Blue skies, orange sunsets, salt water kayaking, island hiking and Washington beer…. If this sounds like a dream, well it seems like one to me too. But it was reality last week as Kendall and I hosted a week-long beer-themed cruise on Salish Sea waters aboard the 176-foot Wilderness Discoverer with Un-Cruise Adventures.
I must confess, I was a cruise skeptic. All the stories of norovirus outbreaks, ships running aground, ships losing power and becoming floating barges of feces, it all puts me off big-boat cruises. But after two trips with Un-Cruise, they have made a cruise convert of me, at least for small-boat adventure-style cruising. Why? So many beautiful reasons, but here are my favorite five:
- Let go, relax. If you have the sort of life where you’re constantly planning, making decisions and running the show, I can’t tell you what a relief it is to board the ship at Fisherman’s Terminal in Ballard and put the planning in someone else’s hands. No worries about figuring out the best sites to see, the best place to have dinner, where to catch the train tomorrow, when you will get to the hotel. All those vacation challenges vanish with Un-Cruise. Where are we going tomorrow? What are we doing? We’ll find out in good time. Until then, grab a draft beer from Bri the bartender, head up to the sundeck and enjoy the sunset over the Puget Sound.
- Amazing crew. For 42 passengers, our ship had about 25 crew on board. That’s nearly a 2-to-1 ratio of guest to crew. From the guys driving the boat, to the deckhands, to the hotel staff serving meals and keeping rooms fresh, to the chefs cooking up a storm in the galley, to the expedition crew leading the adventures each day – Un-Cruise has an amazing team on board to ensure our comfort, safety and fun.
- Decadent food. Speaking of the chefs, there was an on-board executive chef, two sous chefs and a pastry chef cooking three squares a day. Early-riser breakfast started at 6:30 with the full buffet breakfast at 7:30 (can you say bacon and fresh-baked pastries every morning?). Unless we had a packed lunch for activities off the ship, lunch was also buffet, ranging from Taco Tuesday to BBQ sandwiches to a pasta bar, and always with a cookie or brownie to end. After a day-load of activities, we were welcomed back to the ship with a daily happy hour and appetizers. Dinner was a three-course, plated affair complete with full table service. Our final night onboard, we were treated to the Captain’s Dinner, complete with beer pairings, featuring a choice of coffee-crusted tenderloin or Alaskan crab cakes with Cajun remoulade.
- Daily active adventures. Each day, depending on the destination and weather, the expedition crew had a wide variety of off-ship activities to sign up for. The crew are masters of logistics: we boated, skiffed, bussed, kayaked and hiked all over the place.
My favorites: kayaking surrounded by sea lions at Protection Island near Port Townsend. Hiking Staircase in the lush green of Olympic National Park. Night kayaking and splashing around in the phosphorescence at Sucia Island. The thrill of seeing the J-pod orcas (including babies) off San Juan Island. Oh, and the morning stretch class with Kati – every day, 7 a.m. on the sundeck. What a way to start each day.
- Craft beer. You know I was going to get around to this, it’s the Beer Blog after all. Bri, our fantastic bartender, kept guests happy with specialty cocktails, classics and a great selection of wine (including Washington favorites like Terra Blanca and Baer). Because this was a craft beer-themed cruise, there were eight draft beers pouring including Reuben’s Crikey IPA, Chuckanut Pilsner and Bale Breaker Field 41 Pale Ale.
To entertain our guests, Kendall and I organized beer-themed activities nearly every day. In Hood Canal, it was an oyster and beer pairing happy hour. We tasted and toured at Port Townsend Brewing, Propolis Brewing, the Pourhouse in Port Townsend and Island Hoppin’ Brewery in Eastsound on Orcas Island. Kendall brought aboard a tasting line-up by Fremont Brewing including the Sisters Imperial IPA and Bourbon Abominable (which turned out to be a huge favorite of our fellow passengers, no surprise). We geeked out with new friends about all the uses for spent grain. The beery highlight was happy hour on Sucia Island, where Bri the bartender set up beer, wine and hand-mixed beergaritas, s’mores and appetizers around a bonfire. (I will always use gose for my beergaritas from now on.)
Ballard-based Un-Cruise offers small boat cruises that are experience-based, often with a bonus theme, as in the case of our beer cruise. They are offering two more beer cruises around the Salish Sea and San Juans this fall – on October 8th with Nate and Becca Schons of Island Hoppin’ Brewery in Orcas Island, and on October 15th with Boe Trosset of Aslan Brewing in Bellingham. Other Un-Cruise destinations include the Columbia and Snake Rivers (where they offer wine-themed cruises), Alaska, Hawaii, Costa Rica, the Sea of Cortez, Panama and the Galapagos.
For more information, visit the Un-Cruise website: https://www.un-cruise.com/destinations/pacific-northwest-cruises/explore-olympic-wilderness-san-juan-islands.
Disclosure: Because we were the hosts of the beer cruise, we cruised for free, something for which we are very grateful.