Each night after dinner, passengers sign up for the outdoor activities offered the next day, which are included in the cost of the cruise. Guided paddles and hikes are generally grouped by difficulty level instead of theme; we thought the line could improve the enrichment program by offering more specific educational outings, such as a walk for birders or a geology-based paddle. As some outings were more popular than others, with limited space, the crew did its best to make signups fair by allowing different cabins to go first (though large groups found ways to circumvent the system by having one member of their party sign up everyone).
Some of the experiences that Wilderness Discoverer offers are truly exceptional. One day you'll zoom on an inflatable skiff near electric-blue icebergs to examine the Sawyer Glacier at close range. On another, you'll be paddling through Misty Fjords National Monument, one of the country's least accessible national parks. At all times, the crew is on the lookout for seals, bears, eagles and other photo-worthy fauna. Unlike Cruise West -- which focused on port stops and time in town -- Un-Cruise Adventures makes exploring nature straight from the ship the main event.
Those who aren't as athletic can still enjoy a Wilderness Discoverer cruise. The ship has a launch dock made specifically for kayaks, which makes it easy to get in and out without getting wet. The crew is gently encouraging, and you never feel stupid for taking it easy or trying something new, such as stand-up paddle-boarding. Plus you can still get out into the wilderness on scheduled sightseeing trips on a pontoon or an inflatable skiff.
Passengers were told to sign up for extra shore excursions on their first night onboard. Do your research ahead of time, as the choices are presented with little context, and you aren't allowed to switch later. Most extra excursions cost around $200-$300 per person, not unusual in Alaska, and about half the passengers signed up for one. We felt our salmon fishing outing in Wrangell wasn't quite worth the price tag (although we may have felt differently had we caught more fish).
On the Eastern Coves itinerary, the ship stops in Wrangell, site of the famed Anan Bear Observatory. The ship has decided that the changing itinerary makes it too difficult for passengers to pre-book a trip to the observatory, and that there's not really a way to offer the excursion and satisfy all customers. On a recent cruise, most passengers saw bears in the wild anyway.
Evenings on Wilderness Discoverer are quiet, with most passengers winding down with board games and books. There's little in the way of organized lectures or talks, a missed opportunity considering the surroundings. You'll have to read up on Alaska on your own time.