Un-Cruise Adventures’ S.S. Legacy

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Un-Cruise Adventures offers cruises through historic and stunning waterways.
Un-Cruise Adventures offers cruises through historic and stunning waterways.

It’s something many of us murmur about but rarely accomplish—cutting the connection. Raise your hand if you can’t quite recall the last time you hit the OFF button and really relaxed.

For clients with a hand held high—and whose isn’t?—Un-Cruise Adventures beckons with an easygoing vibe, zero pressure, and crews as accommodating and friendly as you’ll find. While styles vary somewhat in the 8-vessel fleet, casual is the operative word throughout and the dress code largely favors jeans. Think wildlife over nightlife.

Book clients aboard S.S. Legacy and they’ll travel storied waterways once plied by pioneers sans WiFi, TV and cabin phone; getting their news fix from a port daily, and not even a cabin key to keep up with.

Once the leap is made, it’s easy and fun to fully immerse in a time trip on the Columbia River and its tributaries, tracing the epic journey of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Westward expansion, and the colorful steamboat era, when communities transformed from Indian villages to bustling boat landings. Passengers cruise the stunning, 80-mile-long Columbia River Gorge and jet-boat into Hells Canyon, where golden eagles soar and bighorn sheep teeter atop cliffs. They’ll explore singular museums, and sample vintages in Washington Wine Country.

Along with a transit of eight sets of locks, stops are made for a variety of escorted visits, including towering Multnomah Falls, the Columbia River Maritime Museum, and the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center. American history and the narrative of the Nez Perce Indians come to life at sites such as Fort Walla Walla and Fort Clatsop—the last encampment of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery.

the legacy layout

The 88-passenger vessel itself sweeps passengers back in time. Freshly renovated and re-launched in 2013, it’s a replica of a yesteryear coastal steamer, complete with period decor (carved wood cabinetry, rich colors and patterns). Cabins, which come in six categories including twin, double, queen, and king beds, are cozy rather than luxurious, with a bathroom (small or large, depending on category) and a shower, plus an iPod docking station and DVD player.

Additional contemporary amenities are at hand, most notably in the form of deliciously up-to-date cuisine, with excellent wines, beer and spirits included. After a day of shore touring (like the beverages, tours are included in the fare), clients might opt for the fitness equipment and sauna, a soak in the on-deck hot tub, a complimentary massage, and, thus revived, a spin on the dance floor.

Public areas encompass a spacious dining room and—action central—an airy, big-windowed lounge where passengers soak up the changing mountains-to rainforest-to-desert vistas; gather for a tasty buffet breakfast (eggs cooked to order are served in the dining room); mingle at the bar; pick up a DVD or a book; and catch a timely chat by a knowledgeable guide or historian.

There’s also the Pesky Barnacle Saloon, with a bar and tables for chess and poker. Here and all about the S.S. Legacy are compelling antique photos of the hazards and highlights of the trek West. A handy elevator connects the three public decks, and the hospitable bridge is open to visitors.

Of particular note—and delightfully well done—are the tales and skits presented by a group of costumed performers who re-create characters and events of a bygone era, bringing personalities to life that passengers likely have previously encountered only on the printed page. Was that Teddy Roosevelt who just clipped past?

Repeaters who haven’t traveled with the company lately might need a chart to catch up. Clarifies an Un-Cruise official, “The company began in 1996 as American Safari Cruises. We have always been one company, but in 2011 we started operating the adventure vessels under the InnerSea Discoveries name. At that point, we were still one company, but with two brands. Due to our growth, we decided to bring both brands together under one name: Un-Cruise Adventures.” The re-branding took place in January 2013.

un-cruise itineraries

Also last year, the company, which serves up programs not only on the Columbia and Snake rivers, but in Coastal Washington/British Columbia, Alaska, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, and the Hawaiian Islands, kicked off a trio of “Adventures” titled Active, Luxury and Heritage. Active Adventures, focused on the outdoors, feature the expedition vessels Wilderness Adventurer, Wilderness Discoverer and Wilderness Explorer. Luxury Adventures—with extra amenities—are offered aboard the upscale yachts Safari Endeavour, Safari Explorer, Safari Quest and Safari Voyager. Heritage Adventures spotlight living history programs complete with costumed characters aboard S.S. Legacy. With capacities of 22, 36, 60, 64, 76, 86, and 88, the entire fleet is available for private charters.

