UnCruise Adventures, whose small ships navigate waters in the U.S., Mexico and South America, will resume its Alaska tours Aug. 1 with a seven-night roundtrip Glacier Bay National Park Adventure itinerary starting in Juneau. UnCruise owner and CEO Dan Blanchard spoke with destinations editor Eric Moya about the changes guests can expect and how they should prepare before departure, and discussed the company's outlook for its other destinations.
Q: Could you talk about the decision-making process that led to resuming your Alaska tours?
A: Both Alaska and Hawaii took very stern views on the spread of Covid-19, which I myself as an Alaskan am really proud of. For us it was a combination of Alaska starting to open up and some of the opening guidelines, combined with what we were creating in a very fast-changing environment as far as guidelines. So, for instance, we have always felt that, regardless of what the state of Alaska is doing, we needed and wanted testing prior to boarding, and that's because of the nature of our activities and what we do. So that was part of it too, but when Alaska came out with its edict on testing [within 72 hours of arriving in Alaska], that really set the stage for us to move ahead.
Q: How might the guest experience differ compared with past years?
A: The testing does give you freedom you don't normally have. So that with us really has to happen because we're putting people in kayaks, we're putting them on paddleboards and in skiffs. Because those activities require a crew member taking the arm of another person and easing them into a launch ... we always felt like testing had to be there in order to pull that off.
Also, we typically aren't a port-call company; our activities are all about wilderness. And so the one advantage that UnCruise Adventures has is: we don't make port calls during the trip. When you think about the community you're coming back to, they're much more at ease because the only people we're going to see are the people on the boat during that period, even though we're out in the wilderness hiking and kayaking and doing small-group activities all day long.
As far as our actual operations go, there are certain physical distancing things we'll have in place. There are no buffets, and tables have been spread apart for dining. We have certain passageways that are one way so that we just keep the flow. And this is with people that have been tested and proven not to have Covid-19, so you have to keep that extra precaution in mind that we're taking there.
Q: Are you reducing the ship's normal capacity?
A: Yeah, we are. Every morning we take people's temperatures, and if we need to isolate [sick crew members] we have a number of cabins we've pulled off for isolation cabins only. We actually added crew because of the extra rounds in sanitation that need to take place. It's pretty much a constant effort from stem to stern of wiping down and sanitizing. I doubt any of these things will disappear after Covid-19, because they're just smart.
Q: What should guests do before departure to prepare?
A: What we're asking people to do to prepare at home is have a test 72 hours out from departure and prove a negative test, but also we're asking that appropriate social distancing or physical distancing take place prior to the trip as they prepare, to reduce exposure and not come sick.
Q: What's the outlook for some of your other destinations?
A: We believe Alaska and Hawaii have done a really wise thing, so we're bullish on Hawaii. We don't start operating there until December, but we're very bullish on that operation. Other areas, we're still waiting. We operate down in Belize and Panama and Costa Rica, and we're watching that closely and trying to understand what all those countries are coming up with for their own policies.