Cruise Travel

When Things Go Wrong: UnCruise (Mis)Adventures

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In the past couple of years, the blinding light of media attention has turned on the cruise industry, taking joy in exposing every mishap on the high seas. And why not? Legitimate tragedies aside, a story about Carnival passengers being forced to poop in a bag? Yeah. People click on that. I know I follow those stories with sick fascination. Admit it. You do, too.

So imagine my surprise and semi-horror when one lovely Seattle spring day, I found myself on board a boat that was experiencing technical difficulties.

It began before we even boarded the Wilderness Adventurer, part of the UnCruise Adventures’ fleet of small ships (boats? Ships?) As all 33 of us gathered at the lovely Paramount Hotel in downtown Seattle ready to be on our way, we were informed that due to some minor maintenance issues we would not be boarding for an additional two hours.

This happened to me before, in 2006. It was our honeymoon–a seven night cruise on board a Celebrity Cruise Lines ship sailing to Alaska out of Vancouver. The ship needed maintenance and they wouldn’t let anyone board. So we sat–all three thousand of us–in the cruise terminal. For maybe four or five hours. They gave us bottled water, I believe. I remember being hungry.

That’s not how UnCruise handled the situation.

At exactly the time we were told we would depart the Paramount, we departed the Paramount. We were offered a two hour tour of Seattle, with stops at an overlook, a waterfront park, and a visit to the Ballard Locks and Botanical Gardens. As our comfortable, air-conditioned luxury bus navigated the streets of Seattle, we were treated to a narrative of what we were seeing. I got to experience much more of the city than I would have otherwise, not having a car of my own on either of my visits. And this wasn’t just a two-hour slog on a bus. We got to get out and explore a bit, too. It was kind of lovely.

We did make it to the Wilderness Adventurer that night, just in time for dinner. We quickly dropped our hand luggage in our cabins before heading to the dining room, where we met the crew we’d be sailing with for the week…and were informed that it was quite possible that we’d not actually be going anywhere for a while.

It seemed that while making some kind of adjustment on some part of the ship’s exhaust…thing (I am many things, but I am not a boat mechanic. It had something to do with exhaust, that’s all I got out of it) some other…thing broke. Or something. But the point was, they needed to fix some important boat thingie and we were not going to go anywhere until said boat thingie was fixed (because, I’m assuming, all boat thingies are rather crucial to the movement of boats.)

I went to bed that night (after making responsible use of the open bar that was provided in form of an apology for the not-moving) and crossed my fingers that at some point in the night, I’d feel movement.

I woke up in the morning and peeked outside my window to find…

Pretty sunrise though, eh? (iPhone photo)

Pretty sunrise though, eh? (iPhone photo)

…that we were still in Seattle.

Boo.

At breakfast, we were briefed on the plan for the day. It seems that a part may have been needed, and UnCruise had that part (yay!) It was just on another one of the UnCruise ships (boo!) And that ship was in…Alaska. Somewhere very remote in Alaska (UnCruise Adventures has a variety of Alaskan itineraries, and they all sound amazing…and remote). They’d been in communication with said ship as much as they could the night before (I don’t think the captain slept at all, but he looked damn good anyway) and had just that morning sent a float plane up to meet the other boat to get said part just in case it was needed.

I repeat: they sent a float plane to Alaska just in case they might need the part that was on that boat.

Of course, none of that fixed the fact that it was day one of our trip and we were not moving. And of course, UnCruise had a plan for that. And that plan was: we carry on with our trip to Olympic National Park. Via bus.

Here’s the part where this rather cheery post becomes decidedly not-cheery. I was not excited about the bus trip. In fact, I was so not excited that I very seriously considered just scrapping the day and staying on board the Wilderness Adventurer and giving up my one chance to see Olympic National Park. I hate bus trips. And it seemed like it would be a long, painful ride. So I didn’t want to go.

But in the spirit of adventure–and because the captain and part of the adventure crew convinced me that I really should go, because Olympic is ‘a mossy wonderland’–I went. So I can tell you that our plan-B day was…freaking awesome.

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Our view from our first stop of the day.

