If you’re considering booking a small ship adventure with UnCruise, you might be wondering what it’s like and whether or not it will work for your family, especially if you’re traveling with older relatives. Here’s what you can expect on an UnCruise Adventure in Alaska, including mistakes you won’t want to make.
The writer was hosted.
UnCruise’s small ships sail into pristine little nooks around Alaska, letting you experience the state’s nature and wildlife without crowds. Is an UnCruise good for families with teens? How about grandparents? Or multi-generational families? Here’s my take, along with a rundown of mistakes I made on my recent UnCruise in Alaska. Learn from them.
Reconnect as a Family on an UnCruise
One family on our ship booked their Uncruise Alaska trip for a specific reason: because there’d be no internet access. They wanted a family vacation that would be devoid of screens and full of memorable outdoor activities they could do together.
This family, with kids ages 11, 14 and 15, snorkeled (in Alaska!) in full wet suits. They kayaked and hiked with a young guide who made learning about plants and wildlife fun, often pulling the kids aside to say “Check this out!” They were invited to eat berries off the bush, like the moose and black bears do.
One morning, I spotted the family sitting at a table together playing dominoes, with a stunning mountain backdrop.
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At night, they joined everyone as we watched for humpback whales, collectively ooohing and aaahing when a large tail or body emerged from the water. On the final day, the family did the “polar plunge,” screaming and laughing as they jumped off the boat into icy water (captured on video, of course).
This family had been on Disney Cruises in the past, which they loved. So the mom confessed to me that she hesitated to splurge on this totally different, small adventure cruise.
“On the first day, I saw my kids laying stomach-down on our small skiff, watching a glacier calving, and I immediately knew this was worth every penny,” she said.
I went on the same UnCruise trip with my 80-year-old mom and we had an equally memorable and awesome experience, but in a different and more low-key way.
Is an UnCruise in Alaska good for grandparents?
UnCruise in Alaska is an excellent option for grandparents or older adults who might want to take it a little easy. Each day offers a mix of active and passive activities, led by friendly staff who are quick to help with gear, assist people on and off boats, don’t mind waiting for a slow hiker, and enjoy teaching people about Alaska.
The cruise can work for multi-generational groups as well, like me and my mom. Health issues prevented my mom from joining me on uphill hikes to scenic overlooks or going bushwhacking (venturing into the woods without following a specific path, discovering things along the way).
It caused a little FOMO when I went without her. But she opted for a guide-led ride on a skiff equipped with metal railings, where she enjoyed spotting wildlife and learning about the landscape at each stop. The activities always ended at the same time, allowing us to have lunch or dinner together where we could tell each other about the adventure we had.
UnCruise Adventures the Whole Family Can Enjoy
Mom and I were able to do lots of things together. We took skiffs up to Ty-D-Bol blue glaciers, where we heard a thunderous sound and watched a few large chunks fall off and crash into the water. Every day, we took a two-person kayak, and in water as calm as a bathtub, paddled past tall waterfalls and tree-covered mountains. Occasionally, a sea otter would pop its head up near our kayak, or large, pink salmon would suddenly spring out of the water right in front of us, multiple times in a row. The shock made us yell, and then laugh.
Wildlife watching is a big part of the UnCruise Alaska. Each day, we got a good look at beautiful animals, such as bald eagles in the trees, a moose near the shore or even a mountain goat walking on impossibly steep and narrow ledges. In Glacier Bay National Park, one of the highlights of the cruise, we slowly floated past an island covered with hundreds of sea lions that made funny belching sounds.
Night time was fun for all ages. The pre- and post-dinner routine usually involved watching whales and fast-moving porpoises, and on clear nights, staring at the bright orange sun setting behind the mountains. There were educational sessions each evening in the boat’s lounge, next to an open bar. One standout presentation was on moss (something you see a lot of while hiking in Alaska). Sounds boring, but it was funny and entertaining! I’ll never look at moss again without thinking about the fun facts I learned.
One night, my mom and I grabbed some DVDs and watched movies on our room’s tiny TV with no channels but a functional DVD player, as we lay under warm blankets in our single beds. Another night, we worked a 1,000-piece puzzle with a few other passengers while eavesdropping on the lively science trivia game going on in the lounge.
Is an UnCruise good for teens?
There were only three kids on our ship, and when I asked if they’d recommend this as a family trip, the answer was a resounding yes. They did confess to being a little bored at times, but they used the down time to watch videos, read or play games with their family or other passengers.
They said it was totally different than the Disney cruises they’ve been on, but just as fun.
“Instead of going to the pool and eating ice cream, we were watching whales,” one of the teens told me.
A unique experience during our UnCruise in Alaska
The star of the show on any UnCruise trip in Alaska cruise is the scenery. It’s so spectacular, no photo can possibly capture the awe of seeing it in person. The vastness and emptiness of the mountains make it impossible not to contemplate your place in the world.
