100 Passenger with a crew of 70, recently refurbished during a quick two week wet dock. Ship looks tired and miss kept with rust showing on many parts, broken stair parts, brass parts not shined left to turn green, holes in the ceilings in public areas, falling down light fixtures, flooring coming lose inside hallways and decking missing out on exterior decks. Just basically a tired 1980’s looking ship interior, with some cool looking exhaust stacks; shaped like two small wings on top of the ship. Don’t get me wrong, lots of major items were done with new navigation equipment, new kitchens, moving hot tubs and building new spa and workout rooms.
It still displays brass plaques in guest rooms with the "Galapagos Explorer II” name. Even your closing bill with be on Galapagos Explorer stationary. Currently Silversea does not have full control of the ship till after the first of the 2014 to clear out pre-booked passengers form the previous owners (getting rid of the three and four day cruises). Newly added spa and workout area on deck 6 look great but you won’t find anyone in them due the nature and time restrictions of this voyage. Other public areas got new furniture and trimmings. They look dis-jointed compare to the rest of the ageing ship. Workers onboard are welding, stripping varnishing, sanding, painting and upgrading while cruising. Definitely a work in progress. Silversea branding could suffer for a while till a scheduled one month dry dock is done, this September 2014 at a Panama port. Some sales brochures and onboard paperwork is miss-printed, so don’t be surprised if things are not what you’re expecting, be calm it all works out in the end. Later on after a few days in the cruise you dismiss these first perceptions as the crew and Galapagos islands win you over and you recognize you’re on an expedition type ship. Lecture time is a little different being in the meeting room with the entire ships guests, just shows you how small this new community is. This closeness adds comrade and you soon have lots of new friends…
EMBARK & SHIP GREETING
A little relaxed and subdued, You wait at the airport in a waiting room with light refreshments till the buses are ready to drive you down to the dock. A zodiac will take you to the ship and there you will have lunch then go settle in to your room after 1:30 PM. No taking your picture, running your credit card or collecting your passport. All you need is the preprinted boarding card; they handed us a day before we even got to the Galapagos island. Without the initial picture taking process it makes it a little harder for the crew to recognize you, but they will try.
Rooms are very basic, not what you would anticipate for a Silversea ship. All the usual amenities: robes, shampoo, conditioner, cotton balls, hand dryers, two pairs of 10x50 binoculars and two drawers with a keyed lock. Rooms have a strange plastic key with holes in it and ship is very leery you will lose a key causing them to replace the entire door hardware. Walking sticks are located on deck 3 if you need them. Some rooms have espresso machines. Heating and cooling is done with a wall hung fan-coil that works well. Rooms do not have irons or ironing boards. Cabin upgrades done recently are replaced carpeting, mattress, bedding, room entertainment system, drapes and complete re-do of the bathrooms. Other than the new bathrooms, rooms look old and out dated, expect them to finish things in the next dry September 2014.
