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Eschew Nov 25th, 2011 01:57 PM

Cruising the Galapagos
 
Cruising the Galapagos

Ship: Galapagos Explorer II
Passenger: 100
Crew: 72
Time: First week of November 2011 after their Holy Week

Islands visited:
Baltra Island
Santa Cruz Island
Bartholome Island
Santiago Island
Femandina Island
Isabela Island
North Seymour Island
San Cristonbal Island

Although we have cruised on “small” ships before, nothing we have done in the past compares. The previous “small” ship that we were on carried 600+ passengers and well over 30,000 tons. With a capacity of only 100 passengers with a compliment of 72 crew members, it is really small. The GRT is just over 4,000 tons, comparing to the typical modern mega ships over 130,000 tons, you get the idea.

We have done our homework; check out web photos deck plans so we knew what we are getting into … or so we thought ….

The Galapagos cruise was an “add-on” to our Peru journey. We flew from Lima to Quito after a grueling 2 weeks where we experienced earthquake, the airplane door opened by itself while we were in the air, in addition to my little tumble down the side of Ollantaytambo. But that would be another story and TR for another day.

We stayed at the Quito Hilton Colon for a couple of days, rested up a bit before we move on. Quito is the government center of Ecuador and they have the best (and the largest) preserved Colonial quarter. We found Quito to be modern and clean, people very friendly, and inexpensive. We visited a couple of local restaurants that were recommended to us while we were in Peru, and we were not disappointed. Despite our poor command of the local language, we were able to get by and had a great time. Our waiter spoke no English although there was other staff that spoke some English. Dinner for 4 with starters and glasses of local wine (no deserts as we were too full) was under $100, and that included the local tax of 12% and tips. We tried exclusively local specialties and the portion size was big.

If you are going to Quito, other than the old Colonial part of town, I highly recommend the Equator Museum. It is a privately owned venture and the experience is unique. We met the owner’s daughter and she gave us the guided tour of the facilities. Have you ever tried to balance a raw egg on a nail? You can actually do it there. Have you ever wondered how water drains (the swirl) on the southern hemisphere compare to the northern hemisphere? Well, you can actually see how it drains right on the equator, move a few feet and see how it drains on the north and then to the other side and see how it drain on the south. The answer may surprise you. Do you want to lose weight without trying? Well, you weight a bit less if you weight yourself right on the equator. Enough about Quito

To be continued …

JaneB Nov 25th, 2011 03:52 PM

Good start..
Thank you for taking the time to post!

Percy Nov 25th, 2011 06:33 PM

Thanks for starting your posting Eschew.

Glad you went to the Equator Museum ( Mitad del Mundo).

Were you able to go to the top of the Hill where the Winged Virgin is.?...if not I know you saw her perched up on the hill almost in the middle of Quito.

Another question:

A new airport was suppose to be opening in a few years . ( I was there a couple years ago.... so were you at a new airport, because the one I flew into was in the middle of Quito, and it was scary flying in almost "clipping" the tall buildings.

Looking forward to more,Thanks again for posting.

qwovadis Nov 26th, 2011 04:45 AM

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Saw where they were building the new airport but not open

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So Caveat Emptor!

kadenboyd12 Nov 26th, 2011 07:41 AM

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Eschew Nov 26th, 2011 08:09 AM

We landed on the Quito Mariscal Sucre Airport, which I am quite sure that it is the "old" airport as it doesn't look new at all. I thought the approach to Cusco airport was more hair rasing. We were upgraded to frist class :D on the flight from Lima to Quito so we were a bit busy being pampered and didn't spnet too much time looking out the window.

We saw the winged Virgin right from our hotel window. I have a great picture of the statue on top of the hill with the catheral on the side in the foreground as a weather system rolling it. (Took it from the hotel window)

We never made it to El Panecillo, but we were at Itchimbia on the opposite side and we had a great view of the city, especailly Centro Historico, the historical part of town.

The day we arrived was Nov 3, Cuenca Independence Day, the day after their Nov 2 All Soul's Day. Being an extra long weekend, we tried to avoid all the potential congested areas.

BTW, the full name of Quito is actually San Francisco de Quito.

Eschew Nov 26th, 2011 08:20 AM

Back to the TR ...

We flew from the Quito airport with a stop-over (same plane) at Guayaquil to the Galapagos. It was all arranged through the ship. Every piece of luggage has to pass through a special inspection area, and received a clean bill of health, and tagged before they can be checked at the check-in counter. The process is long and is done at a special area of the airport. Some bags were even opened and hand searched. We were told that all carry on must be on the overhead bin and nothing can be stored under the seat. Later, we found out why.

On the final approach to Baltra Island airport, the crew opened all the overhead compartments. We found it very strange as the usual routine would be checking to make sure the overhead compartments are secured and closed. After all the compartments are opened, the crew member came around with a spray and sprayed all the overhead compartments, and closed them after the spraying. We are not sure what the sprays were; but we speculate that they are bug sprays and let’s just hope that they are not too harmful.

We were greeted by the ship’s staff at the Baltra airport, and off we went to the waiting buses taking us to the dock. Our luggage had been checked through to the ship from the Quito airport and will show up at the cabin before the ship sails.

The ship was anchored away from the dock and we were transported by the zodiacs to the ship. It was the start of many journeys on and off the zodiacs.

Once we were on board the ship, we were greeted by the Guest Service Manager and her staff and offered a refreshing cleansing towel. We were given our cabin “key”. The “key” (a plastic card) is not magnetic and the cabin number is printed right on it. We were also asked not to take the key-card with us when we leave the ship. They have a “box” (with rows of slots on it to hold the cards) at the front desk counter. You leave the key when you leave the ship for shore activities. I asked about security measures and the reply was there are hidden cameras all over the hallways and the public areas. Don’t worry, your personal items will be safe.

