Ask Julie Quarry what she loves most about unplugged adventure travel, and you’ll hear the voice of a laid-back, 50-something woman bubble with the excitement of a teenager on her first date.
From paddle boarding in Panama, glacier hiking in Alaska and whale watching in the Sea of Cortez, she’s seen it all. But the most phenomenal moment, she says, was a nighttime snorkeling expedition among giant manta rays.
“To date, that was one of the most incredible connections we’ve had,” she gushes. “It’s very isolated and still. And the lights attract the plankton, and the plankton attract these beautiful 15-foot manta rays. It’s just one of those magical experiences with these beautiful, angelic, graceful, ballet-like creatures.”
Quarry, you see, is a travel professional. And her job as Business Development Director for UnCruise Adventures in Seattle, Washington, just happens to feed her lifetime love affair with nature like no other career.
“I’ve always been extremely active and did a tremendous amount of hiking in the back country when I was younger,” says Quarry. “Basically, anything that gets me outside is what I’m after. And seeing the world is a bonus. I just believe that you can’t truly see a destination unless you immerse yourself in it.”
Adventure Travel Trends
The trend toward adventure travel – and otherwise off-the-beaten-path vacations – has been brewing for quite some time. From fitness vacations to eco travel and epicurean adventures that crisscross the globe, people are hunting for something new that will take them to rugged respites away from the crowds.
According to the Adventure Travel Association, the most in-demand adventures are ecotourism, cultural tours, environmental sustainability trips, hiking, culinary exploration, cycling and safaris. And guess what? The largest group of adventure travelers is between the ages of 50-70.
Off the Beaten Path
That’s where UnCruise Adventures comes in. Founded more than two decades ago by businessman, owner and adventurer Dan Blanchard, this cruise company ain’t your ordinary lounge-around cruise experience. No gigantic vessels. No crowded casinos or glutinous buffets.
Instead, UnCruise Adventures offers rich experiences for discerning adventure seekers who love to explore nature up close and personal. Destinations include Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, Hawaiian Islands, Galapagos Islands, the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Oregon, and Alaska.
All nine ships in the UnCruise fleet accommodate 90 or fewer guests and tout multi-sport recreation, expeditioning, kayaks, paddleboards, snorkeling gear, wetsuits and yoga mats as standard appointments. Meals are prepared from local and sustainable sources and served with baked fresh-daily goodies and a plethora of beverages. You certainly won’t go hungry or lack in fine dining experiences.
What UnCruise Adventures does differently is seek out peaceful privacy in some of the most remote and breathtaking spots in the world. “Mother Nature dictates all that we do,” Quarry says. “We follow her by respecting the land and doing whatever we can to get back to it. To do that, we get in the kayaks and put our boots on the ground. We call our destinations ‘unports’ because we try to take people where they can connect with nature and wildlife.”
If you’re wondering whether a small-ship experience will be too cozy, Quarry assures she has never once felt cramped, crowded or claustrophobic. The shipboard ambiance caters to new experiences. With fewer passengers, you will undoubtedly get to know adventurous new friends from throughout the world.
Quarry shares a story about her recent experience cruising the Sea of Cortez with a group of Princeton University graduates from the Class of 1955. Imagine the delight of these octogenarian adventurers as a gray whale came close enough to touch. “These are like-minded adventurers, not age-minded travelers,” she says. “For them, the value comes with the experiential side of the travel equation.”
If solo travel is your jam, there’s plenty of opportunity for soul searching, peace and privacy onboard and in nature. “We talk a lot about this with our solo travelers,” Quarry adds. “There’s a great balance, and it can be as interactive as you want it to be.”
Planning Your Uncruise
When it comes to uncruising, the best times to venture out are spring, summer and fall. Mother Nature offers spectacular adventures in just about every season, and UnCruise Adventures hits the majority of their unports between April and September.
To get a full sense of the possibilities, I would recommend seeking out a certified UnCruise Adventures travel agency partner. In the meantime, jump onto the website download or order a brochure. Simply thumbing through the pages will get your adventure juices flowing and give you a much better idea of destinations that will peak your personal fancy.
Quarry says her most memorable moment as a small-ship cruiser occurred in Alaska. “Alaska is just one of those places that tugs on my heartstrings,” she says. “Bears and whales are coming out of hibernation in the spring. Flowers are blooming. Ice is melting. It’s such a true evolution of Mother Nature. It’s so dramatic and alive and truly hits every sense in your body.”
I can’t think of a better way to travel than being guided through, hiking on, paddling to, snorkeling in and skiffing across some of nature’s best-kept secrets. My only cruise experience to date was aboard a conventional, big-name Alaskan cruise ship. And I do believe now that uncruising Alaskan waterways just may be my antidote.
If you’re in or near the Phoenix area as I am, I highly recommend my personal travel agent and UnCruise certified “Adventurist” Stephanie Cox at Critics Choice Vacations. She will hook you up and tend to every detail you can possibly imagine. Go to the Critics Choice website or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.