Come April, Legacy will set out again on 7-night, spring and fall journeys on the Columbia and Snake rivers, roundtrip Portland, from $3,195. Legacy will also head to Alaska for the first time, sailing 10 week-long Heritage Adventures between Ketchikan and Juneau, experiencing the story of the Klondike Gold Rush. Two itineraries are scheduled: Alaska’s Golden History (starts at $5,195) and Gold Rush Legacy (starts at $6,395).

Altogether, this year’s Alaska cruise season will star seven vessels on a dozen different itineraries ranging from one to three weeks. “2014 marks our largest, most diverse season in Alaska yet with more departures than any previous year,” notes Dan Blanchard, the company’s CEO and principal.

Among other new offerings in 2014 are four voyages in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez from the home ports of San Jose del Cabo and Guaymas: Baja’s Whale Bounty (starts at $2,695); Cousteau’s Aquarium (starts at $2,695); Milagros Maritimos de Baja California (starts at $2,495); and Isla Esencial: Baja California Sur y Norte (starts at $4,795). All will be Luxury Adventures aboard the renovated 64-passenger Safari Voyager, which joined the fleet in December 2013. Also new is a Coastal Washington itinerary christened Explore! Olympic Wilderness & San Juan Islands (starts at $1,595). It will be a week-long Active Adventure via the 60-passenger Wilderness Adventurer, roundtrip Seattle.

Kids? Clients can bring them along on certain family-focused cruise dates in Alaska’s Inside Passage, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, and the Hawaiian Islands. Dubbed Kids in Nature, the program is geared toward entertaining and educating, and offers activities in a range of skill levels.

Pre- and post-cruise extensions are on hand at select hotels and resorts in Portland, Seattle and Hawaii.

travel agent intel

Patricia Kindred with Worldview Travel in Morgan Hill, CA, who made the Columbia and Snake rivers cruise in October 2013, has high praise for the Legacy crew. “They are like family to each other,” she says, “and they’re multi-talented in a variety of jobs. The engine room engineer sang in the talent night entertainment. Plus the captain made herself accessible to all the guests, and you could visit her at the bridge anytime.”

Nadine Louviere with USA River Cruises in Vancouver, WA, echoes the kudos. “The crew loves the boat and it comes through,” Louviere notes, after being aboard Safari Legacy in September. “I worked on the Delta Queen for 10 years, and I know the importance of a happy crew that wants to be there and wants to know everybody’s name. I liked that the vessel is small, intimate, and friendly, and that there are not thousands of people on board. The scenery is so diverse—you go from lush to desert—and the tours are wonderful.”

Adds Louviere, “We specialize in small ships, and we’re finding that many more clients are now aware of river cruising—people who hardly knew that small ships and river cruising existed until recently. It’s happening every day!”

One of those clients is Elaine Troisi, who cruised in September with her husband, Lou. “We chose the Safari Legacy for the Columbia River itinerary—one, because we’re interested in history, and two, because neither of us can do a lot of walking. All the excursions were included in the cost, and we were dropped literally at the entrance of all venues. That was a real plus. The crew helped those who needed extra help, even pushing them around in wheelchairs when needed. That, to me, was amazingly generous and kind. At the various sites we visited, a number of crew members always accompanied us to help in any way they could—and the buses were very comfortable and up to date.”

Observes Troisi, “Nadine Louviere, our travel agent, couldn’t do enough to help us. We received top drawer customer service from the agency to the crew. That’s what made the trip so memorable.”