Uncruise review of Costa Rica and Panama: Why small ship cruising is great for families

What you can expect from excursions on Uncruise:

This is where Uncruise truly shines: the time OFF the ship. Our Uncruise on the Safari Voyager had four expedition leaders for our 60 passengers, plus a head expedition leader. These five individuals all led excursions, and while of course they all had their own style, all had backgrounds in either outdoor adventure leadership (NOLS, etc) or biology, geology, or local history. Four of the five were Costa Rican, and all were passionate about the flora and fauna of our destination. Coming to Central America with a basic understanding of the wildlife and plant life there, I felt they were a wealth of information. We did have a zoology expert as a guest on board, and he agreed that the crew knew their stuff.

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As noted above, guests are given choices each day. Our head expedition leader, Sarah, gave us the download on our next day destination each evening, and did a thorough job of describing each option and guiding our choices. For instance, when we arrived to the Oso Conservation Area, I wanted to paddle board but didn’t want to miss out on seeing wildlife on a hike. She let me know that Oso was a great place to paddle, and that the animals I most wanted to see would be more likely spotted later, in Manuel Antonio National Park. With that information, I could make informed choices.

Whenever a hike was offered, which was practically every day, multiple hiking levels were available. There was usually a ‘stroll’ option, as well as a medium-level hike and a ‘charger’ (fastest, longest hike). Sometimes, hikes would be divided by emphasis instead…there would be a birder hike or a monkey hike. Groups were no larger than 8-10 people during our cruise, and each group was given their own expedition leader.

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Setting off on a guided hike with one of our expedition leaders.

I liked that we were able to experience multiple leaders, and therefore multiple styles of leadership. For instance, a hike with leader Jenny tended to focus on plant life and trees on our hikes, while a hike with Rey was all about animal spotting. This is not to say that the guides were not flexible–all guests had to do was express their desires to see or do something for it to happen to the best of the guides’ abilities–but over the course of the week, we did get a feel for each leader’s strengths.

Note: during our cruise, there was not a designated children’s expedition leader, though I’m told on some cruises, there is. We had four kids on our cruise, and we were all content to mix and mingle with the ‘general population’ of the cruise. I actually prefer it this way, but if you want a cruise with a dedicated program for kids, call Uncruise before booking to inquire.

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Manuel Antonio was ground zero for monkey and sloth sightings.

During our seven days of expeditions, we saw all the animals on our list, with one exception…we never saw an anteater. But we did see (and this is not a complete list by any means): three varieties of monkeys, sloths, massive spiders, seabirds and macaws, orca whales, dolphins, rays, sea turtles, quatis, raccoons, many varieties of butterflies, wild pigs, and more. We snorkeled three times, paddle boarded and kayaked twice, hiked almost daily, and enjoyed three beach parties, where we could simply relax on the sand, swim, kayak, and try not to burn.

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These guys are NOT shy.

All excursions start with a skiff ride from the ship to the shore, because Uncruise anchors in remote places that do not have docks. Once you get used to the ‘wet landings’ where you disembark the skiffs onto sandy beaches, you’ll be sold on the concept!

What to expect from the ship:

Our Uncruise trip was on the Safari Voyager, which has been recently updated and refurbished. On the bottom level is the dining room, where all meals are eaten, plus a few cabins. One level up is a long hallway of cabins and outdoor space on the bow, plus the EZ dock where you disembark on skiffs for excursions. On the third level is the lounge, back deck, and several more cabins. The fourth level houses the sundeck, with some exercise equipment and lounge chairs.

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Taking the wheel on the bridge.

We loved life on the Safari Voyager. As a group of three (two adults and a child), we had an Admiral cabin, which is slightly larger than the single and doubles, with a pull-out couch for a third bed and a large bathroom. There are also junior suites and an owner’s suite (largest on the ship). Our Admiral cabin had plenty of storage space, with designated areas below each bed for suitcases and pegs on the wall behind the TV for hanging clothes. There is a large wardrobe with drawers and hanging space, plus large drawers under the beds. We had no trouble finding space for everything and keeping our stuff organized.

We spent the majority of our time onboard in the bright, spacious lounge and outdoors on the decks. The interior areas are air-conditioned, for which I was thankful. In the lounge is a shelf with decks of cards and board games, but mostly, we read books when en route to new destinations, and got to know our ship mates. We loved attending each night’s talk, and overall, found we had little downtime.

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Interior of the Admiral cabin (not pictured: pull-out sofa bed).

Note: there’s a ‘nook’ right off of the owner’s suite on the second deck with some couches and excellent maps detailing the route…we liked checking in there periodically. The bridge is also open, and we enjoyed standing in there to talk to the captain. 

You can expect to get to know the crew on a first name basis (and they will know your names, too). Expedition leaders are front and center, and you’ll get to know them best, but we also enjoyed getting to know our stewards, wait staff, bartender, and skiff drivers. I loved that the small size of the ship meant that my son could roam at will, and we could always find him quickly.

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Outdoor ‘hallway’ seen as we step outside our room.

What’s included in your fare:

Let’s be real: an Uncuise is an expensive vacation. But hopefully, after reading all of the above, you’ll see the value is there. For me, the access to uncrowded destinations and personalized excursions alone make the price worth it. We felt we really got INTO Costa Rica and Panama, we didn’t just sail past them. That said, here’s what’s also included in your fare:

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  • All meals, starting with snacks in the hospitality lounge of the pre-cruise hotel
  • All drinks, including all alcohol (the only exception is a few top-shelf bottles of wine and Champagne)
  • All excursions, all guides, and all experts (some come aboard from the destinations en route to give more information)
  • The Panama Canal passage and all entry fees to national parks and eco parks
  • All equipment and gear rentals (snorkel gear, use of all the water toys, etc)
  • A pre-cruise hotel room (this seems to be included in most cases, but not all…confirm when booking)
  • Transfer to and from the ship, AND transfer to and from airport
  • Thumb drive full of group photos from the trip

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Readying to snorkel on Granito de Oro.

If you’ve been on a large ship cruise, you can no doubt appreciate the value of having all meals and drinks included…our son loved sitting at the bar and ordering mocktails, and I loved not adding up the cost in my head all day long. My husband and I loved tapping into the wine knowledge of our bartender, Daniel, and trying many different varietals. It was wonderful to know we’d experience high quality meals every day; at every meal, vegetarian and meat options were offered, as well as a fish offering at every dinner. Each lunch and dinner included a dessert option. Our meals were upscale, but the dress code was still very casual.

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About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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Comments

  1. Are all these excursions at an additional cost or are they included in the cost of the cruise?

  2. Excursions are included ( see page 2 of the review )

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