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12 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
This review concerns the 5 day/4 night Eastern Galápagos Islands cruise on the MV Santa Cruz, operated by Metropolitan Touring, through which you can book directly. I think I would use the term expedition, as opposed to cruise, as ... Read More
This review concerns the 5 day/4 night Eastern Galápagos Islands cruise on the MV Santa Cruz, operated by Metropolitan Touring, through which you can book directly. I think I would use the term expedition, as opposed to cruise, as this is a fulfilling, active adventure that is inclusive of all excursions. We opted for this shorter itinerary so that our children (ages 11/14/16) would remain engaged. Frankly we saw most of the animals that we would have seen on a longer cruise (with a few exceptions), but I'd highly suggest doing your homework on itinerary and time of year to ensure that you are visiting the islands of most interest to you. Another important factor to consider is the size of the boat. The Santa Cruz is one of the largest ships navigating in the Galápagos with a passenger capacity of 90. It never felt overcrowded whatsoever, but was still SIGNIFICANTLY rockier than a larger cruise ship. So again, know your preferences. A quick note regarding passengers...as a family, we were by far in the minority. My estimation is that near 80% of fellow passengers were aged 50-70s. That said, we felt completely welcome and not at all uncomfortable, which I note because that isn't always the case with an older demographic. About embarkation...Embarkation in San Cristobal, handled entirely by Metropolitan Touring, was absolutely seamless, from directions given at Quito airport all the way to being loaded onto the Santa Cruz via zodiacs. There were short wait times and helpful employees as we first arrived on the boat, at which juncture we had a bit of time to orient ourselves to our cabins (more about cabins below), had a quick muster drill and then a buffet lunch (more about food below). Thereafter we had a wonderfully comprehensive, informative orientation to the boat, as well as the excursions, during which time our luggage was delivered to our cabins. After a quick unpack and change, we were on a zodiac boat headed out on our first excursion by 4pm. Excursion to Punta Pitt...Our first excursion, which commenced with a tricky boat-to-zodiac transfer with the help of very adept staff members, brought us to Punta Rock (a rocky outcropping where gulls, frigates and boobies roosted) and then Punta Pitt (island of San Cristobal) where we wet-landed (i.e. we swung our legs over the side of the boat and exited with feet FULLY immersed through shallow water) and were greeted by sea lions and their pups lounging on the beach. The zodiac ride was pretty choppy, but this was not the case throughout the trip. We enjoyed a leisurely 2-hour hike (walk) which I would describe as easy, at a slow pace, with the occasional steeper incline/descent. Animals seen in addition to the birds on Punta Rock: sea lions, boobie chicks and adults (red footed, blue footed and Nazca), and lizards. Excursion to Santa Fe...After a very rocky (and I mean rocky!) overnight, we started the day with another wet landing to begin a 1.5 hour walk that was again fairly easy, although it did involve maneuvering over stable lava rocks for much of the way. We spent a lovely time ashore observing lots of sea lions on the beach; spotting lizards and finches; and also finding several specimens of a land iguana endemic to Santa Fe. Mid-morning, half our group went deep-water snorkeling (from a boat, as opposed to beach entry), where they frolicked with sea lions and observed lots of fish; the other half enjoyed a glass bottom boat ride (note: there are often "tamer" options offered for the less adventurous or those who prefer a less strenuous activity). Note that all snorkel gear, including shorty wetsuits which we were happy to have in August, can be rented on the boat. Excursion to South Plaza...After lunch, we arrived at South Plaza island, making a dry landing for a late afternoon walk. Again, nothing strenuous with occasional volcanic stones with which to contend. Animals seen: colorful crabs, marine iguanas, sea lions, land iguanas, lizards. Excursion to Santa Cruz...entire day post breakfast spent off boat. Morning visit to Charles Darwin Research Station where we gained a deeper appreciation for the conservation efforts being made on behalf of the giant land tortoises on Galápagos. Some free time allowed in town for shopping etc. before doing a bike ride in the highlands of the island. A word of warning: this bike ride IS NOT easy. We felt the information provided was inaccurate in terms of distance and difficulty. The 2-mile up-and-down route was quite arduous and the quality of the rental bikes so-so, so I wouldn't have done it had I known. The bike trip ended at a sugar cane/coffee farm where you could tour the facilities and sample/buy the goods. We were transported to lunch at a local restaurant where we had free time to relax, swim (it was a bit cool) or play games (pool, soccer, cards). After lunch we visited a private ranch that had free roaming land tortoises. It is touted as seeing the creatures in the wild, but it isn't a true wilderness trek, rather is more like a small privately-run tourist attraction. I felt it was a bit contrived, boasting of a lava tube on the property, alongside a snack bar and souvenir shack. One word of recommendation: WEAR THE FREE BOOTS! It was muddy even though it wasn't raining and you need them. Trust me. Excursion to Española...the rockiest walk thus far, but not too taxing otherwise (2.5 hour). Rewarded by seeing many animals: a marine iguana endemic to Española, waved albatross, blue footed boobies, crabs, sea lions (including a newborn pup with its mother, amazing). The afternoon was spent at a beach on the other side of this island, where you had the opportunity to snorkel. The beach entry snorkeling offered literally no sea life viewing, but there was a deeper water option near a rocky outcropping where snorkelers