Explore Alaska’s Nooks and Crannies With Uncruise Adventures

Last updated 4th June 2018

Somewhere off the coast of Southeast Alaska, where wildlife outnumber humans, an unidentifiable “almost-sound” interrupted my slumber. It was a steady, quiet noise unlike that of boat engines, the hum of which had lulled me to sleep the night before. This was different, and although the clock read 5:50 a.m., curiosity kicked me out of bed and into the briny, foggy rainforest morning aboard Uncruise Adventures’ Wilderness Discoverer.

Boots in one hand, camera in the other, I carefully slid open the heavy door to our cabin just as a sudden “whuff,” then another, drew my gaze toward the water.

Just below my boots, not 50 feet away, were two humpback whales, mother and calf, hugging the rocky shoreline as they searched for food in the cold Alaska water.

I forgot about taking photos, or waking my husband and son back in the cabin, so enamored I was with the scene before me. I’d seen whales before from ferry boats and larger cruise ships, but nothing like this had ever happened, where I could see, hear, and even smell the daily lives of animals bigger than a city bus.

That’s the magic of an Uncruise.


Young passengers, dressed in layers to accomodate Alaska’s ever-changing weather, enjoy exploring the shoreline near Thomas Bay on an Uncruise Adventures trip. Photo by Erin Kirkland.

Uncruise Adventures

Celebrating 20 years of small-ship cruising in 2016, Uncruise Adventures has humble beginnings anchored in a commitment to offering guests a chance to see parts of the world far from the usual routes. Formerly known as American Safari Cruises (boutique yacht travel) and InnerSea Discoveries (mid-range small ship travel) with itineraries focusing on Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, the company combined brands in 2013 to reflect a unique approach to cruising. Currently the company operates eight vessels in Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, Galapagos, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. Especially Alaska, where landscape and recreation combine in a swirl of exciting activities in places untouched by most Last Frontier visitors.

Uncruise Adventures Chief Executive Officer Captain Dan Blanchard, an energetic advocate of both small ship cruising and accessible adventure exploration, is solidly committed to offering guests an Alaska experience unlike that of larger vessels.

“The magic of an Uncruise lies in the unstructured itinerary,” Blanchard says. “We take our time to enjoy each place and our crew makes each day the best it can be.  The slower pace and attention to our surroundings create opportunities for ‘Wow’ moments (guests) never forget and retell throughout their lives.”

Built to nose quietly into a hidden cove far from civilization, Blanchard notes, Uncruise ships can retain a “home base” of operations from which guests can kayak, hike, or tour in one of several skiffs to bring them even closer to the wild Alaska environment they came to see. Ranging from the 22-guest Safari Quest yacht to the 88-guest SS Legacy, passengers can drift toward sublime understanding of Alaska’s coastal history, culture, and recreation for up to 14 days, sailing sections (or the entirety) of Alaska’s famous Inside Passage.


Young passengers enjoy stand-up paddleboarding as an activity in the quiet waters where Uncruise Adventures vessels sail. Photo by Erin Kirkland.

Finding Family Fun

My morning whale-gazing was only the first part of an exciting day, and several days to come. What makes Uncruise itineraries so interesting is the variety of activities available for kids and adults.

Unlike large ship cruise itineraries that deliver passengers to ports of call, then spit them out for shore excursions, Uncruise voyages feature a focus on exploring a diverse wilderness outside the vessel, with few stops in “civilization.”

Activities reflective of the adventurous theme include kayaking, hiking, stand-up paddle boarding, skiff explorations, beach combing, and watching wildlife. There’s also a thing called a Polar Bear Plunge, whereby passengers and crew leap from the ship into frigid Alaska water in a shocking right of passage.

Kids are especially engaged during an Uncruise, partly because there are few opportunities to “plug in” to electronic devices thanks to a concept of being “off the grid,” and partly due to the efforts of crew members. Part naturalist, part summer camp counselor and all enthusiasm, Uncruise crew become part of the family during trips and make sure younger passengers receive plenty of chances to stretch themselves physically and mentally as they investigate a rich Alaska environment.

During our weeklong voyage, my husband, son, and I climbed around a limestone cave on Prince of Wales Island; watched a group of humpback whales cooperatively work to feed on herring; kayaked amidst a moon jellyfish bloom, and bushwhacked through the coastal Alaska wilderness with our guide.

Several times we caught sight of enormous cruise ships gliding silently by in the distance, usually as we were exploring a shell-covered, deserted beach pockmarked with bear tracks.

Our group would look at one another, smile, and nod toward the ship. We knew we had a good thing going.


Uncruise Adventures vessels are smaller and more able to explore the narrow passages and shallow waters of many Southeast Alaska coastal areas. Photo by Erin Kirkland.

Need-To-Know Information

Small ships are not for everyone, so before booking an Alaska Uncruise itinerary, take note of these points.

  1. Understand the goal. Small ship cruises are unique in that they offer opportunities for families to travel together without a formal, kids-only program. Parents and kids eat, sleep, and recreate as a unit, with occasional breakouts for children. There’s no disco, no video games, and no internet, but plenty of boating, hiking, beachcombing, and animal-spotting, which, I’ve found, are the main reason parents choose such a cruise in the first place. While Uncruise recommends children be at least age eight or above due to the nature of the vessels and activities (and offers a discount of up to $500 per child age eight to 13), there are some case-by-case exceptions.
  2. Review the itinerary before booking. Uncruise Adventures offers a wide variety of trip options that appeal to families. Are you a hiking and history-loving family? Consider a trip with a port call in a small southeast Alaska town and a few activities in the woods. Are geology and glaciers a big thing with your family? In that case, the Glacier Bay National Park trip may be a better fit, with kayaking, more skiff tours, and multiple drive-by chances to see ice and glacial moraine. The point is to fit the trip to your family, not cram your family into a trip made for someone else. Bringing extended family? Uncruise also offers charter itineraries for those cases where it makes sense to have the entire vessel at your disposal.
  3. Bring gear to fit the experience. Alaska’s weather and terrain can be wet, rugged, and different from what you’re used to at home. In turn, small ship cruises tend to be more casual, so leave the dinner jackets and frilly dresses at home. Adventures off the ship require gear that can hold up to rain, wind, chilly temperatures, and the occasional stray tree branch. We pack two sets of rain gear per person, two pairs of gloves, comfortable pants in which to lounge about after a busy afternoon bushwhacking the forest, and slip-on shoes with soles that handle wet decking when not wearing rubber boots. Ask during booking if the company provides rubber boots; if they do, you’ll save suitcase space. Another good idea? Stash a few chemical handwarmers in your bag for use during skiff tours on cold days. Uncruise does provide life vests of various types and sizes for all water-based activities.

Erin Kirkland is author of Alaska On the Go: exploring the 49th state with children, and publisher of She lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

Learn more about Family Vacations to Alaska.