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.
Wilderness Discoverer has one large public area that includes the dining room, the bar and the forward lounge. Banquettes line the walls, so there's plenty of seating, with accompanying cocktail tables. If you want to stretch out, though, you're better off heading back to your cabin.
The lounge boasts a large flat-screen TV with a few closed-circuit channels that include a GPS map of the ship's location and an under-bow camera. Movies can be shown at night if enough passengers agree. The lounge also contains a limited library, mostly filled with Alaska guidebooks and wildlife encyclopedias. You can buy hiking gear, T-shirts and knit caps, both with and without the Un-Cruise Adventures' logo. Binoculars are available at all times for impromptu wildlife-spotting. You'll be out of Internet and cell phone range for most of the trip, so don't look for onboard Wi-Fi. (Though you may find service when the ship pulls into Wrangell and Ketchikan.)
There's a sun deck with tables and chairs on the fourth deck, although with Alaska's rainy weather, it doesn't get much use. Ditto for the wildlife-viewing area on the third level. However, when the whales start cresting, the outdoor decks fill up quickly.
There's no pool on Wilderness Discoverer, but polar bear swims are encouraged. The two hot tubs are widely used, but the two-person sauna was much less popular. Hourlong massages are available for $75; look for the studio on the lowest deck. Several pieces of fitness equipment are located outdoors on the top deck, and morning yoga classes are well-attended.
In its inaugural season, passengers as young as 5 months boarded Wilderness Discoverer. Parents should know their children's physical limits, though, as there aren't any special hikes or paddles geared toward kids. Noisy electronics, such as personal DVD players or video games, wouldn't be welcomed by fellow passengers looking to get away from it all; if you bring them, keep them in your cabin. And, while the kitchen does take some special meal requests, your children should be prepared to eat the same foods as adults during the trip.
Teenagers take to the ship's active itinerary with ease. Stand-up paddle-boarding in particular seemed to be a popular activity with the younger set, and many took advantage of the hot tub in the evenings.
(The line does offer Family Discoveries cruises on one of its other ships, Wilderness Adventurer, often with discounts for children 12 and younger. Activities on those cruises are tailored to the age and ability of the kids onboard.)