My coffee is steaming, as is my breath as I exhale in the cold morning air. I’m in Alaska. My home state. I’m back, for the first time in three years, and it’s May 2017. There’s still a bite of winter in the air.
I’m standing aboard the bow of the Safari Endeavour, a ship operated by Seattle-based UnCruise Adventures. When most people think “Alaska Cruise” they don’t think of UnCruise ships. They think of gargantuan white-hulled ghosts that power churn through the waterways of Southeast Alaska in search of whales, wildlife, and wilderness – but often see very little of any because of their heavy ecological footprint.
UnCruise, as their name suggests, approaches cruising differently, seeking to take visitors deeper into a destination than other cruise companies do (or can). I was invited to board the Safari Endeavour in May 2017. In this post (and video, below!), I’ll share my UnCruise Alaska review, giving you a peek inside life aboard UnCruise in Alaska.
This post was originally published in August 2017, and was updated in January 2020. All prices and itineraries should be accurate for the 2020 season.
How to Choose an Alaskan UnCruise Itinerary
Many people want to book an Alaska cruise from Seattle. It’s convenient to fly into Seattle, board a ship, and spend a week cutting a path through the wilderness of Southeast Alaska. If you’re craving an Alaska cruise experience, you’re not alone: nearly 1 million travelers took a cruise from Seattle to Alaska in 2016!
UnCruise offers 9 different itineraries in Southeast Alaska; one of them lets you UnCruise to Alaska from Seattle. They range from 7 to 14 days in length, and can take you all over the Inside Passage. I put together a quick 3-question quiz to help you get a suggestions for which one you might like. Try it and let me know what you think:
Regardless of how long your Alaskan UnCruise will be or where you embark and disembark, UnCruise offers a truly unique cruise opportunity. You will see Alaska as it actually is. Alaska is open and wild and for the most part empty – big ships that cruise through Southeast Alaska can’t reach the coves, bays, and fjords that give you a sense of how huge Alaska is (and how small you are in it).
An Average Day Aboard UnCruise Adventures in Alaska
Curious what the average day is like? Here’s a general recap of the average day on Alaskan UnCruise.
An average day on an Alaskan UnCruise starts with yoga on the aft deck in the chilly morning air. There’s nothing quite like waking up – and warming up – through some yoga on an Alaska morning.
Afterward, I would enjoy my coffee in the lounge or on the forward deck, followed by breakfast in the dining room. The food aboard the Safari Endeavour is on par with every meal I’ve had on other cruises.
After breakfast, you’ll have the opportunity to head out on a morning activity. These activities are announced each evening before by the Expedition Leader for the boat, and you have time to sign up that previous evening. This can be any activity ranging from kayaking to skiff tours to hiking; see the next section of this post for more info about excursions.
Lunch is another indulgent affair, followed by more activities off the ship. One of my favorite parts of my Alaskan UnCruise was how each day our goal was to get off the ship. Bigger cruise companies want you to stay on the ship where you spend more money; UnCruise wants you to experience the destination, and all activities are in service of this goal.
Most people would spend the late afternoon relaxing in their cabin, the open air hot tubs, or the lounge. At 5 pm, Happy Hour would begin as Jimmy, our bartender, unveiled the day’s specialty cocktail.
Dinner was around 6 pm, followed by an evening talk in the lounge on subjects ranging from glaciers to grizzly bears. Then, most people would wander off to bed or stay in the lounge for an additional glass of wine or whiskey.
The rhythm of life on the ship was immediately predictable and reassuring, without ever feeling dull. After a few days, I looked forward to each new phase of the day, and by the end of the 7-night cruise, I was reticent to give up my new lifestyle of delicious meals, adventurous activities, and a lot of lounging around.
Read on to dive into the exact activities and experiences I had on my UnCruise Adventures Alaska trip in May 2017.
My UnCruise Adventures Itinerary: Alaska Fjords & Glaciers
When I cruised with UnCruise in 2017, my itinerary was called “Inner Reaches Eastern Coves;” today it’s called Alaska Fjords & Glaciers. As part of my UnCruise Alaska review, here’s a run-down of the experience each day so you can get a sense for what the whole week was like. My friend Marissa from Postcards to Seattle joined me on this trip, so you may see her in some photos!
It’s important to point out – UnCruise Adventures Alaska itineraries (and all of their itineraries) are flexible. While your ship captain will do their best to follow the route maps UnCruise provided for your itinerary, they will deviate as necessary for whale watching, better weather, and other great experiences.
