Daybreak aboard National Geographic Sea Bird was cool and misty, setting an ethereal attitude that would linger throughout the day. Though us naturalists were scattered all over the bow, guests were nowhere to be found. Much to the delight of wellness specialist Ava Davis, most of the guests had joined her stretch class on the sundeck at 0700, eager to shake off the rust of their long travel days to the Last Frontier. Having worked up an appetite, they all poured into the dining room and began to mingle with the friends they had made the night prior. There was little time to chitchat after the meal had ended, however, as two humpback whales surfaced off the ship’s starboard bow.

As the whales approached, the bow was swarmed with guest and staff alike. In that moment there were all noises of all sorts - oohs! and ahhs! and eeeees! But not a word was spoken until the naturalists passed the mic around to add interpretation to the situation. As the boat slowed to a standstill and the whales cruised by, there was a mass exchange of information, hugs, and photographs. It is these moments that separate expedition travel from the standard vacation. As the whale show concluded, I remained on the bow to scan for wildlife while guests were treated to a photo talk by Certified Photo Instructor Jamie Ramsdell and Naturalist Linda Burback’s introduction to the temperate rainforest.

Such an introduction was well timed, as the post lunch activity was a hike around Lake Eva. The well-groomed trail is an abnormality in Southeast Alaska but one we welcomed with open arms. The hike provided glimpses of the region’s diverse botany and entomology. Of fascination to myself were the birds of the lake. Common mergansers bobbed on the surface, listening to the songs of the varied thrush and ruby-crowned kinglets of the forest. Hikers were given the option of kayaking after they returned to our landing site, paddling under the watchful eye of our safety boat and a curious harbor seal.

We cruise now for the Inian Islands, a favorite among the natural history staff. As the night draws to a close, we retreat to our cabin with full bellies but a hunger for adventure.