You may be a cruise fanatic, but have you ever tried an UnCruise? We review UnCruise Adventures’ small-ship adventure voyages so you can decide if it’s the right vacation for you.
Mr. SBC and I recently took a seven-day UnCruise through Alaska’s Inside Passage, and loved our adventurous vacation. We hiked on top of a glacier, kayaked around Glacier Bay, and bushwhacked through dense temperate rainforest. We had a blast, but is an UnCruise a good choice for you?
UnCruise Adventures has a fleet of nine small ships that go where the larger cruise ships just can’t fit. With itineraries in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, South and Central America (including the Galápagos Islands), Hawaii and Mexico, UnCruise focuses on adventures in off-the-beaten-path locations.
Who should go on an UnCruise?
UnCruise Adventures attracts guests from around the world, of various ages and abilities. We met passengers from all over the US, Europe and Australia on our cruise. Not everyone was a hiking fanatic or experienced outdoorsperson, but the one thing that everyone had in common was an adventurous spirit.
Do you think you might enjoy an UnCruise? Here’s how you’ll know if it’s the right vacation for you.
1. You enjoy outdoor adventures and spotting wildlife
What really sets UnCruise apart from other cruise lines is its focus on getting passengers outdoors in remote areas where most tourists never go. Away from it all, it’s a chance to get up-close with various wildlife species each day.
Have your camera ready, because you never know what you’ll see when you’re out in the wilderness!
UnCruise offers a choice of outdoor excursions, from touring on the water in small skiffs, to hiking off-trail, to guided or solo kayaking.
Guides are experienced and knowledgeable, and love to share what they know about the local flora and fauna! Best of all, you’ll have time to stop and really experience the things you’re seeing.
Whether on the ship or off, the crew and guides went out of their way to make sure we got the most out of the wild locations we visited. From turning the entire ship around to get a better look at a pod of dolphins or stopping to take a break on top of a glacier to just appreciate the view, we always felt that we had plenty of time to enjoy our surroundings.
2. You want to put your wallet away on vacation, for real
One of my favorite parts of cruising is paying once, then never taking my wallet out of my purse again. But on most cruises, you’re still paying for extras like drinks, shore excursions, and specialty dining – it’s just being charged to your credit card on file.
UnCruise is completely all-inclusive once you’re on the ship. All meals are included, as is premium wine, beer, and cocktails. Daily adventures off the ship are also included in your cruise fare.
The only things that aren’t included are airfare and hotel accommodations before and after your trip, and gratuities for the staff and crew (the hotel manager is available on the last night of the cruise to collect gratuities. No need to bring cash; you can put the tips on a card and it will be divided amongst the staff).
3. You love to go behind the scenes
Some of the large cruise lines offer limited “behind-the-scenes” tours, usually at an inflated price. On a large-ship cruise we took this summer, the tour cost $150 per person.
UnCruise doesn’t charge for any of this. In fact, they have an open bridge policy! You can go up to the bridge and chat with the captain at any time.
We also took advantage of free guided tours of the galley as well as the engine room, with only six passengers at a time. There’s plenty of time to poke around and ask questions!
4. You love to eat amazing food
I’ll admit, I was a little nervous before our UnCruise that I wouldn’t like the food. I’m not a picky eater, but I wasn’t sure how many options there would be at each meal on such a small ship.
I was also worried that with all of our outdoor activities, we’d be constantly starving!
After the first day, I realized I had nothing to worry about. The food was amazing, and there was plenty of it!
Each day, there was an early-bird breakfast in the lounge at 6:30 (I’d usually grab a coffee and some fruit salad before 7 AM stretch class). Regular breakfast was a hot and cold buffet in the dining room, with new options each day like eggs benedict, banana-nut pancakes, or maple bacon.
Lunch and dinner had three options (meat, fish, or veggie) and were sometimes served buffet-style and sometimes traditionally. Lunch and dinner were always three courses including dessert. Our favorite meals were the Alaskan King Crab and the Tomahawk Ribeye Steak.
I’m not much of a dessert-eater, but Mr. SBC and the other guests loved the sweet treats at the end of each meal.
Outside of regular meals, there was always something to snack on, including 3 PM cookies, canapés during happy hour, and the fresh fruit and snack bars that were always available.
Of the 30 passengers on our sailing, we had several vegans, as well as a few people with food allergies or intolerances. One of the guests was both gluten- and dairy-free.
All of the guests with special dietary needs were raving about how inventive the chef was in making their meals, and how attentive all the serving staff was, ensuring they were never served ingredients they couldn’t eat.
5. You enjoy making new friends
One of my very favorite parts of cruising is making new friends. I love meeting people from around the world, and I’m constantly amazed that I always seem to find some sort of mutual connection with other passengers I’m cruising with.