saw fish, turtles, and sharks. Oh yes and the beachgoers were treated to a far off peak at a humpback whale or 2 making their way in the distance. About the food...breakfast and lunch were served buffet style with a multitude of options, from vegetarian to carnivore to pescatarian. Dinner is a multi-course, served affair that you order at lunch. Lovely, attentive service on the part of the dining room staff, with the exception of drink service. We were never quite sure whether we should ask our waiter or go directly to the bar for our drinks, to say nothing of the fact that the Darwin Elite Level includes free soft drinks and we never heard much about it. It seemed that the onus was on us to take advantage of that part of the offer, giving us the impression they were happily saving money by not bringing it up. About the cabins...Our family of 5 occupied 2 side-by-side cabins on the Darwin Elite Level, both good sized doubles with 2 twin beds, one of which had a pullout sofa bed probably best suited to a child or small guest. Cabins had spotless floors, good quality linens, fabulous floor-to-ceiling window, efficient temperature control, and good overhead and task lighting. A bit more attention to detail when dusting is needed, especially in harder to reach areas (interior of drawers, crevices, etc.). Although there was ample storage in wardrobe and under beds, you might have a challenge if you wanted to unpack and store all your clothing. Safe provided and used, as rooms are left unlocked and although safes were not large enough for your tablets/laptops, security was absolutely not a concern. Bathrooms were quite clean, although showing a tiny bit of wear. There was also a pretty gassy sewage smell emanating from the drains in general, which you could not smell if you closed the door. Plenty of towels, hair dryer available, and shampoo/hair conditioner/shower gel provided. No body lotion. Stewards did a wonderful job with refreshing towels, turn down service and general timely housekeeping. About the Guides...it is very hard for me to write this but unfortunately I found some of the naturalists, the guides who led the small groups on their excursions, disappointing and somewhat lackluster. It wasn't for lack of information or expertise: they were extremely knowledgeable about the animals and the islands, but what they lacked was passion. Some seemed pretty disinterested, like they were going through the motions of any old job. Our assigned guide also played the role of overseeing the guide team. While he was engaging, excited and quite compelling when he talked to the entire boat during lectures/info sessions, he had absolutely no interest in connecting with us. He led us on walks, fed us facts and disinterestedly answered our questions. Frankly it made me disgruntled when I was called upon at the end of the trip to tip. The 2 absolute standouts were MariCarmen and Edison. Each had a warm and welcoming affect which really set them apart from the rest of the naturalist staff. The saving grace about being expected to tip so much was that the rest of the ship's staff was simply wonderful. From the waitstaff to the zodiac drivers, from the hotel manager Pilar to the stewards, from the pursor Lupita to the barmen, every last one of these folks went out of their way to improve our experience. About Disembarkation...as anticipated, the crew was informative before/during and the process went smoothly. The only complaint would be that we were expected to vacate our cabins by 8am, but did not leave the Santa Cruz until 10am. Of course this allowed for the crew to start preparing for the next group of boarding guests, but just was a long wait in the lounge for those of us ready to continue on our travels. Assuming the ship specifications and the itinerary met your expectations, I can wholeheartedly recommend the MV Santa Cruz. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2015
We took the Metropolitan Tours 5-day 4-night excursion to the Eastern Galapagos islands aboard the M/V Santa Cruz. The trip was memorable for the number of wildlife species that could be observed close-up. It was also memorable in being ... Read More
We took the Metropolitan Tours 5-day 4-night excursion to the Eastern Galapagos islands aboard the M/V Santa Cruz. The trip was memorable for the number of wildlife species that could be observed close-up. It was also memorable in being fairly strenuous. To begin, my wife and I are not hikers or really “outdoorsy” types. I began preparation for the trip by spending about ½ hour per day on the treadmill, whereas my wife took several flights of stairs every day at work rather than using the elevator. We thought it was enough, but we could have done more. The days aboard the Santa Cruz began with a buffet breakfast at 0700, followed by the first excursion of the day at 0830. It should be mentioned that all of the excursions as well as embarkation and disembarkation were handled with inflatable zodiac “panga” boats that hold 12-16 people. These are powered by 50 hp outboard motors. You descend a stairway on the outside of the ship and transfer to the panga from a platform. There is a gulde on the platform and one in the panga that assist you in the transfer, pretty simple once you get the hang of it. Most of the landings on the islands are called “wet landings”, these involve backing the panga onto the beach where it is held in place by two of the guides. You step over the side of the panga into the surf, which can vary from 6 inches to 3 feet in depth. Normally not a problem unless you are short like my wife, and happen to hit the surf during a receding wave! We grabbed her before she was swept out to sea! Most of the excursions were set up to provide a mix of activities, including hikes along the beach or inland, beach swimming and snorkeling, deep water snorkeling, panga rides around the perimeter of the island, or rides on a glass bottom boat. Several were set up to involve alternatives, if you didn’t want to deep water snorkel you could have a panga or glass bottom boat ride instead. Here are some basic things to remember about the pangas: • Try