Does the thought of taking a cruise conjure up images of endless buffet lines, water slides and sequined dresses? I’ve been there, done that. Way back in 2001, my then-boyfriend and I embarked on one of those notoriously inexpensive cruises that sail around the Caribbean. After going broke on booze, busting a zipper at the buffet, and being forced to participate in a limbo, we vowed never to sail the seas again.
But I’m not one to learn lessons. Fast-forward over a decade and my now-husband (the same guy, who also doesn’t learn lessons) and I are aboard the 64-passenger Safari Voyager. It’s our chance at a cruise "do-over" on one of the first journeys from Un-Cruise Adventures that sails along the Baja Peninsula and the Gulf of California. Not only is this trip beautiful, with scenery that includes craggy desert canvas set against the blue ocean. It's also chock-full of activities for lovers of the great outdoors, with multiple naturalists on board to answer questions and give nightly lectures. Sunrise brings yoga on the top deck – or sometimes the beach. Schedules aren’t exactly strict on this ship. The morning may include kayaking on the deep waters, while the afternoon is for hiking the rocky landscape. Early evening was spent on the bow, snapping photos of the thousand-plus bottlenose dolphins that cruised alongside the boat. By mid-week, we were leaning over the railings to watch gray whales – a mother and her new baby – that had migrated south to the Magdalena Bay. And the last day – my favorite – was spent snorkeling with sea lion pups in Los Islotes. They were playful enough to nip at your fins and gentle enough to let you pet them. After that chilly swim, the staff greeted us with a steaming mug of Mexican hot chocolate. This was a typical week on the Safari Voyager.
Perhaps the biggest giveaway that Un-Cruise is not your average cruise line (aside from the name) is that everything is included in the price except for a well-deserved tip to the staff at week’s end. We didn’t spend a penny while on board the ship; everything from the activities and the gear (like wet suits and binoculars) to meals, a massage, and booze was included in the price. And that price happens to be relatively affordable. Seven-night Baja California itineraries like this one start at around $2700 per person, a good value when you consider all that's included, and the small size of the cruise. Other likewise adventurous destinations include Alaska, Hawaii, and British Columbia.
On the food front, there were three multi-course meals each day, along with a cocktail hour in the bar – the main area for socializing. The portions were on the smaller side but satisfying, with choices that would often include a fresh catch of the day, a fall-off-the-bone lamb shank, or a root vegetable tart. Guests are free to have seconds, but rarely do. The wine list is fantastic, the liquor top-shelf, and there’s always something sweet being whipped-up behind the bar – often before noon.
Aside from a myriad of activities, fascinating and well-traveled people, and a top-notch crew, my favorite aspect of the cruise (surprisingly) was the lack of Internet. Being off-the grid is to be expected when you’re miles away from shore, but in our Facebook-obsessed lives, it’s the perfect recipe to relax the mind. That, and being lulled into an afternoon nap by the Sea of Cortez. As soon as I was able to connect, I was looking to book my next adventure. I’m thinking that swimming with sea turtles in Hawaii sounds nice. My do-over was a success.