Between its snow-capped mountains, its diverse array of wildlife, and its nature trails lined with Sitka spruce, Alaska beckons travelers yearning for adventure. And although the state’s popularity continues to rise, especially for cruise ships, how one explores The Last Frontier can vary dramatically.
UnCruise Adventures – a family-owned and operated adventure line using small expedition cruise ships – fills a unique niche in the Alaskan cruising market. The itineraries cater to guests looking to both get dirty bushwhacking (we'll explain this concept later, promise!) and later sip bougie cocktails with new friends.
UnCruise's Alaska itineraries differentiate themselves from mainstream sailing operators in many ways, some more obvious than others. Is this the cruise line that you should pick in Alaska? Cruise Critic answers with a list of pros and cons.
Inclusive Pricing. Mainstream cruises may start at a more digestible price tag, but they are often à la carte. This means that drink packages, activities, specialty dining, and excursions all quickly add up. UnCruise has committed to providing fulfilling sailings at one price, representing all excursions, tours, activities, meals, and drinks (including premium wines, spirits, and local beer). This difference allows guests to fully embrace the experience without constantly being mindful of their wallets.
Small Groups and Social Distance. Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, travelers are wholly looking for experiences where they can safely social distance and not feel claustrophobic, as if they're being shepherded from place to place. With so much time off the boat and in the fresh air, you'll feel better equipped to socially distance from others instead of, say, watching a show in a large ship's crowded theater. The smaller group sizes are appreciated not only when Happy Hour has no waiting time, but also during excursions. With groups of about a dozen afield, adventure-seekers won't feel claustrophobic when hiking together through old-growth forests and paddleboarding mere yards from seal pups.
Choice of Alaska Itineraries. Alaskan adventure comes in all shapes and sizes for UnCruise. While most large cruise lines have the standard one or two itineraries exploring the Inside Passage, UnCruise offers nine options on six different vessels from April to early October. Though no two adventures are identical, routes often include Alaskan wonders such as Tongass National Forest (the USA's largest national forest), Stephen's Passage, and the iconic Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.
Alaskan Dream Cruises is a similar small ship line that boasts local and authentic Alaska cruises through the Allen family, which also owns the excursion tour boat company Allen Marine. While both cruise lines offer expedition sailings, we've found that UnCruise focuses a bit more on outdoor fitness, while Alaskan Dream Cruises highlights authentic indigenous culture).
Small Ship Fleet. Perhaps the most apparent difference between UnCruise and most other Alaska cruises is in the ship's physical size. What UnCruise ships lack in waterslides and disco balls, they gain in charm and familiarity. The ships range from the 84-passenger Safari Endeavor to the 11-passenger Safari Quest; the 60- to 80-passenger Wilderness Adventurer, Wilderness Discoverer, Wilderness Explorer, and Wilderness Legacy are more bare bones ships that definitely give you that expedition vibe.
Flexible Schedules. Unlike large cruise ships, which must stick to a particular schedule, a smaller boat also allows for more route and timing flexibility. If an UnCruise captain spots a pod of humpback whales breaching nearby, there's a strong likelihood the boat can detour long enough to enjoy the spectacle.
An Intimate Onboard Experience. The size also impacts the UnCruise onboard experience, creating greater intimacy between guests and crew. With a crew-to-guest ratio of 2.5:1 on the larger vessels and 2:1 on the smaller ones, servers, bartenders, stewards, and even the captain will quickly be versed on your name (and likely your go-to nightcap!).
UnCruise guests have three seated dinner times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (typically 7:30 am, 12:30 pm, and 6:30 pm). All guests eat communally in the ship's dining room, which quickly cultivates a family-like atmosphere.
Casual Dress Code. The UnCruise dress code comes down to a smile and your casual hiking pants and flannels you wore hiking earlier in the day. The lack of formality, even at mealtimes, will be appealing to those prioritizing adventure and not their wardrobe. Guests who enjoy looking spiffy for formal nights on mainstream cruises may feel lacking in dress-up opportunities.
Outdoor and Adventure-Focused Excursions. On UnCruise, the first—and last—time guests likely experience a developed town (or civilization to any degree!) is when the UnCruise ship embarks, likely in Juneau, Ketchikan, or Sitka (though the bookends of seasons sail to or from Seattle, Washington).
