When I pictured our perfect cruise, there would be no huge ports of call, iceberg-sized vessels, nor sunburned, sombrero-clad masses. There would be an absence of rock climbing walls, wave pools, and Love Boat-style midnight buffets. Tuxedos and evening gowns? No way!
Without ever having been on a cruise, I admit it: I was a bit of a cruise snob. The more I let my imagination run, the more I realized what I was picturing was an absence of certain so-called “amenities” and more like a journey aboard a private yacht.
Enter Un-Cruise Adventures, formerly known as American Safari Cruises and Inner Sea Adventures. The Seattle-based company currently offers itineraries that include destinations such as Alaska, Hawaii, and the Sea of Cortez.
With a fleet of upscale yachts, expedition vessels, and a Victorian-style steamship, each cruise features a niche kind of “un-cruising” suitable to various ages and travel styles. Shallow drafts give each ship the ability nimbly to maneuver the small bays and inlets where bigger vessels can’t go.
Where Is the Sea of Cortez?
When we told people that we were going on a cruise on the Sea of Cortez, we could see it on their faces: “Where exactly is that?” One of the most biologically diverse places on earth, this World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve divides the land portion of the Sonoran Desert into two halves: the Baja California Peninsula on the west, and the states of Arizona and Mexican Sonora to the east. With their high evaporation rates, these waters are responsible for driving the Sonoran’s species-rich bounty.
We boarded the luxury vessel, Safari Endeavour, in La Paz and were escorted to our room by Amber, one of what seemed like dozens of smiling crew members. She took great pleasure in opening the curtain of our very un-porthole like picture window, revealing dozens of anchored sailboats against the backdrop of the sunset.
Leaving land and worries behind, we were soon sipping champagne with our 55 fellow passengers in the lounge. We would find ourselves gathered here, formally and informally, in groups big and small during the week.
Recently renovated, Safari Endeavour’s accommodations consist of various sized staterooms and suites. Our quarters featured a king-sized bed, a flat screen television, and last, but not least, a huge picture window.
Arizona Meets the Sea
The next morning we awoke to the sound of banana bread French toast, otherwise known as the paradoxically gentle and energetic voice of Mark Hopkins, the Safari Endeavor’s expedition leader. And then there was the view.
We got our first good look at the rugged beauty of the Sea of Cortez from the point of view of the cove where we had anchored during the night. The result of light and limestone, the waters seemed impossibly deep blue to turquoise, while the land indeed looked remarkably similar to what you might find around Tucson.
After each sit-down breakfast and lunch, Mark would describe available activities for the morning or afternoon and facilitate sign ups. Depending on the day’s port and weather, activities included kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, paddle boarding, and exploration by skiff. Plenty of time and flexibility allowed passengers to sign up for at least two, and possibly three, adventure activities on any given day.
Some Un-Cruise Adventures feature a theme such as “marine biology,” “wine,” or “photography.” Photographer David Julian was the special guest for our cruise’s photography-themed week. In addition to leading two evening discussions on the topic, David offered us in-the-field tips throughout the week and on two pre-dawn expeditions.
The Safari Endeavour had an open bridge policy, meaning guests could visit Captain Jill Russell and her mates day or night. Captain Jill put the difference between an Un-Cruise Adventure and a big ship cruise like this, “On big ship cruises, it’s all about the ship. On an Un-Cruise, it’s about the destination.”
With a highly trained crew and good design (such as kayaks launched from the stern), Un-Cruise Adventures has thought out the luxury adventure well. This “L,” or “luxury” level, Un-Cruise is especially suitable for a wide age range of the reasonably adventurous and would be perfect for multi-generational travel.
Hello “Vacation Brain,” Nice to See You Again
Onshore, one might be accused of being lazy or worse, while onboard a ship it is simply something that happens. The combination of being rocked like a baby and totally cut off from the electronic/digital world brought on the often elusive state of “vacation brain” rather quickly.
With all the adventure available to us on our trip, I admit it — my “vacation brain’s” favorite activity on the Sea of Cortez was something called “marine mammal watching.” General water, bird, and marine mammal watching is both a scheduled and un-scheduled activity on an Un-Cruise Adventure. Crew members poised with binoculars at each corner of the vessel announce the presence of dolphins, whales, sea lions, sharks, and Manta rays.
Marine mammal watching doesn’t always go as planned, but an Un-Cruise schedule is delightfully full of wiggle room: A massive pod of dolphins spotted from the bridge could mean taking a detour into the throng. The last bites of dessert might be skipped to go on deck and watch the vessel cut through bioluminescence, complete with dolphins surfing the ship’s bow waves.
Why the Sea of Cortez?
Although the Sea of Cortez is, perhaps, atop fewer travel wish lists than Un-Cruise Adventure’s Alaskan and Hawaiian routes, here are two big reasons to consider this trip.
- The surprise and unique factor: For those seeking a small ship cruise in a remarkably bio diverse area with a spectacular landscape, the Sea of Cortez delivers. And most of your friends probably haven’t been.
- For now, perhaps because the Sea of Cortez is not as well known as other Un-Cruise destinations, the price for a luxury small ship cruise on a Sea of Cortez itinerary is relatively less expensive.
Upcoming Un-Cruise Adventures in the Sea of Cortez
The season for Sea of Cortez with Un-Cruise Adventures runs November to April with two itineraries available.
Baja’s Whale Bounty: Sailing roundtrip out of La Paz
Cousteau’s Aquarium of the World: Cabo San Lucas to La Paz (or reverse)
Cost: $2995 – $5895 per person, depending on accommodation and season. Rates on Safari Endeavour and Safari Voyager (both Un-Cruise “L” or luxury category). Price includes all onboard meals, premium spirits, wine, and beer. All inclusive with exception of day trip to the Pacific side of the peninsula to see grey whales, and crew tip. The 64-guest Safari Voyager takes over sailing in the Sea of Cortez beginning in December 2013
Portions of this trip were sponsored by Un-Cruise Adventures.