I’m not a person who cruises. However, I am a person who uncruises.
I know what you are thinking – “she’s lost her mind – there is not such thing as uncruising – she’s resorted to making up words!”
noun: uncruising – the action of engaging, connecting, and exploring unique places, oneself, and with others on a small ship/boat while on a most uncommon adventure.
No, I haven’t lost my mind. I just finished my second Uncruise in Panama and Costa Rica and have been reminded once again why I’m an uncruiser and not a cruiser!
I’m no stranger to small ships, I cruised to Antarctica twice, sailed to Rio, hiked and boated my way around Turkey, cruised the Sea of Cortez, took sailing lessons in Italy, explored the eastern seaboard and cruised to Wrangel Island in the high Arctic. Not to mention I’ve had a few kayak adventures too! Surprisingly though I’ve never actually been on a regular cruise. I’ve passed many opportunities up, because big ship cruising just isn’t my style.
What Defines a Small Ship Cruise
There is no one definition of ‘small’; it’s relative. And after doing an extensive Google search I was surprised to find that other people’s definition of small ships was very different than mine. For me, a small ship cruise is one in which I can meet every guest on the ship and know their name. It’s normally around 20 to 50 guests, and always less than 100. However there are many companies out there calling ships that hold 200 to 800 guests small ships!
Instead of focusing on numbers and definitions, I’ll just focus on the differences between cruising and uncruising. I know what you are thinking though… "she hasn’t even been on a big cruise before – how does she know!” You are right – I don’t know first hand, but I talked to a lot of people who have done big ship cruising to understand how they work and what makes uncruising different. In addition, I’m a '70s baby, so I have extensive knowledge of Love Boat – which has to count for something!
What Happens On An Uncruise That You Don’t Get Cruising
You Don’t Stop in Cities and Ports
Every time you got off the ship (which is multiple times a day!) you wear a life vest. On an Uncruise you focus on anchoring at inlets and bays that are remote and offer exposure to wildlife and off-the-beaten-path experiences. The only time you dock at a city is to start and end your trip; everything in between is about nature, wildlife, and landscapes. You wear a life vest because the small ship anchors off the coast and you take skiffs (small boats) into shore to hike or explore. Sometimes you take a skiff to simply do a tour around a remote island filled with birds and rock formations; places you cannot land. Unlike Love Boat, there is not a ramp that simply leads you off the ship while people wave at you from the balconys and confetti streams down.
Drinks Are Included
Uncruise has done the unthinkable – they have included all alcohol in the cost of the passage! There is one bar on the ship and it’s completely open. You can get a drink any time, but often there are special cocktails during happy hour each day at 5:30 p.m. My dad decided he would take up drinking cognac after his evening meal – something he never normally does, but an open bar allows him to! You might think this open drink policy could become a problem, however in talking to the crew, they said they have very few issues with it. Most of the time people just have more fun and are more social, making the experience better overall on the ship.
You Can Swim Off The Back Of The Ship
“Anyone who is interested in an open swim off the back of the boat can meet on the back deck,” Megan our expedition leader announced over the loudspeaker. Now that is definitely something you won’t hear on a big cruise ship! There’s something really freeing and exciting about jumping off the back of a ship into the ocean! Uncruise small ships don’t have swimming pools on them, but who needs a swimming pool when you have the whole ocean at your disposal! The open swim was of course done with safety in mind. You could float around with pool noodles and there was a skiff driver in the water watching over everyone bobbing in the waves!
All Excursions Are Included
You want to go kayaking? No problem. You want to go stand up paddle boarding…here’s your paddle – have fun. You want snorkeling with a guide – meet at 3 p.m.! All of these things on an Uncurise are included, however many times large ship cruising see these as extra activities that you have to pay for. On an Uncruise, this is a great no-cost way to try different things. On my recent cruise in Panama and Costa Rica we had a number of people try stand up paddle board (SUP) for the first time as well as snorkeling. Uncruise supplies everything you need and instruction! I hadn’t SUP’ed in a while, but once I got on I remembered how much I loved it. I ended up doing some really long SUP distances and even SUPed from the beach to the ship one morning!
There’s One Kitchen/ Dining On Uncruise, No Reservation Required
The ship is small and there is only one kitchen and dining area on the entire ship, as opposed to big cruising where there are multiple restaurants to choose from and reservations to be made. Just the word reservations made me cringe when I was talking to big ship cruisers. It’s vacation, I don’t want to think about reservations or lines; and you don’t have to when you do small ship cruising! In addition, it’s totally casual (if it wasn’t, I never would have gotten my dad to come with me!). I wore shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops to dinner and pretty much everywhere on the ship!