Day 1 – Embark from Ketchikan
After flying from Seattle to Ketchikan in the morning, Marissa and I explored the small town while waiting to go board our ship. We wandered past the huge cruise terminal, tiny local souvenir shops, and ate at a local bar.
Top Sights & Activities in Ketchikan:
- Creek Street, with its colorful houses suspended above Ketchikan Creek
- Cape Fox Hill Tram, with stunning views as you rise up above the city
- Totem poles, including Totem Bight State Park, Saxman Native Village, or the Totem Heritage Center
Day 2 – Walker’s Cove & Rudyerd Bay in Misty Fjords National Monument
We woke up our first morning as we pulled into Misty Fjords National Monument. With fjords that rival any you’ll see in Norway, mirror-smooth glass, and my favorite type of clouds in the trees, it was the perfect spot for our first off-ship excursion (kayaking!).
Misty Fjords is one of the most stunning spots I’ve seen in Alaska – it’s also a place you’ll never see if you take a big ship cruise!
Day 3 – Bailey Bay in Tongass National Forest
Another day in the Alaskan wilderness, we spent the day doing skiff tours and hiking. This is where we learned the expression “boot sucking mud,” and had our chance to experience it directly.
Day 4 – Port Day in Wrangell
After three days aboard the ship, it was weird to spend most of the day on land in Wrangell, Alaska. Marissa and I spent the morning exploring Petroglyph Beach, where 8,000-year old Tlingit stone carvings were left scattered across the beach. We then learned about more modern Tlingit traditions at Chief Shakes’ House, where local resident Arthur Larsen told us his family history – and heritage.
Top Sights & Attractions in Wrangell:
- Petroglyph Beach, a one-mile walk from the boat terminal, where 40 stone carvings are revealed at low tide.
- Chief Shakes’ House, where you can learn the history of the Tlingit people in the Wrangell area of Southeast Alaska
- Mount Dewey and/or Rainbow Falls trails, both short hikes with equally impressive views.
After dinner, we also passed through Wrangell Narrows, a 22-mile channel that requires small ships to time their passing by the tides. It’s so narrow and shallow, large cruise ships can’t pass through!
Day 5 – Thomas Bay, Scenery Cove, & Baird Glacier off Frederick’s Sound
Among the several bays and coves we visited on this day, Scenery Cove was most aptly named – it was a picturesque spot to soak in the stunning mountains on all sides.
In the afternoon, most people on the boat took a skiff tour to see Baird Glacier. We had to hike across the alluvial plain and various moraines to see the face of the glacier. It was our first glacier encounter (but not our last) and my group was lucky enough to have a glaciologist among us, so we had an extra knowledge boost.
Note: What I really liked about the whole UnCruise experience is that it showed that it takes an effort to see the most beautiful sights in Alaska. Yes, there are glaciers you can cruise right up to, but there’s something special about the ones where you have to pick your path across huge smooth boulders and silky silt to get there.
Day 6 – Frederick Sound & Robert and Crow Islands
If there’s one animal everyone wants to see in Alaska, it’s whales (followed closely by moose and bear). On our day crossing through Frederick Sound, we spent most of the midday dancing with some humpback whales feeding in the area.
While we never saw a breach, we saw plenty of breathing and feeding – and even a mother/calf duo! Afterwards, we set out on another set of afternoon activities, and again I opted for kayaking. It was such a peaceful yet active way to see the land up close.
Day 7 – Endicott Arm, Dawes Glacier & Tracy Arm Wilderness
On our last full day abroad the Safari Endeavour, we had two treats: a bigger glacier encounter, and activity “free time!” First, we spent the morning in the shadow of Dawes Glacier, a massive tidewater glacier whose icebergs we passed for hours leading up to our arrival.
At the glacier, everyone boarded skiffs to navigate the ice-strewn waters to get closer to the face of the glacier. We enjoyed hot chocolate and spotted some harbor seals in the area too. In a week of breathtaking and picturesque moments (yes, two of the most cliched ways to describe it!), this was a grand finale.
Our last afternoon was relatively calm: most people took out kayaks or standup paddleboards at their discretion, took one last dip in the hot tub, or relaxed in the lounge. I opted for the latter.
Day 8 – Disembark in Juneau
We woke up on the last day of our Alaskan UnCruise to disembark in Juneau, the capital of Alaska. It was luckily not a ship day for larger cruise companies, so we had the town to ourselves. Marissa and I met up with Midgi from Juneau Food Tours to explore the blossoming food scene in this tiny town.
