Pampered? Or Pushing It?

Day breaks over the Sea of Cortez with the honey-colored glow of a stunning sunrise. Witnessing this from a cruise ship fills your spirit with an energy that affirms your choice to explore this stunning region on an expedition sailing. Several cruise lines visit the Sea of Cortez from Baja California, so which ship should you choose?

I took two small-ship adventures on this precious waterway — also called the Gulf of California — which separates mainland Mexico to the east from the Baja California peninsula to the west. It’s rich with history, culture, and wildlife.

I sailed on UnCruise Adventures’ 66-passenger Safari Voyager and Scenic Cruises’ Scenic Eclipse, which carries up to 228 people. Now, these two ships are completely different from each other — in both design and purpose.

One morning, I joined four fellow cruisers and piled into a helicopter aboard Scenic Eclipse. We lifted off for a flight along the coastline — where the Sonoran Desert meets the sea— to get a bird’s-eye view over the barren landscape, surveying the jagged mountains, colorful salt flats, and a pod of three dozen dolphins frolicking just offshore.

With UnCruise, we jumped in to snorkel with playful California sea lions at Isla Los Islotes. This was just one of the thrills during our week in the “Aquarium of the World.”

Each voyage was special, but the ship you’ll choose depends on the type of cruiser you are and the overall experience you seek. Are you in the mood for hard-charging exploration? Or do you want a “light expedition” voyage that offers the cozy embrace of luxury amenities?

Let’s look at what to expect when sailing on UnCruise vs. Scenic Eclipse in the Sea of Cortez.

UnCruise’s Deep History Here

The company has been cruising in the Sea of Cortez for two decades, and each season it spends more than three months (January to April) with Safari Voyager taking active travelers on flexible itineraries that change daily based on weather conditions and animal sightings.

UnCruise captains and expedition guides know the area better than anyone, and the program features a broad array of immersive activities. Many of my fellow passengers were sailing with UnCruise for a second, third, even fourth time. More than cruisers, these are active travelers who embrace daily activities like challenging hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling.

Guides led excursions during the day and offered talks about the animals, culture, and history in the lounge after dinner. They were always present and willing to chat about any topic, whether about their life and hobbies away from the ship or to further discuss the acrobatic mobula rays or soaring hawks that we would spot each day.

For example, guide Gabe, who has done extensive research in the region, gave an in- depth talk about the Pericu people who lived in the southernmost area of Baja California Sur and how their influence still exists despite being essentially culturally and linguistically extinct.

Scenic: Premium Dining, Luxe Amenities

Scenic Eclipse is a “discovery yacht” designed for expeditions in the polar regions. It features spacious suites with butler service, a spa, and 10 dining experiences. Scenic sails itineraries in the Sea of Cortez in April. These voyages are part of the ship’s repositioning after the end of its season in Antarctica. From here, it continues north to Alaska, the Arctic, and Japan.

I cruised in mid-April with many veteran cruisers who typically prefer luxury travel.

The ship has all kinds of goodies to tempt travelers looking for an ultra-luxury vacation. All suites feature balconies, adjustable beds, butlers, 24-hour room service, walk-in showers, and extras like a mini-fridge and pillow menu.

You can take in the scenery from outdoor spaces like the top deck with its two hot tubs, cabanas, and Panorama Bar. There is an Observation Lounge that leads out to a large bow with teak decking and tons of space to watch the whales, dolphins, and birds that we spotted continuously.

The ship also features the French restaurant Lumiere that serves decadent eight-course wine-pairing meals, an 11-course Chef’s Table dining journey offered by invitation only to 10 guests, and Koko’s Asian-fusion restaurant that has specialty dining experiences at its sushi bar and an eight-diner-per seating Night Market teppanyaki-style meal. Plus, there are three more restaurants and the Whisky Bar (serving more than 110 varieties).

A theater hosts enrichment talks and movies. Passengers gather in the large lounge for entertainment like live music and trivia. A spa offers massages and other treatments. Eclipse also has a sauna, steam room, cold-plunge pool, infrared sauna, and well-equipped fitness center and yoga room.

Indulgence vs. Adventure

You won’t find such extravagances on UnCruise’s Safari Voyager, which has rustic accommodations. Cabins are for sleeping and storing clothes. Passengers gather in the lively lounge to rehash the day’s activities, and they constantly wander the outer decks and the bow area to spot animals. Guides give talks with wonderful insight into the region.

Dining is at one restaurant, and the menus feature a delicious variety, with most ingredients grown on a farm near the town of La Paz that UnCruise contracts to provide its meat and produce for each season.

The cuisine on both trips — international menus on Scenic Eclipse and regional delights aboard Safari Voyager — are highlights.

Adventures in Baja California Sur

The 800-mile-long Baja Peninsula and Sea of Cortez provide a natural wonderland for active travelers. A cruise ship is the best way to explore.

Both ships visited the charming coastal town of Loreto, one of the oldest settlements in Mexico, filled with Spanish colonial buildings. Mostly, we were at remote islands, such as Isla Partida, Isla Danzante, and Isla San Marcos, visiting beaches and bays, and going on Zodiac tours.

UnCruise guides lead kayaking and hiking tours, and we did plenty of snorkeling in addition to the excursion to swim among California sea lion pups at Los Islotes. The hikes are challenging, stretching up to 8 miles and reaching scenic points high in the hills, scaling massive boulders in the arroyos, or dry riverbeds.

Scenic Eclipse carries two helicopters and a submarine and, for an added fee, offers excursions in these. The daily program, overall, is much less intense, with cruisers dropped off at the beach for self-guided snorkeling, paddleboarding, and kayaking. We also had one gentle desert walk at Isla San Esteban to see the stunning landscape, which included large, spiny-tailed iguanas lazily perched atop the region’s giant cardon cactuses.

Scenic Eclipse explores the region while passing through, and the ship is cherished as a destination unto itself by luxury-leaning cruisers. Safari Voyager, on the other hand, serves as a great basecamp for your adventures in the Sea of Cortez.

By John Roberts


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