Day 1 – Embarking Safari Voyager in Los Cabos

Our exploration of Mexico’s Sea of Cortes begins!

Guests embark Un-Cruise Adventures Safari Voyager in Los Cabos, Mexico on March 1, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Guests embark Un-Cruise Adventures Safari Voyager in Los Cabos, Mexico on March 1, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
February 28, 2014
Today marks the first day of my Un-Cruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager, journey through the Sea of Cortes as part of the line’s Baja Whale Bounty itinerary. And what a unique and interesting adventure it promises to be: rather than focusing on the larger ports of call like Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán, Un-Cruise Adventure’s Safari Voyager spends an entire week exploring the Sea of Cortes, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve.

But as with any journey, I had to get here first.

An overnight pre-cruise stay at the Hilton Los Cabos Golf Resort & Spa proved to be a wise - and relaxing - choice. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
An overnight pre-cruise stay at the Hilton Los Cabos Golf Resort & Spa proved to be a wise – and relaxing – choice. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I flew into Los Cabos International Airport from my hometown of Vancouver with United Airlines, connecting via San Francisco. If you’re thinking of flying to your Un-Cruise on the day of departure, I’d caution against it: my flight touched down at 2:40pm, but I didn’t emerge from Mexican Customs & Immigration until 4:15pm.

Once this was complete, I grabbed my luggage – which proved to be difficult, as United somehow managed to rip the top handle off and thereby go two for two for the number of my bags they’ve damaged in less than a month. It’s enough to make a guy fly Delta.

Rooms at the Hilton Los Cabos are generously sized, and reflect traditional Mexican themes and decor. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Rooms at the Hilton Los Cabos are generously sized, and reflect traditional Mexican themes and decor. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Baggage woes aside, I was met outside the airport by Un-Cruise representatives who whisked me to my overnight stay at the picturesque Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort, situated along the Los Cabos Corridor that runs between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas.

Un-Cruise Adventures offers pre-and-post cruise stays at the Hilton Los Cabos, and even bases their Hospitality Desk here for incoming and outgoing guests with flight times that necessitate some waiting around.

Night falls over the pools at the Hilton Los Cabos. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Night falls over the pools at the Hilton Los Cabos. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Knowing that the hotel would be my transition point to the ship, I was able to really start to relax and get myself geared up for a week of un-cruising. Opened in February of 2002, the resort doesn’t look like your typical Hilton: design is distinctly Mexican, with a strong emphasis on embracing local design and culture. Even the sinks in the rooms are hand-painted to resemble traditional Mexican pottery.

The Hilton Los Cabos also has a dedicated – not to mention friendly – Pool Concierge named Jorge. Situated on a little oasis-like island of palm trees in the center of the resort’s pool area, “Jorge of the Jungle”, as he’s nicknamed, helps guests with anything – from a refreshing coconut popsicle or drink poolside to dinner reservations to beachfront activities.

March 1, 2014

Un-Cruise bases their Hospitality Suite at the Hilton Los Cabos. Finding it is a snap. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Un-Cruise bases their Hospitality Suite at the Hilton Los Cabos. Finding it is a snap. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

After spending the morning finishing up the rest of the work I had to get done (the life of a cruise writer is never dull), I somewhat unwillingly left my cozy room at the Hilton Los Cabos and checked out at the front desk.

Upon my inquiring, the front desk staff knew immediately where the Un-Cruise Hospitality Desk was set up, and they immediately pointed me in the right direction. Turning into the corridor, a large white “Un-Cruise Adventures” sign told me I was in the right place.

Enjoying a Mexican Mojito at the Hilton prior to our transfer to the ship. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Enjoying a Mexican Mojito at the Hilton prior to our transfer to the ship. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

When I walked into the room, the last ten or so guests who had just come off the Safari Voyager were inside. I asked a few of them how they had enjoyed their cruise, and everyone absolutely gushed praise for the line. Words like “amazing”, “awesome”, and “incredible” were trotted out in the same sort of rapid-fire speech you’d use to tell someone that you won the lottery.

That’s the kind of thing I love to see before I get onboard any cruise ship!