A crew member ushered us to our cabin and explained all the amenities. He stressed the importance of using the “WC” properly. Please, and he repeated more than once, no TP in the toilet bowl. He pleaded. There is a lined trash bin (with a lid) and please deposit your soiled TP there, it is all for the environment (and the plumbing system). The bin will be emptied at least twice a day, he promised.

Since all human waste has to be somehow removed and treated, the TP or any other foreign object will add to the challenges. I am beginning to wonder if the other 2 similar luxury ships (National Geographic’s Endeavour & Celebrity Xpedition) in the area made the same requests. (I would love to hear the answer from you if you have been on those 2 ships.)

“TP not in the WC” is nothing new to us as we have seen it in Europe; and more recently, throughout Peru, even in the higher end hotels (Casa Andina Private Collection Hotels, just to name one). We grudgingly complied throughout the trip and the cabin steward was diligent in emptying the bin at least twice a day. I speculated that my next door cabin mate may not have been as diligent as us in compliance. We can hear the vacuum going multiple times next door in rapid succession.

Our cabin is their standard cabin with ocean view. The cabin size is generous with 250 sq. ft. (typical Mega ship cabin is under 200) We have a full size couch (that can be pulled out for an extra person), coffee table, a couple chairs plus the usual compliment of furnishing. There are 2 drawers to secure personal items at the desk/make-up table. It is made of metal and looks quite secure. We needed only one to secure all valuables, and it included our lap top, a full size SLR camera and accessories etc.

The cabin is nicely decorated and looks new (it was dry docked in August) There were 2 large built-in wardrobes; they could have installed a few more drawers in them without affecting the usability of the space. Lighting is sufficient, with 3 accessible plug-ins. The ship has a massage therapist, a doctor and a hospital. Internet access is available for a fee, there are computer work stations available as well as wi-fi throughout the ship. There are actually lots of common area, including a piano bar, a patio bar on the open deck, an entertainment room (like a theatre/show room?) that was used mainly for the daily conferences (and karaoke once). There is also the usual gift shop, and no casino.

As we arrived at ship right at the lunch hour, we visited the dining room after checking out the cabin. The lunch buffet selection is more than adequate but not quite as extravagant as the mass market ships. While we were having lunch, the Maitre’d gave us the dinner menu to look over and returned later to take our dinner order. I asked what happens if I changed our mind, he laughed and said not to worry, they are simply finding out roughly how much of each item to prepare. That would be another daily ritual. Again, the menu choices are not as extensive as the mass market ships but they are more than adequate.

As soon as the luggage came on board, the ship departed and we are heading off to our first landing at Cerro Dragon at the Santa Cruz Island. En route, we had our orientation and ship board emergency drill. At the orientation, they spoke extensively on the rules and regulations of the Galapagos National Park and the need to follow the rules.

To be continued … next up, the daily grind

Percy Nov 26th, 2011 07:29 PM

I love reading this, it brings back fond memories .

Thanks Eschew.

Did you bring your daily dinner menus home ( I did) and the intinerary sheet for each day's activities.

I put them in a three ring binder as a keepsake.

Waiting for more. (I know the daily grind, wet landing , dry landing !!)

Thanks for explaining your room and the yacht in detail.

Gracie01 Nov 28th, 2011 01:17 AM

Thanks for posting this Island list Eschew. I appreciate your forum, you have written brilliantly. There are many other forums which are being giving very helpful list of Islands, cruise, etc. only on cruises forums.

Eschew Nov 28th, 2011 09:32 AM

Percy, which ship were you on? Did they have the "no TP in the WC" rule as well? The Galapagos Explorer II is the largest ship in the area. It is bigger than the National Geographic Endeavour and much bigger the Celebrity Xpedition. For ships cruising the Galapagos goes, I have been told multiple times by the locals (and other travellers) that this ship is the biggest and the best.

We have always kept the daily schdules as a keep sake but never the dinner menus. If you sail with the same mass market cruise lines often, the menus are the same throughout the system.

Our standard souvenirs from each cruise are the daily schedules (newsletters, patters or whatever they are called) and the ship's passengers (activity) dvd or picture cd.

Gracie01, thank you for your comments, if you have specific questions about an island, please ask. There are 13 larger islands and about 30-40 smaller islands/rocks(?). I think there are only 3 where there are major human settlements. The Galapagos vacation are more about nature and wildlife than the local settlements. By no means did we stopped at all the islands. It will take months, if not longer. We made 3 separate landings on the Santa Cruz Island as it is the largest.

A fellow passneger had been to the Galapagos on multiple occassions (I thought he said more than 10) and he hadn't been on all the islands yet; and even on the spots where he had been on multiple times, he saw different things on each and every occassion.

Dayenu Nov 28th, 2011 10:01 AM

O. :)

M. :)

G. :)

Had to google zodiac, it's a small inflatable boat, right? Great beginning, please post more!

Eschew Nov 28th, 2011 10:12 AM

And the daily grind .... all the days start with a wake up call at 6:30 a.m.; but we were up earlier than that if you want to watch the sun rise on the horizon. Besides, breakfast is being served starting at 6:30 a.m. You want to be there early and beat the crowd.

For this TR, I am not going to review extensively each landing or excursion. Unless you landed on the islands in the same time frame and about the same time of the day, what you will experience with the wild life and what you will see will be very different. (Example: morning versus the afternoon, hatching season versus mating season etc.) Also, the guides said that there will be an all new excursion itinerary being introduced later next year as more and more tourists are showing up at the same spots. If you have specific questions on a specific excursion on a specific island, and if we were there, we may be able to answer some questions, if we still remember what happened. We made 2 to 3 excursions a day, and honestly, there was so much action and happenings, things came and gone so fast, it’s a blur unless it is totally memorable (good, bad or otherwise).

Believe it or not, we have the first excursion on our day of arrival, about half hour after the emergency drill. I think we were behind schedule as we did not depart on the zodiacs until almost 4 p.m. We finished our first excursion around 7 pm and it was getting very dark. With the volcanic rock, it is hard to see where or what you are stepping on. A flashlight would have come in handy. There was a briefing before dinner, and dinner did not start until 8:30 p.m.

