|Un-Cruise Adventures' guests enjoy the great outdoors; here they're shown boarding kayaks on the line's custom-designed platform. // Photo by David Julian provided courtesy of Un-Cruise Adventures.|
Taking a small ship cruise isn’t a cookie cutter experience. Agents know the small ship lines can be very different from product to product. With Seattle-based Un-Cruise Adventures, diversity also rules within the line’s portfolio of products. Guests may choose from either ocean or river voyages.
Guests also may choose either an itinerary with a mix of ports or one where there are no port calls, just pure adventure in the great outdoors. And geographically, the small-ship line sails within the U.S. on the Pacific Northwest’s river system as well as exploring coastal Alaska and Hawaii.
Overseas, it sails within Mexico’s Sea of Cortes as well as, new for 2016, the Galapagos and Costa-Rica/Panama. TravelAgentCentral.com spoke with Tim Jacox, executive vice president, sales and marketing, Un-Cruise Adventures, about what’s new and what’s next for the line.
For example, many new itineraries are planned for 2015 and 2016; the line will debut a new reservations system soon; and it's launching a new Web site.
Growth and Development
“The company certainly has evolved,” says Jacox. “Back when it first started 17 years ago, there was one yacht. That grew into three yachts and the business model was about bringing FIT bookings to the world of yachting, not just having to charter a yacht.” Then the firm, called American Safari Cruises began growing with acquisitions and became a little bit larger in terms of the vessels (also still small ships).
|Wilderness Adventurer is one of nine vessels in the Un-Cruise Adventures fleet. // Photo courtesy of Un-Cruise Adventures|
The line added Safari Explorer serving 36 guests, then two expedition vessels, Wilderness Discoverer and Wilderness Adventurer. It also began operating a separate brand, Inner Seas Discoveries, after acquiring the S.S. Legacy, Wilderness Explorer and Safari Endeavor, followed by Safari Voyager.
Now rebranded as Un-Cruise Adventures, it's planning to expand to the Galapagos and Costa Rica/Panama in 2016. “All of that means we have grown substantially, and multiplied our revenues ten-fold in the past five years,” he stresses.
New Voyages for Latin America
Un-Cruise Adventures plans to begin new highly inclusive Costa Rica and Panama coastal adventures on the 64-passenger Safari Voyager. Two itineraries are in final development and agents should know details within the next month. The cruises will likely launch in early 2016.
The cruises, which will operate between San Jose, Costa Rica and Panama City, Panama, will have a strong eco-component as well as such outdoor activities as kayaking.
Separately, new nine-night Quito and Galapagos adventures begin in 2016; the line is partnering with Metropolitan Touring, an experienced Ecuador and Galapagos operator, for eight branded Un-Cruise Adventures that encompass the two UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Jacox says one of the reasons to expand to locales such as the Galapagos is to please past guests seeking something new and different to try on the line. “Our past passengers are certainly taking advantage of the Galapagos sailings,” he said, noting that the voyages are already 30 percent booked even though the cruises don’t begin until February 2016.
Guests stay two nights pre-cruise at Casa Gangotena, a 31-room boutique hotel in Quito’s historic center. “Quito will be a wonderful in-depth experience rather than just a pass-through to the airport,” says Jacox. Guests will have a tour of Colonial Quito, a restaurant dining experience and a great view of the lights, among other perks.
Included on most voyages is internal air from Quito to San Cristobal in the Galapagos. The cruise itineraries aren’t standard, he says, noting that all eight departures on the 48-guest La Pinta will include exploration of the popular remote islands of Espanola and Genovesa. Other islands visited include Santa Cruz, Bartolomé, Santiago and Chinese Hat Islet.
In addition, the line will also offer a four-night pre-cruise program with a Napo River voyage in the Peruvian Amazon, and also a six-night post-cruise land tour to Machu Picchu and Peru's Sacred Valley.
Because of strict regional regulations, all crew on the Galapagos departures will be Ecuadorian. Jacox stresses that these onboard staffers and expedition guides who will serve Un-Cruise guests will – prior to the start of service -- take a voyage on one of the line's Sea of Cortes voyages in Mexico. That way, they’ll learn about how to deliver the Un-Cruise product and understand what the line's past guests expect in terms of service and interaction.