not to be the first ones on board the pangas, if you are you will be sitting at the back next to the outboard motor. This makes it hard to hear the guide and you will be marinated in exhaust smoke. • If the excursion involves a panga ride around the perimeter of the island, ask the guide if you will be traveling clockwise or counterclockwise around the island. This determines what side of the panga you want to sit on. Even though the guides and panga driver will swing the boat around if interesting wildlife is seen, those seated on one side of the panga will be facing the island most often and won’t have to constantly turn around to take pictures. • If you are the last ones onto the panga, you will be seated at the front. At cruising speed (to and from the island), you may get hit with spray over the bow. Most of the time people can bunch up toward the stern to avoid this. • The choice of footwear creates a bit of a conundrum on these excursions. You need something you don’t mind getting wet during a wet landing, but also has enough traction to allow you to walk over uneven, rocky terrain during the hiking portion. There is not much time after you wet land to get the sand out of your footwear (and no facilities for rinsing the sand off except in the surf). This results in sand grating against your feet during the hikes, both me (with an old pair of tennis shoes) and my wife (with a new pair of Teva sandals) had this trouble and ended up with band aids over sores after a few days of this. The morning excursions last until 11:30, at which time you will return to the ship for a buffet lunch. Afternoon excursions begin at 14:30 and last until ~18:00, with a lecture on the next day’s activities at 19:00 and sit-down dinner at 20:00. The ship only holds a maximum of 90 passengers, so there is ample space in the dining room to accommodate all of them. The food onboard was excellent, better than we expected. Many fresh and local ingredients such as excellent local fruits and locally caught fish were on the menu. In fact, we both thought the food was as good if not better than that offered on larger cruise lines. Snacks were available after the morning and afternoon excursions as well. Each passenger is issued an individual (1/2 litre) water bottle at the beginning of the cruise, and is asked to keep it throughout and refill it from a water station near the dining room each day. The water from the sinks in the cabins is useable for brushing teeth, but it comes directly from the desalinization units and contains a high mineral content. One of the evening activities we enjoyed (weather permitting) was a star-gazing session from the upper deck. Since you are near the equator, you will have the opportunity to see both the Southern Cross and the Big Dipper (upside down!). The Milky Way stands out beautifully due to the lack of light pollution. A minor issue was the lack of laundry facilities onboard, we took to washing items each night in the sink, and hanging them to dry on a travel clothesline strung across our cabin. It made it look like a steerage cabin on a tramp steamer! They did have a dryer on board (which we didn’t use) and a shoe rack near an open engine room door (which dried them very well). A couple of words about the land excursions…most people who are “in shape” will find no problems with the hikes. In fact, in retrospect the effort involved in these excursions wasn’t bad considering the wildlife and vistas we saw. However, it should be mentioned that the Galapagos are managed as a National Park in Ecuador, and one of their philosophies is not to make significant adaptations for the comfort and ease of tourists. Be advised there is also no equivalent to the ADA regulations in this part of the world, so where one would expect in the USA to see a manufactured stairway with sturdy handrails along with a wheelchair ramp, in the Galapagos you are lucky to find a handrail for the steepest climb, and most stairs are rough-hewn from the rocky cliffs. The Prince Philip steps on Genovese Island are a good example of this, steep and tall and requiring good balance to negotiate. Luckily the guides do a good job of assisting those who may need help ascending or descending. Be aware also that level, groomed pathways are not generally provided for the flat sections of the hike, much of the terrain is littered with rocks or consists of uneven “Pahoihoi” lava flows. Much of my hiking time was spent looking down at my feet to make sure my next step wasn’t going to result in a broken ankle or a plunge down a cliff! At the beginning of the voyage, the passengers are split into excursion groups named for Galapagos animals, our group was the Gulls. Our guide for most of the excursions was a young woman who had been doing the job for 5 years. She was very personable and helpful, but she did not provide the amount of running detailed commentary that some other guides seemed to provide. She would answer questions adequately, but as we are both technical/scientific people we found ourselves wanting more. We were glad we had seen a multi-part PBS special on the Galapagos prior to the trip. The guide also took a liking to one of our group, another young and fit woman who was a tour guide in Hawaii. Those two seemed to set the pace for hikes, leaving us less fit people to bring up the rear, panting and sweating like pigs! In retrospect however, all the effort was worth it when we look back at our photos. We were able to photograph over 25 different species of animals, most with no apparent fear of humans. The landscapes provided an ever-changing geologic panorama of multiple volcanic eruptions, and the variety of flora was amazing. One of the lasting memories was encountering a variety of prickly pear cactus that had soft spines that could be stroked without fear of getting poked…since the cactus had no natural predators on the island, it never had to evolve the defense of stiff spiky spines! If you are young and fit, I would encourage you to take this voyage, and even if you are not so fit, the overall experience can be gratifying. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2015

