Spending the morning swimming with sea turtles. Afternoons kayaking to picturesque landmarks filled with history. Evenings spent sipping handcrafted cocktails and indulging in meals that highlight the flavors of the region as you head to your next destination—it doesn’t get much better than that.
Islands recently set out with UnCruise Adventures to explore the Hawaiian Islands and while we were there, we experienced the extensive benefits of small-ship cruising.
More Sea Turtles Please
Itinerary matters. Itinerary is, if not the most important, within the top two factors when deciding which cruise to go on. Large ships might come equipped with giant waterslides and offer more dining options than a small town, but there is something they can’t offer: true flexibility.
Instead of an itinerary that is regimented and built for the masses, on board a small ship, you receive the luxury of being able to voice your opinion in the day’s activities and adapt to Mother Nature—and she can be quite unpredictable. True flexibility means if a hike was scheduled, but everyone wants to snorkel instead, snorkeling it is. Or, if you are on the way to the next destination and a pod of dolphins puts on a show, you can stop and watch, or even follow for a while, without worrying about being late to the port.
On multiple occasions during our UnCruise adventure, our activities and even locations were adjusted to provide us with the best experience possible. Who doesn’t love a surprise snorkel opportunity with a potential to see sea turtles after lunch?
Explore Like a Local
Being able to truly experience a destination often comes down to finding where the locals go and avoiding the tourist traps. Both of which are becoming increasingly more important to people when they take a trip. A small ship cruise not only lends itself to solving these issues, but this is also one of the biggest benefits to choosing a small ship—experiencing traditional culture and exploring like a local.
Traditional Hawaiian culture was incorporated into every aspect of the trip with UnCruise. The most unique experience was on the island of Molokai. The Solatorio family welcomed us into their home in Halawa Valley with a traditional Hawaiian greeting, known as the Honi. We then had the honor of learning about Hawaiian traditions and stories of growing up on Molokai from Anakala Pilipo Solatorio and his son Gregory Kawaimaka Solatorio. Pilipo, or Uncle Pilipo, as he was lovingly referred to, is one of the last witnesses still living that experienced the 1946 tsunami that hit Hawaii. He described what it was like as a little kid to run up into the mountains to escape the rising waters. Then, some of the group went on a hike up into the mountains to Mo’oula Falls, while others stayed with Greg and learned how to make fresh taro into poi. This experience was unlike any other and a highlight of the trip.
Finding a local to share knowledge of the region is not always easy. Often times, small ships not only frequently visit these lesser-traveled regions, but they hire guides that are local to the area. This was the case with UnCruise, as both of our main guides called the Hawaiian Islands home. Talk about hitting the itinerary jackpot; not only were experts of the region coming with us on activities, but they were also the ones planning our excursions to areas they frequent themselves.
An Emphasis on Adventure
Small ships are bursting with adventure. Since they are not only small enough to dock at an increased number of ports, but also anchor close to shore, any activity becomes a quick skiff ride away. Plus, with fewer people to accommodate, you can load everyone onto a skiff in 10 minutes and moments later, you are applying defog to your snorkel mask and jumping in the ocean.
One thing I’ll never forget was snorkeling off the coast of Maui, because it truly felt like being submerged in Mother Earth’s massive fish tank. We were face-to-face with Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, White-Mouth Moray Eels and countless vibrant colored fish. Everywhere you turned something new was swimming right next to you.
Besides the daily opportunities to snorkel, kayak or sometimes even swim off the back of the boat, with UnCruise our itinerary offered unique activities, such as swimming with Manta Rays at night! We were told that Hawaii is one of the few places in the world where you can have this experience.
But What’s for Dinner
Going on these daily adventures definitely works up an appetite. The food on a small ship cruise is a detail that is not overlooked. UnCruise flew our chef in from Cambodia and she absolutely made the food something to write home about. The food not only tasted fresh, but it complemented the goal of truly getting to experience Hawaii by highlighting ingredients from the area. You could tell that our chef has a passion for her craft. She would season the food just right to enhance, but not mask, the natural flavors.
UnCruise didn’t forget about dessert either. There was also a pastry chef on board. Each dessert felt perfectly portioned, as to not leave you feeling guilty for completely devouring the dish. There was one dessert in particular, a lemon-flavored ice cream that was salted and accompanied by a freshly baked cookie, all made from scratch. It was delicious and probably best if I do not learn how to make it.
For those who prefer a handcrafted cocktail, they also have you covered. Our bartender could not only make traditional drinks, but adding a special twist on a classic cocktail was her specialty. Prior to dinner, each evening there was a happy hour with freshly made hors d’oeuvres and a new handcrafted cocktail to enjoy.
More Places to See
While each Hawaiian Island would fit the description of tropical oasis, they each have a unique identity. It’s easier to understand why Hawaii is so wonderful when you get to experience what each island has to offer.
On a typical non-cruise vacation, you could fly over 5+ hours, or almost 9 hours coming from the East Coast of the United States, just to make it to Hawaii. Combine that with more flights to get to each island, changing hotel rooms, so many taxis… it all lends a hand in making a week-long trip, and trying to visit four of the major Hawaiian Islands, anything but ideal.
When all of your luggage and the same room come along with you, though, it makes visiting four islands quite doable, and if you wanted to, even relaxing. Our UnCruise adventure was round-trip from Molokai to Moloaki, with stops in Lana’i, Maui, and Hawaii (also known as Big Island). Even though we got to experience four islands in seven days, by the end of the week it felt like we had just begun.
G’Day Mate! Wait, That’s Australian
A major factor to the success of any trip is customer service. While on a large ship it is easy to become a number in a crowd. The crew-to-passenger ratio on a small ship not only lends itself to the crew members learning your name, but after daily interactions and taking part in excursions together, it can start to feel as if you are on this trip with a large group of friends.
On board the Safari Explorer, there was also an open bridge policy, which meant during the day if you would like to go up and speak with the captain, or simply search for wildlife, you could. The UnCruise crew members were always happy to have a conversation and talk about their experiences. They were also incredibly knowledgeable and could answer any questions we had.
This was particularly lucky for me since I was snorkeling with my new ReefTourer snorkel set. Most new masks have a protective film that has to be removed before use. I forgot to treat my mask before leaving for the trip, but to my rescue was a crew member who knew how to remove the protective film and even did it for me while I was eating lunch. Because of her, I was able to enjoy the magnificent underwater life with a crystal-clear view.
Being on a small ship cruise with UnCruise Adventures was the perfect mix between luxury and adventure. It doesn’t get much better than exploring with a knowledgeable crew, getting to experience multiple Hawaiian Islands like a local, and coming back to delicious freshly made meals. But instead of taking our word for it, experience an UnCruise adventure for yourself.