UnCruise Adventures is a Seattle-based company offering expedition cruises onboard small vessels. The first thing that strikes you about UnCruise is its unusual company name. It was purposely chosen to make a point that this isn’t the cruise you are used to, or should be expecting.
I recently experienced this “Un-ness” on the seven-night Hawaiian Seascapes itinerary onboard the Safari Explorer, sailing from Moloka’i to Kona. With a maximum capacity of just 36 guests, it’s no cruise ship. And there you have the first “Un” about this cruise. With such a small ship and few guests, it’s a completely different experience from the typical ocean voyage.
Here are five things about UnCruise that make their voyages unique:
1. The Casual Ambiance
Before embarking the ship, everyone got to mingle at a hula show and reception. My sailing had just 15 couples, so it wasn’t long before I met all of my shipmates. By the time I took the transport to the ship, people had already bonded and were sharing laughs.
The ship felt like home — cozy leather sofas and soft carpeting in the lounge, a dining area, and a very popular wood-trimmed bar. The large book and DVD library, board games, and jigsaw puzzles offered distractions for any down time. The compact stateroom provided ample storage and even came with cozy bathrobes. It truly felt like I was on a own well-stocked private yacht.
There were no dressy nights — shorts, T-shirts, hoodies, fleeces were standard at all meal times. Even the captain walked around in shorts and flip-flops. The bridge had an open policy, and the crew was always around to lend a hand. There was no air of formality or snootiness.
2. A Crew that Felt like Family
The 14 crew members were young and energetic. Many of them had already spent several seasons with UnCruise, and clearly enjoyed making their guests happy. I interacted with them daily, as they multi-tasked between serving meals, making drinks, and keeping everything shipshape. Several of the crew also went on excursions. They knew all of the passengers by name and remembered our favorite drinks. These personal moments really made a big impact.
3. Great Cuisine
Most people may assume that food on an expedition ship would be cafeteria-style of average quality. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Safari Explorer featured a chef de cuisine who cooked amazing meals every day. At breakfast, the usual bacon, eggs, and potatoes were available (and the bacon was large thick slabs cooked to perfect crispiness), but there was also a dish of the day. Guests were treated to local specialties such as Hawaiian fried rice and loco-moco, in addition to treats like huevos rancheros, berry pancakes, and French toast. Everything was accompanied by fresh pastries made daily by the ship’s pastry chef, who apprenticed in Austria and France.
As we tucked into our breakfast, the culinary leader would take to the microphone to tell us what he was cooking up for lunch and dinner. There was always a meat, fish, and vegetarian option, and if guests were tempted by more than one choice they could opt for a sample of each. All dishes were customized to each guest’s taste and dietary needs and made with local meat, fresh fish, and island-grown vegetables. Every meal was finished with a tasty dessert creation, matched with Kona coffee if desired. The freshness and ingenuity of the meals was a pleasant surprise.
4. The Lack of “Ports”
A voyage with UnCruise does not include motorcoach tours, shopping excursions, or rushed sightseeing in bustling ports. Instead, the passengers’ days were spent kayaking, snorkeling, or exploring the coastline on skiffs. Guided by expedition team members, we went out on an excursion in the morning and once again in the afternoon. In between, we got to try the standup paddleboards, and a courageous few leapt off the side of the ship for a refreshing swim.
Our sailing in March also gave us a bonus as it was humpback whale season. We learned that the shallow waters (for whales, anyway!) between Moloka’i, Maui, and Lana’i create a warm, bathtub-like environment for humpbacks to frolic and mate, and the area has been designated as the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary of Hawaii. And we got front-row access to the show every day. Being a small vessel, we were able to follow and observe the whales without obstructing them, and the crew lowered microphones into the water so we could hear their beautiful songs.
5. Learning Opportunities on Every Cruise
No matter the destination, UnCruise includes cultural and educational elements. On the island of Moloka’i where our adventure began, we were brought to the lush Halawa Valley, the island’s first settlement dating to 650 AD. There, we were welcomed by the village elder with a traditional greeting (the touching of foreheads and noses while breathing in), before sitting down for a family visit. Pilipo Solatorio — affectionately known as Uncle Pilipo — is the last original descendent born and raised in Halawa Valley. He spoke eloquently about growing up in the valley and learning the traditions from his elder, subsisting by farming taro, hunting, fishing, and raising livestock.
His son Greg, who will carry the torch into the next generation, grew up with all the knowledge passed from Pilipo. The goal of the Solatorio family is to educate visitors on the real facts about Hawaiian culture, which differ from the version that has been commercialized for tourism. Their spiritual connection with the island came across clearly through the stories they told. We also watched Greg pound taro to make poi, done with tools handed down from 50 generations. The poi tasted mild, but it’s nothing like the unbearable wallpaper paste from the supermarket, which has been heavily watered down.
Later that night, we enjoyed an authentic Pa’ina — the traditional Hawaiian feast that now bears the touristy name of Luau. Hosted inside the intimate Moloka’i Museum and Cultural Center for just our group, we dined on traditional dishes of kalua pork, chicken long rice, smoked wild boar, teriyaki venison, ahi poke, poi, and so much more. Far from the mainstream buffet served to the masses at a resort, our intimate and authentic meal was a grand finale to our day of immersion, and a start of our Hawaiian journey.
In addition to Hawaii, UnCruise Adventures operates in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the Sea of Cortez, the Galapagos Islands, Panama and Costa Rica, and on the Columbia and Snake rivers. If you are looking for a cruise that offers a mix of soft adventure yet full of educational and cultural experiences, try UnCruise Adventures for your next journey of discovery.