A Historic Adventure aboard Un-Cruise Adventures’ S.S. Legacy Begins
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Saturday, June 6, 2015
This morning, I started my day off in Los Angeles, where I disembarked a ship that holds 2,124 guests – and ended my day in Portland, Oregon aboard Un-Cruise Adventures’ S.S. Legacy, a ship that holds just 88 guests. To put that in perspective, a single lifeboat aboard the Carnival Miracle could accommodate all passengers and crew aboard the S.S. Legacy.
That’s as far as I’ll go in comparing the two; they’re two vastly different cruise experiences aimed at two very different kinds of travellers. But it gives you some idea of the scale of intimacy here onboard the 192-foot long S.S. Legacy.
Designed to replicate the look and feel of a turn-of-the-century coastal steamer, the S.S. Legacy now makes her home year-round on Oregon’s Columbia and Snake Rivers, where the bread-and-butter of her cruising season is made up of weeklong departures like mine: the 7-night Legacy of Discovery voyages that conveniently operate roundtrip from Portland.
I became a huge fan of Un-Cruise last year, when I sailed to Mexico’s Sea of Cortes and Alaska’s Glacier Country with the line. While their ships are more utilitarian than beautiful, they are cozy and welcoming – and the perfect marine vehicles for the line’s unique brand of active, adventure cruising.
S.S. Legacy offers a different spin on the traditional Un-Cruise product. Instead of offering highly-active excursions like kayaking and paddleboarding, S.S. Legacy represents Un-Cruise’s History product. That means that instead of zodiac raft rides ashore and bushwhacks that will have you up to your elbows in earth and mud, guests are treated to things like wine tastings. Museum visits. Overland tours to sites of historical importance.
But that doesn’t mean this voyage is boring; far from it. The Columbia River valley is absolutely loaded with exciting history – and Un-Cruise is going to showcase it all to those of us onboard over the next week.
My day got off to a bit of an exciting start when, due to scheduling problems, I changed my departure flight out of LAX from 11:00 a.m. to the much-more-doable 1:20p.m. departure. On other cruise lines, I’d be hooped. Instead, Un-Cruise arranged for someone to meet me at Portland International Airport and escort me to a waiting taxi, armed with the ship’s exact docking location. Talk about service!
I also want to quickly give honorable mention to Alaska Airlines, who allowed me to change to a later flight for just $25 when it became apparent that my original 11:00 departure time from LAX was just too ambitious for a 9:00a.m. disembarkation from Long Beach. Had I booked with another airline, I’d likely not be writing this at the moment.
Arriving at the pier around 5:00 p.m., I walked down the gangway and across the floating dock to the waiting S.S. Legacy – the former Spirit of ’98 – which was looking better than ever. I remember seeing the Spirit of ’98 years ago in Alaska, during her CruiseWest days. Done up in an all-white paint scheme that didn’t really complement her lines, she looked prematurely aged. But now, under Un-Cruise ownership for the past three years and outfitted with an attractive black hull and gold-coloured “cheat line”, this 30-plus year old vessel looks barely months old.
Like Un-Cruise’s blue-hulled “luxury” fleet, all premium spirits, microbrews, wines, soft drinks, and whatnot are included in the cost of the cruise fare aboard the S.S. Legacy. Ditto for transfers to and from the ship, all entry fees and excursions ashore, and even one free massage onboard the ship.
When the line says “premium spirits”, they’re not kidding. At our first nightly briefing, we were all encouraged to check out the Pesky Barnacle Saloon all the way aft on Deck 1. Besides having a fantastic name and a cool, 19th century Saloon atmosphere, it also hosts six different kinds of very high-quality Scotch, and five or six different kinds of bourbon. There’s no bartender: you just help yourself.
Self-pour scotch?! Oh, I wish my stateroom was a lot further forward, if only for the sake of my liver. Knowing I just have to go out the door, hang a right, go down the stairs and into another door to reach Scotch Heaven could be dangerously tempting.
If whiskey isn’t your thing, there’s also self-pour beer taps, self-serve wine taps, plus an expert bartender in the forward-facing Lounge all the way forward on Deck 2 who will whip you up all sorts of old-timey libations. At no extra cost.
For the next seven days, my home will be Commander Stateroom 207, located on the starboard side of Deck 2, almost all the way aft. Much like my stateroom aboard the line’s Safari Endeavour last year, my Commander Stateroom aboard the S.S. Legacy features fixed twin beds on either side of the room, along with a small writing desk and a private bathroom. It features access from the ship’s outer deck, and in keeping with Un-Cruise policy, no keys or keycards are issued: doors remain unlocked at all times, unless you lock it from the inside when you’re in the room. The rationale? It’s a small ship with an educated clientele that can afford the price of admission: theft just doesn’t happen here.
