By Margot Black
Our plan was to unplug and spend time in the Alaska wilderness. We wanted to do this on a cruise but not on a typical big cruise ship. We finally settled on UnCruise Adventures, which delivered exactly what we wanted. They specialize in small ships that carry only 22 to 90 guests, so our experience was much more intimate than it would have been on a larger ship.
The essence of the UnCruise experience is traveling to wild, remote places and seeing things that other ships are unable to access, which allowed us to enjoy up-close and personalized exploration of Alaska's natural splendor. Our week onboard the small S.S. Legacy was unrushed, uncrowded and unbelievable. We spent the whole week unplugged because we were in places in the Inside Passage near Juneau where it was impossible to access the Internet. We fully immersed ourselves in nature and wildlife without any distractions from our digital devices.
UnCruise Alaska has few or no port calls, boasting of fluid itineraries that can be especially advantageous when it comes to viewing wildlife. They adjust their travel course to find nearby wildlife if that's what the guests want to do. We saw bald eagles, humpback whales and orca whales almost daily, as well as sea lions and a few reclusive bears. The emphasis wasn't on shopping and port purchases or rushed sightseeing tours. We did explore Juneau a bit before we got on the ship, so we had a great combination of a little city time before our wilderness adventures.
My husband and I were just as excited as our 12-year-old son to explore. Every UnCruise Alaska itinerary features daily adventure activities in unique destinations that include hiking, bushwhacking, paddleboarding, skiff excursions, whale-watching and kayak excursions into caves with experienced adventurers. One day we were surrounded by humpback whales, endless blue waters and blue skies in Chatham Strait. In Glacier National Bay Park we went on a bushwhacking walk, a marine walk and evening skiff rides. Our ship was equipped with kayaks, paddleboards, skiffs, a launch platform and other amenities, so enjoying the scenery and seeing new things was easy to do. Since Alaska can be rainy and muddy, we were glad we had packed comfortable rubber boots for hiking and walking on the rugged terrain.
We also took advantage of several learning opportunities. We all earned our ranger badges after spending an afternoon with a knowledgeable park ranger. A birding expert was on our boat when we went beachcombing and hiking in the Tongass National Forest, and she taught us a lot about birds and eagles. All of the nature guides were patient with the kids on board and shared a wealth of knowledge about all things Alaska — from marine biology to geology to environmental science. It was really impactful for our son to see examples of hardworking, intelligent young people caring for our planet.
Unplugging on the ship was one of the best parts of the trip. I actually tried to cheat because I needed to access the Internet for work. I kept looking for a portable Wi-Fi unit that would work in the Inside Passage area. I couldn't find anything (although there were lots of Internet devices that promised to work in Denali, Kenai, southeast Alaska and a bit more in the northern passages). There was one moment that we went onshore to a tide pool, and I was momentarily getting Twitter alerts. After being blissfully unplugged for a few days, I was surprisingly agitated to find that I was back online.
Additionally, our time unplugged gave us the opportunity to explore some new board games together. One of our best memories was when another family introduced us to a card game called "Left, Right, Center." Our son was the only kid in this group, but he ended up having a fantastic time. The ship also had ample movies available, so we were able to have some cozy family nights after daily adventure activities such as kayaking and hiking.
The S.S. Legacy only had approximately 40 other guests, so we got to know all of the other families and the crewmembers quickly. There were people of all ages, a few singles, couples, anniversary celebrations and families with kids. Everyone mixed in to one big traveling clan quite quickly. We knew all their names by the third day, and life on board the ship was very hands-on and interactive. We got to walk onto the bridge and visit with the captain as well as enjoy wildlife sightings from the bow.
An UnCruise trip includes all excursions, food and beverages, which took the hassle out of planning a big trip. Mealtime onboard the ship was yet another highlight. We explored a lot of different new flavors, including banana nut pecan pancakes, Alaskan halibut and roasted pork medallions. The daily menu offered meat, seafood and vegetarian options that appealed to a wide variety of culinary palates.
The extensive time unplugged in nature and onboard the small ship was glorious for our family. UnCruise Alaska delivered all the right ingredients for our ultimate Alaskan family vacation.
WHEN YOU GO
UnCruise Alaska offers one- to two-week sailing adventure cruises from April through September. Some go round-trip from the departure location, which makes the travel planning extra easy: www.uncruise.com.
Margot Black is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
A visitor to Alaska views wildlife from the bow of the S.S. Legacy. Photo courtesy of Margot Black.