DH, DD almost 8 and I spent a week on mainland Ecuador and a week on a Galapagos cruise in March 2012. This is one of 2 posts about our trip report for our Galapagos cruise on the Eric. Part 1 is about the boat itself so you know what to expect. Part 2 will be about the itinerary/islands and our personal experience.
IT WAS ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL!!!!! DH, DD and I all loved the trip and of our world adventures this is probably #1 for all of us - African safaris is probably a tie). I booked directly with Ecoventura for the cruise. That's the way to go in my book but I did not need a travel agent for our mailnland travels. THe ladies on the phone were always helpful. I liked being able to pay by CC given all the frequent flyer miles I earned. Besides the cruise Ecoventura took care of collecting all the park fees and getting the air to the Islands. They use AeroGal which we loved. The AIrbus 320 was new and way better than the American plane we flew down on.
Ecoventura was been around a while and is a very established company. Its guides and cruises seem to get consistently high marks and I know why. They have 4 boats - the Eric, Letty, Flamingo (which are all the same configuration except the Eric has some solar & wind energy on it) and the Galapagos Sky which usually is their dive boat. The Sky has a different configuration somewhat so my review will really focus on what you can expect on the Eric, Letty and Flamingo (referred to as ELF).
Layout: The ELF boats have 4 decks (3 with cabins). At the top is the sun deck. Part of the deck is covered and part is not. There are comfortable chairs and longers up there and of course great views. This is where most folks hang out after lunch before the afternoon excursion and before sunset. The next deck down is the Dolphin Deck. This deck has a sitting area in front of the bridge (my favorite place to sit), the bridge, double cabins (I think 4) and then at the back is where the wetsuits, rinse tanks, life jackets and snorkel gear storage (plus where Hugo serves snacks) are. The next deck down is the Booby deck. It is where the dining room and lounge area are, 2 cabins, the bar, the kitchen, and the back area where you load the pangas. The last deck down and it is the only "lower" deck is the Iguana Deck. This is where we stayed because it is the deck which was the 2 triple cabins on the boat plus 2 more double cabins. I believe the total passenger capacity is 22, but it may be 20. Our cruise given it was spring break...had 19 on board but it never felt crowded.
Staff: We had two excellent naturalist guides Ivan Lopez and "Pepe" (I think his real name is Jose). Besides the captain and first mate, the other staff included 2 cooks, Hugo our server, the guys who drove the pangas, and an engineer and electrician (who we never saw). I may have forgotten someone. The entire staff was friendly and excellent at their job.
Cabins: I did not look at others so I can just speak to ours. We had Iguana #10 - a triple. The cabins are not fancy but well organized and designed and comfortable. In the cabin there were 3 twins. On one side essentially bunk beds and on the other side a single lower bed. The lower beds had reading lights. The bunk beds had little side tables. There were a number of hooks to hang things on which were great to have. There were several outlets to charge our electronics. Same voltage and plug confguration as in teh US so no adapters or converters needed. There was a closet which had enough room to store our 3 rollaboard suitcases, and backpacks with a little room left to hang a few things. Under each lower bed there were 2 large storage drawers for clothes. Above the single lower beds was a shelf with life jackets but still space to storage some other things. Each cabin has its own bathroom. It was actually fairly spacious - Sink, shower and toilet. THe shower always had hot water and GREAT water pressure. There was a bar you could hang swimsuits on and a retractable clothesline. They supply liquid soap, shampoo and conditioner. There was a towel rack and some towel hooks in the bathroom and some areas like shelves to store toiletries. The vanity was large enough too. Toilet paper must not go in the toilet but in the trash can. The cabin man was great about emptying it several times a day and straightening up the cabin when we were off doing activities. The beds were pretty comfortable. I have a bad back as does my DH but I only had a couple of mornings of stiffness that quickly went away. Bottled water is provided and there is a water dispenser in the dining area to refill bottles but we also were given fresh new ones often. Other than sleeping, reading or showering we did not spend much time in our cabin. The cabin doors only lock from the inside. Feels odd at first but works great. I just locked the passports in our suitcase. No need to worry. The cabins were air-conditioned and could be adjusted. Our Iguana cabin was a bit noise engine and anchor chain wise. But after the first night I did not even notice the noise (except the anchor chain - boy that is loud). One person on Iguana deck used ear plugs and that worked for her.
