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Alaska UnCruise Review: Small Ship Cruises for Adventurers

Wanna go wild on an Alaska adventure cruise?

Perhaps you’ve read some UnCruise Alaska reviews. And you’d like to know more about exploring Alaska’s raw and untamed wilderness with UnCruise Adventures.

Say what? What’s an “uncruise”?

It’s a cruise, sort of… But we’ll get to that.

We’ve cruised with UnCruise Adventures a few times now – on UnCruise Hawaii and UnCruise Costa Rica and Panama trips, as well as with UnCruise to Alaska.

Here’s our review of UnCruise Alaska, so you can find out if these small ship Alaska cruises are right for you!

Alaska UnCruise review: Yes, you can do a polar plunge!
Look what fun you can get up to on an Alaska UnCruise adventure!

UnCruise Alaska review: A thrilling hike-kayak combo!

Let’s start with our epic hiking and kayaking adventure in Alaska…

We’re on a mission.

We’d zoomed off in a Zodiac from our adventure ship earlier in the morning (at the bright and cheerful time of 7:00 am).

Now our small hardy group is tromping on an 11-mile (roundtrip) hike through an eerie moss forest.

UnCruise Alaska: A little help is needed to cross this stream...
A little help is needed to cross this stream…

Gnarly roots threaten to trip us if our eyes wander up to take in the beauty of branches dripping with delicate lichen.

We’re hunting for several kayaks that were helicoptered in the previous summer.

Once we find them, we’ll tack on a hard five-mile paddle to Patterson Glacier.

Among the cool facts about Alaska (pun intended!) that we learn on this trip is that Patterson is just one of an estimated 100,000 glaciers in the state.

Many are so remote they’re never seen.

Who knows – we may be the first people ever to beach at the foot of the enormous windswept slab of ice and snow that is Patterson Glacier!

Kayaking in Alaska
Kayaking in Alaska with UnCruise Adventures

Our fearless leader, Dan Blanchard, is excited.

The CEO of UnCruise Adventures, which offers these “uncruises,” he loves to escape his Seattle desk whenever he can to join a voyage.

Despite trying, he’s never reached Patterson Glacier in the 25+ years that he’s personally explored this region.

Today, he’s determined we’ll make it.

And we do!

But not before fjording knee-deep streams. (Our guide Randall graciously carries the ladies across on his back, but the guys have to be manly and put up with soggy feet.)

And battling strong river currents, which almost force two in our group (guess who?) to drop our paddles in defeat and be swept backwards.

And praying that the gangly moose calf, which scrambles up a slippery rock face, reconnects with her mother swimming in the river in front of our kayaks.

Hiking in Alaska on an Alaska UnCruise
We find the kayaks that had been helicoptered in the previous year

But by dinner time that evening – as all 76 guests on our little Wilderness Discoverer ship help themselves to steaming chicken Marbella with apricots, couscous and spinach-and-hazelnut salad – it’s only exhilaration and a sense of awe we feel.

Okay, a few sore muscles too.

UnCruise Adventures Alaska

UnCruise Alaska
Small ships mean you can easily head off on adventures right from the ship

We’re fortunate enough to experience all sorts of amazing adventures here in this vast, incredibly wondrous, wild place – where waterfalls gush and monstrous mountains rise steeply through the mists and there’s no sign of human presence anywhere (except ours).

We live close to mountains and British Columbia’s version of wilderness, which is pretty wicked. (Hello Joffre Lakes!)

We thought Alaska wouldn’t blow us away. This cruise puts paid to that theory…

Indeed, there are many stunning places to see in Alaska. And a cruise to Alaska is a USA bucket list experience!

Hiking in Alaska with UnCruise Alaska
We love hiking – and do a lot of it on our Alaska cruise

But UnCruise Adventures is unlike any other Alaska cruise.

In fact, it’s not really a cruise in the usual way you think of a cruise on a large ship.

We wear jeans for dinner and there’s nary a shop on the whole voyage.

The cruise line operates several small ship cruises in Southeast Alaska (Alaska Panhandle) on different itineraries.

But no matter which Alaskan cruise you choose, expect a “high-energy, get dirty, play outside (rain or shine)” experience.

