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73 Small Ship Cruise Lines Covered and Counting...
Quirky Cruise
September 14, 2015

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: UnCruise Adventures

Snapshot: Seattle-based UnCruise operates a fleet of eight vessels taking from 22 to 88 passengers for those seeking adventure cruises in North America’s coastal, island and inland waters from Alaska south to Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, out amongst Hawaiian Islands, Costa Rica and Panama, and in the Galapagos Archipelago off Ecuador. The American firm, with origins dating back to 1996, has the largest selection of small ship cruises in Alaska, varied enough for return exploratory voyages. UnCruise Adventures is a shared, unrushed experience.

Ships,  Years Delivered & Passengers: Expedition fleet: WILDERNESS ADVENTURER (b. 1984 & 60 passengers); WILDERNESS DISCOVERER (b. 1992 & 76 p); WILDERNESS EXPLORER (b. 1976 & 74 p); SAFARI ENDEAVOUR (b. 1983 & 84 p); SAFARI EXPLORER (b. 1988 & 36 p); SAFARI QUEST (b. 1992 & 22 p) and SAFARI VOYAGER (b. 1982/renovated 2015 & 64 p). Replica Coastal Steamer: S.S. LEGACY (b. 1983 & 88 p).

Safari Quest takes just 22 passengers.* Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Safari Quest takes just 22 passengers.* Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Passengers: A varied lot spanning the ages who come for itineraries that combine popular and off-beat destinations. Cruises are as informal as they come, and the emphasis is outdoor activities and exploring, with activitiess designed for children. The Columbia-Snake cruises attract generally older passengers for its specific slants on history, cultural traditions and scenery. As all but one of these ships are American-flagged, and the crews hail from the US of A. The SAFARI VOYAGER is registered in St.Kitts.

Passenger Decks: 3 or 4 and no elevators except for the S.S. LEGACY, connecting the three public decks.

Price: $$ – $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Included features: Shore excursions; use of the skiffs, kayaks and paddle boards; and non-alcoholic beverages. Spirits, wines and microbrews and a complimentary massage are included on the Safari-class ships and S.S. LEGACY.

Itineraries: Most cruises last 7 nights, and some Alaska cruises may be combined to create 14-night trips. The numerous cruising regions are:

Alaska: The 49th state is the line’s prime summer focus involving six ships and nine different itineraries of 7 or 14 nights, April to September, in Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage embarking in Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, and Sitka, plus beginning and end of season one-way repositioning 14-night voyages between Seattle and Juneau in April, August and September. The emphasis is on avoiding the big cruise ship ports and offering outdoor boating activities in scenic coves and fjords, sea life watching, and Native American cultural life. Glacier Bay is on some itineraries. Some expeditions offer wet suit immersions. Land tours may be added that include Denali National Park Knik River Valley and the Alaska Railroad.

Un-Cruise Adventures often spends a whole day in Glacier Bay seeing ice and animals close up.

Un-Cruise Adventures often spends a whole day in Glacier Bay seeing ice and animals close up. * Photo: Ted Scull

Columbia & Snake Rivers: From Portland covering almost one thousand round-trip miles along the Columbia and Snake Rivers as far inland as Idaho’s Hells Canyon. One thrust is on history (Lewis & Clark Expedition and Native Americans) varied landscapes (Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah Falls, and Pacific Ocean breakers and beaches), and famed Oregon and Washington State vineyards and another on wine tasting. 8-night Rivers of Adventure August-October, and 7-night River of Wine October-December aboard the 88-passenger S.S. LEGACY.

The headwaters of Snake River navigation burrows deep into Idaho's Hells Canyon.

The headwaters of Snake River navigation burrows deep into Idaho’s Hells Canyon. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mexico’s Sea of Cortés: 7-night cruises aboard the 84-passenger SAFARI ENDEAVOUR January-March and December leave from San José del Cabo to islands in the Sea of Cortés and coastal towns, along with hikes for viewing wildlife and landscapes, kayaking and snorkeling, and whale watching (January-March) via overland transfer to Magdalena Bay on the Pacific Coast. Swim alongside sea lions and whale sharks in Bahia de la Paz. Take a mule ride into the arroyo with local rancheros. Stargazing and bioluminescence in the water at night.

Hawaiian Islands: From Hawaii (Big Island) or Moloka’i and including Maui and Lana’i. 7-night weekly departures November thru March aboard the 36-passenger SAFARI EXPLORER, for water sport activities in the world’s largest marine sanctuary, beach relaxation, searching for Great Pacific manta rays and humpback whales, viewing astounding landscapes and seascapes and taking in cultural activities.

Coastal Washington & British Columbia: Roundtrip from Seattle: 1) 7 nights to the Olympic Peninsula’s mountain wilderness and San Juan Islands for attractive port towns, looking for sea life (seals, sea lions, orcas, whales), enjoying waterborne activities (hiking, birding, kayaking, paddle boarding), and learning about Northwest Natives’ cultures. Departures: 76-passenger WILDERNESS DISCOVERER and 88-passenger S.S. LEGACY September-November, and 2) 7 nights to Victoria on Vancouver Island, the San Juan and Gulf Islands, exploring deep incisive inlets on the B.C. mainland, and wildlife watching. Departures: 22p-passenger SAFARI QUEST April and September to November.

Friday Harbor in Washington's San Juan Islands is a favorite cruise stop when ships leave Seattle.

