Alaska, grizzly bears Dana McMahan | A Mama grizzly and her cubs catch salmon
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We Tried It! Brown Bear Watching in Alaska

by Dana McMahan | November 19, 2016

Going against every instinct, I moved closer to the bears. A mama brown bear and two cubs splashed in the stream. Then, there was a torrent of water and a streak of fur. The mama bear turned to face us, blood dripping from her mighty jaws where her freshly caught salmon still hung. I held my breath, trying not to call attention to myself.

This moment almost didn't happen. I had come to Alaska on Star Princess in hopes of dogsledding on a glacier, but when warm weather shut the camp down early, I opted for the brown bear viewing expedition offered by the line instead.

The swap turned out to be the best and most thrilling adventure I've had on a cruise so far.

What It's Really Like
The half-day trip began with a shuttle bus to Ward Air in Juneau, where we suited up in rain gear and then crammed ourselves into a sea plane. Civilization dropped away behind us as we flew southeast for half an hour before landing 90 miles outside the city.

Deposited in the wilderness, a wide green expanse that felt like a far cry from the confines of our ship, we hung on our guide's every instruction: No sudden movements, use library-style hushed voices, and stay with the group. If a bear should approach us, we were told to link arms as a group and become a fearsome looking eight-headed beast. But so as to not scare away any bears, we were told to stay in a pod.

Off went our pod down the small, evergreen-fringed beach. We made our way to a stream coming off the bay and moved around a bend — "bears!" I screamed in my head. Our guide lifted a hand and let a finger drift toward the stream. “And there's our first bear sighting,” he murmured.

Dana McMahan

Dana McMahan is a Detroit-based contributor to ShermansCruise who also writes for the Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post.

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