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UnCruise Alaska Review – Northern Passages and Glacier Bay

UnCruise Alaska Review – Northern Passages and Glacier Bay

Are you considering a cruise to Alaska? We experienced a seven-day small-ship cruise through Alaska’s Northern Passages and Glacier Bay on UnCruise AdventuresWilderness Explorer. My UnCruise Alaska review covers our day-by-day activities, as well as how this all-inclusive small-ship voyage was so different from a traditional cruise.

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Is an Alaska cruise on your bucket list?

As a former flight attendant and lifelong travel fanatic, I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited almost all fifty US states. But since my airline didn’t fly to Alaska (and I never had any overwhelming desire to go there on my own), it wasn’t a state that I had checked off my list.

Alaska is the number-one destination for US cruises, and so many of my cruising friends had visited the state. Although they all loved their Alaska cruises, I really didn’t think that just viewing the scenery from the deck of a ship was for me.

When I heard about UnCruise Adventures‘ small-ship expedition cruises in Alaska, and how their smaller vessels can go where the large cruise ships just can’t fit, I’ll admit I was intrigued.

Then I saw that all the daily activities are included: guided hiking and kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), skiff tours, and more. All the food and drinks are included? This sounded like the kind of Alaska cruise I’d enjoy.

Read more: What is an UnCruise and is it the Right Vacation for You?

Where did we go on our Alaska UnCruise?

Mr. SBC and I began our Northern Passages and Glacier Bay cruise in Sitka, and it ended in Juneau. During Alaska’s cruise season (which runs from May to September) the Wilderness Explorer‘s route alternates between Sitka and Juneau embarkations. Our sailing was the very last of the season—the final week of September.

Unlike a traditional cruise that stops at ports to let passengers off, an Alaska UnCruise’s itinerary includes secluded bays and marine parks.

Instead of pulling up to a wharf and offloading thousands of cruisers, these small ships (the largest in the fleet holds just 86 guests) drop anchor and ferry up to ten passengers at a time to shore via semi-rigid skiffs.

Northern Passages Glacier Bay Map Key

Day 1: Embarkation in Sitka

On embarkation day, we dropped our luggage off at UnCruise’s suite at Centennial Hall after checking out of our hotel, and did some last-minute sightseeing around Sitka.

Back at Centennial Hall in the afternoon, we met our fellow passengers to board a coach to the cruise port. Upon arrival at the small pier, we were warmly greeted by the crew, including the captain!

Wilderness Explorer docked in Sitka

I was pleasantly surprised at just how friendly and welcoming all of the staff members were. Almost all of the crew were out on the pier, shaking hands with the new passengers and introducing themselves to us.

This was nothing like embarkation on a large cruise ship—there wasn’t a terminal with endless lines to wait in. No long wait to get through security or huge queue for the elevator. We were on the ship within five minutes of exiting our coach.

A crew member then escorted us to our room before the evening’s activities began. She showed us around our stateroom, and explained how to use the heating and cooling unit. Yes, we were 100% in control of the temperature in our cabin! That was definitely a first for me.

We headed over to our first activity, the Champagne reception, to mingle with the other guests and meet more of the crew. Of course, the muster drill (the mandatory safety meeting) was next, before the Wilderness Explorer set sail and we all headed to our first dinner.

Dinner on the Wilderness Explorer

We were all amazed at just how good the food was! Each meal consists of three courses, and there’s a choice of meat, fish, or veggie main course for dinner.

UnCruise pro tip: You can ask for half of one entrée and half of another, or even try all three! Lots of us did this so we could get a taste of everything.

After dinner, we all gathered back in the lounge for cocktails and to listen to an orientation from our Expedition Leader on what to expect over the next week.

Orientation to UnCruise Adventures

On an UnCruise, the Expedition Leader functions as a cruise director, as well as the manager of the Expedition Guides.

He was our go-to guy for questions about any of our daily activities—we’d always see him around the ship making sure our excursions departed on time and ensuring that all the guests knew what was next on the agenda.

During our orientation we also were able to sign up for the next day’s activities, which they call “ops”. Each day there are a few choices for which ops you’d like to do during each activity block.

We chose a meander on the beach followed by a skiff tour around the marine park we’d be visiting. Rather sedate activities, but we wanted to get just a taste of how things worked before jumping into something more adventurous.

Leaving Sitka Harbor on our UnCruise!