Skiff tour in Alaska with UnCruise Adventures
Going on a skiff tour

UnCruise Alaska – adventure galore!

UnCruise Alaska
A skiff leaves the ship for a spin

Aided by a competent expedition team of young, keen and friendly American staff, these active adventure cruises are about helping you discover the real Alaska.

And, boy, do they do that well.

In the first 24 hours of our UnCruise Adventures Alaska trip, we listen to the snap, crackle and pop (or “berg seltzer”) of melting bits of ice bergs while on a Zodiac ride to Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm.

An adventure guide checks out the ice

We pick up three forest rangers for an impromptu ship’s lecture on their work (they counted 780 seals the day before on the glacier).

We see a fat black bear ambling onshore, spy humpback whales in Frederick Sound and veer off course to invite a whale researcher and his four assistants aboard for dinner.

(They’ve run out of veggies and beer on the miniature island where they’re living for the summer.)

Oh, and we ogle blue icebergs the size of trucks, with bald eagles perched on top.

There’s even the opportunity for a polar plunge! (For us? Brrr… No thanks.)


UnCruise Alaska Review: Look what fun you can get up to!
Up for a polar plunge? Go for it on your Alaska UnCruise

But this is all par for the course.

All UnCruise Adventures’ reviews point out that these cruises are all about experiencing nature up close via active adventures.

UnCruise cabins: It’s cozy onboard

Made for slipping into secluded wilderness areas rarely visited by others, these expedition vessels are cozy.

They’re so intimate that there are no room keys, and guests often leave doors open when relaxing in their cabins.

It takes a little while to adjust to the size of our cabin on the Wilderness Discoverer.

Boots and jackets outside our cabin door on an UnCruise Adventures Alaska ship
Boots and jackets outside our cabin door on this UnCruise Adventures Alaska ship

It’s the teeniest cruise cabin we’ve ever slept in!

But there’s room for two single beds pushed against the wall to make a double, allowing just enough room for a small side-table.

(And because UnCruise Adventures is committed to eco-cruising, bed sheets aren’t changed during the week.)

The closet is too small to stuff one’s gear into, so guests hang their jackets and sweaters on hooks in the hallways and stow their rubber boots (on loan from the ship for the week) in lockers on deck.

And the wet bathroom, with a handheld shower, is the size of an airplane toilet.

But it all works, given the adventure focus.

Because UnCruise isn’t about living it up on the ship – it’s about getting you outside.

See sea lions galore on an UnCruise Adventures trip in Alaska.
You gotta get outside to see these sea lions

SUP on an Alaska UnCruise

Stand-up paddle boarding? Yep.

Along with kayaking, hiking and skiff tours on Zodiac-style boats – led by expert naturalist guides and included in the cruise price – there’s SUP, the fastest-growing watersport in the world.

You stand up on a board shaped like a large surfboard and paddle with a long oar.

And here, you don’t wear a wetsuit, just regular clothes and a light jacket.

Hmmm, won’t you freeze to death if you fall in the water in Alaska? Actually, no.

We don’t paddle in Alaska’s icy glacier-fed waters, but smooth-as-glass Pacific inlets.

SUP in Alaska
View of Alaska from a SUP board (on a warm day)

We both learn how to SUP and then go off on our own, loving the quiet stillness and the core exercise as we glide by low-hanging cedars and shoreline rocks, covered with barnacles and black mussels.

(And, no, we don’t fall in.)

Hiking to Baird Glacier

Another favorite outing is the guided trek to Baird Glacier in Thomas Bay.

After passing playful seals, we jump from our Zodiac into a field of violet lupins and pink River Beauty flowers.

The beginning stretch passes through rocky fields, where the wind blows cold and white Arctic terns cry mournfully as they circle overhead.

Upon reaching the push moraine (a pile of rocks pushed by the glacier), we sink into deep boot-sucking mud, then haul ourselves out with the help of hiking poles handed out for each hike.

But it’s the glacier itself that is fascinating to walk across.

It’s like a marvelous modern painting with jagged black, chocolate and white striations.

We peer down into blue holes of icy water and leap across crevasses.

Hiking to Baird Glacier with UnCruise Alaska
Except for the pink River Beauty flowers, it feels a little bleak out here!

