You know you're in for something special when, on the first evening of your cruise, the lead expedition guide asks how many people have been on an UnCruise Adventures sailing before and nearly 95 percent of the room raises their hand.
UnCruise Adventures has a loyal following and we can understand why after a one-week cruise onboard Safari Voyager in the line's newest "playgrounds" of Costa Rica and Panama. That's the terminology used by expedition team, who tell passengers every night where they will be "playing" the next day with toys such as snorkels, kayaks or paddleboards). This light-hearted and laid-back approach to cruising is pervasive throughout the sailing. Crew and passengers are friendly, passionate about nature and wildlife and way more interested in the photos of monkeys and sloths you took that day or whether you spotted the sea turtle during your afternoon snorkel than in whether you changed your shirt for dinner or not. And outside of your daily excursions of hikes, snorkeling, skiff rides and kayaking, which combined are the reason for taking an UnCruise cruise, the most exciting moment of the day is finding out what the next day's adventure will bring. How many hikes will be offered? Will the kayaks come out? What animals can you expect to see?
But light-hearted doesn't mean lackadaisical when it comes to service. From the four nature guides who knew everything there was to know about the flora and fauna of the places we visited (and knew how to spot them in the dense treetops) to the bartenders and wait staff/room attendants, everyone works hard to make sure the passengers are taken care of, whether it's knowing what you like to drink for breakfast, bringing you an extra towel or pillow or making you a little something extra. The chef surprised us with gluten-free chocolate chip pancakes one morning after hearing we liked them!
That being said, no cruise experience is ever perfect and Safari Voyager has its flaws. Inconveniences ranged from not enough drawer space in most rooms, towel hooks not actually holding towels and no place to dry your wet bathing suit in the cabin to larger issues like an air-conditioning system that keeps rooms a little too frigid -- even in a tropical environment. But UnCruise is always paying attention; someone from the head office intermittently sails onboard to see what cruisers are saying and we wouldn't be surprised to find some of these issues addressed before long.
Travelers looking to sail on Safari Voyager should make sure they're fit enough for the journey. A handful of cruisers on our trip, who had been on previous UnCruise Alaska sailings, found Safari Voyager's itinerary more difficult than they'd expected, and, as a result, were not happy with their experience. High humidity, ankle-twisting rooty trails and the extremely strong sun can take a toll on those not prepared.
In general, UnCruise Adventures draws an older clientele of experienced travelers who want intimate experiences in the places they visit. While most passengers are retired, not all are, with ages ranging from late 50s to early 80s. Primarily from the United States, UnCruise cruisers are more interested in the destinations they visit than in how they get there. Many passengers you'll meet are past passengers of UnCruise -- on our Safari Voyager sailing, nearly 95 percent of the cruisers were past UnCruise passengers. (This is partially because Safari Voyager's Costa Rica and Panama itineraries are brand-new to the company, giving repeat cruisers a new place to visit.) Everyone is friendly and interested in getting to know other people and it's entirely possible you'll make a lifelong friend or two on your voyage.
Casual is the name of the game on Safari Voyager -- and we mean casual (we showed up to dinner more than once in a pair of slippers when our sandals were still wet from the earlier skiff transport from shore). Shorts, jeans, zip-off hiking trouser/shorts, leggings, T-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies are all acceptable.
With that said, there is some clothing you'll want to bring to make your trip more enjoyable, particularly sun-protective clothing and swimwear (more people snorkeled in full-length swim leggings and shirts than in bathing suits). You'll also want to bring shoes that can get wet as all landings are water landings -- we saw plenty of water shoes, sandals and flip-flops. You'll also need a pair of closed-toe shoes for hiking; while some trails are OK for hiking in sturdy sandals, in some areas the risk of snake encounters meant some folks without closed-toe shoes were not permitted on the hikes. We also recommend hiking boots over sneakers as trails in the rain forests can get pretty muddy, even during the dry season, and many are littered with roots making sturdy shoes a necessity. A final bit of advice for travel gear: bring some electrolyte tablets -- you're going to sweat more than you believe is possible and even if you're drinking lots of water, you could find yourself feeling the effects of dehydration.
Just about everything, except gratuities, are included in your Safari Voyager cruise fare. All excursions, alcohol throughout the day, meals and lectures are complimentary onboard, as is one 30-minute massage. There is no Wi-Fi onboard. Gratuities are up to each passenger, though the line recommends seven to 10 percent of the cruise fare paid, per person; all gratuities are pooled and divided up between the entire crew.
UnCruise Adventure's Wilderness Discoverer isn't glamorous, but thoughtful touches, such as memory foam mattresses, bedside stands with pull-out laptop spaces and outside hooks for bulky gear, abound.