This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
As its name suggests, UnCruise Adventures is not an expedition cruise company. “In many ways we are the antithesis of cruising,” says Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures. “UnCruise Adventures is all about what’s off the boat. While a lot of expedition cruise companies might take their passengers on an adventure excursion during their trip, we’re doing stuff like bushwhacking in Alaska with no trails, or hiking up the side of a glacier. The ship is just the comfortable bed and the appropriate services to get people to the outdoors, and we don’t charge for shore excursions; everything is included, from paddleboarding and snorkelling to hiking and skiff tours. It’s all part of our DNA.”
A veteran of adventure travel, Blanchard sees a couple of key drivers behind the current expedition cruising boom. “In the 1980s, guests were satisfied with standing on a boat and looking up at a glacier with a cocktail in their hand,” he says. “But today’s guests want to crawl on top of the glacier and go inside the ice caves. At the same time, the increasingly large ships being introduced by cruise lines are limited to calling at ports that can hold them, and that opens a door for smaller vessels. Passengers may be able to experience adventure travel off the beaten path in large ports, but they’re not going to be in wilderness areas, which is the kind of experience UnCruise Adventures provides.”
That open door also presents some challenges though. “From an operational perspective, as more ships go into expedition models, access and permission to enter public lands is becoming a bigger challenge,” says Blanchard. “That’s true throughout our operations whether in the US, Central America, Hawaii, Alaska or Canada. We need the appropriate permits and the ability to go into areas that aren’t typically accessed by boats.”
The market is also becoming more crowded as more lines enter expedition cruising with larger vessels – but these can’t directly compete with UnCruise Adventures. “While those larger ships can detract from our business, they also help to spread the word about what we do,” says Blanchard. “Many of them can’t provide experiential travel to the extent that we can. We experimented long ago and found that once passenger numbers exceed 90 guests we can’t pull off a strong adventure product because it means too many people in a given wilderness area.”
Looking ahead, Blanchard sees continued, steady growth for the wider expedition cruise market – but says development of the more adventuresome side of the market is more difficult to predict. “Almost nobody is doing what we do,” he says. “A few companies have ventured into our area and then retraced their steps to more traditional expedition cruising. There’s a lot to manage, a lot of staff and a great deal of careful planning needed for the experiential adventure travel we offer, and a lot of companies aren’t willing, or don’t have the vessels, to pull that off.”
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