Skip to Content

UnCruise Adventures’ Wilderness Discoverer Catches Fire in Alaska

UnCruise Adventures’ Wilderness Discoverer Catches Fire in Alaska

Small-ship cruise line UnCruise Adventures confirms no injuries after an engine room fire aboard Wilderness Discoverer in Alaska.

On June 5, 2023, UnCruise Adventures, a small-ship expedition cruise line, confirmed a fire incident aboard the company’s Wilderness Discoverer.

The fire broke out at 7:23 AM ADT (Alaska Daylight Time) on June 5th while the ship was in Glacier Bay National Park. Seventy-eight passengers and crew were onboard, and the company confirms there were no injuries.

The fire was contained to the ship’s engine room.

“We are relieved to confirm that there have been no injuries resulting from the fire. Our highly-trained crew promptly extinguished the fire using established emergency protocols, and CO2 was successfully deployed for everyone’s safety,” shared UnCruise owner and CEO, Captain Dan Blanchard, in a press release.

Wilderness Discoverer, shown here in Takatz Bay, caught fire on the morning of June 5th in Glacier Bay Alaska (image courtesy of UnCruise Adventures)

The company reports that it has conducted a thorough assessment, and there are “currently no discernible environmental impacts within the affected area”.

According to UnCruise, local and federal authorities were promptly notified, and the company is working closely with them to ensure a coordinated response in the area.

Additional vessels from the region promptly assisted with the disembarkation of 51 passengers and 16 crewmembers from the Wilderness Discoverer, with eleven crew remaining onboard.

Related: What is an UnCruise?

UnCruise Adventures has stated it will provide full reimbursements to all passengers who were affected by the incident, as well as lodging and flights home.

The cause of the engine room fire has yet to be determined, and an investigation is now underway. The cruise line states it will work extensively with authorities to undertake a full assessment.

In the press release, UnCruise Adventures extended gratitude for the swift response of emergency personnel and acknowledged the professionalism and composure demonstrated by crewmembers throughout this challenging situation.

This is an ongoing story, and I’ll provide updates as new information becomes available.

UPDATE: June 5, 2023 5:30 PM PDT

UnCruise stated in an updated release that smooth operations continue, with local and federal authorities transporting guests and personnel to Glacier Bay National Park headquarters. All affected guests will receive a full refund, and flights will be provided for guests to return home.

UPDATE: June 7, 2023 1:15 PM PDT

UnCruise stated in an updated release that on June 5th Wilderness Discoverer guests were transferred to Princess CruisesSapphire Princess for a period after the fire was discovered. Guests were then transferred to the Baranof Wind vessel and disembarked at the park headquarters where they were provided flights home and hotels in the interim.

The cruise line also stated that Wilderness Discoverer is repairable and is expected to still sail this season, pending more details on the extent of the areas affected by the fire.

UPDATE: June 9, 2023

On June 9, UnCruise announced significant progress in addressing the engine room fire aboard Wilderness Discoverer.

The company’s internal safety team, along with regulators and underwriters, have inspected the vessel. The heat that started the fire was generated by the port main engine’s wet exhaust mufflers. The heat-damaged region is the size of a small chest freezer and is located on the port side of the engine room between two deep frames.

Outside of this small area, the main source of damage is from smoke and soot. In an updated press release, the company stated that a dedicated team is working hard to speed up the repair procedure and return the ship to her original state. Repairs are being completed with the utmost care and precision, in accordance with the company’s emphasis on safety.

Vigor Shipyard in Ketchikan, Alaska will facilitate the vessel’s repair process.  

In response to the incident, UnCruise Adventures implemented a comprehensive plan to ensure the smooth continuation of guests’ adventure experiences. Additionally, the company will re-accommodate all guests who were booked on Wilderness Discoverer in the coming weeks. Affected guests will be rebooked on a similar vessel.

“We deeply appreciate the understanding and patience demonstrated by our guests during this period. Our team is working tirelessly to minimize any inconvenience caused by the incident and to provide alternative arrangements that maintain the exceptional level of adventure and exploration that UnCruise Adventures is known for,” shared Captain Dan Blanchard. 

About Wilderness Discoverer

UnCruise Adventures’ Wilderness Discoverer, built in 1992, is a 76-passenger expedition cruise ship that runs itineraries from southeast Alaska: Alaska Fjords and Glaciers and Glacier Bay National Park Adventure.

The three-deck ship, with a GRT (gross register tonnage) of just 99, cruises in Alaska at 9 knots (or 10.3 mph). All staterooms on the expedition vessel are oceanview, and the ship boasts an impressive 2.2:1 guest-to-crew ratio.

Read more about UnCruise Adventures

Latest news from the world of cruising

Have you ever been on an expedition sailing with UnCruise Adventures or another small-ship line? What do you think about the fire situation and how UnCruise responded? I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below!

Carrie Ann Karstunen

Allen Franklin

Saturday 10th of June 2023

Hi Carrie Ann. I've been following you for a few years and wanted your unbiased perspective. My wife and I just reached retirement age (I've just retired and she will hopefully next year) One of our retirement travel dreams is cruising in Alaska. We're both fairly healthy and hike most weekends, usually on easy trails around our area. When I read your Uncruise Adventures reviews a few years ago I thought it was perfect for us. But now I'm seeing the ships are old and can catch fire so now I'm not so sure. I'd love to hear your opinion.

Carrie Ann

Tuesday 13th of June 2023

Hi Allen, thanks so much for being a loyal SBC follower! I know that a lot of fans of adventure and expedition cruising were shocked by headlines about Wilderness Discoverer catching fire (I sure was when the news was first released!). A significant shipboard fire is a scary—and pretty rare—situation for both crew and passengers. Thankfully this fire was somewhat small and well-contained, and from what I've learned both the crew members and the company as a whole did an excellent job extinguishing the blaze, notifying guests, and making arrangements for everyone to have a safe place to stay before being transported home.

However, I think that your comment speaks to what a lot of cruisers are thinking: are older ships safe? Can I trust a small-ship cruise line? Yeah, I totally get it. I'm going to give a long-ish response to your somewhat short question—because for each comment I get, I know I'll have hundreds of readers wondering the same thing.

Before I sailed on Wilderness Adventurer (Discoverer's much older sister), I learned she was originally built in 1976. The idea of taking a cruise on a ship that's almost as old as I am (!!) absolutely made me worry. But when I embarked and saw how well the ship was taken care of and how safety-focused each member of the crew was, my fear quickly subsided.

As a full-time cruise blogger, I spend quite a bit of time each day monitoring press releases from cruise lines large and small. Most cruise lines only release positive news and ignore anything that could be considered "bad press". UnCruise wowed me by not only putting out a timely press release about the fire incident, but by continuing to release updates as the situation unfolded.

A fire on any ship can be catastrophic. The small fire incident aboard Wilderness Discovery thankfully wasn't—no doubt because of the excellent training of the ship's crew and officers.

But are older cruise ships safe, you ask? Here's what I have to say about that: the age of a ship's hull and infrastructure is just a number. Just like with a classic car, the important bits are maintained and swapped out when necessary.

Allen, I hope you and your wife enjoy lots of cruises as you travel the world in your retirement. Alaska is one of my favorite places to cruise, and you're both going to love taking in the pristine beauty of this wilderness area. I think that small-ship cruising is the way to go in SE Alaska, especially if you love experiencing the outdoors up close. Happy cruising!