My husband I and were onboard Santa Cruz II at the end of February for a 7-day, adventure-filled island hopping in the Galapagos Islands. I booked this trip through Metropolitan Touring online. This ship can accommodate 90 passengers, which is on the larger size. This turned out to be a blessing when we hit turbulence in the water while crossing the seas from island to island on several occasions. The islands we visited are: Santa Cruz, South Plaza Island, North Seymour, San Cristobal, Espanola, and Santa Fe.
The passengers on this trip were all sophisticated travelers. One of the pleasures of traveling is meeting other people from around the world. On this trip, we met some wonderful people whose acquaintances we will cherish forever.
We flew on JetBlue from New York to Quito, with connection in Fort Lauderdale. We stayed overnight in Quito before flying to the Galapagos Islands. The flight had a stopover in Guayaquil, where they picked up more passengers.
Once we landed on the Baltra Island, a bus took us to a small dock (5 min.) Each of us was handed a life jacket before boarding a small dinghy (also called PANGA) to Santa Cruz II anchored nearby. It was a bright sunny day and we were SUPER excited to start our adventure!
Our room was located on the Expedition Deck in the middle of the ship. The room has closet with shelves on one side (and safe), and hangers on the other. There is one small chair by the desk. Bathroom is adequate size with shower only -- shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel are provided. There are two colors of towels – blue and white. The blue towels are for use in the bathroom. The white towel is for use outside -- i.e. for beach or for snorkeling.
You cannot lock your room from outside, only from inside. We didn’t have any issue with this, except for the first night, when someone came into our room while we were out and took one of the chocolates left by our room steward. (Every night, our wonderful room steward turns down our bed and leaves a chocolate on each of our pillows.) It’s not the missing chocolate that bothered us, of course, but the fact that someone actually came into our room to take it. It was a small matter and did not detract us from our trip.
The outlets in the room are limited. We brought a travel charger with USB ports from home to charge our iPhones and camera batteries.
There is no TV in the room. You don’t need it.
My biggest objection with this room was finding how thin the wall is. You can hear conversations through the wall as though there was no barrier. Lucky for us, only one side of our room was connected. The bed was comfortable and we both slept well. Our invisible room steward kept out room tidy and clean.
FOODS & DRINKS:
Breakfast and lunch are buffet style; only dinner is a la carte, which you need to select at lunchtime. You can always change your mind, but by selecting ahead of time, the kitchen staff can make the necessary preparations. The food onboard was delicious, flavorful, and well presented.
Seating at the dining room is not assigned. You can sit anywhere and with anyone you pleased. Since we always sat on the same table, we had the same waiter throughout our trip. Mauricio came to know us. He knew my husband preferred coffee in the morning, while I only liked the juice. He made our dining experience special.
Bar had ample drink selections, including non-alcoholic beverages, along with occasional hors d’oeuvres, but they always had popcorns.
AMENITIES AROUND THE SHIP:
The ship felt dated, but it was roomy with several public places to hang around.
There are two large Jacuzzis, which we never used, but they looked very inviting.
My favorite amenity on this ship is the presence of two large dryers. I brought a small bottle of detergent from home and washed our swimwear in the bathroom sink. I put them in the dryer while we went to dinner. By the time we finished eating, our clothes were dried. This makes it much easier to pack in our luggage on the last day. (Note to self – next time, pack some dryer sheets!)
The daily schedule is posted on the hallway. You take photo of this schedule with your iPhone and use it as your reminder. Everything was well organized and pretty much as listed. The list also includes alternative activities (i.e. going on glass-bottom boat instead of snorkeling, or riding on panga instead of hiking, etc.)
Mari Ramierz gives briefing every day about the following day’s activities. She is everywhere and does everything. She is like a mother hen to all of us!
The wakeup call every morning is at 6:30 AM. Mari will come on the speaker to greet everyone. (As she likes to remind us, we are on an ADVENTURE not a VACATION!) We usually wake up earlier (as did some other passengers) to watch the beautiful Galapagos mornings from the Sky Deck.
The activities are broken down into morning and afternoon tour -- except for the day we visited Santa Cruz Island where we spent the entire day on the island. Some hikes are more strenuous than others. Be sure to bring good grip, amphibious shoes with you.