After a walk through town and delicious brunch, we boarded a bus to the airport and winged back to Seattle… do we have to go home??
Top Sights & Activities in Juneau:
- Juneau Food Tours, a walking and eating tour of the state capital
- Mount Roberts Tramway, which helps you rise above the city and shows sweeping landscape views
- Mendenhall Glacier, a half-day trip from Juneau that lets you get up close and personal with a popular glacier
- Learn more about the best tours and excursion in Juneau
Notes on UnCruise Adventures Alaska Itineraries
To round out my UnCruise Alaska review, here are a few extra points. These address some of the top questions I’ve received.
By Alaska cruise standards, we had a short route of roughly 700 nautical miles (if my memory serves). For context, most large cruise ships cover up 700 nautical miles in one day. With UnCruise, you spend seven days moving slowly and quietly through the massive waterways of Southeast Alaska, getting a real sense of the beauty of this state.
The other important thing to remember is that UnCruise is different for every single route. Even if you take the same Alaska Fjords & Glaciers route I did, your ship will likely dock in different places, offer different activities, and feature a different crew and menu. UnCruise adapts to Alaska and all it has to offer: some days you may not go hiking because it’s too muddy, other days you may get a special skiff tour that I never had the chance to do.
UnCruise Alaska Excursions & Activities
Despite my love of lounging, the best part of UnCruise by far are the off-ship organized activities and excursions each day. Typically, we had to choose between two or three of several options:
- Skiff (small inflatable boat) Tours
- “Go Getter” Hiking (for the ambitious types!)
- Standup Paddleboarding
Aboard the Safari Endeavour, our Expedition Leader Kent would brief us on the options for the next day just before dinner. He would detail the two or three options and then come around to collect our preferences. The Expedition team would then organize tour groups and departure times – all of our gear was provided by UnCruise, so all we did was show up for whatever adventure awaits!
In addition to organized activities each day, there are a variety of less structured activities aboard the ship:
- Morning Yoga Sessions
- Workout Equipment
- Massage Treatments
- Hot Tubs (Open from After Lunch to Dark)
- Evening Lectures
- Team Trivia
These happened intermittently (or every day) throughout the cruise, and added some relaxing aspects to an otherwise active, adventurous cruise.
UnCruise Alaska Cabins (Peek Inside!)
UnCruise Adventures operates several ships in Alaska each summer; I was aboard the Safari Endeavour and you can also choose from a cruise aboard the S.S. Legacy, Safari Quest, Wilderness Adventurer, Wilderness Discoverer, or Wilderness Explorer. As you can see above, UnCruise Alaska cabins are cozy but sufficient for a night of rest after a day of adventure.
Your cabin is meant to be the place to store your gear and rest – it’s not like larger cruise ships where you might have a couch and other excess space. Instead, you can use the common areas like the salon to lounge during the day.
UnCruise Alaska Prices & Cost
Many people shopping for an Alaska cruise are cost conscious. At first, the price tag for UnCruise made me nervous. After spending a week aboard their ship, I’m confident it’s the best way to see Alaska – and budget friendly. Let’s run some numbers.
Note: For comparison, I chose two popular cruise providers for Alaska. I am comparing their prices and UnCruise Alaska prices currently listed for May 2020 cruises, similar to the one I did.
|Cruise Company||Base Price*||Avg Excursion Price**||Avg Drink Package||Avg Spa Treatment||Total|
|Major Cruise Company A||$1000||$1250||$80||$150||$2480|
|Major Cruise Company B||$1150||$1250||$55||$150||$2605|
*Base Price for single cruiser
**Based on an average of $250 per excursion across 5 average ports per cruise
At the end of the day, the UnCruise Alaska price may create more ‘sticker shock,’ because of the high up front cost – but it creates a more relaxing experience overall. No up-sells, need to consider a drink package, whether that massage is worth it, or which excursions you’re willing to miss. On UnCruise in Alaska, everything is part of the experience, and you get to decide how much you want to do.
If I sound like I’m ‘selling’ UnCruise, it’s because I am! As an Alaskan, I want people to see Alaska the way UnCruise shows it: majestic, vast, and relatively untouched wilderness.
Do you have other questions about my UnCruise Alaska review? Let me know in the comments!
I was hosted by UnCruise aboard the Safari Endeavour. This post was produced in partnership with them.