Hawaii cruise

Hawaii Cruise Expedition

By John Roberts.

Hawaii is a destination that invites and instills a spirt of playfulness, wonder and awe. And I’m convinced that a small-ship expedition is one of the best ways to experience this tropical paradise.

So this is how I spent my summer vacation. Sailing in Hawai’i with UnCruise Adventures. Carefree, barefoot, bare-chested and bold.

This voyage was especially reinvigorating, full of opportunities to cut loose.

Hawaii Cruise

John jumping into a great week! * Photo: UnCruise

We spent our days playing in the water without a care in the world as the 36-passenger Safari Explorer moved from island to island during the weeklong cruise — transporting us to a new place each day to play in our vibrant giant aquarium with sea turtles, reef sharks, octopuses and colorful fish.

Safari Explorer Hawaii

The 36-passenger Safari Explorer. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii cruise aboard the Safari Explorer

The 36-passenger Safari Explorer is ideal for cruising Hawaii. * Photo: John Roberts

For a person who loves the water and outdoors, there is no better place than Hawai’i.

It has ideal weather throughout the year and offers an infinite number of activities to please foodies, nature lovers, sporty types, and history and culture enthusiasts.

UnCruise Adventures blends all of these passions in its jam-packed itinerary, sailing from Molokai and visiting the Big Island (Hawaii), Maui and Lanai.

Hawaii cruise with UnCruise

The 36-passenger Safari Explorer 7-night cruise route. * Map: UnCruise

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Hawaii Cruise: The Staff

“I feel that the staff was amazing,” said Sharon Navre, who is from New York and was sailing on her first UnCruise voyage with husband Jeff to celebrate their 35th anniversary.

“We were kept busy, and we like that side of things. We are impressed with how they can take care of everybody, including dietary needs. I would definitely do an UnCruise again.”

The expedition line has been in Hawai’i for more than a decade, and during this time, UnCruise has developed special relationships with members of the island communities. This gives travelers an opportunity to immerse themselves in an experience more representative of authentic “Old Hawai’i” than they would find elsewhere.

Authentic Hawaii Cruise

Experiencing authentic “old” Hawaii. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: Connected to the Past

Since 2019, UnCruise now sails all year in Hawai’i, offering weeklong one-way expeditions between Molokai and the Big Island (Hawai’i). UnCruise decided it made a lot of sense to keep Safari Explorer running in Hawai’i all year to maximize the number of trips it could offer to this beloved destination.

We joined Safari Explorer for one of the last voyages of the summer — the end of UnCruise’s first season cruising Hawai’i during the summer months (the ship used to spend summers in Alaska).

Though summer is outside of whale-watching season (which is September until June), there is still plenty to do and see.

Hawaii Cruise: Molokai

Our cruise started and ended in Molokai, an island the big ships can’t get to. In fact, UnCruise Adventures is the lone cruise line making regularly scheduled visits to Molokai.

This island is just 38 miles long and 10 miles wide, and is the place most connected to Hawai’i’s ancient roots. A large proportion of the 7,000-plus residents are of native ancestry who proudly live a simple and rural lifestyle aiming to preserve their culture and history.

At the eastern tip of Molokai is the Halawa Valley, a lush place home to the island chain’s oldest continuously inhabited spot; the first Polynesian people arrived from the Marquesas, Tahitian and other neighboring islands around 650 AD. More than 1,300 years later, you can meet with Anakala Pilipo Soltario and his family who welcome visitors to their land and home.

Hawaii Cruise: Family Heritage

Anakala (or Uncle) Pilipo is the last resident of the valley who was born there, and when we arrive, we are greeted by him, his son Greg and two teenaged grandsons. The two teens lead a short hike around the property and up to the home.

In port in Molokai on a Hawaii Cruise

Uncle Pilipo and his grandsons. * Photo: John Roberts

Each member of the family wears a red kihei, a cape-like cloth that is knotted at the shoulder and draped around the torso. Uncle Pilipo and Greg then have us gather in a small grassy area to show us the traditional “welcome ceremony,” demonstrating how visitors from one village would seek permission to enter another village, perhaps to discuss trade.

Greg stands at the head of our group and blows into a conch (pu), awaiting a return call from his father. We may approach only when Uncle Pilipo returns the sound on the pu.

We then all line up for a “Hawai’ian handshake,” the traditional greeting called honi. This intimate custom requires the participants to press together their foreheads and noses while looking into each other’s eyes and inhaling deeply, sharing a breath.

the traditional "honi" on a Hawaii cruise

The traditional “Hawai’ian handshake,” a greeting called honi. * Photo: Colleen McDaniel

The entire group did it with all of our hosts and one another before moving to a set of picnic tables to hear Greg and Anakala Pilipo speak passionately about the customs and culture they are seeking to preserve. When Hawai’i became a U.S. state in 1959, the process of “Westernization” — which had begun decades earlier after the U.S. annexed the islands — became accelerated.

During this culture talk, we learn the traditional term for a Hawai’ian feast is pa’ina and not luau, which is actually a leaf of the sacred taro plant. Greg gathers a large board and a set of stone tools he uses to pound fresh poi from taro roots. These are family implements that have lasted six generations and are meticulously cared for. He pounds the poi and tells us how the food is a staple of the native Hawai’ian diet. He mixes a bit of salted fish into the sticky lump of poi, and we all eagerly grab a serving from the mound, many getting seconds as the fresh delicacy is passed around on a large taro leaf.

Making poi on an Hawaiian cruise

Greg uses stone tools to pound fresh poi from taro roots. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: Natural Disasters

Anakala Pilipo recounts the days of his youth and the small schoolhouse he attended that once sat on the property — a cornerstone still visible under a tall palm tree. There were thousands of residents in Halawa Valley up until the late 1950s. A massive tsunami flooded the valley in 1946, when Anakala Solatorio was six years old. He recalls seeing a wall of water approaching as his family joined villagers retreating higher into the hills to avoid devastating flooding that killed more 100 people.

After another tsunami in 1957 wiped out the taro fields, most residents left the valley, leaving few remaining families.

Greg gives the culture talks and also leads hikes to a majestic waterfall for visitors (heavy rains left the trails unsafe for hiking during our time in the valley). He says preserving this lifestyle is his passion. The role his father had long held has been passed to him.

“Our culture is sacred, not secret,” Greg says. “When we don’t share our culture, will be the moment our culture dies.”

Hawaiian cruise

Uncle Pilipo and his family greeting UnCruise passengers. * Photo: John Roberts

Whether you start or end your trip at Molokai, you should consider spending an extra day or two there to further explore places like the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, a former leper colony — or just relax in the soothing serenity.

The lone resort on the island is Hotel Molokai, a lovely spot right on the waterfront.

This also serves as the hospitality site for UnCruise Adventures’ passengers beginning or ending their voyages in Molokai.

Below is a video tour of Hotel Molokai.

Hawaii Cruise: Quirky Ship Built for Island Adventures

Safari Explorer is a rugged yacht that carries up to 36 passengers in 18 staterooms spread over the ship’s three decks. There are two Commodore Suites and three Admiral cabins that offer between 200 and 275 square feet as well as amenities like a bathtub and hot tubs. So, you get a bit more space than the other accommodations, which all feature simple layouts, small marine-style bathrooms (with the toilet and shower in the same little space), comfy beds, and TVs with DVD players (DVD library in the lounge).

We stayed in a standard cabin, and our room was a tight fit for couples. The layout meant we had to take turns getting into the bed, which is fit into a tight corner area. There is no wi-fi or cable TV. But for this trip, you only really need a place to store your clothes and lay your head in comfort at night, and the cabins fit the bill just fine.

Safari Explorer cabin

John’s cabin. * Photo: John Roberts

The captain welcomes passengers onto the open bridge to see how the navigation happens or to get a good look at the wildlife at play in the waters.

Hawaii Cruise with Captain Tyler

Captain Tyler at the wheel. * Photo: John Roberts

Open bridge on Safari Explorer

The bridge is open for passengers to visit. * Photo: John Roberts

The top sun deck is a wide-open space that we used for a morning stretch and workout with a complement of free weights and yoga mats available. (Note: UnCruise did away with its wellness program, so no yoga or stretch classes led by staff.)

Hawaii cruise top deck

Morning stretches on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

Safari explorer gym weights

Some work-out equipment is available. * Photo: Colleen McDaniel

Safari Explorer’s main lounge is the heartbeat of life onboard, with a bar area and adjacent dining room serving as the prime gathering spots for cold drinks, hearty meals, snacks and lively conversation.

Safari Explorer bar

Drinks are included! * Photo: John Roberts

Two expedition guides (Lauren and Sophy) conducted enrichment talks in this space, discussing marine life, with a focus on turtles, fish and reef systems. There is a small library and game room with a piano and guitar for any musically inclined passengers.

main lounge of Safari Explorer

The main lounge is the ship’s hub. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: Food Department

While the ship offers an efficient way to travel around the islands in comfort, the special formula that makes the UnCruise Adventures experience in Hawai’i so memorable is the activities, crew and food.

For a ship with such a small kitchen, it is amazing the array of fantastic locally-sourced fresh food that we were treated to.

Everyone on the ship during our sailing frequently rotated to create new groups at the tables for six, enjoying plated meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Safari Explorer's dining room

Safari Explorer’s dining room. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

We loved that the portions were moderately sized, so there was very little waste. Many of the offerings were so tempting that we often ordered half portions of two selections (always one meat, one fish and one vegetarian).

Dinner on an Hawaii cruise

Yummy pork belly. * Photo: John Roberts

Check out some of the specialties that the kitchen created:

Thai basil red snapper, chicken curry, Hungarian mushroom soup with paprika oil, Kona coffee-rubbed beef tenderloin, pork belly, corn fritters, seared scallops, marinated rack of lamb, ahi tuna, chickpea tarts and venison loco moco.

Desserts included meringue fruits pavlova (below), ginger lemongrass ice cream and a daily afternoon assortment of fresh-baked cookies.

(I drooled just typing that paragraph.)

Dessert on the Safari Explorer

Dessert is served! * Photo: John Roberts

Check out John’s video tour of the ship below!

Hawaii Cruise: Four Islands & Endless Fun

Aside from Molokai, UnCruise Safari Explorer expeditions in Hawai’i feature stops at three other islands —  Maui, Lanai and the Big Island.

Colleen and I sailed with 18 other adventure-oriented travelers. Onboard was a foursome of friends from Seattle and a pair of best buds from San Fran, with all of these youngsters in their 30s or younger. There was a family of four from California with two college-age kids; couples from Virginia, New York and Florida; and a mom and daughter from Australia.

Hawaii cruise on Safari Explorer

Passengers bonded quickly on the intimate 36-passenger Safari Explorer. * Photo: John Roberts

The group quickly grew tight over the course of the week as we jumped into our exploration.

After departing Molokai, the next morning offered the first of many water activities. We snorkeled in secluded Honolua Bay and spotted green sea turtles as well as an array of tropical fish. In summer, the activities are focused on getting into the water for Zodiac rides, paddling, swimming and snorkeling.

kayaking on an Hawaii cruise

Kayaking is a big focus of UnCruise in Hawaii. * Photo: John Roberts

snorkeling on an Hawaii cruise

Snorkeling fun! * Photo: John Roberts

(In other parts of the year, these sailings will utilize more time for wonderful whale-watching outings.)

The sun was out every day, and the hot temps made the time in the water all the more inviting. So, we all took advantage.

Hawaii cruise swimming

John & Colleen enjoying the water! * Photo: John Roberts

Our expedition leader Lauren and expedition guide Sophy briefed us each night after dinner about the next day’s plans.

Hawaii cruise crew

Lauren and Sophy. * Photo: John Roberts

An UnCruise Adventures itinerary lays out a rough schedule for where the ship will sail, but is always considered an outline and a plan from which we could deviate because of weather or special wildlife activity that the team learns about and is eager to have us experience.

In fact, we depart the Big Island a day early to avoid rough weather that would make it tougher to cross the Alenuihaha Channel and back to Maui.