Most Un-Cruise staterooms can best be described as basic, and the S.S. Legacy is similar in that regard: nothing will knock your socks off. It’s just a clean, comfortable, and very cozy room. But S.S. Legacy rooms have some neat things going for them, like wooden wardrobes for hanging clothes; period banker’s lamps on the desk for illumination; decorative glass wall sconces for accent lighting; and period-style taps and faucets in the bathroom.
Another unique bonus: a window that really opens to let the fresh air in! Though I doubt I’ll use it on my voyage: Portland was a scorching 89 degrees Fahrenheit today (about 30 Celsius), meaning the cooled air system is working overtime. Later this week, it’s supposed to hit well over 100 Fahrenheit, or 40 Celsius. Keeping the curtains drawn and the window shut seems like a prudent plan!
After our mandatory lifeboat drill, which was conducted in the relaxed atmosphere of the Lounge with a cocktail in-hand, S.S. Legacy’s engines rumbled to life. I went out into the scorching Portland heat (there’s a phrase you never thought you’d hear!) and began to snap away on-deck with my Nikon as we left our berth.
I was pleasantly happy to hear the ship give a blast of her whistle to announce our departure; a real, honest-to-God steam whistle that makes a classic toot! tooot! sound in place of the more common deep-bass horn that most cruise ships of all sizes feature.
Our departure (and whistle) were met with much cheering on the Willamette River where our journey begins. It’s Fleet Week in the city of Portland this week, which means that ships of all shapes and sizes have descended on the Willamette. This includes U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy vessels, Canadian Navy vessels like HMCS Whitehorse (705), and hundreds of pleasure craft. Cheers went up from on-shore as we passed by; bridges as we passed under, and salutes from the folks aboard the Navy ships from both sides of the 49th parallel.
Soon, scenic cruising took a backseat to dinner, served just as we exited the Willamette River and made a turn to starboard (right) in order to enter the Columbia River and begin our journey eastbound. A few hours later, we’d passed Portland International Airport, where I’d landed about five hours beforehand.
Dinners aboard the S.S. Legacy work like much of the rest of the Un-Cruise fleet: you’re given a choice between the fish, meat or vegetarian entrée. Starters and desserts are fixed, but of course exemptions can be made for dietary restrictions, and are happily accommodated. My nut allergy, for example, was already well-known and noted before I got onboard, and Leady Steward Abby assured me there’d be no nuts used anywhere onboard for the duration of the trip.
I also recognized Jerid, who was one of the waiters onboard the Safari Voyager when I sailed the Sea of Cortes last year. It was great to see him again, along with waiter Julio, who I remembered from the same voyage.
The rest of the crew are all new to me, but they’ve all been universally fantastic so far. Service is gracious and kind, and highly personable – as you’d expect of a ship with a maximum capacity of 88 guests. But there’s an earnestness to each and every one of them that you just don’t get on big ship cruise lines. They’re young, typically from the Pacific Northwest, willing to learn and eager to please. It’s a bit like your rich friend owns a replica coastal steamer, and you’re all along as his or her guest for a week.
As dinner turned into dessert (another potentially deadly sin on this voyage – the desserts are drop-dead fantastic), guests were invited to the Lounge for a preview of the week to come with Historic Interpreter Kenne. This gave way to nightcaps in the bar, and quiet strolls on deck to admire our first moments on the Columbia River and the last fading embers of daylight on this 6th day of June.
It also reminded me of how much I love evenings on Un-Cruise ships; they’re relaxed, quaint, and astonishingly cozy.
I went to the Pesky Barnacle Saloon, poured myself a small tumbler of Peat Chimney scotch, and walked back to my stateroom to write this report. Were it not for my laptop and the flat-panel tv mounted to the wall, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped back in time.
It’s as close as you can come in this modern world to reliving the glory days of early steamship travel along these historic rivers – and that’s a pretty cool deal!
S.S. Legacy - Columbia & Snake Rivers
|Day 1||Portland, Oregon|
|Day 2||The Columbia River Gorge, Bonnyville Dam, Multnomah Falls|
|Day 3||Cruising the Snake River|
|Day 4||Clarkston & Hell's Canyon|
|Day 5||Walla Walla, Washington|
|Day 6||The Dalles, Oregon|
|Day 7||Astoria, Oregon|
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Un-Cruise Adventures’ S.S. Legacy continues tomorrow as our journey down the Columbia & Snake Rivers officially kicks off! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.