Dining room/Meals: Meal were delicious - more of this in a minute. There were 4 tables on one side that sat 4 and the captain's table on the other side that sat 6 (including the captain who joined us only for dinner). Breakfast and Lunch was served buffet style. At lunch Hugo would show you a dinner menu and have you make your selection of 1 of 2 entrees. The kitchen made special things for the kids (special order). There was a large variety of foods during the week. Fruits, cereals, meat/cheese and breads were always offered at breakfast. THe 2-3 hot items varied across the week and there was a fesh different juice each morning. Lunch offered several hot items and salad selections. Again lots of variety over the week. Dinner was a tad more formal. White linen cloths and napkins, served soup or salad, the entree and dessert. I think there was dessert at lunch too. I loved the soups!!! Red or white wine with dinner is included as well as all soft drinks, coffee and tea. Sodas, tea and coffee are available all day. My whole family enjoyed the food on board and ate way more than enough. The cooks do an excellent job. For beer or mixed dinners, if HUgo wasn't around you could serve yourself at the bar and just write it on your tab. Beers were $2. They also had a few jars of little assorted sweets - a jar of toffees, a jar of chocolates and a jar of marshmellows, plus a bowl of oreos and granola bars sitting out. I don't know if this is standard or one of the things they do for family week. We also we served snacks every day after returnig from shore on the Dolphin deck. Hugo would have another wonderful fruit juice, water and 2 different finger foods some savory and some sweet. You never go hungry on this boat!! Folks were invoted each night to join the captain and so everyone had an opportunity to dine with him. He was super nice and great conversation. My DH celebrated his b-day on our cruise and I ordered a cake. It was good and really fun.
Guides: They were FANTASTIC. Both are from the Galapagos themselves and have many guding for many years. Ivan was just named as the president of the Naturalist Guides association. They were caring, personable and very knowledge. Ivan's a hoot and some of his classic sayings will live with me forever. Each evening before dinner the guides (they alternated presentations) would brief the passengers about the next days' activities. They would some slides, tells us about the islands and whether wet or dry landing and what to bring. Each shore or snorkel excursion we would be with one of them. You are not assigned to a specific guide all week so we were able to experience both Ivan and Pepe style and draw on their cumulative vast knowledge. Ivan is a divemaster too so he is great to snorkel with. There were plenty of wetsuits (DH and DD used one but I didn't) and lots of snorkel gear. We brought our on mask and snorkel. They provided mesh snorkel bags to to keep your gear in and hang up after rinsing along the storage hooks on the Dolphin Deck which was handy and kept from dragging the stuff back into the cabin.
Basic day for us: Up usually at 7 with Ivan's music or song. Breakfast at 7:30, go ashore for a hike at 8:30, lunch varied but on average aroud 12:30, afteroon hike around 4pm. Plus there was always at least 1 and sometimes 2 snorkel opportunities per day so those could be either after the hikes in the mornig and/or the afternoon. Evenig briefing at 7:30 then dinner and usually the boat was quiet by 9:30pm.
The ELF have two week-long itineraries - A and B - given the new regulations. We were on a "family week" cruise and did Itinerary B. Three Ecoventure boats sailed together but the going ashore was staggered so the schedule for the other boats differed slightly. I specifically wanted a motor yacht and with no more than 20 guests. We were SO happy with the small group. That's is the way to go. I personally would NOT go on a larger boat. My DH who had no part of the planning of this trip was also sold on the small boat/small group I choose. Plus with 2 excellent naturalist that means nver more than 10 in your shore excursion. It makes the whole trip seem very personal.
Ok- I think I've covered lots of the general nuts and bolts of a cruise on ELF. Please excuse any typos...I'm a lazy proof-reader.. Hope this helps some of you to decide which boat and those booked on ELF to know what to expect.
We would go on ELF again in a heart beat. Absolutely nothing about the cruise/staff/boat we would change. It exceeded our expectations and for me that is rare given all the travel we've done and given that I spend a year planning and fine-tuning our adventures so usually by the time we do them they meet my expectations - but the ELF was great and the Galapagos is a MUST DO for any animal/outdoor or sea lover. Stay tuned for part 2.
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March 2012 Galapagos Cruise on the Eric part 1