During the week, we mix time on the ship with time ashore. We snorkel at a green sea turtle “cleaning station” off the coast of Maui (the Olowalu “turtle reef”) and see the turtles as well as numerous white tip reef sharks, a mating pair of octopuses and harlequin shrimp.

green sea turtle on a Hawaii cruise

A big green sea turtle seen on a snorkeling excursion. * Photo: John Roberts

John snorkeling in Hawaii

John snorkeling.

Hawaii cruise snorkeling

Colleen is holding a pin cushion sea star for a moment. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: Lanai

At anchor just off Lanai, we set out in kayaks at sunrise and get back in time for breakfast and a late-morning snorkel. After lunch, we got the chance to head ashore to explore historic Lanai City and take a hike to Sweetheart Rock.

Lanai is home to just 3,000 people, one of the pristine and isolated places that you visit on this expedition — far away from the crowds, making the overall experience that much more blissful as you can enjoy the natural beauty in its raw form.

Sailing from Lanai, we encounter dolphins eager to swim on the bow of the Safari Explorer. Multiple pods join through the rest of the afternoon as we make our way toward Kona on the Big Island.

I’m pretty sure that we saw dolphins nearly every day.

dolphins on a Hawaii cruise

Seeing dolphins up close! * Photo: John Roberts

Kona is a bigger city, bustling with tourists and resorts along its pretty beaches. Colleen and I go for a run, managing just a couple miles in the heat before we settle on a gentle stroll back to town, taking some pics along the way. We have a set time to join fellow cruisers Chris, Kevin and Garad to try our hands at paddling the traditional wooden canoe, called a wa’a.

Hawaii cruise wooden canoe

Tips for paddling the traditional wooden canoe, called a wa’a. * Photo: John Roberts

We have fun paddling in sync around the coastal waters and into the lagoon off Kona, taking some time to rest our arms and jump into the warm waters for a swim as well. The wa’a is an important boat in Hawai’ian culture. Long ago, these single- and double-hulled canoes with an outrigger were the sole means of transport around the islands. They are carved by hand from a tree, and the process of building one is quite sacred.

Today, Hawai’ians young and old use them for exercise and recreation and for racing competitions.

Hawaii cruise canoe

Paddling in sync around the coastal waters off Kona. * Photo: John Roberts

Our time at the Big Island included a diverse array of activities, indeed. That evening we went for a night snorkel in the hopes of seeing giant manta rays. We came up empty (frowny face) but were enthralled by the spooky illuminated waters filled with plankton and thousands of feeding fish. Some in our group even saw a rare Hawai’ian monk seal darting through the gauzy depths.

The next morning, we set out for a sunrise kayak along black lava cliff sides until we reached the “Blue Lagoon,” an area where black crabs crawled on the lava formations and turtles enjoying the calm waters and quiet shoreline where they rest and mate.

lava formations on an Hawaii cruise

Cool lava formations. * Photo: John Roberts

turtles in Hawaii

Turtle time. * Photo: John Roberts

Those who chose a skiff tour instead of kayaking were met by a curious pod of dolphins for an up-close interaction.

Dolphins on a Hawaii cruise

Dolphins spotted from a skiff! * Photo: John Roberts

In the afternoon, it was more snorkeling and a skiff ride along the shore where we witnessed thrashing waves shoot through lava tubes in a stunning display of the ocean’s force.

lava tubes in Hawaii

Lava tubes. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: A Bit of Chop

With a storm approaching, Capt. Tyler Manning guided the ship back to Maui, navigating some fairly choppy waters. Colleen and I enjoy being rocked to sleep, while many other passengers were a bit worried about how they might handle rougher seas.

We all emerged the next morning, most of us looking quite chipper despite being tossed around a bit. Back in calm waters off the coast of Maui, we took advantage of the chance to snorkel, swim and jump into the water off the back marina and the second-deck platform, which offers an exhilarating 20-foot drop.

Safari Explorer in Hawaii

Weeee! * Photo: John Roberts

We were anchored off Lahaina Town, and most of us took the opportunity to go into town for some beach time and a refreshing shave ice.

Hawaii cruise snacks

Hawaiian shave ices anyone? * Photo: John Roberts

Safari Explorer stayed at anchor well into the night, and the crew put on a wonderful top-deck cocktail hour and dance party. It was Day 6 of our cruise, and by now, we all were getting along like a big festive family.

Jessica, our bartender mixed cocktails. Jose, our hotel manager and the rest of the crew handed out cold beers, wines and tapas. And most of us danced around the deck while the beautiful sun set.

Hawaii cruise aboard Safari Explorer

Life is good for John and Colleen. * Photo: John Roberts

We didn’t want the cruise to end. That always happens on these small ships, especially when you travel with people who love to stay active and share a passion for adventure.

Here’s John’s video recap of his UnCruise Adventures expedition in Hawai’i.

Hawaii cruise crew

Jose & Jessica. * Photo: John Roberts

Alas, the last day brought as back to Molokai to explore more. That night, we had a farewell pa’ina feast and music and storytelling from a hula master at the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center. A duo played ukulele and guitar music while singing folkloric songs. A hula dancer swayed to the tunes. We dined on pulled pork, seafood and pickled veggies.

Our souls were filled with the true aloha spirit of Hawai’i.

Hawaii sunset

Until next time …. * Photo: John Roberts

For booking info, contact UnCruise Adventures.

The 7-night Hawaii cruises start at $5,200 per person and include all excursions and alcoholic drinks.

SPECIAL OFFER FROM UNCRUISE: In celebration of its first year of year-round Hawaii sailings, save $700 per couple on weeklong Hawaii cruises departing between March 7 – September 5, 2020.  Mention code 700HI20.

Enjoy John’s video recap of his UnCruise Adventures expedition in Hawai’i.

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The Pacific Northwest’s Scenic Columbia & Snake Rivers.

By Ted Scull.

Few passengers aboard UnCruise Adventure‘s 90-passenger SS Legacy had the slightest inkling of just how dramatic a river journey could be and how they can become personal explorers.

At dawn on the first morning of the cruise, I awoke to the sight of Pacific breakers pounding the breakwater at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Days later we had arrived at the headwaters of navigation where Idaho, Oregon and Washington borders meet, for a jet boat ride up through the Hells Canyon Snake River rapids. Herds of big horn sheep watched us from the slopes above. We step ashore to become acquainted with our natural surroundings.

Sailing upriver, the soggy coast gives way to the dramatic Columbia Gorge and the flanking rain forests. We stopped at the foot of pencil-thin 620-feet high Multnomah Falls and enjoyed a hike up to a bridge directly opposite the cascading waters that literally spill over a cliff edge from a point high above.

UnCruise guests on the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

UnCruise guests on the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls. * Photo: UnCruise

The Columbia Gorge, Locks & Dams

Just above the Columbia Gorge, a wide section of the river subject to high winds, became the birthplace for windsurfing and kite surfing, highly popular pastimes in the warmer months.

At Bonneville Dam and Locks, a guide told us about hydroelectric power. She also explained that she counts salmon and shad to keep an annual record of these important fish numbers. While she spoke, lamprey eels and fish passed by the lounge windows to climb the ladders — a series of pools that allow them to make their way upstream.

Many of the eight locks we would pass through have lifts of 100 feet; that’s 15 feet higher than the combined three Gatun Locks in the Panama Canal.

Then at the nearby Columbia River Gorge Discovery Center, the exhibits and a film explained the cataclysmic geological creation of the gorge and the tribal history of Nez Perce.

Explorers such as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark came this way in the first years of the 19th century. They were followed by missionaries and early settlers, using the Oregon Trail and Columbia River.

There are 8 locks on the Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary.

The Legacy transits 8 locks on the Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary. * Photo: UnCruise

Out of the Forest and Into Hells Canyon

Leaving the Columbia River and climbing the Snake, the land becomes increasingly arid with colorful plateaus and basalt rock formations flanking the river, taking on a distinctly southwestern appearance.

At times, there was no sign of human habitation. Then a long freight train carrying grain would slide by on the shore, give us a whistle, then disappear returning the landscape to silence.

Docking at Clarkston, Washington opposite Lewistown, Idaho, we boarded jet boats for the white-water 50-mile day trip up into the Snake River’s Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America. Rocky Mountain big horn sheep, recently reintroduced following their decimation in 1926, dotted the cliffs and tiny patches of sand at water level.

Jet Boat Tour into Hell's Canyon on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

Jet Boat Tour into Hell’s Canyon. * Photo: UnCruise

Fishermen were out in force in boats angling for steelhead trout as we passed from Washington to Oregon and Idaho. We stopped three times, for a stroll up to a naturalist site with a great view along the canyon, for a picnic lunch, and for a close-up study of some ancient Indian petroglyphs drawn on a flat rock surface.

Columbia & Snake Rivers

The SS Legacy. * Photo: Ted Scull

Downriver to Maryhill

En route downriver, we made a visit to Maryhill, a mansion-now-museum built by railroad baron Samuel Hill high up a cliff overlooking the river and housing an eclectic art collection. It features Rodin sculpture, chess sets, costumes, Fabergé eggs and jewelry that had belonged to Queen Marie of Romania.

When & What

The one-week Columbia & Snake Rivers trips operate in September, October and sometimes early November with the wine and culinary departures in the later part of the season. Vineyards undulate through the Hood River Valley in both Oregon and Washington.

Overhead view of a vineyard near Hood River on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

Overhead view of a vineyard near Hood River. * Photo: UnCruise

The plethora of activities during the week may include hiking (walking poles available), kayaking, inflatable skiffs, paddle boarding, and of course, presentations by naturalists in the ship’s lounge and ashore. Out on deck look for osprey, white pelicans and bald eagers.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

John & Colleen kayaking in the Palouse River. * Photo: John Roberts

SS Legacy: A Classic Beauty

The SS Legacy provides the perfect stage, both inside and out, to witness the stunning landscape of this region. A 1985-built product of Bender Shipbuilding & Repair, Mobile, Alabama, twin Caterpillar diesels drive her at up to 15 knots, a generous speed for a small coastal passenger vessel.

At 192 feet in length, the SS Legacy carries up to 90 passengers and an All-American crew of 34-35.

Dan Blanchard, Un-Cruise Adventures owner and CEO, has spent his entire life living and working in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, He knows that with the SS Legacy he has a gem on his hands.

In her current guise, the hull at the main deck is black with a thick gold stripe above that. The black funnel has a narrow gold top and is embossed with a gold star. Her three masts are black with gold at the forepeak.

Guests moving to and from the SS Legacy by skiff on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

Guests moving to and from the SS Legacy by skiff. * Photo: UnCruise

Within the Vessel

Both the Main Lounge and the Dining Room have retro patterned tin ceilings, while wooden panels enclose the square columns and surround the wooden dance floor.

The lounge’s wooden bar with its elaborately wood-framed mirrored-glass backdrop is particularly inviting whether taking to one of the five stools or standing at either end to chat up the bartender and fellow passengers.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Business as usual at the ship’s bar. * Photo: John Roberts

The lounge, seating all passengers at one time, is furnished with formal wood-framed chairs surrounding small marble-topped tables, and by the windows, plush armchairs and settees. The deep blue carpet is studded with symmetrically arranged stylized stars. Views to the outside encompass a 270-degree arc.

relaxing in the lounge on a Columbia & Snake River cruise

Relaxing on board the SS Legacy. * Photo: Ted Scull


In the dining room one deck below and aft, the seating is banquettes and round tables for six with views through the large port and starboard windows. A handsome dark-wood serving buffet with a mirrored backdrop is framed by fluted wooden pilasters.

All meals are waiter-served with ample seating for all passengers to dine at once. Depending on the daily itinerary, breakfast service starts at 7:30 or 8:00, while lunchtime is between noon and 1:00 and dinner at 6:30 or 7:00.

The Klondike dining room aboard the Legacy

The Klondike dining room. * Photo: UnCruise

The friendly American staff, exhibiting a wide range of ages, provides good service, and the food is varied and very well prepared.

