I made a commitment to myself to visit Alaska each summer and I've been successful so far. This year was by far the best trip I've ever had. I am not a fan of the big ship concept in Alaska. I want to see and enjoy the true Alaska and have seen how quickly a large ship in port can disrupt the entire experience. For this reason I restrict my travels to small ships that allow me to see and do things with minimal exposure to the unnatural side of life. My trip on Un-Cruise this year was aboard one of their luxury vessels, the Safari Endeavour. I learned that their luxury yachts are named "Safari ..." and their adventure yachts are names "Wilderness ..."
The ship was in excellent shape and was immaculate. The accommodations are what you would expect on a small luxury yacht, cozy yet ample, well-tended and the beds extremely comfortable. I slept like a rock. There is an iPod docking station in each cabin but no television or phone. What a concept to actually get to spend quality time with nature outside of our "connected" world. My husband's birthday occurred half-way through the trip and I was able to get cell service for a brief time to make a quick call. The crew are all very familiar with where and when cell service should be accessible. Don't expect it every day. There is room under each twin bed for storing suitcases and a large closet with lots of drawer space which was way more than I needed. I've read other comments about the small cabins and onboard noise and my only comment is that sailing with Un-Cruise is like cruising on a private yacht. You will always have smaller cabins, engine noise and moderate vibration which are normal and expected for the mode of transport. The smaller cabins more than make up for having to deal with 3,500 of your new best friends on the mega cruise ships and the engine sound actually works like white noise lulling me to sleep.
The big plus was the included massage much needed after the glacier assaulted me and the two hot tubs that were the perfect spot for viewing the scenery each evening. My cabin was the closest to the hot tubs and what a plus that was. Since you are very active all day, most guests call it a night at a reasonable hour so foot traffic noise was never an issue.
The hotel and dining staff proved themselves to be the most professional I have encountered on a small ship. I do not throw this out lightly. Everyone went above and beyond to insure that each and every guest had all of their needs and preferences met. They were all personable and friendly while still maintaining a professional image which is next to impossible to achieve in this environment. I was very impressed that they pulled it off. The chef was creative in her menu and the food well presented. I was really glad to see the portions sensible preventing waste. This was a first for me and left a lasting impression. Meals on the luxury ships are served off the menu in the dining room (as opposed to buffet lines) and the food was fabulous. I believe meals on the Un-Cruise adventure boats are served buffet-style. The bar staff did a great job of keeping us hydrated and smiling. They were always quick and very funny. Since the environment is cozy, we all seemed to congregate in the salon which is where the bar is located. This is the perfect place to start your morning as hand-drawn cappuccino/latte/espresso is also available from the bartender/barista.
Our departure in Juneau was the sole port since our experience focused on secluded coves and unimaginable beauty. We rarely saw another ship and felt as though we alone had the Inside Passage to ourselves. This does not mean that there was ever a feeling of isolation, quite the contrary. The small ship experience affords what I aptly term summer vacation for adults although there were families onboard which added to the fun. It is a place where people come together to have a jolly good time and would be perfect for the small group that you host. For me its the perfect opportunity to get to know like-minded adventurers and share in various activities including kayaking, paddle boarding, glacier assaults and good old-fashioned hikes. Dress is very casual so ladies, you can leave the Jimmy Cs & Christian Ls at home. I dressed head to toe in REI and Ex-Officio. My one recommendation is a good pair of mucking boots although they are supplied if needed. I bought mine (Smoky Mountain Amphibian rubber-neoprene) a few years ago at a local feed store and they come in handy for wet landings on the skiff. I wore them daily.
The exploration staff leading our journey were all experienced and then some and one of the exploration guides, also a college professor in Oregon, was the most knowledgeable Ive ever encountered. I learned more on this trip than all seven previous combined. They were always on hand to offer assistance or help introduce you to a new sport. New to kayaking no problem. Theres an introductory demonstration and once in the water, everyone seems to encourage and help each other. Ive kayaked for years but a simple word of encouragement to a newbie went a long way. Everyone was very active.
Our Captain, Jenna Stevens, was also a surprise and she, too, left a lasting impression. She was out there pitching in with the guides getting the skiffs ready to launch always with a smile and kind word. She was available when needed and always looking out for the guests. Im not exaggerating when I say I am still in awe of everyone onboard, from the Captain on down. I have never been on a trip that I didnt hear grumbling of some sort from either guests or crew. This trip was the sole exception and it still amazes me.
The entire crew set the gold standard for the cruising. Their continued efforts to insure a perfect trip did not go unnoticed by anyone. In trying to convince my friends to join me on my small ship travels I always use this comparison. If you go to the Super Bowl and have field-level tickets you are going to pay much more than if you are seated in the nose-bleed section. The same concept applies here. The small ships go where the big ships can't so obviously you will see an entirely different Alaska than they will. You actually get to see and experience the Inside Passage as opposed to watching it through your window or off your balcony. I am very protective of maintaining the dignity of this precious piece of America and being able to anchor is a secluded cove and clearly hear the sounds of nature and see bald eagles, bears, sea otters, sea lions, seals, whales and wildlife up close is indescribable. I can't recommend it enough.
I've spent time in Alaska May through October and recommend July solely because three of my trips in July produced the best weather. Salmon run early July through the end of August and bear sightings on this trip were remarkable. I can't even count the number of whales we spotted. I finally made it to the 20-story high Dawes Glacier, topping my list, and what a welcome we received. A very large chunk of glacial ice broke off and not only calved but created a 375 foot high geyser for our viewing pleasure. Since we were already photographing the smaller calvings from our Zodiac, we caught the whole episode on both camera and video. Wow!!! As you can probably hear from my words, I am still awed by the trip.