By Chris Gray Faust, Cruise Critic Contributor
Wilderness Explorer Overview
Wilderness Explorer became the third expedition ship in Un-Cruise Adventures' fleet in 2012. Originally run as Cruise West's 86-passenger Spirit of Discovery, the ship was renovated to carry 76 passengers on Glacier Bay-oriented itineraries between Juneau and Sitka. The ship has a larger lounge than the other Un-Cruise Adventures vessels, and the cabins feel bigger, even though the square footage is similar.
If your idea of a great weekend is getting outside for a long hike or paddle, then a Wilderness Explorer cruise is perfect for you. With the company's focus on getting up-close with nature and wildlife, you'll get the most out of your trip if you take part in the ship's outdoor activities -- all of which are included in the cruise fare. You'll be joined by fellow passengers who have the latest in outdoor gear and are eager to use it. Don't bother packing dresses or collared shirts; you're more likely to wear rubber boots and rain pants.
Despite the casual atmosphere, Wilderness Explorer offers thoughtful touches onboard. Passengers will find a reasonably priced full bar, memory foam mattresses in the cabins and a special kayak launching dock designed to get even the biggest couch potatoes out on the water. Meals are served buffet-style at set times, and soda, lemonade and juice are included in the cruise price. The onboard pastry chef guarantees you'll replenish calories quickly. All cabins are above deck with outward-facing windows, perfect for enjoying Alaska's crisp mornings and late sunsets. The ship quiets down at night, primarily because people are worn out from the ample hiking, paddling and trekking opportunities -- although the hot tub gets some use. There's little in the way of organized lectures or talks, a missed opportunity considering the surroundings.
Tips can be added to your bill at the end of the cruise, and they are split evenly between the crew. The captain recommends 5 to 10 percent of your total cabin cost.
The ship summers in Glacier Bay, where a national park ranger comes onboard to provide education and interpretation, and passengers can take out human-powered watercraft to access areas closed to motorized traffic. In November 2012, Wilderness Explorer will move out to Hawaii to run Un-Cruise Adventures' inaugural expedition cruise among the islands. The itinerary promises snorkeling, kayaking and wildlife-viewing on several islands.