Getting to know the other guests

We all had another cocktail after orientation and got to know one another. The guests on our cruise ranged in age from 20s to 70s, and they weren’t all couples! We had a couple of solo cruisers, a mother and daughter, and friends who were traveling together. Most passengers were from the US, but we also met people from the UK, France, and Australia.

Everyone called it a night pretty early, as most of us were planning to get up at dawn so we wouldn’t miss our first 7 AM yoga class!

Day 2: Big Bear Baby Bear State Marine Park

Big Bear Baby Bear State Marine Park is located about 35 miles north of Sitka, near Peril Straits. Its 1032 acres of undeveloped wilderness are only accessible by boat.

It also has the cutest name! Big Bear Bay and Baby Bear Bay are located within the park’s boundaries.

Yoga class aboard the Wilderness Explorer

Arriving on the top deck bright and early for yoga, it was chilly and windy, and the deck was wet—not exactly the best conditions for a yoga class! We were all happy when our instructor let us know that we’d be doing standing stretches and yoga poses because it was too wet to put the yoga mats on the floor.

A little more than half of us joined that first day, and our instructor joked that the first day is always like New Year’s at the gym. We took that as a challenge, and most of our group continued to show up to stretch day after day.

I’ll admit I don’t always love getting up early, but doing warrior pose in the cool morning air overlooking misty mountains isn’t something I can do every day!

Do you have this kind of view from your yoga class at home?

Our first Ops: a meander and a skiff tour

On this first full day of the voyage, I think the crew was trying to ease us into what would become our routine of busy, adventure-filled days! We had our kayaking and bushwhacking orientations in the morning, followed by a 10 AM brunch.

We were already warned that this would be our only day that we didn’t need to wake up super-early to have breakfast before our day got going, but most of us did anyway.

Our two ops were scheduled for the afternoon. We chose to start with the “meander”, which was a walk along the rocky beach to see what creatures we could find.

We found this crystal-clear jellyfish washed up on the shore during our meander

On the rocky seaweed-covered shore we found tiny crabs hiding under the stones and a crystal-clear jellyfish that we each got to hold. But don’t worry, it wasn’t poisonous and it was very dead. Our guide encouraged us to sample a taste of the seaweed. Salty, but good!

We had plenty of time left after our beach meander, so our guide decided that we could do a mini-bushwhack in the forest near the beach. We pushed our way through dense brush to enter the forest and explored for a short time.

As we clambered up an incline, one of our group spotted something odd-looking in the undergrowth. A bear skull! Our guide passed it around so we could all inspect it, and then removed a tooth to send to researchers.

It was just a hint of our bushwhacking adventures to come, and this small taste of exploring Southeast Alaska’s temperate rainforest left me eager for more.

A huge tooth extracted from the bear skull we found

Skiffing around the bay

Our first skiff tour was our next activity, and ten of us, along with our guide and the skiff captain (all of the skiff drivers are licensed captains) climbed into our semi-rigid boat to explore more of the marine park, and hopefully spot some critters!

Our first wildlife encounter was a small pod of little Harbor porpoises! These porpoises are smaller than dolphins, averaging only five feet (1.5m) long and 120 pounds (54 kg).

We stopped to watch them play for a bit, then continued on our way. Our skiff captain mentioned that sometimes they’ll follow along in the skiff’s wake, but our porpoises took no interest as we motored on.

Harbor porpoises are only 4-6 feet long!

We continued on, using our binoculars to scan the water for signs of life. UnCruise provides each cabin with a pair of heavy-duty binoculars, which you’re free to take along on excursions.

Someone’s eagle eyes sighted a moving mass on the water, so we ventured a bit closer. It was a whale! We just caught its tail fluke as it dove deep to look for its next meal.

A whale fluke in Glacier Bay Alaska
A whale’s fluke is a sign that it’s diving deep to hunt for food

Heading back to the ship, our guide grabbed a piece of bull kelp that was floating on the water. With a smile, she took her pocket knife and cut the end off of its thick stem. Placing the other end to her lips, we all laughed as she trumpeted a tune with the seaweed. We all gave it a try. Let’s just say that we won’t be starting a kelp orchestra any time soon!

Playing Bull Kelp UnCruise Alaska
We all tried to make music with the bull kelp on the skiff ride back to the ship

Cocktail Hour on UnCruise Adventures

Each evening there’s a cocktail hour scheduled before dinner in the lounge. Our Expedition Leader used this time to pass along any information we needed for the next day, and what ops would be offered. We had the opportunity to ask questions, and then sign up for our ops.

