“Live” Cruise Review: Un-Cruise Safari Endeavour, Alaska 2013 – The Offboard Experience
…Catch up on The Un-Cruise Onboard Experience
As great as the onboard experience is on an Un-Cruise adventure, it’s during the available offboard opportunities that these voyages most shine. After all, there is no cruise director on the Safari Endeavour. Instead, it’s your captain and expedition leader along with their excellent team that take point, run the show and present the natural wonders of Alaska to you.
One of the biggest differences from a traditional cruise here is the itinerary format. As much as I love Ketchikan and Skagway in Alaska, they are not points of interest on this Discoverers’ Glacier Country cruise nor are any standard ports of call. In fact, the only time between embarking and disembarking in Juneau that the boat is ever docked is at Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay for a morning of hiking and picking up a park ranger for two great days worth of guided exploration.
Indeed the Inside Passage and Glacier Bay are really the only two familiar destinations to former mega cruise ship goers like myself, but even then, the chance to stay in the national park overnight and literally trek into the wilderness as usually seen far in the distance on larger vessels is the real treat.
The Safari Endeavour indeed cruises into some of Alaska’s tightest inlets and coves on the map as we did at Patterson Bay with an impromptu stop in the steep sided valley washed with dramatic waterfalls (as seen in the header image above). With an Un-Cruise, the views are never far off, and the activities are just a kayak or skiff ride away. And sometimes still, the activity is immediately off the back of the boat where I partook in my very first polar bear plunge.
The offboard activities offered throughout the day include skiff rides, hikes, kayaking, paddle boarding and yes, polar bear plunging. A detailed description of those available each day – which vary by destination – are presented the night before at happy hour and scheduled by your expedition leader. Also, different varieties and intensities of each are usually offered several times daily to ensure that everyone can participate in their preferred activities, which are all included in the cruise fare.
Skiff rides are leisurely small inflatable boat tours led by an expedition guide that last about an hour or so and get even closer to the action than the Safari Endeavour herself. In Glacier Bay, for instance, we got within a quarter-mile of Lamplugh Glacier while a larger cruise ship passed by much farther off in the distance. Our delightful park ranger, Linda Lieberman, even encouraged us to try a glacial “popsicle” – a taste of 100-200 year old ice floating away from the glacier – and it was very clean and fresh.
The skiff rides are great for those with limited mobility who may have difficulty hiking or kayaking. They are also perfect opportunities to take your cameras out to get telephoto images of the nearby flora and fauna, but do be careful in the rain. When dryly bundled up yourself, it’s easy to dismiss just how wet your camera can get as I and many others onboard discovered when our cameras began to malfunction.
The skiffs are also the means to get to shore for various hikes that range from enjoying leisurely photo-ops to mounting advanced terrain. Wooden boxes are used as sturdy makeshift steps at the front of the boat to get on and off in tidal areas. One stroll afforded a great chance to see the inlet and Pacific sides of George Island as well as the mysterious remains of an abandoned logging operation. Another hike even discovered a World War II cannon left behind.
Also, pay close attention to the hike descriptions to ensure that you’re up to the challenge. A relaxed photo walk with a wet landing in our case turned out to be an unexpected hike exclusively through sticky mud and rocky streams. In those cases, use hiking sticks if available onboard. To be sure, it’s all part of the adventure, and the photos captured from these areas do not disappoint.
Foul Weather Gear
As a quick aside, it’s worth noting that during many of these activities, you will get wet. It rains pretty regularly in Alaska, and having the right clothing and gear is crucial to enjoying your journey. On skiff rides, even a light rain can quickly accumulate and soak your pants. A water repellant coat may be enough when just standing but not when you’re sitting down for an hour. The same is true of your shoes. You will need rain pants and boots. Both are available in limited quantities onboard, but I ran across a leaky pair of pants. So, I’d recommend bringing your own just to be safe.
In my opinion, kayaking is probably the most enjoyable thing to do in Alaska off the Safari Endeavour, and the EZ Dock launch system (seen above) integrated into the back of the boat makes boarding the kayak a breeze. Here the kayak remains steady as you hop in until the staff helps push you back onto the water, and it’s just as convenient when you return.
The kayaks are the best way to get right at sea level and immerse yourself entirely in the environment alone, short of a polar bear plunge that is, but we’re not quite to that yet. There are guided kayaking and open kayaking opportunities. With a guide, you can go out from the boat much farther, but an open kayak lets you explore independently as long as you’re within the set boundaries and sight of the staff.
Guided kayaking is usually at a swifter pace with more to see, but respites are built in as well as consideration for the needs of the group. There’s nothing quite like paddling along with others and seeing a harbor seal poke its head out a yard ahead of you to say a quick “hello.” It’s also quite nice to branch out on your own when it’s quieter and more secluded. Either option is fantastic, and you can easily do both.
Paddle Boarding (and Polar Bear Plunging)
You may wonder why I’ve included paddle boarding with polar bear plunging, and the reason is that if you lose your balance standing on a paddle board, the other naturally accompanies it. Honestly, paddle boarding, although unattempted by yours truly, is very stable. No one fell off who did try it, and life jackets are worn during all aquatic activities just in case.
On the other hand, I was one of only five onboard who joined the polar bear plunge club and the only one representing the USA at that. The other two couples were some of our new Aussie friends. Apparently, we were the only ones crazy, nay brave, enough to go for it, and it sure was worth it. It is indeed momentarily breathtaking, but it’s also one of the most refreshing and exhilarating experiences ever. And the boat’s two hot tubs are immediately ready to warm you up once back onboard.
A few remaining onboard activities to discuss include said hot tubs which are amazing after the plunge, especially while enjoying an Alaskan White Ale from the bar as that particular beer’s icon is, in fact, a polar bear. Otherwise, just warming up in the hot water while the chilly water passes by is sublime anyways. And if you’re feeling extraordinarily motivated, exercise equipment is available on the top deck under cover as are morning yoga classes at the covered fantail.
For more information on Un-Cruise and the Safari Endeavour, visit the line’s website here.
Do you have any questions about our Un-Cruise adventure? Please feel free to ask away in the comments section below, and we’ll be sure to answer you.