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American Safari Cruises promises an intimate, all-inclusive cruise to some of the more out-of-the-way stretches of the Inside Passage -- and it succeeds admirably. The price is considerable -- but so is the pampering. The company's three small vessels carry between 12 and 36 guests, guaranteeing unparalleled flexibility, intimacy, and privacy. Once passenger interests become apparent, the expedition leader shapes the cruise around them. Black-bear aficionados can chug off in a Zodiac boat for a better look, active adventurers can explore the shoreline in one of the yacht's kayaks, and slacker travelers can relax aboard ship. A crew-to-passenger ratio of about one to two ensures that a cold drink, a good meal, or a sharp eagle-spotting eye is always nearby on the line's comfortable 120-foot ships. In 2012, the ships offer 7-night Discoverers' Glacier Bay itineraries and season-beginning and season-ending 14-night Inside Passage cruises as well. The core 7-night itinerary includes an unusual 2 full days in Glacier Bay National Park, in which passengers can hike on glaciers or in the rainforest with a park ranger, as well as stops in more off-the-beaten-path Alaskan areas such as Frederick Sound and Dawes Glacier.

Passenger Profile -- Passengers, almost always couples, tend to be more than comfortably wealthy and range from 45 to 65 years of age. Most hope to get close to nature without sacrificing luxury. Dress is always casual, with comfort being the primary goal.

Ships -- The line's newest ship, the 36-passenger Safari Explorer, entered service just in time for the 2008 cruise season, after a 10-month refurbishment costing $3.5 million. Add in the 22-passenger Safari Quest (1992) and the 12-passenger Safari Spirit (1991), and the fleet has three small-ship options for people looking to explore Alaska in a non-big ship environment that offers an unhurried, flexible adventure. Cabins are comfortable, and sitting rooms are intimate and luxurious, almost as if they were transported whole from a spacious suburban home. A big-screen TV in the main lounge forms a natural center for impromptu lectures during the day and movie-watching at night. A shipboard chef assails guests with multiple-course meals and clever snacks, barters with nearby fishing boats for the catch of the day, and raids local markets for the freshest fruits and vegetables -- say, strawberries the size of a cub's paw and potent strains of basil and cilantro. Sample nightly rates per person: Lowest-price outside cabin from $699 for the 7-night cruises on Safari Explorer; no inside cabins or suites.