Intimate Experience: With just 22 to 84 passengers, Un-Cruise Adventures vessels are the Antithesis of the usual crowded megaships.
Built-In Shore Excursions: Most off-ship excursions and activities (such as kayaking and skiffing) are included in the cruise fare, as is an open bar on Un-Cruise’s Luxury and Heritage Adventures vessels.
Night Anchorages: A great boon to light sleepers, the routes taken allow time for the vessels to often anchor overnight, making for quiet nights and gorgeous mornings in coves and inlets.
The Price: On Un-Cruise’s Luxury Adventures in particular, the least expensive accommodations can start at more than $600 per person per night. At a recommended 5% to 10% of the tariff, gratuities also add mightily to the outlay. In short, you pay for all the privacy and pampering.
Looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure? That’s what it’s all about at Un-Cruise Adventures, which might be best thought of as the unofficial successor to the much-loved (and sadly defunct) CruiseWest.
Un-Cruise Adventures fills a distinct niche in waterborne travel, offering vacationers the chance to explore remote areas by luxury yacht, small expedition ship, or small coastal steamer. None of the company’s eight vessels holds more than 88 passengers, and a key element of Un-Cruise trips is unraveling the tradition of rigid cruise-ship schedules. Itineraries are flexible, and getting off the ship and interacting with the spectacular landscape visited, in a meaningful way, is the focus.
In short, it’s not a typical cruise, hence the line’s name, Un-Cruise. The idea is that this is a vacation to the outdoors that is on a ship only because that’s the easiest way to get people into remote areas. It’s not about cruising but about getting out into the wilderness.
All itineraries include kayaking, looking for wildlife in motorized inflatable boats, and hiking. Still, the cruises are designed so passengers who don’t want to participate in the most active adventures aren’t left out, and sailings offer all the creature comforts for which cruising is known, including gourmet cuisine, fine wines, and craft beers. Un-Cruise’s itineraries are broken down into two categories: High-priced Luxury Adventures where the outdoor exploring is leavened with no shortage of pampering and inclusions; and similar but less-expensive Active Adventures. How can you tell the two apart? Un-Cruise Adventures’ luxury ships all have blue hulls, while the more inexpensive Active Adventure ships feature a forest-green hull.
On all of the line’s cruises (regardless of category), the onboard experience is informal and friendly. You won’t need a keycard to access your stateroom, as doors are left unlocked during the day (but can be locked by you from the inside). An easy onboard/ashore system made up of a metallic whiteboard and magnets eliminates that awful embarking photo and the need to zap your keycard in and out. Finally, informal nightly entertainment put on by the crew gives sailings a real family feeling that you won’t find elsewhere.
The ship cruises both rivers and oceans. They have a large presence in Alaska, and also cruise in the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia and Snake rivers in Oregon and Washington state, Central America, Galapagos, Mexico’s Sea of Cortes, and Hawaii.
The company targets outdoorsy types who, in the words of one manager, are the kind of people who shop at outdoor store REI. They typically range from 40 to 70 years old but multigenerational families are also a solid market for this brand. Un-Cruise’s focus on wildlife and scenery on many itineraries can be appealing to teens and even young children, although those 13 and under aren’t allowed on the line’s two smallest yachts, except on select family departures. Un-Cruise often attracts people who have not cruised before and who are not particularly interested in a big-ship experience. Ages skew a bit younger on the line’s Active Adventure trips, which offer a lower price point.
On Luxury Adventures, shipboard chefs delight guests with multicourse, ridiculously good meals (such as fresh halibut ceviche, outstanding fresh muffins every morning, and smoked salmon). Given the opportunity, chefs barter with nearby fishing boats for the catch of the day and raid local markets for the freshest fruits and vegetables. Passengers on Luxury Adventures also can serve themselves from the well-stocked bar, which during our recent visit had two kinds of sherry and four brands of gin alone, all of them premium; there were also a variety of Alaskan beers to savor.
