Silver Sea serves up another faultless cruise. And this one, an Expedition Cruise, if far more difficult to make work than their more conventional offerings. The Galapagos Islands are one of the worlds most magical places. Silver Sea sails it with their expedition ship, the Silver Galapagos, which has a maximum capacity of 100 guests. This gives guests the best of both worlds. Its staterooms, food, service, everything is up the to the high standards Silver Sea sets. And yet the ship is is configured for outdoor adventure. The ship is an older ship that was completely overhauled in 2013-14 so it’s age is not a factor, it is nearly as good as new.
This trip is all about nature. Do not expect broadway shows at night. But do expect standing on the aft deck looking at the millions of stars that seem to light up the night sky. Every day there are 2-3 field trips, usually one hike and one snorkel. The Galapagos are virgin and pristine. It is like stepping back into prehistoric times. The Ecuadorian government deserves great credit in keeping it so. The number of visitors is strictly limited, the Silver Galapagos is right at the limit of 100 set for passenger ships.
Nearly every island is deserted. These are not lush, green and flowered, think more of the desert in Arizona. Each island shows the remnants of volcanic activity, there are dormant volcano cones nearly everywhere. And it seems each island has its own species of wild life. There are of course the giant Galapagos tortoises, colonies of thousands of marine iguanas, more elusive land iguanas and thousands of sally light foot crabs. And birds everywhere, the famed blue footed boobies, red footed boobies, flightless cormorants, penguins, and giant red throated frigate birds that will gather by the hundreds in feeding frenzies.
But, for me, the real action is in the water, snorkeling, just atop mild swells. There the giant green turtles leave the beach to mate, it is hard to maneuver your way through them there are so many that are otherwise occupied. There are sea lion rookeries, with so many of these mammals sensitized to humans that they come out to play with you, diving under you, over you, and somehow never colliding. Then there are the coral reef fish, thousands, like the Caribbean used to be a couple of decades ago before reef death started to take over. Brightly colored coral teeming with thousands of fish everywhere you look.
Now for the most helpful tips I can offer up. The rear of deck 3 is the snorkeling center. Silver Sea, provides all the gear you need, mask, fins snorkels, and half wetsuits. You will need a wet suit. Even though the Galapagos sits right on the equator the water is not as warm as you would imagine because of the convergence of three Atlantic currents in its vicinity including the Humboldt. I brought all my gear and found I could have left my wet suit and fins at home. I would bring or invest in a really good mask for your personal use.
With one exception all snorkeling expeditions are made from a zodiac.
Zodiacs will be your primary source of transportation on this trip. The ship’s staff are extremely skillful in getting clients in and out of these small boats (capacity about 16). Just carefully follow their instructions and you will be fine, you grip forearm to forearm and then step in. I did not see one accident while on the cruise.
Do not be put off by these logistics. The majority of those on my cruise were 60+ and they were game for just about anything. To their credit, they proved a much more seaworthy group than I would have first thought. The crew are pros and take extraordinary care of you.
You will absolutely need to invest in a pair of closed toe water shows. Manufacturers like Keen and Merrell make them and they cost about $100 a pair. These are necessary because you will be making both wet and dry landings form the zodiacs. And in a over the top Silver Sea service, your butler will dry your shoes when you return from you your day’s activities and leave them on a tray in your room all ready for the next adventure. Really. I would also bring a sturdy pair of broken in hiking shoes and one pair of loafers for the evening.
You will absolutely need one of those jungle hats with the wide brims to keep the sun off. Make sure you buy one with a chin strap that can be tightened or it will blow away in the zodiacs winds.
Bring layers of lightweight clothes, for both warm and cold. There is no predicting what the weather is going to be. I made a mistake, reading that the islands are on the equator, and I opted for almost all warm weather clothes and this proved a mistake, for it was chilly outside start gazing on some nights and I wish I had some warmer gear. Do not bring jeans, they will get wet and heavy. Again, visit your local REI store and invest in some technical lightweight pants, shorts and tops. Unlike other Silver Sea cruises, this is not a fashion show, and because of the weight limits imposed by South American airlines you should travel as light as possible.
Sports jackets for men are not required or needed. Save the packing space.
One of the best things about this trip was the quality of the expedition team leaders. Each is responsible for bringing ashore, or into the water, the passengers of one of the zodiacs. I should name them all but since they vary I will save the space and believe they are all as good as the ones we had. These men and women all possess degrees in botany, biology, naturalism, undersea biology, ornithology, in short they really know their stuff. In addition through years of experience, they all possess great sets of eyes, able to pick out carefully camouflaged birds, animals and sea life. The guides too, treat the islands with the utmost reverence and respect. If any sort of stray object appears on a trail, even a Kleenex they will pick it up and dispose of it later.
Lastly, this trip may seem daunting or intimating to older travels. But do not let this dissuade you. There were a number of people in their mid 70’s with walking sticks and canes who came through with flying colors and for whom I have a lot of respect.
One final tip, and let this be a Cruise Critic insider. When you get through snorkeling you come aboard on deck 3 aft. You will be chilly. Quickly peel off your wet suit, just drop it and pick it up later, and hurry your way up to the whirlpool on deck 6 (there is only one with a capacity of 6) and sit there in very warm water while the rest of your fellow snorkelers shiver their way to their showers.
This is Silver Sea, and it is expensive. But it is worth every penny. Get there and do this before El Nino, Global Warming, or man ruins it. You may never get a another chance to visit deserted prehistoric islands again. Carpe Diem
Elegant, slightly smaller than the usual Silver Sea deluxe veranda, with no walk in closets for example, but hey, this is supposed to be an expedition ship