The global cruise market is expected to be worth $15 Billion by 2028 and is growing in every conceivable way, but is bigger always better? Dan Blanchard, CEO and Founder of UnCruise, built his company to be the antithesis of traditional cruising.
We sailed through the Sea of Cortez with Dan aboard his ship – the Safari Voyager. During our cruise spent time with Dan to discover why he was going smaller when one of the fastest-growing travel industries keeps going for bigger, farther, and more, more, more. This is what we learned
Mega cruise ships have grown by more than 50,000 tons every decade and have tripled in size since 1990. According to Norwegian Cruise Line’s former CEO, Colin Veitch, “The thing that’s attractive about bigger ships is you have more choice and variety on board.”
Dan spent three years sailing with his family through the Pacific. When he returned, he wanted to start a company to replicate that experience. In other words, where would he take you if you were on his boat for a week. In his words, “That’s the idea behind UnCruise.”
All UnCruise ships are under 100 passengers and travel at about 1/3 the speed of mega cruise ships, but that’s ok. Dan says, “We’re really more an adventure travel entity than a cruise entity.”
Size matters, but not always in the way you’d think. Nothing about UnCruise would be possible on a 5th Generation Cruise Ship. Likewise, you will not find the floating all-inclusive resort vibe on UnCruise. There aren’t climbing walls or ice rinks, but there’s a human factor that’s hard to quantify by numbers alone.
Traditional cruise ships have four basic cabin types:
- Inside (119-220 square feet)
- Outside (122-220 square feet)
- Balcony (138-198 square feet, plus a 35- to 55-square-foot balcony)
- Suites (larger — some as big as 5,000 square feet)
Taking the Safari Voyager as an example, UnCruise has two basic cabin types:
- Outside (85 – 170 square feet)
- Suites (180 – 250 square feet)
You’ll notice that the cabins are generally smaller on UnCruise, and they don’t have extremes. There are no inside cabins or mega-luxury suits, although the Commodore Suite has large bow-facing windows and a jetted whirlpool tub. This is the first of many examples of big boats having more “choices and variety,” while UnCruise is more of an “adventure travel entity.” Long story short, people don’t sail with UnCruise for the cabins.
Not only will you not find upcharges for exterior cabins on UnCruise, but most of the trip is all-inclusive, from airport transfer to activities and even alcohol. (there is a premium liquor package with an extensive wine list). As Dan said, he designed these trips to be how he would take his friends out for a week on his boat.
Dan says there’s more of a psychographic than a demographic that describes UnCruise guests – “What moves these people is the fact that they were wearing backpacks around Europe after college and doing it for 25 bucks a day. They took their kids to national parks rather than going to a resort island. They’re just very active and always have been experiential travelers. They don’t want to wear a backpack anymore, and they want to return to the same place, have a nice drink, and wake up the next morning at a new location.”
UnCruises aren’t for everybody. If you like that resort island and reading a book by the hotel pool, you might prefer traditional cruises. But if you crave adventure and new experiences with a side of good living, you’ll think the UnCruise all-inclusive package is worth every penny.
Activity Forward Days
Cruise Lines International Association reports that Gen Z is likely to become the largest consumer of cruise industry products as they enthusiastically seek out travel and unique or authentic experiences. Let’s explore this idea by looking at Sea of Cortez cruise itineraries for traditional cruises and UnCruise.
The traditional Baja cruise triangle is a 1,300-mile loop with port calls at Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, and Mazatlán. There are dozens of shore excursions from each port, including ziplining on one of the largest ziplines in North America and speed boat tours to secluded beaches. You go a long way, and there’s a lot to do, but you might question the authenticity and uniqueness of the activities when each port of call has a similar excursion lineup.
UnCruise, on the other hand, rarely goes over 400 miles on their Sea of Cortez cruise, which is almost entirely contained within the Islands and bays of the area dubbed as “The World’s Aquarium” by Jacques Cousteau. Instead of ports-of-call, the ship anchors in sheltered bays where you fall asleep and wake up surrounded by one of the world’s richest and most diverse ecosystems with one-third of the Earth’s marine mammals and 900 species of bird.
Each day on your UnCruise, you choose how you want to explore nature’s playground: SUP, kayak, hike, snorkel, or zodiac tour. Except for a couple of anchor days where you visit gray whale birthing lagoons, snorkel with baby sea lions in a nature preserve, or explore the Baja Peninsula by mule with a local rancher.
Not only are there both morning and afternoon excursions on UnCruise, but their headline activities aren’t available from any major cruise line. Arguably, you can travel less and see more on UnCruise. Again, the paradigm is repeated where big boat cruising has more choices, and UnCruise is an adventure travel entity for enthusiastic adventurers.
