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Insiders Reveal What to Expect on a Small-Ship Alaska Cruise

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Pam shows off the beauty of a tidewater glacier while navigating through bergy bits in Southeast Alaska.

Pam shows off the beauty of a tidewater glacier while navigating through bergy bits in Southeast Alaska.

Lead expedition guide Hannah Hindley and operations program manager Pam Navis share what inspired their love of the outdoors and what makes the UnCruise Adventures experience in Alaska unique, plus tips for first-timers.

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How did you become passionate about the ocean and outdoor adventures?

Hannah Hindley: I grew up in a little town in California and entertained myself in the oak woodlands and tide pools. My dad was an engineer on big cargo ships, so I learned to love the sea and maritime culture. At 15, my first backpacking trip (in Yosemite’s backcountry) really set me on fire—sleeping under the stars and walking in places where there were no trails.

I studied English and Biology in college and eventually realized that when you love weaving stories and digging under rocks and route-finding through the woods and researching old adventure lore, there’s only one job that makes sense: being a guide.

Pam Navis: As kids, my brother and I were always outdoors, often biking or skiing. My first ocean adventures came when my mom took us to go clamming, explore tidal pools, and play in the chilly Salish Sea. Years later, I moved to Hawaii and took a crew position on a sailing catamaran. That was my first real introduction to boating, and we’ve been inseparable since.

What attracted you to UnCruise?

Hannah: I had worked in national parks for years and felt Alaska was my next frontier. But most marine naturalist positions in Alaska are on day boats that go out for a couple of hours, look for whales, and come back into port. I didn’t want to be behind a microphone all day working with passengers whose names I’d never know.

UnCruise is one of the few small-ship expedition companies that operate in Alaska, and trips with extended time on shore in the wild sounded exciting. I wanted to get out and play and poke squishy things and tell stories in the woods, and UnCruise seemed like a perfect platform for true “outdoor education.”

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Pam: After 20 years in Maui, I moved back to the mainland and missed being in the marine industries. A friend of a friend suggested UnCruise. After an incredible first season in Alaska, it was apparent how much I enjoyed working with the guests, and I was asked to lead my own skiff tours and become the “Deckspedition” crewmember. By the end of summer, I was offered a position as Expedition Leader, which I loved, and by the next year, I took a position as Adventure Programs Manager—although I still get out on the boats and get my boots in the mud every once and a while.

What distinguishes the UnCruise experience?

Hannah: Other similar-sized boats operate in some of UnCruise’s destinations, but they tend to either stick rigidly to the same itinerary every week, or they pack a whole bunch of guests into big groups led by a single guide. It’s either inflexible or crowded. UnCruise is special in that every week, we look for new adventures and new places to explore so that we don’t have too heavy an impact on any one spot. Sure, we offer comforts and personalized care, but it’s also about taking risks and getting dirty. When you UnCruise—either as a guide or as a guest—you’re signing up for adventure.

Pam: We care and are passionate about what we do and we want to share it. I have seen that from both sides of the company—working on the boats and being in the office. Plus, our boats are intimate, the smallest with 22 guests and largest with 86. When I first started on the boat, my crew said we are “framily,” a term used for “friends and family” and we really do get close with our guests. 

On guided hikes in Alaska, Hannah weaves together information to explain how the ecosystem hums along.

What advice do you have for someone going on their first UnCruise?

Hannah: There's no bad weather, only bad gear. There won't be an Internet connection where you're going; come ready to live in the moment. You don't have to squeeze everything into every day. Give yourself permission to lay back and watch the sky or to sip a hoppy beverage and enjoy the reflections on the water. And if you can't pack all of the adventures into this trip, you can always sign up on board for another one. You might even see some familiar guides; we tend to stick around.

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Pam: Be prepared for a trip like no other. It’s a life changer. The pictures you will take won’t even match the beauty you encounter and the experience you will share, but bring your camera anyway and a journal.

Some travelers are used to going it independently and may be skeptical of cruises. What would surprise them about UnCruise?

Hannah: This isn’t a cruise; this is an expedition into wildernesses that can’t be accessed any other way. We stop when we find critters pacing the shore and shut down the engines so we can hear whales singing next to the ship.

Pam: Be prepared to adventure in pristine out-of-the-way areas on a kayak and to hike, bushwhack, skiff tour, and even snorkel in Alaska. But also be prepared to let our chefs and pastry chefs spoil you. Try the bartender’s special of the day without a bar tab. Dig into the local culture or learn about the wildlife during our nightly presentations. Take to the hot tub after you polar plunge or chat with the captain up on the bridge.

Can you share any new UnCruise initiatives or offerings?

Pam: Next year, our boats are heading out early for our new April and May “Alaska Awakening” departures. We’ll be the first cruise in Alaska in the spring and we’ll be getting a jumpstart on the season with great opportunities to see the northern lights and wildlife waking up from winter during the driest time of the year in Southeast Alaska. It’s like getting a sneak preview into the region, before most of the visitors arrive.

What are some of your favorite memories of UnCruise expeditions?

Hannah: There’s a motto we have in the guiding world: “Last week didn’t happen.” We want our guests living in this moment, in this place, focusing on the wonders at hand. But I’ve been guiding with UnCruise for over 10 seasons, and the wonders definitely stack up.

Then there are the things I’ve witnessed people do on our trips: smearing their faces with war paint made from glacial silt; back flipping off the top deck of the boat; powering through a wind storm in their kayaks; and seeing bears or whales for the first time. These trips make people happy.

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