Cruising the Galapagos

Nov 25th, 2011, 01:57 PM
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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 …
Eschew is offline  
Nov 25th, 2011, 03:52 PM
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Good start..
Thank you for taking the time to post!
JaneB is online now  
Nov 25th, 2011, 06:33 PM
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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.
Percy is offline  
Nov 26th, 2011, 04:45 AM
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Great report thanks great info was there last year

Saw where they were building the new airport but not open

smartours.com excellent packages for Galapagos/MP right now

Got my best deals discounts with www.guanguiltagua.com

[email protected] was great had a wonderful time.

Good discounts on Galapagos cruises from $600 on Galaven

Ecoventura.com for more upscale careful MANY cruise scammers.

particularly the "experts" on TripAdvertizer who are secret

spouses of agents and will book a bunk on the roachie Samba

or Archipel for thousands of $$$ more than you have to pay.

So Caveat Emptor!
qwovadis is offline  
Nov 26th, 2011, 07:41 AM
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Great deal and very low rates thank for sharing with us.

Single Cruises

If you really want to enjoy the travel being single, Europe River Cruising is the best way to enjoy. It is not like just other cruise where the passangers are for family reunion, couple and families. It is the best way to enjoy being single and a chance to know the another single. It doesn't even matter which age group you are. Here you get the chance to visit real side of the life of the ports that you visit in to soak in the culture.
kadenboyd12 is offline  
Nov 26th, 2011, 08:09 AM
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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 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 is offline  
Nov 26th, 2011, 08:20 AM
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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
Eschew is offline  
Nov 26th, 2011, 07:29 PM
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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.
Percy is offline  
Nov 28th, 2011, 01:17 AM
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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.
Gracie01 is offline  
Nov 28th, 2011, 09:32 AM
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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.
Eschew is offline  
Nov 28th, 2011, 10:01 AM
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O.

M.

G.

Had to google zodiac, it's a small inflatable boat, right? Great beginning, please post more!
Dayenu is offline  
Nov 28th, 2011, 10:12 AM
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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”
Eschew is offline  
Nov 28th, 2011, 02:36 PM
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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
Percy is offline  
Nov 28th, 2011, 11:18 PM
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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.
SelfPropelledTripod is offline  
Nov 29th, 2011, 10:25 AM
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I agree with SelfPropelledTripod
Percy is offline  
Nov 29th, 2011, 10:36 AM
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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 ...
Eschew is offline  
Nov 29th, 2011, 11:10 AM
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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.
Percy is offline  
Nov 29th, 2011, 03:39 PM
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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.
Eschew is offline  
Nov 29th, 2011, 04:35 PM
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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.
Percy is offline  
Nov 29th, 2011, 06:55 PM
  #20  
 
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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.
SelfPropelledTripod is offline  

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