The 36-passenger Safari Explorer sails to four of Hawaii’s islands from November through April. The weeklong inclusive voyages sail between Molokai and Hawaii and visit Lanai and Maui as well.
At the outset, the line ran into some challenges in the Molokai start-up, as local residents weren't happy about cruise ship visits. But after much work and education in the local community by Un-Cruise Adventures, the community began to understand what the line's small-ship eco- and cultural experiences are about.
|An Un-Cruise Adventures' guest explores the pristine landscapes of Molokai -- and without the big-ship crowds. // Photo courtesy of Un-Cruise Adventures.|
"I'm very proud of what we've done there" in developing relationships with the local community, says Jacox, noting that his line isn't a big ship experience, nor are his line's guests desiring of that type of experience. So it fits well with the eco-sites, culture and remoteness of Molokai.
In addition to the cruise, guests might spend one to three nights in a stayover in Honolulu or another part of Hawaii. Jacox says Hawaiian Airlines now flies directly between Honolulu and Molokai with a 48-passenger aircraft, making entry in and out of Honolulu the best way to go for those embarking at Molokai.
“The type of experience we’re delivering in Hawaii is unconventional,” says Jacox, noting that the bigger ocean ships can’t get into Lanai, for example. Guests also like the inclusivity which includes all shore excursions, kayaking and snorkeling.
From April through November, the line’s S.S. Legacy, a replicated historic coastal steamer, sails on the Columbia and Snake Rivers of the Pacific Northwest. Good clients for these voyages are those interested in Americana and nostalgia.
“The crew members are dressed in the garb of the era so it looks like they just stepped out of the early 1900s,” notes Jacox, who says the boat also looks historic, yet it has modern features including an elevator onboard.
Clientele? Jacox says the clientele is a little older on these voyages, compared with its other products. So most guests are in their mid-50s to mid-80s or even older. “A lot of people go ahead and gravitate to the rivers, knowing it’s calm and smooth,” he says.
Un-Cruise Adventures' voyages are roundtrip from Portland, providing good airlift for people from around the country, says Jacox. Since these voyages, in particular, appeal to guests from California, it's also convenient that “guests from California can easily drive up to Portland and leave their car,” take the cruise and then drive back home after the cruise or a post-cruise stay.
One of the prime reasons for taking this cruise, according to Jacox, is the spectacular scenery, which includes everything from volcanoes to dams, from rainforests to wheatfields, dam locks and vineyards. Clients also visit museums and take a jet boat ride. “It’s an opportunity for people to enjoy that type of river experience right in their own backyard,” says Jacox.
In addition to the historically themed voyages offered throughout the season, the line will offer four new wine-themed departures in 2015. Right now, Un-Cruise Adventures is working with multiple wineries in the region that will come onboard and do tastings and talks. Guests will also go ashore to tour wineries and vineyards, and participate in one or two wine lunches.
|S.S. Legacy sails on the Columbia and Snake Rivers; it delivers a nostalgic early 1900s feel, yet the ship inside has modern amenities including an elevator. // Photo by Peter Drew Carey provided by Un-Cruise Adventures|
“The S.S. Legacy is ideal for this type of program,” believes Jacox. “The meal service is all 'plated,' we have wonderful cuisine that’s locally sourced and we include all premium spirits including fine wines.” In addition, the inclusive product on the Pacific Northwest rivers includes a massage, yoga classes on the top deck and more.
Un-Cruise Adventures is also offering new craft beer themed departures on its coastal Washington voyages of the 60-guest Wilderness Adventurer, sailing roundtrip from Seattle. Sailing within Puget Sound and the Salish Sea. Upcoming departures are April 25 and October 3, 2015 and April 30, 2016.
Robyn Schumacher, an owner and brewer at Stoup Brewing in Seattle, joins the April 25 cruise. Guest hosts for the remaining two dates will be announced later Jacox says the concept fits well with what the line does, as it serves small groups of 22 to 88 guests through its system.
“The small numbers allow us not only to get close to wildlife and scenery but also to culture,” Jacox notes. “The Pacific Northwest offers a tremendous number of microbreweries, and we’re still going to do hiking" and other activities.
That said, he expects some on these craft beer departures to visit the microbreweries, relax, lounge, savor the brews and enjoy talks by craft beer experts. In turn, others on the cruise might be out and about in more active pursuits in Olympic National Park and the San Juan Islands.
