ABOARD THE WILDERNESS EXPLORER– A bamboo plant grows in a bowl in my cabin. Reusable water bottles by the sink are a reminder to conserve water and drinking utensils. Cloth napkins on the dining table take the place of paper. No Styrofoam or plastic cups or glasses are used on this vessel. Daily menus are posted on a bulletin board. No paper menus are printed. Recycling efforts are everywhere.
“We take our commitment to conserve and protect the environment very seriously,” said Debi Heins, hotel manager for the Wilderness Explorer. “We do everything we can to be ‘green.’”
On our week long cruise through the Alaskan wilderness, I notice many of the efforts made by the American Safari Cruise Line. My itinerary and all my preparations for the trip, in fact, were made electronically. Cutting back on the use of paper is an ongoing goal.
“We don’t use daily menus on the tables,” said head chef Bob Ward. “Instead, we post the menus on our bulletin board. We put a list of passenger names and, next to your name, you chose whether you want meat, fish or vegetarian for dinner.”
For those delicious meals, the chef supports local economies by buying salmon, fish and other locally-produced foods and products whenever possible. One of my favorite dinners so far has been the crab cake with sweet chili aioli and the strawberry shortcake for dessert. This is the real strawberry shortcake like my mother used to make with biscuit-type shortcake instead of those little squishy cakes that most grocery stores sell for shortcake. The strawberries are fresh and not overly sugared, topped with what must have been real whipped cream.
The bamboo plants in every cabin and in the lounge on the Wilderness Explorer are a pleasant touch of green without having to buy cut flowers, Debi said. “A bouquet of flowers is beautiful. But they die,” Debi said. “This bamboo keeps on living. You don’t have to kill it to enjoy it.”
As for cleaning – which the ship’s crew seems to do constantly to keep everything looking lovely – the ship uses “green” cleaning supplies. “It is all organic, no chemicals,” Debi said, pulling a couple of bottles of cleanser from behind the lounge counter.
Eco-friendly toiletries and amenities are provided for passengers. Instead of bars of soap and bottles of shampoo and body wash, the Wilderness Explorer has soap and shampoo dispensers in the shower and by the bathroom sink. Those cute little bottles that many hotels supply are nice but they do seem a waste of plastic, as do bars of soap that are often opened, used a few times and then left for the housekeeper to discard when the guest checks out.
The ship also encourages less frequent washing of linens, which I always support when a hotel or motel offers the choice. I don’t wash my bedcovers at home every night, nor do I wash my bath towels after one use so I see no need to have it done when I am staying in a hotel, motel, ship or other accommodations.
Cruising some of the world’s most fragile and pristine ecosystems, the Wilderness Explorer believes it is a privilege to explore the world’s natural wonders and strives to leave a positive impact on the people and communities they visit.
“This is a national park and we have the strictest regulations in the world for the wildlife here,” said National Park Service Ranger Fay Schaller, who will spend three days on the Wilderness Explorer while we are in Glacier Bay.
“Passengers on the large ships that come in here don’t even get to step foot off their ships,” said Captain Marce Branniff. With several thousand passengers on the big cruise liners, such a huge amount of people could be harmful to the fragile environment and the small villages along the way. In contrast, the Wilderness Explorer has 46 passengers on our cruise. And we leave the ship every day, taking skiffs to shore for hikes,or kayaking or paddle boarding amid the breathtaking scenery.
“Our few people leave only footprints behind, but they also leave with a renewed spirit about how amazing nature and its wild inhabitants can be,” the American Safari brochure notes.
American Safari is a member of Sustainable Travel International, which focuses on promoting response travel and ecotourism. The company also adheres to the “Marine Mammal Viewing Code of Conduct” as published by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“Our goal,” Debi said, “is to leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photos.”
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch