UnCruise Adventure – “We Stop for Wildlife, Weather and Whim”

categories: USA Travel
Un-Cruise Adventures

It was obvious that something interesting had just happened. All the people on the bow suddenly moved to the right side of the boat and started pointing. It could only be bears.Word quickly spread throughout the ship. Two black bears were grazing down by the waterline. We had sailed up a tidal inlet in Alaska’s Glacier Bay hoping for just such a wildlife sighting, but some of the passenger’s forgot for a moment to speak in the quiet tones we had been instructed to use so that we wouldn’t disturbed the bears. They squealed instead. The boat stopped so we could watch the bears for 10-15 minutes, because whatever the published schedule might be, the schedule of UnCruise’s Safari Endeavor is subject to “wildlife, weather and whim”.

Black Bears in Glacier Bay National Park

Black Bears in Glacier Bay National Park

One of the big draws for tourists in Alaska is wildlife, but a small boat excursion like the Safari Endeavor promises a more up close look in more out of the way places than the big cruise ships can offer. With just 84 passengers it can sneak into small bays. It can also spend the night inside of Glacier Bay National Park while the two big ships allowed in per day have to exit the park by nightfall.

A smaller boat like the Safari Endeavor can’t offer the big stage shows, a pool, or a climbing wall. It also has only one seating for dinner and your dessert choice is often just “yes” or “no”. You don’t dress for dinner, there are no bingo games, and no art auctions. You can’t buy tanzanite on board and our specific cruise from Juneau to Glacier Bay and the other islands and inlet’s around Juneau didn’t make a single stop at any other towns for a week. This is not the cruise to take if you are looking for shopping. It does have an easy dock to more easily launch and recover a swarm of sea kayaks.

Easy Dock makes kayaking easier

Easy Dock makes kayaking easier

My wife and I arrived on the Safari Endeavor with just two carry-on suitcases. With no need to bring clothes for a formal night or even semi formal or smart casual, we packed lighter. Admittedly, some people brought their own raingear and rubber boots which are de rigueur on an expedition ship. We borrowed our gear from the ship at no additional charge. The cost of the voyage includes the gear, the excursions, an open bar, one massage, and a pair of binoculars in the room for wildlife spotting.

Safari Endeavor

Safari Endeavor

One of the notable differences in the crew versus a larger cruise ship is that they were almost entirely American-born. I am used to crews on a larger ship being from the Philippines and Indonesia. A more significant difference is that instead of using local guides for shore excursions an UnCruise ship brings a complement of guides. For our two days in Glacier Bay they were augmented by a park ranger who came aboard. Each night one of the guides gave a talk. We heard about local birds, the voyages of John Muir to Alaska, and researching the Juneau Ice Fields. Granted one of these talks got interrupted by  sighting pods of humpback whales and orcas.

The expedition crew are knowledgeable. They took us on guided kayak trips or bushwhacks through the landscape southeastern Alaska.  They explained how glaciers work from a zodiac near the base of one. They spotted bald eagles or pointed out to avoid the devil’s club brush.

An up close look at glacial ice at Endicott Arm

An up close look at glacial ice at Endicott Arm

A bushwhack is something like a hike except without marked trails unless they are game trails. In some spots it meant pushing through the scrub or waiting across creeks are small rivers. We did an all day bushwhack in Geekie Inlet in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park. We spotted fresh moose and bear tracks, although did not add to this an up close and personal encounter with either.
Bushwhacking

Bushwhacking

The stewards both served our dinner and tended to our cabins. They did so with unflagging warmth and hospitality. The whole crew was hard-working but they seem to enjoy the fringe benefits of a paddleboard or a kayak in a secluded Alaskan bay in their few off-hours. Even the captain took a break to pilot one of the skiffs to pick us up from a long bushwhacking experience. He greeted us at the beach at Geekie Inlet  with cold beers and hot chocolate.
Safari Endeavor at Endicott Arm (the ice is 200' tall)

Safari Endeavor at Endicott Arm (the ice is 200′ tall)

An UnCruise experience is not for everyone. We were guests of the on cruise PR’s public relations agency, but the normal cost of the cruise starts at $4700 per person. While the cost may be prohibitive for some, a bigger barrier would be the necessary sense of adventure. The youngest passengers on our cruise were in their 20s, but the oldest defied categorization by age. As we climbed a steep moss covered hill in Endicott Arm one of the women in front of me was gray-haired and looked like someone’s grandmother. She was bushwhacking with the rest of us, her sense of adventure seemingly undiminished by age. I can only hope that’s me in 20 years.Did we enjoy our experience? Well… before it was over we put down our deposit on another cruise. My wife has in mind the same ship and crew but in the Sea of Cortez off Baja California when some of the same whales we saw are calving. Care to join us?

Un-Cruise Adventure Cruise - Wildlife, Hiking and Kayaking in Alaska

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by Chris Christensen

I am the host of the Amateur Traveler. The Amateur Traveler is an online travel show that focuses primarily on travel destinations and what are the best places to travel to. It includes both a weekly audio podcast, a video podcast, and a blog.

5 Responses to “UnCruise Adventure – “We Stop for Wildlife, Weather and Whim””

casacaudill

Says:

We took a two-week cruise aboard Un-Cruise’s Wilderness Discoverer last May and I am still staring at the pictures I took with longing. It was one of the most amazing vacations of our lives, and we take 2-3 “big” trips a year. I would strongly encourage anyone who has the interest + the money to book a trip with this company.

Amanda

Says:

We just received confirmation that we’re booked on a 2 week cruise next year. Casacaudill, your Blog is what got us hooked on UnCruise!! many thanks for that!!

Susan

Says:

We are going on the same trip the end of July and appreciate your comments. Still trying to decide about taking hiking boots/footwear-water shoes-They suggest a waterproof backpack for taking things on hikes etc. Did you find you wanted one? Any other suggestions for items to pack? Thank you.

chris2x

Says:

Southeast Alaska usually gets a lot of rains so the idea is that you might be hiking in the rain or bushwhacking. It just so happened the week we were there was unusually sunny.

Jan Davidson

Says:

See you in 2018!

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