UnCruise Adventures on Saturday became the first cruise line to resume overnight cruising in U.S. waters since the Covid-19 pandemic shut down global travel in March.
The company's Wilderness Adventurer departed Juneau with 37 passengers and 30 crew for a seven-day cruise on the line's Glacier Bay Adventure itinerary.
"For all of Juneau, all of Alaska, we celebrate with you," said UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard in a video posted to Twitter just before the Wilderness Adventurer left the dock.
"There's a little sparkle of hope amongst a lot of gray days," he added, laughing, as the ship's crew waved in the background. Blanchard himself untied the ship's ropes.
UnCruise capped the 60-passenger vessel for this sailing and made modifications to the experience. Per Alaska requirements, all passengers had to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of arrival. Onboard there will be daily temperature checks, and the crew, which has also been quarantined on the ship for more than a month, is mostly sleeping in guest quarters and wearing masks and social distancing while onboard.
The company's owner and CEO spoke in June about the changes guests can expect as cruising resumes.
Guests and crew are expected to wear masks and social distance onboard when walking around the ship. They can be removed during excursions when people are distanced from each other. The line also brought on more crew than normal in order to amp up its cleaning and sanitation procedures -- the ship is being sprayed with atomizers several times a day -- and to have more expedition staff to keep people doing, what Blanchard said in a pre-departure interview was "what we do best, which is being out in the wilderness and exploring and doing all of that all day off the boat."
UnCruise and other small-ship lines are able to operate because the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's No-Sail Order only applies to ships of 250 passengers and above. But while other small-ship lines have had to abort plans to restart cruises this summer, most notably American Cruise Lines' decision to suspend Alaska sailings and its planned July river cruises on the Mississippi and Columbia and Snake rivers because of infections spikes in those areas, Blanchard said the nature of the UnCruise experience is what enabled the line to become the first to actually set sail since April.
The ship won't visit any ports, and its passengers will be outside and off the boat for most of the trip. Typical days include kayaking around glaciers and fjords, hiking and bushwhacking and taking small-boat excursions for up-close wildlife viewing.
"The whole idea we had is that we're going to depart from Juneau, and it will be all wilderness based: more hours off the boat than on the boat in any given day is the way it typically works for us," Blanchard said.
"It fit quite well for the new norm."
The other small-ship lines that planned to launch this summer in Alaska had more port calls, like American Cruise Lines and Alaskan Dream Cruises, which visits native villages and fishing towns, which just last week decided to cancel its season.
Blanchard said that UnCruise asked passengers to isolate for the week prior to the trip; to try and fly on airlines with the best responses to the pandemic and not sit in middle seats on fights; and to wear masks and social distance. He also reached out to passengers just before they left to remind them that Alaska may have different rules than their home states and asked that they be prepared to "mask up and social distance. It may not be happening in your home, but that's the way we make this work."
Guests were also asked, if possible, to arrive in Juneau the day of the trip and do any stays there at the end of the cruise, which most people did.
"That's being kind to our crew and to Juneau and reducing exposure," Blanchard said.
"The message was, the success of this trip is equally shared between guests and crew," he added. "It's been heartwarming to get the emails and calls back from our guests saying: we are right on board with you. We wouldn't be traveling if we weren't taking the right precautions."
UnCruise has five Glacier Bay Adventure departures scheduled this season.