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Cruise business is ‘labor of love’

  • Written by Deborah Stone

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Courtesy photo
Running a seasonal operation may sound like a walk in the park to those unfamiliar with the nature of such businesses.

Individuals in the know, however, can tell you that the term "seasonal" is often misleading.

Such operations, though they may be up and running for only five months, mandate a full time commitment year round.

"It’s definitely deceiving," says Meg Swimelar. "You don’t just stop working the rest of the time. If you did, you’d lose all your business."

The Bothell woman speaks from experience. She and her husband Wes and two of his friends own and operate Sikumi Custom Alaska Cruises.

Their boat, the M.V. Sikumi ("Sikumi" is an Inuit word meaning "among the ice.") is a 67-foot commercial trawler equipped with all the creature comforts one needs to enjoy a weeklong cruise through Alaska’s Inside Passage.

This is the sixth season in the business for the couple and their partners.

"My husband is a commercial fisherman, specializing in king crab," says Swimelar. "He and his friends, who are also fishermen, thought it would be fun to get into the hospitality business. I got hooked along with them in the process."

She adds, "We bought the boat and business from a couple in Alaska and have built it up over the years. I do all the bookings, promotions, hiring and day-to-day office detail work. Wes maintains the boat, making the repairs during the off-season and getting it all ready for the summer."

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Courtesy photo.
Swimelar’s son and daughter have also been involved in what has turned out to be a family business.

Her son has helped paint the boat and her daughter worked on it last summer, cleaning cabins.

"Everyone pitches in to help, but we do have other crew members, including an adventure and natural history guide, and of course, a skipper."

The M.V. Sikumi can accommodate up to 12 passengers, who are accompanied by a crew of five.

Cruises depart from Petersburg, Alaska, from May through September and explore the picturesque waters and pristine wilderness of the famed Inside Passage.

A typical journey will include up close views of some of Alaska’s most impressive glaciers, along with opportunities to kayak, fish, hike, spot whales and view wildlife, go beachcombing and take in the natural wonders of this scenic area from both land and sea perspectives.

"We cater to our passengers’ needs and interests," explains Swimelar. "Because we’re small, we can offer lots of flexibility and go places the bigger ships can’t. Our itineraries revolve around our clients. Aside from safety, our number one goal is to provide each of our passengers with a unique and incredible Alaskan cruise adventure."

Swimelar emphasizes that although the boat isn’t on the scale of the large cruise ships that ply the Alaskan waters each summer, it’s very comfortable and sea worthy. Each of the four staterooms has its own toilet, sink, shower, oversize full bed and fold-down twin bunk.

There are several lounges and a spacious deck where passengers can congregate, as well as a dining area, where sumptuous meals are served.

"Our chef prepares only the best and freshest of the Northwest, often using what’s caught each day right off the boat, like shrimp, crab and halibut," explains Swimelar.

"The passengers love when they catch something in the morning and get to eat it later that evening." With an almost two-to-one ratio between passengers and crew, personal attention is guaranteed.

And the casual, intimate atmosphere of the boat ensures that everyone on board becomes one big happy family.

"Our passengers tell us that they feel more like members of a family and not like clients," notes Swimelar. "They feel involved in everything." She adds, "And they leave with so many special memories. It’s all about creating that once-in-a-lifetime experience."

The local woman, who had previous been a stay-at-home mom, has developed a passion for the business.

She enjoys getting to know the clients ahead of time and to putting together a trip tailored to their interests. And when they return from their cruise, she is eager to get their feedback.

"I love hearing their stories and knowing that they had a great time," acknowledges Swimelar. "Their complete satisfaction is my reward."

The work, however, is not glamorous and to be successful in the industry mandates commitment, long hours and patience.

"It’s a labor of love," she adds. "And you have to be a people person. That’s probably most important. If you don’t have a sincere interest in people and a desire to understand their needs, then this type of job is probably not for you."

The Swimelars and their partners plan to continue growing the business and are looking into possibly using their boat to do off-season custom trips in the Puget Sound area.

For more information about Sikumi Custom Alaskan Cruises: (425) 806-2083 or http://www.sukumi.com.

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