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I’ve done a few cruises in my time, and tended to think of them as relaxing leisure experiences rather than those of the transformative variety. You eat, lay in the sun, eat again, drink, do some shore excursions, you get the picture. Small ship cruises offer something quite different, and potentially transformative. Planning a marine adventure with Pacific Coastal Cruises in Desolation Sound, British Columbia, is an unforgettable journey into nature.

Desolation Sound is a spectacular and remote area north of the Sunshine Coast that is marine or fly-in access only. My dim memories of an ancient visit, more than 25 years ago, are of scuba diving in its cold waters amid the colourful and flourishing plant and animal life. A place that Jacques Cousteau once called the best place for cold-water diving in the world.

Wildlife and beauty abound in the Sound, including grizzly bears, orcas, dolphins and humpback whales. Binoculars are a must on your packing list.

pacific bear ship in desolation sound

How to Prepare for Pacific Coastal Cruises in Desolation Sound

1. Be prepared for all types of weather

The coastal region of British Columbia can experience all kinds of weather, even in the summer months. Expect a mixture of sunshine, rain and wind on most trips. There may even be fog. It’s always a good idea to check the forecast before the journey for the most accurate weather.

You want to be prepared for anything as you’ll be spending time on the water. So for packing, it’s best to have layers and wear comfortable, flat shoes with some grip to easily move around on the boat and dock. See #4 for more tips.

2. Pack a camera and binoculars

We all have cellphones, and they’re great at taking excellent pictures. But if you have a DSLR camera with a bigger lens you should bring it, as much of what can be seen is further away than a cell phone can capture properly. A good zoom lens if your friend. Ditto on the binoculars, they’re also your friend.

pacific coastal cruise ship in desolation sound

3. Embrace a digital detox

The remoteness of Desolation Sound means no cell service. There is only WiFi in Homfray Lodge so this is a great time to embrace the beauty of a digital detox and catch up on your reading. And talking to your partner, family or other guests. There is an exchange library in the Lodge, but pack a book to enjoy. If you can’t go without a TV fix, just download some shows onto your tablet before you leave.

people enjoying sunshine on dock of boat

4. Pack the essentials

Some items are a must when traveling by boat, no matter what the size of ship! Our list of small Pacific Coastal Cruise packing essentials.

  • Comfortable pants
  • Shorts
  • Light jacket or rain jacket
  • Good walking shoes
  • Sweater or fleece jacket
  • Sunglasses
  • Bathing suit – even if you choose not to swim you’ll want to enjoy some Vitamin Sea on the dock in the sunshine.
  • Sunhat or warm hat and warm gloves
  • Binoculars
  • Personal toiletries and medication (sunscreen, lip balm, Gravol/motion sickness medication)
  • Personal water bottle
  • Daypack
  • Camera; Charging cables and devices
  • Personal devices like tablets or cell phones
pacific bear pacific coastal cruises at dock

5. Bring the family

Pacific Coastal Cruises are family friendly for families seeking adventure with older children (12+) who can enjoy boat rides for 3 hours or longer. The Desolation Sound and Discovery Islands tour involves six days of cruising and overnighting at different lodges through Desolation Sound. The Grizzly Bears of the Toba Inlet cruise tour is four days and runs from August to September when the bears are feasting on salmon prior to hibernation.

Read my tried, tested and true tips for cruising with the family

6. Protect the eyes and skin

The sea is so bright, you’ll need to wear shades. Sunglasses and sunblock are a must on any boating trip, even for cloudy days. Hats are great too, especially ones with straps for those windy days on the water.

7. Know where you’re going

Not that you’ll be steering the ship or anything, that’s Captain Lance’s job. But check and download a map before you leave so you have some idea of where you are in advance. There are large maps onboard the ship, and Captain Lance and his team will be a wealth of information once you’re onboard.

pacific bear pacific coastal cruises

8. Keep your eyes open

The beauty of Desolation Sound is astonishing, and you won’t want to miss a moment. So keep those eyes on the scenery and the ocean. You won’t to miss wildlife as they rarely stop to pose for you. Expect to see a variety of wildlife on the trip, including: eagles, seals, sea lions, dolphins, humpback whales, orcas, and bears, just to name a few.

Wildlife is wild life and have their own agenda. It is only luck that determines how close wildlife will come or how spectacular their behavior will be. The crew is very good at spotting animals and along with enthusiastic guests, spend a great deal of time looking. Bring your binoculars. The crew takes a cautious approach when observing wildlife. No pressure is applied to animals that could result in a change in their behaviour.

Also, look down once in a while onboard the ship to make sure you’re getting the cheese you want or not drinking from someone else’s wine glass.

grizzly bear looking for salmon in tobacco inlet bc
humpback whale breaching in desolation sound

9. Book early

The number of participants on each cruise is limited by the size of the Pacific Bear ship. It’s recommended to book as soon as you know your travel dates. The cruising season is short, just June to September, so there’s only so many weeks to choose from and book.

klahoose wilderness resort in desolation sound

10. The Pacific Coastal Cruise experience is all-inclusive

The Pacific Coastal Cruises experience is all-inclusive and includes all meals, cruising and lodging: from dinner on the first day until breakfast on the last day with wholesome, family-style dining with complimentary house beverages (including wine and beer) with dinner. Evenings are spent at different lodges where every room has an ocean view. If you have any dietary needs or allergies, let them know at time of booking.

breakfast on table

11. Get busy and chill

On the Pacific Coastal Cruises in Desolation Sound, you’ll be settling in with wine or bubbly water in hand, searching the ocean and horizon for signs of animal activity, chatting with fellow passengers and the Captain and his crew.

In the heart of the wilderness, there’s a lot to do and boredom is not an option. Watch Harbour Seals or dolphins swimming out in the channel or inlet. Go for a swim or sit on the dock and relax. Play board games or read, enjoy campfires, go kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, wildlife viewing, hike the rugged trails, enjoy stargazing, even do morning yoga, and stretch classes. Be present in nature and breath in the fresh air of Desolation Sound.

man in kayak in desolation sound

How to get to Lund

Pacific Coastal Cruises departs from Lund, the northern end off Highway 101 on the Sunshine Coast. You can fly from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) to Powell River Airport (YPW) with Pacific Coastal Airlines. Pacific Coastal Cruises offers a complimentary schedule once daily airport transfer from Powell River Airport and Lund. Seaplane charter options are also available between Lund and Vancouver, Campbell River, Whistler, Tofino, and Seattle.

If you’re driving from either Vancouver or Comox on Vancouver Island, you’ll board a BC Ferry. From Vancouver, take BC Ferries from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale (40 minutes) on the Sunshine Coast, then proceed north for 1.5 hours on Highway 101 to Earl’s Cove, where you’ll board another BC Ferry to Saltery Bay (50 minutes), which is located on the north end of the Sunshine Coast. From there, continue to travel north on Highway 101 through Powell River (30 minutes), ending in the tiny hamlet of Lund.

You can also take BC Ferries from Comox, on Vancouver Island, to Powell River. There is long term and short term parking available in Lund.

sunset in desolation sound

Pin for Later

grizzly bear in tuba inlet bc

Read more about British Columbia

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13 Spectacular RV Campgrounds in British Columbia

Best Things to do in Parksville with Kids in Summer

The Top 35 Things to Do in Whistler with Kids

Photo Credits: Pacific Coastal Cruises & Tours

Have you done a small ship cruise in British Columbia or elsewhere in the world? Share what you loved most about that experience.

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