This is true wilderness, and UnCruise Adventures’ guests are the only Alaska visitors with permission to explore Baird Glacier.

There are no marked trails either.

At the crack of dawn, the expedition team had earlier staked out a general route with red flags, but no one knows how best to navigate the glacier until we get there.

Indeed, throughout the week, bush-whacking and trail blazing are par for the course.

Learning about the local culture

Enrichment lectures add to the authentic experience.

In Wrangell, a young Tlingit woman, wearing a traditional raven-embroidered cloak, comes aboard to share the history of her tribal people.

A young Tlingit woman talks about her people on an Alaska UnCruise
A young Tlingit woman talks about her people

Guest mix

Something else you’ve probably gleaned from reading other Alaska UnCruise reviews is that your fellow passengers are a mixed lot.

They come from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

Most are active types in their 50s and 60s.

Guests get up close and personal with fresh ice

On our Alaskan UnCruise trip, there’s Jim in his 70s, who hikes in shorts – brrr! He’s so buff he could put any young weightlifting jock to shame.

And Toni from Minneapolis, who’s here for the “critters and birds.” (“If I want to gamble or see shows, I’ll go to Vegas,” she proclaims.)

And a multi-generational family of ten celebrating the grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary.

Grandma and granddad read wildlife books onboard, while the 20-something grandkids enjoy stand-up paddle boarding.

An UnCruise Alaska guest looks for whales
Do you see whales?

The food on UnCruise

You’d think with all the physical activity, we’d lose a couple of pounds. Unfortunately no.

Pretty well all UnCruise reviews note that the food is excellent.

Essential adventure fuel

Breakfast might be hot seed oatmeal or cranberry scones with whipped Greek yogurt, followed by scrambled eggs and sausages.

Lunch? Perhaps seafood chowder and salad with cheesy cornbread, and baked raspberry bars for dessert.

And there’s always a vegetarian option at each meal.

On our trip, the good food was just too darn great – with that home-made taste you get when cooked fresh for a small group – that there was no way we could slim down.

All meals are buffet (except for the king crab feast the last night), eaten family-style in the dining room at tables of four and six.

Dessert with a glacier view

By the end of the cruise, we feel like old friends with many of our fellow passengers. Someone organizes an email exchange list.

A few lucky people stay on for the reverse itinerary, which explores different uninhabited coves and inlets.

And one couple books a trip on a more expensive, luxury UnCruise in Hawaii – a clear vote in favor of adventure cruising like this.

UnCruise ships in Alaska

UnCruise Adventures has nine vessels.

They offer trips to the Galapagos Islands, Hawaiian Islands, the Pacific Northwest (San Juan Islands plus river cruises on the Columbia River and Snake River), Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, Costa Rica/Panama and Belize/Guatemala.

The Wilderness Explorer, another one of UnCruise Adventures' ships in Alaska
The Wilderness Explorer, another one of UnCruise Adventures’ ships in Alaska

UnCruise Adventures’ 7-, 12- and 14-night Alaska small ship cruises include:

Seven ships operate Alaska itineraries.

The four “Wilderness” ships in Alaska – Wilderness Discoverer, Wilderness Explorer, Wilderness Legacy and Wilderness Adventurer – are quite similar. (The Adventurer is a little smaller.)

The other three UnCruise Alaska ships are the Safari Quest, Safari Endeavour and Safari Explorer. (Safari Quest and Safari Explorer are smaller than the “Wilderness” vessels – at 22 and 26 passengers each.)

The “Wilderness Discoverer” ship:

  • 76 guests
  • 38 cabins
  • 27 crew members
  • 176 feet in length
  • 39 feet wide
  • Cruising speed of 10 knots

UnCruise Alaska prices

At first glance, the price tag for an UnCruise Alaska wilderness cruise may make you hesitate.

Interested? Want to check out Alaska with UnCruise?

It looks higher compared to other Alaska cruises on larger cruise ships operated by, say, Holland America Line, Princess or Celebrity Cruises.

But remember. On those cruises, you have to pay extra for shore excursions. And they can add up. Their Alaska adventure activities can run $200 USD p.p. or more per tour for kayaking, backcountry Zodiac expeditions and whale watching.