American dollars are used everywhere in Peru and Ecuador. At the time of this wiring it was a 2.7 exchange rate for Peru and one to one in Ecuador (American dollar in national currency in Ecuador). Note bills used in Peru need to have no tares or pieces missing. (in good ATM condition)
PRE-CRUISE - Abercrombie and Kent combined with Acorn tours do a great job on meeting you and taking care of all your needs. On the Machu Picchu four day trip, be prepared for a 3:30 AM hotel pick-up in Lima, going to the airport for a flight out to Cusco. On your train ride down the mountain, be careful, train cars rocks back and forth, so moving around the train could be a problem. Keep your eyes peeled for seeing lots of smaller Inca ruins along the way down to Machu Picchu. Staying at the Sanctuary hotel overnight is great way to add extra time in the park and be prepared to keep your patio door open to regulate room temperature (no AC but there are screens on the patio door). Sanctuary hotel rooms are nothing to write home about but; Silversea picking up the tab on breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and drinks, surely makes up for it. In the dining room you will receive with the current chef, sample tasting items and food brought out would get, a one, possibly two Michelin stars. Skip desert, pastry chef needs a lot of work. Be mindful the dry season in Machu Picchu is May through September. Have a poncho or rain gear to keep dry for sudden rain showers in the wet season. Be prepared for it to be very crowded and over commercialized, just let the guide show you around and you will soon forget about the crowds. After a nice buffet lunch, take the train ride up the mountain and a car ride to Cusco, arriving in the late afternoon. (Oxygen is available on the train and in the hotel room) Hotel in Cusco "Monasterio” is an old monastery and would have loved to explore the hotel and a very cute town square, but you get in so late in the afternoon and leave the hotel at 5AM. Just not enough time, missing a lot to do there… Note- hotel Monasterio does not have AC, no screens on the windows and no curtains. Hotel in Quito was the Hilton and had excellent accommodations but still no time to explore with a late arrival and a 6AM hotel departure out to the Galapagos. We were the only two people on the Pre-cruise excursion and that didn’t stop Silversea and A&K Tour, from going over the top to make sure everything was meeting your expectations. So many people are helping in every way, you will need a fist full of $10.00 an $20:00 dollar bills for tipping to A&K drivers, guides and bellmen. Speaking of money; the American dollar is king, you will need not carry any local currency and English is spoken everywhere we went.
All land excursions, kayaks, glass bottom boat rides and snorkeling are included. At the beginning of the week you will check out your wetsuits for the duration of the voyage (they come long and short legged versions in all sizes) fins and mask. Lots of areas on the islands you are climbing or walking on irregular lava rocks and will need to be limber and agile. Walks are sometimes long in distance but the walking is very slow. Some hikes have alternate short and long versions for you to select. Most days have a morning and afternoon excursion and you can select a shorter route or skipping one altogether. After snorkeling you are greeted with a towel and a hot chocolate drink. Islands have a wet season (Dec-May) and a dry season. Terrain will become a lot greener during the wet season. By ”wet season” it does not mean lots of rain but fog and drizzle. Some months are better for bird hatching and mating; wetter months are greener with lots of bugs, so pick you poison (so to speak). Your guides are all locally grown and have backgrounds in biology with university degrees. They are full of valuable information and make-up most of the days pleasurable experiences. So, stay close to the guides and you will get the most out of it and learn a plethora of new information. Photography Notes (most animals will only be between 6’ to 12’ away from you other than some birds, which could be up to 150 yards away. Most all will be posing nice and still. Bring underwater camera, UV and polarizing filters if you got them)
Two bottles of distilled spirits (what you would find in a normal bar but selection limited due to this small ship size) or house wines, will be delivered to your room at no cost with all soft drinks and or mixes. Don’t’ count on any great selection of beer or wines; they just are not on this ship.
No traditional suits with tails in this part of the world, letting them dress casual during the day and black vest during the evening. They are eager to please and really trying hard to make your stay as comfortable as possible. They were still in training and confused about included items at the time of this writing. (we think the problem might be that there are many guests onboard that booked with the old ship long ago that everything was an extra charge. Silversea needs to deal with this till early 2014)
The job gets done but not to the standards of detail and deep cleaning one would expect on high end hotels. Cleaning in done sloppily and sporadic even requiring the butlers to make beds but hopefully things will get better as training continues. It may be a losing battle due to the national park assigns the labor force for the ship to use regardless of their requests.
A charge of $30.00 per day, per device or $140.00 per week. What you do is log on from your device and create an account charging your room, click on the appropriate browser you normally use and fill in the blanks. We tested to see if only one device can connect at a time and found we got up to three devices working on one account at the same time. Also Skype works as of this time. I know this differs from the printed publication but that’s the way it was on Nov 9th, 2013. Be careful WIFI has dead spots in some public areas.
IN ROOM ENTERTAINMENT
A fancy new flat screen and spiffy Sony controllers are installed for movies, TV, music, HBO, photos, alarm clock, internet and Sports. System can be setup in many languages. Looks great but the only thing working at this time is movies on demand. They do have lots of movies and newly released items to choose from (About 80 of them). No newspapers are available but you can log on to Silversea webpage for free if you have a computer to view local or international news.