To be sure we took it all in, our guide stopped the skiff in Takatz Bay and made an unusual request: put down your binoculars and cameras. We were going to sit in silence for five minutes and experience the scenery through all our senses. We listened to light rain hitting the water and the birds squawking in the distance. It sounded like a tranquility CD you’d hear at a fancy spa. We breathed in the moist, clean air. We stared at the fog hanging on the mountaintops and the tiny circles the raindrops made as they hit the water. The time went fast. It was extremely powerful.
How is UnCruise different from other Alaska cruises?
This sort of intimate experience is what sets UnCruise apart from other Alaska cruises. Our little ship went into gorgeous inlets that large boats could never access. And we were never with more than 10 people while on outdoor adventures.
UnCruise offers several different cruises in Alaska, but ours, on their Wilderness Adventurer ship, which holds up to 60 passengers, was focused on activities. The seven-day cruise began and ended in downtown Juneau, and traveled through the waterways in and around Glacier Bay National Park.
SheBuysTravel Tip: if you have time to kill in Juneau, Tracy’s King Crab Shack is a short walk from the dock. It’s overpriced and touristy, but the crab legs are fresh and incredibly delicious.
We never stopped at any ports of call on our cruise; in fact, we didn’t see anyone other than the 31 passengers and 26 crew members for 7 straight days.
Each day began with someone saying “Hello, adventurers!” on the speakers in the bedrooms, announcing the day’s plans. But when the cruise ended, the staff was calling us by name, giving us hugs and waving goodbye as we exited onto the dock.
Mistakes I made on an UnCruise in Alaska
- Bringing nice clothes. This ain’t “The Love Boat” where you dress for dinner. Dressing for this cruise is all about comfort, layers and warmth. Most people wore jeans and a shirt to dinner. All the nice tops, pants and jewelry I brought sat untouched in my suitcase. I also should have brought better rain gear or tall rubber boots (aka “the tennis shoes of Alaska”). Note: they have tall rubber boots you can borrow for the entire cruise.
- Thinking I’d be OK without a phone or WiFi for a week. I’ll take a break from news! Emails! Texting! Seemed like a good exercise, but this cruise brought to light just how bad my phone/news/social media addiction had become. After a few days, I got REALLY antsy (probably because my husband and kids were back home). My mom’s cell phone got tiny spurts of one-bar service a few times, so I was able to exchange a few “How is everyone?” texts with my husband. But living without a phone is harder than it seems.
SheBuysTravel Tip: In the waterways around Glacier Bay National Park, ATT and CGI had better service than Verizon.
- Thinking a 70-degree forecast would be warm. The weather forecast called for temperatures to be in the mid to upper 70s. “How lucky are we!” I thought. So I packed just two sweatshirts and left my hat at home. Mistake. In straight sunlight in the middle of the day, it feels like 75 degrees. But if you’re in the shade, or if the wind blows (like if you’re on a skiff ride), it will feel like 50. So dumb of me – I was surrounded by glaciers, after all!
- Taking 1,000 scenery shots. I took way too many pictures. Now that I’m home, I’m not sure what to do with them all. No picture is going to capture the expansive beauty you will see on this Uncruise. Take some photos, of course, but after a while, put down the camera and take mental photos.
- Thinking I can’t exercise on a small boat. Every morning at 7 a.m., there was a 30-min stretch class on the top deck. There were also treadmills, stationary bikes and a set of weights with barbells. Nothin’ fancy, but functional.
- Thinking the cruise ship would be a COVID petri dish. Cruise ships and viruses have a long, bad history. But Uncruise took COVID very seriously. For our early August 2021 cruise, we had to show proof of vaccination, plus a negative test within 3 days and wear masks everywhere – even when we were all sitting together on an open-air boat. It was safer than my local grocery store. Speaking of safety, all passengers had to partake in safety drills before the boat leaves the dock. Which was good.
- Expecting calm water at all times. On our 7-day cruise, it was smooth sailing 95 percent of the time. It felt like riding on a barge. But one night, the boat was rockin’ and rollin’ in the middle of the night while we laid in our beds. I didn’t get sick (I’d taken a daily, precautionary Dramamine). But if you’re prone to seasickness like me, or not used to being on boats (also like me), it can be unsettling.
- Not buying rain pants, thinking I’d be OK if my jeans got a little wet. Have you been in wet jeans lately? It’s awful. And they take forever to dry. Rain pants, or fast drying pants, are a must.
- Cruise ship food would be bad. Um, all-you-can-eat Alaskan king crab legs for dinner? Thick-cut bacon and fresh frittatas for breakfast? Greek chicken, pita, couscous and salad for lunch? All yummy. Not a single bad meal on the seven-day trip.
Jamie Bartosch is an award-winning journalist in suburban Chicago. Her stories have been published in USA TODAY, A&E, Midwest Living magazine, the Chicago Daily Herald and dozens of other publications. A married mother of two teenagers, she blogs for SheBuysTravel.com from the viewpoint of a "typical suburban mom." Her goal is to provide honest, useful information to help parents save time, save money, and make the most of their family vacation. Learn more about her at https://www.jamiebartosch.com/.