Adventure-rich without the kitsch: Alaska cruising for the non-cruiser

May 26, 2023

Travelers who are aching to tour the Great Land but who aren’t fans of mega-ship cruising face a conundrum: without setting foot on a ship, options for getting a comprehensive view of Alaska’s glacial shores and marine wildlife are limited and/or prohibitively expensive (requiring private guides or a helicopter charter, for example).

But a cruise company with an ironic name—Uncruise Adventures—has developed an approach to sailing Alaska that leaves out the things anti-cruisers list as objections: crowds, buffet lines, inauthentic in-port experiences and negative environmental impact.

In place of all that, the line serves its travelers an extra helping of adventure, giving them the equipment and extended time needed to explore the wilderness away from the throngs of tourists, at their own pace and in their preferred style—whether that’s kayaking, snorkeling, hiking or bushwhacking (really).

Bushwhacking in Southeast Alaska

They’ve been doing this for more than 25 years, and doing it well. So well, in fact, that they were named the Best in Alaska Expedition Line by Cruise Critic editors last year, among other accolades.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Here’s more on what Uncruise Adventures is—and maybe just as importantly, what it’s not—to help you figure out if it’s your ticket to Alaska (or one of the other 11 intriguing destinations they visit).

It’s a line of small ships…

The guest capacity for Uncruise's nine ships ranges from 22 on Safari Quest, a 120-foot yacht  (take a virtual tour here) to 86 passengers on Wilderness Legacy, a unique four-deck vessel with hot tubs, a portable kayak launch deck, spacious observation areas and other cool features (take a virtual tour here).

Wilderness Legacy

Because of the ships' small size, they can navigate to coves and corners where larger ships cannot. From the observation decks, you'll just about feel the spray of waterfalls and see the fine nature-carved textures in blue glacial ice. And these ships are permitted to anchor in secluded nature areas larger ships can't come close to, literally. For those who want to get to know the real Alaska, small-ship cruising is the way to go.

Small-group whale watching from a skiff

Besides allowing more intimacy with the Alaska wilds, sailing in smaller ships with a few dozen people (rather than more than 5,000 on some of the big ocean liners) makes for instant camaraderie, say many passengers who have sailed with Uncruise Adventures. And people who choose the line for their Alaska explorations tend to be like-minded—outside-the-box thinkers, active adventurous types and down-to-earth—which adds to the spirit of unity on deck. 

And there's another thing that's small aboard Uncruise Adventures' fleet: the guest to crew ratio. It ranges between 2:1 and 3:1 depending on the ship, so there's no waiting in line when you're looking for your favorite drink, paddle boarding equipment or the answer to a burning question about kelp forests. 

…and big adventures

Uncruise Adventures presents travelers with Alaska in its raw and rugged state, allowing guests to interact with the environment in authentic, spontaneous ways larger cruise lines can't offer. For example: on almost all other lines' Southeast Alaska sailings, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is seen only from the ship's deck—and that's not to say the park's towering, calving tidewater glaciers aren't a vision to behold from your spot at the railing.

Hiking at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve—something most cruisers don't get to do

But Uncruise Adventures travelers also get the rare privilege of stepping off the ship at the park and hiking, paddle boarding, kayaking or beach strolling in Glacier Bay's seldom-traveled "outback" areas where they'll likely be the only ones out exploring.   

The special access extends also to Chicagof Island, a 75-mile-wide nature oasis known for housing more brown bears per square mile than any other place on earth. Uncruise Adventures gives guest the opportunity to walk through old-growth forests, explore national parks and take bike rides around the island.

Chicagof Island

And there's no scramble to pre-book excursions before they sell out. Each day, travelers get to choose how they want to get around and how vigorous or laid-back they want their activities to be. The Uncruise Adventures crew will equip and guide each traveler for whatever experience calls to him or her each day of the voyage. 

Uncruise Adventures guests exploring by kayak

Uncruise Adventures' itineraries are fluid, too—much like the pulse of Alaska's weather and wildlife—so there's nothing stopping the captain from changing course to view a breaching humpback whale or a raft of otters. The captain might decide to navigate to a different scenic cove where weather and water conditions are better for exploring or puffin-spotting. The day and its activities are dynamic things. 

Seal at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Uncruise Adventures also has a longer Alaska cruising season than any other operator, beginning in April and ending in September. The line calls April and May Alaska's "awakening" months, and offers many reasons to sail Alaska during a season when most Alaska cruise lines are still "hibernating."

A brown bear family in Southeast Alaska

For example, Alaska has less rain in the spring months than in any other season, and increasing daylight hours (about 13 hours on average in April and 16.5 hours in May). Wildlife becomes active again in the spring, and bald eagle, humpback whale, orca, sea otter and sea lion sightings are common.

April is also one of the best months for catching sight of the Northern Lights (the season runs September through April). And of course, since most cruise lines haven't started sailing yet, there are fewer crowds to contend with wherever you go in Southeast Alaska. 

Summer in Southeast Alaska

Of course the draws of the summer months are numerous, too—like even longer days and wildlife on an unabashed mission to mate, migrate and fatten up while the sun shines—so Uncruise Adventures has a plethora of options for launching your adventure in whatever month you favor.

