Cruise: Baja’s Bounty! Whale Sharks, Whales & Mobulas via UnCruise
Once upon a time in Baja, California
Traveling to Baja from my home in Southern California was an annual event growing up in Orange Country. Heading south of the border to camp and explore the beaches of Baja helped ignite my desire to see the world. Over the years I have been to both sides of Baja California visiting places on the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortés. Besides exploring by car, I have also been on cruise ships calling on Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, and Loreto, Mexico.
Safari Endeavour was my first expedition-style cruise.
The 84-guest Safari Endeavour sailed roundtrip from San Jose del Cabo. The vessel was small enough that I could meet other guests but large enough to offer amenities like: two hot tubs, a small library, exercise equipment, a water sports dock, a lounge, and a well-rounded activities program. When I sailed on Safari Endeavour, it was a theme cruise. Professional photographer Stephen Matera, a natural landscape photographer, hosted a series of workshops to help guests take their photography to the next level.
Be flexible (the itinerary is)
When it came to un-cruising, I did not know what to expect. I did know that I was going to experience an off-the-beaten-path discovery tour of the islands between La Paz and Loreto, Mexico. What I did not know was the exact locations that we would visit.
When I studied the voyage map on the Un-Cruise website, it was not clear where I would go exactly. Take a look at the chart below and notice that there are quite a few little islands listed. Most likely you will only visit a few of the islands with stops in Puerto Escondido for calls to Loreto and Magdalena Bay (if the whales have arrived). There is also a call to Aqua Verde, which is where you will have a chance to explore an arroyo via a burro.
Before boarding, I wanted to learn as much as possible about the destinations we would visit. However, I did not find an itinerary that listed the exact places we would visit during my week-long cruise. I learned later that the UnCruise experience is about being unscripted, which allows the captain and expedition team to create activities that would increase the likelihood of wildlife encounters, which are primarily dependent on Mother Nature, weather, and currents.
Guests are asked to be flexible and understanding of the captain and exploration leader who need to evaluate conditions before making announcements about places we would visit.
It was raining and cloudy for a fair amount of time during our cruise. The cloud cover was helpful for keeping the winds down, which did kick up once making Captain Barrett cancel an exploration of a remote island because of rough seas.
Although we did not swim with whale sharks (a much-anticipated activity), our group did make it across the Baja Peninsula from Puerto Escondido to see the California Gray Whales in Magdalena Bay. It is highly unusual for guests to have both encounters and it all depends on the weather. Twice we called on Puerto Escondido where we docked and boarded vans (once to go to Magdalena Bay and on another day into Loreto, Mexico).
The takeaway: there are some occasions where guests need to be prepared not to visit a location due to unfavorable circumstances.
Be prepared for activity
There are plenty of opportunities for less active cruise guests to explore.On most days there was always a skiff tour available in addition to a snorkel, hike, paddleboard, or kayak activity. We had at least two opportunities most days to explore. We would anchor and then board launches where small groups would go on a guided activity. Adventure travelers looking for adrenaline-producing experiences might like the difficult hikes that included boulder scrambles, or getting into the water for advanced snorkels in deep water.
My favorite activities involved getting into the water to snorkel. Besides seeing California Gray Whales, our call to a California Sea Lion colony was a crowd favorite: some guests even got into the water to swim with the sea lions (I opted to take photos from the skiff).
A word of caution: The captain warned us that his biggest complaint from passengers was his commitment to safety. The expedition staff made sure to adhere to his rules and made it difficult to travel independently, although there were instances where guests could snorkel, kayak or paddle board on their own – it was clearly understood that the boundaries set by the expedition leaders must be observed.
While I see the necessity of rules, especially for the less active guests who might get carried away (one guest, in particular, liked to do her own thing, which was not safe especially where the snorkeling was concerned; she was quickly reminded to stay with the group) safety is the number one priority.
I think what people don’t realize is that the Sea of Cortés can get rough: the wind is a major reason and has to be monitored closely. The currents are strong, and the lack of overcrowding has left many natural habitats intact, which could pose legitimate dangers to weekend-warriors on a 7-night adventure jaunt.
There is no need to bring your gear: wetsuits and snorkeling equipment are provided. There are enough water toys (kayaks, paddle boards, and skiffs) to accommodate guests.
You sign up for activities on the ship. After dinner, the expedition leader gives a brief overview of the next day’s activities. After guests sign up for their desired activities, then the expedition leader assigns people to groups with designated meeting times. There was never a feeling of not being able to do an activity. And changing your mind the next day was not a problem. If a person decided not to do an activity instead of another, there was not an issue with changing is there was space available.
The faster one realizes that sailing on Un-Cruise is more like cruising on a large private boat instead of a mega-ship; the more satisfied one will be with the cruise.
Safari Endevour is an expedition vessel. She can accommodate 84-guests, but on my cruise, there were 69 fellow cruisers. We had enough room to relax in the lounge and plenty of tables in the dining room.
The staterooms are sparse but functional. There are a few cabin configurations available; the suites are more spacious than the standard staterooms. There is ample storage under the bed and in the closets. The bathroom is small but similar to large mass-market cruise ships. I brought drawstring bags and hung up toiletries on the hooks provided in the stateroom. There was a flat screen TV with DVD player. You can borrow books and DVDs from the amply stocked library.
Safari Endevour has a lively lounge scene where fellow guests swap stories, have cocktails and enjoy snacks. Chris, our bartender, was one of the most famous people on the ship. He handcrafted mixed drinks with fresh ingredients; his skills generated quite a buzz on the ship.
The all-inclusive cruise price includes alcohol, which included many top shelf liquors, brandies, whiskeys, wines, beers, and cognacs.
Guests are offered three plated meals served by hardworking crew members. When the crew was not serving guests in the dining room, they did clean the cabins. I read a Cruise Critic review prior to my trip that blasted the concept of the dining room crew cleaning the rooms. For me, it was not a big deal.
One place where I did miss the large ship amenities was in the dining room. Although the galley did try to utilize locally sourced ingredients, I had a couple of meals that I thought could use a little help. There was just not a lot of variety of options when it came to meals although there were always three options for lunch and dinner. Seating in the dining room is open, and guests tended to sit in the same place. I sat at the same table because Corey, our server was fantastic; she always helped me customize my menu to get exactly what I wanted.
My favorite dishes were the salads, which are always available at lunch and dinner. There were a lot of fish options (I am allergic to fish though), and a few chicken and meat dishes. Vegetarian options were always available, which I would order with a protein for a customized meal. The galley was very accommodating to special orders.
Where I was blown away were the desserts. I loved the lime tart and assortment of homemade cookies that made an appearance in the afternoon.
The Crew and Expedition Team
The people that work on Un-Cruise make this experience worth the effort. From the captain all the way down the ranks, the crew are working around the clock to keep guests safe, informed, and entertained. The expedition team and naturalists were extremely knowledgeable about marine science and biology; they were always happy to answer questions, and their narration during guided activities was welcomed by guests eager to learn. In addition, there are two people on the wellness team who offer a half-hour massage to every guest (the cruise fare includes one massage per guest). Captain Barrett, the officers, deck hands and crew took pride in their work and kept things “ship-shape.”