We have just returned from a week trip to Quito/Galapagos/Guayaquil with our family (my husband, myself, and 2 adult sons aged 21 and 27). This trip is definitely in the top favorites of my trips. We began our trip with 2 nights in ... Read More

We have just returned from a week trip to Quito/Galapagos/Guayaquil with our family (my husband, myself, and 2 adult sons aged 21 and 27). This trip is definitely in the top favorites of my trips. We began our trip with 2 nights in Quito at Casa Gangotena & did a day of sightseeing in Quito of the old town, cable car & Equator. We then did the 5 days / 4 nights expedition cruise on board our MV Santa Cruz (Monday-Friday, Northern Island)with Metropolitan Tours. WOW! The staff at Metropolitan are pros on this trip and made our trip very special and amazingly fun & organized.

The itinerary aboard the ship is very active (if you choose to do all of the activities) with a snorkel and hike each morning & afternoon. Then 7:15pm review of next day’s program and dinner at 8pm. We were ready for bed each night! We saw all of the wildlife listed on our itinerary - Blue footed, Red footed and Nazca boobies, Galapagos penguins, marine & land iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, great frigate birds, vermillion flycatcher,herons, starfish, sharks, rays, huge parrotfish, sea turtles, giant tortoises & much more. Just amazing wildlife that are not one bit afraid of people!

We booked 2 twin upper deck cabins but were upgraded to the Master Suite and the Junior Suite which was totally unexpected but was such a lovely enhancement to our trip. The Master Suite is very spacious and has a lovely balcony with table and chairs + a king size bed - such a nice way to travel! The Junior Suite had 2 twin beds & was also very spacious. The food on the boat was very good & there are enough seats for everyone to eat at the same time with no reservations which is really great.

The staff on the boat was top notch. Our guide, Marcella, was just the best! She was so knowledgeable about the wildlife, etc and loved sharing information about everything in Galapagos. She really cared about everyone in our group seeing all the wildlife. We all very much enjoyed being in Marcella’s group.