Dinner may start with a chef’s amuse, something creative and tangy, then moves onto black bean soup, smoked salmon chowder or melon with prosciutto chips. The main course (a choice of three entrees) might be seared jumbo prawns, poached arctic char, rack of lamb chops, veal saltimbocca, and for vegetarians, goat cheese and spinach lasagna, linguini with mushrooms or a saffron vegetable risotto.

Freshly made desserts are peach and blueberry Napoleon, citrus cheese cake and, perhaps, Baked Alaska. Complimentary beers from Alaska and Seattle and red and white wines, featuring Columbia River Valley origins, accompany lunch and dinner.

Breakfast service has a daily changing special and always available eggs of any style, along with bacon, sausages, toast, cereal, yoghurt, fresh fruit and juices.

An early riser breakfast is served on the Grand Salon’s buffet, and it includes a couple of daily changing hot dishes. Most passengers who start their breakfast here, then descend to the dining room for the multi-course affair.

Fresh fruit is available all day, with homemade baked cookies in the afternoon and a generous selection of changing hors d’oeuvres before dinner. Wine, beer, soft drinks, cocktails, coffee and tea are complimentary and available throughout the day.

In the corner of the dining room is a wine bar and then keep going aft and you hit the Pesky Barnacle, a gathering space wrapped around the stern for donning life jackets for excursions. From here you step into the Sea Dragon that provides easy access to the inflatable skiffs, kayaks and other waterborne activities.

Other Amenities

Additional amenities are a sauna on the Upper Deck, two hot tubs on Bridge Deck, plus exercise cycles aft and under cover on the same deck. Yoga classes are conducted here as well.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Yoga session on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

All About Cabins

The 45 cabins on three decks are all outside, ranging from 100 to 297 square feet, with those on Lounge and Upper decks having doors that open onto side decks for super quick access to what’s outside. The Upper Deck promenade provides a circular constitutional walk with 14.4 circuits equaling a mile. Cabins on Main Deck have portholes, and a large 600-square-foot, two-room Owner’s Suite sits in splendor isolation atop the Sun Deck just aft of the bridge. It comes with all sorts of amenities such as a stocked wet bar, private DVD collection, two TVs and a small library.

Bed arrangements are fixed twins, double beds or queens. Two forward cabins sleep up to three and the suite up to four. Cabins have individual temperature control, flat screen TV/DVD and a iPod docking station. All have a vanity-cum-desk, chair, adequate drawer and closet space, and small bathrooms with showers. Antique-style mirrors are attached to the bathroom doors.

The cabins have wood-framed padded headboards, frosted reading lamps, brass window trim with the top pane a drop window, thus allowing a flow of fresh air. An elevator connects three of the four passenger decks.

Columbia & Snake Rivers

Here is a Commander category cabin. * Photo: UnCruise

Topside & in the Pilothouse

Three forward viewing areas are on the Lounge Deck with stairs up to the Upper and Bridge decks. The pilothouse is roomy and open to passengers unless otherwise stated, usually when maneuvering in tight spaces. The captain and the first mate are welcoming and often have company. Converse about whatever is on your mind, perhaps about navigation in still and rapidly flowing waters.

Most impressive are the large wooden wheel and handsome twin brass telegraphs along with all the modern equipment needed to navigate the boat in open and constricted coastal and inland waters.

The SS Legacy’s classic steamboat style and period interiors provide the perfect vehicle for appreciating the historical nature of the trip as well as the spectacular scenery from vantage points all over the vessel.

C’mon in! The Legacy’s bridge. * Photo: Ted

The Best Part?

We’re giving a free cruise for two aboard the SS Legacy — 7 nights on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Click here to enter and sign up today; the contest ends June 30, 2019.

Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary

The Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary.


Read more about cruising on the Columbia & Snake Rivers in contributor John Roberts’ article!


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© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved.

Cruise Expert Gene Sloan Talks Travel

Cruise Expert Gene Sloan Talks Travel

Heidi & Ted reached out to e-chat with writer Gene Sloan, who was the cruise editor at USA TODAY for more than a decade until he recently left the newspaper.

QuirkyCruise: Briefly tell us about your career at USA Today.

Gene Sloan: My wife and I joke it was the longest internship in the history of journalism. I first walked in the door at USA TODAY’s Virginia headquarters in 1990, the day after I turned 21, for what was supposed to be just a three-month stint. But I stayed for nearly 29 years.

I spent the first few years writing about a broad range of topics including food, entertainment and travel as a reporter in the Life section before joining the small team — two writers and an editor — that co-founded USA TODAY’s first travel section.

Over the next decade, as it grew, I served as one of the paper’s main destination writers, traveling the world for stories. I also edited the section for a time. It was 2008 when I split off to found USA TODAY’s online cruise area and focus on cruising and the cruise industry full time.

Cruise Expert Gene Sloan Talks T

Gene’s former column in USA TODAY.

Click here for a Skift article about the changing face of travel media and the demise of the traditional newspaper.


QuirkyCruise: How many cruises have you been on, of any size?

Gene Sloan: I recently counted it up, and including river ships, I’ve been on 132 distinct vessels operated by 38 lines. I’ve sailed on some of them multiple times, so figure at least 150 separate cruises.


QuirkyCruise: And how many of our favorite “quirky” small ones under 300 passengers?

Gene Sloan: Counting river ships, about three dozen.


QuirkyCruise: How many countries have you visited?

Gene Sloan: At last count, 85. I’m hoping to add a few more this year.

Cruise Expert Gene Sloan Talks Travel

Gene on deck of Star Clippers’ tall ship Royal Clipper.


QuirkyCruise: Have you counted ports? If not, can you guess?

Gene Sloan: That’s a number I’ve never tried to figure, but it must be a few hundred if we’re counting river destinations. It depends what you count as a “port.” I’ve done some really out-there “expedition” cruises in places like the Arctic where the stops included remote research stations, abandoned explorer huts and the like, all reached by Zodiac. Not sure if those would count as port calls!

Cruise Expert Gene Sloan Talks Travel

The Galapagos Islands, on a Silver Galapagos cruise in 2014. * Photo: Gene Sloan


QuirkyCruise: At USA TODAY, how did you choose the ships you wrote about? Did you have a choice of ship and/or destination? How much was personal choice vs. advertising based? Was your mandate mostly to cover big ships?

Gene Sloan: My bosses at USA TODAY gave me a huge amount of leeway in deciding what to cover as long as it resonated with readers. They were wonderful in that regard. I pretty much set my own agenda.

My philosophy always was to expose readers to the broadest possible view of the cruise world with coverage of everything from the biggest mega-ships to the tiniest vessels, sailing ships, river ships, expedition ships — even ferries.

At any broad cruise site such as the one I ran at USA TODAY, a large percentage of the traffic comes from stories about the big, mass-market ships operated by the big, mass-market cruise brands. That’s what most people are searching for on the Internet. This leads some sites to only write about these ships. But I think that’s a disservice to readers.

Cruise Expert Gene Sloan Talks Travel

Gene kayaking with UnCruise in the Sea of Cortes, on a trip aboard the 88-passenger Safari Endeavour. * Photo: Gene Sloan


QuirkyCruise: How do you feel about big vs small? When does size matter in your opinion?

Gene Sloan: When I’m traveling for myself, I always prefer a small ship – the smaller the better. To me, the travel experience is always richer and deeper when you’re in a small group. Small ships are more intimate, and they can get you more off-the-beaten-path.

But I also know there are many, many people who feel strongly that big ships are the way to go, and I understand the appeal. Big ships offer a lot more options for activities, dining, entertainment, nightlife. They’re often a lot less expensive on a per-day basis. You get a lot for the money.

I do think there are certain destinations where going small makes a huge difference. Southeast Alaska, for instance, is a destination where I think you just get a much, much better sense of the place on a small ship. And by small, I mean a vessel that carries fewer than 100 passengers.

I’m a big fan of UnCruise’s super-small vessels in Alaska, which can get you deep into the wilderness of the region far from the tourist hordes in Juneau and Ketchikan. They carry Zodiacs and kayaks for exploring. They’re not the newest or snazziest ships, but that’s not what matters in a destination like that.

Cruise Expert Gene Sloan Talks Travel

In Alaska with UnCruise for a trip aboard the 76-passenger Wilderness Discoverer. * Photo: Gene Sloan


QuirkyCruise: What are your favorite 3 small ship cruises and why?

Gene Sloan: The most memorable small-ship cruises I’ve taken all have been in polar regions. But this probably has more to do with my own personal quirks than whether they really are the best small-ship experiences. I love the sense of being far, far away from civilization that you get on a trip to the Arctic or Antarctica. I love the emptiness of it all. I’m also fascinated by the history of exploration, which is a big part of the story of the polar regions.

My Top 3 list surely would include a voyage I did through the Northwest Passage a few years ago with Adventure Canada where we followed in the wake of the lost Franklin Expedition and Roald Amundsen. Last year I traversed the lesser-visited Northeast Passage on Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ 155-passenger Bremen. The latter only was the fourth cruise across that waterway by a vessel that wasn’t a Russian icebreaker.

In both passages, we traveled through areas that many vacationers would consider bleak. Some passengers on my Northeast Passage trip, in particular, were disappointed they didn’t see more majestic landscapes and wildlife. But to me, it was just being there, a place so rarely seen and so far from the rest of the world, that was the allure.

Cruise Expert Gene Sloan Talks Travel

Gene on the Northeast Passage.


QuirkyCruise: Where does taking a cruise (small ship or otherwise) make the best sense vs. air and land travel? Beyond Antarctica and Galapagos.

Gene Sloan: Other than Antarctica and Galapagos, Southeast Alaska is probably the poster child for a place where cruising is the way to go. Given that there aren’t even roads connecting many of the towns, you really can’t do it any other way if you want to be moving around.

I’d also put the coast of Croatia near the top of the list — in that case, definitely on a small ship. A small ship can get you to the coastal islands of Hvar and Korcula as well as Split and Dubrovnik all in one easy trip where you only have to unpack once.

All of the big destinations in the Arctic — the Northwest Passage, Spitzbergen, Franz Josef Land, etc. — also are best done by ship in my opinion.

Cruise Expert Gene Sloan Talks Travel

Gene on a Windstar cruise in Iceland, another coveted region.


QuirkyCruise: Where do you see the cruise biz going?

Gene Sloan: The boom right now is in expedition cruising, and I think that’s going to continue to be one of the biggest stories in cruising for several years. It used to be mostly the realm of small, niche companies with aging but functional vessels. Now major brands such as Crystal and Seabourn are getting into it in a big way with new and much more upscale, state-of-the-art ships. Ponant and Silversea are expanding rapidly in the space. Ditto Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and Hurtigruten.

It taps into changing trends. I do worry that some of the great little companies that have dominated this niche until now may struggle as these well-financed players come in.

Meanwhile, on the big-ship side of things, ships will continue getting bigger, on average. We may not see vessels significantly bigger than Symphony of the Seas — the new world’s largest cruise ship — but big-ship lines such as Carnival, MSC Cruises and P&O Cruises have vessels on order that are significantly bigger than anything in their current fleets, and I think we’ll see more such orders.


QuirkyCruise: What do you think of river cruise travel?

Gene Sloan: I’m a big fan. It’s a great way to get into the interior of a region with the same “you only unpack once” convenience of ocean cruising. You get a taste of a place in a way that is easy. Someone else figures everything out for you and your hotel room moves with you. That said, not all destinations where there are river cruises are best seen by river — at least not initially.

That’s the case for sure in Italy, and I’d say even in France. Cruising down the Seine or Rhone are wonderful experiences, but I think a first trip to France should be a land trip that focuses heavily on Paris. There’s just so much there. Then make the Seine or Rhone cruise your second or third trip to France.


QuirkyCruise: Do you have a favorite river?

Gene Sloan: The Rhine. There’s a reason it’s one of the most popular rivers for river cruising. It was one of the great thoroughfares of Europe going back to Roman times, and it’s thus rich with history. It offers cute little medieval towns, historic cities such as Cologne and scenery that includes the castle-lined Rhine Gorge.

