I never thought much about cruising Alaska. You see, I’ve been to Antartica and thought how could you top that? And really wouldn’t it be similar? A glacier’s a glacier, right? But, oh, how wrong I was. A recent trip on an UnCruise small boat through Alaska’s northern passage from Sitka to Juneau with a stop at Glacier Bay National Park proved to me that Alaska’s beauty can stand on its own and is so worth the trip.
Adventure Cruising Alaska
My sister-in-law asked if my husband and I wanted to tag along on a trip cruising Alaska. They had us at “active, casual adventure,” so we didn’t hesitate. See, our summers are usually filled with Ironman races, but due to injuries, not this year. Hence, we had the summer free. Besides, we love cruising small boats and neither of us had been to Alaska.
Although I’m not sure we would have gone on our own, this cruising Alaska trip did give me the opportunity to check another state visited off my list; 47 down, 3 to go!
Easy Peasy. Booking UnCruise Alaska
The August trip was booked in March. All I had to do was contact the UnCruise sales rep, send in a check, and have my travel agent book the flight to Sitka through Seattle. I loved having so little work to do, as I’m usually the one who plans our entire vacations.
The company sends out a packing list, and to make the process even easier, links to buy everything online. Having been to Antarctica, we had many supplies. We still hit local sports stores and LL Bean on a trip to Maine to complete our lists.
Our Alaska Adventure
Unlike some trips with daily rain, Alaska’s weather didn’t deter our adventure with mostly sunshine and 50 – 60-degree temps, and only one day of sprinkles and fog. But kayaking in the fog was actually one of the highlights of the trip. It’s easy to say that when you know other trips were taken in the rain almost every day.
And what an adventure~ Too many humpback whales to count. Brown bears and cubs feasting on fresh caught salmon. Celebrating the National Parks Service turning 100 at Glacier Bay National Park. Hiking through a rain forest. Looking up to see bald eagles taking a breather on a floating iceberg. And speaking of icebergs, how about one calving right in front of your eyes in a kayak? (While the passengers on a huge cruise liner were relegated to view this splendor through binoculars.)
The Details Cruising Alaska
We flew into Sitka the day before we were to set sail, just to avoid any flying mishaps. This gave us time to explore on our own. Not to be missed are Sitka National Historical Park and its totem poles, the Alaska Raptor Center, and Castle Hill. It was also amazing to be there to see the salmon running upstream. Be sure to pick up some salt from the Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co. to take home.
Check out time at the hotel by 11:00 am. Un-Cruise pre-arranged for us to leave our luggage in the hospitality suite before they took it to the boat. After seeing a few more sites and grabbing lunch, board an Un-Cruise bus on the dock.
Following cruise check-in, one of the crew members escorts you to your room to get settled in and unpack before the orientation meeting. This is your chance to meet all the crew and fellow passengers before dinner. We even got a welcome and send off by the company’s owner.
Un-Cruise Welcomes Kids
Kids are welcome on board from age 8. They even offer a Family Discoveries program with specific activities geared towards the family on the ship, in the water, and on land. Kids age 8-13 also receive a $500 discount. No babysitting services offered, but I can’t imagine why you would need or want that. I would think this would be a great adventure for kids from seeing spectacular flora and fauna to learning all about nature to kayaking among the otters. Just know they will not have internet access on this particular voyage, but with so much to do, I can’t imagine they’d get bored.
Cruising Alaska: Life On Board
The UnCruise ship is small and holds only 74 guests. Yeah! I’m all for small cruises. You can actually meet all of your fellow passengers. Get up close and personal with mother nature. The ship has a flexible itinerary, and there are no lines, reservations, or being told an activity is full. Life is very casual as in cargo pants and sweaters.
Multiple outdoor and covered decks for viewing, a lounge and bar area, dining room. And you are always welcome to visit the captain in the bridge, where he kept a big jar of candy.
The wilderness guide/naturalists crew couldn’t have been nicer and more knowledgeable about Alaska and its history, flora and fauna.
Be ready to be unplugged with little to no internet service on board. At first, I was apprehensive, but once out on that boat, I didn’t even think about not knowing what was going on the world. It was actually a relief. Every once-in-awhile those bars would show up on the phone, and I would check emails, but just for anything demanding immediate attention, which there never was. Otherwise, I happily put it down and went back to enjoying the adventure.