On our last day, we flew from San Cristobal to Guayaquil and then departed Guayaquil for Miami.

From our wonderful booking agent to our amazing guide, Marcella -- everything that Metropolitan Tours and the staff and guides on the boat organized and executed made for a wonderful & unforgettable experience for our family. We will always remember our expedition to the Galapagos Islands - just an amazing trip that everyone should take!!! Thank you Metropolitan!!

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2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: February 2014

I would like to share the experience of my trip to the Galapagos with you. I bought a cruise with the ship Santa Cruz. It was a last Minute offer including flight for “only” 1300$.

Now to the cruise: When I arrived ... Read More

I would like to share the experience of my trip to the Galapagos with you. I bought a cruise with the ship Santa Cruz. It was a last Minute offer including flight for “only” 1300$.

Now to the cruise: When I arrived at the Galapagos Islands I was picked up from the airport by bus and my luggage was brought to our cabins. We took a small boat to our ship and started our day with a welcome cocktail. As far as I can remember we had lunch directly after that. The food during the whole trip was great (thanks to the cooks). For breakfast and lunch we had a buffet and for dinner a four course menu.

Later at the first day we went for our first visit to the islands. We saw many, many iguanas, sea lions, birds, etc. it was great! (We had to take care not to step on them.) Unfortunately, it turned out that we would see the same animals everyday over and over again. Of course, we saw giant tortoises at the Darwin station as well and smaller tortoises on some of the other islands. But that was mainly it. Still, we had a great time, seeing awesome beaches and landscapes. No matter how great the visits of the different islands were (we visited Isabela, Fernandina, Santa Cruz and Floreana), the snorkeling activities topped everything by far. We snorkeled nearly every day one or two times for about one hour. (If you are not used to cold water you should rent a wet suit. Since I am used to swim in the even colder North Sea it wasn`t necessary for me. Still, sometimes it was really cold.) The second day we snorkeled between bunches of turtles. We even could have touched them easily, but we weren`t allowed to. The other days we were swimming with different kinds of fish (I would tell you their names but I just don`t know them), sea lions and penguins. All of that combined (but no turtles) we saw on our last snorkeling trip. It was one of the best experiences of my whole life. There were soooo many fish around us of soo many colors of all sizes. It was stunning. Also huge sea lions and even some sharks.

Back from the Islands to our ship: On the ship were people of all ages, but mostly older people and many couples. However, there were some younger people as well (25-33 years). Another highlight on the ship was the Jacuzzi. Between the different activities I enjoyed to relax there and to glimpse at the sea or to look at the stars during the night (you could see them great).

To the weather: It was really warm (ca. 25-30º C. sorry I am bad with Fahrenheit. Just look it up.), sometimes even too warm during the walks on the islands. This was another reason why the snorkeling activities were a nice change. They were a nice cooling-off.

To sum up, I would recommend everybody to make the same experiences on Galapagos Islands. I personally would book the exact same trip again, with the same cruise, the same travel agency, and the same people on the ship. (You guys were great. Thank you!)


