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UnCruise in Alaska: Seeing the State’s Wild Splendor by Small Ship

I’ve cruised to Alaska more than half a dozen times on ships of all sizes and have always preferred smaller vessels for the intimate access they provide to the state’s supercharged scenery. (That preference is one reason I cofounded to share news and reviews about these offbeat travel experiences.)

Last month I spent a week aboard the aptly named Wilderness Explorer, a 74-passenger ship in UnCruise Adventures’ nine-vessel fleet. 

Wilderness Explorer was our nimble conveyance for exploring the wilds of southeast Alaska on daily treks, kayaking excursions, and skiff rides along the shore. While giant ships carrying thousands of passengers skirt around the edges of Alaska’s Inside Passage, small ships fit into tiny inlets and narrow channels—with names like Bear Trek Cove and Shrimp Bay—and can anchor practically anywhere to let passengers get off and have a look around.

(Alaska’s Inner Passage, as seen from UnCruise Adventures’ Wilderness Explorer | Credit: Heidi Sarna)

One day we anchored inside Glacier Bay National Park, close to the spectacular Lamplugh tidewater glacier. By skiff we motored over to the mudflats along the glacier’s face for an exhilarating hike along the ridge flanking Lamplugh for stunning views.

Another day, we skiffed up close to South Sawyer Glacier, witnessing a dramatic calving of the terminal face that sent an undulating wave of water under our boat. It was thrilling—and a little scary.

Hikes under canopies of moss-covered trees straight out of The Lord of the Rings were my favorite excursions. Most hikes followed trails, but one day eight of us bushwhacked with guide Erin in the lead, zigzagging through bogland and into the forest, scrambling over giant fallen spruce and boulders left behind by receding glaciers.

(Kayaking during an Alaska trip from UnCruise Adventures | Credit: Heidi Sarna)

We also saw wildlife, including two big black bears at fairly close range. One was fishing near a creek while we were kayaking; the other swam near our skiff around Klu Bay. Transfixed, we watched the animal lumber onto shore, shaking the water from its massive fur coat. 

After these invigorating days, I looked forward to a warm shower in our cozy cabin before heading to the lounge and adjacent outdoor deck, where folks gathered to gush about the day’s adventures and sip a happy hour cocktail such as the delicious Watermelon Crush made with rum and fresh juice. 

Some of us also beelined it to the hot tub outside on the foredeck to soothe our muscles after a vigorous hike and to soak up the views of Alaska’s forests and fjords. 

(Aboard a skiff [L] and lounging on deck of the Wilderness Explorer [R] during an Alaska voyage from UnCruise Adventures | Credit: Heidi Sarna)

Pre- or post-dinner, there was a talk about the next day and sometimes a special presentation about glaciers, bears, or nautical shanty singing (don’t expect live music or juggling acts—that’s not what UnCruise is all about). 

Meals were a time to get to know new friends better while enjoying Dungeness crab, sockeye salmon, cornmeal-crusted rockfish, or pork tenderloin, before hitting the sack early to nestle in our comfortable beds before another active day exploring breathtaking Alaska, the main draw by far for choosing an UnCruise.

As if not already clear, that point was hammered home late one afternoon, when we were hanging out on the deck. Always keeping an eye out for whales, we suddenly lucked out, witnessing a group of humpbacks bubble-net feeding as hungry gulls circled above the frenzy.

UnCruise’s 7-night Glacier Bay National Park Adventure is similar to my itinerary and starts at $4,400 per person, including all excursions and drinks.