In case you’re wondering, you can get a cocktail (or beer or wine) at just about any time—not just during meals and the cocktail hour! At least one of our two friendly bartenders was always on hand in the lounge during waking hours to pour whatever you had in mind.

I was pleased to see that they stocked many local Alaskan offerings, including craft beers and spirits.

A nature presentation

After dinner on a traditional cruise, we usually catch one of the production shows, or maybe spend some time in the casino or a bar. We knew that there’d be a nightly presentation on our UnCruise, but we weren’t really sure what they would be like.

Our first presentation, by one of our Expedition Guides, was titled “Underwater Sounds”. I was expecting that perhaps we’d be hearing some whale songs, and I’d soon find myself snoozing in my chair!

Instead, we learned about how various activities of both humans and sea creatures are heard underwater, and how they can affect marine life. We even got to play a guessing game, listening to underwater recordings and trying to figure out what had made each sound.

Day 3: Halleck Harbor

Our third day found us in Halleck Harbor, named in 1869 for Major General Henry Wager Halleck, who was at the time in command at Sitka. The harbor is located in Saginaw Bay on the northern part of Kuiu Island.

We had signed up for a bushwhack in the morning and a skiff tour in the afternoon, preferring to do the more strenuous activity when our energy levels would be higher.

A bushwhack on Kuiu Island

With a mini-bushwhack already under our belts, we were looking forward to an even more adventurous one, and we weren’t disappointed! The day was cool and rainy, so we made sure to layer up and wear all of our waterproof gear.

After landing on Kuiu Island, we battled our way through brush until we were under the forest canopy, nice and dry. Then our adventure began! This time, the terrain was really varied. We encountered steep inclines, a swamp lined with enormous skunk cabbages, and huge fallen trees that we had to climb over (or crawl under).

I was glad to be hiking in my wellies on this day!

A skiff tour around Halleck Harbor

When you’re out on a skiff, or anywhere in the wilderness of Alaska, you never know what creatures you might see. There’s never a guarantee that you’ll see anything, but on this day we were especially lucky.

On our skiff, heading out to see if we can spy any creatures

We spot Humpback whales!

As we cruised around, peering through our binoculars, we heard what would come to be a familiar noise—a whale blow.

We soon spotted a humpback, and then several more. We motored over as close as we could, and counted. There were six of them! There were whales on all sides of us, breaching and fluking as they searched for food.

We all fell completely silent, in awe of the majestic creatures whose home we had the privilege to visit.

Evening presentation

Our evening presentation by one of our Expedition Guides was on a super-interesting topic. He discussed how animals think and feel emotions. As most of us listening were animal lovers, we enjoyed hearing his take on how other creatures perceive the world around them.

Day 4: Takatz Bay & Chatham Strait

On our fourth day, we woke up in Takatz Bay, on the eastern side of Baranof Island. We were excited to do some kayaking in the morning, and in the afternoon the ship would be cruising around Chatham Strait to spot more marine life.

Our first solo excursion: Open Paddle

Our morning activity was Open Paddle, which meant that we could kayak on our own around the bay. We could start and end our self-guided kayaking at any time within the several-hour Open Paddle window.

We had missed the Kayaking 101 class, but our Expedition Leader offered to give us a mini-lesson. I had some kayaking experience, but these kayaks had rudders, which I had never used before. Mr. SBC had never tried kayaking. I think he was a little nervous, but he was trying not to let it show.

We donned our life jackets but opted to skip the provided spray skirts. It was a sunny day, without a rain cloud in sight. We put our rain pants on just in case.

The two-person kayaks were set up on the lower aft deck, in an area the crew called “The Fantail”.

Kayaking off the back of the Wilderness Explorer

The Fantail is essentially a launching area for leaving the ship via skiff, kayak, or SUP. To kayak off the ship, passengers get in their kayaks and the crew helps slide the vessels into the water using the rollers embedded in the floor.

I was worried that it would be a scary experience being slid into the water off the ship, but the transition was extremely smooth.

Then we were off on our own to paddle around the bay! The rudder system on the kayaks took some getting used to, but soon we were off, gliding across the water’s smooth surface. We explored the coves in the bay for about 90 minutes before returning to the ship.

Cruising for wildlife

An afternoon op wasn’t scheduled for this day, leaving us plenty of time to cruise around Takatz Bay and Chatham Strait.

We saw some sea lions, seals, and some fluking humpback whales. But the whales were too busy hunting, and soon disappeared from view.