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2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2012
I'm totally a novice cruiser, I tend to do more land adventures, but to really see the Galapagos, the cruises allow you to take in more of the islands. This was my first time on a completely escorted program and only my second cruise ever. ... Read More
I'm totally a novice cruiser, I tend to do more land adventures, but to really see the Galapagos, the cruises allow you to take in more of the islands. This was my first time on a completely escorted program and only my second cruise ever. I have however, spent extensive time in Europe, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean and usually stay in more premium accommodations. Since this is Cruise Critic, I'm going to stick to just the cruise portion on here. The Ship: We were met at the small airport by guides with signs for the M/V Santa Cruz, but our Tauck tour leader organized our group. There were a total of about 84 people on the ship, including our group of about 30-35 people. This was a Bridges tour, so specifically oriented toward multi-generational travel, so there were a lot of parents, grandparents and kids with our group, including a wide variety of ability levels. The bus ride from the airport to the pier in the small town was about 5 minutes, and when we got off the bus, there were tons of sea lions just hanging out on the public square, on the docks, on boats in the harbor. You will take zodiac tenders out to the ship, and the staff picks up your luggage at the airport and transfer that to the ship separately, so you don't see your bags until you get on board.(which, if you have damaged luggage, which we did, you can't report and get compensation from the airline). The ship is older, especially from a decor standpoint (one of the oldest still in service in the area), but very clean and it looked to be well maintained (i didn't see anything that scared me, but then again, I don't have tons of experience on ships, so I probably wouldn't have noticed anything that wasn't glaring). The ship was good sized for the group - it never felt too crowded, even when everyone was eating or gathered for briefings, 3 decks for cabins, plus a bar/lounge, and dining room. They also had a small gift shop on the main deck. There is a small library and computer room off the main bar. I was surprised to find out they had internet access for only like $12 for the entire cruise on their computers and $44 for wifi for the cruise (very reasonable all things considered, not that we used it at all) On the sun deck, there is an 8 pax jacuzzi (which the kids on board used extensively), as well as another bar, and sun loungers. The boat deck had storage for snorkeling equipment and a dryer that was free of charge to use anytime (but no guest laundry facilities). We had a standard cabin which had 2 twin beds, picture window, and a pull down third bed. Beds very very decent, not rock-like at all and pillows were comfy. The extra bed made it nice for my kid to have other kids come to the room and hang out, since we basically used the other bed as a staging area for day packs and such. There was also a small closet, with a safe and several drawers and storage on top, plus under bed storage for luggage, etc. The bathroom was small, but worked fine for us. The shower doors opened up all the way to maximize the space. It was a little tricky to figure out how to get in and out of the shower because of the door configuration, but there plenty of space once you got the doors opened right and AMPLE hot water at all hours (in some cases too hot). They also stock with bath towels and beach towels constantly. You were supposed to leave used beach towels in the bin on the boat deck, so even if we took one to lounge or use in the Jacuzzi, we'd come back to the cabin and find more. They don't have keys to the staterooms, as apparently many many sets have been lost, guests locked themselves out of rooms, etc, but you can lock them from the inside. We didn't have an issue with this, and I did use the safe to lock up valuables, but my laptop didn't fit. My folks had the superior stateroom, which was slightly larger, and had a floor to ceiling window and larger bathroom plus a table and 2 chairs. They include free snorkeling equipment (wetsuits were $15 for non-Tauck guests for the duration of the trip) and they have 2-3 mesh bags per cabin for equipment, and fresh water for rinsing. Food: All meals were served in the dining room, with fixed hours for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There was a shipwide wakeup call at 7am, as the morning excursions all left at 8:15am. The dining room wasn't supposed to open until 7:30, but it opened earlier every day. Breakfast and lunch were buffet, plenty of choices, cold and hot. Lunch always had a kids station with fries, pizza, hot dogs, etc. (it changed every day). Dinner was a la carte with a couple of appetizer choices, three main course choices and two desserts. We didn't have a bad meal, but there were some days where some of the offerings (the more locally oriented ones) might not have been great for seriously picky eaters. The kids were given the option of having early dinner around 6:30 (dinner usually started around 7:45 or so) and they did a really nice separate buffet for them, with burgers and pasta, etc. We just had to let them know before the 2nd excursion and they would set it up. We were there for Christmas eve, and they had a special buffet out with turkey, etc, plus live music afterward. They also put out snacks after each excursion and around happy hour in both bars (hot food though in the indoor lounge only). They had a great coffee machine, available 24hrs (I lived on the mochaccinos), along with water for refilling bottles, etc. They also did a couple of included cocktail hours for everyone. On the Tauck program, all soft drinks, wine with dinner and happy hour was included. I'm not sure what the beverage inclusions would be booking direct, but the listed bar prices were reasonable - $3 for a beer, $4-$5 for a basic mixed drink. Service: The service on board was fantastic, especially the stateroom attendants. I think they