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UnCruise Adventures: What to Expect and Why It’s Unique

UnCruise Adventures: What to Expect and Why It’s Unique

I first heard of UnCruise in 2016 and have wanted to do a sailing ever since. Well, we finally have gotten to have an UnCruise adventure and it was truly remarkable. It was unlike any sort of travel we’ve done before and I’m going to break down what made it special for us and why it’s worth it for others. UnCruise Adventures is truly unique and when you put together the destinations with the level of service, food and activities, it all makes sense.

As I dig into our UnCruise experience and what we discovered on our first sailing, our UnCruise Hawaiian Seascapes voyage, please let us know if you have any questions. We’ve done a lot of research and now have solid experience with the brand and are happy to share anything that helps with making a decision to do a small ship sailing with UnCruise. Please feel free to leave a comment or send us a note with any inquiries.

Note: UnCruise invited us to sail with them and we happily accepted the invitation. All opinions and observations are our own and if anything doesn’t gel with you, just ask. Also, we are now UnCruise affiliates so YOU cand get a booking discount of $500 and we may receive compensation if you choose to book and use our code, TWODADS500.

Unsure about what UnCruise sailings entail or want to see if an UnCruise Adventure is right for you? We explain the difference between UnCruise small ship sailing vs mega cruise ships, what makes the experience unique, and even break down the cost differences between UnCruise, mega cruise, or independent island hopping.

What is UnCruise?

UnCruise Adventures is a small ship sailing company focused on creating low-impact travel experiences that show a very different or less-common side of a destination. Because the UnCruise ships are smaller and are outfitted with zodiac-style skiffs, passengers get to really venture into less accessible coves and waterways that you just can’t do on a major vessel.

Kayaking and active excursions are a huge part of the UnCruise small ship sailing experience, so there are several opportunities for adventures directly from the boat on any and every itinerary. 

Since UnCruise ships are smaller and there are fewer passengers with an amazing crew to passenger ratio, each person’s experience can be tailored (within limits) to their abilities and interests, and then the personal service onboard is also very special. Oh, and UnCruise adventures are all-inclusive so you’re not stunned when it’s time to depart and you get a crazy onboard bill.

As you look at UnCruise Adventures and try to see if it’s the right option for you, know that the destinations are really the prime feature of choosing one of the UnCruise ships. You’re not going to be sailing to major tourist destinations geared towards mega cruise ship passengers, but you’re making port in small towns or anchoring just off the coastline. The destinations in Alaska, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest and Mexico are all NEAR major tourism spots, but they also all offer the local vibe and unique elements specific to that port area. You’re not pulling into Cabo San Lucas to buy cheap trinkets, but anchoring off a reef for epic snorkeling or sea lion encounters. It’s a really cool and unusual concept.

Chris and Rob Taylor on skiff at lava sea cliffs with UnCruise Safari Explorer Big Island Hawaii 1

List to our Podcast Episode about Our UnCruise Experience

Yes! We have a podcast episode all about what you’ll experience on an UnCruise sailing. It’s such a unique, nuanced type of travel that you have to hear us talk about it. Read everything here for expedition details, costs and planning, but I think listening to us discuss the experience is very helpful.

Why choose an UnCruise vs land adventures?

I love road trips and we take a lot of them; they are our primary type of travel. We get to see a lot of mountains and deserts on our driving travel and our time in the car eats up a lot of time away from home that we could be actively having an adventure. That’s something I really enjoy about the UnCruise small ship sailing experience: you’re still getting to visit cool places with hiking or beaches or something, but you sail to them and make boat stops along the way. 

On a day when you might be driving for hours and just stopping for gas and to grab lunch, when on a small ship, you’re waking up IN your destination and pausing on your sailing route to jump in the water or check out sea cliffs. And the food and drinks between stops is pretty stellar.

While our budget doesn’t often afford us to jump on an UnCruise adventure instead of doing a road trip along the Florida Gulf Coast or to visit family in North Georgia, it is for sure a priority for us over a costly week at a theme park or doing a mega-cruise in the Caribbean. (more on our cost analysis below)

Taylor Family boarding UnCruise Safari Explorer in Kailua Kona Big Island Hawaii 1

When booking an UnCruise small ship sailing, mention our code (online or via phone) TWODADS500 to receive $500 discount towards your passage. Education and adventure await!

Who owns UnCruise?