It’s also a major working river, which is fascinating to see and get to understand. I love watching the bustle of long, sleek cargo ships working their way between the interior of Europe and its northern ports.

A piece of advice I have for would-be Rhine cruisers is to book one of the longer trips that includes a detour into the Moselle River. The Moselle is absolutely lovely and should not be missed.


QuirkyCruise: What river(s) do you have on your wish list?

Gene Sloan: I’ve done most of the major ones at least once and some many times. But two that I am conspicuously missing are the Volga in Russia and the Dnieper in Ukraine. Those are No. 1 and No. 2 on my river cruise agenda right now.


QuirkyCruise: Has the huge increase in the popularity of river cruises, especially in Europe, created scenes similar to Barcelona, for instance, drowning in too many ships on many summer days?

Gene Sloan: It’s a problem in some of the smaller towns, like Rudesheim on the Rhine. They really can get jammed with river cruisers on busy summer days. But it doesn’t bother me as much as some people. Even in a place like Rudesheim, you can get away from the crowds. You’ll find huge lines there for the cable car ride up to the Germania monument, for instance, but you can skip the lines — and have a wonderful adventure mostly removed from other visitors — by heading to the monument on foot. It’s a modest hike uphill on a trail through beautiful vineyards. You’re literally walking between the rows of vines. Plus, you’ll save the 8 euro cost of the cable car. The last time I walked it I only ran into one other person.

Cruise Expert Gene Sloan Talks Travel

Walk up to the top and skip the crowded cable car queues! * Photo: Heidi Sarna


QuirkyCruise: What do you think of expedition ships in general?

Gene Sloan: They’ve become my favorite way to cruise. They get you places that you can’t reach on more traditional ships, for starters. But I also like the way that, in most cases, the entire experience is integrated. One of my criticisms of traditional ocean cruising over the years has been that it’s common for even relatively high-end lines to sort of just dump passengers in destinations without any guidance. In addition to transportation between ports, the traditional cruise fare often includes the “hotel” experience of lodging and dining on board but not the touring experience.

If you want to actually see or do anything in the places the ship goes, you either have to plan it yourself or buy an expensive tour from the line. The expedition cruising model is that the touring portion of the trip is fully wrapped into the hotel and transportation experience. Your fare includes the line putting you up in a room, feeding you, getting you between places and then showing you the places.

This is what people want, even if they don’t know it. It’s one reason Viking’s new ocean cruises, which include a tour in every port, have been so popular. It’s also a big part of the allure of river cruising, where included touring and significant guidance on what to do in port are more traditional.


QuirkyCruise: When (if any) is a trip billed an expedition when it really doesn’t cut it?

Gene Sloan: At one level, none of the growing number of “expedition” ships are going on expeditions in the true sense of the word. If you’re going on one of these trips, you won’t be Ernest Shackleton striking out into unknown parts of Antarctica, your end destination and even survival in doubt. But that’s reading things too literally.

In the cruise world, expedition cruising has come to mean a certain type of voyage that is going to be about adventure and involve visiting an off-the-beaten-path place that would be hard for a traditional ship to reach, usually involving landings by Zodiac boats, often with the exact itinerary unknown and dependent on weather or even wildlife movements.

I do think that under that sort of definition, an expedition cruise really is something that only can be done on a very small vessel. As the niche booms, we’re seeing lines announce plans for bigger expedition ships that carry more people, and I’m not sure that’s a good trend.

Hapag-Lloyd’s new expedition ships, for instance, will carry 230 passengers vs. 155 for its just-retired Bremen. It doesn’t seem like a big difference, but getting 230 people loaded into Zodiacs and off to a landing isn’t nearly as easy as handling 155.

A stop at Champs Island in Franz Josef Land, on a Northeast Passage voyage with Hapag Lloyd Cruises’ Bremen.


QuirkyCruise: Is the focus on the destination being subverted by most new expedition ships being billed as very luxurious — suites, spas, multiple restaurants, helicopter and submersible rides — and geared to only the super wealthy?

Gene Sloan: Yes and no. Definitely a lot of the marketing around some of these new expedition ships, such as the soon-to-debut Scenic Eclipse, is around their luxurious amenities from super-suites to submarines. The vessels surely are a lot swankier than expedition ships of old and not exactly affordable. But expedition cruising always has been expensive and mostly the domain of the wealthy.

What’s happening here is the vessels finally are catching up with the clientele. It’s not uncommon for an Antarctica cruise to cost $1,000 per person, per day, and until recently that was for a trip that was on a vessel that might have been 30 years old and a bit run-down. People put up with the older ships to get the experience.


QuirkyCruise: What travel (of any kind) are you pining for, whether you’d get an assignment to write about it or not?

Gene Sloan: I am very eager to explore the “stans” — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, etc. I got my first taste last year during a trip to Mongolia where I spent a couple days with Kazakh eagle hunters along the Kazakhstan border. I found them fascinating people. Like the polar regions, it felt so far from the world that I know. It’s hard to find an excuse to go to the stans, though, when you write about cruising.

Cruise Expert Gene Sloan Talks Travel

Gene tries his hand at flying an eagle during a visit with the Kazakh eagle hungers of western Mongolia on a tour offered on a Silversea Cruises expedition.


QuirkyCruise: Can you share a favorite story or anecdote relating to a small-ship cruise?

Gene Sloan: The first thing that pops into my mind is actually a bit of a disaster, but one with a positive takeaway. I was on the first sailing of Silversea’s Silver Cloud in 2017 after it got a major makeover to turn it into an expedition ship. Silver Cloud originally was built for 290 passengers, but the overhaul cut its capacity to 254, and it’ll only sail with 200 passengers when visiting Antarctica. That’s where we were going on this first cruise.

We started in Buenos Aires, which was great, but about an hour out of our second stop, Puerto Madryn, we heard a big noise and the ship went dead in the water, the engines down. After drifting for a couple hours, they did get an engine back up, and we made it back to port. But, alas, the trip was over. The damage was too great to quickly repair. What a mess, right?

It surely was a disappointment for everybody on board. But I am here to tell you that Silversea’s response to the situation was everything you would have hoped for and more. Everyone got full refunds for the trip. That was a given. A voucher for a future cruise, too.

But what really impressed was how the staff scrambled to arrange wonderful and surely not-inexpensive whale-watching outings for every passenger on the ship within hours of returning to Puerto Madryn. Then while we were out catching a rare glimpse of the southern right whale, they feverishly worked the phones to figure out how to get us home, a not-uncomplicated task involving the booking of multiple flights and hotel stays for nearly 200 people with less than a day’s notice.

Upon our return, the staff was out and about around the ship answering passenger questions and generally trying to make things as right as they could until it was time to depart. It was not a great situation, for sure, but the way they handled it was so superb that I came away with an even greater respect for the line than I had before.

Cruise Expert Gene Sloan Talks Travel

Spotting a rare southern right whale on the Silver Cloud excursion. * Photo: Gene Sloan


QuirkyCruise: Finally, what’s next for you in your career?

Gene Sloan: I’ve started my own content creation company to provide cruise-related content to multiple publications. At least, that’s the plan. Let’s call it a three-month internship. We’ll see if it turns into 29 years. Gene can be reached at:

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UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii

More UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii

By Ted Scull.

Summer small-ship adventure cruising amongst the Hawaiian Islands has been added to UnCruise’s long-established November to April sailings. Choose from six departures with a choice of four 7-nighters in July and two in August 2019. They depart from and return to Moloka’i and explore the land and waters of three additional islands — Lana’i, the Big Island of Hawai’i, and West Maui.

Your home away from home is the Safari Explorer, a 36-passenger mini cruiser that has called Hawaii home from the late fall to early spring months since 2011. Four cabins have a third berth, ideal for a family of three, adding up to a maximum of 40 souls — not 400 or 4,000 — so we are talking about true yacht size.

UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii

UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii aboard the 36-passenger Safari Explorer. * Photo: Uncruise

With Hawaii being a gorgeous sprawling archipelago, most visitors fly between the islands, having to pack and unpack multiple times. However, if you travel by sea between some of them, the transits are at night while you are sleeping, and you unpack once and enjoy the ride.

During daylight cruising, you may come upon whales and dolphins, the latter the spinning species. Green sea turtles may surface while you are kayaking or enjoying a ride in an inflatable skiff.

UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii

Kayaking through lava tubes! * Photo: UnCruise

While snorkeling, giant Pacific manta rays could glide by along with reef fish and seals. And when you want a respite from all the activity, beach yourself and look for crabs scooting across the sand or go paddle boarding.

Moloka’i is the departure and arrival port, and it allows opportunities to visit Hawaiian families in the lovely verdant Halawa Valley to experience the local culture, hear island lore and watch poi being made from taro roots that is then cooked and pounded into an eatable tasty paste. An evening pa’ina feast is accompanied by dancing to traditional Hawaiian music.

UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii

The 7-night Hawaii itinerary. * Photo: UnCruise

On Hawaii, the big island, explore the Kona Coast aided by hiking poles, visit the town of Kalua and climb up to WWII military forts, and then return to blue waters to kayak through lava tubes.

Making the adventure even more appetizing, much of the food aboard Safari Explorer is fresh local produce, meat and sustainable seafood from the island’s fisherfolk.

UnCruises’ Hawaii fares start at $5,195 per person, double occupancy and are inclusive of all meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, planned activities and transfers at Moloka’i. Reap $600 early-booking discounts per couple that are good until March 29th.

UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii

Can’t beat Stand Up Paddle-boarding in Hawaii. * Photo: UnCruise


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UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

By John Roberts.

We wake up at the crack of dawn and make our way to the top of the ship. It’s a quick trip from our small cabin on Deck 3 — just one level up to reach the top of SS Legacy. On the first morning of our “Rivers of Adventure” sailing with UnCruise Adventures, we’re getting the day going with a yoga session.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Yoga session on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

This is my fourth sailing with UnCruise, and there are a few things I’ve come to count on when taking a journey with the expedition line:

  • I’m going to learn some interesting stuff.
  • I’ll be well fed.
  • And I’ll be thoroughly exhausted after days filled with thrilling adventures.

This voyage is carrying about 30 passengers on a ship that can fit 90, so we have plenty of space and all get to know each other quickly. Seven of us, including my wife Colleen, decide that it will be a good idea to warm up our muscles and clear our minds for the day ahead.

The 30-minute yoga session does the trick nicely — and this would be the first of at least three times we take advantage of the morning yoga classes.

The “Rivers of Adventure” itinerary is a new one for UnCruise Adventures, and we have joined one of the first trips for this program on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. I know how active my previous sailings have been, in Alaska, Costa Rica and Panama, and in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington, so I expect this week on SS Legacy cruise is going to be more fun and active than your standard river voyage.

The SS Legacy. * Photo: John Roberts

Here is a day-by-day look at our journey.

Days 1 & 2

The cruise embarks in Clarkston, Washington, on the Snake River. After an overnight on the ship, some of us early birds get up to start our day with a birdwatching walk just along the banks of the river. We are stunned at the number of bird varieties we spot just steps from our ship as we wander for about 45 minutes on the path with guides Bobby and Sarah.

There are California quail, kingfishers, blue jays, finches and other species flitting about — I cannot remember all the names. During the week, we would be in what is known as a rain shadow region. This unique climate and geography develops because the landscape is on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountain range, meaning it gets little rainfall after the moist air climbs up the western slope and the clouds wring out most of their ample amounts of precipitation. Seattle knows what I’m talking about.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Birdwatching in Clarkston. * Photo: John Roberts

So, the area shows signs of dryness as we venture about all week, with golden grasses and brown shrubs lining our route. But a variety of flowers provide bursts of color here and there as we hike and paddle in the wilderness.

After our birdwatching on that first day, we enjoy a hearty breakfast on SS Legacy before all of us load into a speed boat at the pier alongside our ship. Moments later, we are zooming off into Hells Canyon. This National Recreation Area comprises the steep walls that bracket the Snake River, with Idaho on one side and Washington the other.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

John & Colleen in the Hells Canyon speed boat. * Photo: John Roberts

We see soaring eagles and falcons and stop to look at ancient petroglyphs etched onto large rocks at the river bank. Native American history is rich throughout the region, with the stories of the Nez Perce tribe discussed often during our cruise. (Later this day, passengers very much enjoy a guest interpretive talk onboard by J.R. Spencer, a Nez Perce tribe member, artist, educator and performer.)