Un-Cruise Adventures' Safari Voyager, up close and personal. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Un-Cruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager, up close and personal. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

In the Hospitality Room, Larissa, the local Un-Cruise representative, checked me in, took my luggage and tagged it, and invited me to enjoy the complimentary tea, coffee and water, or to enjoy the hotel’s facilities. Luggage would be taken out to the vessel at 3:30pm, while guests would meet back at the Hospitality Room at 4:45pm for a short introductory briefing, followed by our transfer to the ship.

After enjoying another one of the Hilton’s spectacular Mojitos in the Vista Bar, I made my way back to the Hospitality Room where Sarah, our Expedition Leader, introduced herself to us and brought us to the motorcoach for our 20-minute drive to Puerto Los Cabos and the awaiting Safari Voyager.

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Perhaps not surprisingly, getting onboard was a snap. We disembarked the motorcoach into the warm embrace of the setting Mexican sun, where our names were checked off on the ship’s manifest. No need to bring out your documents or present your passport.

Next, we had our photograph taken for the “Face Book” – Un-Cruise’s onboard guide to who’s-who. Available in the Lounge on Deck 3, this binder has a photograph of each guest and crew member to better help everyone learn the names of their fellow passengers and staff here onboard the Safari Voyager.

My home for the week: Commander Stateroom 217, starboard side, aft. The bed shown can also be positioned as two twins. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
My home for the week: Commander Stateroom 217, starboard side, aft. The bed shown can also be positioned as two twins. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Once that was complete, we were whisked onboard the ship. Denee personally showed me to my stateroom, Commander Stateroom 217 aft on the starboard side of the vessel. She explained the ins-and-outs of the room to me, including the climate control that consists of air conditioning and a rotating fan, and pointed out the location of my life jacket for the mandatory muster drill at 6pm.

It’s worth noting that staterooms don’t have keycards – or even keys. During our evening information briefing, it was explained the company has just never needed to have them on ships of this size. The doors can, however, be deadbolted from the inside for privacy.

The sink and vanity are located within the stateroom itself, and not enclosed separately in the bathroom. Storage space in the close to the left was generous. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The sink and vanity are located within the stateroom itself, and not enclosed separately in the bathroom. Storage space in the close to the left was generous. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Toiletries can be placed in a small cupboard next to the sink. Beware of putting anything on your sink itself: the ship can roll, and items placed there have a way of falling off! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Toiletries can be placed in a small cupboard next to the sink. Beware of putting anything on your sink itself: the ship can roll, and items placed there have a way of falling off! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I took fifteen minutes to unpack and explore the stateroom. Accented with wooden trim and cherrywood cabinets, the room is more attractive in person than it appears in the company’s brochure. It’s cozy, probably clocking in around 140 square feet, but is well laid-out and makes maximum use of the available space.

The sink is located in the main part of the stateroom, and a small cabinet for toiletries is inset into the closet next to it. It’s spacious enough that I could even fit my rather large cologne bottle in with ease.

My bathroom was small and utilitarian. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
My bathroom was small and utilitarian. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The actual bathroom, however, is a disappointment, with a rather industrial toilet like the type you would have had in your high school. The shower is part of this same room, with a large steel lip that you should take care to step over. The room is clearly designed to be functional, and both walls can be touched if you extend your arms out. In an age of increasingly elaborate bathroom designs both at sea and on-land, this did come as something of a surprise.

Staterooms aboard the Safari Voyager lack television sets, and mine lacks the iPod docking station and bathrobes advertised in the brochure. The docking station would have been nice, but I certainly don’t miss the television; I much prefer leafing through the included Atlas of the World that sits in a small shelf on the far stateroom wall. Just in case, I brought two books and four DVD movies with me that I can play on my laptop computer.

Stateroom corridors are attractive, with original photography and wooden accents. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Stateroom corridors are attractive, with original photography and wooden accents. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The attractive Library all the way forward on Deck 2. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The attractive Library all the way forward on Deck 2. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Boredom doesn’t seem like an option here onboard the Safari Voyager. At 6pm, we had our Welcome Aboard meeting in the Lounge on Deck 3, followed by dinner in the Dining Room on Deck 1. Both rooms are attractive and welcoming; it feels very much like a cozy B&B.

Dinners are comprised of a set appetizer; a choice of meat, fish or vegetarian main course; and a set dessert. Complimentary wine flows freely onboard, and all drinks – including spirits – are provided gratis both at meals and at the Bar in the Lounge.

