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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


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


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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