Integrated Afternoon and Evening Experiences
Traditional cruises offer the ubiquitous “something for everybody” approach to nightlife. There are Broadway-caliber shows, headline comedians, game shows, live music, and more. Even without the gambling (there’s that, too), it’s like floating Vegas (baby).
UnCruise is more purposeful and understated. Their stated mission is – “To provide our guests an enriching adventure travel experience and inspire an appreciation of local cultures and the natural world.” They do this through the experiential learning cycle, where you set your intention, perform an activity, then take time for reflection and absorption. In the Baja, we had a lecture series to explain the biodiversity of the Sea of Cortez one night. Then the next day we visited the gray whale birthing lagoons then spent that evening learning about the whale’s 2,500-mile journey to the Baja every year. It wasn’t all bookwork. We also gathered ingredients during hikes for the bartender to make signature cocktails during cocktail hour. It was the most immersive classroom experience you could imagine.
Bonding and Team Building
The Seven-Hour Rule says it takes roughly seven hours with a person/brand/idea for somebody to make an important decision. Marketing experts say it takes seven hours of shopping, research, discussion, or contemplation before you make a $10,000 dollar purchase, like a new car. Brand advisors say it takes that long to build brand loyalty. Pickup artists claim that’s the time it takes to “seal the deal” with a date, which isn’t far from the old “three dates” adage.
By extension, it takes seven hours with your new cruising friends before you can forge a friendship that will persist when the trip ends. This threshold is virtually impossible to reach on traditional cruises and practically unavoidable on an UnCruise. You don’t buy every car you see, but at least there’s a chance.
Dunbar informally explained his number as “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.” With both cocktail and cookie hour, you could imagine this happening a lot on an UnCruise. Studies show that Dunbar’s Number varies significantly from person to person, but it’s generally accepted as somewhere between 100-250 people. So, as it stands, Dunbar’s Number says you can share a drink with your entire UnCruise boat without feeling embarrassed, but not so much so with 6,000 of your newest friends on a 5th-generation cruise ship.
Dan Blanchard told us his criteria for a successful cruise was making his guests cry, but you have to understand the context – “I tell the crew, I said when you get emotional and when you see your guests crying and hugging when they get off the boat, we’ve met our goal. I think what makes a really great vacation is the human.” UnCruise’s website claims, “many of our guests create such tight bonds of friendship while aboard that they become lifelong friends and choose to sail together [with us] again in the future!”
Traditional cruises do a fabulous job with ADA compliance, but customizing your cruising experience comes down to ordering from the menu. UnCruise says – “It’s our business to make sure your adventure not only matches your needs and expectations but surpasses them.” They have a 2.2:1 guest-to-crew ratio, 50% higher than traditional cruise ships, which helps, but it’s more than that.
UnCruise adapted the menus for dietary needs like allergies and gluten sensitivity, and there was a delicious vegan option with every meal. Their daily activities ranged in intensity from zodiac tours to hikes that will make triathletes sweat. Plus, the captain had full discretion over the routes, so she (yes, “She”! Uncruise employees female captains 300% more than industry standard) could stay sheltered in protected coves during high seas or cruise up the coast when it was calm.
If you like picking from a large list of options, traditional cruising might be for you. If you want to speak with an individual about your particular needs, nothing compares to boutique cruises.
A large cruise ship has a carbon footprint greater than 12,000 cars and produces more than a ton of garbage daily (source). Fuel consumption depends on how far and how fast a boat travels. UnCruise ships travel 75% less on a typical cruise at a third of the speed. They also had us pre-order our lunch and dinner selections to cut down on food waste, but it didn’t stop there.
Every guest is given a refillable bottle and told where to find the super-filtered water. Our rooms were equipped with organic, locally sourced toiletries. They provided reef-safe sunscreen and bug spray for every activity, and meals were sourced from local farms whenever possible. I can confidently state that UnCruise cares about the waters they sail in and strives to be good stewards of the land.
Final Thoughts on Traditional vs Boutique Cruises
Traditional cruising is all about options, and more is more – more choices in rooms, activities, dining, and entertainment. They provide a product that’s a floating resort with port stops for shore excursions. It’s a solid, mainstream travel product.
UnCruise is a boutique travel experience that is adventure-forward. The ships are designed to be an extension of the waters that they sail in, and you feel an indelible bond with the areas you explore. You’re not watching nature; you’re experiencing it from the moment you wake up in a desolate bay to when you fall asleep under a blanket of stars.
Disclosure: A big thank you to UnCruise for hosting us, and usage of some of the images throughout (image credit in hover text 😉)! For more travel inspiration check out their Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. As always, the views and opinions expressed are entirely our own, and we only recommend brands and destinations that we 100% stand behind.
Also, be sure to check the hover text on the images to see which ones are showing traditional cruises or Uncruises. Special thanks to Melody Pittman, our go-to traditional cruising expert, for providing photos from her experiences.
Like it? Pin it for later on Pinterest!