On UnCruise, all wildlife viewing, land adventures and other excursions are included. Guests go off in different small groups, depending on the activity level they choose. (You can choose from easy to tough activities.)

Wines and alcohol (signature cocktails every night!) are also all included on UnCruise Adventure trips.

So, yes, the UnCruise Alaska cost is higher up-front. But there are no extra charges. UnCruise prices include pretty well everything (except cruise gratuities).

Seeing a bear in the wild while kayaking on an UnCruise Alaska trip
What price to put on wildlife viewing like this?

For UnCruise, think more intimate, more unique, more adventurous – and no tourists (just you and your fellow explorers).

How do you put a price tag on that?

That’s it for our UnCruise review of our cruise to Alaska!

UnCruise offers some of the best small ship cruises to Alaska for adventure lovers.

If your bucket list includes seeing pods of humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions and black bears – and you want to kayak, hike, go SUP and more – think UnCruise’s Alaska trips.

The great crews (and great food!) round out an already terrific cruise.

Alaska UnCruise

For more information, see the UnCruise Adventures website.

More cruising inspiration!

Viking Cruises: Should you get the Silver Spirits package? Find out all you want to know about this drinks package on Viking Cruises (and if it’s worth it).

River cruises: Say hello to the world’s best river cruises!

Star Clippers: If you like small ship adventure cruises, see our post on sailing the Caribbean with Star Clippers!

Our top travel tips and resources

Hotels: is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)

Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).

Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours, plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out Viator (a TripAdvisor company) and GetYourGuide.

Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.

Travel insurance: SafetyWing is designed for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads. It covers medical expenses, lost checked luggage, trip interruption and more. We also have and recommend Medjet for global air medical transportation and travel security.

Travel gear: See our travel shop to find the best luggage, accessories and other travel gear. (We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.)

Need more help planning your trip? Check out our travel tips and resources guide for airline booking tips, ways to save money, how to find great hotels and other crazy useful trip planning info.

Pssst! If you make a booking or purchase through our site, we may earn a small commission (at no cost to you). Thanks!

Love the idea of an “un-cruise”? Then save this on Pinterest!

UnCruise Adventures in Alaska

Photo credits: 2 to 4, 7, 10, 13, 16 to 19, 23 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Remaining photos UnCruise Adventures

We were hosted aboard the Wilderness Discoverer as media guests to write an UnCruise Alaska cruise review. But, as always, all words and views are our own. We let you know if something is “wow” or… might put you off.

About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Priscilla Willis

Thursday 16th of November 2017

This is my kind of cruise!! I want to get to Alaska soon, but am not a fan of traditional cruise lines. Thank you for sharing your experience with Un-Cruise, Janice.

Janice and George

Thursday 16th of November 2017

UnCruise is definitely a great option in Alaska (especially if you like to be active outdoors in nature) -- so special to go stand-up paddleboarding, hiking and kayaking there! We've sailed on quite a few "non-traditional" cruise lines now :-). See some of our other cruise stories. You might discover some other non-traditional cruises that appeal to you :-).

krista hamelin

Sunday 1st of January 2017

This looks incredible! Ive been wanting to go to Alaska for awhile now! The landscape is so beautiful!

Janice and George

Sunday 1st of January 2017

It was really a fabulous trip! Seeing Alaska with Un-Cruise Adventures is very different from seeing it from a more traditional, larger cruise ship. We've cruised Alaska both ways - if you like adventure, you'd like Un-Cruise Adventures :-). We're looking forward to our next Un-Cruise Adventures trip - we'll be exploring Costa Rica soon with them...

David Hamburg

Saturday 20th of August 2016

Looks like you enjoyed a lot in your trip -- a complete package at that. Un-cruising is a very interesting concept. It's both cozy and adventurous. I love the idea. This should go to travelers' bucket lists.

Janice and George

Saturday 20th of August 2016

It's certainly a very different concept of "cruising" - doesn't really feel like cruising in the traditional sense :-).


Friday 15th of January 2016

Looks like an amazing trip. I really love kayaking and exploring things. Thanks for sharing great information and pictures.


Monday 26th of May 2014

Wow, what an awesome adventure!