UnCruise Adventures is owned by a captain, CEO Dan Blanchard. He’s a normal person who wants to explore and share unique travel experiences, hence developing UnCruise to what it is today. Working in travel, it’s interesting to chat with people and hear that they know who owns the company and they alway mention him as being invested in making the UnCruise experience impactful for both passengers and the places they port.

When we were on Molokai, I was talking to a local lady about our sailing experience between the islands and about our time on Molokai. She shared with me that initially there was a good deal of pushback towards UnCruise being able to port at Molokai and it took the owner and team explaining what made UnCruise different and what they wanted passengers to experience that WASN’T normal Hawaii travel to be able to have a successful portage here. The lady said that once the locals saw both the different approach to tourism and the positive financial impact welcoming UnCruise would have, they were cool with it.

I will say, our visit to Molokai truly was unique and unlike any other Hawaiian experience we’ve had. While there we got to spend time with a local family that’s been farming in the same valley for hundreds of years, we learned about the island’s forests and science, and we got to enjoy a pa’ina (party) with some awesome aunties and uncles. It was very different and special.

Taylor Family at Hale Presentation at Halawa Valley Molokai with UnCruise Safari Explorer Hawaii 1

Why spend $6k per person on UnCruise

This is the part I’ve been really jazzed to talk about. I don’t talk a lot about budget and costs because a lot of people think it’s crunchy, but when it comes to UnCruise I think the value is surprising so it’s going to be awesome to talk about.

When you look at booking a normal cruise for 8 days, you’re paying for individual excursions, drinks or drink packages, and all kinds of other fees. You might think you’ve found a great deal, and you really might have, but at the end of the day it may be twice the ticket price you first found. And that’s where I have been able to really see and define the monetary value of UnCruise. The following is my own analysis based on our own planning and research, and then based on our own experience, so if you have questions tell me!

Taylor Family in Lounge onboard UnCruise Safari Explorer in Hawaii 1

Overall Cost Savings

I did the math for our Alaska Uncruise that we’re completing in 2024. We also had been looking at doing a family Alaska cruise on a major cruise line (keeping the company name anonymous). When we looked at the activities we wanted to experience from the big boat and then the additional cost of adding a drink package, we saw a significant price difference in general, and that doesn’t even account for the nature of being a smaller, more intimate cruise experience.

Doing an UnCruise sailing adventure is all-inclusive: food, drinks, fun… As you look at the expense breakdown per person, keep in mind that not everyone chooses to do an excursion at each port of call, but also that UnCruise offers an excursion of some sort at each port AND makes stops midway through a day of sailing for activities. (data below is based on early season sailing dates for both UnCruise and cruise line X)

Base FareExcursionsDrink PackageTotal
Cruise Ship280016854204905
UnCruise3600003600
Activities priced above include fishing, wildlife tour, guided hike, kayaking, zodiac, fjords trip

I fully get it that sometime you’ll find amazing cruise deals or maybe you don’t do excursions or cocktails or specialty dining, and if so, then my budget layout doesn’t matter to you, but for people who go all in on a mega cruise, this sort of consideration may be a huge part of their next decision.

If you’re trying to plan 8 days of island hopping in Hawaii, here’s the budget breakdown for what that may cost, as it too can be a costly trip (we’ve done it!). My prices noted in the below budget table are based on our costs from our November 2023 trip to the Big Island, Kauai and Maui.

Base FareHotelDiningRental CarFlightsActivitiesTotal
Island Hopping140011204552409004115
UnCruise5310000005310
Prices above are for double occupancy hotel, $140 per day dining, half of rental car costs, 2 inter-island flights, and 4 tours/excursions and misc admissions. **these costs due drop with island hopping if you can find screaming deals for hotels, don’t have a rental car, don’t have alcohol, and limit your activities to free things (beaches and hikes). Base price for 8 days of island hopping on a budget is calculated at $2340 per person.

Benefit of bespoke travel

Something I really liked about doing an UnCruise small ship sailing with our kids was that since we had complete flexibility with our activities each day, we could change our plans based on how we all were feeling. For example, I fell while hiking and cranked my back, so later I didn’t have to kayak like was planned but went on a skiff outing and took it easy. I didn’t miss out on an excursion we’d already booked and paid for.

