We just completed the "A " April 5 itinerary, and I am writing these comments in the Baltra airport. We are a very well traveled couple, mid 50's and early 60's, and we traveled with 20 friends from around the country. Our room number was 503, a suite with balcony.
These are a few random thoughts:
This is not a trip for those with physical limitations, balance problems, or weak knees. The walks are over irregular sharp boulders, slick algae covered lava, and loose stones. The pangas do not disembark on piers, but on sharp lava outcroppings or beaches with rocks.
It is hot, and some of the walks are very strenuous, especially the walk to see the albatrosses. There are also 5 snorkeling opportunities, 3 being 'deep water' entries from the pangas It is a shame to waste the time and money if you can't participate. Honestly evaluate your fitness level before attempting this cruise.
The boat continues to have a severe rocking problem. A fellow passenger with a level application on his iPhone measured the daily sway at 10 degrees, and on two nights it was a 'get thrown off the bed' 15 degrees. We have been told differing stories for the origin of the instability. First, that the stabilizers were broken and too old to be fixed. Second, that the software that controlled the stabilizers was corrupted and no longer supported because of its age. Third, that the boat was bought 'cheap' at auction and refurbished for this purpose, and the boat was a poor design to begin with. Its hull is too rounded and shallow, so the boat bobs like a duck on top of the water. Whatever the reason, it is unpleasant and a safety risk. If you are prone to motion sickness, book the mid ship lower deck cabins, and bring meclizine pills, Transderm Scop patches, ginger, and wrist bands!
Casual reigns, even at dinner. There is no dressing up at all! Women wear clean capris/tops, men wear shorts/pants and a clean shirt/T-shirt for dinner.
The sun is so intense and it is so hot, I recommend covering up as much as possible with long sleeves and long pants. Don't let the sun fry your skin!
Personal recs: I am 5'2", wear 10p-12p waist, 12p-14p pants as I carry my weight in my butt and thighs. Royal Robbins Cardiff long pants were a perfect fit. They are a silky cool stretch nylon, and I wore them a lot, as they protected my legs from the intense sun. I also brought 2 pairs of Royal Robbins Discovery Capris, and Royal Robbins Discovery Bermudas. I wore the capris at dinner, and the bermudas (they fit more like pedal pushers) in between expeditions. They are expensive but can be found cheaper on the Sierra Trading website, Amazon, and eBay. I love the Royal Robbins Discovery stretch nylon fabric. Most men had the nylon convertible pants/shorts. My husband brought two pairs and wore them long daily, as he also felt they offered better sun protection than shorts.
I brought 4 long sleeve LLBean Sunsmart shirts that I've had for years, but ended up buying two of the gift shop's long sleeve Tatoo brand shirts because they were made of a thinner fabric and were cooler. At $38, they were a bargain and most cruisers bought one. They are available in a light tan and a dark green color. Speaking of color, keep the bright ones home. Pack only tan/khaki, green, grey, brown, dull colors. We were told to avoid red, yellow, pink, coral, and tropical colors that attract insects. Double the number of cotton T's; once they are sweaty, they will never dry unless sent to the laundry.
Shoes: Even though Keens were recommended and I bought Keen "Venice H2" for myself and Keen "Newport H2" for my husband, I don't think they are the best choice as they accumulate too much sand. For wet landings I much preferred my plastic Crocs "Patricia I" and "Patricia II" sandals. I could quickly slip them off to rinse the sand away, then slip them back on and continue the walk. For dry landings or rough terrain walks, old closed toe lightweight tennis shoes are the best option. Good soles that grip are crucial to prevent falling!
Backpacks. You need a basic lightweight backpack to carry water and sunscreen and towels. The gift shop sold a logo'd one for only $13, but most people had their own. I bought one from Eddie Bauer for $16 that folded into its own little case.
Snorkeling: The water is cold! The first day, you are given a wetsuit. Try to get a long sleeve one if possible. If not, bring a long sleeve rash guard and wear it under the wetsuit. You don't need shoes for deep water snorkeling trips. Leave them behind, but do get a pair of Tilos fin socks from Amazon to prevent blisters. They cost $15ish a pair.
Hats: You need a good lightweight hat with a broad brim and a chin strap. I am a fan of the Sunday Afternoon hats. You can buy them from their website. I bought the Cruiser hat for myself and the Field hat for my husband. I saw other passengers wearing the Adventure model. They can be thrown in the washing machine and folded in a suitcase.
Sunscreen. You need lots of it! I recommend zinc based sunscreens as zinc provides the best broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection.
