I looked up at the twinkling Milky Way and soaked it all in. I was on a remote beach surrounded by limestone cliffs and a glowing bon fire. Waves gently crashed on shore providing a rhythm to my thoughts. The smell of mesquite wafted through the air as I contemplated my tiny little life engulfed in the giant Milky Way.
Cruising is gaining popularity every year as people take off on behemoth ships through seas and rivers with thousands of people, activities, and calories. There’s a rigid itinerary and little room for your own personal exploration. And I want absolutely nothing to do with that type of cruising.
There’s a new option to cruising where less is more. Small ship cruising is a chance to go where other ships can’t, and a chance to remain flexible.
If Un-Cruise were a car, it would have the bumper sticker “We Brake for Whales”. And the best part is that there is no rigid itinerary when you are small enough to maneuver into shallow waters and don’t have a port schedule to stick to. Jeremy, our expedition leader on the ship, described the cruise as being “rigidly flexible’ since so many activities and even routes in the Sea of Cortez depend on the weather and winds.
What are Un-Cruise Adventures?
I had only taken an expedition cruise up to this point, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect on an adventure cruise, but at the very least you should expect some adventurous activities – right?! Since we had beautiful warm weather in the Sea of Cortez in February, this meant we had many water options.
A typical day on the ship went something like this – wake up to a beautiful sunrise and do some yoga on the deck. After breakfast head off on a skiff (small motorized raft boat) to do an organized activity such as a guided hike, snorkeling, burro ride, whale watching, kayaking, or stand up paddle boarding. After lunch head to another spot and anchor in a turquoise bay, take a skiff ashore and enjoy a beach party complete with open bar. Un-Cruise staff would bring out the kayaks, SUPs, and snorkel gear and you could go on your own to explore. Or you could just sit on the beach, read a book and have a margarita.
You could be as active and adventurous as you wanted with activities like these.
Mother Nature was on our side the week I cruised the Sea of Cortez. The Captain said that we rarely have calm enough winds to stop at Isla Coronados – a volcanic island with a crescent shaped white sand beach. We started early in the morning on the volcano crater hike covering 1000 feet in elevation and not a single tree offering shade. Like most hikes it started out easy, but then we started up the steep, jagged rocks, which took every bit of concentration that my brain had that early in the morning. Finally the rocks gave way to the steepest section yet made of scree – which was like trying to climb a pile of sand. Needless to say, this hike (4 miles round trip) was challenging. But of course the view at the top of the crater was worth it.
I did an easier hike later in the week, but what it lacked in technical difficulty, it made up for in temperature difficulty. We walked across the salt flats at Isla San Francisco, and I felt the water evaporating out of me just like the salt pools. This was an easy hike more about the flora and landscape rather than exerting yourself. And we also had some time to dig around under the rocks to see what sea critters we could find.
With mild water temperature around 65 degrees, I appreciated the wetsuit that Un-Cruise furnished. They also outfit you in all the snorkel equipment you need so that you can go check out these crystal clear waters full of colorful fish, eels, urchins, and sea lions. At Los Islotes we had a chance to snorkel with baby sea lions. I opted to stay above water so that I could get wildlife photography shots of the Blue Boobies, however my friend Kristin of Travel Past 50, dawned her snorkel gear, camera, and frolicked with the sea lions!
Snorkel Sea Lions, Los Islotes, photo Kristin Henning
The water was so clear that we could see the fish, clams, and eels right from our kayak! Kristin and I spent one morning on a substantial paddle around Aqua Verdes. The secluded bay was full of great rock formations and birds. Once again we were blessed with calm weather so we were able to kayak all the way out to Solitary Rock, which tons of birds use as a sanctuary safe from predators. And they also use the rock as their toilet. This was one case where guano made the rock more photogenic!
We also did some casual kayaking just to get out and explore an island near Los Islotes. It was fun to see the crabs scurry as we came close. But the best part was when one of our guides drove the skiff out to meet us and gave us a beer. Happy hour kayaking in the Sea of Cortez = perfection.
Four legs are better than two in this desert environment. The Romeros live and ranch in Baja Sur. They brought their entire family and their 14 burros to Aqua Verdes to offer rides to people who were interested in exploring inland. I admired the beautiful leather saddle design as I hoisted my leg over my burro and into the stirrup. I watched intently as they looped up their ropes and got ready to take us out on a serious trail ride. Only a few of them knew English, but they told us stories of ranching and trying to make a living in a very harsh environment. It was a fascinating ride through the desert and arroyos (dry creeks). At one point we even came across what appeared to be an oasis with palm trees and green plants which looked completely out of place in the orange, dusty desert!
Marine Safari – Gray Whales
As we exited our vans that had transported us to Magdalena Bay, our guide from Desert and Sea Adventures, Angel talked about the boat we’d be going out on for whale-watching. It was then that I heard it for the first time “if you pet a whale…” Angel said and kept talking about the proper protocol for whale interaction. However my brain had stopped on the first part of the sentence; did he say “pet a whale?” I thought in astonishment. Yes, he did. At Magdalena Bay the whales approach you so closely that you can pet them.
Gray Whale Migration!
Free Adventurous Time
With ample free time each day, we could pick and choose other adventures we wanted to do. From beach combing, to kayaking, to SUP, it was pretty easy to stay active every day. You could even swim off the boat in the right conditions!
In addition to all of these adventures, the ship also offered free massages to every passenger, an open bar, and wonderful food.
As I laid on my beach blanket staring at the Milky Way at our private beach bon fire party, my eyes locked in on a satellite moving across the sky. I followed its path as it passed stars and planets. It always amazes me the speed at which they move. It was then that I decided I liked this thing called Un-Cruise adventures; it’s just my speed.
Un-Cruise the Sea of Cortez and Come Early/Stay Late in San Jose Del Cabo
Fly into San Jose Del Cabo International Airport (SJD) a few days early, skip the resorts and see the historic Art town of San Jose Del Cabo!
Where to stay before or after your adventure cruise in Can Jose Del Cabo
Casa Natalia – a cute boutique hotel (don’t even bother with the gigantic all inclusive resorts that have no soul), that is cozily designed with open patios, a waterfall pool, a lovely staff. Located in the center of old town and the art district!
Since you’ll be burning calories doing all of those adventures, be sure to book a night at the newest farm to table restaurant creation in Los Cabos. Located outside of the city on a dusty little back road is an oasis of organic hip called ACRE. The restaurant, cocktail bar, event space and surrounding farms is the first phase. Twelve tree-houses(!) will be added to the palm forest shortly. ACRE grows all of the ingredients used in its restaurant and honors all animals and vegetables by using every part.
Kristin and I had dinner there the night before our Un-Cruise departure and it was a complete eating experience. Each dish full of complex flavors was beautifully displayed. And the cocktails made by their onsite mixologist, Dani Tatarin, were like a little science creations in a martini glass instead of a beaker. The indoor/outdoor eating experience is a great start to your adventure cruise.