It's not often that a cruise company will tell you that the ship is not the most important part of your vacation. Un-Cruise Adventures, however, is not at all like your typical cruise line. The Seattle-based line traces its history to two decades of taking passengers on exciting voyages with a focus on the destinations and experience.
And during its period of rapid growth in recent years, Un-Cruise Adventures is setting a course for even more exciting places to explore. The line owns a longtime presence in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and it has expanded operations in the Columbia and Snake rivers. Ship itineraries also include Mexico, Hawaii and Central America.
Also, Un-Cruise Adventures makes its debut in the Galapagos in early 2016.
These locations all feature spectacular scenery and wildlife, and Un-Cruise aims to enhance the experience with a full range of adventures you can enjoy as part of your cruise. Kayaking, hiking, skiff tours, standup paddleboarding, snorkeling and shore hikes are some of the options available and designed to get you up close to birds, other creatures and natural features at your destinations.
The cruise line is a perfect fit for active travelers seeking a mix of adventure levels. You can choose more hardcore excursions or a mix of soft adventure days while also enjoying a few creature comforts onboard with good food, included beverages and fellow passengers of a similar spirit, whether age 30 or 70. Ships in the fleet range in capacity from 22 to 88 passengers, and starting fares can range from $300 to $500 per passenger per day.
I chatted recently with Un-Cruise Adventures CEO Dan Blanchard (pictured above), who speaks passionately about travel in general and specifically about how his company seeks to craft adventurous, inspiring and unforgettable experiences for its passengers.
The man known as Captain Dan says voyages on his ships are "about fun and laughter and experience."
"That comes in the form of camaraderie, a feeling of doing something unique," he says. "It's off the beaten path, whether it's a physical thing on a hike or whether it's an a-ha! moment when you're out on the bow with a cup of coffee with nobody else around and just absolute silence.
"I know our guests get life-changing moments."
Here is what else he shared with In The Loop Travel in an exclusive interview:
In The Loop: You say your passengers fit a "psychographic" rather than a specific "demographic." What makes travelers who choose a voyage on Un-Cruise Adventures unique?
Capt. Dan Blanchard: When we were developing the whole idea of an adventure cruise product . . . we went to the demographic information and found that demographics didn't tell the story. Adventuresome people that get out and want experiential travel, they have a soul and spirit that doesn't really respect the clock of time. What we find is what really makes the human the person, rather than those demographic things (like age and economics). So . . . what really is the heart and soul of this person, what makes them tick? Rather than where they live. The bigger thing about people is what they have in their mind, how they like to play and what kind of things they want to experience in life. Typically, the kind of passenger that we have, maybe in their 20s, it certainly wouldn't have been uncommon for them to go to Europe on $10 a day. I hear that type of story all the time. When they were younger, they were involved in athletics or hiking. So, as they've gotten older, they still have that adventurous spirit, but they're kind of tired of throwing the 70-pound pack on. That's the kind of client we've found really attracted to us. And even though we are in the cruise industry, we are really so far away from that, so as the ships have grown bigger, it actually helps feed our business.
ITL: Specialty cruising and expeditionary adventures seem to be rising in popularity among travelers. Is this what you are seeing and hearing?
Blanchard: For the big picture, everything is indicating, from statistics and research (Adventure Travel Trade Association) . . . that there is a huge upswing for what we now call adventure travel. It wasn't that long ago, adventure travel was considered something more aggressive. It wouldn't be uncommon that you'd be roped up and in crampons or sailing across an ocean. Today, it takes in a broader aspect that's more experiential. Because of that . . . and for whatever other reasons, we are definitely seeing and all the stats are showing a huge increase in this market. And really no stopping point at this juncture. As far as growth goes, we are certainly on a growth curve. As a company, we'd like to see that stabilize. We've grown extremely fast over the last six years.
Blanchard: There are really two or three destinations -- we're kind of heading south for the most part. I've been spending a lot of time on the Amazon, and I have to tell you, that one rocked me to the core. We've been doing the Ecuadorian are of the Amazon, the headwaters. Some of this is just feel, when you go someplace, and you have a gut reaction. When you go to the Amazon, it reminds me so much of Alaska. It's true unpredictable adventure. You're going down the river, and all of a sudden, pink dolphins are there. Or you're going into the jungle, and the bird life changes rapidly.
The other that I'm really excited about -- and it's a ways off for us. I'm very interested in what we can do eventually in the Northern Passage.
ITL: Is this type of travel more cost-prohibitive to consumers? Is growth potential limited for any reason as people age and become less active and mobile?
Blanchard: There certainly is an economic part that is demographic based. Just this last summer, I sailed with a couple for a week, one was 27, the other 29, and they were both attorneys. So, there are the few that sail when they're younger, but primarily, we're not getting that. Because they're not in a place where they can put down anywhere from a $2,500 to a $5,000 deposit. But we've tried to design and have made our itineraries where it can go from soft adventure type person to the more relaxed and truly soft adventure. In other words, people can go out on a hike during the day, a half-day or even a full-day hike. And maybe the grandparents who brought the kids are just happy to go out on a skiff and go around for a few hours to see things up close. So, we have the ability to meet that adventuresome spirit, even though their knees might not have the ability to take them the miles that they use to.
ITL: I know you have been on the water and around boats for your whole life. What have been some of your greatest memories and adventures in travel?
Blanchard: I can only answer in a very personal way. I can't say a specific destination, because to me, it's all very much in the moment. I can remember sailing across the Pacific, about halfway (he gets choked up at this point recalling the trip) . . . One of the greatest travel experiences of my life was being mid-Pacific, totally sleep-deprived and my family all asleep down below on a bright, sunny day. Just sitting on the foredeck and realizing, "My God, I've achieved a goal," which is overwhelming.
To me, it's really about capturing the moment when the stars align and you sit there and reflect on who you are and what you're doing and the happiness of being alive and having a fast-beating heart in this world.
Now, those are sentiments to spur anyone to seek a new adventure.
Thanks for reading.
Remember, always Travel fit and travel happy!