Young passengers learn about nature and wildilife from guides on Alaska nature hikes. // © 2014 Cecile Schutter
Feature image (above): Guides on Un-Cruise Alaska sailings make learning fun for children. // © 2014 Cecile Schutter
One of the first clients Nancy Fowler sold on a Un-Cruise Adventures sailing in Alaska brought along her 90-year-old mother. Shore excursions and on-water sightseeing require that passengers climb onto a small boat, an activity that proved challenging for the older traveler.
“The crew was so amazing,” said Fowler, a travel consultant with Willamette International Travel in Portland, Ore. “The young staff just decided that she was going to get into that boat. They had that can-do attitude, and they took the time and modified things so she could do it. That was a very unique experience, and it made the trip for her.”
Vickie Bennett has twice experienced an Alaska sailing with Un-Cruise. On both sailings, she participated in an excursion hiking Lamplugh Glacier.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” noted Bennett, a senior group specialist with Avoya Travel in Vista, Calif. “It takes about six hours from the time you leave the vessel until you get back. It’s so fabulous! I can’t wait to do it again next year.”
“Our guide had about eight different degrees,” Bennett added. “He was one of those guys who can go out there with a toothpick and build a home and be happy living in the wilderness on his own for years. The guides are all fantastic. You get history and lessons in nature just from asking them questions.”
When the 31-member family group Sharon Whiting sold on an Un-Cruise Alaska sailing disembarked, they had a surprise waiting for them: Dan Blanchard, CEO of Un-Cruise Adventures, was there on the dock to greet them and personally thank them for their business.
“The whole Un-Cruise experience is driven by the strength of the staff,” commented Whiting, a cruise consultant with Cruise Specialists in Seattle. “They aren’t shy about stepping out of the box to enhance bonding with customers. It speaks to their flexibility as a company.”
Agents also sang the praises of the Un-Cruise staff and crew in taking care of younger travelers.
“It’s fabulous with kids,” said Cecile Schutter, agent and owner of West University Travel in Houston, who recently sailed on Un-Cruise in Alaska with two grandchildren. “It’s an environment that really lets kids run around onboard. And the counselors were outstanding. The activities they did with the kids onboard were very much focused on learning about nature but were a lot of fun.”
Some activities included making volcanoes out of ice (to learn how volcanoes work); enjoying sports recreation such as kayaking and paddleboarding; and taking nature walks.
“On the walks, we were in the wilderness so the counselors are teaching kids how to spot bears and listen for them, and how to keep your eyes open for bald eagles,” said Schutter.
Travel agents experienced in selling Alaska and other destinations from Un-Cruise offer a few insider tips:
Get educated: “Take the Adventurist course,” advised Fowler, who said it takes about a dozen hours to complete. “It does an excellent job comparing the styles of travel, and it covers the nuances of the different ships. If you’re serious about bringing Un-Cruise into your product mix, it will really help you. And watch the videos on the website and read the FAQs. They cover about 99 percent of the questions that anybody will ask you.”
Kids or no kids? One of the Alaska sailings Bennett participated in was specifically designated for children. “It was so refreshing,” she said. “It was wonderful to have all these excited little kids on board.”
Even so, qualifying the client regarding the kind of onboard experience they want is crucial.
“Know the sailing dates that focus on kids,” said Schutter. “If you put a couple onboard with no kids, they may not be pleased. If someone likes to sit down and share a bottle of wine and have a little quiet time, that won’t happen when you have kids onboard. It can be quite disruptive for people who want to have an adult dining experience.”
Sell small-ship cruising: “Don’t be afraid to suggest a small-ship experience,” Whiting said. “Don’t feel insecure that you are doing a disservice to your clients by not putting them on a large ship with multiple lounges. I would see it as an advantage even for a first-time cruiser, to expose them to small-ship cruising. Once they experience an in-depth interaction with the natural world, you can resell them to a different destination with the same small-ship format.”