We liked to have early dinners so this is getting very late for us. We will soon get used to our new dinner schedule. Dinner starts around 8:15 p.m. daily, and there is only one seating. We have met a handful of fellow travellers in Peru and they had a very similar itinerary, coming on board with us at the Galapagos. We got together and had dinner together on the first night. That would be our ritual for the remainder of the trip. The seating was not pre-arranged and it was open table.

All the passengers on board were divided into 6 landing (tour) groups, with each group having no more than 16 people. Each group was given a name, named after local wild-life, and in alphabetic order, starting with Albatross. As we were the second group, we were called the “Boobies”. Needless to say, we have a lot of fun with our group name. Some of us even bought the “we love boobies” t-shirt to show our solidarity. We never paid attention to what the subsequent groups were called after us. They might have been Cormorans, Dolphins …

They have a team of naturalists / local nature guides on board. The head naturalist would host two conferences a day. He was also available on specific time twice on a daily basis at the Library to answer any questions. The local guides took turn (in rotation) leading the groups so we won’t be with the same guide all the time and we get to know all of them. Disembarking the ship to the zodiacs was also by rotation as well so it was a very fair system.

For the entire duration on board, the daily routine pretty much stayed the same: 6:30 a.m. wake up call, off the ship on an excursion by 8 a.m.; depending on the landing and the activity, it could be either back on board by 11:30 a.m.; or back on board by 10 a.m., changed into swimming/snorkeling gear and off the ship again by 10:30 a.m. and don’t return till about noon.

Lunch is available starting at noon but the naturalist also hosted his daily lecture from 12:15 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. for those interested. It was a nice way to break up the “rush” to the buffet. The crowd was almost half and half, and when the conference was over, there would be no line up at the buffet. The lecture topic varies, from geo formation to wild life habitats, Darwin’s evolution “proposal” (He did say he did not want to start a creation versus evolution argument) etc.

The afternoon excursion started after 2 p.m., and ends sometime after 6 p.m. The social hour starts at 6:30 p.m. at the top deck where the hot tubs and open deck are located. There were welcome aboard receptions, happy hours, a celebration of crossing the equator (we crossed the equator at least 4 times while we were on board), among other things. The naturalist would host the second conference at 7:15 p.m. so the social hour is limited to maybe one or two drinks. Although all sessions are optional, almost every one attended this one as the talk is about the next day’s activities. You don’t want to miss this.

Dress code for dinner is country club casual, no shorts and no sandals please. Breakfast and lunch are even more relaxed. There was no formal night, but Galapagos Lobster was the feature on our last night on board. I didn’t know there is such a thing as Galapagos lobsters. There are social activities after dinner as well (such as Karaoke), but in general, we were too tired for anything after dinner. We would retire to our cabin; rest up in preparation for the next morning’s 6:30 a.m. wake up call.

There is only one dining room and it has enough seats for everyone all at the same time. There is a coffee station at the library (by the open deck up top) that is available 24 hours with a jar of cookies available. Each passenger was given one bottled water when we board the ship and we have the option to buy more bottled water, or refill them at the 2 water coolers available.

Ice tea, coffee and tea were complimentary. Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks were extra. Juices and milk were available during breakfast but not any other time, pretty much the same as the mass market ships.

Breakfast was very similar on a daily basis. The usual selection of local fresh fruit, the usual cold selections, cheeses, bread, cereal and so on. The hot selection was good with some minor change ups daily. Pan cakes, French toasts, waffles in rotation. An omelette station was also available and cook to order.

Lunch was a buffet and the selection varies. A combination of local favorites and some western standards: nothing spectacular, but more than adequate. You don’t come here for the gourmet food anyway. In comparison to what our friends had on their Galapagos cruise on a much smaller ship, this is luxurious in comparison as they only had 2 choices: eat what was cooked or nothing.

Dinner was well beyond our expectation and although the selection was limited, the choices were more than adequate; and the food quality very good. They were at least on par with the mass market ships, if not better. The table service was spotty but very friendly. A note to shrimp lovers: the shrimps here are HUGE!

To be continued …. The “excursions”; or as their competitors called it: the “expeditions”

Percy Nov 28th, 2011 02:36 PM

Hi Eschew:

To answer your question I was on the Isabella II.

It was a 40 passenger luxury Yacht,and I got it at a good deal because I was the last one to take the last cabin which was in an excellent location.

I dealt with a tour company directly out of Quito...but the owner was from Canada and lived in California before moving to Quito.

My whole trip including extra days in Quito before and after the Galapagos went seamless and they really did a good job.

I had private tour guides in Quito , for the five days I was there.

I remember very well as I was being water taxied to the Isabella II , I pass right by the Yacht that you took.

Our guides told us that the week before we boarded, Morgan Freeman was on the Isabella II for 10 days...doing a documentary.

Made us feel good that a known movie star was here !!!

Our Intinerary I am sure ,was about the same as yours.

We were told that the higher the quality of the Yacht , the more knowledgable the guide.

All of our three guides had Master Degrees in Zoology/Marine Biology.

You are doing an excellent job of explaining your adventure.

Keep up the good writing. Waiting for more :)

SelfPropelledTripod Nov 28th, 2011 11:18 PM

Enjoying your trip report, Eschew!

I was also on the Isabela II, and I recommend it highly.

Regarding the toilet paper issue, I asked specifically and was assured that it was no problem on the Isabela II -- flush away to my heart's content. :-) I had assumed that a ship as "big" as yours (yes, 100 passengers is *big* by Galapagos standards! I think that's the size of the biggest ships that do real Galapagos cruises) would have no problem flushing toilet paper...

I think the early starts and late excursions are to get the best lighting and wildlife sightings. On my trip, we didn't get going as early as you did, but the evenings were magical, and I would always try to dawdle on shore as much as possible.