Sea lions lounging on the rocks

The weather was foggy and damp, and I was about to head back to our toasty cabin to curl up with a book. But suddenly the sun began to peek through the clouds, presenting us with a gorgeous rainbow.

We finally found the end of the rainbow! Didn’t find the pot of gold, though.

Movie night!

Our evening presentation was a short documentary film about Dick Proenneke, a self-taught naturalist who lived alone in the Alaskan wilderness for almost thirty years.

Most of us hooted with scorn at some of his misogynistic views (perhaps that’s why he lived alone?), but we agreed that his skill at creating a home from foraged material and surviving almost entirely off the land was amazing.

Day 5: Neka Bay

On day five we arrived in Neka Bay in the north of Chichagof Island. On this day, we were doing the skiff tour in the morning and the bushwhack after lunch. It wasn’t the order that we preferred, but the scheduling worked out that way. You have to be flexible on this type of expedition cruise!

We tour Neka Bay by skiff

Out on the skiff, we were hoping to encounter more wildlife, and we weren’t disappointed! A pod of seals soon stuck their snouts out of the water close by. Our skiff captain slowed the boat to let us take a better look as the creatures bobbed on the waves.

Rounding a small rocky point, we noticed something unusual—a little house right near the shore! Did someone actually live way out here in the wilderness?

Our guide explained that this is a National Park Service public use cabin. They can be rented for a small charge per night, but visitors are responsible for arranging transportation and provisions. Most are only accessible by a combination of plane, boat, and trail.

A National Park Service cabin you can rent on Chichagof Island

Exploring more of the rocky coastline of the island, our guide asked the skiff captain to get us to shore. She had spotted something that we had to inspect more closely.

Pulling up to the beach, she got out to check what it was. A dead sea lion had washed up on shore!

She guessed that it had been there for at least a couple of weeks. Its decomposing carcass had become a meal for various scavengers. It was a sad sight, but all part of the cycle of life in the wild.

This sea lion carcass had become a meal for various scavengers

A bushwhack to an unusual landscape

Heading out to the island to begin our bushwhack, we were met by a sandy pebbled beach, with starfish dotting the sand in the shallow water. An expanse of marshy meadow lay beyond the beach in front of the forest. It would have been the perfect place for a swim, if it wasn’t so chilly!

This place was unlike any other area that we had visited so far, but once we began to explore the forest it was even more unusual.

After trekking through the forest for several minutes, we suddenly came upon a wide-open, boggy area with only small shrubs and scrub trees punctuating the landscape.

The ground in this area, known as a muskeg, was covered in spongy mosses. The muskeg was dotted with what looked like small, innocent puddles of water.

Our guide warned us not to get too close to these pools, as we could get sucked into the muck below the surface! I’ve seen too many museum displays of mummified bodies that were pulled out of European peat bogs, so I steered clear of the watery patches.

The muskeg, surrounded by forest, was wide open except for shrubs and stunted trees

We carefully made our way to a safe spot to sit and inspect the plant life that created a spongy carpet on the muskeg. The combination of various mosses, mushrooms, and tiny red and green plants was delicately beautiful.

Mosses, mushrooms, and tiny colorful plants carpeted the ground of the muskeg

Continuing to bushwhack through the forest, we made our way back to the sandy beach. The starfish were still waiting for us, and we had the chance to pick them up and inspect them before returning them to their watery habitat.

We were able to hold some of the many starfish we saw in the shallow water

Our evening presentation

After dinner, we all gathered in the lounge to listen to the evening’s presentation. I was excited to hear that the topic was otters! We had seen a few of them on our journey, including a mother cradling her baby on her belly, and two juveniles cavorting on the shore.

I think otters are adorable, and our guide was incredibly knowledgeable. Did you know that sea otters have the thickest fur of any animal? They spend most of their time in chilly water, and without the layer of blubber that keeps other marine mammals warm.

Day 6: Glacier Bay National Park

We were all so excited for the next two days of our journey, because we had finally made it to Glacier Bay!

Glacier Bay National Park is massive—it covers 3.3 million acres. Instead of just cruising around the bay, we were going to have the opportunity to get out and explore, something that large ship passengers just don’t get to do.

We dropped anchor right by a small pier and took the skiffs over to the dock. It had been less than a week since we left civilization, but it seemed so strange to see the fishing and pleasure boats in their slips, and cars in the small parking lot.

We started by taking a short nature walk on one of the trails, where we spotted various mushroom species as well as a spectacular example of a decayed nurse log and its row of baby trees, now mature and standing tall on their exposed roots.

