UnCruise Adventures’ Captain Dan Blanchard Talks the “Right” Client, Ship Renovations & What’s Newby Dori Saltzman /
One of the first cruise lines to return to service after the COVID-19 shutdown – and the only line with permission to sail in Hawaii this past summer – UnCruise Adventures has a lot to brag about. But, while known among travel advisors who regularly sell expedition cruises, not all advisors are familiar with the brand.
Travel Market Report caught up with CEO Captain Dan Blanchard to talk about what’s new with the cruise line, who the “right” client is, and what they should understand about UnCruise.
Understanding the Fleet & the UnCruise Client
UnCruise Adventures comprises two former expedition cruise brands, InnerSea Discoveries and American Safari Cruises. A vestige of the previous brands lives on in the names of the ships. Those with “Safari” names are from the latter brand. Those with “Wilderness” names are from the former (with the exception of Wilderness Legacy, the former S.S. Legacy).
(One vestige that’s going away are the blue hulls of the “Safari” ships. They’re all being painted green to match the “Wilderness” ships.”)
While the line’s eight-ship fleet is geared towards adventure, the Safari ships are less bare-bones.
“Our Safari vessels have more space, a few more updated improvements, and have small differences such as all plated meals versus some wedding-style buffet options,” Blanchard explained. “Cabins are larger with higher-level public spaces and finishes, including cabins that offer two-room suites with step-out balconies and king-size bedding.”
The Wilderness ships, on the other hand, tend to have smaller cabins, more basic public spaces, and a lower entry price point, he added.
All offer the same level of adventure activities, as well as an all-inclusive onboard experience including shore excursions, drinks (alcoholic and not), meals, and shoreside transfers.
As for who the right client is, Blanchard told TMR that travel advisors need to look no farther than its long-term partnership with the REI Co-op.
“The REI client is so much the UnCruise client… If travel advisors can envision who the REI client is, that helps them choose the client for us too.”
But Blanchard added that since they returned to sailing last year, they’ve seen a new kind of UnCruise client.
“The hangover of COVID is this desire to be more experiential. And that doesn’t necessarily mean adventure travel but experiential travel overall where they’re really touching, feeling, and experiencing the culture. Experiencing the wildlife and gaining knowledge… Many of the people who didn’t travel with us in the past are booking now because they really want to touch nature and be more involved.”
It’s something Blanchard said he thinks will be around for a while.
It’s hard to find time to refurbish your ships when they’re sailing. But during the COVID-19 cruise pause, several of UnCruise Adventures’ ships weren’t in the water during their normal sailing season. Which made it a perfect time for the cruise line to spruce up some of its vessels, including Safari Endeavor, Safari Voyager, and Safari Explorer. (Wilderness Legacy is going through a similar renovation this winter.)
“We did take the opportunity to start working on some of the boats last year,” Blanchard told TMR.
The bulk of the changes to the three vessels had to do with extending the life of the ships and making them more environmentally friendly.
The 66-passenger Safari Voyager, for instance, went through a modernization of the generator and propulsion systems.
But that doesn’t mean guests won’t notice any changes. One of the main guest-facing changes on Safari Voyager is a modernization of the onboard communications system. Cabins and select public rooms have monitors that feature need-to-know information including the latest weather and which activities are up next.
The ships also got minor indoor renewals, with all-new carpeting, window dressings, and other soft goods in public spaces. The 36-passenger Safari Explorer also received all new wood flooring in public rooms, as well as an exterior paint job to bring it in line with the rest of the fleet.
Amping Up the Adventure
UnCruise is best known for its adventurous signature itineraries in Alaska and Hawaii. This year the line is taking adventure to an entirely new level with an all-new REI-inspired Alaska itinerary. Open to all, the itinerary was custom created for REI Co-op members in partnership with REI.
Highlights include visiting the “outback” of Glacier Bay National Park, hiking and biking on Chichagof Island (UnCruise is the only cruise line with a permit to do so), all-day kayaking opportunities, evening campfires ashore, and stops at lesser-visited glaciers including LeConte and Baird glaciers.
The seven-night Wild, Woolly, and WOW adventures sail roundtrip from Juneau on the 86-passenger Wilderness Legacy. They make up the majority of Wilderness Legacy’s 2022 and 2023 summer sailings. REI Co-op members can receive a savings of $250 per person.
UnCruise is also experimenting with adults-only sailings, which might seem odd to some travel advisors. In the past, the line offered specific family sailings, so that people could bring their kids or grandkids onboard. But according to Blanchard, the past several years have seen a significant increase in demand for multigenerational families traveling together. Nowadays, there’s as much of a chance there will be children (ages 8 and older) onboard any individual sailing as not.
“But what we find is that there’s a certain sector of society that really don’t want children onboard. We’ve picked some itineraries that we’re laying out as no children. You’re going to have to be 18 or older to be on these sailings.”
Blanchard admitted it’s a bit of an experiment to see if such sailings are needed or not. Adults-only sailings in 2022 include the March 23, April 23, and May 28 sailings of Whale Sharks, Whales, and Mobulas Sea of Cortez voyages, as well as the October 1 and December 3 sailings of the seven-night Unveiled Wonders cruises to Panama and Costa Rica. Additional dates will be available in 2023.
Health & Safety Protocols
UnCruise Adventures operates fully vaccinated sailings. And, as of February 5, became one of a handful of cruise lines that defines “fully vaccinated” as having received a booster shot.
Passengers must also provide proof of a negative molecular COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of sailing.