When you think of Alaska, you imagine snow covered mountains, freezing cold winters, bears and eagles, salmon and king crabs, fishing boats and dog sledding. It conjures up images of a last frontier of wilderness. To me it was all that and more. The imposing landscapes of the USA’s most northern (eastern and western) state are matched by the enormity of place. Many may only get to experience one or two regions – and need to make their time count. Cruising the Inside Passage in Southeast Alaska is a deservedly popular way to enjoy some of what’s on offer.
But what’s not so clear is making sense of the various cruise options on offer. My husband and I love being on boats, away from crowds and close to nature. It’s why we gravitated toward the luxury small ship experience with Un-Cruise. And I can’t recommend this trip more highly. Here are six reasons why.
1. Less Is Definitely More
Un-Cruise is a strange name for a company which takes you by ship to amazing wilderness destinations. In our case the ship was Safari Explorer, which took us from Ketchikan, northbound to Juneau, over seven nights. Stepping on board, the name seemed less ironic and more fitting for a cruise company who has successfully distinguished itself from the mainstream.
We started by cruising into Misty Fjords National Monument which has been likened to Yosemite National Park because of the stunning tall mountains and beautiful scenery. Here we were on board with only 29 other guests – all extremely well travelled across a range of ages – all well cared for by 14 enthusiastic crew members. In fact, the Un-Cruise fleet only ever takes between 22 to 88 guests to explore Alaska and other pristine sailing destinations.
Our Master Cabin had a queen bed and private en suite (a feature of all cabins) and a sitting area. A library with a piano, guitars and plenty of books about life and nature in Alaska was a cosy spot to retreat to.
2. Freewheeling With Nature
The thing that appealed to us about Un-Cruise was getting into hidden coves and places the bigger ships can’t – even our itinerary was named Inner Reaches Eastern Coves. After waking up to wilderness, often in a bay to ourselves, we experienced everything we expected and then some.
Un-Cruise does not impose a detailed day-by-day schedule, rather the itinerary was seemingly dictated by the wildlife and landscapes with spontaneous sightseeing by land and by water. You can be as active as you want. If we wanted a rest from hiking in the wilderness, kayaking around bays and coves, or exploring by stand-up paddle board, the crew took us in skiffs (inflatable zodiac boats fitting 14 people) to see the sights without exerting ourselves.
Everything ashore and aboard Safari Explorer, like all the blue-hulled vessels in the Un-Cruise fleet, is all included. From rain jackets and gum boots for wet landings, to the open bar and a 45-minute massage per guest.
3. Life Affirming Moments
One evening we witnessed a humpback mother and her calf breaching, tail slapping and generally having fun in one of the fjords we were cruising. It was as if the mother was teaching her calf about all the fun you can have jumping out of the water.
Hiking in the wilderness was another highlight for me – sometimes on well maintained wooden walkways, other times on native tracks with more careful footing required. We observed intricate plants and delicate wildflowers, tiny birds with melodic songs, the occasional waterfall or bear footprint, and squirrels eating pine cones like a corncob.
Un-Cruise offers two person kayaks launched from the stern of the ship. We paddled around quiet bays and laughed at the antics of harbour seals. Kayaking in amongst the ice in the bay of Dawe’s Glacier was so unique. Being on the water gives you a true impression of how huge the glaciers are. We didn’t get too close to the glaciers as there were bits calving off regularly in the warm sunshine and creating waves at times.
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4. Can’t Fake Passion
The knowledge and enthusiasm of the crew was fantastic. Two naturalists on board brought the wonder of Alaska’s geology, wildlife, flora and fauna to life. They always seemed to be around the place with their eyes peeled looking for wildlife. Their ability to see bears was quite uncanny.
The bridge was open, so you could wander up and chat to the Captain and First Mate and check out the charts and navigation systems. There’s a great view from the bridge, so it was the place to be when we cruised through Wrangell Narrows – a very thin channel with lots of markers to indicate the safe way through. It was a gorgeous summer’s evening with glimpses of mountains in the distance.
5. No Menu. No Buffet
We certainly didn’t starve on board. The Chef and Pastry Chef impressed us with the variety of food and their ability to cater to any dietary need. Safari Explorer has one dining area, so we were all served at one meal sitting. However, there was no menu, let alone a buffet. After breakfast, the chef talked us through the menu options for lunch and dinner so you chose then and there.
Having toured the galley on the last day, the creativity and flair which went into preparing such delicious meals in such a Chef had recently completed a stint as Head Chef on a 5-star Caribbean Island). The lounge and bar area, with its huge windows, was a wonderful spot to socialise in the evening over a choice of drinks and canapes courtesy of the Pastry Chef. Binoculars were never far away.
6. Yoga In A Beanie
On the top deck was a sitting area for enjoying the vistas, some exercise equipment and a hot tub. Each morning the yoga class was held here. It’s the only time I’ve done yoga in a beanie, but the views in the morning were inspiring! We visited in late May when the snow had melted. The bears had emerged from their dens and the days were filled with sun and clear blue skies. The bow deck was the spot to enjoy pleasant surprises like porpoises riding the ship’s waves, bears wandering along the shore, the noise (and smell) of a sea lion colony and glimpsing orcas and whales.
Contact Catherine Baker at Press & James Travel Associates for more on Un-Cruise Adventures, Alaska or to trade travel ideas for your next holiday today.