How to Prepare for Pacific Coastal Cruises in Desolation Sound

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. But I’m excited that later this summer, I’ll have the opportunity to experience a transformative outdoor adventure on a small ship cruise and stay in the remote Desolation Sound region of beautiful British Columbia. This Pacific Coastal Cruises in Desolation Sound experience promises to be quite different.

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 twenty 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.

So wildlife and beauty abound in the Sound, though this time we’ll be on the lookout for bigger fish, so to speak. Grizzly bears, orcas and humpback whales are on my radar, and binoculars are a must on the packing list.

To best prepare for this journey, I’ve compiled some helpful tips for not only myself, but anyone considering a remote stay and experience on Pacific Coastal Cruises in Desolation Sound, in beautiful British Columbia. 

How to Prepare for Pacific Coastal Cruises in Desolation Sound

First, a story. When I read this tale about a guest who’d enjoyed time aboard Pacific Coastal Cruises in Desolation Sound, I knew that this experience was going to be miles away different from anything I’d done before on a ship. It’s a beautiful story that touches on travel, love and our human desires.

We had 2 guests join our cruise. It was her husband’s 70th birthday and she wanted to make it special. She came across our Desolation Sound cruises and found a date that fell right on her husband’s birthday. She quickly booked it as she knew her husband always dreamed of cruising Desolation Sound. In fact, he had spoken about it often and had many years earlier read an article published in the Vancouver Sun, written by one of the founders of Greenpeace, about his favorite place in the world, Desolation Sound. He kept the article at his desk for decades.

They joined the cruise on board the Pacific Bear from Lund and settled into Homfray Lodge. The next morning was cool and crisp and the water was still and like glass. We boarded our boat and left Homfray Lodge heading north to Toba Inlet to watch grizzly bears feeding on salmon. Minutes from the lodge, we spotted the spray of a pod of Orcas. The captain stopped the boat so we could watch the Orcas from a distance. Suddenly, one of the young male Orcas came right beside the boat, circled it three times, stopped and looked us in the eye and with a final spray, headed off. Everyone in the boat was shocked, surprised, and shaking with excitement. We contemplated staying longer, but we continued off to Toba Inlet in search of grizzly bears.  Upon arrival at Toba Inlet where greeted by Klahoose First Nation member who gave us a traditional welcome song in his language and then quietly brought our little group to the viewing towers set along deep in the rainforest along the Klite River. Within minutes the Grizzly Bears began emerging from the forest, quietly going about their business of eating salmon and relaxing on the banks of the river. 

At dinner, we all gathered in our normal communal style dinning rooms, with everyone sharing videos and images of our amazing wildlife encounters form the day. We had a birthday cake for our guest’s 70th birthday. After dinner, he stood up to address his fellow explorers, and thanked them for an amazing birthday. He told everyone about his long-held desire to one day visit Desolation Sound, and with a tear in his eye thanked his wife for being with him and bringing him to this magnificent place.

Now on to the practicalities.

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.

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.

4. Pack the essentials

Pack for a wide variety of weather conditions. It’s best to pack moisture-wicking fabrics you can layer to be prepared for temperature changes and comfortable clothes for relaxing onboard and at the lodges. Here are some essentials, and click here for my expanded and downloadable packing list. Don’t forget your medications, eyeglasses, contact lens solution, et al. The staff is great at problem solving but you are off-grid in a remote area. There is no 7-11 around the corner. In case of emergency, the Pacific Coastal Cruises crew is trained in both First Aid and CPR and there are First Aid supplies on board.

  • 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
  • Personal devices like tablets or cell phones (Note: there is no cell coverage at Homfray Lodge but there is Wifi and a Satellite phone)

5. Bring the family

Pacific Coastal Cruises are family friendly. The 4 day, 3 night Homfray Explorer Cruise is perfect for a family adventure. This cruise tour requires less time cruising and more time at Homfray Lodge for water activities and just sitting back and relaxing. The other cruises (5 Day Desolation Sound Wilderness Discovery and the Grizzlies of Toba Inlet ) are more adult orientated (min. 12+).

A reminder to pack child-sized boots and rain gear as they will not have that gear in kids’ sizes at the Lodge.

