This was truly a remarkable experience. I felt as if we had jumped into the pages of a National Geographic magazine!!
I will comment on a number of aspects of the trip that I would have been interested in having clarified in advance.
Quito Bring paper for public washrooms on the city tour as none is available in the public washrooms. Weather is very changeable there. Bring your Captain's Club card if you would like access to the lounge at the Marriott, for drinks. They reportedly serve the same breakfast as the one we had in the dining room.
Ship Beds that are put together to form a "Queen" are not sheeted together. One of the beds is against the wall and cannot be moved, and so you must crawl out from the top of the bed to get out. Wonderful staff, and excellent service. The cruise director gets to know your name as she signs you out for every excursion. The last evening, there is a musical performance by some of the crew, and then a warm good-bye with all the crew present.
Internet Available at Marriott hotel in the business center or in room on your own computer for purchase. $15 daily rate in the room. On the ship, internet is wireless but you are not allowed to use your own laptop. The ship has laptops, and they assist you to hook up to the internet. They can tell you, based on where you are located in the islands, whether it is likely to be very slow or not. We accessed it on one occasion and it worked well. On the two inhabited islands (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in San Cristobal- Monday am, and Port Ayora on Santa Cruz island- Saturday am and pm ), internet was available and was very inexpensive. $.90 for ½ hour.
Shopping Use cash when possible as there is a 12% service charge when using credit cards both on the ship and in the towns, and discounts are often given with cash purchases. Good prices on adventure clothing on the ship. (A few dollars cheaper than in towns) Very cheap prices at the market they take you to in Quito. They caution you regarding safeguarding your valuables at the market in Quito. Leave camera behind. We had only 15 minutes at this market before it closed, as our plane was delayed getting into Quito.
Snorkelling Equipment on boat is good. There were several good snorkel experiences. 1.First snorkel opportunity Tuesday - either deep dive "Champion Island" (those who went saw tons of marine life), but snorkelling was excellent for those who chose to go off of the beach at Cormorant Point on Floreana Island. 2.Wednesday pm on Batolome Island.- people who swam around the rocky crest saw an abundance of marine life including penguins. We had not been advised to swim around the crest, and saw lots of fish and turtles, but no penguins, sharks, and rays, as others did. 3.Friday morning was also great. (Santiago Island)- lots of sea turtles (I'm guessing that conditions probably change based on time of year and weather). In our other snorkel opportunities, the water was too murky, or there were reports that the marine life sightings were poor) Easy to scrape oneself on lava rock. One passenger suggested that it would have been helpful to bring with liquid bandaid .
Excursions Evening briefings were excellent. Don't miss them. Advice regarding what footwear to use was accurate. Wore Teva type water sandals for hikes when recommended and these worked well. Many wore Keens, which also worked well, but people complained of getting small pebbles in their Keens. Sometimes the landings were much easier than what was expected. Every island has different topography, and thus each one is unique and interesting. On Wednesday we chose the "To the Top" hike activity on Bartolome Island. Beautiful views. Would have probably seen more marine life on the Zodiac ride, but by this time in the week, we had already seen lots of marine life, and we enjoyed the physical activity and the landscape views. One highlight of the trip was chasing dolphins while on the zodiac while returning to the ship from this island. When you board the zodiac, the 12-16 people and the naturalist who accompanies you become the "group" that you remain with on the particular excursion. So, if you wish to be with some friends, make sure you get on the same zodiac.All the naturalists were excellent!
In Quito we made a request to go to the Inti Nan museum (they conduct experiments related to the equator) not far from the Equator monument that we visited. They did try to accommodate this request by pointing out where this was and suggesting that we split our time between the 2 sites, but there was not adequate time to get there and back in the time allotted.
Weather This first week in November was quite comfortable. Rain only one afternoon. Xpedition supplied ponchos. Otherwise a mix of overcast, and sunny. Not unbearably hot. Lots of young including baby sea lion pups, baby frigate birds, baby blue footed boobies and young albatross. I was surprised to find out that the trees lose their foliage in the dry season. I would guess that the foliage and flowers would be beautiful once the trees grow their leaves back. One advantage may have been that the wildlife was easier to see.
Passengers Seemed to be about 1/3 of passengers under age 60. 2/3 over age 60.
Activites on board Lots of activities offered on board between excursions. Often missed these in favor of a nap. The BBC films on the Galapagos is excellent and we purchased this at the market at the Baltra airport for $10 as we were leaving. Missed most of the after dinner activities, as preferred to get to sleep early.
Transfers In disembarking the ship we had a very long time at airport. Opportunity to shop there, and then you wait in the VIP lounge with free juice and soft drinks. Our flight was late getting into Baltra, and thus we got to Quito an hour late. The shopping expedition didn't leave until 5:40,and the market closed at 6:00, which gave very little time to shop. Transfer to airport to Quito leaves 3 ½ hour in advance. We had way too much time in the airport. Hotel offers shuttles, and we might have opted to sleep an hour extra, and take the shuttle to arrive 2 hours in advance instead of 3. (Don't know however if the airport might have been much more crowded later, so can't advise whether 2 hours in advance is adequate. Maybe check with the hotel concierge) Breakfast was available from 3:00 am on day of departure.
Meals Food was plentiful and good, but not gourmet. Service was excellent. First dinner in Quito included beer, but not wine Last dinner at Hotel included one glass of wine. Lunch at Crater included beer, but not wine, and they did charge $2 for tea.
Weight Restrictions New weight limits which we were not advised of in advance. They have changed to AeroGal Airlines- 44 pounds checked baggage, and 17 pounds carry on. We had packed with the 30 pound limit in mind with no problems. $10 visitor card, which is charged to stateroom. Flight to and from Baltra had superb service, with full meal and wine. Every couple had a row of 3 seats. You stop in Gauyaquil each way.