Picture off-the-beaten-track and up-close-and-personal ecotourism combined with the personal service of an upscale cruise. Imagine an encounter with a bear, humpback whale or spinner dolphin in the morning, followed by a perfectly chilled martini and hors d'oeuvres at cocktail hour. Passengers take advantage of Alaska's 20 hours of daylight by kayaking after dinner in bald eagle territory or snorkeling with manta rays by moonlight off Hawaii's Big Island.
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Such experiences are the basis of the concept hatched in 1996 by American Safari Cruises, a partnership between former Cruise West executives, created to combine the upscale amenities of small, deluxe motor yachts with expedition-style cruising.
Several years later, InnerSea Discoveries (a second brand within the American Safari Cruises umbrella) entered the Alaska expedition market in 2011 with two ships and itineraries along the Inside Passage. It added a third ship for the 2012 season.
Then, in January 2013, UnCruise Adventures was "born" when American Safari Cruises and InnerSea Discoveries combined the two lines into a single cruise line. While the line's vessels remained the same, the renaming was aimed at conveying a unique style of exploration cruising.
Excursions are included fleetwide, as are alcoholic beverages and one half-hour massage is also included on Safari Endeavour, Safari Explorer, Safari Voyager and S.S. Legacy.
The company, headquartered in Seattle, is run by Dan Blanchard and Tim Jacox, who have significant experience with small-ship cruising, including stints at American Safari Cruises and defunct Cruise West.
Top UnCruise Ships
UnCruise Adventures offers a unique small-ship cruising experience, ranging from Indiana Jones-caliber adventure to low-activity destination immersion.
Adventure ships provide an expedition experience that's built for comfort but with luxury flourishes. It's a great bet for passengers who have the latest in REI gear and are eager to use it but also wish to enjoy simple pleasures like fine wine and massages. Each ship's expedition staff is charged with helping passengers with activities like spotting humpbacks or identifying the flora.
UnCruise Adventure ships offer a mix of casual cruising and boutique yachting, with thoughtful touches, like memory foam mattresses and a number of boats with special kayak launching pads designed to get even the biggest couch potato out on the water.
At the same time, having an onboard pastry chef means you'll replenish calories quickly. Dining focuses on locally sourced ingredients, such as Alaskan seafood or Costa Rican vegetables.
All cabins are above deck with outward-facing windows; some even open and close, perfect for enjoying Alaska's crisp mornings and late sunsets.
UnCruise sailings emphasize familiarization with the flora, fauna, geology and culture of its destinations by means of guided shore excursions and soft-adventure activities. Your day in Alaska might start with a skiff tour to view a glacier up close and end with kayaking under the light of the midnight sun; in Hawaii, you might visit a macadamia nut farm by day and snorkel with manta rays by moonlight. In Costa Rica, naturalists will spot barely visible sloths and bats to point out and talk about on a morning or afternoon hike. (Night sailing schedules depend on the venue.)
Dinners are typically casual affairs that are long on camaraderie and conversation and short on menu choices, usually limited to three tasty main course options, often based around local, freshly caught seafood. Wine choices -- all beverages for that matter -- are included. The bar is open 24/7 and stocked with top-shelf brands.
S.S. Legacy, which joined the fleet in August 2013, is the only ship to offer river cruises. These cruises highlight the history, culture and wildlife of the Columbia and Snake rivers through a series of local tours in port and enrichment lectures with a team of experts onboard. Adding to the overall historical feel, crew wear period costume uniforms.
River cruises provide "softer" adventures than the company's adventure offerings, with the extent of recreation being a little walking in town. During free time in port, there are options for those looking for a little more activity. After excursions, passengers typically have the opportunity to explore on their own and tend to do so by hiking the local trails or window shopping along the blocks.
UnCruise Adventures appeals to a wide range of passengers. The Alaska, Sea of Cortez, Costa Rica/Panama and Hawaii itineraries attract an active 45- to 70-something group of eco-conscious outdoor enthusiasts and families, depending on the ship and time of year.
Onboard S.S. Legacy, you'll find yourself among a mostly mature crowd of passengers with adventurous spirits, who essentially want to be forced to relax. Because there are no skiff rides or kayaks on these sailings, passengers embrace their desire to explore the region's wilderness and culture in a state of total relaxation, with a camera on hand at all times. Most passengers are from within the U.S., but you probably will notice Canadian, Australian and European passengers, too.
Though UnCruise Adventures began operations under a different name and with a single leased yacht in Alaska in 1997, the cruise line's fleet now consists of eight owned boats and a chartered vessel in the Galapagos.
In 1998, the company purchased Safari Quest, leased a second vessel and added a second Alaska itinerary. In 1999, it purchased Safari Spirit, which caught fire in April 2012 and was declared a total loss.
UnCruise then bought two boats, the 76-passenger Wilderness Discoverer and 60-passenger Wilderness Adventurer, from defunct Glacier Bay Cruise Line. After complete refurbishments, the ships were launched for the 2011 Alaska season. In 2012, the line added Wilderness Explorer under a long-term lease-to-purchase agreement. Originally run by Cruise West as 86-passenger Spirit of Discovery, the ship was renovated to carry 74 passengers on Alaska itineraries between Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka.
UnCruise Adventures' fleet also includes the 145-foot Safari Explorer (36 passengers), 174-foot Safari Voyager (62 passengers), 120-foot Safari Quest (22 passengers) and 217-foot Safari Endeavour (86 passengers), which formerly sailed for Cruise West as Spirit of Endeavor. In August 2013, 192-foot S.S. Legacy (88 passengers) joined the fleet.
UnCruise Adventures now offers pre and post cruise extensions in Alaska.