Read labels. My favorite is Solbar 40 because it is cheap and soaks in well. (I am a dermatologist). For the face, I love Elta MD 46 Clear.
Photography (courtesy of my husband):
I brought a Canon 5D Mark III DSLR and only took the 70-200mm lens onto land. It was ideal. If you have a wide angle lens, leave it at home. It will be of no use. A slightly longer telephoto would have been nice a few times, but as an all around lens on the excursions, the 70-200 worked great. A lot of people snap pictures of birds flying through the air with iphones. I can't imagine they are going to get very useable pictures, but the iphones do a pretty nice job with video, and there are times where having a video camera is useful. One evening, we took a Zodiac ride that left at 5:30 pm. It was an overcast day, but the useable light was about gone by the time we got to the cliffs where the blue footed boobies were nesting. There was also a 4:30 pm departure time, so if you have a choice on this excursion, take the earlier one as you will have more useable light. (By the way, flash photography is never allowed on the excursions, so don't bother to bring an external flash unit.) The Saturday we were in Santa Cruz I walked past a small fish market on the way from the Darwin Research Center back to the boat. A husband and wife were cutting up fresh fish and selling it to the locals. This proved to be one of the best photo ops because there were three seals and six pelicans within inches of the action occasionally grabbing a piece of fish from the cutting table. This is one place where something other than the 70-200mm lens would have been preferable, but I still managed to get some shots. A video camera would have been nice here. It was an unexpected surprise.
Bring a rubber clothes line and a pair of carabiner hooks to attach it in the cabin. There is no place to hang wet or moist clothes.
Laundry service is cheap, and clothes are returned the same day. Many people used it. Moist cotton clothes will never dry; opt for nylon pants/shorts and double the number of cotton T's you'll think you need.
Bring a long extension cord and multi outlet strip like a Monster Strip. There is only one 110 outlet across the room at the desk. You may want to bring a 220 adaptor so you can use the additional outlet.
If you need to dry your hair fast, bring your own hair dryer. The room has one, but it is not very powerful.
There is a TV, but no channels to watch. No news channels; no BBC. Instead, movies are shown...occasionally.
The thermostat controls in the staterooms are probably just for show. I think there is a main thermostat control somewhere because we never noticed a difference when we adjusted the dial in our room.
Internet access is horrible. It's currently free, probably because there is no way they could charge for such unreliable service. If you need to be connected to your business or kids, stay home. We have been completely out of service for 48 hours, and before this, were able to connect for only a few minutes at a time before being dropped. PC's and Macs were all in the same boat.
You don't need a balcony cabin. It's hot and humid and you don't want to spend time out there. Save the money, unless you want a little extra square footage for space.
The rooms are very well maintained, with twice daily maid service. Chocolate is left on your pillow nightly. We all left our room attendant $20. Remember the lower the deck and more midline the room, the less the sway.
The waiters, bartenders, and naturalists are superb. Always service with a smile! All the naturalists were knowledgeable and fun.
We all tipped the servers who spent the most time waiting on us.
The food is uniformly good, not great. We never made it to breakfast. The theme buffet lunches were our favorite meal. There was always a large variety of entrees, salads and incredibly yummy desserts. Dinner was by menu, and usually took 2 hours. The dining room got louder by the day, because more friendships were being made. Do not order the beef! People hated the beef dishes, saying the beef tasted briney. Even the hamburgers tasted off. Stick with the fish and chicken or vegetarian dishes.
After two excursions per day, most people were too tired to attend the 9:30pm entertainment. We did not attend any evening activities. On our voyage, less than 50% attended.
Quito and Altitude
Approx 5% of the cruisers got altitude sickness in Quito. If you are worried you may fall ill, ask your doctor for Diamox and dexamethasone to bring with you, with instructions on how to take it. The arranged tour the day before embarkation was very interesting. It took us to the central old town and to the Equatorial Monument. A delicious lunch was served at a 'safe' restaurant.
We were told to vacate our rooms by 8am. A full breakfast was available, then people congregated in the lounge until 9am, when boarding passes were distributed. At 9:30, the pangas started taking groups to the dock, where a bus was ready for a very short ride to the airport. We were immediately herded past the small shops to the screening area and usher to the "VIP" waiting area, which is really a roped off part of the terminal. There is no air conditioning, and the wait is 2- 2.5 hours. We kindly asking if we could visit the shops but were declined. It's a shame because we had money to spend and the items were what most of us were looking for- Galapagos hats and cute T'shirts for grandchildren.
Overall, we really enjoyed this trip, but will not return. It is now crossed off our bucket list!