Percy Nov 29th, 2011 10:25 AM

I agree with SelfPropelledTripod :)

Eschew Nov 29th, 2011 10:36 AM

Thank you Percy and SelfPropelledTripod, we have came across the Isabella II a couple times while we were in the Galapagos and it is one fine looking ship.

The Galapagos Explorer II is the largest size ship allowed (and available) in the Galapagos. I was sort of surprised at the no TP in the WC bit and I knew a lot of the passengers did not comply. Even DW and I had an oopsie every once in a while. So, maybe they are being overly proetctive and cautious?

On this forum (cruising), most talked about the mega ships and mass market cruise lines. People seldom TR or even wrote anything on smaller ships, and when they do, they usually gave them unfavorable reviews as they were trying to compare them to the mega ships.

We travelled on a smaller 600 passenger ship (30,000 tons) last year and it was our first time not on any mega ships. DW was really worry about the lack of amenities, the motion sickness potential, lack of choices for entertaining venues, what to do on board duirng a sea day etc. Her anexity was created because of a lack of knowledge (or information) available. As it turned out, we went on board, we explored, and it was great on a smaller ship.

Our previous smaller ship (if you can call it that) was the 70,000+ tons Carnival Senation from almost 15 years ago, which at that time, was the largest one around! How things have changed and how much bigger the cruise ships has become. To put things into perspective, the largest US aircraft carrier (Nimitz class) is less than 100,000 tons, fully loaded.

I am trying to write this TR with a slightly different perspective so that people (like my DW and me) who had mainly cruised on the Mass market ships would alter their perspective and expectation when cruising on a smaller craft. I am trying to outline the difference, best I can.

Did we expect to get a ship wide wake up call at 6:30 a.m. daily? Nope, and we read about it for the first time when we receive the ship's itinenary. Is the daily routine that much more action packed? Even the ship's itinenary didn't describe how much was squeezed into the routine. We didn't expect that either.

How about the food and the rest? We have heard stories from friends who were on a much smaller 12 person boat where the crew would cook something and that was it. No choices. Eat it or leave it. We really have no idea and what to expect on food.

We really really hate to be surprised when we travel. We like to plan and anticiapte potential problems so that our travels would be less stressful. So we tried to find reviews and such, but really we found nothing useful, at least not on the perspective that we were looking for. Hopefully, this TR will give someone a taste of what travelling on a smaller ship, to the Galapagos, would be like; for the uninitiated, if you want to call it that.

We were pleasantly surprised by the level of service, the quality of the food, and especailly the size of the cabins. The cabin we were in was almost comparable in size to a mini suite on a typical mega ship. We didn't expect that.

And yes, both of you are right that the bigger and more luxurious the ships are, the guides are more qualified, and they do make a bit more money. All the guides (8 of them in total including the naturalist) on board are very knowledgable and friendly. They are all highly educated, and they made the trip very memorable, more so than the crew on the ship. Even the ship's photographer was highly educated and is actaully a professional photographer, none of the mega ship's photographers that I have encountred come nowhere close to her level of professionalism, and her quality of work. She captured moments, and not just trigger happy and snapping away. The shots that she took were thoughtful, and carefully framed.

On most of the Trs and reviews I have read, especailly on the mass market ships, the ship's staff is what most people say make or break their holiday, and not the sight and sound of the shore excursions. Go figure.

I will be posting the next segemnt tomorrow ...

Percy Nov 29th, 2011 11:10 AM

Thanks Eschew , another good informative posting.

I too was surprised with quality of food , service and the size of the cabin.

You are correct when you say , the cabin size is comparable to a mini suite of a large cruise ship.

Even though the Isabella II was labelled a luxury yacht, you always have your doubts , as to what they are calling luxury.

But once I stepped on board the Isabella II and into the Foyer of the ship......I said "Oh my goodness".

I did not expect it to be this nice.

So it is very good that you are pointing out to the Fodor readers that, are contemplating going to the Galapagos,

...that the Yachts are really nice with good food and a big cabins.

I have to add though , that a friend of mine went a year later, on a 16 passenger Yacht, and found it cramped and the food average.

Good Trip report,I am truly enjoying reading and following you.

Eschew Nov 29th, 2011 03:39 PM

Percy, as I have said earlier, my friends were on a 12 person boat and the crew cooked something and that was it. Average is not even the right word. As to cabin sapce, it was more like a closet with a bed in it. Mind you, based on what they had paid, I wasn't totally surprised.

But then again, they had a great time. They liked the guide and the excursion were good. They just didn't enjoy the accomodation and the very plain and basic food as much.

Percy Nov 29th, 2011 04:35 PM

I agree Eschew.

Fodorites planning on a Galapagos cruise should pay a little more and have nicer accommodations, food and guides.

I am not trying to insult the 12 passenger boat cruises.

This place is usually one of the "Once in a Lifetime Trips".!!

I was at the Galapagos for a week ...personally I would not have wanted a 12 passenger cruise boat.

Keep the excellent information coming. :)

SelfPropelledTripod Nov 29th, 2011 06:55 PM

Hi Eschew, thanks for the additional info! I think it's fantastic (and very thoughtful of you) that you're writing to help others on this board, and hence comparing from a baseline of a "normal" big ship cruise. I hope my comments didn't come across as criticism.

I've only done a big ship once (Liberty of the Seas in the Caribbean), Windstar once, Akademik Ioffe in Antarctica (100+ passenger research vessel), and the Isabela II in the Galapagos. All were great, but each was radically different from the others. Forewarned is forearmed, and it'd be really sad if someone showed up in the Galapagos expecting Labadee with Boobies. :-)

geetika Nov 30th, 2011 06:04 AM

am enjoying reading ur trip report eschew, thanks for sharing ur experiences. we were considering a galapagos cruise for next year but have now decided on iceland and norway, though i still hope to visit the galapagos, maybe in 2013? anyway, looking forward to the next instalment...