J.R. Spencer, a Nez Perce tribe member, artist, educator and performer. * Photo: John Roberts

The boat also takes us past large ranches and a herd of big horn sheep on our way to a picnic lunch at Garden Creek Ranch, which is a fishing camp and preserve located at the junction of Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Here we fill up on barbecue and cold beers and wine, then wander about the property, which is filled with wild turkeys and deer that roam freely among the apple and pear orchard on the hillside.

After lunch, the boat goes deeper into the canyon before heading back to SS Legacy, where a group of us, five to be exact, take up what quickly become familiar positions at the bar to take advantage of the free-flowing drinks and friendly conversation offered by our bartender Dee Dee.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Business as usual at the ship’s bar. * Photo: John Roberts

Day 3

We wake up in Lyon’s Ferry at the edge of the Palouse River and start the day with a quick workout at the ship’s small outdoor gym up top, then join the daily yoga session.

It’s a perfectly sunny day, and we are excited to hike at Palouse Falls State Park. Guides lead us down into the canyon and along meandering trails to the river and a small waterfall area. I shuck my clothes down to my skivvies and hop in for a quick swim. My fellow cruisers now think I’m a bit crazy as I emerge from the icy glacial waters. I feel quite refreshed, actually, and quickly dry off in the sun.

John takes a dip in the icy Palouse water. * Photo: John Roberts

This state park is exceedingly beautiful, and the hike is the first of two amazing excursions we would enjoy today. After lunch, we hop in skiffs to ride into the Palouse River, where we meet UnCruise’s mobile launching dock the Sea Dragon. This is where we get into our kayaks to paddle the river until sunset approaches. It is a serene scene as a couple dozen kayaks slice through the water alongside marshy areas and amid the towering canyon walls.

John & Colleen kayaking in the Palouse River. * Photo: John Roberts

Colleen and I join our new friends back onboard in the hot tubs for sunset cocktails (another ritual we will repeat more than a few times). This is the perfect way to rejuvenate our bodies after a busy day.

After dinner, we get the first of three guide presentations we will hear during our cruise. Sarah thrills us and draws plenty of gasps and laughs with her presentation on lesser-known bird species of the region.

Later in the week, Bobby talks about the effects of wildfires and their important role in nature, and Robert gives an in-depth chat about Lewis and Clark’s journey.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Guide Robert. * Photo: John Roberts

Day 4

We catch a bit of a break today, with a lighter schedule of activities in Richland, Washington, a pretty city located right on the Columbia River. Colleen and I get out of bed nice and early for a skiff tour on the river to spy more birds. We spot egrets, magpies and ducks in the trees and marshy shore areas.

It’s easy to rise nice and early when you find yourselves retreating to your cabin and bed each night by 9 p.m. We have good intentions: “Let’s stay up a little later tonight and play a game,” our group promises one another. Yet, we finish a filling meal, down a few beers and the satisfied exhaustion of another day washes over us, overpowering our wills to keep the party going.

In Richland, UnCruise has set up free rentals bikes for its passengers to sign out from Greenies Bike Shop, a quick walk from the pier.

Biking in Richland. * Photo: John Roberts


UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

To-die-for scenery on the bike ride. * Photo: John Roberts

We take advantage and had a nice late-morning ride for about 12 miles back and forth on the well-developed riverside path. In the afternoon, most passengers go to a vineyard for wine tasting. We stay onboard to get in a nap and spend some quality time in the hot tub.

We don’t regret our decision — at all.

Day 5

Today is a big day. We reach the Deschutes River in Oregon for whitewater rafting and know it’s going to be a blast. More than half of the passengers choose rafting; the rest visit Maryhill Museum of Art to see the eclectic array of items in the Beaux-Arts-style former mansion of entrepreneur Sam Hill.

We get a brilliantly sunny day to enjoy the racing waters of the Deschutes. It lends its name, by the way, to the regional brewery that produces some great craft beers. Over the course of three hours, we scream our way through class 2 and class 3 rapids, and we hear of a few spills that leave some members of our group drenched by the bracing waters.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Whitewater rafting on the Deschutes River in Oregon. * Photo: John Roberts

In our raft, we all manage to stay onboard (we’re obviously the best at this!) and learn how to surf the waves while synching up our paddle strokes. Our guide Larry also gives us an interesting running commentary on the history of the river and the region.

When we pull ourselves out of the rafts at the end of our journey, our legs are a bit wobbly and our hunger is great. We find a sunny spot at a picnic table and delightfully relive the outing while downing our lunches (complemented by beers and wines) and letting our clothes dry.

Day 6

The action continues in The Dalles, Oregon. A bus ride takes us to Rowena Plateau, which overlooks the Columbia River Gorge. We are among the first people there as we start a challenging morning hike. We startle a small herd of mule deer, which bound away over the grassy knolls to our delight and awe.

After exploring the flat area on the plateau, it’s time to kick it into gear to reach our goal. Our expedition leader, Megan, wants us to be the first group of the season to reach the summit of the hike.

Tom McCall Point is a fairly challenging switchback trail that offers a peak with great views of the region. Mount Adams and Mount Hood are constantly in sight during our hike up, their snow-capped peaks standing sentry over the gorge.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

John and his group at the summit of Rowena. * Photo: John Roberts

We make it up in good time, and our efforts pay off with stunning views that offer an energy boost. Too soon, it’s time to head back to the ship, but we need to get lunch to refuel for the afternoon’s bike ride on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.

We start in the town of Hood River, and I know this will be a fun leg-burner of a ride. The guides warn us of some steep sections of the route that takes us to the “Twin Tunnels” and a scenic viewing point over the gorge. We also have fun whooshing along the roads on our descents, and much of the ride takes us through pretty tree-covered sections.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Biking on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. * Photo: John Roberts

A few of us in particular want to complete the 12-mile out-and-back route in a timely fashion to free us up for a walk around the town of Hood River. We have plans to get a couple cold ones as a reward for our work today, and a few blocks into town, we settle in at Full Sail Brewing Co., in time to have a round before rejoining our fellow cruisers on the shuttle back to SS Legacy.

Yes, we slept well again this night.

Day 7

It’s hard to believe the trip is coming to an end as we reach Bonneville Lock and Dam. It’s rainy as we go out for a quick group tour to visit the facility and visitors center. The highlight is the fascinating salmon ladder that helps the fish pass the dam to get upstream.

The fascination fish ladder. * Photo: John Roberts

UnCruise offers a biking tour to a winery, and many guests take advantage of this despite the rainy conditions. Colleen and I choose to go into the town of Cascade Locks on our own to hike a small portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

The Pacific Crest Trail. * Photo: John Roberts

The wilderness gives us an immediate embrace just moments after we step onto the trail away from the busy roads in town. We are fascinated to be able to see the remaining scars everywhere in the forest from the large wildfires in 2017.

Then, it’s back to the ship for one last festive night onboard while we set sail to Portland where it’s time to get off SS Legacy.

The SS Legacy arriving in Portland. * Photo: John Roberts

Life Onboard


Our stateroom on SS Legacy is functional but with tight confines and a small bed, making the space ill-suited for a couple to enjoy any particular moments of intimacy.

This was not a problem because by the third day, anyways, as we would head back to our cabin around 9 p.m. too exhausted to do anything but plop down and pass out.

From daybreak until dinnertime, our schedules are filled with meals, drinks and thrilling activities. Food and beverages on SS Legacy feature regional varieties, so we have a lot of seafood options and wines from Washington and Oregon vineyards.

Eating & Drinking

Colleen and I try all the beers. The Coco Joe’s coconut porter is a flavorful favorite, and I had at least one Born and Raised IPA and Scuttlebutt amber each day.

The menus always offer one seafood, one meat and one vegetarian option. Passengers routinely would order a half-and-half of two of the entrees because they faced tough choices and wanted to try multiple entrees. Staff also makes painstaking efforts to accommodate dietary needs — preparing vegan and lactose-free meals, for examples, on our cruise.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

A sampling of the week’s meals! * Photo: John Roberts

Our cabin opened directly to the outdoor deck, and it’s especially nice to wake up and step outside into a new wilderness painting each morning. The top deck offers the small gym with cardio equipment and free weights, as well as two hots tubs.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

The author’s cozy cabin. * Photo: John Roberts

A large selection of DVDs is available to take back to your room for viewing, and the ship also has a big collection of games, books and a few puzzles. Snacks like granola bars and fresh fruit are always available, and the pastry chef makes fresh cookies that are set out in the lounge every afternoon.

Drinks are included in your cruise fare.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Drinks are included in the cruise fare. 🍷🍺 Here’s bartender DeeDee. * Photo: John Roberts

Overall, UnCruise’s “Rivers of Adventure” is a wonderful expedition, as passengers become fast friends while out tackling fun new adventures in incredibly vibrant places each day. This is certainly my kind of quirky cruise!

Making friends on a cruise with so many active excursions is not very strenuous! * Photo: John Roberts


➢➢➢ Here’s a VIDEO TOUR of the SS Legacy that John made. Have a look 👀!

➢➢➢ Here’s John’s VIDEO overview of the ACTIVE EXCURSIONS  he sampled!


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UnCruise Adventures Theme Cruises

UnCruise Adventures Theme Cruises

By Heidi Sarna.

What’s better than an adventurous small-ship cruise? An adventurous small-ship cruise with a theme.

Besides the expedition leader and guides who sail on board every UnCruise Adventures voyage, below is a listing of special UnCruise Adventures theme cruises in 2019 that feature in additional expert. The themes center around photography, ornithology, wellness and Alaska.

Here’s a listing of the theme roster for 2019 (note, for a few, the expert will be determined soon).


Alaska Insider Theme Cruises in 2019

These guest hosts are Alaska residents with knowledge to share on a variety of topics, from bears to salmon, Alaskan native culture and glaciers.

Cathy Connor, for instance, lives in Juneau with her family and is an expert on glaciers with a Ph.D in geology and glaciology. She’s an expert on Juneau’s ice fields.

Meanwhile, Kate Troll and Bill Hanson are a husband-wife team who are accomplished writers with impressive careers behind them. Kate was the executive director for Alaska’s largest fishing organization and pioneered a program to implement salmon stream protections in rural Alaska, while Bill spent his career as a supervisory biologist, forester, and fire effects specialists for agencies in Alaska including US Dept. of Fish & Game and Bureau of Land Management.

