This was our second Zegrahm Adventure (the first was an outstanding joint venture to Antarctica, partnering with Stanford Alumni Travel in January, 2015). As we had never toured with any other group besides Stanford over the past 20 years, we were very impressed with the knowledgeable, caring and attentive Zegrahm staff (at all levels) that we experienced in Antarctica, so chose Zegrahm for our Galapagos adventure based on recommendations from fellow passengers, choices of destinations, value and type of adventures offered.
Based on previous travel experience, we always arrive at our departure city at least one day prior to meeting the group. Zegrahm staff in the front office were very accommodating and booked both air and hotel reservations based on our needs, as well as provided transportation from the airport to the hotel for our early arrival. The process could not have been easier, customer friendly and helpful! Duane even contacted us immediately when the airline changed its flight schedules for one leg of our trip, and communicated with us frequently to ensure every detail was covered.
Guayaquil, Ecuador is a very cosmopolitan city, and having completed some pre-trip exploring online and through reading, we had a days' list of activities. (For us) The city was very walkable and easy to get around, but cabs were plentiful and inexpensive ($5 to most destinations), if one wished. Metropolitan Touring was the local connection and also offered city tours, which were taken by some of our fellow colleagues. In Guayaquil, the Hilton Colon was our base--we were on a concierge floor, which offered a generous breakfast, all day snacks and an evenings' happy hour overlooking the city and river. The hotel had many amenities that we did not have time to enjoy--including several restaurants and lounges, a beautiful pool and patio, incredible spa and other personal services.
Each day of the tour--beginning upon our arrival, we were briefed by a naturalist or the Tour Leader, Jack Grove, and given a written summery of the next day's schedule and "opportunities"! With only 30 passengers/members of the group, the embarkations and disembarkations were smooth--folks also had the option to stay on board and skip any activity--the only requirement was a simple "check in--check out" board as we boarded pandas/zodiacs for activities.
This was our first experience with small ship sailing--30 passengers, 4 Naturalists, crew/kitchen staff and a physician! The cabins were comfortable--with AC and heat (not needed)--and it seemed that the cabin staff kept refreshing our room (with clean dry towels, esp.) every time we stepped out of the cabin! Most of the snorkelers enjoyed the hot tub after the afternoon dives, and the upper deck had a small fitness room, comfortable tables, chairs and lounges. Dining was buffet style for every meal--with a salad and fruit station for lunch and dinner, fruit and cereal/yogurt stations at breakfast--but other selections included eggs, breakfast meats, sometimes french toast/pancakes at breakfast; always a fish, pork/chicken and beef choice at lunch and dinner, lots of vegetables, and various versions of rice and potatoes. And of course, a dessert table, which offered fruit and other temptations! Food was simple, plentiful and delicious. My favorites were the Ecuadorian choices, the lunches with 3 types of ceviche, and the dinners on the top (patio/lounge) deck where we could watch the sunsets. The dining staff also provided juice and snacks each afternoon, after the activity--a welcome treat after snorkeling or kayaking! There was a full bar lounge in the lower deck, as well as a small shop (t-shirts and small souvenirs).
There was never a dull moment--each destination/island was unique and beautiful. The Naturalists were knowledgeable, personable, and with us 24/7 (it seemed) to answer every question, and provide insights into the culture, history and ecological challenges of the islands. They were enthusiastic, passionate, experienced and attentive. Each day provided 3-4 activities: a 1-3 mile hike on a new island to note animals, geology or historical sites, deep water snorkeling (and a couple of days of beach snorkeling), glass bottom boat tours, sea kayaking in sheltered bays (but still challenging!), and zodiac/panga cruising along the coasts of the islands into coves and caves too small for the Isabella. We had two "lectures" by our published naturalists--one on the fish of the Galapagos, and the other on Darwin--They were interesting, informative and educational--beyond the reading/video list that was offered by Zegrahm prior to the expedition.
While we did not travel with children, one family travelled with three boys, ages 10, 12, and 14. The staff were especially attentive and ensured the safety of the children--who were great swimmers and did everything with the adults. As an observation, I would not recommend this trip for younger children, as the activities were rigorous.
The catalogue description was accurate--one should be in good physical condition to embark on the activities, though we found the hikes usually less difficult than described. Zegrahm does also have a "gear shop" and credit towards purchase of equipment for each passenger. We have been pleased with the quality of the merchandise and found the packing lists helpful (though I tend to OVERPACK for every trip, I am amazed at those who can bring all their essentials in a backpack!) The ship did provide wet suits and snorkel equipment, if needed.
While we would not go to the Galapagos again, we do plan to travel with Zegrahm again, and are searching their new catalogues and website for unique destinations.
Comfortable, with attentive staff