Trip Report: Whales, Trails and Ales, an Un-Cruise Adventure

Our intention was not to keep it a secret but, admittedly, we didn’t exactly publicize Whales, Trails and Ales in the months leading up to the adventure. By the time the details were drawn, the cruise company—Seattle-based Un-cruise Adventures—did not need our help promoting the beer-themed cruise of Washington waters. For those of you who missed it, and now grow wearing of listening to me and Kim gush about the experience, know that the same cruise happens again in the fall. Read about the upcoming cruise.

With only 40-something passengers aboard the small cruise ship, Un-Cruise Adventures proved itself a different kind of cruise company, offering various levels of adventure and various types of fun to appeal to a wide range of cruisers. Our seven-day adventure cruise included beer as part of the fun. Kim and I happily served as hosts for the beer-fueled events along the way.

Un-Cruise excels at helping people explore and understand the area they are cruising, offering various levels of adventure and activity at each stop along the way. Between the two of us, we experienced many of the different activities. Most days saw Kim headed in one direction and me headed in another. Below, I offer a day-by-day account, as well as a photo gallery.

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The smaller ships (we were aboard the 160-foot Wilderness Adventurer) affords Un-Cruise Adventures more flexibility; they get guests closer to the good stuff. Also, the smaller manifests offers a more personal, friendlier cruise experience. By the time the cruise ended, I knew practically everyone on the ship by name.

Aboard the Wilderness Adventurer, we met guests from South Carolina, Texas, Ohio, Arizona, and other distant lands, introducing them to Washington beer as we motored our way around Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and the San Juan Islands. We staged some special food and beer pairings, organized some beer tasting events, toured a couple breweries, and finished the trip off with a bonfire on the beach where we enjoyed delicious local beers, all packaged in aluminum cans.

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Between all of those beers, we paddled, hiked, strolled, looked for whales and watched birds. All the while, learning a lot about the ecology, flora, fauna, and history of our surroundings.

The food exceeded my expectations. Hearty breakfast and lunch buffets fueled hiking and paddling. Among other delicacies, each night’s dinner included a seafood option:  halibut, salmon, scallops, crab and more. Each meal included treats from the on-board pastry chef. Breakfasts offered fresh croissants and muffins, lunches typically presented two different types of fresh cookies, and dinners concluded with desserts rivaling some of the best I’ve eaten.

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The hand-selected tap list included beers from Airways Brewing, Bale Breaker Brewing, Fremont Brewing, No-Li Brewhouse, Silver City Brewing, and Schooner Exact Brewing. Throughout the week, we offered many other Washington beers in bottles and cans.

[singlepic id=502 w=300 h= float=right]Embarkation Day: We started the trip at Fishermans Terminal in Seattle. We gathered on the ship for dinner and then paid a quick visit to Stoup Brewing to sample some beers and get an initial glimpse of a real brewery.

Boarding the ship, our “welcome aboard” cocktail was a St. Germain shandy made with Fremont Interurban IPA. We passed through the locks after dark, motored overnight to the south end of Hood Canal, and awoke anchored at Hoodsport.

[singlepic id=506 w=300 h= float=right]Day One: The first day out involved a day hike in Olympic National Park. The weather was soggy but appropriate for a hike along the Staircase Rapids trail, where our out-of-state guests gained a deeper understanding of the term temperate rain forest.

Returning to the boat, everyone enjoyed drying off and warming up before the beer and oyster tasting event. Hama Hama, the nearby oyster farm provided shucking instructions and fresh-off-the-beach oysters. For pairing, we poured beers from American Brewing (Edmonds, WA) and Elysian Brewing (Seattle, WA). How much more Washington does it get than that? The Sea Cow oyster with Elysian’s Dragonstooth Stout proved the crowd’s favorite pairing.

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Day Two: We awoke anchored off of Fort Flaggler and Marrowstone Island. We spent the morning hiking across the island and paddling around Marrowstone and Indian Islands.

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For the afternoon, we planned some beer touring. We loaded some of our guests onto skiffs and headed for Port Townsend Brewing, where Kim Sands (owner) and Carter Camp (head brewer) were gracious hosts, and were generous with their time. We sampled a lot of beer and learned about the brewery and the brewing process.

Some of us wandered through Port Townsend’s impressive boat yards to the Pourhouse, where we met Robert Horner and Piper Corbett of Propolis Brewing. We sampled some of their delicious beer and learned about their brewery and their unique approach to brewing.

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After dinner, we gathered on the top deck to share beers and have an informal chat and information session. In other words, we drank beer and talked about it as the Wilderness Adventurer motored north. Sunset found us approaching Deception Pass.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and then navigated through Deception Pass in a 160-foot cruise ship as the daylight slipped into darkness.

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Day Three: We hiked, paddled, and watched birds around Deception Pass State Park. I opted for a meander along the beach and through the forest, while Kim endured a more aggressive and longer hike.