UnCruise Adventures Theme Cruises

Getting up close and personal in Alaska via skiff exploring Dawes Glacier * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Alaska Fjords & Glaciers aboard Wilderness Explorer
➢2019: April 6 with Cathy Connor
➢2019: May 11 TBD
➢2019: May 18 with Karen Dillman

Glacier Bay National Park Adventure Cruise aboard Wilderness Explorer & Wilderness Adventurer
➢2019: April 13 with Cathy Connor
➢2019: April 20 with Jim Adams
➢2019: April 27 with Alaska Native Voices
➢2019: May 4 TBD
➢2019: May 11 TBD
➢2019: May 18 with Kate Troll & Bill Hanson

Alaska’s Glacier Country aboard S.S. Legacy & Safari Explorer
➢2019: April 26 with David Shaw
➢2019: May 10 with Kate Troll & Bill Hanson
➢2019: May 17 with Kim Heacox
➢2019: May 17 with Natalie Fobes

Alaska Yacht: Bears, Bergs & Bushwhacking aboard Safari Quest
➢2019: May 16

Alaska’s Inside Passage & San Juan Islands Cruise aboard S.S. Legacy, Wilderness Discoverer & Safari Endeavour
➢2019: April 12 with Caroline Fox
➢2019: April 20 with Lee Stetson
➢2019: May 12 TBD

Northern Passage & Glacier Bay aboard Wilderness Adventurer, Wilderness Explorer & Wilderness Discoverer
➢2019: April 13 with Alaska Native Voices
➢2019: April 20 with Alaska Native Voices
➢2019: April 27 with Jim Baichtal
➢2019: May 4 TBD
➢2019: May 4 TBD
➢2019: May 11 TBD
➢2019: May 18 with Tom Jefferson


Ornithology Cruise in 2019

Alaska’s Glaciers & Whales aboard Safari Endeavour
➢2019: May 26 TBD

UnCruise Adventures Theme Cruises

Spotting an eagle on the ornithology theme cruise. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Photography Cruises in 2019

Whales, Wildlife & Glaciers aboard Safari Endeavour
➢2019: August 11 with Cameron Zegers

Alaska’s Glacier Country aboard S.S. Legacy & Safari Endeavour
➢2019: May 24 with JD Andrews

Alaska’s Glaciers and Whales aboard Safari Endeavour
➢2019: June 9 TBD

UnCruise Adventures Theme Cruises

Taking shots of wildlife and scenery on a photography theme cruise. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures


Wellness Cruises in 2019

Alaska’s Glacier Country—Fitness & Yoga aboard S.S. Legacy & Safari Endeavour
➢2019: May 3 with Mary Van Heukelom and Hunt Parr
➢2019: September 1 with Melanie Psaltakis and Lisa Karr

UnCruise Adventures Theme Cruises

This is what a wellness cruise looks like! * Photo: UnCruise Adventures



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UnCruise USC Kayaking

Cruising Alaska on a Small Ship

By Ted Scull.

Alaska, America’s largest state, is 2.5 times the land area of Texas and 430 times the size of Rhode Island, and unlike all the other states, except Hawaii, its mass is not contiguous to the Lower 48. For many folks, it appears to be two different states — the huge central portion that is most obvious on a map and location for the major cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks and Denali National Park, and the longish Alaskan Panhandle that juts southeast along the British Columbia coast. I

t is to the latter that most visitors go for the majestic sights of snowcapped mountains, deep fjords, the multiple moving tongues of ice in Glacier Bay, forests habitats to bears and moose, varied activities such as fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding and hiking, visiting native Alaskan communities and walking amongst those tall colorful totems, some recently carved to carry on the tradition.

The big cruise ships depart northbound for the Panhandle from Seattle or Vancouver or southbound to one of those two cities from Seward, a port just south of Anchorage. Many cruises are round trip from Seattle or Vancouver. Steaming time between the Panhandle and any of these three ports is two nights and one day each way. That necessarily limits the number of Alaskan port calls to three or four.

For the small ship fleet featured in QuirkyCruise, nearly all departures are from a prime Panhandle port, usually Juneau, the state’s capital, or Ketchikan. Both cities have direct flights from the Pacific Northwest. Being positioned in Alaska the week is spent entirely in the Panhandle making one of two port calls or landings a day.

These voyages are more expedition-style than the mainstream mega-cruise ships. Some small ships sail the Inside Passage to position themselves in the Panhandle for the summer, with a single voyage up in May and down in September, while most others spend the winter layup in Alaska.

Why Go? 

To experience America’s vast last frontier, a natural wonderland of fjords, mountains, forests, glaciers and wildlife.

The Panhandle’s prime cruising area is relatively small requiring just a few hours of sailing time each day to locate sea lions, sea otters and harbor seals basking on the rocks, watching black bears and moose come down to the water or spotting pods of whales and dolphins in Icy Strait. Getting close up views without putting them in danger is easy for highly maneuverable small ships.

While sailing along narrow fjords beneath steep cliffs you may spot a small herd of mountain goats high above you and ease close enough to waterfalls to feel the spray. At the far end of Misty Fjord come face to face with a calving glacier that gently rocks the ship as a block of ice drops into the sea.

When to Go?

The Alaska cruising season begins in May and tapers off in September. The earlier in the season the more snow that will be present on the lower mountain slopes, but the higher peaks are snow-capped year-round. Newborn wildlife will be clearly evident in the spring and early summer. Whales migrate north to Alaska in late winter and early spring, hence the May to September whale period coincides with the cruise season. There are fewer tourists early and late in the season and many more, including families, from mid-June to August.

The Alaska Panhandle has a maritime climate, which means more clouds and possible rain at any time, but little of the searing heat that visitors may face in Alaska’s interior. Mid-summer has the least amount of rain.

Cruising Alaska Itinerary Options

While most expedition cruises last a week, some are longer and others combine two different non-repeating itineraries to make two weeks. Coming all this way, think about adding a land package that takes in Denali National Park and the Alaska Railroad. The train operates between Anchorage, the state’s largest city, Denali and Fairbanks and is equipped with sightseeing dome cars. Denali, the tallest peak, at 20,310 feet (6,190 meters) can be viewed on a clear day from a low base camp altitude that is 1,000 to 3,000 feet, making the mountain’s vertical rise one of the world’s highest. Caribou, moose, Dall Sheep, wolves, and maybe grizzly bears, may be seen in the valley below the park’s access road. Fairbanks is the gateway to sternwheel steamer trips, rafting and a visit to a native Alaskan community above the Arctic Circle and the wilds of the Brooks Range.

Small vs Very Small in Alaska

The ships that we cover may carry as few as a dozen passengers on up to a couple hundred. A group of friends or extended family groups may like chartering their own small yacht with lines like Alaskan Dream Cruises. Those traveling on their own, as singles or as one or two couples, may prefer a larger vessel with more people to meet and a wider variety of activities offered at any one time, yet still small enough to call at isolated ports without the big cruise ship infrastructure that serves thousands.

Alaska Small Ship Port Overview

Many of Alaska’s destinations are not the ports but the majestic fjords, landing at wooded islands for mountain hikes and glaciers, including Glacier Bay that combines several glaciers with abundant wildlife. What follows is a brief description of the main port towns, all but Juneau relatively small, but be warned that some many have more population from the big cruise ships on big boat days than local residents.

  • Ketchikan. Starting from the south end of the Alaskan Panhandle, Ketchikan may be one of the most crowded port call when several massive cruise ships are tied up, and what you see is mostly a shopping mecca. Some small ship operators use this port and for embarkation or disembarkations. While Ketchikan has a lot of mining history and is known as the salmon capital of the world, the most worthwhile sights are the Tlingit village of Saxman, displaying totem poles and the town’s cultural past and the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, educating all ages life-like displays of rainforests, salmon streams, and native buildings.
  • Petersburg. A much smaller town, Petersburg has a Norwegian heritage that is kept alive with culinary, musical and dancing events with participants (often children) wearing traditional celebratory Nordic clothing. However, it is the fishing industry that is the lifeblood of the economy and the locals give small-group tours.
  • Juneau. Built up against a mountainside, the state’s relatively isolated capital with no road access to the outside world, offers a couple hundred miles of hiking trails, the large and receding Mendenhall Glacier just out of town, the Mt. Roberts Tram for spectacular views, several museums touting the state’s and immediate area’s cultural and gold-mining history, and plenty of shops to peruse. Juneau is often the start and/or end of the small ship cruises. If you’re hankering for a “flightseeing” floatplane excursion above the glaciers and mountains, Juneau is the place to do it because there’s a better chance of clear weather (they’re offered in Ketchikan too, but it rains a heck of a lot there).
Downtown Juneau with Mt Roberts Tramway. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Downtown Juneau with Mt Roberts Tram. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

  • Sitka. Its main claim to fame was serving as Russian America’s capital, and a thriving place Sitka was during that period. Then in 1867 the U.S. bought Alaska and the deal took place at Castle Hill, an historic site with remnants of fortifications and Baranof’s Castle was located. St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church is the most impressive holdover and an active center for church services. The original 19th century structure burned in 1966, and then rebuilt in pretty much its original style. If open to the public is well worth visiting for its religious artifacts. Just outside town, Sitka National Historical Park displays a collection of totems set in an attractive 100-acre heavily-wooded forest and the Haida and Tlingit peoples’ cultural heritage is on display here.
  • Skagway. The most northerly of the Panhandle towns, tiny Skagway was once the only coastal point to access the land routes to the Klondike region of northwestern Canada’s Yukon Territory — on foot over the Chilkoot Pass and White Pass or via the White Pass and Yukon Route, a narrow-gauge railroad that stretched all the way to Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon Territory. After gold was discovered in 1898 the railway line became the principal access route to the Klondike. The remaining portion of the line is Skagway’s main attraction for cruise passengers offering a highly scenic mountain and lake ride. The train also serves small groups of hikers. Architecturally, the town retains much of its gold rush atmosphere in spite of the hordes of milling tourists.

Alaska’s Fjords, Straits, Bays & Arms

Icy Strait. Located due west of Juneau and south of the entrance to Glacier Bay, the waterway teems with sea life because of its rich nutrients, orcas and humpback whales that come north in the spring to feed here, and coinciding with the start of the Alaska cruise season. Sport fishing is also a draw, and it is not uncommon to see bears and deer on the nearby shorelines. Small ships have the advantage of being much less of a danger to sea life, while their relaxed schedules permit extended dawdles to perhaps take a position in the very midst of a pod of whales.

Misty Fjord. Designated as a National Monument, a trip along the narrow passages bracketed by sheer cliffs that soar straight up two to three thousand feet, and though unseen, drop down to 1,000 feet below sea level. At the start of the season, the peaks will have a heavy overlay of snow that as it melts creates cascading waterfalls where a close approach can wash the decks. Located in extreme Southeast Alaska in the immense Tongass State Forest, the nearest port is Ketchikan off to the west.

A whale thrusts itself almost completely out of the water.

Tracy Arm.  Along with Endicott Arm, these two 30-mile-long fjords are located 45 miles south of Juneau in Tongass State Forest. Tracy Arm, the better known, is noted for the North and South Sawyer Glaciers that together cover nearly 20 per cent of the surface. In the summer, large and small chunks of ice break off and create a sea of floating ice that the small ships gingerly pass through to reach the face of the glacier and watch it calve. On shore, bears, wolves and harbor seals are often spotted, and if lucky, mountain goats may be staring down at you.

Glacier Bay.  The best known of all Alaska destinations is Glacier Bay, a vast national park with lots of wildlife, fjords and inlets, and no less that nine glaciers, both receding and advancing. The largest receding glacier is also the most famous, Margerie, where small ships stand off of to watch the calving ice collapse into the sea, while the Johns Hopkins Glacier is the longest advancing river of ice.

You can expect to see at least three-quarters of the most common wildlife — humpback whales that enter from Icy Strait, Steller sea lions. harbor seals, sea otters, harbor porpoise, brown and black bears, and if your National Parks guide spots them, mountain goats and moose. Look up to the west when approaching Margerie Glacier and spot the eternally snow-capped Mount Fairweather, at 15,300 feet, taller than any mountain in the Lower 48 states.

Alaska Small Ship Excursions

Generally, small ship Alaska cruises are more active, sporty and hands-on than their larger counterparts. Directly from a small ship, you board a Zodiac accompanied by a naturalist to look for wildlife at close range, or step ashore and take a hike in the temperate rain forest or form a fleet of a dozen kayaks to explore a nearby bay. Excursion options may also include bicycle and rafting tours.

Kayaking around the Wilderness Discoverer in Alaska. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Kayaking around the Wilderness Discoverer in Alaska. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Small ships spending the afternoon in Glacier Bay, after the big ships leave, often cruise up to multiple tongues of ice, while bald eagles, oyster catchers and blue heron soar above and wildlife comes down to the shore. National Park guides come aboard to supplement the ship’s own naturalist staff.

Flight excursions are super memorable if the weather cooperates. * Photo: Arun Sarna

The small ship fleet may call at towns and villages where big cruise ships cannot to see first-hand what remote native Alaskan island life is like or to experience Norwegian cultural traditions at Petersburg, a charming town where the fishing industry is still paramount and highly lucrative. Fishing trips can be arranged here and at other Panhandle towns.

Your small ship may call at ports where the big ships dock too — such as Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway — though organized activities are kept as separate as they can from the milling hoards.