All the laundry is included in Silver Suites and Venetian members will be at no charge (Pressing is not included). Items left out by 9:00 AM will be done the same day and delivered to your cabin and hung-up in the afternoon, around 6PM. No self-service laundry facilities are on this ship. Laundry pricing for other rooms are s $4:50 to $6:00 for shirts or blouses, $11:00 dresses, $2:00 socks, $2:50 underwear and $3:50 for T-shirts.
CASINO/ SALON/ WORKOUT/ LIBRARY & SHIP STORE ïƒªïƒª
CASINO (none) SALON Very nice facility with no advance reservations needed. WORKOUT ROOM " fairly large and with nice equipment but shore excursions will give you ample exercises. STORE - Only a small cabinet behind the reception desk that will have bug spray, sun screen, shaver and just a few other items. LIBRARY- on the honor system, lots of nice book on the eco system at the Galapagos for you to read or take back to your room. No cards or board games available.
None, other than your lecture persons and employees trying to adapt to the new owners.
Everything is scaled down but done nicely other than breakfast. Breakfast is similar to a downtown hotel with a few shaper dishes with bacon and sausage, pancakes, scrambled eggs, cold cuts and an omelet station. Dinners have a rotating menu in the main dining room and lots of seasonal specials on Patio deck. Patio deck has hot rock grilling, something new for Silversea. You cook your own protein the way you like it with a very nice selections of fish and meats. Lunch was the best meal of the day for us, buffet style treats done with Ecuadorian flavors and style.
Best thing is ALL food is fresh, nothing is frozen. Quality is a little better than what you would expect being so restrictive in this park. We were told all food must be local other than some items approved by Ecuadorian government. Beef is not graded in this part of the world and must come from the Galapagos, so don’t be surprised if the meat is a little chewy. If anyone has a food allergy they will go out of their way to eliminate any cross contaminations and prepare something special.
Ecuadorians make up most or all of the crew that served the previous ships owners. They are trying to figure out the new standards. They will go way out of their way to help you and attempt to get your every need. Consistently asking if there is anything they can do for you. Shure there are some so-so ones but don’t dwell on them because the local park controls all labor on every ship.
Naturalist need tipping and found it hard to corner them to provide proper tipping. I guess just wait till the last day and provide them something when you run into them.
DISEMBARK & PARTING THOUGHTS ïƒªïƒªïƒª
You will have breakfast and disembark starting around 8:00 AM by Zodiac boat out Baltra. Flights on Aerogal leaves at 10:30 AM to Guayaquil arriving at 12:45 PM then continuing on to Quito. Silversea will check-in all your luggage and hand out you boarding passes at the airport. If you booked with Silversea air, they will have a hotel room for you to hang out in, with transportation back to Guayaquil or Quito airport for your flight home in. They hold your hand very well.
Our cruise had a blind person and an extremely overweight, out of shape person onboard. Ships staff, boat operators and land tour guides went way out of their way to extend the special experience to all guests. Ship even has a (weight lifter) type person to carry you ashore on wet landing if needed. Being onboard for seven days and having three and four day cruise guests coming and going leaves you a dead day for extra fire alarm drills and new guest welcoming stuff. So you will be shopping for a day…Most likely when it gets out of its month long dry dock (September 2014) this ship should be running on all cylinders. Crew training is to happen on Silversea’s other expedition ship during this same time. Not to say now is not a good time, maybe I was expecting too much too soon, once I got over that the ship was not completely redone things got better straightaway, your experience with staff, food and naturalist is the highlight not the ships current condition. This will not be a vacation or typical sit back cruise. This is an expedition experience, which moves your adrenaline in an exciting way, leaving you with long lasting memories. Guests on this expedition ranged between 55 and 80 years with some having limited mobility. Not much for teenagers to do if they are not super into animals. If you came all this way; you don’t want to miss a single hike, so recommend hitting the stairmaster machine for a few months, prior to this voyage.