Although I’ve made some of my very best friends on cruises, I always wonder about the people I’ve enjoyed chatting with and then never bumped into again during a voyage. On a large ship with over 3000 passengers, it can be difficult to keep up with your new buddies.
On an UnCruise, you’ll never run into this problem.
Daily adventure groups are small, so you can get to know your guides as well as the others in your group. The cozy lounge, shared dining tables, and hot tub are all great places to share experiences and get to know your fellow travelers a little better.
6. You’re nostalgic for summer camp
When I was a kid, I was sent to camp every summer. I loved meeting new friends from other towns, and I always ended up with a bunch of pen pals that I’d correspond with during the school year.
I was helping my daughter pack for her summer adventures a few years ago when it really hit me. I want to go back to summer camp! But since it would be really strange for a middle-aged mom to head off to camp with a bunch of kids, I dismissed that longing as nostalgia.
We checked in for our UnCruise, and while waiting for the coach to take us to the pier found empty seats at a table with several other passengers. They seemed like a lively bunch, laughing and telling stories. They explained that their cruise had just ended, and they were waiting for their airport shuttle.
“How did you like your cruise?” I asked.
With excited grins they all took turns telling us how much they loved their adventures, how great the crew was, and how they were going to miss the food.
One of the men turned to me and asked, “Did you go to summer camp when you were a kid?”
“Well,” he continued, “This was just like summer camp, but for grownups. You know, we didn’t know each other until this trip.” He motioned to the other couple sitting at the table. “But we already booked our next one, and we’re all going together.”
After a few days, I thought back to this conversation. He was right! I had finally found summer camp again.
Who should make sure they know what they’re getting into before booking an UnCruise?
If you’re used to large-ship cruising, a journey with UnCruise is going to feel a lot different than a typical cruise. That’s why it’s an UnCruise!
On our trip, there was one guest who had no idea what UnCruise was all about. He had been on many traditional cruises, so when his wife told him she had booked an Alaska cruise, he was expecting more of what he was used to. He was a little shocked when the first excursion involved bushwhacking through the rainforest instead of sightseeing or shopping!
He ended up enjoying the cruise, but I realized that someone who’s not quite sure what an UnCruise is all about may need to realize just how different the experience is compared to a traditional cruise.
1. You think the best part of a cruise is the casino, the Broadway-style shows, or the nightclubs
An UnCruise ship doesn’t have a casino, a nightclub, or production shows. Instead, they have nightly presentations by the staff, on topics related to the area you’ll be visiting or the wildlife you might see. One night, in lieu of a presentation, we watched a fascinating short documentary about a man who left society to live in the wilds of Alaska. Another night, we had a presentation by the National Park Service ranger who had joined us during our exploration of Glacier Bay.
2. You love sleeping in on a cruise
I’ll admit it, I love to sleep in on sea days when I’m cruising. There’s something so luxurious about not setting an alarm, and having nothing planned except for a late breakfast and maybe some relaxing by the pool.
If you want to get the most out of your UnCruise, sleeping in shouldn’t be part of your plan!
First of all, there are no sea days. None. Each day, activities start early, beginning with yoga or stretch class at 7 AM. Definitely make time for this, even if you’ve never done a formal class before! They’re geared for all abilities, and I looked forward to warming up my muscles and stretching each morning before our adventures.
None of the activities are mandatory (except the safety drill, of course). But if you don’t want to miss out on anything, you’ll find yourself going to bed early and up at dawn.
3. You need to have a clearly-planned itinerary of each day
When I cruise on large ships, I spend quite a bit of time researching the ports we’ll be visiting. As we usually will only have one day in each port, I make sure that I have a carefully-planned itinerary for each day.
On an UnCruise, you don’t need to worry about planning what you’re going to do when you get off the ship – the staff plans all of your adventures, called “ops”.
Ops can include beach walks, bushwhacks, kayaking (guided or on your own), stand-up paddleboarding and skiff tours. You can choose what you want to do based on your abilities and preferences.
However, nothing is set in stone. The staff may change the available ops based on weather conditions. On our trip, an all-day excursion was planned one day for those who wanted to try a super-intense experience. When the weather took a turn for the worse, the staff realized part of the planned excursion, a nine-mile kayak journey would be against strong winds. So the all-day trip was changed to two smaller parts with skiff transportation instead of a grueling journey by kayak.
If you put yourself in go-with-the-flow mode, you’ll enjoy not having to plan your daily adventures! And if you decide to skip any of the ops, just let a guide know. This is your vacation!
4. You’re not a huge fan of talking to people
On large cruise ships, it’s relatively easy to slip under the radar and not have to be drawn into conversations with strangers. If you’re more introverted, you can put headphones on and lounge by the pool, read a book in the library, or make sure that your dining arrangements don’t include people you don’t know.
