“ISLAND FEVER” is what we call it here in Hawaii: the overwhelming desire to get off the rock and explore new places. My family and I maximize our travel time by being outdoors, filling every minute with camping, hiking, backpacking, road- tripping and exploring. However, after nine years of marriage and three children, my wife and I wanted a trip with just the two of us — and to relax a little more than our typical adventure style. The last thing I expected to do though was go on a guided cruise.

When the opportunity came up to join UnCruise Adventures on a one-week tour of Southeast Alaska, my wife and I decided to go for it. We found the cruise to be the perfect blend of balancing the relaxation of a cruise with a serious emphasis on adventure. Southeast Alaska has always been on my list and this opportunity to explore this new land, from Juneau to Sitka and everything in between with UnCruise was the perfect fit.

Upon arrival in Juneau, we started to meet the new faces that would quickly transition to friends while on the Wilderness Explorer. Dan Blanchard, the CEO of UnCruise, warmly welcomed us and passionately shared his love for the history and wilderness of Alaska. He sternly warned us to make this cruise more than a vacation and more than a check off the bucket list. With his contagious charisma, he encouraged us to enjoy the adventure and journey we were to embark on. We then met some of the staff and quickly found out that his passion for Alaska and adventure was the backbone and the culture of the crew.

The next person we met was our adventure guide, Ellie, who has years of experience guiding and exploring Alaska. She explained that the itinerary we initially received was frankly a “plan from which to deviate.” And deviate we did. Ellie kept a close watch on weather, tides, wildlife and other factors and adjusted the itinerary to the outdoors. We were to discover that spring time is the perfect season to explore Southeast Alaska.

1

Glacier Bay

There are no roads into Glacier Bay, and you can only access this park by boat or plane. We had the opportunity to experience this park by kayak. This was our first of many kayak missions.

2

Stand Up Paddleboarding

For open paddle, Sally and I opted for the stand-up paddle (SUP). We SUP quite often in Hawaii, but being surrounded with blue skies, snow-capped mountains, and waterfalls, was simply magical.

3

Glacier Bay National Park

Our first stop on “our plan from which to deviate” was Glacier Bay National Park where we were granted 2 full days. This area is one of the most impressive National Parks in the US. Pictured here is Margerie Glacier.

4

Lamplugh Glacier

Glaciers have always been a foreign, almost mythical concept to me, since I grew up in a tropical climate. This made the experience of paddling to the terminal face of Lamplugh Glacier even more incredible.

5

Polar plunge

These are the first brave souls that took the plunge that allowed Sally and me to gather up the courage for our own polar immersion. With Lamplugh Glacier in the distance and sporadic icebergs floating in the area, we jumped in. But as quickly as we entered the frigid water, we ungracefully exited.

6

Rainbows and glaciers

Immediately following our polar plunge, we grabbed a Hot Toddy from the bar and thawed out in the hot tub. A bonus was the appearance of a beautiful rainbow. Perhaps only in the spring season will you get to witness a rainbow perfectly positioned with Lamplugh Glacier as the pot of gold.

7

Humpback whales

Our guides shared that about 90% of the whales that make SE Alaska home for the summer months are the same whales that migrate from Hawaii during the winter months. To see the full circle of their migratory life was eye-opening after seeing whales in the Hawaiian waters my whole life.

8

Young bald eagle

In Alaska, Bald Eagles are common. In some towns, they are very accustomed to human interaction and are often fed by them. However, this photo is quite special because we were deep in the wilderness. This was on a skiff ride to a bushwhack and we observed this juvenile eagle from a distance, but as we approached it didn’t fly away. We hushed our voices, idled the motor and drifted about 8 feet away from this eagle. Our guide said that was the closest she has been to an eagle in the wild.

9

The best way to explore

On our last full day, Sally and I decided to do another kayak adventure. We navigated our way through islands and inlets. I think that the best way to explore SE Alaska is getting in the water and paddling around.

10

All alone

For nearly the entire trip there were no signs of civilization. Experiencing the SE Alaskan wilderness with UnCruise was proving to go beyond any expectations we had.

11

Fairweather Range

When we anchored at George Islands, Sally and I did a beach walk that had views of the Fairweather Range. Of the many towering peaks, Mt. Fairweather was tallest. Aptly named because the mountain is only unveiled in fair weather, Fairweather stands taller than any peak in the lower 48 (and Hawaii).

