Cruise season in March? They may not use megaships, but local operators are on the water

It may come as a surprise to people who live outdoors, but Alaskan cruise season is underway. In March.

“We’re almost completely sold out for March,” said Kelly Bender, co-owner of Lazy Otter Charters in Whittier.

To be clear, Lazy Otter offers a single 3.5 hour cruise per day, not a multi-day voyage like the larger ships.

“Mars is funny,” Bender said. “There are real challenges. But bluebird days are truly spectacular.

Lazy Otter has two boats, the Voyager, a 30-passenger catamaran, and the Qayaq Chief, which seats 20 people. Both boats have a ramp at the front. “All of our tours feature beach landings, so you can have a snowball fight on land,” Bender said.

Spring cruises head to Blackstone Glacier and Beloit Glacier. Bender said guests saw otters, sea lions, bald eagles “and snow-capped mountains…right down to the beach.”

Lazy Otter charges $175 per person for the cruise from Whittier.

“Cruise” is really not the right word for a trip with the Water Taxi from Mako to Homer. Mako’s fleet operates year-round, transporting people and supplies to residents across Kachemak Bay from the small port of Homer. When you call during the off season, you are likely to get one of the boat captains. I was able to reach Kari Hendrich as she helped people off one of the boats.

“We do a lot of ride bookings,” she said.

The car ride offers people the opportunity to join a pre-existing trip to see some of the sights in Kachemak Bay. According to Mako’s online price list, the price is $50 per person. If you are four people, you can book a two-hour excursion around the bay. Mako’s also offers a package for Seldovia which includes a boat ride to Jakalof Bay, a taxi to town, 11 miles, and a plane ride to Homer.

In Seward, Major Marine Tours and Kenai Fjords Tours both offer four-hour cruises in Resurrection Bay.

“We began hosting our spring wildlife cruises on March 5,” said Kirsten McNeil of Major Marine. “We visit all the coves including Humpy Cove and Thumb Cove. If the weather is good, we sail to Spire Cove, which is across the bay, just south of Bear Glacier.

McNeil said they had yet to see any whales. “Usually there are a few humpback whales and a few orcas this early,” she said. “But we saw eagles, mountain goats, sea lions, seals, Dall’s porpoises and otters.”

Major Marine’s Spring Cruise sells for $89 per adult, though there’s a 20% discount if you stay overnight at the Harbor360 hotel. An overnight stay gives you more time to visit the Alaska SeaLife Center.

April is right around the corner and that’s when the bigger boats start cruising Southeast Alaska.

Captain Dan Blanchard, founder of UnCruise Adventures, calls April the season of “Alaska’s wake-up call.”

The UnCruise fleet consists of ships that can accommodate between 22 and 86 passengers. The Wilderness Explorer, with a capacity of 74 guests, is set to operate four week-long trips in April, starting April 8.

The itinerary includes stops at Chichagof and Kuiu Islands, as well as close visits to several glaciers, plus a day in Glacier Bay National Park. Sailings begin and end in downtown Juneau.

But UnCruise has a whole list of reasons why April is the perfect time to explore Alaska on a small boat. It’s raining less, the bears are coming out of hibernation, the whales have already arrived and there are very few other boats in the area.

Regular prices for April cruises are much lower than peak months like July. For example, you can sail the April 8 itinerary for as little as $2,995 per person, based on double occupancy. During peak months, the same cabin sells for $5,195 per person, double.

UnCruise is offering $750 off per person — $1,500 per cabin — on select cruises in April, May and June. There are other discounts available for the line’s Glacier Bay cruises.

By April 15, UnCruise Adventures is waiving its one-time supplement fee, according to spokeswoman Liz Galloway. Contact UnCruise Adventures for more information: 888-862-8881.

Starting in mid-May, Alaskan Dream Cruises is offering deep discounts on its small ship itineraries departing from Sitka or Juneau.

Zak Kirkpatrick, a spokesman for the line, said there were two ships sailing the route in May, “the 54-passenger Admiralty Dream and the 76-passenger Chichagof Dream”.

Regular pricing for the eight-day/seven-night “Last Frontier Adventure” cruise starts at $3,795 per person, double. But Alaska residents can cruise for as little as $1,500 per person, based on double occupancy. The cruise begins in Juneau and ends in Sitka, or vice versa.

Highlights of the cruise include visits to Glacier Bay and Endicott Arm, plus a stop in Petersburg. The cruise also includes an evening visit to Orca Point Lodge, a private wilderness lodge near Juneau, but off the road network.

“All meals are included,” Kirkpatrick said. “We have a team of naturalists and guides, as well as evening presentations. We are an Alaska Native-owned company, so there is a cultural focus on cruising.”

Additionally, Alaskan Dream Cruises is offering a special offer for Alaska residents during its 9-day/8-night “Inside Passage Stay” on the 49-passenger Baranof Dream. Usually, this cruise starts at $5,195 per person. Alaska residents can sell for as little as $1,995 per person, double that on May 14 only.

The longer route offers two stops on Prince of Wales Island, Thorne Bay and Kasaan. Plus, there’s a stop at Metlakatla and a trip to Misty Fjords National Monument.

Although itinerary details are available online, discount reservations for Alaska residents are not permitted. Travelers must reserve them by phone: 855-747-8100.

If you’ve got your heart set on a large ship for an Alaskan Inside Passage cruise, prices are lower for early-season departures.

Fly to Vancouver, British Columbia, and catch Norwegian Jewel for her sail on May 2. Ports include Juneau, Skagway and Glacier Bay. Disembark at Seward on May 9. Prices start at $449 per person for the week-long cruise when booked through Alaskacruises.com. This does not include shipping or taxes. In addition, the lowest price includes an inside cabin.

There’s an even earlier cruise for an even lower price: Holland America’s Zuiderdam sails north from Vancouver on April 27 for a week-long round-trip itinerary that includes stops in Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway. The price is $399 per person online.

If you want to get out on the water, there’s a route for you in March, April or May.

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