On Active Adventures, the dining is simpler though still scrumptious. Passengers assemble in a single dining room for breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets. A typical dinner might include a main course of roasted Pacific cod paired with a side dish of sauteed chayote and fire-roasted tomatoes, or a filet mignon with shallot tart tatin and roasted asparagus. The ships’ galleys also work wonders when it comes to desserts, baking items such as citrus tart or a pavlova with kiwi and strawberry sauce from scratch daily.
When passengers aren’t eating or drinking, an expedition leader is helping them into motorized rubber rafts or kayaks to explore glaciers and icebergs and to look for wildlife such as whales, bears, and sea lions. Other activities include landings by raft for guided hikes through remote forests, paddleboarding, snorkeling, polar bear club swims, birding, and glacier walks. The line even offers optional (extra charge) overnight camping trips from two of its Active Adventure ships. Typically, Un-Cruise will offer guests a series of activities with varying difficulty levels, from gentle beach walks to all-out bushwhacks. On the blue-hulled luxury fleet, emphasis is placed on soft adventure, though sometimes that’s a misnomer. On one blue-hulled cruise through Alaska aboard Safari Endeavour, we found ourselves crawling under old-growth tree branches and shimmying down the forest floor. The green-hulled fleet gets into even more hardcore adventuring.
The Un-Cruise ships carry high-quality equipment to use during outings, including top-of-the-line sea kayaks; trekking poles; some backpacks and day packs; binoculars; rain pants and slickers; mud boots; paddleboards; and wet suits (some, but not enough for all guests) for water activities.
Un-Cruise ships have no formal children’s programs, but the outdoorsy focus of the line’s Luxury and Active Adventures make them a natural for animal-loving kids; activities such as kayaking and hiking are tailored for all ages. Children ages 12 and under receive a discount of 25% off the regular cruise fare on select Kids in Nature sailings. Note: Children ages 12 and under are not allowed on the Safari Quest or Safari Explorer unless they are chartered or designated as Kids in Nature sailings.
Onboard entertainment takes on a variety different forms: We fondly remember a Sea of Cortes cruise where the entire ship disembarked for a late-night bonfire ashore, complete with campfire stories and sing-alongs. More usual are gatherings at the small but often lively onboard bar that serves local Alaskan craft beers (on Alaskan and Pacific Northwest sailings) on tap as well as wine and mixed drinks. Flatscreen TVs in the lounge/bar area are used to show educational videos and movies and sometimes, even videos shot by passengers. Many find themselves entranced by feeds from the bow-mounted underwater cameras (on most ships); these stream video into all TVs on board. Educational presentations are provided by onboard naturalists on select nights, with topics such as whales, glaciers, and native cultures.
Passengers can also relax in the evening under the night sky in the top-deck hot tubs or saunas found on most Un-Cruise ships. Some may choose to schedule a massage with the onboard wellness director/licensed masseuse (an extra charge on Active Adventures).
All of the line’s ships offer top-notch service, with the most pampering coming on Luxury Adventures, where the staff-to-passenger ratio is the highest. Naturalists and crewmembers facilitate all off-ship and onboard activities, as well as serve meals and perform housekeeping duties. The company suggests passengers leave an end-of-voyage tip for the crew of 5% to 10% of the cruise fare paid, which works out to around $200 to $400 per person for the typical cabin on an Active Adventure during the peak summer months (more for passengers on higher-priced Luxury Adventures).
CRUISETOURS & ADD-ON PROGRAMS
Un-Cruise offers land-tour add-on packages into Denali National Park and an Alaskan wilderness lodge. The line also offers pre- and post-cruise stopover packages in Ketchikan, Sitka, and Juneau that utilize well-established hotels, like Juneau’s Westmark Baranof, within easy walking distance of all attractions and, of course, your ship. In all instances, an Un-Cruise Hospitality Desk can be found in the hotel lobby to answer any questions you might have.
