A Different Way to Discover Hawaii

March 7, 2013  
Filed under Travel

After a day of exploring and adventures, passengers on the Safari Explorer can enjoy the ship’s elegant dining room and open bar. The Safari Explorer only carries 36 passengers, offering travelers an atmosphere that combines comfortably elegant amenities with ever-attentive service and a friendly sense of easygoing camaraderie. (Photo courtesy of Jim Farber)

By Jim Farber

When it comes to visiting the Hawaiian Islands, most travelers arrive by plane, check into one of the many resorts or go aboard massive cruise ships the size of floating cities. There is, however, another, more intimate, more adventurous and luxurious way to explore the islands—on board one of the small ships operated by Un-Cruise Adventures.

A fine example is the company’s Hawaiian Seascapes voyage, which begins with a one-hour bus ride away from the bustling town of Kona, past lava fields and luxury beachfront resorts to a secluded wharf where the Safari Explorer and its gracious crew await.

I say “ship,” but the Safari Explorer carries just 36 passengers with a crew-to-passenger ratio of almost one-to-one. And 10 minutes after you come on board, every crew member knows your name. The atmosphere combines comfortably elegant amenities with ever-attentive service and a friendly sense of easygoing camaraderie.

Originally built in 1998 as a no-frills, dormitory-style expedition ship, the Explorer (as it was then known) was purchased by Un-Cruise Adventures in 2008, given a $3.5 million facelift and renamed the Safari Explorer. Her totally renovated 18 ocean-view cabins, suites and staterooms feature individual climate controls, spacious beds, sitting areas and private bathrooms.

The focal point of the ship is the intimately scaled and elegantly appointed lounge, bar and dining room, which is set about with leather couches and lined with large picture windows. Anything you care to drink, from fresh juices to wine, beer and cocktails is included in the single price of the tour, as are all on-ship, on-the-water and onshore activities — whether it’s speeding over the waves in a high-powered Zodiac, hiking to a remote waterfall or exploring a lava tube by kayak.

The canopied top deck provides a perfect place to sip a glass of wine at sunset or take part in one of the early morning yoga classes. Meals are expertly prepared and feature the freshest produce, meats and seafood from regional farms and markets.

For eight memorable days and seven star-filled nights the ship cruises among the islands — from the Big Island of Hawaii to Maui, Molokai and Lanai. And everywhere it goes, ample time is allowed to experience the onshore and undersea wonders the islands have to offer, whether it is the chance to meet the Hawaiian crew of a seagoing outrigger, a tour of a macadamia plantation or a stroll through the fragrantly blooming trees of a plumeria farm. In addition, throughout the cruise native Hawaiians are invited on board to discuss their religion, tribal traditions and language, even the history of surfing.

The glories of the sea are, of course, the primary focus of the trip, with hours devoted to snorkeling in crystalline coral coves surrounded by schools of rainbow-hued tropical fish and gracefully gliding sea turtles. There are also kayak expeditions through the shadowy caves that penetrate Hawaii’s steep lava cliffs. But no watery experience compares with the opportunity to go night snorkeling with giant Pacific manta rays.

This encounter begins at sunset as the boat anchors just off the Kona coast. Once in the water, swimmers hang onto floating surfboards that have been outfitted with bright lights that point downward into the water. The lights attract swarms of plankton, which in turn attract the hungry manta rays.

The sight is quite amazing as these enormous creatures glide in graceful loops that channel the plankton into their waiting mouths. These looping movements, however, can be rather disconcerting as they bring the manta rays within inches of the swimmers’ floating bodies. The goal of every Un-Cruise Adventure is to combine action-filled activities with an abundance of time to relax and enjoy the friendly intimacy that comes of being one of only a handful of passengers. From the beginning of the voyage to the time you say goodbye, the crew is there not only to serve, but also to share in the adventure.

The islands of Hawaii have so much to offer visitors, from their natural wonders to the richness of their native culture. Traveling aboard an Un-Cruise Adventure makes these wonders available in a manner that is at once personal and unforgettable. And while this level of luxury cruising is definitely expensive (the cost for the Hawaiian Seascapes cruise begins at $5,695 per person), compared to the cost of traveling aboard a traditional cruise ship, then adding on the costs of spa packages, alcohol and numerous onshore activities, the difference may be surprisingly less than you think.


Un-Cruise Adventures, 3826 18th Ave., Seattle, Wash. 98119; 888-862-8881, www.un-cruise.com. —CNS


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