This week, a brand new Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic cruise ship set sail on its maiden voyage.
It left Juneau over the weekend and is making its way around Southeast Alaska all week. KFSK reporter Nora Saks caught up with the ship when it stopped in Petersburg on Monday, July 31.
The captain and crew of the National Geographic Quest sure picked a plum day for their first ever port call in Petersburg.
The sun, for once this summer, is blazing, and the blue and white sides of the cruise ship are gleaming. It was built in Whidbey Island, Washington, and construction on the $50 million dollar vessel finished just last week, a few days before the first passengers came aboard.
Vivian Euzent is one of those 100 lucky guests along for the ride. She’s just hopped out of an inflatable raft, after spending the morning exploring Kupreanof Island, across the narrows.
“We just went on a forest and bog hike. So we would walk at a good speed and then we would stop and learn about the plants, or learn about the geography of the area and how the climate affects them,” said Euzent.
The Quest is equipped with all sorts of adventure gear. In addition to zodiaks, they have kayaks, paddleboards, and bikes passengers can borrow. And there are lots of knowledgeable naturalist guides, and even an underwater specialist on board to help guests get to know and encounter the places they’re visiting.
For Euzent, who is from California,those opportunities are what sold her and made her want to explore Alaska this way.
“It has been wonderful,” said Euzent. “This is my first cruise ever.”
Captain Andrew Cook is also in high spirits. He was Captain of another Nat Geo ship, the Sea Bird, before assuming his role on the Quest.
“This ship just handles really well,” Cook said. “It’s a smooth ride, easy to drive, fun to drive, a much larger ship than the Sea Bird. Everything runs really well. It was great to start up the engines and the generators and feel the ship come to life. It’s done everything we asked it to.”
Cook enjoys the open bridge policy, and encourages folks to interact with him and the crew. He was also excited to share the Quest and all of its new features with members of the Petersburg community. He led local business owner Roxy Lee out onto the bow.
“The bow has always been the key area on the ship for our guests. We really wanted to add an element that would improve the viewing of wildlife,” said Cook. “So this platform allows guests to stand up, get up above the cap rail and the bow, and get good views of the whales, bears, all the wildlife.”
Lee, along with the Mayor, and representatives from the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce were invited on board – where they presented a special plaque, complete with rosemaling, to commemorate the occasion.
Lee said that years ago, Petersburg made a strategic decision not to accept bigger cruise ships because locals didn’t want the character of the town to disappear. Its success in preserving it is exactly what now makes it attractive to smaller and more customized ships like the Quest, which do provide a welcome infusion of tourist dollars and energy, in bite-sized pieces.
Mark Cappelletti, the Vice President of Expedition Development, thanked the town for it’s tradition of hospitality.
“Petersburg over the years has played such a key part in our expeditions,” he said. “We have guests coming on and they’re asking, Petersburg’s not going to be like Juneau is it? We’re like, no. It’s good, it’s quiet, you’re going to love it. You’re going to see a great Alaskan fishing town with Norwegian heritage.”
After the ship’s visit, locals witnessed it sail away, and then make a u-turn. It turns out, they were just following a pod of killer whales heading south.
The National Geographic Quest will be heading further south in a few months, tracing the coast and touring Central America over the winter.