This is a difficult review for me to write because while the trip met or exceeded my every expectation for exploration and sightseeing, the quality of the accommodations, service, and food were often so poorly provided that it’s hard to overlook them. At the end of the trip, I’d say if anyone asked me the question, “Would you recommend it?”, I’d answer in the affirmative but with some major caveats. Let’s break this down one category at a time.
Exploration/Adventure-Here the Island Spirit excelled. Every major sight I wanted to see in Alaska, I saw. Every small cove, every animal, every thrilling adventure, they delivered on, and because of that, I’d recommend them. During my trip, we saw bears up close feeding at a salmon run from our pontoon boat. We saw whales, Humpbacks and Killers, so many that at times we were surrounded by them. We saw Sea Lions, Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, Porpoises, and much more, and the crew went out of their way to find them for us and we loitered long enough to get plenty of pictures. They didn’t hesitate to bring the ship around on a dime when animals of interest were spotted and follow them for miles. We also saw glaciers, waterfalls, icebergs, natural arches, rain forests, and authentic fishing villages. We had the opportunity to kayak, hike, and explore the waters on our pontoon boat. In short, we had a thrill ride! Rating: 5 stars
Education-The onboard naturalist delivered well thought-out presentations with supportive educational materials. He accompanied us on all of our excursions and was always ready to answer questions or find answers for us. However, I would have appreciated more of his expertise on a nightly basis, especially insomuch as there was no entertainment of any kind on board. Rating: 4 stars
Accommodations-Our cabin was rather Spartan and expedition grade, and, like the rest of the ship, in need of a refurbishment. The sink was so small I could barely fit my hand in it, there was no vanity, and the only dresser was approximately 12” wide. The room itself was big enough, but it wan’t well furnished. There were few hooks to hang things on and there were no chairs or closets. In fact, there was scarcely anyplace to hang clothes from. There was only one electrical outlet (regular plugs work on it). The bedding was rather firm. More soundproofing would have been beneficial. We found a bag full of trash under one bed which had been left over from the previous cruise. We also found a prescription pill inside a pillow cover from the previous cruise. IOW, more and better cleaning was needed. That said, they did provide fresh towels and linens, the room was at least vacuumed daily, and there was a fantastic view from 3 windows that opened for good ventilation and a great night’s sleep in the cool Alaskan air. Rating: 3 stars
Food-On some days this was inexcusable. There were a few good meals of fresh fish (halibut, cod) and even a decent steak, but far too often we had leftovers from the day before or some really badly prepared meals. Many people complained that we went for a 9-day cruise in Alaska and never saw salmon served for dinner. Service at the table was also sub-par. Frequently utensils and condiments were missing. The staff were far too quick to rush us out of the dining room. They seemed way too eager to clear everything so they could get rid of us. Sometimes the food was cleared away even before we were finished. And the appetizers were often inedible frozen rubbish. Oh, BTW, there were no entree choices at all. Rating: 2 stars
Alcohol-Here I must say they poured tall glasses full and the liquor wasn’t bad for house brand stuff. If you’re picky, you won’t like it, but otherwise I give them high marks. If you want to BYOB, they have no problem at all with that. However, even here they need to get the details nailed down better. They had no wine glasses on board, so I drank from a tumbler the whole time. One of the crew said someone had dropped a tray full of them on a previous cruise and broke them all. OK, but why weren’t they replaced? Rating: 4 stars
Staff-There were one or two really motivated employees. Candace and Jason stood out. Most of the crew were indifferent to us or even sarcastic when we asked them questions. I later learned that some of them had been working for 39 straight days without a break. If that’s true, I guess I can’ blame them for being a little snippy. At one point, all of the passengers were asked twice not to smoke on the deck. Someone had been leaving their cigarette butts there, and the crew thought it was us. Later, one of the crew members was caught red-handed. Really, it was inexcusable to implicate the passengers. But where it counted, when we needed to see wildlife, they went out of their way to find it for us, and there were even a few luxury touches, such as hot cocoa and Kahlua served on deck for the glacier viewing. Rating: 3 stars
General-The vessel really needs an overhaul and a refurbishment. Everything seems a bit worn, whether you look at the furniture or just the general appearance of the ship itself. That said, I never felt that anyone did anything unsafe or that the vessel wasn’t up to the task. On the contrary, I felt like we were on a fine ship that was just showing its age. Rating: 3.5 stars
Value-Small ships like the Island Spirit are expensive to operate, and the per person cost is high. Typical pricing for two is $7000-$10,000. For that amount, you can take a slightly shorter luxury cruise on a Seaborne or Crystal vessel and have money left over for shore excursions and the like. That said, the Island Spirit is cheaper than, for example, the Lindblad brand vessels, and I feel it delivers all of the adventure, excitement, and exploration at a reduced price. So I think the value is there. Rating: 5 stars
Entertainment-The passengers vote on which movie to watch. That’s about it. The naturalist would sometimes give an evening lecture, and on the last night two of the crew gave a soulful country guitar concert. Rating: 2 stars
The other passengers-As you might expect, this is a well-travelled, well-heeled, well-educated lot. There were only 16 on our ship, which made for a better experience. I’m not really sure how the crew could handle a full complement of 32 passengers given the onboard space. We hailed from Florida, Portland, Virginia, Chicago, and Australia, and we got along famously. I’d say the opinion I wrote here is representative roughly of the group based on my conversations with them.
In summary, I would say that, yes, I’d recommend this ship highly, as long as your expectations are realistic. What you’ll get is the adventure of a lifetime in the Alaskan wilderness and waters, and you’ll likely see and do everything you set out to do, and for slightly less money than the other small ship cruises like the Uncruise and Lindblad lines. But don’t expect any luxury; nor will there be any solicitous staff, fancy entertainment, or chocolate on your pillow at night, and you have to make do with cafeteria-style food and bare bones cabins. I wish the owner would spend a little more on the ship, food, and staff to upgrade the experience a bit, but it’s a solid value, and delivers what you should have come here for in the first place-the real, unvarnished Alaska in all its glory, without all the bells and whistles.