Expanding rapidly in recent years, Un-Cruise now operates eight vessels that carry from 22 to 88 passengers. Four of the vessels, all with safari in their names the Safari Endeavour, Safari Explorer, Safari Quest, and Safari Voyager focus on the line’s most upscale offerings, called Luxury Adventures (longtime cruise fans will recognize this segment of the company as what used to be called American Safari Cruises). Three other ships, all using the moniker wilderness the Wilderness Adventurer, Wilderness Discoverer, and Wilderness Explorer operate the company’s less-expensive Active Adventures. A single ship, a replica coastal steamer called S.S. Legacy, is dedicated to what the line calls Heritage Adventures history and culture trips.
S.S. Legacy A replica coastal steamer with plenty of charm, this ship conjures the romance of the past while offering the amenities modern cruisers expect.
THE SHIP IN GENERAL
Built in 1983, the 88-guest S.S. Legacy is patterned after the coastal packet steamers that plied the waters of the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the last century. The ship once sailed the waters of Alaska, but now navigates the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Oregon and Washington. Heavily refitted over the intervening decades to update decor and facilities, the 192-foot-long ship is UnCruise Adventures’ only history-focused vessel. Expect plenty of historical re-enactments and old-timey fun while aboard.
Cabins With the exception of the gargantuan Owner’s Suite on the Bridge Deck aft of the wheelhouse, the cabins aboard S.S. Legacy won’t wow you with their size. Still, all of them feature ocean views and amenities like flat-panel television sets and well-designed bathrooms. Storage space is better than you might expect, and luggage slips neatly under the beds, which are arranged as either two fixed twins or a single queen. Despite the fact they have two fixed twin beds, our favorite staterooms are the Commander rooms on Lounge and Upper Decks, which have access to large wraparound exterior promenades. For the most part, decor matches the ship’s turn-of-the-century theme, with attractive dark walnut furnishings and an old-timey banker’s lamp providing soft illumination (in addition to modern overhead lighting).
Public areas & activities For a ship of this size, you might be surprised at how many public areas the S.S. Legacy has. The forward-facing lounge, which slopes attractively upward along the ship’s bow and features 180-degree window views, serves coffee, tea, and snacks throughout the day, and the ship’s crack bartenders will whip up just about anything you can think of at the bar. For something different, head down to our favorite spot on the ship: the Pesky Barnacle Saloon. Tucked all the way aft on Main Deck behind the ship’s dining room, this nifty room can only be accessed by either walking straight through the dining room or ascending a ladder from the exterior promenade on Lounge Deck and opening a shell door. The rewards for finding the place: a complimentary selection of scotch, whisky, and bourbons from around the world. After a few of those, guests sometimes grab a bowler hat or a parasol from costume trunks stored at the aft end of the room Since the crew dresses like it’s 1896, you might as well join them.
There’s no pool aboard the ship, but there are two hot tubs located on either side of the Sun Deck. Some outdoor fitness equipment is located here as well, under a covered awning at the stern. The ship has two basic massage rooms, where you can enjoy a complimentary rubdown (additional massages are available for purchase).
Dining The main dining room is decorated with old-style faux tin ceilings and wood-varnished
Support columns and booths. If you don’t sit there, you can pick one of the many tables in the center of the room; sightlines are good throughout for looking out on the water. Though tasty, meals are far from haute cuisine. Instead, the emphasis is on regional ingredients (the chef often visits local markets), including wines and beers brought on board at nearly every port of call. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are plated, and typically two to three choices are offered. If you have dietary requirements, notify UnCruise Adventures in advance, and they’ll take good care of you.
Pampering and inclusive, this ship offers the best of the line in one package.
The largest of Un-Cruise Adventures’ blue-hulled luxury ships, the 84-guest Safari Endeavour is 232 feet in length, big enough to give her the feel of a large vessel, but small enough to let her sneak into unexpected places. She spends her summers in Alaska, and typically winters in Mexico’s Sea of Cortes. She’s got all the features you’d expect from a ship of this size, like plenty of open deck space, a large hot tub, and outdoor fitness equipment. The ship also features a hydrophone for underwater listening, a bow camera, and a fleet of Zodiac rafts and standup paddleboards that can be launched from a platform at the stern. Couple that with a self-serve wine bar, a small library, and a cozy lounge, and you’ve got one great little ship.