Ted’s Favorite Small Ship Alaska Moments

Sailing into a fjord, one never knows what lies around the corner, and then you see a slim waterfall or maybe two, one cascading down the cliff face and the other in free fall, a glacier at the far end and another narrow passage forking off from the main channel.

The most serene times of day are early morning and at sunset when the ship is at anchor, and the solitude of the Alaskan wilderness can settle in around you. If I am in a kayak, I like resting the oars and taking in the stillness, sights and sounds of nature — a family of ducks serenely gliding along, dolphins cruising by, and startled fish erupting skyward. On clear evenings, stand at the ship’s railing and watch the moon above reflected in the calm waters below. At times like these you don’t want your expedition voyage to end.

Heidi’s Favorite Small Ship Alaska Moments

My first small ship cruises more than 20 years ago were to Alaska and they got me hooked. One I took with my father, and I still remember the serenity of walking through Sitka’s National Park, dwarfed by the cedar trees and totem poles, and smitten with the cool fresh air and simple but profound beauty of the pristine forest. Another day in Petersburg, we went on a fishing excursion with just four other passengers, on a trawler operated by an endearing couple who looked like Mr. and Mrs. Clause. They helped us catch crabs and then cooked them up for us right on board to eat in the tiny galley with melted butter and plastic cups of white wine. It may have been dreary and drizzly outside, but we were warm and happy clams that afternoon. Still one of my favorite cruise memories of all time.

Small Ship Lines That Serve Alaska

Abercrombie & Kent
Alaska Dream Cruises
Alaska Marine Highway (regular ferry routes on ships with cabin accommodations)
American Cruise Lines
Lindblad Expeditions
Silversea Expeditions
UnCruise Adventures

These lines range from operating a single ship to a small fleet, with the latter naturally offering many different itineraries and the possibility of returning for a second expedition cruise in another area and with a different thrust.

Read More About Cruising Alaska on a Small Ship

Alaskan Dream Cruises Adventure by Lynn & Cele Seldon

Alaska Cruise Adventures with UnCruise by Judi Cohen

Finding My Route to Alaska by Car, Ferry, Trains & Small Ship

Small Ships vs Big Ships in Alaska

Definitely an UnCruise Adventure: Safari Endeavour to Alaska is a Wonderful Small Ship Cruise 


QuirkyCruise Review


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UnCruise Adventures to Alaska

UnCruise Adventures to Alaska & More

Check out this trio of special offers for UnCruise Adventures from the folks at Cruise Traveller, an Australia-based small-ship expert. For more details or to book, click on the links to go to the agency’s website.

Click here for more info about Cruise Traveller.

All rates are in Australian dollars and all are available to Australian passengers only.


Cruise Traveller



Happy small-ship cruising!

An Aloha Adventure in 2019

Cruise Package: 7-night cruise in the Hawaiian Islands, plus two hotel nights, departing April 4, 2019.

Ship:  36-Safari Explorer; built 1998 and renovated in 2008.

Offer:  Includes 2 nights accommodation in Honolulu pre-cruise with breakfast and FREE Pearl Harbour tour, transfer to Honolulu airport, one-way economy airfare (luggage extra cost) from Honolulu to Kona, transfer to port, 7-night up-close Hawaiian Islands cruise aboard Safari Explorer (operated by UnCruise Adventures) from Kona to Molokai with all meals/drinks and off-ship activities included. Also included: transfer to Molokai airport and one-way economy class airfare (luggage extra cost) from Molokai to Honolulu. Fares for a Twin Master cabin with ocean view starts at AUD $8,695 per person. Fares for a single cabin for one person starts at AUD $13,555 per person.

** Offer does not include flights from/to Australia.

Expires:  31 January, 2019; or until sold out/withdrawn.

Visit the Cruise Traveller site for more info or to book this cruise.

UnCruise Adventures to Alaska

Hawaii undersea world.


Fjords of Alaska

Cruise Package: 14-night cruise in Alaska, plus two hotel nights, departing 6 September, 2019  (other dates available at higher prices).

Ship:  76- Wilderness Explorer; built 1976 and renovated in 2012.

Offer:  Includes 1-night Seattle hotel stay with departure transfer, one-way economy class transfer from Seattle to Ketchikan, 14-night expedition small ship cruise aboard Wilderness Explorer from Ketchikan to Sitka including all meals, all shore and exploring activities, zodiac excursions, all beverages onboard and port taxes. Plus, includes one-way economy class airfare from Sitka to Seattle, 1-night Seattle hotel stay with arrival transfer.  Twin Navigator cabin ocean view from AUD $13,795 per person. Single sole use cabin from AUD $21,895 per person.

*** Offer does not include flights from/to Australia.

Expires:  31 January, 2019; or until sold out/withdrawn.

Visit the Cruise Traveller site for more info or to book this cruise.

UnCruise Adventures to Alaska

Whale watching from a zodiac.

USA River Adventure in 2019

Cruise Package: 7-night cruise on Columbia and Snake Rivers, plus two hotel nights, departing 17 October, 2019.

Ship:  88- Legacy; built 1983 and renovated in 2013.

Offer:  Includes one-way economy airfare from Los Angeles to Portland (Oregon), 2-night Portland hotel stay with transfers, 7-night “Rivers of Adventure” Columbia and Snake River cruise aboard SS Legacy from Portland Oregon to Clarkston Washington. Plus also includes one-way transfer from Clarkston port to Spokane airport, one-way economy airfare from Spokane to Los Angeles, and port taxes. Fares for a Twin Master ocean view cabin start from AUD $9,685 per person; fares for a single cabin for one person start at AUD $12,695 per person.

**  Offer does not include flights from/to Australia.
*** USA domestic airfares do not include luggage costs — expect approx US $36 per bag per flight to be paid directly to airline at checkin

Expires:  31 January, 2019; or until sold out/withdrawn.

Visit the Cruise Traveller site for more info or to book this cruise.

UnCruise Adventures to Alaska

The SS Legacy.

Note:Deals are generated by, and the responsibility of, Cruise Traveller, and are based on availability and are subject to change. Cruises are capacity-controlled and offers may be withdrawn at any time. All rates are per person and some fares may include shore excursions and some or all beverages.


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UnCruise Adventures

UnCruise Adventures

Seattle-based UnCruise operates a fleet of nine expedition vessels taking from 22 to 90 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. For those who like off-season travel, some Alaska itineraries begin in April as the state’s wildlife is waking up, and the spring months are generally drier than later on.

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

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 & 90 p).

For the LA PINTA (b.   & 48 pax), see Galapagos below. The fleet comparison chart  on the website is useful for what features one ship has that another may not such as single cabins and triples.

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

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

Passenger Profile

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 activities designed for children. The Columbia-Snake cruises had always attracted generally older passengers for its specific slants on history, cultural traditions and scenery, though now with a big focus on active adventure, the passengers ages should go down. 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.

$$ – $$$

Weeklong cruises are typically upwards of $3,200 per person, and include shore excursions, booze and other perks. Some 7-night itineraries command twice that, while early spring dates (14 nights) may begin below $5,000. Peruse the lot to find the price you can afford.

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 all ships (though no massages on Safari Quest or SS Legacy).


Most cruises last 7 nights, and some Alaska cruises may be combined to create 14-night trips. Some cruises have special themes: marine biology, photography, storytellers, ornithology, craft beer, nostalgic music, wine, Alaska Insiders and a wellness cruise. Here’s the link to UnCruise’s theme offerings. 

The numerous cruising regions are:


The 49th state is the line’s prime summer focus involving six ships and 13 different itineraries of 7 nights plus one 8-nighter April to September, in Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage embarking in Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, and Sitka. Beginning and end of season one-way repositioning 14-night voyages between Seattle and Juneau operate 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.

UnCruise Adventures

Kayaking is a big part of the UnCruise ethos. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Land tours of 4- and 5-night may be added to include Denali National Park, Alaska Railroad, Kenai Fjords National Park, Anchorage, Seward, and Girdwood, a small mountain town near the Chugach Mountains. Activities featured are guided hikes, dogsled rides, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, river floats, and scenic train rides. Included features are hotels, meals, transfers between the vessel, hotels and airports, and baggage handling. Check out the land operator at Alaska Alpine Adventures.

Related: UnCruise in Alaska … by Judi Cohen.

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 – OR & WA

From Portland covering almost one thousand round-trip miles along the Columbia and Snake Rivers as far inland as Idaho’s Hells Canyon. The 7-night Rivers of Adventure, running September-October, travel between Portland, OR and Clarkston, and includes an expedition team, kayaking, hiking on the Rowena Plateau, whitewater rafting on the Deschutes River and biking along the Columbia Gorge. Paddle boards and skiffs have been added to the activities.

The 7-night Rivers of Wine and Culinary cruises are offered in November 2018 and  September-November 2019 roundtrip from Portland aboard the 90-passenger S.S. LEGACY and showcasing famed Oregon and Washington State vineyards and produce.

Related: Rivers of Adventure on the Columbia & Snake Rivers  …  by John Roberts

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 December 2019 to April 2020 and December 2020 to April 2021 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 dubbed the “aquarium of the world.” 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 July-August and November December 2019 and year-round in 2020 and 2021 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.

Pacific Northwest – San Juan Islands, Puget Sound and Olympic National Park

Roundtrip from Seattle:

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), and enjoying waterborne activities (hiking, birding, kayaking, paddle boarding). Departures: 22-passenger SAFARI QUEST April-May and September-November 2019 & 2020.

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: 22-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


7-night Galapagos cruise in the 48-passenger LA PINTA. Departures April-August & October 2012 & 2020. 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

7 and 10 nights Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Panama with a canal transit and Colombia (one itinerary) and visits to islands and national wildlife parks, hiking, kayaking, paddle boards, skiffs, and snorkeling. Departures: 64-passenger SAFARI VOYAGER.  November-March.

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).


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.


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. Lunches tend to be lighter fare—soups, salads and sandwiches. Occasional barbecues are set up on deck in good weather. Spirits, wine and microbrews are now complimentary at lunch and dinner aboard the entire fleet.

Klondike Dining Saloon. * Photo: Ted Scull

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

Activities & Entertainment

All ships carry expedition teams who give (often illustrated) talks, some based on what the bow camera catches and the underwater hydrophone sees and hears. They organize adventures ashore, guided shore walks and rigorous hikes and explain use of the available craft such as kayaks, inflatable skiffs, and paddle boards.

The fleet has stern boarding platforms (now including S.S. LEGACY) with its Sea Dragon landing), and snorkeling is offered in short sessions, even in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, using a supplied wet suit. Note: The line’s website features a comprehensive fleet amenities chart showing what’s available on every vessel.

There are a number of theme cruises including photography, marine biology, ornithology and wellness where experts are on board to offer talks and guidance (see UnCruise’s website). 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 UnCruise 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- and 36-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

Alaskan Dream Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions.

Related: Small-Ship Cruising with Alaskan Dream Cruises … by Lynn & Cele Seldon


UnCruise Adventures, 3826 18th Ave W, Seattle, WA 98119; US & Canada 888-862-8881; International (00) 800 12639888.



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small ship cruise captain

By Ted Scull.

George Freeman Coughlin has been sailing as a small ship cruise captain for many years, working for Coastwise Cruise Line, Exploration Cruise Lines, Clipper Cruise Line, Cruise West, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines, Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic, Alaskan Dream Cruises, and UnCruise Adventures.

Traveling as a journalist, I first met Captain George in May 1986 aboard the Colonial Explorer, a replica steamboat (now SS Legacy for UnCruise Adventures), for a week’s cruise in the Chesapeake Bay. Then I met him again two months later as a lecturer (at his request) on the same ship for the relighting of the Statue of Liberty over the July 4th weekend. It was a Smithsonian charter, and those three days were tremendous fun with New York Harbor packed with all sorts of vessels: liners, small cruise ships, excursion boats, sail training ships, warships, ferries, and tugs. After that, when the Colonial Explorer came to New York, I would give a harbor talk before the farewell lobster dinner at which George and I would show the passengers how to crack a lobster as most did not hail from the East Coast. That was the beginning of a long friendship.