These trees started life as tiny saplings on top of a nurse log—a fallen tree that’s now almost completely rotted away

A sad reminder of the impact cruise ships can have in Glacier Bay

Back on the main trail, we spotted a massive skeleton far in the distance, displayed under a wooden roof. I was initially a bit confused—was this a replica of a dinosaur skeleton, perhaps a creature that once inhabited this place?

As we approached the display, signs told us of its tragic story. These were the remains of Snow, a 45-foot, pregnant humpback whale hit and killed by a large cruise ship in 2001. The ship was found to not have been operating in a safe manner and was hit with a hefty fine.

Today, strict National Park Service regulations are in effect for cruise ships to protect the whales, including the endangered humpbacks. Speed and distance limits are enforced, and all ships must carry a Park Service staffer on board while in the area.

The skeleton of Snow, a humpback whale tragically killed by a cruise ship in 2001

A Tlingit partnership

Glacier Bay National Park is the ancestral home of the Huna Tlingit tribe, and the National Park Service along with the tribal government now work cooperatively to ensure that Tlingit culture is represented on the land.

We paid a visit to the Huna Tribal House, a 2015 building representing the clan houses that once lined the shores of this cove.

Along the trail to the Tribal House, we were able to stop and see various expressions of the Tlingit culture, including tree carvings, totem poles, and a dugout canoe.

The Huna Tribal House was built at Bartlett Cove in 2015

We visit the Ranger Station and see (a few) other humans!

We had a chance to briefly visit the Bartlett Cove Ranger Station and chat with the rangers stationed there. They do have WiFi available on their enclosed deck (which many of us took advantage of), as well as maps, pamphlets, and a small selection of books and souvenirs.

Bartlett Cove Ranger Station

We learned that Bartlett Cove is a popular camping location, and it’s often cited as one of the best places to camp in the US.

Back on board the skiff to return to the ship, we were joined by our Ranger, Becca, who would be with us on the Wilderness Explorer for the rest of our trip around Glacier Bay.

We then sailed north to see our first two glaciers close up: the Grand Pacific Glacier and Margerie Glacier.

Grand Pacific Glacier

The Grand Pacific Glacier is visible from the Tarr Inlet and extends back 25 miles (40 km), so it’s a pretty large glacier! The Grand Pacific is covered with a layer of rock from landslides and glacial debris, so it’s definitely not an example of a beautiful, clean-looking glacier.

Although the rocky coating makes it look dirty compared to the icy-blue glaciers I was picturing, the rocks provide a layer of insulation. Glaciers with such a coating are often thicker and melt more slowly than uncoated glaciers.

The Grand Pacific Glacier isn’t the prettiest, but its size is impressive

Margerie Glacier

Continuing back out of Tarr Inlet, we stopped to take a good look at the smaller, but prettier Margerie Glacier.

Margerie is one of the most frequently visited glaciers in Glacier Bay. It was declared a National Monument in 1925, and later, in 1980, a National Park and Preserve. UNESCO made Margerie Glacier a World Biosphere Reserve in 1986, and then a World Heritage Site in 1992.

Although most tidewater glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park have been receding, Margerie is currently considered to be stable.

The icy-blue Margerie Glacier is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Some of us become Junior Rangers

Throughout the afternoon and evening, we were treated to presentations in the lounge by our Ranger Becca. We learned about the wildlife that we’d likely be seeing in Glacier Bay.

Our Ranger was a wealth of information about the creatures that inhabit Glacier Bay. She had brought along visual aids, including laminated sheets identifying the various species, and pelts from several marine mammals for us to touch.

Although we had no children aboard, she also had a supply of Junior Ranger workbooks that she invited us to complete. Crayons and pencils were passed around, and there were many takers!

A completed workbook would earn you a Junior Ranger badge, and many of our companions eagerly worked to earn their prize.

Ranger Becca swears in the newest group of National Park Junior Rangers

Spotting wildlife in Glacier Bay

We sailed around Glacier Bay for several hours, enjoying its abundance of wildlife and drinking in its spectacular natural beauty. I was thrilled to spot so many animals, including a mama bear and her cub!

I had been hoping that we’d see bears, and I was thankful that our sighting was from the safety of the ship.

Other animals we saw included wooly white mountain goats, more whales, dolphins and seals, and huge groups of Steller sea lions congregating on the rocks.

The sea lions were entertaining to watch, and their bellowing calls sounded almost human. Like a massive collection of groaning old men! But their odor was incredibly strong, driving many of us to retreat inside to watch from the comfort of the lounge.

