I cannot say enough great things about this cruise! This was a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list trip for us. As there are so many other places in the world to see, we do not intend a repeat visit, but if we were to do so, we would ... Read More
I cannot say enough great things about this cruise! This was a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list trip for us. As there are so many other places in the world to see, we do not intend a repeat visit, but if we were to do so, we would definitely choose Silversea. Once you are on the ship, all food, drink, and excursions are included: no hidden fees. The guests are all pleasant and respectful, and it was a blast getting to know many of them over the course of the week. The dozen or so teens and tweens on the ship did not become overtly restless and rambunctious until the last day.
This is an itinerary centered on moderately vigorous physical activity, often early in the morning to avoid the equatorial heat. There are excursions each morning, then back to the ship for lunch, then another late each afternoon. There are no repeats. This is NOT a leisure cruise with froofy drinks beside a pool, and huge buffets at every meal. There are 100 passengers, all wearing hiking clothes, wide-brimmed hats with or without neck capes, or bathing suits and wetsuits (the latter provided by the ship in all manner of different sizes) during the daytime. Hat is absolutely necessary, but the restraint cord for one's glasses, heavily stressed in the materials received ahead of time, were not. It was my first time wearing long hiking trousers in hot weather, and I was astonished how comfortable they actually were: saved a LOT of sunscreen! Would definitely recommend.
Dinner garb is primarily golf shirts, long trousers, and TopSiders for men, although a few did wear Madras shirts, dress shirts and/or blazer. Women could wear similar, or a dressier flowered top-plus-skirt, or sundress. You definitely do need a light cover-up if dining at the outdoor grille, or enjoying a cocktail in the bar, as the latter is so air-conditioned as to be freezing cold. Except for a few celebrating birthdays or anniversaries, there was no "dressing up." Dinner with the crew on the next-to-last night was wonderful: we learned tons from the crewmember at our table, the Chief Engineer.
Food selections are very somewhat limited by availability, so there was, unsurprisingly, a lot of seafood. Everything was very well prepared, and portions were not "over-the-top." There are always multiple small desserts from which to choose. We got to know one waiter very quickly, and he would bring us our preferred beverages promptly. We met the chef, who is young, very nice, and very careful. Salads and desserts at lunch are at a buffet, but you do order your sandwich or other entree from a menu. Much of breakfast is buffet. The outside dining grille fills up quickly, so reservations are strongly suggested if you wish to eat there. Service up there can also be quite slow. There is cappuccino and espresso available at the bar all day, if a bartender is there, and can be served with your room service breakfast, which we definitely recommend before an early excursion. The broiled peaches offered at breakfast are to die for: do NOT pass these up! Watermelon was also good.
Snorkeling was offered each day but the last, and was amazing! Cavorting with juvenile sea lions, having a flotilla of small penguins zip by, seeing schools and schools of fish, dozens of slow-moving sea turtles beneath you: all quite wonderful. The coral is not as colorful as in the Caribbean, but the schools of fish were often larger than we have seen. One can use snorkel equipment supplied by the ship, or bring your own. There is a room with exercise equipment on the upper deck, with a wall of windows offering a spectacular view, but we did not use it during the week.
As were other reviewers, I was very apprehensive about the Zodiacs, which are used for EVERYTHING: the main ship never docks at all. I very quickly appreciated how sturdy they were. 10-14 travelers sit on very firm pontoons on the sides, which rise to comfortable sitting height. On occasion, the seats are damp, but that was the exception rather than the rule. There is always a guide, and a motorman (not being sexist: they WERE all male) in each Zodiac. One boards them by walking down a moderately-steep but manageable flight of stairs off the side of the ship, then the guide and two additional crew help you in and out of the Zodiac. They are very shallow, which was wonderful for some of our lagoon excursions, and shore landings. In the latter, you spin around and slide off the pontoon into about 1 foot of water. We wore Keen and Merrell open sandals with toe-guards, and they worked splendidly. The Zodiacs can move pretty quickly, so cinching your hat under your chin is definitely recommended. Your main luggage is taken to and from the ship on a separate inflatable barge. Significantly mobility-impaired guests would have significant challenges with this itinerary.
The official guides have a wide range of personalities and styles, and all but the youngest were very knowledgeable. By luck of the draw, you generally get a different guide with each excursion, which provides different perspectives, expertise, and senses of humor. If you are privileged to travel with Ernesto, you will have a marvelous excursion! Jason was exuberant and incredibly patient with an inquisitive tween one afternoon, who could easily have annoyed a different guide. The preview talks the evening before are uniformly informative. Daytime presentations vary in content, length, and focus. Everyone speaks English well, but is also happy to chat with you in Spanish, if you prefer. The extemporaneous star chat one night, and night view of sharks and sea lions surrounding the ship on two others, were unexpected and truly wonderful bonuses.
Most of the islands are barren volcanic cinder cones, which look very stark. However, the guides are terrific at pointing out the wildlife that is there, including flamingos, boobies, lava lizards, iguanas, rays, sea lions, plus the few species of shrub. The inland excursion to see the giant tortoises was amazing, and more lush. One can easily get to the allowed 6' from snoozing sea lions, or tortoises munching on guavas. Totally amazing! We brought insect repellant packets, and only used a single one. There are no trash cans or rest room facilities along the way on the majority of islands, and the guides were vigilant about trash, straying from the trail, etc. You are provided with your own backpack and water bottle to use throughout the trip, which were right-sized.
The only disappointing excursion was the last afternoon, with a sluggishly-paced tour of the famous tortoise-breeding facility, which offered nice views of different species at different ages, but disappointingly scanty zoo-type information. This tour was followed by a lengthy walk back to the pier. It was billed as allowing time for shopping (the only shopping of the week, by the way, if that is something which is important to you), but was insufficient, as the length of the walk was understated by the crew. It was the last day for the guides before they switched off, and our novice guide did not appear to be very focused on the guests or the scientific content that afternoon, and took off like a shot at the end of the tour proper, leaving guests to figure their way back to the pier on their own. Definitely not up to the quality of the previous days in the week.
The hotel in Quito as you first arrive in Ecuador was sumptuous: far above what I had expected. Be prepared, however: the airport (which is modern and lovely) is a full hour from the center of the city. The next day, we took an optional day tour with guide Antonio, which included varied scenery, and a visit to a hummingbird facility, which was totally amazing! That van did not include a WC, but the way, but the stops were reasonably paced. Upon disembarkation, the guides stay with the passengers through the check-in, which was very reassuring, and offered assistance as needed. Read Less