The first sign that UnCruise Adventures' Hawaii offering is not your typical sea tourism excursion is the stop on the island of Molokai, one of the least visited and least well-known Hawaiian islands.
Molokai has the most Native Hawaiians as a percentage of total population of all of the islands, just one hotel and no traffic lights, which makes it the perfect stop for an UnCruise, according to president and COO Tim Jacox.
"It's the real Hawaii - no stoplights, no McDonald's," Jacox said. "Molokai is a little bit different in terms of tourism, but it's perfect for us. We have smaller groups and you really get a chance to get to know the people on the island."
UnCruise draws its roots to a company that was founded in 1996 in the Pacific Northwest, American Safari Cruises, which sold cabins on yachts and other excursions. In 2010 the company started expanding aggressively and acquiring more boats to dive into the small-group adventure cruise space, and in 2013 rebranded to UnCruise Adventures.
"We operate in areas that are really great for adventure travel," Jacox said. "We want passengers to be able to kayak, stand-up paddleboard, participate in great hiking, snorkeling, watersports and land sports. Alaska is our prime destination, with several of our vessels operating there from April to September. Hawaii was a good fit for us because of the activity possibilities and there is a great connection with Alaska with the seasonal whale migration and the whole fire and ice aspect."
UnCruise uses the Safari Explorer, a converted yacht with 18 cabins and capacity for 36 passengers, for its week-long Hawaiian voyages that run between November and April. Two cabins on the top level have balconies and six feature en suite Jacuzzis. All food and drinks, including an extensive wine collection, premium spirits and microbrews, are included and the ship offers a large main deck for viewing and sunbathing. The cruise visits four islands, and departs from Molokai and concludes at Hawaii Island, or vice versa.
"The guests become a tight-knit group," Jacox said. "From day one people are mingling. They get on board and start meeting strangers over the first dinner, and no one has to worry about who is going to buy that first bottle of wine. There's no anxiety."
On Molokai, passengers get to visit Halawa valley, where one of the earliest human settlements in the islands was started and get a tour from father and son Anakala and Greg Polipo, who teach visitors about Hawaiian history, culture, language and traditions. Guests are also treated to a traditional Hawaiian feast and hula lesson.
The general demographic for UnCruises is travelers between 55 and 70 years old, according to Jacox, and he said most passengers have not taken traditional cruises previously.
The Hawaii cruise also visits Maui, Lanai and the Island of Hawaii, and passengers are often treated to whale sightings along the way as the period corresponds with humpback migration season.
"Our passengers often comment on the whale sightings and other wildlife. That's always a highlight," Jacox said. "We also get lost of positive feedback on the general atmosphere. Guests love the crew."
On Lanai visitors can go out for a hike on the former pineapple-producing island, and guests will have the opportunity to explore historic Lahaina on Maui. The Hawaii Island itinerary includes a visit to the marine sanctuary at Kealakekua Bay and a chance to snorkel at night with manta rays. Geared toward active, adventure-seeking travelers, there are also opportunities to stand-up paddleboard and kayak. The smaller group sizes on UnCruises allow them to access nature experiences and other activities that larger groups would not be able to participate in, Jacox said.
The bulk of UnCruise Adventures' ships are based in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, but the company also runs cruises at the Sea of Cortez, Panama and Costa Rica. The seven-night Hawaii Seascapes cruise starts at $3,995.