much healthier cruise!
Cabins & Toilets
Finally – and perhaps most importantly – let’s talk about the cabins aboard the Alaskan Dream. After all, you’ll spend a decent amount of time there – especially if you take advantage of those afternoon napping opportunities so many of my fellow guests enjoyed.
As you’d expect for a ship, cabins are very economical in size – everything is very efficiently organized. Our cabin had a queen size bed and starboard side window; other cabins had two twin beds, portside windows, or forward views from the Vista View cabins, and there’s also a double-size Owner’s Suite cabin. We were able to settle into the space easily, thanks to years of living in small spaces and aboard Whim, our old houseboat.
One great highlight of our room was the bed: the mattress was unbelievably cozy and the sheets were really nice quality. I slept super well each night, despite waking up several times a night (normal for me), and got home to discover my own mattress is now too hard and sheets too scratchy. 😂
Our toilet situation was less delightful, though let’s be honest – no ship’s head is ever truly delightful. The crew called it a “shoilet,” so it was a wetroom that included both shower and toilet, as well as curtains to help control the water splashing. The entire space was very small, and I kept getting touched by the shower curtain – not my favorite! Additionally, the water temperature was inconsistent ranging from frigid to scalding without touching the dial; I guess it helps motivate people to take short showers and not waste water aboard the ship!
I timed our cruise so that I wouldn’t wash my hair while aboard (I wash my hair once weekly), but I can’t imagine trying to shampoo and condition my hair in that tiny space.
One lovely note to end on is that all toiletries were provided by Wintersong Soap Company, a local Sitka business. It’s always nice to try local products first-hand!
Final Thoughts: My Alaskan Dream Cruises Review
Now that all is said and done, I’m back home and on land, what are my final thoughts on our Alaskan Dream Cruises experience?
On the whole, I loved the week we spent sailing with Alaskan Dream Cruises, despite some things that didn’t go according to plan or perfectly.
Our experience was very different than my experience aboard Uncruise, their main competitor in offering these immersive small-ship cruises in Southeast Alaska. This could be the result of the itinerary I chose, the season we cruised, and of course, the weather.
Alaskan Dream Cruises generally offers cruise itineraries that are more culturally immersive than wilderness immersive, which is not something I was quite able to tell from their marketing materials when choosing an itinerary. While I love Alaskan culture and came back with a much deeper understanding of the nuances of the historic and sociocultural forces at play, I wish we had more time to get out and get away from it all – more hikes and kayak opportunities, specifically. ADC does offer some itineraries that have more wilderness time, so if that’s a priority for you, be sure to compare itineraries with an eye for this.
Lastly, I can’t end my Alaskan Dream Cruises review without mentioning our crew. The crew of the Alaskan Dream were awesome, especially as they were running shorthanded – like so many small businesses in 2021. From our Star Trekkie captain to Erin our Expedition Leader, to Adrienne the First Mate who safely sailed us many nights of the cruise, to the galley and service crew (especially Gary!) who kept our beds made and bellies full… Alaskan Dream Cruises does great recruiting and had an amazing crew for us.
I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about Alaskan Dream Cruises or our specific Glacier Bay & Island Adventure itinerary. Let me know whatever you want to know in the comments below!
Mr. V and I were hosted aboard the Alaskan Dream for our cruise in September 2021. This post was published as part of that partnership.
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Such an informative post – thank you! Do you happen to know if the Last Frontier Alaskan Dream Cruise is more activity based? We are looking for a cruise that offers the most activities + wilderness options.
I think that’s a new itinerary, so I don’t actually know what it’s like; looking at the site, it seems to have some good activities, but given that it says “you’ll spend the majority of your time in remote locations” I’m guessing it leans more toward wilderness than activities/excursions in port. I hope that helps!
Your preference between Uncruise and Alaska Dream?
Personally, Uncruise is more my style. It’s really a matter of style and preference – I cover that more in this post: https://www.valisemag.com/alaska-cruise-ship-size/
I’m wondering if the direction of the route impacted your experience – do you think the reverse routing from Sitka-Juneau would have resulted in a more predictable intinerary? Also, I read somewhere that ADC changed ownership recently – do you have any information on that?
I haven’t heard (and can’t find any online resources) about the change of ownership, so not able to help there. Also, no, the point is to not have a predictable itinerary, but instead to go where the weather is best and the wildlife and whales can be seen – I don’t think reversing the itinerary would make any difference to the average cruise.
Possibly missed it in the post but what time of year did you visit? I am really hoping to see the northern lights on my trip and I see that you got that out of yours! Thanks for all the information !
I went in September 2021 🙂