George Coughlin has been captain of the Pilgrim Belle, Colonial Explorer, Newport Clipper, Nantucket Clipper, Yorktown Clipper, National Geographic Sea Bird/Sea Lion, Victorian Empress, Spirit of Yorktown, Chichagof Dream, and S.S. Legacy.

small ship cruise captain

Captain George Freeman Coughlin at the wheel of UnCruises’ SS Legacy

Q&A with Small Ship Cruise Captain George Coughlin

Ted: Where did you grow up and what made you interested in taking a job at sea?

George: I grew up in Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. In the summer months, my parents took me on frequent day excursions from Rowes Wharf in Boston to Nantasket Beach and Provincetown, Cape Cod. This was my introduction to becoming very interested in passenger carrying vessels, which at the time, I never realized would be the foundation of my career as a mariner.


Ted: What was your first ship and your role aboard? Did you think you had made the right decision?

George: My first ship was the S. S. Potomac in 1962. She was a former vessel owned by Wilson Lines. Built in 1910, I believe. All steel construction, 4 decks and a passenger capacity over 1,000. She was a true oil-fired steamboat. I was a 14-year-old deckhand.


Ted: Any stories to tell from those first months?

George: I remember the very first time that Capt. Herb Patterson had me take the helm, and under his direction, gave me rudder commands to bring the Potomac alongside Rowes Wharf. I also remember that going back to school after working that first summer aboard wasn’t so easy. I had to join a union for the summer, but really wasn’t old enough to be working onboard. Management felt that I looked old enough, so we worked around that obstacle pretty well.


Ted: When did you think you had settled in and were making good progress in the cruise industry?

George: I was in the Navy from 1965-1968. During that time, I had my sights on the Merchant Marine after completing my term of duty and really had no interest in staying with the Navy as a career. I remember being fascinated with the liner S.S. United States and thought that perhaps being a deck officer onboard would be of interest. As things turned out, I opted to stay involved with smaller passenger vessels and I have no regrets.


Ted: Where did you get your professional training?

George: As the expression goes, I worked my way up the hawse and through the ranks. Many individual classes have been taken at various schools for all the license endorsements, including Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Buzzards Bay MA.; Maritime Professional Training, Fort Lauderdale, FLA; and Northeast Maritime Institute, Fairhaven, MA.


Ted: What ranks did you hold before becoming a captain and on what ships?

George: My time in the Navy was shipboard as a Quartermaster and when I was discharged I opted to sail as Mate aboard a yacht for the winter in Florida. During that winter of 1968-69, I focused on accumulating my combined sea time and sitting for my first Coast Guard License.

small ship cruise captain

Captain negotiates a lock chamber.

Ted: What was your first command and where did you go?

George: My first command was a classic Harbor Tour vessel owned by Hyannis Harbor Tours (Hy-Line Cruises) Hyannis, MA. Her name was/is Prudence, a 65-foot wooden-hulled 150-passenger vessel, single screw, and built in Booth Bay Harbor, Maine in 1911.


Ted: Did you have favorite ships and what made them special?

George: I’m a little superstitious about naming favorite ships. It’s rather like showing favoritism to a child of a family of 10. Just don’t want the word to get around to those other ships that I may possibly be sailing on again. They have a way of retaliating. With that said, the “Prudence” will always be dear to me, as well as the now S.S. Legacy.

small ship cruise captain

Capt. George Coughlin aboard the Colonial Explorer in May 1986, now SS Legacy, UnCruise Adventures.  Photo: Ted Scull

Ted: Did you have preferred seasons and favorite itineraries?

George: It’s like comparing apples to oranges. There are just so many places to see and enjoy. If I had to choose — in the winter, The Virgin Islands; and in the Fall, The Chesapeake Bay. In the Spring, it’s the Inside Passage from Seattle to Juneau; and in the Summer, S.E. Alaska.

small ship cruise captain

Daws Glacier, Endicott Arm, SE Alaska. * Photo Capt. George Coughlin

Ted: Any unusual occurrences to share?

George: It was nearing the end of one of my Alaska summer seasons, and we had what was considered a good year for wildlife sightings. I was sailing through Frederick Sound towards Petersburg and almost in disbelief there were literally 25+ Humpback whales ahead of us breaching, sounding and as a group, being very playful. As I recall, the following week, there was but one whale in that same area. We decided that the week prior was the Humpback’s gathering together and bidding us farewell before making their long migration to Hawaii for the winter.


Ted: Any funny stories to tell as a small ship cruise captain?

George: I was sailing on the Panama/Costa Rica itinerary one winter and after consulting with one of our onboard local guides, I opted to anchor off a beautiful uninhabited island off the Panama Coast. I sent the ships Bosun in with an inflatable to check out the sandy beach landing. He radioed back to me and said there was a pretty good swell, but the landing was doable. I made a shipboard announcement and said for those who are agile and in the spirit of adventure, we will be offering zodiacs to/from the beach. All was going well, and I was standing in the companionway just outside the lounge, when a returning guest, rather elderly and looking frail, approached me and asked me if I was the Captain. I looked at her and noticed that she was missing one of her rubber shoes and her eyeglasses that she was wearing were full of sand. She looked like the cartoon character, Mr. Magoo, and I did all I could to restrain from laughing. I noticed that she wasn’t hurt in any way and replied that I was the Captain, not knowing what she might be gearing up to say, thinking that she was probably infuriated about her experience on the beach. She looked up at me and smiled, saying “I just had one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.” Needless to say, I was greatly relieved and very happy for her.


Ted: Have you fully retired?

George: I keep my license renewed and current. I enjoy doing random fill-in stints as Captain and also some piloting/training. I did a few relief stints with Lindblad/National Geographic this spring. I also did a few relief Captain stints aboard the S.S. Legacy on the Columbia/Snake Rivers last summer for UnCruise Adventures. I’m looking forward to a few more years before full retirement.


Ted: What do you like to do with your free time?

George: I’ve always had an interest in music, especially classical and opera. I’ve been singing with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Boston Holiday POPS and Boston Symphony for the past 20 years. I had my own small sailboat and was a member of the Hyannis Yacht Club for over 30 years. I enjoy travel and hold a single-engine aircraft land/sea license.


Ted: You have a good balance in your life that will serve you well. I hope we get to meet up soon, and thank you sharing your seagoing story. I am sure there is more to tell.

small ship cruise captain

Captain Coughlin at leisure.


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AdventureSmith Explorations

Founded in January 2003 by Todd Smith, AdventureSmith Explorations is a leader in small-ship expedition cruises. Smith began his travel career in Alaska and then put together a staff of experts who had experience in the field to produce a delicious menu of adventure-style trips on small ships. The portfolio is comprised of more than 60 small expedition ships from 30+ companies with capacities from as low as 8 to a maximum of 200. Special attention is now being given to sophisticated expedition ships for the polar regions.

AdventureSmith doesn’t own the ships, rather the firm arranges cruises for individual travelers and small groups on ships from lines, to name a few, like Coral Expeditions, Delfin Amazon Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions, Oceanwide Expeditions, Sea Cloud Cruises and UnCruise. Sometimes AdventureSmith will charter an entire ship for family celebrations or specific interest groups.

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

AdventureSmith Explorations

North America
AdevntureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Kayaking in Alaska – AdventureSmith Explorations

  • Alaska: No less than 24 cruises and cruise tours are offered ranging from 5 days into the teens with the longer trips visiting inland national parks. The fleet includes yachts taking just 12 passengers up to small cruise ships approaching 100.
  • British Columbia: The province’s section of the Inside Passage includes cruises of 8 days and on up to 15, the latter if making the complete route between Seattle and the Alaskan Panhandle. Some cruises overlap with the next section.
  • Pacific Northwest: Programs last from 7 to 15 days to take in the Columbia and Snake rivers, Puget Sound, and the Juan Islands either separately or in combination.
  • Baja California: The long Mexican peninsula and the Sea of Cortes use vessels as small as taking just 8 passengers and on up to 100 on itineraries spanning 7 to 16 days.
  • Hawaii: 8-day cruises amongst the Hawaiian Islands use a 36-passenger yacht providing lots of outdoor activities.


Central America
AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

AdventureSmith Explorations – Paddle boarding off Costa Rica

  • Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, and Guatemala: Most cruises in this region last 8 or 9 days and may include individual countries or a combination of Costa Rica and Panama, Guatemala and Belize. Add-on land packages can round out a two-week or slightly longer itinerary.


South America
AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator

Petrel in the Galapagos. * Photo: Audrey Vaughan for AdventureSmith Explorations

  • Galapagos: Choose from 21 different itineraries lasting 4 to 10 days on yachts and cruise ships taking from 12 to 100 passengers, with many choices in the 12- to 20-passenger range.
  • Amazon: Eight different cruise itineraries on riverboats take just 8 to 43 passengers and last 4 to 10 days on the Amazon River in Peru, Ecuador and Brazil. With the last-named, river cruises include the Rio Negro that empties into the Amazon at Manaus. Jungle lodges and other land extensions such as to Machu Picchu, Cusco and Quito can be added.
  • Chile: A four-day cruise of the Chilean Fjords then dovetails into hikes in Patagonia with a visit to Torres de Paine, one of the most captivating mountain, meadow, and valley landscapes in the world. Perhaps add the Atacama Desert, the driest land on earth, located in the extreme north of Chile.


AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator

Aboriginal cave paintings on the Kimberley Coast – Australia * Photo: Ted Scull

  • Australia: 4-, 10-, and 12-day cruises explore the underwater wonders of the Great Barrier, the top of Australia’s Cape York and Arnhem Land, and the genuinely-remote Kimberley Coast in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
  • New Zealand: South Island’s Fiordland draws nature and dramatic scenery buffs and birders for one-week cruises to see stunning beauty.
  • Indonesia: The culturally rich and scenic islands of Bali, Komodo, Flores, amongst others, are offered in an 8-day program on two wee 14- and 24-passenger ships.


Polar Regions

Over the next three winter seasons, the following expedition ships will hold down the cruises to Antarctica, the Falklands, and South Georgia and to the Northern Hemisphere polar regions: Hondius (174 p) beginning spring 2019; Magellan Explorer (69 p); National Geographic Endurance (126 p) beginning spring 2020, and World Explorer, beginning 2020 (176 passengers).

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Breaking through the ice in Antarctica – AdventureSmith Explorations

  • Antarctica: Programs explore the coldest, iciest, driest and windiest places on earth, plus the Falklands and South Georgia on a generously diverse program of 22 expeditions, using a wide variety of different vessels and lasting from the shortest at 8 days to the longest at 24.
  • Arctic: Cruises number 17, lasting from 6 to 17 days and cover Iceland, Norway, Spitsbergen, Greenland and the North Pole using a wide variety of ships and owners. New ships for the Arctic spring 2019 will be Hondius (b. 2019, 174p) with Ice Class PC6. The Arctic 8 ( 7 animals and 1 bird) are polar bear, walrus, reindeer (caribou), Arctic foxes, musk ox, narwhals, beluga whales, and puffins.


AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Croatia small-ship cruising. * Photo: Andrew Browning for AdventureSmith Explorations

Mediterranean: 10 programs use small yachts, nimble cruise ships and the historic sailing vessel Sea Cloud. Mostly 8-day Itineraries (a couple slightly longer) are mainly centered on the Greek islands and mainland, the Adriatic’s Dalmatian Coast and Croatia ports, and ports in Spain and Portugal.


Special Note

When you research the itineraries that interest you, you will see that the name of the ship in question will be listed with many helpful facts, but usually the cruise line isn’t mentioned. If you want to know who owns and/or operates the vessel, search the ship’s name in’s search bar and the answer will be yours. If isn’t covering that ship/line (yet!), then google the ship’s name to find out the owner.


Along the Same Lines

This worldwide firm uses such a wide variety of expedition lines that there are plenty of overlapping choices.

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Sea Wolf cruises the Alaska Panhandle



AdventureSmith Explorations; 40169 Truckee Airport Road, Suite 201, Truckee, CA 96161; 1-877-620-2875, Local and international: 530-583-1775.


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