A Steller sea lion haulout—quite a loud and stinky bunch!

Bird species included Kittlitz’s Murrelets, Black-legged Kittiwakes, and Glaucous-winged gulls. We all appreciated Becca’s lecture on how to identify and distinguish between the various birds, and we were able to put our newfound knowledge to use right away.

Disappointingly, we didn’t see any puffins, as it was too late in the season. Horned and Tufted Puffins are more common in Glacier Bay from May until the end of summer. After raising their young, Glacier Bay’s puffins spend their winters out at sea.

Day 7: Glacier Bay National Park

On our last full day of our Alaska UnCruise, we decided to go all out and do back-to-back bushwhacks (with lunch in between, of course). The reason why? We’d be able to visit both Lamplugh Glacier as well as Reid Glacier.

I wasn’t sure how close we’d be able to get to either glacier. I figured that our best bet to get out on top of at least one of the glaciers would be if we hiked out to both!

Lamplugh Glacier

Our first adventure was to Lamplugh Glacier, one of the gorgeous blue-and-white glaciers that immediately comes to mind when you think of Alaska. At its base is a small pool, and we were later able to watch as the glacier “calved” huge chunks into the water below.

As we approached the glacier, we had time to investigate what’s known as a glacier garden. Huge chunks of ice that had fallen off of the glacier littered the beach, melting slowly in the sun.

We hiked up the rocky landscape beside the glacier to get a better view. For once there was actually a clear path where others had gone before us, but the steep, rocky slope was still quite challenging.

Reaching the top, I looked out over the glacier. We definitely weren’t going to be able to hike out on top of this one! Deep crevasses scarred its surface. But we still enjoyed the view of this beautiful glacier, as well as seeing Glacier Bay from such a lofty vantage point.

The surface of Lamplugh Glacier is pitted with deep crevasses in the ice

Reid Glacier

After lunch, we got back on the skiff to head out to Reid Glacier. This was definitely a “dirty glacier”. The approach to the glacier was another now-familiar rocky beach, but this time the rocks had been worn smooth by the glacier’s movement.

Making our way across the rocky terrain and up a slope, I could see that my dream for this trip might actually be fulfilled! The top of Reid Glacier was smooth, with none of the treacherous crevasses we had seen at Lamplugh.

The view from on top of Reid Glacier

Reid Glacier looked almost like desert sand dunes instead of ice. Our Expedition Guide led us up on top of the massive glacier, explaining that it was only the second time that year that a group was able to go out on top of it. We felt incredibly fortunate to be among the lucky few!

The Polar Plunge

As soon as we returned from our second glacier trip, it was time to change into swimsuits for an UnCruise tradition: the Polar Plunge! Mr. SBC had mentioned that he wanted to do it, and I had heard a couple of other passengers mention that they were also going to jump into the bay.

Was I going to do it? Heck no! The temperature that day was around 50°F (10°C) and the water temperature was in the low 40s. I can’t stand being cold, so I changed into my cozy sweats and grabbed my camera. Someone had to take pictures of this, right?

Back down at the fantail, I was shocked to see how many people were suited up to take the plunge. There were only about five of us, all clutching our cameras, who weren’t jumping in.

All the Polar Plungers agreed that the water was frigid, but that their dunking made the 50° air feel positively toasty afterward.

A slideshow of memories

We were definitely worn out after our exciting day, but we were looking forward to our evening’s activity: a photo presentation showing highlights of our journey.

Each of our guides had been taking pictures throughout the trip, of both the guests and of the beautiful and interesting things we had come across in our travels.

Sadly, it meant that our trip was coming to a close, but I enjoyed seeing the recap of our adventures with our new friends.

Before we left Glacier Bay National Park, we said our goodbyes to our Ranger, and made a quick stop to drop her off at the Ranger station.

We finally try the hot tub

Wilderness Explorer is too small to have a swimming pool, but it does have a hot tub! It was a pretty popular spot as well—it seemed like every time we peeked out on deck during the evenings, it was packed.

On the last night of our cruise, the hot tub wasn’t quite as busy, so we were able to give it a try. It’s located right on the forward deck, and it’s a traditional, six-person hot tub with a hinged cover, just like you might have on your own patio.

Wilderness Explorer‘s hot tub is set up to be self-service—just open the lid if you want to get in, and shut it when you leave.

Mr. SBC and I love relaxing in the hot tub when we cruise, and we especially liked that there aren’t any restrictions as to when it can be used.

