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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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