Dayenu Nov 30th, 2011 09:28 AM

Interesting trip, and you have a talent to describe it, Eschew! =D>

Eschew Nov 30th, 2011 12:22 PM

Thank you everyone for all the comments to date. Please Keep them coming.

SelfPropelledTripod, I couldn't have said it better myself when you said compare to the "baseline". I think that is the reference point I am trying to create as more than 90% of the posts here are about the mass market cruise lines and ships. (And they are popular and being mass marketed for good reason)

As to your other commets about "expecting Labadee with Boobies". Well, all I can add is that they would probably spot them in Labadee, just won't be the blue footed variety, unless that was the color of the footware ... ;)

Eschew Nov 30th, 2011 12:49 PM

Back to the TR ....

Since I was talking about food on the last segment, I should have mentioned that one of the ship's favorite was the Ceviche served during lunch.

Ceviche is a local favorite and they have different variety on different days. The best one was the Ceviche de Calamar. They have also served a vegetarian version, the mixed seafood one was good too. We put loads of freshly popped popcorn on top. I asked the chef for the recipe and we are going to try to duplicate it at home, except I don’t know if we can find the same “large” corns.

The other local favorite that we saw in both Peru & Ecuador is “Cuy”. There are usually served oven roasted and are for special occasions. There were absent from the ship’s menu.

At the daily conference prior to the dinner, the naturalist outlined the next day’s activities. Slides or videos would be shown, how physical the activities would be, what type of terrains and wild life you may encounter, what precautions to take and what options (typically a panga sightseeing tour) are available for those who may not want to attempt the physical challenges; and the type of “landing” we should expect. They rated the activities as Easy, Medium or Hard. As an example, one hike was rated hard and the tough part was climbing up approximately 360 rocky steps. Another was rated medium but the walk was on uneven volcanic rocks, making people who cannot steady themselves without the use of a cane a challenge.

There is only one way to get on or off the ship, via the zodiac. We have an older lady (we think she may be in her late 80s or early 90’s) in our group of 16. From time to time, she needed to stable herself with her cane. We all thought she was not going to make it on board the ship. She used the ladders on the side of the ship and the zodiacs just like the rest of us. She would receive a little bit of extra help on and off the zodiacs and extra time, but that would be it. Our group members sort of keep an eye on her, and she did not participate in all the activities; but I think she made it to at least one landing every day. To make sure no one was left behind on an island, the local guide would take a head count prior to each departure from the ship.

Before each departure for an excursion, we were asked to “sign out” on our “group roster sheet” before heading out to the departure waiting area, and to “sign-in” after we return to the ship. The list would have our group name as a heading, our individual names, the dates, the excursions etc. and we just have to check off the box. As previously mentioned, we put our room key (key-card) in the slots (the box at the front desk) and we picked the card up on our way back. I am amazed how well the system worked and I have not heard if anyone had picked up the wrong key or go into the wrong cabin, or things missing.

To go ashore on the zodiacs, there are two types of landings: a dry landing or a wet landing. Dry landing, in theory, would mean you will get off the zodiac and your feet should touch dry ground. Wet landing, on the other hand, would mean getting off the zodiac feet first into the water, probably mid-calf deep if you are average height, and a certainty to get somewhat wet. We have heard rumors that some of the wet landings maybe into much deeper water. It is strictly rumors. More on that later. Depending on the terrain, the activity and the type of landing, you dress for the occasion and select proper foot ware for the occasion.

Every time you get back on board, they will rinse (and sanitize?) the bottom of your shoes if it was a dry landing and they will hose your feet (the water was warm) if it was a wet landing.

There are only two types of activities: Hike or snorkel. With a hike, you will see wild life in their habitat, and of course, natural sceneries. With snorkeling, you will see wild life in their water habitat. We were surprised to find out that some of the snorkeling is “deep water”, meaning you start off from the side of the zodiac and directly into open water (maybe 15+ feet deep). Maybe that’s where the rumor of the wet landing into the deep water came from.

Snorkeling gear rental is available on board and the fee was reasonable. For about $50 for the entire duration, I have the use of a full set of gears: including fins and wet suit. You can rent individual items as needed. I was surprised to find out that float vests were optional; I thought that would be mandatory. However, a dive master was in the water with us at all times. The crew would outfit you into the proper sized gears on the first day and you were given a bag with a number, so you will have the same gears for the entire trip. We were also told that if you rented the equipment, and decided not to use it any more after the first time, you can return it and there will be no rental charge for the single use. Some people took advantage of this offer just to try it out. After each use and after you get on board, you were led to a washing station where they have several large pails with soap and water (I hope there are sanitizers in there as well) available for cleaning the gears and hang up your wet suits.

In my opinion, a wet suit was not necessary and it was an extra charge. Almost everyone rented one though and I did used mine most of the time. On the occasions where the activity was a hike and a swim/snorkel immediate after (without going back on board first), I did not use the wet suit as I thought the water was quite warm and decided to maximize my in-water time.

Most of us have probably snorkelled around the sandy beaches or corals around the Caribbean. The deep water snorkeling here at the Galapagos offers a totally different experience. First off, I have never seen schools of fish that swam right around you, literally in the hundreds, and they didn’t even scatter. Secondly, I don’t recall ever having sea lions playfully swam with us, and penguins diving into the water among us as if we were not there! Sea turtles, sting rays, sharks, they were all there.

Did I mention sharks? Yes, we saw black fins and hammerheads; they were about 4 to 5 feet in size. We didn’t try to avoid them nor did they try to avoid us. It was certainly a different experience. We should have known there were sharks, because at night time when the ship was anchored, we can see sharks swimming around the ship, especially near the aft with the bright lights. The naturalist’s explanation was that the lights from the ship attracted the fish and the sharks were attracted by the fish.

