Imagine cruising through pristine surroundings, coupled with the thrill of spotting wildlife, in the company of a handful of companions. The joys of cruising with Maple Leaf Adventures on a small ship -- really small, as in only 12 passengers -- happen as frequently onboard as on shore. Ashore, it's all about nature. Onboard MV Swell, life centers around whale spotting, socializing and getting to know your fellow adventure seekers, as well as your crew of four or five friendly Canadians.
A classic wood-hulled, coal-fired tugboat, MV Swell was built in 1912 in Vancouver, Canada. Measuring 80 feet long and 22 feet wide, the tug originally worked the British Columbia coast for the Victoria Tug and Barge Company. In 1954, Swell's power was converted to a diesel engine. In 2004, the tug was refitted as an expedition vessel at a cost of $3.5 million. After serving as a dive boat, Swell received an update to its interior decor and joined the Maple Leaf Adventures fleet in 2015.
The Inside Passage itineraries -- both in British Columbia and southeast Alaska -- are flexible and depend on tides, weather and wildlife sightings. The captain stops for whales, bears and anything else passengers express a desire to see up close. Each day, the proposed schedule is posted on a whiteboard in the dining room. Plans are updated as things change, and you quickly learn to go with the flow. Consequently, no two cruises are ever the same. At night, Swell anchors in a secluded cove for peaceful sleeping. Even better, the generator is switched off. Power is provided by a silent battery backup system. No noisy engine. No annoying bright lights. Just twinkling stars and the sounds of nature until the generator is turned on again at 6:30 a.m.
The tug's seasonal travels (late April through October) include spring coastal cruising along Canada's Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands), islands that are significant to First Nations people. During summer in Southeast Alaska, Maple Leaf Adventures is one of the few permit holders with access to the brown bears of Pack Creek on Admiralty Island, one of the world's densest brown bear populations. Following Alaska, Swell returns to British Columbia for fall cruises to the Great Bear Rainforest with the chance to see a spirit bear, a rare black bear born with white fur. Cruises range from four to 10 nights. Fares include all excursions.
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The majority of passengers are Canadian and American couples in their 60s and 70s. To get the most from the cruise, passengers must be fit and able to climb into and out of Zodiacs (rigid inflatable boats) and hike over rugged, wet terrain. Cruisers with certain pre-existing medical conditions are required to have a physician sign a release indicating fitness for travel in wilderness areas. The single supplement, when available, is 50 percent more than the double-occupancy rate. Announcements are in English.
Day or night, the dress code is casual. After all, you need to be dressed and ready for spontaneous wildlife viewing. Also, with limited cabin space, storage is at a premium for foul-weather gear instead of dressy duds. Passengers are asked to pack only soft duffle-type bags. In several cabins, there is no spot to stow a wheeled or hard suitcase. Fortunately, Maple Leaf Adventures provides knee-high rubber boots needed for wet Zodiac landings, making for one fewer bulky item to pack. Bring rainproof pants and a rain jacket for hiking through the rain forest.