The sudden death of one of its captains over the holiday weekend was a heavy blow to Sitka-based Allen Marine, but the company is forging ahead with plans to not just revive the small-ship cruise market in Southeast Alaska, but to expand it.
This summer, the Allens brought a fifth ship online under their new brand Alaskan Dream Cruises, but the ship itself has sailed Southeast before. The ‘Spirit of Glacier Bay’ ended its last cruise grounded outside of Glacier Bay National Park.
Now the 207 foot ship is back on the water with a new name, a new look, and new amenities like a Himalayan salt cave. Daily Sitka Sentinel reporter Tom Hesse recently toured the vessel with his note pad and a recorder. He has the story of the renamed ‘Chichagof Dream’ and its 100-ton facelift.
It’s Sunday in Jamestown Bay and the Chichagof Dream has been tied up since about 7 this morning. Crew members are loading fresh supplies on board in a bucket brigade, preparing the ship for a new load of passengers this afternoon.
As turnarounds go, it’s pretty impressive, but nothing compared to the multi-year effort that has the Chichagof Dream floating in the first place. The last time this vessel was in the news in 2008, it was high and dry on a sandbar in Glacier Bay National Park . KTOO’s Matt Miller described its trip home.
The 207 foot Spirit of Glacier Bay returned to Auke Bay in Juneau under its own power, and under escort, Tuesday night.
And there’s more. A year before, sailing under the name the Spirit of Nantucket, the ship was cruising on the East Coast and ran aground off Virginia Beach. Despite this unlucky history, Allen Marine saw potential.
“We had to remove a lot of weight, off the vessel, due to new stability requirements.”
That’s Jamie Cagle, Senior Vice President at Allen Marine, which operates a fleet of small ships as Alaska Dream Cruises
“It was approximately 100 tons, net change in weight.”
That tonnage is equal to nearly 300 grand pianos, much of which came off the rear deck. But the crews at Allen Marine didn’t just make the Chichagof Dream float, they made it palatial. There’s a solarium, new fixtures, and a new lounge, complete with lounge music.
“Seriously, we’ve touched everything on this boat. So it would be hard to pinpoint any one thing. Obviously her profile is significantly different because we’ve removed 100 tons, but, from the paint job to the fixtures and the finishes to the plumbing and the things you don’t even see. Everything’s been touched.”
While the Allens hope the Chichagof Dream will be a feast for the eyes for passengers, one room near the bow has a little extra flavor.
“This is a Himalayan salt cave.”
Daily Sentinel – Do a lot of boats have Himalayan Salt Caves? I can’t imagine there’s many.
Cagle – First one in the world.
Daily Sentinel – And what was the motivation behind this?
Cagle – It’s a naturopathic. Helps with the respiratory.
Juneau-based Glacier Salt Cave & Spa is behind the room, which is made of bricks of salt backlit to produce an orange glow. The company claims the minerals are therapeutic. For Cagle and the Chichagof Dream’s passengers, it’s enough to be a nice calming room.
Cagle – So you can come in here. It’s relaxing. You know people just come in and enjoy the atmosphere.
Daily Sentinel – Have you taken a turn in here?
Cagle – You know I’ve been in here before and it is relaxing, yeah.
As our tour continues, Cagle and I weave around busy crew members. Even downsized, the ship requires a lot energy to prepare for a new cruise. At least one crew member, though, appears calm.
“You know, it’s going well. Any time you make this much change to a vessel there’s always the thought, well, what’s going to go wrong but I’ve actually been surprised that things have gone as well as they have.”
Stu Vincent is the captain of the Chichagof Dream, and a veteran of two cruises so far this summer. The ship’s checkered past doesn’t haunt him.
“No I Don’t let that kinda stuff bother me. You know, it’s all about maintaining situational awareness and trying to guard against those sorts of things.”
In a maritime community that is notoriously superstitious, Vincent is confident in his crew and his boat. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the salt cave.
“You know, there’s still time. So we’ll see how that goes.”
The Chichagof Dream is the fifth ship in the Alaska Dream Cruise fleet and it’s one of the biggest single projects in the company’s history. From its two-year rebuild to its 8-hour turnaround, nothing has been left to chance for this once-unlucky boat.