Durable hiking shoes: Check. Water-resistant clothing: Check. Adventurous spirit: Check. These are only a few requirements for an expedition cruise. Sounds pretty intense, huh? You might be surprised.
Many cruisers (including first-timers) are under the impression that expedition cruising is solely a whirlwind of an adventure, trekking up steep terrains, kayaking through narrow waterways and getting up close and personal with nature in goggles and an oxygen tank.
While these cruises do exist for adrenaline junkies, there are also options for those who crave a small-ship experience and wildlife immersion without the extreme recreation. Un-Cruise Adventures‘ 88-passenger S.S. Legacy is one of them.
Onboard the ship’s “Heritage,” history-oriented tour of Alaska’s Inside Passage, I found myself amongst a group of passengers who fit the aforementioned description of those who want an intimate, ‘relaxed adventure.’
Here are some of the things that have stood out about this style of cruising:
Low-level activity. Unlike Un-Cruise’s other Active and Luxury expedition cruises, the Heritage itineraries are decidedly “soft” adventure. In port, bus tours usually preceded visits to historically significant landmarks. Walking was kept light, although many ventured off shopping or hiking local trails during free time.
Passengers spent sea days in the window-laden lounge area (cameras in hand) reading, sharing stories from home over afternoon cocktails or participating in various activities, like interactive lectures, a rope-tying class and impromptu trivia. Of course, simultaneous sightings of whales, bears and bald eagles livened up the downtime.
Nostalgic touches. The ship itself looks and feels more like an old Victorian vessel (an ode to its storied past as former Cruise West’s Spirit of ’98) than what one might envision a standard expedition ship. During an extensive makeover prior to its inauguration last August, the ship was given “new life” to its original appointments. Old World charm abounds throughout, while crewmembers who double up as heritage guides frequently dress in period clothing, encouraging passengers to join.
Entertainment onboard continues in a traditional vein, with performances by Letter from Home, a 1940s-style, war veteran tribute band (think the Andrews Sisters), who come onboard select sailings. Other evening entertainment includes storytelling by the “Slightly Salty” Captain Dano Quinn, open mic night and other signature acts presented by the crewmembers.
Diverse crowd. The Inside Passage itinerary attracted a range of personalities, with passengers hailing from all parts of the U.S., Europe and Australia. A fair amount of them were first timers, including sisters Lorraine and Glenys, who flew in from Melbourne, Australia.
The women (active travelers in their 70s), were intrigued by the idea of taking a small ship on their bucket list itinerary, as a way to unwind while visiting hard-to-reach destinations. (Lorraine did admit she wouldn’t have minded kayaking for a day.) Gerry from Colorado also would have liked a bit more adventure; he was itchin’ after watching one of Un-Cruise’s “Active” expedition ships pass by with kayaks onboard. But he agreed with most passengers that the “soft adventure” was ideal for much-needed relaxation.
Included amenities. John and Jane from Michigan were turned off by the idea of a big ship when planning to pamper themselves in Alaska. They sprang for one of the ship’s cozy Admiral Staterooms (which span between 130 and 297 square feet) with mini-outdoor seating area. One massage and alcoholic beverages are included in the Heritage cruise fare; there’s also a hot tub and sauna onboard.
Attentive crew. Crewmembers, all professionally informative and charmingly humorous, took turns eyeing the coastlines like hawks, announcing any sighting of wildlife, a historical landmark or cruise ship passing by before redirecting the ship to get as close and possible without overstepping our boundaries. They’re also open to (and encourage) special requests, which may span from what you’re craving in the dining room to simply wanting to take a peek inside the engine room.
Un-Cruise’s Heritage itineraries have been a tough sell in Alaska; our ship sailed at roughly half capacity. The concept — akin to paddlewheel-style cruises that have flourished on the Mississippi River and in the Pacific Northwest — has done better on the Columbia and Snake rivers, and in fact, the company is moving S.S. Legacy there full-time after this Alaska season. (Un-Cruise will continue to have substantial presence in the 49th State with its Active and Luxury adventures).
On S.S. Legacy, you’re essentially trading the recreation typical on other expedition cruises for the opportunity to witness nature in unimaginable ways, while absorbing the scenery, history and culture at your own pace, with people who are there for the same reason. Regardless of whether or not some had hoped for a little more adrenaline rush, they all got what they came for and left with more: Fond memories, new friends and just maybe, something to look forward to for next time.
*Stay tuned for more details on cabins, dining and more in our new ship review of S.S. Legacy.