Everyone Gets a Free Massage
Yes, you read that right – a free massage. There are two masseuses on the ship and every passenger can opt for a 45-minute massage if they’d like. One of Uncruise’s values is wellness. They not only employ 2 masseuses, but they are also yoga teachers; every morning you can do sunrise yoga. As I watched the sun rise on the top deck while doing sun salutations I thought about what a great idea this yoga class was. It was a super way to get all of these middle-aged adventurers to stretch out and limber for the day. It’s a preventative action so that everyone stayed safe and happy – a great idea. The sunrises were spectacular and it might have ruined me for any yoga class in a regular classroom again!
The Whole Ship Can Go To Happy Hour On The Beach
As the skiff boat shuttled me out to the private island and beach I was greeted by tiki torches, island music, and a drink table. This was probably the best happy hour I’ve ever had. I got my gin and tonic, took off my flip-flops and went and stood in the crashing waves while drinking and watching the sun go down. It only took a few boat rides to get us all ashore for this special experience. That’s the beauty of small ship cruising, you can do spontaneous things like this with the guests and crew.
The Crew is Multifunctional
Do you remember how on Love Boat everyone had a different job; Julie was the cruise director, Gopher was the purser, Doc was the doctor (duh). They did one thing and did it well. However on a small ship the crew must wear many different hats. I loved that the Uncruise ship doctor was helping people disembark on the landings, and Melissa the masseuse was handing out drinks at beach happy hour. Everyone was involved in each thing we did and because of that you are able to build much stronger bond with the crew. Plus – I loved seeing the crew out on the beach also getting some time to have fun and relax with us.
You May Have To Get Out And Push
My favorite experience of the whole trip was when our skiff driver, Henry, used his incredible boating skills to read the current/waves and attempt to get us into the river inlet as the tide was coming in. He would move each of us around on the skiff according to weight and could get us into the shallowest of places. However, when we didn’t make it all the way he got out and pushed a bit. Soon we were all out pushing and laughing. Its not many places where you have a laid back enough atmosphere that the crew will ask you to get out and help. Time and muscle eventually got us through the inlet and we entered this pristine river environment where we saw oodles of birds and wildlife! I loved feeling a part of the team as opposed to constantly having people wait on me. I’m pretty sure Princess cruises are not going to let you get out and push anything!
Checking in/Out Towels Or Gear Is Not Necessary
When we left to debark the ship at the end, we simply left. There was no turning in snorkel gear, towels, bottles or life vests. I honestly didn’t know that this was unusual until another guest said they were surprised because on most cruise ships there’s a whole ‘return’ process. I thought about it a bit and appreciated that we were treated like trustworthy adults. This added to the whole ‘we are in this together’ feeling that you get when you Uncruise.
You Can (Sometimes) Eat With The Owner
Who doesn’t remember the great moments when Captain Stubing ate with his prestigious guests on Love Boat? It was always an honor to be at the Captain’s table and on many ships you can experience something similar. However, on my recent small ship cruise I was able to eat with the owner of the entire company, Dan Blanchard. Granted, this doesn’t happen on every Uncruise trip, but Dan does make a point to travel on each route/ship at least once a year. It was such a treat to have him on board as he participated in everything just as the guests did. He ate with us, adventured with us, happy hour-ed with us – he was one of us.
In addition, he told us stories of how Uncruise started, the ship upkeep, and investments he had to make to get it all going. It was fascinating learning about the origin of the company and how he decided to make it so ‘Un’. He is really a thought leader in travel and I loved knowing that the owner was just as cool in person as the entire brand and experience.
And of course when you have the Owner of Uncruise’s ear, you are going to ask the question, “How did you come up with the name Uncruise?”
Dan explained how he had a bunch of media and travel agents on the Safari Quest as focus groups in the launch and during that time it came up in a random conversation. Someone jokingly said “This is like an un-cruise!” and the brand was born.
“People either love the name or hate it, but people always remember it, “ Dan said with a laugh, “it was one of the things I did right.”
Small ship cruising means that I’m going on an authentic adventure exploring hard to reach parts of the world. That’s why I love uncruising, you can get to seldom seen places big ships can’t. I don’t want to just be a number who has to dress up to eat, pay for every drink, go to crowded ports, count every towel; I want to have an authentic, educational, adventurous, relaxed experience, in unknown destinations and hard to reach places. Big ships just can’t do that. My days of wishing I could be aboard the Love Boat are long gone, and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way!
Want to try Uncruising? Here’s How
Uncruise is know for their Alaska cruises, but I took their Panama/Costa Rica journey as well as their Sea of Cortez route. Both were great and full of wildlife! They are adding a new stop and more days to the Panama/Cota Rica Itinerary this spring with stops at more Panama islands to get immersed into the culture too!
Note: if you do end up uncruising, please tell them Ottsworld sent you!
Follow Sherry Ott @ottsworld