Other San Juan Islands cruises (non-craft beer themed) are operated both by Wilderness Adventurer and Safari Quest yacht cruises roundtrip from Seattle. For example, Safari Quest takes guests to the San Juan Islands, Canada’s Harmony and Gulf Islands and Princess Louisa Inlet.
Sea of Cortes
Beginning January 2015, Un-Cruise Adventures offers a new adventure cruise in Mexico’s Sea of Cortes wrapping the best marine life adventures into one itinerary. The 84-guest Safari Endeavour sails the weeklong “Baja’s Bounty! Whale Sharks, Whales & Mobulas” itinerary roundtrip from San Jose del Cabo, Baja, Mexico.
|Swimming with sea lion pups is a potential activity for guests taking Sea of Cortes cruises. // Photo provided courtesy of Un-Cruise Adventures|
The highlight? For many it may be whale experiences. Guests should see multiple species of whales including blue whales. Guests also can swim with sea lions, an unconventional option that appeals to many guests. In addition, dolphins typically play around the boats.
From January to March, when grey whales are spotted off the Pacific coast, the line takes guests overland to Bahia Magdalena and out in small boats to see the grey giants. During November and December, alternatively, the line takes guests to see whale sharks in the area of La Paz.
In addition to eco-exploration, a half-day port call in Loreto includes a guided walking tour of the historic town. By embarking from San Jose del Cabo rather than La Paz, as in the past, Jacox says it’s more convenient for guests.
Guests are able to spend a little more time in the region, either a pre- or post-cruise resort stay. Sea of Cortes voyages start at $2,995 per person for a full-seven night program; included are all activities; meals; fine wine, premium spirits and microbrews; use of a hot tub, sauna, exercise equipment; yoga instruction on deck; a massage; transfers; and all port charges, taxes and fees.
There is one crew member for every 2.5 guests and a minimum of four naturalist guides, and an expedition leader onboard. Theme departures include ornithology, marine biology, photography and Kids in Nature.
Multiple vessels of Un-Cruise Adventures sail throughout coastal Alaska; many spend multiple days in Glacier Bay National Park. These adventure style cruises typically attract baby boomers 45 to 65 – “those really looking for a life-changing type of experience,” says Jacox. It’s about being able to get close to nature and culture or close to whales, bears, waterfalls and glaciers.
|Getting out and about in kayaks to spot bears is a popular activity for Un-Cruise Adventures guests in Alaska. // Photo courtesy of Un-Cruise Adventures|
In each destination, it’s a hands-on experience, he stresses. Yet, clients have their choice of activities and to do or not do any one of them. For example, in Alaska, some guests might take a six hour hike, where others might simply prefer a short beach walk to soak up the scenery.
Guests can also sit in a hot tub or spend time on the bridge with the captain. Kayaking is done from a stable platform, so guests never need get in and out of a kayak on the water itself. “They don’t have to parallel park,” quips Jacox. “That’s one of our signature items as we have custom constructed kayak platforms.”
Travel Agent Programs
On the horizon, “we’re in the process of adding a sophisticated new reservations and CRM system,” says Jacox, noting that it will be up and running this year. It should help streamline the booking process and will have more bells and whistles.
Un-Cruise Adventures pays 10 percent base commission with opportunities for higher commissions with consortia partners, as well as with individual agencies who may qualify for overrides with greater sales.
Jacox says because six of the line’s ships have a highly inclusive product that includes everything from port charges to premium spirits, taxes to transfers and more in the fare. That allows agents to earn commission on more features.
Agents should have a new Columbia/Snake Rivers brochure in a few weeks. A new Galapagos/Costa Rica/Panama brochure is expected by December.
Further out, the line’s new Web site is under development. “This will be a great tool for agents, because as we do now, there will be a portal on the site for agent partners," Jacox says. He says tools will include electronic flyers, videos and details on how to become an Adventurist, a specialist with the company for which the firm provides referrals from potential guests.
What differentiates the Un-Cruise product and how should agents pitch it to clients? "It really is an emotional type of experience as guests get so close to nature and wildlife," he says, noting that "in Alaska on certain voyages we don’t even stop at any port calls along the way as we’re out in the remote wilderness."
The goal Jacox says is to maximize those experiences with sightings of whales, bears, other wildlife: “It’s just 100 percent exhilaration."