An Alaskan cruise is on many person's lists of dream vacations. There are numerous cruise lines in Alaska to choose from. We were looking for a trip that took us off the beaten path away from the usual route, and the small ship cruise with UnCruise did the trick.
We had traveled to Alaska in 2011 on a large ship and enjoyed following the well-trodden path of Alaskan ports. Stopping in Anchorage, Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan for our first time to 49th state was a great introduction.
Today, we will cover the benefits of cruising with a small ship and a detailed breakdown of what's included in an UnCruise to what you can expect from day-to-day.
When UnCruise asked us if we would like to go back to Alaska, we jumped at the chance because we knew we wanted to do something different.
When looking at the UnCruise website and itineraries, the experiences looked right up our alley.
Benefits of a Small Ship Cruise
Imagine sailing within a bay filled with calving glaciers as icebergs float past while you watch from the deck of your ship.
Now imagine standing on a small ship free from crowds, where the crew knows you by name and explains every detail of what you see before your eyes. That is UnCruise Alaska.
Cruising from Juneau
We boarded our ship The S.S. Legacy in Juneau with 80 other passengers. With our name tags strapped to our necks, we were determined to get to know everyone by the end of the trip.
It didn't take long to bond with our fellow passengers. The UnCruise crowds are friendly and avid adventure seekers that are well-traveled and open to trying new things.
We knew we were going to love our week in Alaska.
A bonus to having such a small number of passengers was how quickly we got to know each other. At the open bar cocktail hour, we roamed from table to table chatting with everyone.
The UnCruise Facebook
If we forgot a name, we didn't have to awkwardly glance down at their name tag, we could go to the wall of photos to look up everyone's name. (including the crew)
They called it the “UnCruise Facebook” and we thought it was a genius idea.
During our introduction and safety briefing, we all met Captain Tim who let us know that he was changing the route to go directly to Glacier Bay.
Since the weather forecast said we had one sunny day ahead, we changed course to sail directly to the star attraction of any Alaskan cruise, Glacier Bay.
This is a place where we definitely wanted clear skies to take in the beauty of John's Hopkins glacier.
We altered course again – when one evening, Captain Tim saw orcas.
So, instead of going straight to anchor, he coasted along with them for about an hour giving us the chance to spy on them quietly from near and far.
A small ship can get much closer to wildlife without disrupting their habitat. And it can spend time in a place if the scenery is interesting.
On a large ship, you are stuck to the itinerary.
Access to more Sights
One of the things that we loved about our other small ship cruises was the ability to go where the big ships can't.
Smaller fjords and different glaciers were on offer because we could get to them without running into size issues.
Some of our most amazing days were spent nestled in a small cove or cruising a narrow fjord. These experiences just wouldn't be possible on other larger ships.
Many cruise lines seem like a good deal and bargain when you book them online, but once you are on the ship, there are a lot of added fees.
The fees can really add up from having to pay for alcohol, coffee, and soft drinks or specialty restaurants and added activities. Not to mention those overpriced shore excursions.
When you book with UnCruise, the price point might be higher off the top, but once you arrive everything is included.
Unlike a Caribbean Cruise filled with partiers, people don't come on an UnCruise to drink and party all night long.
But it is nice to know that a glass of wine or cocktail isn't going to break the bank.
The bar is open all day, but it usually isn't until after all the excursions are finished that we meet up in the lounge for Happy Hour.
One hour before dinner, the bartenders prepare the dink of the day while everyone chats about the amazing things we all witnessed.
5-Star Food Service
If you don't want a cocktail, you are free to have anything you like. We usually stuck with a nice red wine as we munched on appetizers displayed in the center of the room.
It is then on to dinner where a three-course meal is served giving us the choice of a meat, vegetarian, or fish dish each evening with a wine pairing to go with each round!
The food is five-star quality in a relaxed tavern style atmosphere.
The open seating allowed us to float around and make new friends with each seating.
All of this at no extra cost.
Speaking of no extra cost. UnCruise keeps everyone as busy as they'd like with no added fees.
Each day they offer several choices for excursions that are included.
At dinner, we are told about the day ahead and then after our briefing, the expedition leader comes around to ask us what we'd like to do.
You can choose to do as much or as little as you like. I know some people took advantage of the peace and quiet by just reading a book for an afternoon.
This is our favorite thing to do in the polar regions. Sea kayaking is a peaceful and relaxing way to explore the coast while searching for wildlife.
We had one incredible and memorable day on the water where we encountered all the wildlife we could imagine.
Humpback and minke whales surfaced before our eyes.
We saw sea otters and seals frolicking in the water.
And we witnessed eagles and seabirds soaring overhead.
Under the water, we saw sea stars and jellyfish that our guides made sure to point out.
It doesn't get much better than that!
One of the things we love about kayaking with UnCruise is that they offered a mix of guided and self paddle excursions.
That means that if you want to explore on your own, (and if we are in a place that was safe to do so) you can go out paddling without a guide.
It's perfect for the person who wants to be with nature away from everyone and everything for an hour or so.
Getting out on the zodiac (skiff) is another fantastic way to explore bays.
Going on a skiff lets us cover more ground and on a boat (without having to paddle), we could take our cameras for optimal photography opportunities.
One day we were thrilled to be on the skiff when we were surrounded by a pod of whales feeding.