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.

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.

9. Book early

The number of participants on each cruise is limited to between 12 and 16 guests. It’s recommended to book as soon as you know your travel dates. The cruising season is short, just June to August, so there’s only so many weeks to choose from and book.

10. The Pacific Coastal Cruise experience is all-inclusive

The Pacific Coastal Cruises experience includes all meals, 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 the cosy and remote Homfray Lodge where every room has an ocean view. If you have any dietary needs or allergies, let them know at time of booking.

11. Get busy and chill

On the Pacific Coastal Cruise, 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 Captain Lance and his crew.

In the heart of the wilderness, there’s a lot to do when you arrive at Homfray Lodge, a unique Sunshine Coast accommodation. Watch Harbour Seals swimming just off the dock. Go for a swim or sit on the dock and relax. Play board games or read in the Great Room, 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 the Sound.

12. 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, you drive from either Vancouver or Comox with BC Ferries. From Vancouver, take BC Ferries from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale (40 minutes) on the Sunshine Coast, then proceed north for 1 1/2 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) and on to 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.

Read More: Looking to stay a while longer on the Sunshine Coast and beyond? Where to find the best campgrounds and camping in British Columbia.

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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10 Comments

  • Christopher Rudder says:

    Pacific Coastal Cruises looks like a top-notch brand in terms of amenities, price and service. I will be most probably the guest who will chitchat to all while holding a glass of wine every dinner because digital detox is not for me. In this trip I can make this an exception. It seems it is super worth it to put down the phone and just enjoy the moment. Christopher Rudder

  • Thomas Bourlet says:

    I’ve never done a cruise, but I have been really interested in giving one a go over the past couple of years. I don’t know how I’d do with a digital detox though, I think I’m glued to this laptop a little too much, but it would be good to clear the mind and embrace the experience.

  • Rosemary says:

    Love your story of the woman who booked the Desolation Sound cruise for her husband’s 70th birthday. While I have never cruised before, this is the type of intimate experience I’d really appreciate. The stunning natural beauty, the digital detox and the food with inclusive wine. Sounds like a win-win all around. Thanks for putting Pacific Coastal Cruises on my radar.

  • Danijela says:

    Desolation Sound looks beautiful. I was reading carefully not to miss any details regarding wildlife and weather. Good to know that you should be prepared for any kind of weather, but also that there is no cell service! Sometimes one really has to detox, as you’ve put it. This looks like a perfect place to do so. 🙂

    • Shreya Saha says:

      The Pacific Coastal Cruise to Desolation Sound sounds really exciting! That’s a helpful list of things you mentioned to pack and also I liked the tips you shared to keep your eyes open so not to miss any adventure in the wildlife or even the beauty of the surroundings. I have never been to a cruise like this, and I will surely be interested in going on one.

  • Punita Malhotra says:

    You mention June to August as the season for the cruises. Does it ever get rainy too during that time? 4 days sounds just perfect to me. Would love to catch a glimpse of the bears!

  • Ami Bhat says:

    Nice to see such details tips that help you plan this cruise. The packing list would be super useful as would be the info that this is an all-inclusive cruise. I am all for that digital detox. Nothing better than silence to enjoy nature.

  • Medha says:

    Wow, I have never heard of Desolation Sound so I am glad that I’m reading about a not-so-popular off beat place because I love exploring such places. The cruise looks like a lot of fun and I completely agree about digitally detoxing. I mean, with so much beauty and peace around, one must immerse themselves in the surrounding. And yeah, binoculars sound like great advice considering you can see such amazing wildlife around you. Your pictures are spectacular!

  • Suruchi Mittal says:

    The Pacific coastal cruise sounds like so much fun. All inclusive is a deal and you should actually keep eyes open. Packing properly, carrying eye gear, binoculars and sunscreen is a must for this trip. Your pictures are amazing and the one of sunset is breathtaking.

  • Tami Wilcox says:

    Looks and sounds so amazing to explore Desolation Bay this intimately. This is something both my husband and I would absolutely love to do. Can we go with you?! But seriously, being able to see so much wildlife and incredible scenery would be magical.

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