were in there 4-5 times per day. Great evening turn down with yummy chocolates every night. The waitstaff in the dining room was a little on the slow side for American standards, but they were attentive and wine pours were always generous. They accommodated numerous special requests. I had a minor issue with a light in our bathroom, it was fixed immediately. Everyone was super friendly. Christian, the hotel manager on board was hilarious and obviously cared about guest comfort (its so obvious when staff is checked out) Guides: I think there were a total of 7 naturalist guides on board, plus the expedition leader, Ramiro (who was awesome and extremely knowledgeable). We didn't get all of them during the course of our 5 day cruise, but the ones we did have (we usually had Gabriel or Camillo, I think we had Katty one time), were excellent, with an engaging rapport and genuine interest in sharing their knowledge about the different species and ecosystems on the various islands. We did get to the the hike on Espanola with Ramiro, which was nothing short of incredible - he was funny, and just a fountain of information (i think we were the last people off the island. Because it was such a large group, they split between the Tauck guests and the other companies. We had separate briefings at night from the rest of the guests, and I think the other briefings were a little more in-depth than ours were. There was one briefing where I wished they had gone into a bit more detail on the planned hike to the crater lake on San Cristobal (it was a little more challenging than they made it out to be), but the rest of them were good, and left us prepared for what we would be doing the next day. They did a couple of photo shows throughout the trip of pics the staff took and then after the cruise, sent out an email link to the pictures (no charge! great added value, as we certainly would have paid for the dvd - a lot of the guides were serious photographers). I'd be completely remiss if I didn't mention how fantastic our Tauck tour leader Carla was - she was so on the ball and on top of everything, really made sure there was not one hitch possible. Excursions: I could go on and on about how amazing the Galapagos is for wildlife, pristine beaches, rugged terrain, etc. We did 5 islands: San Cristobal, Santa Fe, South Plaza, Santa Cruz and Espanola (I'm not counting Baltra, because all we did was go to the airport). Everything launched from pangas and we had a variety of wet and dry landings. The guides went out of their way to create shorter and less demanding hikes that were not on the original schedule so that some of the passengers could see the boobies and other wildlife without exceeding their ability levels (there were several passengers in their late 70s/early 80's and one special needs passenger on board). On beach/snorkel outings, they have a glass bottom boat for people that didn't want to snorkel and they did multiple runs back to the ship so people could go back as soon as they wanted or stay longer on the beaches. For snorkeling and kayaking, they had staff out for safety monitoring. The only major Galapagos thing we missed were penguins (didn't make it up to Fernandina, but now I have a reason to go back!). Espanola was our group's favorite - lots and lots of boobies, marine iguanas, wave albatrosses and the most playful sea lions ever. We opted for the tortoise reserve on Santa Cruz instead of the Darwin center. The guides said they used to do both, but a lot of prior guests felt it was redundant. I'll be happy to answer any questions about specific things if anyone has any questions. otherwise this will be a million page review. Tips and things to know: Agricultural control is really tight on the Galapagos - no nuts of any kind, no taking ANYTHING from the islands off with you (and they go through your luggage on both ends). We brought some snacks with us, as I have a growing 11 yr old, m and m's, chex mix, some jerky, clif bars, since there isn't 24hr food service. We brought back most of what we took with us, as we didn't really consume it, but it was nice to have the option. They give you one water bottle for use the entire time (you refill at the station in the bar - plus we had our own water bottles) and ask that you take that and any other larger personal trash off the islands when you leave. There is a DR on the ship and they leave out Dramamine for anyone to use when needed (and it was needed several times). There were several days where the ship was really rocking and location wouldn't make a difference I don't think. We felt it all over the place. Tipping was included on our package through Tauck, but I know we left additional tips for several guides and the stateroom attendant (I also got one of the bartenders). I know a lot of the Tauck group did the same, but I couldn't speak for everyone. I was very glad to have my laptop with me, as there was not a ton of entertainment on board and no tv's in the cabins (except the Christmas eve music session), and while most everyone was asleep by 9-10pm every night - these were busy active days, the kids would have movie night in our room on my laptop, then play cards or something. The staff was EXTREMELY accommodating for kids - they played a couple of movies we brought in the main lounge for them, popped popcorn for them, basically let them have the run of the ship, as long as they weren't being too obnoxious. We also were really lucky in having in general a great and diverse group of people on board with us. I don't think its always like that where all the kids got along. I know there was one older gentleman who was very frustrated with the kids, and the noise they made during meals, etc, but this was certainly not advertised as a romantic pleasure cruise, but as a family friendly adventure. This was absolutely a trip of a lifetime for me and my family and overall the ship accommodations and service was much better than I had personally expected (I was expecting much more rustic and spartan accommodations - this is a middle of nowhere kind of place with limited tourist facilities - I was expecting "research" type accommodations) Read Less
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