It’s a line for serious nature lovers…

Even if you sail in the peak summer season, crowds won't be a big concern. The line takes a naturalist approach to cruising Alaska. That is, its ships anchor in pristine nature areas rather than busy port towns, and, as you might imagine, there's plenty of elbow room in the coastal wilds of the largest state in the U.S. 

Uncruise Adventures hikers getting off the beaten path

Of course, travelers can spend time in Alaska's cities and villages (Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka or Whittier/Anchorage) before embarkation and after disembarkation. There's also the option to add land packages like rail journeys, flightseeing tours and dog sledding pre- or post-cruise — but while you're on the water, Uncruise Adventures prioritizes time in nature over time at the gift shop.

Flightseeing tours can be added onto Uncruise Adventures voyages

…and for people who don’t take themselves too seriously

Among the items you might want to leave out when packing for an Uncruise Adventures sailing are evening gowns and tuxedos. The unofficial dress code onboard is functional, not formal, and guests are encouraged to come as they are. 

Playfulness is a regular part of the Uncruise Adventures experience

Do bring your bathing suit, however, in case you can be moved by a particularly sunny sky, an inner drive to push your limits or the elated whoops of your fellow passengers to take a polar plunge—a tradition on most Uncruise Adventures cruises in Alaska. (Of course, you can use that swimsuit for a soak in the hot tub as well.)

A polar plunge at Glacier Bay

Past adult passengers have enjoyed an occasional shot of liquor poured over a luge of fresh-plucked glacial ice, while kids have taken to kissing banana slugs found during nature hikes and diving face first into chocolate cakes they baked with the crew.

Guests are dared to kiss banana slugs, in keeping with the lighthearted tone of the voyages

As you'll likely grasp the moment you spot a lumbering brown bear mama with cubs in tow, or come face-to-face with a towering 20,000-year-old glacier, humility is a key ingredient of an Uncruise Adventures expedition—and that humility tends to pave the way for lighthearted fun. 

It’s for those who want to taste Alaska…

While Uncruise Adventures tends to keep many things simple, focusing on providing raw nature experiences for its guests, food is one area where the line goes all out. Meals are an outsize affair relative to the ships' small galleys, with multiple courses and multiple choices—case in point, seafood, meat and vegetarian entrees are always available for lunch and dinner. Sample options: Seared Alaska sockeye salmon with glazed fennel, lentils, roasted cauliflower and lemon crème fraîche; or roasted beef tenderloin with fingerling potatoes, asparagus, red onion jam and shallot demi-glace.

Halibut and salmon dinner on an Uncruise Adventures Alaska sailing

The menu is crafted daily in response to the weather and the day's activity level, with hot hearty soups simmering on the stove post-glacier walk, and satisfying tossed summer salads when short-sleeve weather touches down. The pastry chef keeps the oven toasty, baking up breads (fresh rosemary focaccia, for example) and sweet treats (like caramel chocolate ganache tarts) from scratch twice a day. And vegan, gluten-free or other special dietary requests can happily be accommodated with advance notice.

An Uncruise Adventures pastry chef kneading dough for a fresh loaf

The line sources ingredients from independent producers in Alaska. It buys microgreens straight out of the greenhouse at Panhandle Produce, for example, and hauls in the certified sustainable catch of the day (king or sockeye salmon, halibut, sablefish and spot prawns are all possibilities) from family-owned Taku River Reds.

A small fishing boat in Southeast Alaska

Both of these independently-owned small companies are based in Juneau, and Uncruise Adventures maintains similar sustainable and local buying practices on all its destination cruises, from Hawaii, to the Galapagos, to Costa Rica. 

…not hole up in a cabin

Don't get us wrong—Uncruise Adventures' cabins are comfortable and inviting. They vary widely by ship and category, but they're all outside cabins with ocean views and private bathrooms. Some come with sitting rooms, whirlpool tubs, balconies and more sweet amenities. But they're not tricked out with kitschy stuff like digital room service menus, walk-in closets or hammocks on the balconies.

Junior Commodore Cabin on Wilderness Legacy

There's so much to see and do in the water and on land each day during the line's Alaska itineraries, and so many opportunities to bond with like-minded adventurers in the plush observation lounges and common areas on the ship. As such, it's unlikely you'll want to spend much time in your cabin other than to recharge—and the cozy beds and meticulously cleaned staterooms are ideal for just that. 

Capturing the landscape in Southeast Alaska

Also on the theme of getting the most out of time spent in the wilderness, there's no Wi-Fi onboard to distract from the bucket-list experiences at hand. So you can count "digital detox" among the benefits that come along with taking an Uncruise Adventures Alaska expedition. 

It’s a line for all humans—and for the planet

If traveling ethically and responsibly ranks high on your list, Uncruise Adventures' significant commitments to sustainability are worth checking out. In addition to buying and serving local and sustainable foods on board, the company also enlists local people to lead tours and presentations, presents guests with reusable water bottles at embarkation in lieu of single-use bottled water, purchases supplies with less packaging waste, recycles wherever facilities exist and offers eco-friendly bath products with refillable containers to reduce waste.

The cruise line also donates to local charitable organizations in the areas it sails and strictly adheres to guidelines for minimizing ecological impact in marine and terrestrial animal viewing. 

Part of Uncruise Adventures' mission is inclusivity and diversity

And beyond these commitments, the line is vocal about its dedication to creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive community on board, both among its crew members and guests—so everyone can feel right at home, no matter where the adventure takes them. 

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