There were all sorts of wild sea life sightings on board. We saw dolphins, and whales at a distance. The whale watching was really a non-event as they were so far off and all you can see was just the “spray” when they come up for air. Alaskan whale watching is still tops in my book.

On one of the snorkeling excursions, we slid off the side of the zodiac and swam / floated along the side of a cliff. It was an amazing experience. Unfortunately, only less than 30 of us took part on this activity. Although it sounded dangerous, it was actually quite safe. They had 3 zodiacs keeping an eye on us, one in front of the group, one behind, and one on the open ocean side to make sure we did not stray away or get caught in the current or the sea swell.

Best snorkeling: Punta Vicente Roca at Isabella Island, the cliff off North Seymour would be a close second.

Best scenic view on a hike: Bartholomew Island.

Most interesting (or curious) “novelty” nature sighting: Darwin’s toilet. I can’t explain it. You have to go there to experience it.

Most interesting wild life sighting: The Blue footed Boobies courting ritual at North Seymour Island. We were maybe less than 10 feet away. The puffed up red pouch of the male Frigate birds vying for attention from the female was interesting as well.

Rare wild life sighting: snakes! A fellow traveller had visited the Galapagos many times, and he claimed he had only saw snakes once before. We saw snakes twice on the same day and on two different islands.

General Wild life sightings: It was all over the place, everything were plentiful and all there as “advertised”. On some places, you will have to try hard not to step on the marine iguanas, or not see anything at all. If you don’t like lizards, this is not the place for you.

We have also visited the big lava tunnel, the giant land tortoise at the highlands (Primicias ecological reserve), and the Interpret center at San Cristobal.

To be continued … next up: finally, the final chapter

Percy Nov 30th, 2011 02:20 PM

Ho-Hum :) another great report !!

Glad you mentioned those 360 steps.

I never saw any snakes ( so put me in the not seeing snakes group)

You had quite the adventure under water snorkelling !

Good explanation about the wet and dry landing.

Thanks again for the great addition to the trip report...waiting for the finally chapter.

( Did you get to see Lonesome Goerge , or has he died ?)

jacketwatch Nov 30th, 2011 02:36 PM

OMG! What an adventure you had. You Canadians are hardy sorts, eh. :-) Keep it coming.

Percy Nov 30th, 2011 06:11 PM

Eschew do you live in Canada!?

Eschew Nov 30th, 2011 06:57 PM

Lonesome George is alive and well and is kicking. They estimated that he will still have at least another 50 good years left. Early this year, they just found him 2 new young females from the nearby Spanish Island. Those 2 were closer genetically than the last pair and they are hoping that George might be a father one day. For those who doesn't know who Lonesome George is, he is the last living member of the Geochelone abigdoni species.

This is a true but funny story that happened while snorkelling at Punta Vicente Roca. A fellow on our group was known to be a joker and likes to "play". While he was underwater, someone (or rather something) kept tugging on him or swam right past him and brushing the inside of his legs. He thought someone was getting even with him. The truth was a young sealion nipped at his fins and swam right between his legs. We told him it was a sealion but he wouldn't believe us. He said what sealion. We told him it was behind him and he turned around. In the meantime, the sealion had swam around him and is now on his back side. It looked straight out of a Laurel & Hardy movie.

There were so much wild life around Punta Vicente Roca that is truly amzaing. There were at least a dozen sea turtles swimming around us, among other things, all within the small confine of the secluded cove.

If you recall, I had hurted myself earlier in Peru. While snorkelling, I really couldn't move my right arm without enduring sharp pain. I was steering, swimming with my left arm only and kept my right arm fully extended.

There is one good thing that came out of all this. Since my right arm was fully extended anyway, I strapped an underwater camera on my right wrist and I got a lot of great underwater video shots. The shots were much steadier than anything I have ever taken before because of the "fixed" arm. I think I will do the same when I snorkel in the future even when my arm is not hurt.

SelfPropelledTripod Dec 1st, 2011 12:07 AM

Loving your report!

Regarding unlocked cabins: on my ship in Antarctica, they said they kept all cabins unlocked for safety reasons, which made a lot of sense to me (in much harsher conditions), and everyone was very respectful of each other's privacy. So, when we had a similar system on the Isabela II, I didn't give it much thought until I came up from lunch on my first day two married couples peering covetously through my cabin window and about to walk inside to look around! I was a single and had the smallest guest cabin, but one of the couples had gotten a cabin with two twin beds, so they were envying my double bed. They were actually wonderful people, and I know they would not have taken or disturbed anything in my cabin (I think they were just contemplating whether to ask me to switch), but I did find this rather off-putting.

The snorkeling was wonderful, wasn't it? I chill easily, so I brought my own full-length wetsuit (the ship rented shorties and farmer johns). It was a 3/2mm and was perfect most of the time, a bit chilly once or twice. I think water temperature varies a lot depending on season, and I was there between seasons.

I'm envious you saw penguins underwater! I saw them on-shore, but never swimming. Nor marine iguanas underwater (saw some swimming from the panga, though). I guess I'll have to go back. :-)

I did get to see a snake, which the guides also noted was quite rare. It was actually one of the pangueros who spotted it.

I'm glad to hear your guide's explanation of the sharks at night. One of the other passengers clued me in to this, and it was magical at night, watching sharks chasing seals chasing flying fish, all with bioluminescent glow in the water. But in the back of my mind, I was suspecting that maybe the crew was dumping kitchen waste overboard after dinner (which would be very out of character for a very eco-conscious operator). Glad to hear it was the lights...

Hope your arm is better!

Eschew Dec 1st, 2011 09:25 AM

SelfPropelledTripod, I guess we came across almost the same things and probably made a lot of the same stops. I don't know if your trip included snorkeling at Punta Vicente Roca but I was told by the guides that it is their favorite snorkeling spot as the wildlife is plentiful. There was a cave right next to the cove and apparently, they are not allowed to take groups there anymore, not even the zodiacs.

