Every so often, we are lucky enough to experience a trip that sets our bar higher for family travel excellence. Before we embarked on our Uncruise adventure through Costa Rica and Panama, the bar was already pretty darn high…we had experienced small ship sailing previously with Alaskan Dream Cruises and frankly, didn’t think it could be topped. While there were a few differences, Uncruise met our very high expectations, earning it a place in the top five of our list of best travel experiences. Here’s why:
Uncruise review: Why you need to book a small ship cruise
First, let’s talk about what ‘Uncruise’ actually means. It’s a travel company, of course, and after experiencing their product, I understand the reason for their somewhat unique name. Uncruise is unlike large ship cruises in every way. Like other small ship cruise companies, they are all about getting you off the ship, exploring the destinations en route. They are not a floating resort (though the ships are very cool…more on that later). On a large ship cruise, such as a Disney cruise, the ship is the destination. On Uncruise, the ship is the vessel that delivers you to the action. On our Uncruise ship, I felt satisfied that I had actually seen and experienced the countries we were cruising to. On a large ship, I never feel that way…I am simply floating past with brief stops.
Riding the skiff from our ship to an isolated island.
On a small ship cruise such as Uncruise, you will be active every day. My Apple Watch informed me that I walked and hiked an average of six miles a day on our Uncruise; it was a rare day when I didn’t garner at least 15,000 steps. Why am I sharing my fitness tracker stats? Because they prove how much exploration and activity we engaged in during our week in Costa Rica and Panama. Every single day, with one exception when surf conditions didn’t allow for a beach landing, we kayaked, hiked, paddle boarded, or snorkeled. Because we were in a small ship, we quite literally had islands to ourselves, and were almost always the only ship anchored at the eco lodges, reserves, and national parks we visited.
The Safari Voyager, our home for seven nights.
Note: the itinerary we sailed on with Uncruise will now be called Unveiled Wonders. There are additional itineraries that sail only Panama and only Costa Rica, if that’s preferred, but I recommend seeing both countries.
What you can expect from your Uncruise itinerary:
During our Central America itinerary, our days took on a predictable cadence, which was nice, because the destination and activities were always changing. On our Panama and Costa Rica itinerary, we experienced the following stops (which I’m told are similar to upcoming itineraries):
- A transfer through the Panama Canal
- Gulf of Panama islands
- Granito de Oro and Coiba National Park, Panama
- Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica
- Osa Conservation Area, CR
- Manuel Antonio National Park, CR
- Curu National Wildlife Refuge, CR
As you can see from the names of our destinations, our trip was primarily focused on outdoor exploration and wildlife viewing. We did experience some cultural moments of discovery, namely in the canal when we learned about its construction and in Coiba, where we saw one of General Noriega’s homes (now a historical site) and one of his penal colonies (now a deserted island), but overall, ours was not a cultural itinerary.
Kayaks brought from our ship to the beach by crew members for one of our ‘beach parties’.
At each day’s stop, we had multiple options in which to experience it: hikes and skiff rides were offered, as well as water activities where possible. Our family’s favorite offerings included hiking in the morning, followed by snorkeling or swimming in the afternoon. Uncruise ‘beach parties’ were offered whenever we anchored next to a sandy beach, which was often. At every stop, our on-board expedition guides led small groups within these activities, and guided us on our excursions.
A sample day with Uncruise in Central America:
As noted above, the routine of our days took on a predictable cadence, which was nice. While the timing changed insignificantly here and there to accommodate our route, every day on our Uncruise looked something like this:
- Yoga on the sun deck at 6:15 am (ha, only made it to that once)
- Breakfast around 7:30 am (with a continental breakfast set out earlier for those who were up)
- Morning excursions rolling out from about 8:30-9:30 (depending on what group you’re in and which leader you’re going with)
- Morning excursions over and back on the ship by 12 pm for lunch
- Lunch for everyone around 12:30 or 1 pm
- Afternoon excursions rolling out around 2 pm (sometimes, there’s a transfer to a new location first)
- Afternoon excursions back to the ship around 4:30, giving everyone time to shower and freshen up
- Evening cocktail hour and appetizers at 5:30 (this is when the expedition leaders give a spiel on the following day’s itinerary and guests sign up for the next day’s excursion options)
- Dinner around 6:30 pm
- Evening presentation by expedition leaders around 8 pm (for those with kids going to bed, the evening talk is piped into the onboard sound system in your cabins)
- Pass out asleep around 10 pm…you’ll be tired!