As a local, I assume my knowledge of the Puget Sound area complete, but I found myself abit mystified to learn about Hoypus Forrest, one of the largest remaining old growth forests in Washington. The forest is gorgeous, haunted by ancient and enormous trees: Douglas Fir, Hemlock, and even Sitka Spruce. Even more surprising, it’s part of a Washington State Park. That’s not normal.

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That night we enjoyed a wonderful beer dinner, featuring specially selected beers paired with the chef’s menu.

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A lovely green salad with breaded goat cheese and candied sunflower seeds, paired with Pike Brewing’s Saison Houblon; Scallops seared in a white wine butter sauce, paired with Bellevue Brewing’s 425 Pale Ale; grain mustard glazed pork paired with Pike Post Alley Porter; and a chocolate decadence cake with raspberry ice cream paired with Iron Horse’s Irish Death.

Day Four: The boat awoke before dawn, which is when the captain lifted anchor and headed towards Deception Pass to navigate that treacherous waterway at slack tide. By the time the sun crept over the mountains, we found ourselves well on our way to the San Juan Islands.

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We spent the morning paddling and skiff touring the southern shores of Lopez Island. A lunchtime cruise saw us headed to Friday Harbor, where off-boat strolling and hardcore shopping adventure awaited.

Later, during happy hour, we tasted a spectrum of beers from one single brewery: Silver City Brewing. Why did Kim and I choose that brewery? Because Silver City is one of our favorite local breweries and we think they brew a broad spectrum of beers as well as anyone. (The video below was shot by our friend John Beath of Let’s Talk Outdoors and Go Fish magazine.)

I didn’t expect this crowd, many of whom considered themselves to be craft beer newbies, to take a particular shine to Fat Scotch. I was surprised at how well such a big, rich, bodacious beer was received. Another surprise? One of our guests, upon seeing the beers on the tasting list, led the rest of the passengers in the Ziggy Zoggy chant. “Ziggy-Zoggy, Ziggy-Zoggy Oye Oye Oye!” In the video, I am trying to recreate the original moment.

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As the sun went down, we motored slowly through Wasp Passage, around small islands, through narrow passages, and found our way to Orcas Island.

Day Five: We awoke anchored at Orcas Island, near Rosario. The morning involved tours of the recently remodeled mansion at Rosario, hikes, and sight-seeing. One way or another, either by foot or van, everyone made it to the top of Mount Constitution to enjoy the panoramic view from the highest point in the San Juan Islands.

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During lunch we motored a short distance and dropped anchor near the village of East Bay. We planned to visit Island Hoppin’ Brewing that afternoon but the weather took a turn for the worse. Many guests were not willing to brave the choppy seas and bouncing skiff rides to visit the brewery. Others of us welcomed it as a wet and windy adventure.

At the brewery we took a quick tour, sampled some beers, and then left with a few growlers to take back to the ship for the other guests to enjoy. Along with the beer, we returned to the Wilderness Adventurer with Nate Schons, the brewer and owner at Island Hoppin’. Instead of bringing the people to the brewery, we brought the brewery to the people. The crowd enjoyed talking with Nate about island life and his brewery. This deviation in plans turned out to be a welcome surprise.

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This kind of flexibility makes Un-Cruise Adventures proved valuable on other occasions as well. The ship, the crew, and even the itinerary is nimble, allowing the captain to roll with the punches and adapt to the circumstances without impacting the level of fun and adventure.

That evening we headed for a safer, wind-protected harbor, arriving at Prevost Harbor on the north side of Stuart Island shortly after dark. This stop was not on the itinerary, but given the weather it was a brilliant decision on the Captain’s part.

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Day Six: The morning provided plenty of time for paddling around Prevost Harbor and taking skiff rides out to the lighthouse at Turn Point. Someone spotted some whales, but that’s all I will say on the subject. We all saw lots of marine life at this unexpected stop: baby seals, sunflower stars, gumboot chiton, and more.

During lunch we motored east to Sucia Island. Like Stuart Island, you can only get here by private boat or seaplane. No ferry service. Sucia is an uninhabited island, a Washington State Park. There were a couple of different hiking options that both led to the same spot on the beach where the crew had built a bonfire and delivered some appetizers from the boat. To celebrate the last night of our cruise, we enjoyed cans of Washington-brewed beers on the beach at one of Washington’s most remarkable state parks.

That night, we motored south towards Seattle.

Day Seven: Before breakfast we passed through the Hiram Chittendon Locks and returned to our starting point at Fishermans Terminal. After breakfast, we said goodbye to our new friends and started to dream of the next time we’ll get to enjoy such an amazing adventure.


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  1. Un-Cruise Adventures is a wonderful way to spend a week, add beer tours and it is heaven.

  2. David, you are so right. We hope to help them have many more beer-themed cruises. Everything is top notch. A total blast.

  3. Fantastic! This sounds like our dream cruise. May have to try Uncruise when we’re back stateside – will this beer cruise be a regular offering?

  4. Brandon, this was the “first-ever” beer cruise on WA waters, but we sure are hoping it becomes a regular occurrence. As for now, there are plans drawn to do it again later this year.

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