So many times on large cruise ships, the crew closes the hot tubs super-early. We like to go in after dinner, and we’re often met by nets or ropes closing off the tub for the night. Not on the Wilderness Explorer!

The hot tub on Wilderness Explorer can be used at any time!

Northern Lights!

We knew there was a chance that we could see the Northern Lights on our sailing. The crew even mentioned that they’d make an announcement over the PA system if they spotted them.

I had somehow never seen the Northern Lights before! Along with walking on top of a glacier, seeing the Aurora Borealis was another one of my wishes for this trip. I had just about given up on seeing them, as our cruise was coming to an end. I was starting to change into my PJs when the announcement came.

All of us rushed to the aft of the ship to get a look at the swirling colored lights in the sky over the mountains. The sight was absolutely gorgeous, and Glacier Bay might be the perfect place to see it—there’s no light pollution to obscure the view.

The Northern Lights in Glacier Bay Alaska
I wish I had grabbed my tripod to do a long exposure for the Northern Lights, but I wasn’t even expecting to see them!

Day 8: Arrival at Juneau and disembarkation

We arrived in Juneau well before dawn on the last day of our cruise. I was awakened by a week’s worth of text messages and notifications on my phone as we re-entered an inhabited area!

“Uggh,” I thought. “Back to civilization.”

We had to have our luggage outside of our door by 7:30, just before breakfast. I loved the fact that we didn’t need to put our bags out the night before, as you do on larger cruise lines.

Having heard so many stories of people packing all of their shoes (or worse, all of their clothes) in their luggage and having no access to them when they disembark, I’m always super-worried that I’ll accidentally put something I really need in my suitcase. It was really nice to be able to keep our bags until the morning!

After our final breakfast and goodbyes to the crew, we disembarked and headed across the street to Juneau’s Centennial Hall to pick up our luggage. We were sad to leave the ship and our new friends, but excited to explore a new city!

What did we think of our Alaska UnCruise?

Mr. SBC and I had SO much fun on our Alaska UnCruise. There were two things that he said to me as we were packing our bags that sum it up better than I can. First, he said, “You know, this was really the trip of a lifetime. But I want to do it again.”

And, “This was the first vacation where I really felt relaxed. Like, I don’t need more time off to recover from my vacation.”

I completely agree with him!

What took some getting used to on our UnCruise

As an avid large-ship cruiser, there were lots of things on our UnCruise that were really different than on a typical cruise experience. I enjoyed many of the differences, but there were a few things that forced me to shift my mindset a bit.

Here’s what I noticed on our UnCruise Adventures sailing that surprised me:

There’s not much downtime

Traditional cruises have sea days interspersed with the port days. I usually pack a lot into our days in port, so sea days are my time to relax and recover from our adventures. We didn’t have any sea days on our UnCruise, and our active daily ops were often physically demanding.

I found that going to bed really early and getting up at dawn was the best way to recharge ourselves.

You don’t always know which activities will be offered

One of the activities that I was looking forward to was snorkeling (in wetsuits, of course) in Glacier Bay. Since our cruise was so late in the season, the snorkeling activity wasn’t offered. However, they did have the Polar Plunge!

I wish there had been more “open paddle” kayaking ops, where you can go at your own pace. I enjoy kayaking, but I’m not very strong.

Mr. SBC had never tried kayaking before. Because of these reasons, I knew it would be a bad idea to try to keep up with a group on a guided activity.

There are no printed itineraries

UnCruise really makes an effort to be environmentally friendly, which I appreciate. Because of this, they don’t print out daily itineraries for each stateroom. So, it does take a little more effort to keep track of what time each activity begins.

My tip? Use your phone to take a picture of each of the activity times that rotate on your television each day, as well as the ops schedules they post each morning on the wall.

What we especially loved about our UnCruise

There was so much that we enjoyed about our Uncruise! In addition to being able to enjoy the beauty of Southeast Alaska by small ship, there were several factors that set UnCruise Adventures apart from other cruise lines we’ve sailed with.

The food was absolutely amazing

We didn’t have a single meal that we disliked, and all the other guests were raving about it as well. The cuisine was upscale without being too fancy, and I appreciated that locally-sourced ingredients were used wherever possible.

We were never hungry, which had been one of my worries before embarking on this journey. There was always some kind of snack available outside of meal times. We definitely did some snacking with all of the active adventures we had!