The pengiuns were in the water swimming among us, and they are fast! The other birds (like pelicans) were diving in and scooping fish out of the water. There were so many different species of birds around that area. We were almost afraid that the birds are going to hit us the way they are diving down into the water.

The marine iguanas were all over on the rocks, not many were in the water though; and they don't typically go "underwater". The baby sealions are very playful. They were nipping at the marine inguanas' tail. The guide said they don't eat them, just play with them. That sort of explained why the sealion was nipping at the fins on the story that I told earleir.

The marine inguanas typically get into the water to feed and then they will layout on the rock in the son to get heated up. I don't recall actually seeing marine inguanas while snorkeling but we saw them in te water often, especailly in the mornings.

In comparison to the mass market ships, leaving keycards on a public accessible front desk counter is unimaginable. The typical rule for a mass market ship is to keep the cabin door wide open if any staff is working in there (like cleaning etc).

Percy, to answer your question, yes, although most of my siblings are still in the Boston area. I peeked at your profile, it is blank! And Larry was making fun of my lack of "clarity" on my profile pic ... :D

Percy Dec 1st, 2011 11:29 AM

Thanks Eschew , glad Lonesome George is still around.


They also tried to mate him with a "lady " from Australia.!!

Lonesome George would have nothing to do with her.

You know this guy is over 160 years old...maybe he forgot how !!:)

Thanks for and extra report on the Galapagos.

Eschew Dec 1st, 2011 02:52 PM

Percy, I think Lonesoem George fertilised the two ladies back in 2007 or 2008 but the eggs didn't work (failed to hatch? or did not develop?) They think it could be a genetic incompatibility. So we will see what happens with the two new mates. They were moved there sometime earlier this year.

So Percy, you are in the Edmonton area?

laverendrye Dec 1st, 2011 06:39 PM

ttt

Eschew Dec 2nd, 2011 01:25 PM

The final chapter to this TR is a collection of miscellaneous things that didn't really fit into anywhere. Here they are:

What to bring and miscellaneous ramblings:

Insect repellents: We bought the strongest (and most expensive?) type we can find at home. Did it work? We don’t know. We did not even open the package. We didn’t encounter any flying nuisances and therefore, we did not use any insect repellents. There wasn’t any problem although others had told us that bug spray is a must. It could be just the time of the year.

Swim suits: If you want to take part in all the water activities, bring 2 swim suits. There are possibilities of water activities both in the morning and in the afternoon. You can definitely get way with one suit but once you get the wet stuff off from the morning, I really hate to put it back on again a few hours later unless it is dry, especially if you have to wear dry clothes on top. Laundry service is available but 24 hours is needed. There is no self-laundry facility available.

Outer wear: Believe it or not, the best outer wear is a long-sleeve t-shirt. We have been told that and we have brought with us two each. It worked great. One of the local guides carries something that looked like tube socks and wore them on his arms. Sun tan lotion and a hat (that can cover and shelter your neck from sun burn) is a necessity.

Footwear: Comfortable shoes with thick bottom and good grips. The volcanic rocks can be very sharp. For wet landing, you will need “waterproof” shoes. Flip flops are not an option and would be dangerous and hazardous. Some local guides wear “Crocs”, and after the hose down back on board, would dry fast. The holes on them can be a challenge with volcanic ash or sand; plus they are not for everyone. DW had her “fashion” Crocs which doesn’t have holes on the side and worked well. I took along my Vivo minimalist shoes and similar to the Crocs, worked well and dried fast. The 5 fingers shoes worked extremely well but they attracted everyone’s attention. I used them for both hiking and wet landings. You can always get away with only a pair of good hiking boots or running shoes, but you will have to take them off for wet landing and putting them back on, and then take them off again when you have to climb back in the zodiac from the water.

Binoculars are useful and handy unless you have a powerful tele-zoom camera and did not want to carry the extra weight. A bird watcher binocular would be good. A local bird watcher guide is available at the ship’s gift shop for under $5. Buy one. It is laminated and came in very handy when trying to ID the various species. Can you get away without the binoculars? Absolutely! They are all over the place and so close that you can almost touched them. (Resist the temptation as it comes with a hefty fine!) It’s just that a pair of binoculars will give you more options.

Are underwater cameras necessary? All I can say is we are glad we have them with us. I borrowed mine from a diver friend and let me tell you, the shots made for great memories. If you plan to snorkel, find one.

The waves and sea swells can be quite strong, if you are not a strong swimmer, a partially inflated float vest would be necessary. I saw most people made the mistake of “fully” inflated their float vest to look like an inflated life jacket. It is actually harder to snorkel when it is fully inflated like that, and you can’t go deep. What is the right level? You inflated it to a point where you can float up-right without any arm or leg movements and your head is still above water. For me, it was less than 10 or 20% of air and looking at it, you probably think it was not even inflated. I always wear a float vest for snorkeling, especially in open water. Even if you are a strong swimmer, you can get tired, you can have a cramp, you may get caught in underwater tow, there are always chances of something unforeseen and it is better safe than sorry. I know, it doesn’t look “macho”, but I prefer alive than dead.

Bleeding hearts: You have to leave it at home. Several times, we came across dying animals (and birds) that appears to be suffering. There is nothing you can do about it. It is part of the natural process. You are not allowed to approach them, or touch them or anything else for that matter. You have to ignore them and move on, and let nature runs its course. Sometimes it is hard to see a baby sea lion dying from hunger or whatever the causes maybe. You hear the “crying” and all, but you will have to leave them as they were.

The smell: From time to time, the smell in the air was unpleasant. It could be from the pools of stagnant sea water, or droppings from the wild life. Get used to it. By the way, if you see lots of birds circling overhead, don’t look up and say “wow” with your mouth wide open in amazement. You might get lucky. More reasons to bring a washable hat.

