(3 p.m. EDT) -- For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic essentially shut down cruising worldwide in March, a U.S.-based cruise ship will set sail in Alaska -- starting this weekend.If all goes as planned, UnCruise Adventures, a small, expedition cruise line that focuses on intimate sailings that put passengers close to the action, will send Wilderness Adventurer on its first cruise of the year, roundtrip from Juneau. While the ship can hold 60 passengers, only 37 (along with 30 crewmembers) will sail on this first journey. Four additional cruises are scheduled for the ship as the traditional Alaska cruise season winds down."Alaska, probably more than most destinations on the planet, does make our product just buzz," said Dan Blanchard, UnCruise's CEO. "We are Alaska."Wilderness Adventurer, which joined the fleet in 2009, is a pioneer in Alaska. Blanchard said the boat was the first to begin early April cruising in Alaska, the first to stay late into October and is the only member of the UnCruise fleet to sail six months of itineraries in the region. While much of the U.S. cruise industry is on hold through the end of September under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's no-sail order, UnCruise is exempt because the ruling applies to only those ships that carry more than 250 passengers and crew. All nine ships in the UnCruise fleet carry fewer than 100 passengers.The seven-day journeys on Wilderness Adventurer will essentially keep passengers in a bubble, skipping major tourist towns like Skagway and Ketchikan, for example. Instead, passengers will spend time on the ship's Zodiac inflatable skiffs exploring Glacier Bay National Park and Tracy Arm Fjord; they'll bushwhack through forests and kayak through bays.And while this suits the current environment, where social and physical distancing are on everyone's minds, the approach actually isn't a departure from a typical UnCruise sailing. The company touts its intimate offerings as "Unrushed. Uncrowded. Unbelievable."Blanchard said the company is using the requirements around the COVID pandemic as an opportunity to change UnCruise for the better. That means more time outdoors with even smaller groups. Cruisers in Alaska, for example, might get up early to do birdwatching tours, stay ashore later to enjoy campfires or partake in evening happy hours on the top deck, rather than in the ship's lounge.The line also is moving away from longer, formal post-dinner lectures in favor of more pop-up opportunities, like nighttime star navigation sessions, where the ship will shut down its lights and navigate using the stars, or small galley tours where the chef will dive deeper into how the food is sourced and prepared."It's returning back to our roots," Blanchard said.Other changes passengers might see include more breakfasts and lunches sent ashore with passengers in an effort to get them off the boat, into the open air and back in touch with nature.Passengers, too, are required to take responsibility for their own COVID behavior. That starts with getting a COVID test within 72 hours of arriving to Alaska and showing proof of testing negative. UnCruise, too, has introduced new protocols,
- Daily temperature checks for passengers and crew;
- Daily sanitation of all touchpoints in cabins, including handles, doorknobs and switches;
- Sanitation rounds conducted four times daily with attention to all touchpoints, such as railings, handholds and doorknobs.
- Sanitation of adventure equipment after each use;
- Use of personal protective gear such as masks during certain events and as situations require (including transfer on and off the ship);
- Crew member training in COVID-19 symptom observation, identification and reporting, and PPE equipment training.