Another thing that is cool about the UnCruise experience is the flexibility of the overall itinerary. On our Hawaii adventure because the water was so calm and the weather was awesome, we got to go a different route than normal and see the northern sea cliffs of Molokai and loop around to the backside of Lana’i. This gave us different views and wildlife than other trips had previously in the season. The same thing happened when there was a forecasted swell so we were able to get to a sheltered bay instead of getting rollers rocking us, which meant we woke up in the shadow of Haleakala on Maui. Bespoke travel like this is so unusual for us and it really ensured our best possible experience.

Taylor Family whale watching on North Shore Molokai with UnCruise Safari Explorer Hawaii 1

What are UnCruise Cabins like?

There are a variety of cabin types across the different UnCruise ships. We’ve had a Single and Trailblazer Cabin, each of which gave us plenty of space to function and prepare for our daily adventures. Each cabin had a desk area, sink/vanity, water closet, and sleeping space. The kids loved the twin beds of the Trailblazer, and we did great in the queen cabin (Single). I also got to check out the Admiral Cabins which were a bit bigger and had more living space.

Each boat does vary and you’ll find a range from several twin beds in a cabin to a king suite with a balcony. There’s plenty of space onboard so having a large cabin wasn’t important to us. We spent very little time there.

King Commodore Cabin onboard UnCruise Safari Explorer in Hawaii 1

What’s different about UnCruise vs mega cruise?

I think there are three primary things that differ between an UnCruise and a mega-ship cruise: sailing inclusions, flexible itinerary and crew to passenger ratio. There are more nuanced differences too, but these three things really stand out to me. Getting to hang out with other like-minded guests having adventures for a week is an added bonus.

Taylor Family swimming from boat at Lanai from UnCruise Safari Explorer Ship Hawaii 2

Personalized service, crew / passenger ratio

I’m fine just being a number and having a shared experience with lots of people, but I think I may be spoiled for that now. When we sailed on the Safari Explorer on UnCruise’s Hawaiian Seascapes itinerary, there were only 30 passengers. For our small group we had 2 expedition leaders, 4 or 5 stewards, hotel manager (shout out to Tichelle!), skiff crew, cool kitchen staff and an awesome captain that was always around. Of all the ships in the UnCruise fleet, the largest guest to crew ratio is 3:1.

Taylor Family playing games with crew onboard UnCruise Safari Explorer Hawaii 1

Having so many people available to support guests both onboard and during expeditions / excursions from the ship made it feel that all our needs and wants were met at all times. There was always a snack available or a bartender around for us. The kids were welcome to hang out with the stewards between activities and the expedition leaders when we were on an adventure. Somebody knowledgeable was always available for questions, whether it was about the ship or our itinerary or whales. Also, being such an intimate cruise experience, we got to know the crew and they, in turn, got to know us. By our last day our youngest was in the galley working with the pastry chef, Julia, baking the day away.

When I say that we were amazed by the overall experience of small ship sailing, I’m serious. I don’t think any of us understood the friendly nature and joy of the crew when we started, but by the end we were sad to leave our new friends.

Taylor Family working in Galley with Pastry Chef onboard Safari Explorer UnCruise Hawaii 1

Community on an UnCruise Sailing

We travel to enjoy time as a family and see new sights. I didn’t expect to do our UnCruise sailing and make friends, let alone feel like a part of a community. I think this is one of the most important parts of what made this experience special for us. When we’re traveling as a family, every time we meet new people we’re “coming out” again and it’s always very visible if our presence makes somebody uncomfortable. In fact, there’s usually a subtle comment about being friends or leaving the wives at home that sets the tone. As we met the 26 other passengers and the crew for our sailing, not a single person batted an eye at our family in a negative way and EVERYONE addressed us just as any other family would be.

This may not mean much to some readers, but if you’re a part of an atypical family, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The people we met during our sailing, beforehand when passengers had disembarked and were hanging out, and even after we had ended our time on the boat and the next round of passengers was arriving on Molokai at the welcome station, everyone was very like-minded in terms of being welcoming and what they were looking for from their UnCruise experience.

In talking with lots of different people, the themes of environmentalism, healthcare, international relations, LGBTQ issues, community work and much more kept coming up. Conversations at breakfast or on hikes were always engaging and meaningful. Despite our ages and backgrounds varying so much, over the course of a week we all really got to enjoy one another’s company. And I loved seeing so many people taking to the kids and treating them as fellow passengers versus rowdy kids onboard. It was really special for all of us.