An UnCruise is all-inclusive

All of your meals, beverages, and activities are included on an UnCruise. There isn’t even the temptation of shopping, casinos, or the spa to separate you from your money! It was so refreshing to know that we wouldn’t have to think about paying for any extras throughout our entire cruise.

Getting up-close with nature

We both really enjoyed how close we were able to get to the wildlife in Glacier Bay, without disturbing them. All of the crew were dedicated to making sure we had plenty of time to watch and take photos whenever we saw critters—which was pretty often!

Having the opportunity to do several bushwhacks in the wilderness was another highlight of our cruise. The guides were so knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna, and were very safety-conscious. We were in bear country, so having bear safety briefings (and knowing they had bear spray!) let us enjoy the rainforest with confidence.

Our crew was wonderful

Unlike the larger cruise ships that we usually sail on, the crew-to-passenger ratio on Wilderness Explorer was about 1:1. There was always someone around to answer any questions we had, and we never had to wait long for anything we needed. Plus, all of the staff were energetic and fun to talk to—they obviously enjoy their jobs.

Why I’m glad we took an UnCruise, and not a traditional cruise in Alaska

By the time the first full day of our cruise came to a close, I realized why everyone wants to take an Alaska cruise—it’s breathtakingly, stunningly beautiful.

Now that I appreciate Alaska’s beauty, I’m so glad that I was able to experience even a small part of it up close.

Rainbow over mountains and Glacier Bay from deck of UnCruise ship in Alaska
We saw so many insanely beautiful rainbows on our UnCruise in Glacier Bay Alaska!

Large cruise ships are limited as to where they can go in the Inside Passage. A traditional cruise ship can’t fit in the narrow waterways that we visited, and it can’t just stop in front of a glacier to let its passengers off to get a better look.

Glacier Bay National Park is an area that many cruise ships visit. But there’s nowhere for large cruise ships to dock in Glacier Bay!

Visiting on a large ship means you’ll just be cruising around, peering at the glaciers and the wildlife from afar. Having the opportunity to actually get off the ship and experience what Glacier Bay has to offer is an experience that’s truly priceless.

You may also like: What to Pack for an Alaska Cruise – Plus Free Packing List!

I’d like to thank UnCruise Adventures for hosting Mr. SBC and me on a seven-night Alaska UnCruise aboard the Wilderness Explorer. As always, my opinions are my own.

Have you ever been on an Alaska cruise? Did you take a large ship or a small ship? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!

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Wednesday 4th of March 2020

Now this type of cruising sounds much more me. I’m not really a fan of the giant ships. But I love small ships, this trip sounds great. I have to admit, I’ve not heard of Uncruise before. And visiting Alaska has appealed to me far more than some US states, mainly for the nature.

Carrie Ann

Wednesday 4th of March 2020

The small-ship experience is so different than on the mega-ships. I hope you get to try one in Alaska!


Saturday 7th of December 2019

That’s funny- I feel the same way about visiting Alaska but I’ve heard amazing things from others & it’s confirmed with this post I need to go! Amazing jellyfish & bear tooth find also! :)

Carrie Ann

Sunday 8th of December 2019

Hi Stefanie, glad I’m not the only one who thought, “Go to Alaska? Meh.” I promise you that if you go, your mind will be changed just like mine was :D


Thursday 5th of December 2019

Wow looks like you had a great time! Alaska is definitely on my bucket list and now I’m considering this cruise :)

Carrie Ann

Thursday 5th of December 2019

We really did have a great time! I hope you get to go on the cruise - everyone on the ship really enjoyed the experience.

Undercover Travel Agent

Wednesday 4th of December 2019

I want to go to Alaska so bad! I’m so jealous.

Carrie Ann

Wednesday 4th of December 2019

I hope you can get there one day! It’s such a beautiful state. Thanks for stopping by! :D

Ketti Wilhelm

Tuesday 19th of November 2019

Great article, I feel like I was there! I especially like that you talked about the differences between the glaciers you visited. I didn't really know there were such differences, and most other writers don't mention that kind of detail.

Anyway, I still can't believe we missed each other by just a few hours in Juneau! But since I didn't make it to Sitka or any of the other spots on your itinerary, I feel like reading this has just doubled the amount of Alaskan ground I covered!

Carrie Ann

Monday 2nd of December 2019

Thanks, Ketti! I’m glad you could “see” a little more of SE Alaska through my post! :D It’s too bad I was flying out of Juneau right as you were flying in - what are the odds that we’d both be in the same city, thousands of miles from where either of us lives, on the same day?