Cabins Each of Safari Endeavour ‘s 42 cabins comes with a flat-screen TV, an iPod docking station, and generous closet space. Most suitcases should slide conveniently under the beds, which come in either fixed twin or queen varieties depending on cabin category. While snug, cabins are attractively designed, with pleasant colors and comfortable beds. If there is a low point, it’s the bathrooms, which are tiny even for a ship of this size. Four Commodore Suites on Cabin Deck are substantially larger, and feature French balconies and bathrooms equipped with Jacuzzi tubs.
Public areas & activities The ship’s observation lounge enjoys outdoor access to the ship’s bow via a pair of doorways all the way forward. Coffee, tea, and snacks are served here throughout the day, and a full-service bar pours up cocktails and local specialties (try the Juneau-brewed Alaskan Amber Ale if you’re sailing in Alaska). A small but well-stocked library can be found off the port-side entrance to the ship’s dining room; the latter has a self-serve wine bar, but this doesn’t tend to be used outside of meal hours. A full wraparound promenade is located on Upper Deck, and an expansive Sun Deck one floor above provides great panoramic views.
Two hot tubs are secreted all the way aft on Upper Deck, and are popular at nearly every time of day. Fitness equipment is available outdoors on the open Sun Deck, and every guest is treated to one complimentary massage from the onboard masseuse (additional massages can be purchased).
Dining All meals are taken in the dining room located amidships on Main Deck. Seating tends to be at tables of four, six, and eight, which encourages couples to mingle among their fellow passengers. Meals are plated, and usually more than one choice is offered; if you have dietary restrictions, notify Un-Cruise prior to sailing and you’ll be happily accommodates. To truly appreciate the culinary staff, take part in the offered galley tour; it’s a postage stamp of a space that produces some great meals.
Safari Explorer – Safari Quest
The smallest ships in Un-Cruise Adventures’ fleet are the 36-guest Safari Explorer and the 22-guest Safari Quest. Although very different on the outside, they share many of the same amenities including some of the most spacious staterooms in the line and an atmosphere so relaxed you’ll feel like you own the place. Safari Explorer sails the waters of Alaska in the summer, then winters in Hawaii, offering weeklong voyages between Moloka’i and Hawai’i. Safari Quest also spends summers in Alaska, but in the shoulder season can be found cruising the picturesque waters of British Columbia and Washington state.
While both ships offer a remarkably similar cruise experience, there are some minute differences. Safari Explorer has an onboard wine bar and library, for instance, while Safari Quest does not. But unlike Explorer, Quest does have an underwater bow camera.
Cabins Accommodations on both ships are among the line’s most lavish, with comfy Tempur-Pedic memory-foam mattresses, flat-panel television screens, iPod docking stations, and large windows. Additionally, rooms have more space, on average, than many on the line’s other ships. Each also has one stateroom designed exclusively for solo travelers and priced accordingly.
Public areas & activities The main lounge, which can accommodate nearly every guest at once, is located next to the main dining room on both ships. Explorer ‘s lounge is supplemented by the adjacent Wine Library a winning combination to be sure. Both ships feature an outdoor bow viewing area and a spacious Sun Deck, and both benefit from having an outdoor promenade deck for Strolling and admiring the scenery. Safari Explorer offers guests one complimentary massage each (a perk not available on Safari Quest ). Yoga is only offered aboard Safari Explorer, too, though both ships have one hot tub apiece.
Dining Meals are served in the unpretentious main dining room A handful of choices are offered for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and are served plated. The food is usually delicious, even aboard the small Safari Quest, where meals develop a family-style atmosphere as the cruise progresses.
A substantial $4-million refit in early 2016 has finally brought this ship, which sails year-round through Costa Rica and Panama, up to UnCruise standards.
Safari Voyager is getting a little long in the tooth. Despite Un-Cruise Adventures’ best efforts, she entered service for the line back in late 2013 with no shortage of technical problems. The line responded, pulling her out of service and stripping her down to the keel plating. Finally, after a series of refits in 2015 and 2016, she’s been upgraded to a standard befitting Un-Cruise and she sports some new features, to boot.
