An Expedition Cruise – A journey to the Galapagos Islands
Our LuxuryBARED member, Dr Alison Coll, was so full of praise for Silversea Silver Galapagos and her wonderful wildlife adventure that she couldn’t wait to share her memories with us. Here’s what she had to say about life onboard.
This review is based on my experience as a first-timer on a proper cruise – what I consider a large boat – but what any frequent floater will tell you is actually very small: it only takes 100 passengers, and on our trip a mere 80. Small indeed. I’ve taken river cruises in the past that have a maximum of 50 on board and thus I was rather nervous at the thought of 100 people on one ship, despite the advertising saying that you always go ashore in groups of 10-12 and landings are staggered. I needn’t have worried. At no time did the ship feel too big or that there were too many people milling around small venues.
Disembarking at ports of call was managed extremely proficiently, although there was a little waiting around each time while being assigned a Zodiac. On landing each time, we set off with one of the amazing guides on board, who were all extremely knowledgeable and charming. The size of the groups was generally about 12 people and we were always welcomed back on board with a cold towel and a drink.
The briefings the night before each sortie were more than adequate to ensure that no one undertook a hike that was too much for their ability, and there was always an easier version on offer in both walks and snorkelling excursions.
At the briefing, the crew described each expedition as to whether it was hard or strenuous and they showed a video of the hike with previous passengers walking it to give an idea of what we could expect. They would advise what type of shoes to wear and whether a walking stick would be necessary.
The less challenging walk available was not always quite the same experience but as close as possible. It would either be a shorter walk or on flatter ground. Generally, the feeling was that very little was missed by doing the easier routes in terms of wildlife, although you may miss some of the geological and landscape super-views.
Some passengers were quite unsteady on their feet and every effort was made to get them from ship to Zodiac to shore, and they all managed to do the trips. The Zodiacs were amazingly steady, even when the sea was slightly rough. Boarding them from the ship was an extremely well-managed operation. There were steps down the side of the ship, which were manned at the top, and we were supervised going down them, only one or two at a time and always wearing a life vest. At the base of the steps was a crew member holding the Zodiac close to the platform ready to help you on. You would then slide along the side to sit down. The reverse would happen to get out on return to the ship, or on landing if it was on shore.
Sometime we had what they called a wet landing, when we pulled up to the beach and swung our legs over the side and jumped off into about six inches of water (having been advised to wear water shoes). Again there was plenty of help.
The Zodiacs always felt steady even if there was a slight swell when embarking and disembarking and everyone was able to manage. There were nine of them in total but most of the time only seven were in use as the landings were staggered. On some days the passenger list was divided into two and departure times separated by an hour or more.
Every day there were two expeditions, which would vary in length from one to three hours. A couple of them involved going into the local town and getting a bus into the interior. One morning was a relaxed, optional trip to the beach just to wander, swim and snorkel. As well as the expeditions, snorkelling trips were offered on some days – I think four times on our cruise. Every afternoon there would be lectures or a film related to the Galapagos.
This was a busy holiday, and as the expedition leader jokingly remarked, this was a boot camp rather than a vacation. Expeditions often started at 7am and sometimes we didn’t get back to the ship until 6pm, with an evening briefing at 7pm. Despite this, it was a wonderful trip, and there was plenty to see and do.
The guides, as mentioned above, were all extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable. They were all from Ecuador and passionate about the area and conservation. They were all university graduates, some with multiple degrees, and all spoke excellent English. It is pot luck as to whether you have the same guide on each trip but they were all equally brilliant. On landing at each site, each guide tends to take a different route where possible to make sure you are separated from other groups and thus have the feeling of being on your own.
On the ship the suites are small and everything is a snug fit. I had a deluxe veranda suite, which was the second-largest category with a balcony, and yet it felt small. There was just room for all of me and my husband’s clothes to be unpacked and, luckily, they stored our cases. These suites are apparently much smaller than equivalent-level suites on non-expedition ships but they do serve their purpose. They did look rather tired and in need of a refurb, as did other parts of the ship. We were told this is due to happen later this year, certainly with regard to the public areas, but I’m not sure about the suites.
There are two restaurants onboard: the main one serves all the meals, and The Grill, which is on deck and does lunch for a limited number and dinner by reservation. The food was good considering the limitations staff work under – nothing can be imported and they can only use local produce. It was very good if you stuck to seafood, especially the Ecuadorean cuisine. We tended only to have lunch at The Grill, which was excellent, but we had dinner there once. It was good but the menu was very limited.
I would say to anyone who does this trip to do all the expeditions and forget about having a rest as everything is amazing and you won’t see it anywhere else. We did the North/Central cruise, and I imagine the other one is equally as good. There was a couple onboard who were doing the two back-to-back and said they were very different but equally fantastic.
In terms of anything special to bring, if you are slightly unsteady, take a lightweight, fold-up walking stick. Be sure to have good walking shoes and water shoes, as mentioned in the ‘what to pack’ list that’s sent out beforehand. Surprisingly, there was reasonable internet available onboard.
Overall, I can say I was extremely happy with my cruise experience. We travelled with two frequent cruisers, neither of whom had been on Silverseas before and who also were extremely happy with the whole experience. So much so that we are all now busy working out our dates for when we can join another Silverseas adventure to Alaska and Antarctica.
A final plaudit to Silver Galapagos: our flight out was delayed by four hours and they arranged a packed lunch to be sent to everyone at the airport while we sat and waited. We were no longer their responsibility but they still did this, proving they cared. How many other companies would do that?
Wildlife photography courtesy of Dr Alison Coll
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