Alaska has long since been on the top of many a family’s bucket list. People dream of seeing the area’s big five— grizzly bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep and gray wolves—as well as the incredible scenery, including miles of wilderness, untouched forests and expansive glaciers.
The most popular way to see Alaska is via a cruise—the Inside Passage allows passengers to unpack once while getting a taste of many different topographies and landscapes. Covid halted many cruise lines and fear of large crowds has worried some perspective travelers. But after being cooped up for two years, many people are ready to venture out again and the wilderness of the last frontier is calling.
“Covid changed the travel landscape and rather than resisting change we stepped into it,” says Captain Dan Blanchard, CEO, of Uncruise Adventures. “It has been restructuring from the inside out. We are more nimble and data-driven in everything we do.”
Blanchard is seeing strong bookings for Alaska on his fleet of small boats, which carry between 22-86 passengers. The absence of crowds may be one of the reasons bookings on Uncruise have been solid for 2022. For people unfamiliar, Uncruise Adventures started in 1996 and has a decidedly unique moniker. “The name is the antithesis of the typical cruise. No big ballrooms, discos or waterslides because we get you outside into real nature,” says Blanchard. “The ‘Un’ in our name represents UnCrowded, UnRushed and UnBelievable UnTourism adventures for both our crew and our guests.”
While many cruise lines may offer one or two different Alaska itineraries, Uncruise offers nine options on six different vessels from April to September. Uncruise has been cruising Alaska for almost three decades and the company’s headquarters are in Juneau (along with Seattle). Alaska is not a side note—-it’s the heart of their business. Itineraries include the famed Glacier Bay National Park as well as other recognizable names including Margerie, Grand Pacific, Dawes, Behm Canal and Tracy Arm. Exploring Tongass (the nation’s largest national forest), whale watching in Stephens Passage, birding at South Marble Island—at every stop the focus in Alaska is on wildlife: puffins, oystercatchers, cormorants, bears, sea lions, seals, porpoises, and eagles.
But it’s not so much the names of the places, but the activities that take place each day that attracts a very specific clientele. The focus is on adventure exploration in old-growth forests and glacial outwash fields—guests can kayak or paddleboard beside glaciers or hike and bushwalk in untouched terrain.
There is no dressing for dinner, people come in their casual flannels or shorts. Seating is communal style and the meals focus on freshly made food, comradery and shared experiences. It’s a different way of cruising and may not appeal to every traveler (like those looking for the midnight buffets and or a nightclub). But given that Uncruise has a high repeat visitor rate (one-third of their guests have gone on multiple cruises), it’s clear they have tapped into a demographic that wants small adventure cruising with a focus on the destination and not the ship.
Many people feel that the silver lining of covid is that there’s a renewed emphasis on the importance of family—and creating special memories with them. Trips that have been put on hold for the last two years have become a top priority. Alaska has long since been a destination for multi-generational travel, with the grandparents bringing along their adult children as well as grandchildren. Blanchard is seeing a strong return of families, especially for the Alaska itineraries. Grandparents can do a skiff boat tour, to get up close to bears, moose or seals. Active adventure enthusiasts may want to hike up steep forests for Alaska’s famed views. Activities are often categorized into fitness levels (easy, moderate and strenuous), so people can go at their own pace.
Also, Uncruise takes a different approach when it comes to what is and is not included in the price of the cruise. Most cruises in Alaska are ala cart: meaning the excursions, drinks and activities are an additional cost. Blanchard says it was important to him to provide a complete experience for one price. So all the gear, activities, guides, tours, meals, and beverages, (including premium wine and spirits), is included. Passengers can book daily excursions based on interest level, not price.
The bottom line is that Alaska as a destination is making a strong comeback post covid. This bucket-list destination continues to thrive. And getting back to nature is what many people are looking for after the last two covid-focused years.