Speaking of hat, I lost mine 3 times. But I was lucky enough to get them back every time. I have learned to take it off and tuck it in while on board the zodiacs. I thought I had lost it for good when it blew off my head (and into the water) when I was climbing the ladder getting back to the ship. A crew member fished it out of the water for me.

Tipping: The ship did not add the daily tip on your tab. You were given 2 envelops, one for the crew and one for the guides. They offer a recommended amount of about $12 per day for the crew and a lesser amount for the guides. We have always tipped extra to those that provided excellent service so we tipped the waiter (who served us at breakfast and lunch but not at dinner) and a few of the guides separate (extra) as well. Some of the guides are exceptional. César was our favorite.

They closed off your on board account at 10 p.m. the night before departure. They lock the mini-fridge around that time while you were at dinner. You can’t pay up your account until the next morning and it was a challenge. They would slip the bill under your door sometime during the night. The front desk didn’t open until 6 a.m. I was there at 6 a.m. sharp and I was the 5th person in line. By the time I had my bills paid, it was past 6:30 a.m. There were 2 staff members working, but only one computer. The first two persons in line had questions about the charges on their bills and that was it, everything stopped. After they had solved their problems, the lines moved a bit better. If you pay by cash, be aware that they hand wrote the serial numbers from every $100 bill on a list and you have to sign for them. Obviously, it took a bit of time.

On the day that you depart the ship for good, you still have one more excursion to go. Your luggage will be delivered to the airport and checked-in for you. They will give you your boarding pass and luggage receipts at the airport. After breakfast, at 8 a.m. you got on the zodiac one last time and went ashore. At the pier, you will be greeted by a white truck and they will keep your hand luggage for you and deliver them to the airport. You board the bus and go to the interpret center for the morning. After that, you will be bused back to town and have an hour or so of free time to explore on your own and do some souvenir shopping. A bus will take you to the airport when you are ready to go. At the airport, you will be greeted by the white truck, and you retrieve your hand luggage. A local guide from the ship will called for the passengers and you get your boarding pass and luggage receipts from them. You board the plane and that’s it!

Were the National Geographic’s Endeavour and Celebrity Xpedition much different from the Galapagos Explorer II? I can’t tell for sure as I was not on those 2 ships. But the following was what I discovered, some by personal observation, and others by asking questions.

Interesting enough, the Endeavour was alongside to us for about 3 days. They landed on the same islands and doing the same hikes. We came across their zodiacs and their passengers often. I asked our guide about the Endeavour and the answer did not surprise us. The Endeavour made the same stops, do the same tours, except they called them “expeditions”. There really isn’t any difference as they must hire the same guides from the same local pool available but they have the “brand”. Most of the top local guides had worked on all 3 ships at one point or another. The guides also mentioned that the Endeavour carries slightly less passengers and the cabins are smaller. Food and services are about the same.

When asked about the Xpedition, the guide’s comment was that it is an even smaller ship (less than 3,000 tons), and the cabins are much smaller, and they are certainly not different from the Explorer II and eth Endeavour in terms of the “expeditions”, food, services and amenities.

My impression from talking to people was that the “big 3” here are the Galapagos Explorer II, the Celebrity Xpedition and the National Geographic’s Endeavour. The Explorer II and the Xpedition are here year round. Most of the local guides worked their way up from the smaller boats and getting the contracts to work at the biggest boats are very good for their pocket books. You can certainly get to more far off places with the smaller boats, but if you want the amenities and the “luxury”, you have to stick with the big three.

Would we do it again? The answer is maybe. We were glad that we did it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. If we were at least 10 years younger, we would definitely want to do it again. Would we opt for a smaller boat? Probably not. We like our “luxury” too much and we are not the roughing it type, at least not any more.

Any comments or questions welcome.

Percy Dec 2nd, 2011 04:11 PM

Thanks for a great report and great information. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all your comments.
Yes, I am in Edmonton.

JaneB Dec 4th, 2011 06:45 AM

Eschew, how did you book your cruise?

Your report was very informative--especially this last entry.
Thank you for such a useful report.

Gracie01 Dec 7th, 2011 07:41 PM

Hello Eschew,
Your list helped me a lot. And I would really like to thank you for this through which I made my trip with my family. The remaining tips and points I collected from the cruises forums.

SelfPropelledTripod Dec 12th, 2011 01:43 PM

Hi Eschew! I just wanted to say thanks again for the great trip report. (I've been traveling so haven't checked Fodor's in over a week.) I laughed aloud with your comment about not looking up at birds directly overhead and saying "Wow".

Eschew Dec 15th, 2011 01:57 PM

Percy, if you want to catch a World junior game coming up, let me know. I have 2 crappy seats, some games are spoken for, espcially all the Canadian games.

JaneB, I book my cruise through my local TA. She gave me a choice of 4 or 5 ships and we (with her help) narrowed down to this one. She knew our "quirks" and likes and dislikes.

I found out after the fact that the Galapagos Explorer II has their own web site and you can book direct, not that it is any cheaper. I would still suggest you talk to your local TA and see what they recommend.

Gracie01, if there are any questions, ask. I will try to answer, or steer you to the right direction. I try to check-in here (Fodors) at least weekly, but sometimes I just can't find the time, especially if I am out of town or get busy with other stuff. There are things that I may have thought unimportant but it might turned out to be important to someone else.

SelfProprllrfTripod, other than Peru's Ballestas Island, I have never seen that much birds overhead (exception: seagulls overhead on the local garbage dump). At Ballestas Island, you are almost guaranteed to have at least one hit from the birds overhead. I have pictures of people looking up in shock with the bird "diving" in.

As you could have imagined, I have taken quite a few pictures on this trip. I hope to have some posted on the web in the near future. I will put the photo albumn link here.

Percy Dec 15th, 2011 02:58 PM

Eschew:

Thanks for the offer but the games start right here in my City next weekend.:)

I hardly go to hockey games. Use to be a season ticket holder during our Golden Heydays with Gretzky.


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