Friday Harbor in Washington’s San Juan Islands is a favorite cruise stop when Un-Cruise ships leave Seattle. * Photo: Ted Scull

Galapagos: 8-night Galapagos cruise in the 48-passenger LA PINTA. Departures February, April, May and June. Optional add-ons: pre-cruise 4-night Amazon rainforest cruise in Ecuador or post-cruise 6-night Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Cusco & Guayaquil land extension.

Safari Voyage. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Safari Voyager. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Costa Rica  & Panama Canal: 8 nights concentrating on the Pacific Coast concentrating on between San Jose and Panama City, with a canal transit, visits to islands and national wildlife parks, hiking, kayaking, paddleboats, skiffs, and snorkeling. 64-passenger SAFARI VOYAGER. January-August and November-December.

Pure Panama:  8 nights on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides and a canal transit visiting Panama City, Las Perlas Islands, Chagres River, Darien Jungle, Guna Yala (formerly San Blas) Islands. Activities as above, many from the aft launching platform, and cultural visits to the Guna and Embera native groups. 64-passenger SAFARI VOYAGER. Departures May-September.

N.B. Combine the above Costa Rica and Panama itineraries for 15 nights from April to August and November.

Why Go? The majestic nature of Alaska, the Columbia-Snake rivers, and the Hawaiian Islands are best seen from the decks of a small ship; the varieties of wildlife living in Alaska, Sea of Cortés, Galapagos and Central America; and the cultural connections in all the regions shared close up with less than 100 others (and often below 50) rather than amongst multiple thousands in the mega-ship ports.

When to Go? The cruises are scheduled for the best weather times of the year, and the UnCruise brochure and website outline with easily understood bar charts the prime months for whale watching or enjoying the wild flowers in Mexico, and in Alaska, wildlife sightings and Northern Lights, plus the optimum driest and sunniest periods. For instance, in Alaska, spring means lots of newly-born animals, migrating birds and whales, lots of snow on the mountains, waterfalls at their peak with runoff, and the best chance to see the Aurora Borealis (other than in winter).

Cabins: The Wilderness prefix vessels have all outside, windowed and mostly small cabins with some double, but mostly queen and twin beds located on two or three decks, TV/DVD players, and iPod docking stations. The Safari-named offer queen, twin or king-size beds, TV/DVD players and iPod docking stations. Larger cabins have sitting areas and a few cabins come with French doors and step-out balconies. The ENDEAVOUR adds a refrigerator to these cabins. The S.S. LEGACY has all outside cabins with view windows; queen, double or twin beds; TV/DVD players and iPod docking stations. The top two categories add refrigerators, and the 300 sq. ft. Owner’s Suite goes all the way with a separate bedroom and a large lounge with wet bar and media center for entertaining. it’s a wow for a small ship.

Captain-grade cabin on the Safari Quest. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Captain-grade cabin on the Safari Quest. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Public Rooms: The Wilderness- and Safari-prefixed ships have one forward lounge and a top deck sun lounge or covered area and a hot tub or sauna. S.S. LEGACY adds a second aft-facing bar-lounge.

Safari Voyager's Bar. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Safari Voyager’s Bar. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Dining: All ships have a single open seating, with a window of time at breakfast and set times for the other meals. The food will be well prepared and reflect the cruising region. Lunched tend to be lighter fare—soups, salads and sandwiches. Occasional barbecues are set up on deck in good weather. Spirits, wine and microbrews are complimentary at lunch and dinner aboard the Safari-class and S.S. LEGACY.

Klondike Dining Saloon. * Photo: Ted Scull

S.S. Legacy – Klondike Dining Saloon and aft lounge through the swinging doors. * Photo: Ted Scull

Activities & Entertainment: All ships carry expedition teams (except S.S. LEGACY with historians, wine experts, musicians) who give (often illustrated) talks, some based on what the bow camera catches and the underwater hydrophone sees and hears, organize adventures ashore, guided hikes and explain use of the available craft such as kayaks, inflatable skiffs, and paddle boards, with stern boarding platforms (except S.S. LEGACY Snorkeling in short sessions, even in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, using a supplied wet suit. S.S. LEGACY, traveling on the Columbia and Snake rivers, has a different thrust of a living history program. A professional photograph offers guidance on selected sailings (see website or brochure). All vessels also have fitness equipment, TV and DVD players in the lounge, and small book libraries.

Hiking in Baja California's Sea of Cortes. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Hiking in Baja California’s Sea of Cortes. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Special Notes: The Cruise Adventures’ 148-page brochure is amazingly well-detailed in all aspects of their expedition business.

For adventure trips, UnCruise has a wide variety of price points and a fleet that includes 22- & 26-berth yachts, 60 to 84-berth small coastal-style ships, and a remarkably winsome Victorian atmosphere aboard the one-of-a-kind S.S. LEGACY. Private charters are available for all ships.

Along the Same Lines: Alaska Dream Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact: UnCruise Adventures, 3826 18th Ave W, Seattle, WA 98119;  www.Uncruise.com; US & Canada 888-862-8881; International 800 12639888.

— TWS

 

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Alaska, American and Canadian Waterways, Belize, Central America, Coastal America, Coastal Ship & Line Reviews, Costa Rica, Expedition Ship & Line Reviews, Mexico/Pacific Coast, North America, Panama, Rivers Ship & Line Reviews, Ship & Line reviews, Uncategorized


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