The Un-Cruise’s Safari Explorer is for people like me, who never had the urge to go on a cruise ship that resembled a huge floating resort village. On my first trip to Hawaii I wanted to see as many of the islands as possible with a focus on the wildlife and culture. While searching for ways to do that I happened on the website for Un-Cruise. It was the perfect solution. It traveled from the Big Island to Maui to Lanai and ended on Molokai with a variety of ocean experiences and land excursions — and it was a luxury cruise without the need to put on airs. I learned that the Un-Cruise ship, the Safari Explorer, carried a maximum of 36 passengers and the cruise was all-inclusive, which meant all the shore trips, water activities, meals and libations were included. It sounded perfect and it was!
Exploring the ocean: There is no doubt in my mind that the best way to see the denizens of the ocean is with the crew of the Safari Explorer. They are very knowledgeable but also tap into local sources for additional information. One evening Katie, from Kona Diving Company, came aboard and gave an informative but amusing presentation on manta rays. They have no teeth but funnel food into their mouth using the two large flap-like lobes. After the presentation it was time to shimmy into my wetsuit for an exciting night snorkel with the mantas. Watching these huge rays doing belly rolls was like being part of a National Geographic special.
Another day I headed out on the skiff with our group and went snorkeling above the sea turtle’s “cleaning stations,” where the surgeon fish were cleaning the algae off the turtles. A great symbiotic relationship. On every snorkeling adventure, especially the one in Manele Bay dubbed “The Aquarium,” I saw beautiful yellow tangs, parrot fish, and humu-humu-nuku-nuku-a’pua’a, Hawaii’s state fish also known as the Picasso Triggerfish. Nearly every day I saw dolphins and humpback whales. Watching whales breach and slap their fins is awe inspiring. A few had their newborns with them. Captain Jeff and the crew were able to recognize their old friend “Barnacle Betty.” They had seen her on the Safari Explorer’s Alaska voyage where the whales spend the summer. Other water activities included kayaking, paddle boarding and diving off the platform. An exceptionally calm day allowed us to snorkel in a bay near a steamship that went aground in the 1950s. It had been used to transport goods between the islands and survived the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Exploring the land: Most days included a shore tour. During our trip to Kona on the Big Island, our group visited Hulihe’e Palace where I learned about King Kamehameha, who unified the Hawaiian Islands. In Lahaina on Maui there was the weekly handicraft market under the 100-year-old spreading banyan tree. I visited the Cultural Heritage Center and the Maui Voyaging Society, where some of us learned how to paddle a traditional outrigger canoe. One of my favorite shore trips was to the island of Molokai. The island is a step back into the 1950s, with no fast food joints, no stoplights and virtually no people. The island is where Father Damien helped the lepers. The remote former leper colony is accessible mainly by a long mule ride down the steep sea cliff. Our tour took us to Halawa Valley where we met Anakala Pilipo who invited us into the valley with a “honi,” the traditional greeting of touching noses and foreheads. Pilipo’s family has been living in the valley for 50 generations, the longest continuous civilization known in Hawaii. While some went hiking to the waterfalls I stayed with a small group to learn about the local culture, the taro fields and how to prepare poi from Anakala Pilipo’s son, Gregory.
Enjoying the Safari Explorer: From the moment I was greeted at the Kona airport to my drop-off at the Molokai airport a week later I was treated to first-rate personal service by the crew that anticipated every need, including wetsuits and flippers that were a perfect fit. There is no question that the Un-Cruise is a luxury cruise, but it is low-key. The attire is swimsuits and resort casual. My cabin had a queen-size bed (there are two suites) with individual climate control, a private bathroom, a comfy chair, a writing desk and flat screen TV, where the daily schedule was posted along with information pertaining to the day’s events.
The main deck is home to a cozy library, salon and the dining area. I enjoyed gourmet meals using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients prepared by Chef Nate at every meal. I was impressed with how easy individual dietary needs were met. Not to be outdone, Michael, the pastry chef, conjured up fantastic desserts. The libations were free-flowing, with cocktails waiting on deck when the excursions returned to the ship. Awesome! The day was packed with such great activities that I didn’t have time to enjoy the alfresco hot tub or teak chaises on the bridge deck, but it was a favorite place to enjoy a glass of wine while watching the sunset. I confess I did not get up in the morning to join the yoga class and never had time to fit in my free spa treatment. Captain Jeff invited one and all to visit him on the bridge.
The Safari Explorer’s small size made it possible to go where the McShips cannot. When the ship is not in the Hawaiian Islands it heads to Alaska for similar encounters with nature. Some of my fellow passengers were so pleased with their Alaskan Un-Cruise nature expedition they booked the Un-Cruise’s Hawaiian adventure, and on the last day other guests signed up for future Un-Cruise voyages taking advantage of a pre-signing discount. I wish I had signed up for one of their Baja nature cruises. Maybe I will! The offer is still good. For more information check with Un-Cruise Adventures at Uncruise.com.