Full Taylor Family in wetsuits for Manta Ray Snorkeling with UnCruise Big Island Hawaii 1

Accessibility of UnCruise

Due to the nature of being small ships with very active daily excursions, there are not many options available from UnCruise for handicap accessible sailing. The Wilderness Legacy has one wheelchair accessible cabin, and then both the Wilderness Legacy and the Wilderness Explorer have an elevator. This is the one area that a mega cruise ship has up on UnCruise, but who’s to say that won’t change in the future.

If you don’t use a wheelchair but still have mobility issues, there are things that make doing an UnCruise still an option. Different ships have first floor cabins and there is outdoor space at each level. While disembarking to a skiff or dock during rocking waves may need to happen, there are lots of staff available for assistance. Some guests may not be comfortable or feel safe if they’re unstable or need mobility assistance in general, so that’s something to keep in mind before planning this sort of adventure.

Taylor Family boarding Skiff at Lanai from UnCruise Safari Explorer Ship Hawaii 1

Onboard Amenities

I love how active the small ship sailing with UnCruise is. You’re not left with oodles of downtime on the ship, but there is certainly enough to relax or enjoy some of the amenities onboard. Not every ship is the same, and ships that vary their routes might have different amenities depending on the sailing, but in general you can expect the following for your UnCruise adventure:

  • Kayaks
  • Paddleboards
  • Yoga / fitness gear
  • Snorkel gear
  • Lounge chairs
  • Library / lounge area – games, books, musical instruments maybe…
  • Hot tub (not always available even when onboards, dependent on sailing)

And there are other features of UnCruise ships that might be considered amenities. Things like turndown service, specific outdoor gear and certain expedition experiences all can fall into the bucket of amenities onboard. Like I said though, you do stay quite busy if you take advantage of the “adventure” side of doing an UnCruise. You’ll love it, I think.

Taylor Family kayaking at lava sea cliffs with UnCruise Safari Explorer Lanai Hawaii 1

Where does UnCruise Sail To?

I really do wish that UnCruise had sailings all around the world, but for now it’s limited to the Pacific Ocean and western ports. That’s okay though, because each itinerary is different and you’ll get to experience different coastal landscapes, wildlife and ports of call. As of Spring 2024, here are the destinations available with UnCruise:

  • Alaska – a variety of cruise itineraries from the Inside Passage to the Aleutian Islands
  • Hawaii – the Hawaiian Seascapes itinerary is amazing and is such a different Hawaii trip
  • Baja California – this is MY favorite part of Mexico, including La Paz and the Sea of Cortez
  • Galapagos Islands – a bucket list destination for many, this is our kids’ dream sailing

Previously, UnCruise also offered small ship sailings in the Puget Sound, including the San Juan Islands and Olympic Peninsula, as well as a sailing in the Caribbean in Belize and Guatemala. These are no longer available but the company is always evaluating their routes, so if there are updates and new sailings become available, we’ll be sure to update this article. You can still sail out of Seattle and do Olympic National Park on the 12 night sailing to Juneau, but some people don’t want to do that long of a cruise.

Taylor Family reviewing Wildlife Sightings onboard Safari Explorer UnCruise Hawaii 1

Does UnCruise do Land Tours?

Ahh, this was the big question I had before I started to research and subsequently do an UnCruise with my family. There are land-tour add-ons available if you’re doing a sailing, but they are not specifically run by UnCruise. They have tour vendors who execute that part of the trip. You’ll find land tour options with Alaska sailings that include trips to Denali National Park, and then trips to Machu Picchu if you’re doing the Galapagos sailing.

Denali National Park Road Scenic Drive

I think this should answer nearly every question somebody might have about doing an UnCruise. I’m excited to do another sailing (Alaska in June 2024, and hopefully Baja in April 2025) and look forward to hearing from friends and readers about their experiences. If you have any questions, whether it be about life onboard, kid-friendly ideas, seasickness or whatever, please ask away. Feel free to leave a comment or send us a note.

When booking an UnCruise Adventure, mention our code (online or via phone) TWODADS500 to receive $500 discount towards your passage. Education and adventure await!

Unsure about what UnCruise sailings entail or want to see if an UnCruise Adventure is right for you? We explain the difference between UnCruise small ship sailing vs mega cruise ships, what makes the experience unique, and even break down the cost differences between UnCruise, mega cruise, or independent island hopping.

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