Winter is here, and in Seattle, that means grey, rain, and more rain. So it could be a perfect time for a getaway cruise to Mexico’s Baja California Sur — a place where the sun never stops shining and the blue water is a mirror of skies.

Yes, cruises are back—but not those behemoths that you see docked downtown. Post-peak-pandemic, smaller vessels are gaining in popularity. Instead of the gargantuan ships that carry over 5,000 passengers, cruises with under 100 passengers allow for a more intimate and adventurous experience. That puts small cruise specialists like Seattle-based, UnCruise Adventures in a perfect spot. 

“Post COVID, people are not real hot on big large groups,” says Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures, which is coming up on its 25th anniversary. “The max we’re dealing with is 88 people. The smaller ships not only are attractive because of COVID, but the demand for adventure travel overall is much higher. We’re really more associated with adventure travel than we are the cruise industry,” Blanchard says.

This year, UnCruise Adventures—which boasts a 100 percent vaccination rate for crew and passengers—is trying out an adults-only voyage to Baja California Sur, right in time for the worst of Seattle’s dark, rainy winter. “We’ve done Baja for a long time,” but this is the first time since COVID that the company has been operating internationally, Blanchard says. “It’s a pretty exciting time to be down here when people are starting to travel again.”

Scott Eddy, a Lifetime travel host, and video producer who’s worked with UnCruise Adventures, is something of a cruise expert: he’s been on 88 seafaring adventures. “It’s all about the experiences with them. “Their version of hiking is called bushwhacking,” he says. “They make their own trail. The guide is in front of you with a machete literally whacking the bushes clearing out the path.”

While there are many expedition cruises—which take you past the glaciers of Antarctica or through the land of polar bears in the Arctic Circle—UnCruise’s 7-night roundtrip San Jose del Cabo, Baja California Sur trip promises an immersive experience (and not one imagined by Mark Zuckerberg in a metaverse).

“If you took your favorite lodge up by Mount Rainier, and that lodge just moved every night to a new mountain, it’s what we do on the water,” Blanchard says. “The boat is just the conveyance for the adventure—it’s much more about what’s off the boat, than on the boat.”

Their Baja trip is no exception. Departing from La Paz, the trip kicks off on the eastern side of Baja California Sur on Isla San Francisco. The tiny, uninhabited island boasts white sand beaches and pristine blue-green water, perfect for snorkeling or paddle boarding or kayaking, The crescent-shaped spot’s hilly terrain offers hiking opportunities where you may glimpse osprey and vultures down below. There are more hiking opportunities at the Bahia Agua Verde and Los Isolotes / Isla Partida, two of the other spots on the itinerary. Thought it’s remote, there’s a small fishing village at Bahia Agua Verde (where dorado, common dolphinfish, and Yellowtail amberjack are aplenty), even a small local mercado. Take a mule ride through the mountainous terrain, or go birding with one of the guides. On Isla Partida, swim and snorkel with the sea lions. 

“You go out to the islands, and you might be the only boat on a particular island for all day or all week,” Blanchard says. “Jacques Cousteau called this “the Galapagos of the north.” We have blue-footed boobies down here, we’ve got fin whales, blue whales, gray whales, whale sharks. We swim with sea lions. It’s pretty amazing.” 

The trip’s penultimate day is a highlight for many passengers. “Swimming with the whales!” says Eddy. “I have always wanted to do it and I’ve never done it. I’ve been to Baja many times.”

Despite the name, Blanchard says that whale sharks are “actually the largest fish, but they look like a shark.”)The passengers are brought to plankton-rich areas—whale sharks dine on plankton, not people—and after a while, the whale sharks will come within 10 to 15 feet of the onlookers. 

Though most of the cruises are all-ages and family friendly—as Eddy recounts, he saw everyone from senior citizens to singles in their 20s and families—the Baja cruise is the first adults-only trip UnCruise has offered: “We’re experimenting this year for the first time with some adult-only departures,” Blanchard says. “If we get demand for that, then we’ll probably eventually have adult-only departures at all destinations.”

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The smaller atmosphere makes for a great bonding experience. “They really take to heart their name—UnCruise,” Eddy says. “You don’t feel like you’re on a cruise, you feel like you’re on a small boat with a bunch of friends.”

And there’s always the option, too, to just drink cocktails on the beach and catch rays, says Fran Kramer, a New York-based travel agent who specializes in international travel. “Not everybody on a boat has the same capacity for doing things. If you want a shorter hike, you’re doing shorter hike. They will tailor and customize.”  

Helping active travelers explore remote, scenic areas of the world in smaller ships, Seattle-based UnCruise Adventures specializes in trips that are unlike those of other large ship cruises, more like adventures.