12

SE Alaska sunsets

We had a few beautiful sunsets, but this one was my favorite with the “God Beams.” Our guides actually knew the meteorological term for these beams: crepuscular rays. Being here with UnCruise in spring had an extra aesthetic. Having beautiful weather coupled with snow-capped mountains made for a super-real experience.

13

Common Murre

While Humpback whales were spouting and fluking all around the Wilderness Explorer, I observed these beautiful Common Murre floating by.

14

Tlingit history

On our skiff tours, our guides share many stories of the Tlingit culture. As we passed certain locations we would learn about the significance of the places to native people.

15

Hiking in the wild

One of our daily options was to go on bushwhacks -- and it literally was whacking bushes or in some cases getting whacked by bushes. The guides would share about wildlife, plants, fungi, scat, and which plants were edible. In the photo above, we just emerged from the thick forest into this open meadow where we found very fresh brown bear scat. On this bushwhack, we also ate Devil’s Club and Sitka Spruce both of which I would never have guessed would be edible.

16

Untouched shore

Our beach hike was on untouched shore, and the only sign of civilization was the Wilderness Explorer anchored in the distance. We found a cave leading into the other side of the island and observed tracks appearing to be from a canine.

17

Open paddle

There were a couple of times we anchored and the crew unloaded all the toys and let us explore on our own. This particular area in which we anchored is called Deep Bay and was especially tranquil for our open paddle.

18

Skiffs

These powerful skiffs jetted us along most days on our cruise. The skiffs would drop us off for our bushwhacks or beach walks and there were also skiff tours where a guide would take us around sharing about the geology, history, and rich culture of the setting.

19

Stellar Sea Lions

These Islands were not only home to many birds, but to Steller Sea Lions as well. They had deep cacophonous banter between each other. These massive animals were lounging on the top of rocks that were quite steep to climb. I got to witness a couple sea lions actually scramble up the steep rock and I was amazed at their climbing ability despite how clumsy they appear. What was more impressive than their banter and climbing was their smell. You need to experience it to appreciate it.

20

Puffins and cormorants

The whole seven days was a bird watcher’s dream, but the South Marble Islands was by far the best area. We were fortunate enough to see Tufted Puffins as well as Pelagic Cormorants in midflight.

21

South Marble Islands

The South Marble Islands are home to numerous bird species. One of my favorites was the Black Legged Kittiwake. These birds nest on the steep cliff side and get their name from the sound of their call that sounds like they are saying “kittiwake.”

22

Time for relaxation

When we weren’t off the boat exploring, we enjoyed staying in the lounge relaxing with our new friends or reading a book. This was the view from our room.

23

Amazing scenery everywhere

When we anchored, we got to leave the boat to explore, but while en route to different areas, part of the enjoyment was simply soaking in the raw beauty constantly surrounding us.

24

Bear spotting

Throughout the whole week there were ample opportunities to view wildlife. Gloomy Knob was one place in particular. This cliff side was dotted with white mountain goats. We also got to see a monstrous brown bear that had maybe awakened from a winter of slumber.

25

Free to roam

The Wildness Explorer anchored in a dramatic setting surrounded by glaciers, snow covered mountains feeding dozens of cascades coming down the rugged mountains, and the turquoise water (which adds a nice contrast). The mountains off in the distance are in Canada.

26

The Wilderness Explorer

For one week, this was our home and launching point while we explored Glacier Bay National Park and SE Alaska. The Wilderness Explorer has room for about 70 guests allowing for a very personal experience with the outdoors. The crew made the effort to learn everyone’s name. I quickly learned that exploring this area is a must on a small boat like the Wilderness Explorer.

27

A unique SE Alaska experience

Our UnCruise journey ended at the historic town of Sitka. Although only 100 miles from Juneau as the crow flies, our 7 days aboard the Wilderness Explorer were filled with so much adventure and exploring so many places. We took Dan’s words to heart and made this much more than a vacation and a check-off list. UnCruise Adventures allowed Sally and me to experience Glacier Bay National Park and SE Alaska in a unique way. The crewmembers on the Wilderness Explorer were an exceptional team and every aspect of our cruise was flawlessly executed.

[Note: Aaron and his wife, Sally, were guests of UnCruise Adventures on their Northern Passages & Glacier Bay tour.]

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