The decadence begins the moment we step onto the ship as smiling crew members welcome us aboard with glasses of very good champagne. It’s often touted as the most luxurious ship ever built, but we soon learn that a voyage on the Seven Seas Explorer is about more than just boundless bubbly and glittering chandeliers.
We set sail from Seward, Alaska, a port town we’ve reached via Anchorage on a scenic rail journey that winds through forests and mountains past glaciers, waterfalls and rivers. The scenery is a taste of the stunning vistas to come as we make our way down Alaska’s Inside Passage to Vancouver over seven days. We watch the first of them glide by from our balcony, popping the bottle of Veuve Clicquot on ice that awaits us when we enter our suite.
Seven Seas Explorer suites are seriously spacious. Our Veranda suite has a bedroom, full bathroom, sitting area and spacious balcony, and enough storage space to allow us to unpack with ease.
We eat out that night at Prime 7, one of six elegant restaurants onboard, sharing our table with a delightful North Carolina couple with whom we trade tales of shark attacks, sky diving and sea sickness, which, on this stable ship, is thankfully not an issue. Judging by the animated chatter at breakfast the next morning, we’re not the only ones to have made new friends. There’s a cacophony of accents from guests ranging in age from 30 to 80 (along with a few kids). Seven Seas Explorer general manager Andreas Piccinin’s own wife and children have joined him on this cruise from their home in the Canary Islands.
“Alaska is just a beautiful place to visit, a must once in a lifetime,” Piccinin says.
Naturalist Dr Greg Wheeler teaches us the finer points of glaciers ahead of seeing the real deal that afternoon.
When we sail through Disenchantment Bay, the incredible Hubbard Glacier dwarfs our 10-deck ship, soaring 40 storeys high against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
Our first foray off the ship is on the island town of Sitka, where we learn there are twice as many brown bears as people and that they can run twice as fast as us. Nonetheless, we’re released into a national park to hike the trails at leisure. Avoid berry patches, we’re advised (bears love berries) and keep this handy saying in mind: ‘Bear black fight back; bear brown stay down’.
In other words, make yourself big and scary if you encounter a black bear (they’ll run away) and make yourself small and non-threatening if you see a brown bear (they’re confident and ready to fight). Playing dead is also an option.
We don’t encounter any bears in the wild, but we do come within a few metres of eight black and brown bears living peacefully at Fortress of the Bear rescue sanctuary.
The bears were injured or orphaned as cubs and now spend their days in a naturalised setting – they get to hunt live salmon during spawning season between April and July, feast on a variety of seasonal fruits, and hibernate over the winter months.
I’m in awe as a brown bear splashes through the stream, pounces on a frantic salmon and devours it before my eyes.
The Raptor Center we visit next is almost as awe-inspiring and we return to the ship elated at the sight of injured bald eagles and owls learning to fly again before being released back into the wild. Back onboard, we still have time for an afternoon doing as we please. By now I have a favourite reading nook – an elegant café with barista-made coffee and high-back armchairs nestled by picture windows.
Today the clouds shift and change, while fog gives way to streams of sunlight turning patches of moody forest bright green. And just now a rainbow appears in front of a mountain rising steeply from choppy waters. It’s through this same window that I later see three whales frolicking, flicking their tails and spouting – nature never fails to put on a show.
There are endless shore excursions on offer at each port. At Skagway, we head out for a mountain bike ride that takes us along forest trails with majestic views over tidal flats to distant mountains. We move along in single file at a comfortable clip on mostly flat ground and when we stop for a breather, our guides tell us about Skagway’s history as a gold rush town. Many of its buildings have been preserved and turned into jewellery stores, restaurants and souvenir shops for up to 10,000 cruise passengers that descend on the town each day over summer. Luckily, a quick bus ride out of town is all it takes to escape into the wilderness.
At Juneau, 12 of us board what looks like a bus bound for summer camp, to Mendenhall Lake. The Tlingit indigenous peoples paddled in large wooden canoes and that’s just what we do after donning gumboots and lifejackets to reach the glacier on the other side. Incredibly, a seal bobs up out of the water as we pass, a bald eagle flies overhead, and we pass icebergs and a roaring waterfall. The blue-tinged glacier is spectacular and worth the strenuous paddle. Our jovial group doesn’t always manage to paddle in unison but there’s something about being out in nature that brings out the best in people. We arrive back at the bus worn out but in good spirits – and hungry for the caribou sausage and other snacks on offer.
There’s plenty to eat back onboard, of course, and we make a habit of lunching at the outdoor pool grill where we’re lavished with attention (there are 548 crew members on board for the 746 guests). Like us, fellow adventurer Jeffrey Friedberg is impressed with the crew’s genuine friendliness. “They do a really great job of making people feel welcome, and the service is just top notch,” says Friedberg, who is travelling with his wife and another couple.
The Seattle-based outdoors enthusiast took advantage of the onboard spa during the cruise, not really expecting the deep-tissue massage he booked to measure up to the many others he’s had. “But I think it’s probably the best massage I’ve ever had – and that says a huge amount!” On hearing that rave review, I head straight for the spa to make a booking. He isn’t wrong. My 75-minute hot stone massage lulls me into such a deep state of relaxation that I don’t so much as walk out of there as glide. If I had the energy, I’d make use of the steam room and expansive gym.
There’s no judgement here though – you can be as busy or relaxed as you like. There are talks, evening shows, karaoke and wine tastings, cooking classes and afternoon teas. There’s also a dinnertime dress code in keeping with the sophisticated setting.
Our dinner at French restaurant Chartreuse is a standout. My Salade de Crabe d’Alaska looks like a work of art, the lobster bisque is divine, and I never want my main dish (halibut with braised fennel, lemon-artichoke tapenade and green olives) to end. For dessert, the Crème Brûlée calls my name. Perhaps I should have made it to the gym after all …
Time to get going
Experience the delights of the region yourself with Regent’s ‘Season of the Bear’ cruise, departing on the Explorer from 11 September, 2024. Or take the ‘Great Alaskan Adventure’ also on the Explorer on May 21, 2025.
Photography: Preston Mack, Stephen Beaudet, Graham Copeland