Cabins Accommodations aboard Safari Voyager have been rebuilt from the ground up. Most of the refitting was technical in nature, involving new plumbing, air conditioning, and electrical outlets all of which help improve the visitor experience immensely. Not much has changed decor-wise; the interior design still relies on cherrywood furniture and plain walls decorated with photos of places around the world.
Cabins feature either queen or fixed twin beds, depending on the category. This makes it very important to consider your bed preferences before you book. All staterooms have a private bathroom, window views, an iPod docking station, and a TV and DVD player combination. Two staterooms (207 and 208 ) are set aside for solo travelers. New to the ship is a brand-new Owner’s Suite, which takes the spot formerly occupied by the underused library. Positioned all the way forward overlooking the bow of the ship, the suite has king or twin beds, a sitting area with a wet bar and a mini-fridge, a media center, and a bathroom with a jetted whirlpool tub and a separate shower. However, the location of the bow viewing deck just outside means that guests milling about often obstruct the scenery.
Public areas & activities The social hub of the ship is the pretty, wood-paneled main lounge,
Located all the way aft on Bridge Deck, where it offers 180-degree views and a full-service bar. Daily briefings, cocktail hours, and lectures all take place here. The lounge provides easy access to the wraparound promenade just outside. Up on the Sun Deck, a variety of outdoor fitness equipment is available, along with a single hot tub.
Dining The 2016 refit added an expanded galley with brand-new equipment, allowing onboard chefs to prepare more elaborate meals than in the past. Breakfast and lunch are sit-down affairs with one or two options available, while dinners typically offer three choices (meat, fish, vegetarian). The food tends to be of high quality but uncomplicated in its preparation. Like all Un-Cruise ships, staff members are excellent at catering to dietary requests and restrictions. All meals are served in the sole onboard restaurant.
Wilderness Adventurer – Wilderness Discoverer – Wilderness Explorer
Un-Cruise Adventures’ active, green-hulled ships are more basic (some would say spartan) than their blue-hulled luxury counterparts, but what they lack in amenities they make up for in prices which are about a quarter lower than the others.
Adventures ashore are unusually active, with an emphasis placed on in-depth hiking experiences, kayaking adventures, and paddleboarding sessions. Thanks to their lower price point, these ships also attract a somewhat younger audience of adventurous thirty-to-sixtysomethings who love to get out and be at one with nature, and who are less concerned about how they get there. Which is a good thing, because the Wilderness Adventurer (60 guests), Wilderness Discoverer (76 guests) and Wilderness Explorer (74 guests) have minimal amenities, and cabins and public areas look somewhat clinical.
Cabins Expect the size and stylistic charm of a college dorm. Your cabin is merely a place to sleep, get dressed, and maybe dry out your clothes from an afternoon spent bushwhacking. Still, the rooms aren’t uncomfortable, with quality queen or twin beds in most staterooms, flat-panel TV and DVD player combos, iPod docking stations, and windows in all cabin categories. All three ships have staterooms set aside for solo travelers.
Public areas & activities Each ship boasts a forward-facing main lounge; aboard Adventurer and Discoverer, it’s located underneath the bow of the ship, so picture windows are only on the port and starboard sides of the vessel. On Explorer, however, the lounge is situated behind the open bow viewing deck, providing spectacular 180-degree views. On all ships, a full-service bar is located in each space, which is also used for lectures, briefings, and socializing. Outside you’ll find fitness
Equipment and a hot tub (Discoverer has two). Unlike other Un-Cruise ships, there are no massage services.
Dining Meals are served in the main dining room, which is of a generous size on all ships. Seating is open and unassigned, and guests are encouraged to mingle. In keeping with that philosophy, you won’t find many tables for two. Meals are served buffet style and the food is a bit simpler than what’s offered aboard the line’s luxury ships. But it’s hearty and made with locally sourced ingredients when possible.