Monday, June 13, 2016

An Un-Cruise Adventure in Alaska

I've been so busy over the past couple of weeks that I haven't had a chance to share any stories from my recent trip to Alaska, a place that remains one of the best wilderness destinations on the planet. In terms of outdoor adventure and vast sections of land that remain widely unexplored, it is tough to top Alaska. Whether you like skiing, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, or kayaking, you'll find some  amazing places to pursue those activities. But my trip was a different kind of Alaskan adventure, one that many take on an annual basis, the very popular Alaskan cruise.

Now, before you start to think that this adventure blogger has gone soft, let me quickly point out that this wasn't your typical Alaskan cruise. Far from it in fact. I was invited to take part in a cruise through the Inside Passage with Un-Cruise Adventures, a company that does things a little differently than the mainstream cruise lines that most people use while visiting the area. How so you ask? Well, for starters the Un-Cruise fleet is made up of small ships, which means rather than sharing the vessel with hundreds – if not thousands – of other passengers, there were only about 70 travelers aboard my ship, the surprisingly well equipped Wilderness Explorer

This small ship experience allowed everyone on board the ship to interact with one another, getting to know everyone else to some degree. This was especially enhanced when we shared stories around the table during meal time, but also when travelers joined one another on some of the active excursions that are a part of the Un-Cruise itinerary as well. Unlike other Alaskan cruises, passengers don't just stay onboard the ship the entire time, often heading on shore to take a bushwhack hike or to board a kayak to paddle the clear, crisp waters that are found throughout the Inside Passage. Other options for exploring the area included guided walks along the beach, stand-up paddleboarding outings, and skiff tours aboard Zodiac inflatable boats.

Personally, I'm not much of a cruise traveler. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you probably already know that I enjoy being active during my travels and prefer visiting places that I can explore under my own power. On an Un-Cruise you can do just that, thanks to the challenging hikes and great sea kayaking opportunities that actually allow you to get closer to the breathtaking Alaskan landscapes that are such a big draw to visitors.


Speaking of which, the Inside Passage delivered beautiful views at an astounding rate. Before going, I knew that the southeast section of Alaska was well know for its beautiful coasts, but even with that knowledge in mind, I was still surprised and astounded at what I found there. Snow capped peaks, rocky coves, icy fjords, towering waterfalls, and dense rainforest are all part of what you'll find there, with those elements coming together to create a place that is utterly unforgettable. More than once, I remarked that the places we were visiting looked like the should only exist in photos, but yet there they were splayed out in front of us.

Glacier Bay National Park was one of the crown jewels of the trip of course, giving us a chance to get close to some massive walls of ice that still exist in this part of the world. Most of the glaciers there are in full-retreat, but they remain impressive nonetheless. But over the course of the week, we continually came across gorgeous landscapes that are only accessible by boat. Some of those locations were so amazing that they easily rank amongst the most beautiful places I've ever seen, which is saying a lot when you consider some of the great places I've been privileged enough to visit over the years.

In addition to breathtaking landscapes, Alaska is also known for its great wildlife, and my Un-Cruise adventure didn't disappoint in that area either. On our second day out of Juneau for instance, we spotted a pod of orca whales that we watched for nearly an hour. Over the course of the week, we also had encounters with bears (often with cubs!), moose, mountain goats, seals, sea lions, mink, sea otters, bald eagles, and countless other species of birds. If you're like me, and love wild animals in their natural environments, the Un-Cruise won't disappoint in this department either.

Another example of how Un-Cruise differs from the standard Alaskan cruise is that while there is a detailed plan and itinerary for your travels with them, that plan often changes on a moment's notice. For example, one of our days out on the water our captain made the decision to travel 85 miles out of our way just to track down a pod of humpback whales. This was much to the delight of the passengers aboard the Wilderness Explorer of course, as we spent a great deal of time watching these amazing creatures swim through the area. We even witnessed several impressive breaches, as the whales leapt from the water to give us an even better view. It was a memorable experience to say the least, and one that we all appreciated.

My wife – who accompanied me on the trip – and I also had another memorable encounter with an animal while on a guided sea kayak excursion. One afternoon we went out on the water for a couple of hours, and while we had the opportunity to watch a brown bear and her cubs grazing in the grass along the shore, we later had an even better moment with a member of the local wildlife. While paddling, we had a harbor seal following us around for 45 minutes or an hour, occasionally poking his head out of the water to see what we were up to, and even swimming directly under our kayak. He was a cute and curious little fellow, and it was one of the highlights of our entire trip.

As you can no doubt tell, I had a wonderful time in Alaska, and a lot of that has to do with how professional and prepared the team from Un-Cruise were. The staff on our ship kept us well informed at all times of what was happening, and did an outstanding job of organizing our active excursions. On top of that, our cabins were always impeccably clean and the meals were delicious and plentiful. In short, it was tough not to come away impressed, and if I were recommending a cruise through the Inside Passage, I can't imagine doing it any other way than with Un-Cruise. Anything else is just sitting on a ship and watching the world go by.

Un-Cruise doesn't just operate in Alaska. The company also offers departures to the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, Panama, Mexico, and beyond. To check out all of their options, visit Un-Cruise.com.

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