The rest of the cruise is geared toward giving guests unparalleled access to Alaska's stark inlets and fjords, safely and respectfully, be in on foot, in a skiff, in a kayak or on a paddleboard. While mainstream cruise lines tend to have vetted outdoor operators at larger city ports, UnCruise excursions are more unconstrained and spontaneous. Expedition Leaders are often creating the next day's activity schedule based on a combination of factors: tides, weather, and guests' abilities and interests.
Unless the boat is cruising to its next destination for part of the day, there will be adventure options in both the mornings and afternoons (and, for the exceptionally intrepid, some activities last all day, with a packed lunch). And the off-board excursions with UnCruise are diverse, sometimes drastic, and often dirty.
Skiff excursions, touring aboard an inflatable raft with approximately ten other passengers, may be the mildest way to explore land and shore but often result in extraordinary wildlife spottings. The "tidal walks" are optimal for discovering some of Alaska's lesser-discussed wildlife: guests often spy anemones, crabs, and other prehistoric-looking critters in the intertidal zone.
Though established trails can be scarce in the Alaskan wilderness, guides will often offer a hiking option when possible, either on a boardwalk or on more strenuous terrain. In dense forests, guides will carry a "bear bell" and "bear spray" because some wildlife encounters can be too close.
Kayaking excursions can be arduous but are a practical way to explore sea life up close. Most UnCruise vessels in Alaska are equipped with a high-tech kayak dock, making getting in and out more straightforward (read: less intimidating) for novice kayakers. While guided paddles can last up to four hours and require a bit of stamina and skill, open paddles are at one's own pace.
Finally, bushwhacking. While certainly not for the faint of heart, this UnCruise activity provides a drastically different way of exploring Alaska's temperate rainforest than the mainstream offerings. Guests will literally be climbing cliffs, crawling over mossy logs, and tiptoeing through dense—often unexplored—vegetation.
Lack of Onboard Activities. Even if you're thrilled by the prospect of outdoor adventuring, you must remember that there will be a lot of downtime on UnCruise voyages. There won't be casinos or magic shows to occupy time while sailing (although while entertainment on the ships is minimal, most UnCruise boats have a hot tub or two on deck). In southeastern Alaska, the weather won't always cooperate. You will likely be snuggled up with a book from the ship's extensive library one afternoon—and if that sounds like purgatory, this isn't necessarily the trip for you.
Fewer Cabin Choices and Smaller Rooms. A smaller ship means less choice of cabins and smaller rooms. While mainstream cruise lines tend to have more variety, UnCruise's unique appeal is its quaint, homey feel. The company doesn't advertise having fancy interiors, especially in the rooms. The lower category rooms are primarily practical, with two twin beds and a small bathroom with a shower.
Higher Prices. An UnCruise sailing is, by its very size and what it offers, more personal and bespoke than a mainstream cruise – and that comes at a higher cost. Small expedition cruises by nature are much more expensive than what you can find on a larger vessel. The all-inclusive nature of an UnCruise trip does justify the price tag, and if you’re the type of person who wants a more intimate setting, you’ll find it’s worth it. But for some people, the upfront fare is just too much.
Lots of Socializing. There’s no room to hide on a small ship; having an amicable relationship with fellow cruise guests will benefit the journey. You'll be seeing them at meals, on excursions, at daily hors d'oeuvres, on the upper decks, and basically everywhere else. If forced socializing scares you, choose a larger vessel.
No WiFi. None of UnCruise's Alaskan vessels are equipped with WiFi—yes, deliberately— and cell service is often spotty. While intentional disconnection is a literal breath of fresh air for many, if you work remotely or feel compelled to stay connected to the family at home, this can be unnerving.
Though there are many ways to experience Alaska on a ship, UnCruise's command within the small ship expedition space is exhibited in their extraordinarily high repeat visitor rate—over a third of their guests have sailed on multiple cruises.
But the question is if this brand of small-ship adventure cruising is suitable for your Alaskan journey. The answer depends on what you’re looking for from your trip to the Last Frontier. If you love spontaneity and diverging from an itinerary, being off the grid and traipsing through the uncharted territory on a group bushwhack, it’s hard to do better than UnCruise.