You will be on a panga a lot to transport you to and from your excursions. There are two types of landing – DRY and WET. DRY landing is when the passengers get off the panga on a dock or rocky terrain. WET landing is when the panga is dock close to the beach and passengers wade (ankle deep) to the shore.
Each group is small - about 12 passengers or so, accompanied by an English-speaking naturalist guide. There are several guides onboard Santa Cruz II, everyone is very knowledgeable about the Galapagos Islands. Our favorite guide is Henry Abad, whose passion for nature is clearly shown in his voice as he narrates each species we encounter.
Using snorkeling equipment is complimentary. You can also rent their wet suite for $18 for the entire trip. As the water temperature was warm when we were there, we did not wear our wet suites that we brought from home.
Passengers are greeted with a glass of refreshing juice whenever we come back from our excursions.
The ship’s photographer, Martin Barreiro, will gladly take your family’s photos with your camera. He also takes photos of everyone onboard and shows them as slideshow on the last day of the trip. And if you leave your email address with him, he will send this slideshow to you free of charge. He also gives a lecture on how to take great Galapagos Islands photos. Don’t miss it!
While we had a wonderful time on this cruise, it wasn’t perfect. On our last snorkel outing, I was getting tired after 30 minutes of swimming. I signaled to my husband that I had enough. The safety protocol was that you raise your hands above the water whenever you want to get back into the panga and the naturalist onboard will come and pick you up from where you are. But when my husband and I looked up, our panga was a tiny dot on the horizon – far, FAAAAAR, away! We waved our hands frantically to get the guide’s attention, but the dot did not moved. As I struggled to stay afloat, I looked around and found no one around us -- just silence and eerie sounds of water lapping near our faces. I knew I didn’t have enough strength to swim that far, and wondered how we strayed so far away from our group. Panic began to set in and my heart raced. The prospect of drowning in the Galapagos Islands was not very appealing, so I began to splash the water with both hands and my husband began shouting at the top of his voice while waving his arms like a maniac. It was only then that the guide saw us, and she quickly came to our rescue.
That incident left me a little shaken. In hindsight, we should’ve chose glass-bottom boat instead of snorkeling on our last day. It was a bad decision on our part. I would still give Santa Cruz II a 5-star review because we had a FANTASTIC time overall!
In conclusion, visiting Galapagos should be on everyone’s bucket list! To get the best value, check out the last minute deals for vacancies. The tour company will publicize this info (if any) few weeks before the sail date. Metropolitan Touring (who owns this ship) is a well-established entity in this region. Everywhere we went, we had the whole place to the wildlife and ourselves. Not a bad arrangement to visit one of the most magical places on Earth!
1) Your tour price does not include the mandatory $100 park entrance fee/pp, or the $20 migration fee/pp. You can ask your travel agent to include both in your tour price. It’s one less thing to worry about.
2) Ecuador uses USD as their currency. You don’t need FX exchange. You also don’t need electrical converter, since the country uses the same voltage as US.
3) You don’t need to bring water bottles. You will receive two souvenir bottles in your stateroom. You can fill them with water from the dispenser in the hallway.
4) Galapagos Islands are volcanic in nature and the paths are rocky and slippery. Be sure to wear shoes that have good grip. Walking stick is provided for anyone who needs it.
5) We brought insect repellent, but rarely used it. We didn’t find mosquitoes or other insects to be a problem in any of the islands we visited.
6) The sea lion pups are very cute, but you should not go near them. The reason for this precaution is that your scent may transfer to the pup. When the mother sea lion comes back to feed it, she may not recognize her pup’s scent and will not feed it. It’s best to take the photos from some distance away so as not to disrupt their lives.
7) Bring a small bottle of fabric spray. All the life vests have strong smell of perspiration on them. You cannot claim one as your own and clean it since they are collected and randomly distributed on every outing.
8) Tipping – it’s always awkward trying to figure out how much to tip. Here’s a general guideline on Santa Cruz II (as suggested by Metropolitan Touring):
Crew: $15/pp per day
Naturalist: $10/pp per day
Barman: $5/pp per trip
You can add this to your bill at the end of your trip and pay with your credit card. This will be shared equally among the crewmembers. We tipped extra (in person) to those crewmembers who made our trip more memorable.
The room was adequate but with thin walls. The shower had a good pressure. Bring your own soap and lotion.