The Lounge on Deck 3 is the main social gathering hub aboard the Safari Voyager. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Lounge on Deck 3 is the main social gathering hub aboard the Safari Voyager. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

My starter salad came with walnuts on it. As I am allergic to nuts, I was worried this could pose a problem, but my waiter gladly took it back and brought me out a nut-free one without hesitation. He also made note of my allergy for future reference.

Seating is unassigned, so guests are encouraged to sit with anyone they’d like, anywhere in the room. Tables tend to be large, with seating for four or eight people, which is great for mingling and getting to know people. At the Welcome Aboard talk, everyone made nametags that we’ve been wearing around the ship all evening; they’ve been hugely helpful in learning names quickly and without that awkwardness that sometimes comes on the first day onboard.

Make a nametag for yourself and get to know your fellow guests! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Make a nametag for yourself and get to know your fellow guests! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

One unfortunate piece of information was relayed to us at the Welcome Aboard talk: the ship is having some issues with her blackwater (wastewater) plant onboard. This wasn’t a complete surprise; the forward half of Deck 2 including the Library is, shall we say, not smelling like roses at the moment. But I was impressed at the honesty and forthrightness with which this was relayed to us, so hopefully the situation will improve as the week goes on.

Our Captain welcomes us aboard the Safari Voyager at the Welcome Aboard talk. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Our Captain welcomes us aboard the Safari Voyager at the Welcome Aboard talk. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

What really surprised me was the high quality of the food onboard. My first dinner was absolutely delicious: red snapper served with potatoes and broccoli. It was fresh and, most importantly, flavourful. I also liked that portions were served just right, and not the mountain of food that comes at restaurants on land. Dinner left me feeling pleasantly full.

After dinner, guests went out to admire the sun setting over the Baja peninsula. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
After dinner, guests went out to admire the sun setting over the Baja peninsula. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The bow of the Safari Voyager is accessible through the ship's Library. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The bow of the Safari Voyager is accessible through the ship’s Library. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

After dinner, everyone went up to The Lounge on Deck 3 for a quick briefing on our day tomorrow, which will include a morning spent sailing, followed by a variety of activities near La Paz, Mexico that could include snorkelling, hiking or kayaking. The Expedition Team here onboard the Safari Voyager likes to keep things loose, coining what they have affectionately termed, “The Plan from Which to Deviate.”

Essentially, with a 64-guest ship like this, the crew can seek out the absolute best experiences for us, or change the itinerary as dictated by weather conditions or other important factors. Thus, the “plan” can be changed at any time. I’m a huge fan of expedition cruising for that very reason, and I’m thrilled that Un-Cruise embraces that notion of unplanned opportunities.

Setting sail on our Sea of Cortes adventure! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Setting sail on our Sea of Cortes adventure! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

After that, guests mingled and drank in the Lounge, while others took to the open decks to admire our departure from Los Cabos. The open bow area on Deck 2 forward of the ship’s Library was a popular spot for stargazers, who gathered there in silence, listening to the soft roar of the bow slicing through the ocean amid the soft green and red glow of the lights on the navigation bridge one deck above.

The people I met this morning in the Hilton who had just gotten off the ship were right: this should be one very special adventure.

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Un-Cruise, Safari Voyager: Mexico’s Sea of Cortes

PORTACTIVITIES
Day 1 - Embarking Safari Voyager in Los CabosEmbark Safari Voyager; welcome cocktail and dinner.
Day 2 - Hiking Ensenada GrandeBegin the week's adventure in this home to humpback whales, mobula and Manta rays, tuna, dolphins, and hammerhead sharks.
Day 3 - Isla San FranciscoSnorkeling and kayaking in Half Moon Bay; interpretive hike; possible post-dinner night swim.
Day 4 - Bahia MagdalenaGuided hike at Isla Santa Catalina to see the world's tallest cactus; explore the Bahia Agua Verde coast by skiff
Day 5 - Bahia Agua VerdeWildlife and marine mammal watching & scenic cruising; sunset bonfire (weather permitting.)
Day 6 - Los IslotesDon a wetsuit for a pre-breakfast snorkel; enjoy an afternoon of aquatic fun at Ensenada Grande; farewell dinner
Day 7 - Gordo BanksDisembark Safari Voyager; onward journey home
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