To start, we boarded the bus. It was a legitimate party bus. As in ‘there was a place where you could affix a pole’. And disco lights in the floor and ceiling and walls. There was also a cooler filled with beer (and water) because after all, this was a craft beer cruise. And UnCruise knows its audience. Even though I did not partake in said beer, the party atmosphere was immediately uplifting. There may have been dancing on a moving bus. There may have been dancing on top of a cooler in a moving bus. There may have been bumping and grinding of multi-generational butts on top of a cooler in a moving bus. But I’ll never tell.

Related side note: for those of you thinking ‘oh dear, I’d hate bus dancing’, fear not! There were two busses provided. The ‘party bus’ I was on and a regular touring bus for those people who preferred to nap or read while in transit. Raise your hand if you are shocked that I chose the party bus. Hey–why is no one raising their hand???

So anyway. We are on the bus. Said bus headed out through Seattle and on towards a ferry terminal. At which point the party bus drove onto a giant ferry, the likes of which I’ve never experienced. We disembarked the party bus, climbed to the passenger level of the enormous ferry, and had a nice 45 minute ferry ride with mountain views and access to hot coffee and restrooms.

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On the ferry.

On the other side of whatever body of water we were crossing (I really failed at note taking this day, sorry) we got back onto the bus and made our way to Olympic. After a brief mid-trip rest stop at a convenience store, we made it to the park in time for an early pre-hike lunch, which had been packed for us by the kitchen staff on board the Wilderness Adventurer.

We then struck out into the park divided into three groups according to which hike we wanted to do. I chose to do the longest hike, because why not? It was, in fact, a mossy wonderland. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves…

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After our day in Olympic, we were supposed have a rep from Hama Hama Oysters come on board the Wilderness Adventurer and teach us about oysters. And while the boat was totally fixed at this point and headed our way (yay!) it was still some distance from where it was supposed to be (that is, where we were). So instead we went to the Hama Hama Oyster facility, a shop and oyster bar located on the Hood Canal where they grow and farm the oysters.

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While at Hama Hama, we learned about oysters. And we ate oysters. And we drank beer. And there was a fire and general merriment. And then, before departing, we were escorted out into the oyster beds by a man I’m calling Cute Hama Hama Dude. There, we learned how oysters are farmed. And then Cute Hama Hama Dude pulled up some oysters, shucked them, and fed them to us while we stood there.

There are no photos of the super-fresh oysters I ate out here, because I did not pause long enough to take any pictures. I'm not sorry.

There are no photos of the super-fresh oysters I ate out here, because I did not pause long enough to take any pictures. I’m not sorry.

Please allow me to repeat that: we ate oysters directly out of the water in which they were living. (And did I mention the guy shucking them and feeding them to us was cute? I think I did. But yeah, he was.)

Related side note: OYSTERS ARE MY FAVORITE THINGS IN THE WORLD. And in oysters, freshness matters. And these oysters? They were so fresh they didn’t even know what hit them (my belly, that’s what hit them).

There were several other oyster lovers among us, and we all had a jolly good time and not-a-few oysters. There were also several non-oyster lovers among us. But peer pressure is a thing, so many people lost their oyster virginity at Hama Hama that evening.

Wait. That sounds dirty. Sorry.

Anyway.

Post oyster-orgy, we piled back on to the busses and made the short trip to a very small harbor where skiffs awaited to take us back to the now-seaworthy Wilderness Adventurer. Which is another cool thing about UnCruise–the ships (boats?) are small enough that they can go pretty much anywhere. And where they can’t go, the skiffs can. Can you imagine a big-ship cruise line changing your pickup location for the day? No. You can’t. Because a big cruise ship couldn’t do that. UnCruise Adventures ships (boats?) can.

Our ride back to the Wilderness Adventurer, post hike and post oysters. Not bad.

Our ride back to the Wilderness Adventurer, post hike and post oysters. Not bad.

Over the span of our week on board together, I talked to all of the other passengers. Heck, over the span of our week on board together, I think I shared a meal with almost every other passenger–yet another awesome thing about UnCruise. And the general consensus was: we enjoyed that first day more than we would have even if the day had gone as originally planned.

It’s easy to say great things about a trip–or, say, a cruise company–when everything goes well. But when things go wrong and you still have good–nay, glowing–things to say about that experience? That speaks volumes. Well done, Uncruise Adventures.  

And we all lived happily ever after (and didn’t have to poop in a bag once).

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