On a very small ship, you’re with the same small group of people for the journey. The largest UnCruise ship can carry only 88 guests (most range from a 60- to 80-guest capacity).
There’s one lounge and one dining room, so you’ll all socialize and eat in the same places at the same time.
The lounge is the social hub of the ship, but before and after our ops many people chose that location to read a book or work on their laptops. The lounge has a small library of books and DVDs to borrow. If you need to completely escape, you can always take a book or movie back to your cabin.
5. You’re prone to severe seasickness or motion sickness
Large modern cruise ships have stabilizers that minimize the effect of rough seas. That’s why big ships feel more like a floating resort. Unless there’s a storm, I usually don’t feel the motion on a large ship at all.
On a smaller ship, you’ll feel motion more than you would on a mega-ship.
During most of our journey through the Inside Passage, the waters were calm. I didn’t feel much rocking or pitching at all. However, one evening after dinner we encountered some rough weather and several of the passengers felt a bit queasy.
If you tend to get seasick or motion sick, visit your doctor to discuss medication options before taking a small-ship cruise. Remember that it’s best to take seasickness medication before symptoms begin.
An option that doesn’t involve medicine is Sea-Bands. They stimulate pressure points on your wrists, and many cruisers swear by them. Plus, they begin to work much faster than medication to alleviate symptoms.
6. You need to always be connected
One of my favorite things about cruising is that I can disconnect from everything – no texts, no emails, no social media, no phone calls. I give the ship’s emergency number to family back home and off I go, knowing that no one will bother me unless they really have to.
Of course on most large cruise ships you can purchase an (expensive) internet package, or you may receive some minutes for free as part of your loyalty benefits.
On an UnCruise, there’s no Wifi. You can’t buy minutes at any price! Even if your phone plan includes data in the country you’ll be visiting on your sailing, the ship may not be in range of a cell tower.
On our Alaska cruise, we got a weak signal a few times. But usually we were so far from civilization that our phones just read “No Service”.
Of course, UnCruise does provide guests with an emergency number that you can provide to friends and family back home, in case someone urgently needs to contact you.
7. You’re used to a balcony stateroom or suite
UnCruise’s staterooms are on the smaller side, and most ships don’t have a suite option. Private balconies are also non-existent. Our room was one of the larger ones on our ship, and it was just slightly larger than the average inside or oceanview cabin on a large ship.
If you love having access to fresh air right outside your door, be sure to book a stateroom that opens to the outside. Your “balcony” won’t be private, but you’ll be able to step right outside from your room.
If you can’t function without more space in your cabin, look for a room that features a fold-down bed. One of our new friends gave me a tour of her stateroom, and it was quite spacious with the queen bed folded up, plus it functioned as a sofa when they weren’t sleeping.
Who shouldn’t go on an UnCruise?
Although I think most people would enjoy taking an UnCruise, there are a couple of situations where another type of cruise would be a better option.
1. You have significant mobility challenges
Whenever possible, I like to add information in my posts about accessibility options for people who have mobility challenges.
With that said, an UnCruise is probably not the best kind of vacation for a person who requires a wheelchair or a mobility scooter.
With the exception of the S.S. Legacy, these small ships don’t have elevators. Stairs are required to move between the decks. Getting on and off the small skiffs that are used to transport guests ashore is via a portable step, and the skiffs are not large enough to accommodate wheelchairs or scooters.
If you or a member of your traveling party uses a wheelchair or scooter, I’d recommend cruising on a larger ship.
2. You’re traveling with very young children
UnCruise welcomes kids ages 8 and up on all sailings except on Safari Quest, which requires children to be 13 or older. They even have special “Kids and Families” departures that have activities geared towards younger adventurers.
Whole-ship charters are also available, with no age restrictions for guests.
There were no kids on our sailing (guests’ ages ranged from 20s to 70s), but I could imagine active teens enjoying many of the adventures that we experienced. For an eight-to-twelve year old, some of the ops may be challenging. As a mom, I could see some children in this age group loving this kind of vacation, especially if they enjoy outdoor activities and have an interest in nature.
If you have little ones, a traditional cruise is probably a better option for you. Many have kids’ clubs and activities, and you’ll be able to choose shore excursions that are geared towards younger guests.
Disclaimer: I may receive a small commission when you make a purchase from a link on this site, at no added charge to you. I paid for and personally used all products I recommend, and the opinions expressed are entirely my own.
I’d like to thank UnCruise Adventures for hosting Mr. SBC and me on a seven-night Alaskan cruise aboard the Wilderness Explorer. As always, my opinions are my own.
Have you ever been on an UnCruise? Or are you considering one of their small-ship voyages? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
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