Shore excursions and Zodiac rides not only provide the daytime entertainment but are the primary reason for the cruise. Animal encounters might include bears (black, grizzly or the white spirit bear in coastal British Columbia), seals, sea lions, orcas, humpback whales, sea otters and bald eagles. A naturalist fills discusses the flora and fauna you're observing. Excursions by Zodiac take place once or twice a day, rain or shine. Each lasts from one to four hours and may include a hike in the forest, along the shore or to a remote village.
When you're not ashore, the naturalist offers talks on coastal Canada, coastal Alaska, wildlife, plants and First Nations lore. If whales are spotted, you could easily spend an hour watching them from the deck.
The ship anchors at night, allowing evening kayaking and peaceful sleeping. Most passengers head to bed shortly after dinner. Occasionally, a member of the crew entertains with guitar music and songs.
* May require additional fees
The tug carries two Zodiacs as well as two, one-person kayaks and fishing gear for complimentary use by passengers. Your fishing license costs extra and should be obtained online before your cruise.
The primary gathering spot, especially in rainy or cold weather, is the dining room, also called the salon. The salon has a video screen for maps and charts and is the place for lectures and excursion briefings. It also serves as a game room and library, with books available on the cruising region. The daily schedule is posted on a white board. It pays to check it frequently because it's updated several times a day.
Another enclosed area is the wheelhouse, which has an open bridge policy. The wood-paneled space features a wooden ship's wheel. There are three chairs for passengers, and you're invited to hang out with the captain or first mate while on the lookout for whales and wildlife.
The top deck is home to an open-air hot tub aft of a seating area covered partially with a permanent roof structure and partially by black canvas. The canvas extends down the aft stairway (there is a forward ladder between decks) and along the port and starboard sides, giving shelter to cabin doorways. Seating is on a comfortable wicker sofa covered with gold-colored cushions. The main deck aft area is similar in decor to the upper deck lounge. It is fully covered and has acrylic windows that can be removed depending on the weather. A curved wicker sofa is used to store rubber boots under the cushions.
Plan to go without Wi-Fi or cellphone service, though you might be able to connect briefly when passing small settlements. There is no laundry service. Wet jackets are taken to the engine room to dry.
What with all the clambering into and out of Zodiacs several times a day, there's little need for a gym, and there isn't one on board. A relaxing hot tub is located up top on the aft deck. The hot tub works best with two, but four can squeeze in to enjoy the massaging jets while taking in the scenery and scanning the horizon for spouting whales. Anyone craving a burst of exercise can stroll around either of the two cedar wood decks.
Children are welcome aboard Swell, and the minimum age is 6, unless the ship is fully chartered. Maple Leaf Adventures discourages parents from bringing kids who aren't interested in nature and outdoor activities, those who do not interact well with adults and those who don't behave while ashore. If parents wish to bring children, the bookings must be made directly with Maple Leaf Adventures, rather than through a travel agent. This allows passengers to be screened for compatibility. On the flip side, passengers who want only adult company might be given the opportunity to change their cruise dates if kids are subsequently booked.
Each cruise aboard Swell is tailored to individual passengers, including children. With advance notice, the chef can prepare special meals for youngsters. Those who can sit and converse with adults join regularly scheduled meals. Otherwise, kids dine at a separate time or location. The naturalist can gear his talks and some onshore activities to accommodate various ages. Rubber boots are available in kid sizes. The lounge/dining room has children's books. WiFi connection is rare. Electronic gadgets, in any case, are not appropriate to the tug's spirit of camaraderie. Kids or not, the crew size remains the same -- four or five, including the captain. There is no youth counselor or babysitter.
The tug's small cabins (no third bed and no space for one) mean getting creative with sleeping arrangements. Two children can share the bunk-style cabins, Red Alder or Garry Oak. In Arbutus, two small kids can sleep in the wider lower berth and one parent up top. There are no reduced fares for children. The best solution for a larger family group wanting an unforgettable adventure would be to charter the entire tugboat.