We saw a group of six whales constantly fluke in front of us. It was like they were performing an intricate ballet.
It is great to see whales on a kayak, but you can't photograph them as well because you have to keep steering the boat.
On a zodiac, we can snap away while our driver steers the boat giving all sides a chance to see.
Plus we only take waterproof cameras out on the kayak, so we can't zoom in and steady ourselves like we can on a skiff.
If photography is one of your main interests then make sure to jump on a skiff a few times to capture those memorable moments.
If you want to get on land, a beach walk is a good option.
We took a beach walk to explore the tidal pools of Alaska one morning in a quiet bay.
It is amazing to see just how much life sits on the beach at low tide.
When you turn over a rock, it is filled with sea life waiting out the day.
It was during our beach walk, that we had the privilege of watching two bald eagles making a nest. We couldn't tell if they were fighting or playing, but they were definitely putting on a show!
There is also where the guides knowledge of the area and wildlife really shone. The depth of their expertise was so vast that not one question went unanswered.
A lot of people chose bushwhacking each day.
We love hiking, but this time around, we wanted to see wildlife rather than avoid it, so we opted more for kayaks and skiffs.
For safety, the guides make a point of speaking loud and making noise to alert wildlife. It's a smart move as you don't want to come face to face with a bear.
You won't see a lot of wildlife bushwhacking, but if you are looking for an adventure, bushwhacking is a must.
A guide leads the group through a non-existent trail and stomps through rivers, over fallen trees, and cutting through thick brush.
It's a great outdoor experience to make you feel like a true explorer.
Whale watching in Alaska is one of the most popular excursions on cruise ships and on an UnCruise, you whale watch every day!
We watched whales for hours from the bow of the ship, we watched from the back of the deck, we watched from the window of the dining room…you get the point, we watched whales!
If the crew or captain saw whales, they'd announce it over the speakers so we could go outside and see for ourselves.
We also watched whales from kayaks and from skiffs.
We saw a lot of whales during our seven days in Alaska and we never got tired of seeing them.
The most stunning things to see in Alaska are the glaciers.
As we said above, being on a small ship allows us to visit the more remote and untouched glaciers.
John's Hopkins Glacier
Our first day in Glacier Bay took us to John's Hopkins glacier.
Large cruise ships can't come up this channel due to seals raising their pups, but the small ships are small enough that they don't disturb them.
Going up the channel was a real treat because we saw countless seals and babies lounging on ice flows.
Other glaciers led the way as we stood on the deck watching in awe, coasting to see the star attraction at the end of the bay.
John's Hopkins Glacier is 12 miles long.
It's an impressive sight. With a span of a mile wide (1.6km) and 250 feet high (76 metres) it's huge!
There is another 200 feet (60 metres) of ice below the surface.
The clouds had come in by the time we reached it, but that just made the ice look even bluer!
I think the best glacier encounter we had was at Dawes Glacier where everyone on board went out on zodiacs to get up close and personal with the massive sheet of ice.
Our boat even witnessed a calving glacier and had the chance to ride the waves of the wake created by the giant chunk of ice that fell off its face.
It was here that we saw the best icebergs of the trip.
Enormous chunks of deep blue floated throughout the bay. The denser the ice, the bluer the icebergs.
Our skiff drivers were well trained and knew how to read the water keeping us a safe distance from the glaciers and icebergs but getting close enough to give us the thrill of a lifetime.
I could stare at glaciers for hours. And stare at glaciers we did!
An Alaskan cruise also offers a cultural experience.
We landed at Bartlett Cove to visit the Huna Tribal House.
The house was built as a healing totem between the Tlingit People and National Parks services.
It was opened on August 25, 2016, coinciding with the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service.
It took seven years for carvers to carve the house and totems by hand to be opened in time to celebrate the Huna Tinglit clans return to their homeland.
Along the trail, we saw a whale that was killed by a cruise ship in the early 2000s.
This death sparked stricter rules for cruise ships in the area and helped with conservation.
On The Ship
There's plenty to do on the ship too of an UnCruise too.
But I highly recommend it if it's your first time to the North. The polar plunge gives you bragging rights to last a lifetime.
To warm up afterward, there's a hot tub on the top deck. Dave and I went straight to that this time.
Each night after dinner, one of our guides takes the mic to share their expertise with the guests.
We can grab a cocktail and listen to them talk about the flora and fauna of Alaska.
Games and Library
An UnCruise can be as adventurous or relaxing as you choose.
There were many people that took a morning or afternoon off to relax in the lounge to read a book or play a board game.
This is the ultimate vacation and it feels more like a floating cottage than a cruise ship.
On an UnCruise, we felt at home.
Morning Stretch and Yoga
Each morning, you can limber up with a stretch class led by our expedition leader Megan.
She offered a couple of yoga classes throughout the trip as well.
It's a great way to work out the muscles from a day of kayaking or hiking.
The seven days we had on UnCruise in Alaska zipped by.
We had made incredible new friends who felt like family by the end of the trip. We all laughed a lot and bonded over shared experiences that can only be had in Alaska.
When I look back on our time on UncCuise, I will always think of the people we met from around the world and smile. It was the journey of a lifetime.
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Our trip to Alaska was in partnership with UnCruise.
Our Alaska Itinerary was the Alaska Glacier Country cruise. But they have many Alaskan cruise itineraries to choose from.