Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures stands at the bridge of the Safari Quest, one of several boats that will ply Alaksa's waters this season. He said the stuffed animal is the ship's official mascot. His daughter, Denee Blanchard, is the captain of the vessel, which left Juneau for a weeklong cruise on May 15. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

UnCruise sets sail with a larger fleet

Strong demand results in more ships moving to Juneau

As large cruise vessels are on a pandemic-induced hiatus, smaller cruise ships — like those run by UnCruise Adventures — are off to a strong start this season.

Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures, said that demand for cruises in Alaska has been robust this year.

“The phone rang off the hook when we announced all vaccinated cruises,” Blanchard said during a recent phone interview. “People want to get out and travel but realize, ‘hey, let’s not be stupid about this.’”

Blanchard said that after COVID-19 protocols shut down cruises in Washington state, his company pivoted and brought additional ships to Alaska.

Biden signs bill opening door for Alaska cruises to resume

“We took our original boat that we started with in the 1990s and moved it to Juneau and got started,” he said, adding that the cruise line has added three weeks to the season and UnCruise will run six boats out of Juneau to meet demand from travelers.

“A trip to Juneau is a big hit,” Blanchard said, explaining that Juneau is a turnaround point for the vessels with passengers often spending a few days in town before or after the cruise.

“Guests go on hikes around town and enjoy dining, primarily downtown. A lot of people come to fish early,” he said.

Blanchard said that the typical UnCruise Adventure guest is someone who enjoys adventure but appreciates comfort.

Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures explains that guests often climb onto inflatable skiffs to get a closer look at Alaska's wonders. “We are wilderness-based,” he said, adding that the ship is the destination in traditional cruises. However, for UnCruise, the sites of Alaska are the main attractions. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

He said the ship’s small numbers and reduced capacity make it easier to comply with social distancing and other COVID protocols. He acknowledges that the transition back to travel and tourism post-vaccines will likely be a tricky path.

“Everyone is having difficulty going from unvaccinated to vaccinated,” he said. “Vaccination is the way to go, and it’s safe. It’s just taking time for people to catch up.”

Blanchard offered the “ultimate praise” for Alaska’s federal officials, who have “shepherded us through this period.”

He also said that Mayor Beth Weldon and Mila Cosgrove, deputy city manager and CBJ COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center incident commander, have been especially helpful as he pivoted his business to Juneau this year.

Covering the water: Execs talk restarting cruises, industry future and ballot initiatives

UnCruise vessels aren’t the only thing moving to Juneau. With his office lease expiring in Seattle, Blanchard said he’s expanding his corporate presence in Juneau with a new space at the Seadrome Marina building downtown.

Blanchard said that the sales and marketing functions will be moving to Juneau later this year.

“We are hoping to bring in some new jobs,” Blanchard said.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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