Okay, the cabins are small. We had one of the top cabins and it was still small. I will say they make great use of storage space and everything fit nicely. TV/DVD players in the rooms only offer 3 channels, all programmed by the ship. DVDs are available for free in the lounge. That said, you truly spend very little time in the cabins. While we would start a DVD, we fell asleep long before it was finished. You are asked to watch water usage as it is finite, so no super long showers.
Activities Cruising Alaska
I can honestly say I was never bored as some sort of activity is offered morning, afternoon, and night. Or, choose to do nothing but sit back, read a book, and take in the breathtaking scenery.
Activities include kayaking, bushwhacking, shore walks, paddle boarding, and even snorkeling. Very few opted for the latter two. Many did, however, brave the cold water temperatures for the polar plunge.
When not partaking in any of the scheduled activities, most people sat on one of the many decks keeping a vigilant eye out for any signs of wildlife and then yelling out’ “Humpback at 4 o’clock” as instructed to do. While I did bring books to read, I much preferred chatting with my fellow passengers, who ranged in age from early 20’s to mid 90’s!
On one particular afternoon in Frederick Sound, humpback whales surrounded the boat — too many to count! We watched their magic for over 4 hours.
At first, I snapped pictures of everything for fear I’d miss the perfect breach. Then, I spotted a friend, just sitting there, watching, no camera, and realized she was onto something. So, I put my camera and phone in my pocket and sat next to her, utterly mesmerized for several hours.
For the diehards who don’t feel they get enough exercise hiking and kayaking, like my triathlete husband, there is a bike and elliptical machine on the deck. I literally saw my husband, a crew member and one male passenger utilizing the machines. On the other hand, the 7am yoga classes were filled to capacity every morning.
After dinner, enjoy a lecture by one of the guides on Alaska and its wildlife.
Exception: Talent Night towards the end of the cruise. Guests and crew were invited to showcase their talents for our entertainment. Unfortunately, we must have had a very shy or untalented group as only a few participated. The final night was a festive “farewell dinner,” followed by a photo journal presentation of the weeks’ adventures.
Our August 25th departure commemorated the 100th anniversary of our National Parks Service. A Park Ranger on board filled in on all the details as we cruised Glacier Bay National Park, stopping at their headquarters in Bartlett Cove.
All 3 meals were provided in an open-seating format and at set times. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style, but dinner was full service with choice of 3-4 entrees. Other than a few missteps, the food was quite good. The crew accommodated for any dietary restrictions, including my vegetarian, my husband’s allergies to night-shade vegetables, and my sister-in-law’s gluten free + restrictions.
While there were several tables for 4 people, most were set for 10. With 6 of us on the trip, that left 4 brave souls to join us. A couple from New Zealand joined us the first night and became our instant and, hopefully, lifelong friends. We were most fortunate to meet amazing people the rest of our meals.
The Sites Cruising Alaska
Each day we set off to another amazing spot along the northern passage and never knew literally what would be around the corner. From the majesty of glaciers to momma brown bears and cubs foraging along the coastline to bald eagles floating by on icebergs to a plethora of harbor seals resting on rocks to bear paw prints and scat to whale soup. There truly were no typical days among the inlets, sounds, bays, and islands.
But I think my favorite site was not a site at all, but the sounds and sometimes even the silence. You could hear whistles, fog horns, exhales, snorts, monster splashes, chirps, whooshing and cracking of breaking ice. So many moments beyond perfection, because they were real. So many exhilarating exchanges with Mother Nature.
Other than alcohol (although on some trips alcohol is included), the cruise is all-inclusive, except of course for your airfare and hotel stay prior to embarking. The packages are around $5,000 per person for the 7-night Northern Passage cruise. The company does have many other adventures to choose from and has a loyalty program with discounts for frequent travelers.
As we disembarked, the crew lined up to give hugs and kisses to everyone and say goodbye. Our luggage was transferred for us to a hospitality suite in a local hotel so we were free to explore Juneau before leaving for the airport. Tons of shopping is available or you can take a tram ride to the top of Mt. Roberts and take a hike.
So, I hope this has enticed you to check out Alaska, whether you choose to UnCruise or see the sites on your own. Its beauty is both inspiring and breathtaking and not to be missed. If you truly want to unplug, unwind, and be one with nature, this is the trip for you.