With deeply luminous pockets of green and blue floated all around us-some were as tall as skyscrapers, others seemed like abstract sculptures carved by wind, or island dollops of frozen water. Baby seals practiced barking as their mothers looked on, occasionally sliding off the slippery bergs, then galumphing their way back up.
My husband Victor and I were weaving through the iceberg maze of the Alaskan fjord of Le Conte Glacier in an inflatable outboard with three other couples, a naturalist, and our mate, Danny. When he turned off the motor, we could hear the ice cracking, the seals barking, and our cameras clicking as we zoomed in on the faces of the beautiful pups. It was like being dropped into a three-dimensional National Geographic special with Surround Sound.
Our naturalist, Nitakuwa, told us the seals hide from the predator whales by staying on top of the ice to confound the whale's sonar abilities. As the winds began to sting, she asked, "Would anybody like something hot to drink?" and pulled out a thermos and mugs.
Within an hour, we had powered back to our yacht (well, "ours" for the week). The inviting Safari Spirit was moored in a postcard setting, with Captain Tate standing on the stern to welcome us home. Kim, our "concierge," smiled like a loving mother as she offered up a platter of warm, freshly baked cookies and took our orders for hot cocoa or hot toddies. We shed our cold weather gear quickly and were soon padding around the Poole 105 in our socks, all grins and cookie crumbs.
Being encircled by glacial ice and seals, then basking in comforts, could be the peak experience for any vacation, but our entire trip was devoted to moments like these: the luxuries of a five-star hotel stay, with one of the world's last great wildernesses only an arm's length away.
Some moments were scheduled, like our hike through lush forests to Baranoff Warm Springs on the edge of a thunderous waterfall, where the staff produced chilled champagne. We sank into the healing waters with no other civilization in sight-the hot steam rising, the cold spray falling, and the bubbles tickling our noses. Some highlights were special requests: An outdoorswoman wanted to set crab pots and cast for salmon. Her wishes were granted, and she successfully pulled in a full trap and reeled in a beauty. The chef prepared her bounty, and we all enjoyed an extra-fresh taste of the yachting life in Alaska.
Then, there was the morning we couldn't decide whether to stand on the starboard or port side, the bow or the stern. Humpback whales sounded all around, with no boats or buildings in view. We would catch a powerful tail slap in one direction and the geyser of a whale's exhalation spouting in the other. When an inquisitive whale calf headed too close to us, Mom surfaced from under our hull, emerging protectively between the yacht and her offspring. A couple of us were so close that we got a little slimed by whale snot and caught a whiff of cetacean halitosis-that's bad breath on an epic scale.