Spotting orcas off San Juan Island

5 Beautiful Things About Beer Cruising with Un-Cruise

 

Blue skies, orange sunsets, salt water kayaking, island hiking and Washington beer…. If this sounds like a dream, well it seems like one to me too. But it was reality last week as Kendall and I hosted a week-long beer-themed cruise on Salish Sea waters aboard the 176-foot Wilderness Discoverer with Un-Cruise Adventures.

I must confess, I was a cruise skeptic. All the stories of norovirus outbreaks, ships running aground, ships losing power and becoming floating barges of feces, it all puts me off big-boat cruises. But after two trips with Un-Cruise, they have made a cruise convert of me, at least for small-boat adventure-style cruising. Why? So many beautiful reasons, but here are my favorite five:

  1. Let go, relax. If you have the sort of life where you’re constantly planning, making decisions and running the show, I can’t tell you what a relief it is to board the ship at Fisherman’s Terminal in Ballard and put the planning in someone else’s hands. No worries about figuring out the best sites to see, the best place to have dinner, where to catch the train tomorrow, when you will get to the hotel. All those vacation challenges vanish with Un-Cruise. Where are we going tomorrow? What are we doing? We’ll find out in good time. Until then, grab a draft beer from Bri the bartender, head up to the sundeck and enjoy the sunset over the Puget Sound.

    Beers on the sundeck as we departed via the Ballard Locks
    Beers on the sundeck as we departed via the Ballard Locks
  2. Amazing crew. For 42 passengers, our ship had about 25 crew on board. That’s nearly a 2-to-1 ratio of guest to crew. From the guys driving the boat, to the deckhands, to the hotel staff serving meals and keeping rooms fresh, to the chefs cooking up a storm in the galley, to the expedition crew leading the adventures each day – Un-Cruise has an amazing team on board to ensure our comfort, safety and fun.
    176-foot Wilderness Discoverer at dock in Fisherman's Terminal in Ballard
    176-foot Wilderness Discoverer at dock in Fisherman’s Terminal in Ballard
    View of the kayak dock from the skiff
    View of the kayak dock from the skiff

    Skiff ride from Sucia Island back to the boat
    Skiff ride from Sucia Island back to the boat
  3. Decadent food. Speaking of the chefs, there was an on-board executive chef, two sous chefs and a pastry chef cooking three squares a day. Early-riser breakfast started at 6:30 with the full buffet breakfast at 7:30 (can you say bacon and fresh-baked pastries every morning?). Unless we had a packed lunch for activities off the ship, lunch was also buffet, ranging from Taco Tuesday to BBQ sandwiches to a pasta bar, and always with a cookie or brownie to end. After a day-load of activities, we were welcomed back to the ship with a daily happy hour and appetizers. Dinner was a three-course, plated affair complete with full table service. Our final night onboard, we were treated to the Captain’s Dinner, complete with beer pairings, featuring a choice of coffee-crusted tenderloin or Alaskan crab cakes with Cajun remoulade.

    Fresh-shucked oysters, which we paired with Reuben's Gose and American Brewing Oatmeal Stout
    Fresh-shucked oysters, which we paired with Chuckanut Pilsner and American Brewing Oatmeal Stout
  4. Daily active adventures. Each day, depending on the destination and weather, the expedition crew had a wide variety of off-ship activities to sign up for. The crew are masters of logistics: we boated, skiffed, bussed, kayaked and hiked all over the place.
    Kayaks ready to go at Protection Island off Port Townsend
    Kayaks ready to go at Protection Island off Port Townsend
    Hiking Sucia Island
    Hiking Sucia Island
    Spotting orcas off San Juan Island
    Spotting orcas off San Juan Island
    Hiking around Mountain Lake on Orcas Island
    Hiking around Mountain Lake on Orcas Island

    My favorites: kayaking surrounded by sea lions at Protection Island near Port Townsend. Hiking Staircase in the lush green of Olympic National Park. Night kayaking and splashing around in the phosphorescence at Sucia Island. The thrill of seeing the J-pod orcas (including babies) off San Juan Island. Oh, and the morning stretch class with Kati – every day, 7 a.m. on the sundeck. What a way to start each day.

