On my last cruise, I showed up to my meals in the main dining room in my swim trunks. Not every time, but a few. And no one even noticed. Well, they probably noticed but didn't really care.
Not bad, Un-Cruise Adventures. Not bad at all. It seems like the only rules for the expedition cruise line relate to staying safe and having fun. The company offers a travel experience that packs one week with almost more outdoors fun than you can stand. The itineraries feature a whirlwind of activities that will leave you blissfully spent. Plus, there's a lot of great beer, too!
And, no judgments. (Swimsuits at dinner time, remember?) I cruised Un-Cruise Adventures' Wilderness Discoverer through the Pacific Northwest, visiting the San Juan and Olympic islands. I had a general knowledge of the region and these islands off the coast of Washington state, and I had always wanted to visit again to check out the hiking and maybe do some other outdoors activities.
Snorkeling -- Yes, snorkeling. You won't see tropical fish, but you'll strap on a wet suit (it's tight folks, really tight) and plunge into 45-degree waters to poke around in depths of 10 to 15 feet. Weather must cooperate for this option to be offered. Spot sunflower sea stars with more than a dozen arms, crabs, flowing kelp and sea grasses, colorful anemones, eels, sea cucumbers and many other things that you'd only imagine in science fiction.
Our guide Dani had us paddle out to the other side of Protection Island, where the long stretch into the waves and freshening winds offered more of a challenge. This paddle was going to provide a good workout after all. We saw stellar sea lions and several bald eagles as we became the first group to circumnavigate the island in about a year. Conditions are rarely good enough to go out past the protected cove our guide said. I was fortunate enough to have a week of unseasonably sunny and calm weather for early May in the San Juan Islands. A post-dinner kayaking session in the dark and a short kayak to a beach before we landed and set off on a hike also were top highlights during the week-long adventure.
Stand-up paddleboarding -- These extremely stable giant surfboard-looking toys can be intimidating at first, especially when one bad step means you'll be scrambling out of frigid waters. But you can quickly get the hang of paddling around the bays and coves where Un-Cruise boats anchor. The open-paddle sessions for SUP and kayaking are launched from the vessel's marine deck so you slide right into the water. I like to stand up for a bit until my knees get a little wobbly and then go ahead and relax and work on my kneel-down paddle boarding. How about lay-down paddleboarding? That's a thing, right? It sure is a restful way to float lazily around a beautiful lagoon.
It's fantastic to sit back in small but inviting bar spaces and learn the stories behind the beers and how these entrepreneurs (some no more than 30 years old) just went for it and entered the competitive business of beer making. We stopped for tastings at Island Hoppin' Brewery on Orcas Island and at two breweries on Port Townsend -- Port Townsend Brewing Co. and Propolis Brewing.
Onboard enrichment talks -- When you go off on your activities during the day, you can gather back onboard after dinner in the lounges and discuss and learn more about what you have just seen. Talks focus on the animals in the region, history of the San Juan and Olympic Islands, geological formations, plants and trees and other topics that are raised during question-and-answer sessions. Nature nerds can totally geek out on these cruises.
Whale watching -- A top goal of almost every cruiser in the Pacific Northwest is to spot whales. We saw a couple humpbacks and an active pod of orcas, too. You'll also enjoy up-close encounters with harbor seals. We had about two dozen hang out with us during our kayak tour (noted above). Be on the lookout for porpoises (often playing in the bow wake early in the morning) and stellar sea lions (you'll know you're near when you are downwind of their distinctive smell).
Intense bonding experiences -- The boat's accommodations are modest, with small cabins and basic public areas. But this is your home for the weeklong sailing. Your room is just where you stash your clothes and plop down exhausted and satisfied after a full day of adventures. The line has an open bridge policy, so passengers can wander up to sit and talk with the captains anytime. The food is among the best I've had on any cruise. Fresh-baked breads and desserts stand out, as do the meals featuring regional specialties like salmon and scallops, for example. Also, the thick-cut peppered bacon is incredible. And the Un-Cruise staff are the stars of your trip, with expedition guides providing incredible and fun challenges for your daily activities.
They also lead the enrichment talks and will sit down to play games with you after dinner as the day winds down. Bar staff, boat operations and all other members of the crew are always smiling and asking what they can do for you, as well. Don't be surprised if several of them jump right in and join the end-of-week ritual "Polar Plunge" into the icy waters on your final full day onboard.
I still get chills thinking about my week in the Pacific Northwest with Un-Cruise Adventures, and it has nothing to do with those cold waters.