The beauty of Alaska is best experienced on the 49th state’s fabled Inside Passage, the narrow southeastern gulf that stretches for more than 500 miles roughly from north to south in one of the most astounding natural settings in the world. This is a feral spot of raw beauty, and a place that cognoscenti allege flaunts some of the most spectacular scenery in North America.
Newcomers from the Lower 48 (cheechakos, as they’re called in these latitudes) are humbled by the majesty of nature evident at every turn.
Even the briefest inventory of wonders that lie within the Inside Passage can set in motion the idea of packing to the Great North: There are more than 1,000 islands, scores of glaciers tumbling into the water, wide rivers emptying into the sea, bald eagles soaring overhead, and wildlife in quantities and qualities that few will ever experience. The sense of isolation and grandeur is overpowering…the list is as wide-ranging as the sights are unforgettable.
Perhaps the best way to experience the Inside Passage is from the deck of one of the Un-Cruise Adventures vessels that regularly ply the sea-lanes of the ‘Passage carrying an impressive number of repeat visitors who generally return to experience its overpowering scenery.
Un-Cruise Adventures manages to pull off the once-unattainable recipe of adapting sea journeys into gasp-inducing wilderness experiences where personal encounters with exotic wildlife are routine. It then blends it with a dash of eco-tourism and frosts it with the pampering that once was the exclusive territory of luxury cruise lines.
Although the ships are a familiar sight along the waters of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez and Hawaii during the winter months, it’s in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest where Un-Cruise Adventures shines. Its adventure cruises have a particular pull among active, eco-conscious, outdoor loving passengers; the company also encourages family cruising, offering some select dates as Kids in Nature voyages.
Headquartered in Seattle, Un-Cruise Adventures—the line formerly known as both American Safari Cruises and InnerSea Discoveries—practically patented alternative traditional cruises in 1997 after it pioneered the concept of taking small a number of guests into areas traditionally inaccessible to passengers on larger vessels. It’s safe to assert that Un-Cruise Adventures offers exclusive, highly personalized excursions that once seemed unattainable to Alaska visitors.
The re-branding was implemented in January with the combination of the two lines, and according to company officials, the new “name reflects the personal aspect of cruising for which the company is known.”
This season, Un-Cruise Adventures has overhauled its menu by offering three different types of programs: Active, Luxury and Heritage. As such, the company has three yachts dedicated to Luxury Adventures—the 22-guest Safari Quest, the 36-guest Safari Explorer and 86-guest Safari Endeavour—an inclusive, upscale experience along with adventure activities. The 88-guest S.S. Legacy, a replica Victorian steamer, debuts in August and will offer inclusive Heritage Adventures focusing on “Living History” both on board and on shore through presentations and tours. Meanwhile, three expedition vessels—the 60-guest Wilderness Adventurer, the 76-guest Wilderness Discoverer and the 76-guest Wilderness Explorer—offer Active Adventures for those desiring more outdoor explorations at a lower price point.
Un-Cruise Adventures cut the ribbon on expedition-style active exploration of the Inside Passage only three years ago, and the ensuing years have proven that this type of cruising is the most successful and profitable enterprise the company has launched.
Un-Cruise Adventures takes to the waters from Juneau, Alaska’s earthy port that still bears all the flair of a Gold Rush town. The ships forego ports-of-call, focusing instead on anchoring in remote wilderness areas to maximize time for up-close encounters with nature and wildlife. Two days are devoted to explorations along Glacier Bay National Park with a park ranger. In addition, the line offers hiking, kayaking and skiff adventures at nearly every anchorage. What separates Un-Cruise Adventures from other lines specializing in exploring the Inside Passage is the quality of its crews and the highly personalized service that is rapidly becoming its trademark.
“Traveling by small boat is an ideal way to explore remote places,” says Tim Jacox, executive v.p. of sales and marketing. “Instead of [merely] cruising by because of a tight schedule, we offer the flexibility to seek out whales and other wildlife and go where the day takes us for a more in-depth exploration of each destination. We have developed our own style of un-cruising to suit each traveler. We’re experiencing great success with our niche of adventure cruising.”
Adventure cruising comes to life early in the morning in Juneau when the Safari Endeavour lifts anchor to begin a leisurely trek north to seek out spots where wildlife can best be observed and the raw Alaskan beauty is self evident.
Law restricts ships in the Inside Passage to a maximum capacity of 90 berths. The Safari Endeavour, like all Un-Cruise ships, is much smaller than the guidelines, allowing it to carry equipment for the many activities offered its passengers.
Says Kendra Nelson, one of the few female ship captains in the Inside Passage and who commands the Safari Endeavour, “The ships provide a level of experience built for comfort and outdoor activities. Each crew member is an expert in both flora and fauna and will help passengers identify the vast wildlife seen onshore and in the water.”
As a result, Un-Cruise Adventures voyages are extremely casual. These are no trips where ties and coats are de rigueur. Wet weather gear and jeans are the order of the day, yet the ships lack little and mirror the company catchphrase of having “luxury in the pursuit of adventure.”
Every vessel offers delightful personal touches like foam mattresses, fully stocked bars, pastry chefs and excellent galleys that specialize in local dishes heavy on Alaskan seafood. The cabins have outward-facing portholes that reveal Alaska’s singular and dramatic landscapes.
The Safari Endeavour has a wide choice of berths, ranging from a master stateroom with twin beds, desks and chairs. The Captain’s stateroom is a luxurious space with a king bed, desks and chairs, while the Commodore Suite is a large space with a sitting area. All feature double or triple accommodations and have private showers and bathrooms. The ship, in fact, has the feel of a luxury hotel.
The voyages can be as active or as leisurely as the passenger desires and the day is full of activities that suit most tastes. There are nature presentations where experts come from shore to discuss history, culture, wildlife and the environment. All ships have an “open bridge” policy where passengers can discuss the fine points of Inside Passage navigation with the captain and an ample library provides games, books and DVDs.
From the welcoming moment when the crew greets new passengers with champagne and canapes to when the vessel begins to inch its way into remote destinations like Glacier Bay National Park to visit Inuit villages; stops in locations such as Icy Strait, where whales and seals can be seen romping literally at arm’s length; kayaking and hiking excursions to glaciers; visiting rookeries on Baranof Island and other appealing places, Un-Cruise Adventures provides indelible memories.
These are not cruises with lively ports-of-call with nightclubs and boutiques. Instead, the ships traveling the Inside Passage share anchorage with crab and salmon commercial fishing boats, adding an out-of-the-way sense to the adventure.
Very few experiences rival treks into the Inside Passage while receiving first-class service and the long days (in mid-summer daylight in Alaska lasts for more than 20 hours) usually give way to evening relaxation that restores the body after a day of hiking, paddling or merely absorbing the scenery.
The 14-night Famed Passages of Discovery on board the Safari Endeavour is a Luxury adventure that cruises through the Inside Passage of Alaska and British Columbia, floating among the ice-rich waters of Tracy Arm. There’s kayaking, paddle boarding, and skiffing in secluded coves and passages, and a visit to Wrangell’s Chief Shakes Tribal House. Rates start at $6,095 pp and there are departures in August and September.
The 11-night Gold Rush Legacy itinerary on board the S.S. Legacy is a Heritage adventure and during the trip Alaska unfolds before guests’ eyes with a guided narration in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Haines, and Skagway; viewing carved totems; exploring scenic winding channels and straits; and visiting the Whale Museum, shops, and galleries of quaint Friday Harbor. Departures are in August and rates start at $7,895 pp.
Archived related articles:
Small Ship Cruising in the U.S. (March 2012)