    Kayak to Hope Island State Park, followed by a hike
    Kayak to Hope Island State Park, followed by a hike

    Skokomish river on the Staircase hike in the Olympic National park
    Skokomish river on the Staircase hike in the Olympic National park
  5. Craft beer. You know I was going to get around to this, it’s the Beer Blog after all. Bri, our fantastic bartender, kept guests happy with specialty cocktails, classics and a great selection of wine (including Washington favorites like Terra Blanca and Baer). Because this was a craft beer-themed cruise, there were eight draft beers pouring including Reuben’s Crikey IPA, Chuckanut Pilsner and Bale Breaker Field 41 Pale Ale.
    Taphandles on the Un-Cruise beer-themed cruise
    Taphandles on the Un-Cruise beer-themed cruise

    To entertain our guests, Kendall and I organized beer-themed activities nearly every day. In Hood Canal, it was an oyster and beer pairing happy hour. We tasted and toured at Port Townsend Brewing, Propolis Brewing, the Pourhouse in Port Townsend and Island Hoppin’ Brewery in Eastsound on Orcas Island. Kendall brought aboard a tasting line-up by Fremont Brewing including the Sisters Imperial IPA and Bourbon Abominable (which turned out to be a huge favorite of our fellow passengers, no surprise). We geeked out with new friends about all the uses for spent grain. The beery highlight was happy hour on Sucia Island, where Bri the bartender set up beer, wine and hand-mixed beergaritas, s’mores and appetizers around a bonfire. (I will always use gose for my beergaritas from now on.)

Bri the bartender serving up beergaritas made with Reuben's Gose
Bri the bartender serving up beergaritas made with Reuben’s Gose
Bonfire, s'mores and beers on the beach at Sucia Island
Bonfire, s’mores and beers on the beach at Sucia Island
Sharing tasters in the beer garden at Port Townsend brewing
Sharing tasters in the beer garden at Port Townsend brewing
Touring and tasting amazing beers at Propolis Brewing in Port Townsend
Touring and tasting amazing beers at Propolis Brewing in Port Townsend
Bale Breaker Top Cutter IPA at the Pourhouse in Port Townsend
Bale Breaker Top Cutter IPA at the Pourhouse in Port Townsend
Tasters at Island Hoppin' Brewery in Eastsound on Orcas Island
Tasters at Island Hoppin’ Brewery in Eastsound on Orcas Island
Brewery tour with owner/brewer Nate Schons at Island Hoppin' Brewery
Brewery tour with owner/brewer Nate Schons at Island Hoppin’ Brewery

Ballard-based Un-Cruise offers small boat cruises that are experience-based, often with a bonus theme, as in the case of our beer cruise. They are offering two more beer cruises around the Salish Sea and San Juans this fall – on October 8th with Nate and Becca Schons of Island Hoppin’ Brewery in Orcas Island, and on October 15th with Boe Trosset of Aslan Brewing in Bellingham. Other Un-Cruise destinations include the Columbia and Snake Rivers (where they offer wine-themed cruises), Alaska, Hawaii, Costa Rica, the Sea of Cortez, Panama and the Galapagos.

For more information, visit the Un-Cruise website: https://www.un-cruise.com/destinations/pacific-northwest-cruises/explore-olympic-wilderness-san-juan-islands.

 

Heading through Deception Pass at slack tide
Heading through Deception Pass at slack tide
Like family in a week - the crew lines up to say farewell to guests at the end of the cruise
Like family in a week – the crew lines up to say farewell to guests at the end of the cruise

Disclosure: Because we were the hosts of the beer cruise, we cruised for free, something for which we are very grateful.

2 comments

  1. It was a beautiful area that is not cruised by the big companies since they need to hit areas that has an infrastructure for several hundred people at a time.
    Even though I am more used to big ship cruising and have none of the apprehensions of Kim and Ken about ships, there are unique positives about small vessel sailing.
    The beer sessions were a highlight for me since I have just gotten into craft beers in the past few years, where I started from a point of learning what is an ipa and an ibu to now frequently visiting breweries and craft pubs.
    The staff was very friendly and we even had a passenger who is a part of one of our larger California craft breweries.
    A trip well done. David and belinda

  2. It was great meeting you and Belinda. We’ll be sure to hook up next time we’re in your neck of the woods. We’ll go to the Bruery or something. Glad you enjoyed the beers. It was a blast for sure.

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