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WORDS: Brian Evans

Like a mega-yacht with 20 friends

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt takes a while to get used to the clarity of the air. Everything appears extra sharp and defined.

Your eyes become attuned to watching for slight motions in the sea or on shore. Perhaps a sea otter floating on its back opening a mussel with a rock, or a black bear emerging from the forest. Soon it seems as if wildlife is everywhere around you.

Welcome to Alaska – a place with a reputation for being at the end of the world.

We had arrived on Un-Cruise Adventures’ Safari Explorer – a small ship that sails so close to glaciers that you can almost touch them and gets close enough to shore to get a good view of bears, whales and sea lions.

There are fewer than 40 guests on board our ship with a three-to-one guest/crew ratio.

On board, we are treated to fresh, healthy meals, and enjoy creature comforts like DVDs and iPod docks. A wide variety of excursions is offered, led by a team of experienced expedition leaders and naturalists who are experts on Alaskan culture and topography.

This last July, my eight days on the Safari Explorer to Glacier Bay and the Inland Passage felt like being on a mega-yacht with 20 friends and a friendly crew.

It’s all-inclusive, so no wallets are required. Each meal is gourmet, with two entrée options each night—seafood, meat or a combination of both along with free-flowing wine.  Needless to say, the bar was well frequented.

In life on-board a small ship, the suffix “ish” is an integral part of the vocabulary. For example, although there is a daily schedule, the first priority at any given moment is spotting wildlife. Consequently, whether you’re eating a meal, sailing in a kayak or skiff, or off hiking, if a whale, bald eagle or bear appears, all attention turns toward that. Flexibility is key, so depending on events, dinner may be at 7 or 7.30-ish. You get my meaning?

Each wildlife excursion is preceded by in-depth lectures from the expedition leaders. Many of the sightings were from the bow, using binoculars to scan for birds, bears, humpbacks, dolphins and other animals.

We also viewed wildlife from our kayaks and skiffs. Guests are advised to remain silent and keep a safe distance from both glaciers and animals.

An eight-day round-trip cruise from Juneau to explore the Inland Passage includes anchoring in Glacier Bay National Park for two nights. Un-Cruise Adventures has been awarded a premium two-night permit to anchor there and for guests/crew to hike on shore.

The Un-Cruise voyages provide cultural encounters with local residents and a complete spectrum of activities, all designed to make your time as engaging, active and varied as you like. Whether your preference is kayaking, hiking, soaking in the hot tub and tasting regional wines, your greatest challenge each day will be choosing how to spend your time.

From the exquisite beauty of the Inside Passage to the frozen rivers of Glacier Bay, the wildlife haven of Denali to the Gold Rush legacy of Skagway, this is a land no two people experience in exactly the same way. Yet almost everyone leaves longing to return to see more of this amazing place.