My husband and I and our three teen-aged boys recently returned from a spring break trip on the Santa Cruz II, Western Itinerary. We thoroughly enjoyed the Santa Cruz II. Everything was clean and modern. The food was very good and the waiters went out of their way each day to bring my son gluten-free breads and waffles without us ever having to ask. The outdoor deck was lovely. The bar and lounge areas were comfortable and inviting. The boat's staff at the Quito airport, on arrival in Baltra, and on the ship were all very organized and friendly and we always knew where we were going and what we were doing. The snorkeling equipment was excellent and seemed top quality. The ship's photographer takes pictures that are provided at no cost, which I thought was a very nice touch. I would sail on this ship again without the slightest hesitation.
Our naturalist guide for the trip was a very nice young man, but he could have talked a little less (sometimes you just want to silently enjoy the nature around you!) and been a little better informed. At times when he was asked questions I think he just improvised when he didn't know something. He often answered the same question different ways at different times. He explained evolution as "if a bird had an injured wing his offspring would then also have injured wings."
My real complaint, however, was the itinerary. Days 2 & 4 were excellent. Day 1 was ok, Day 3 was terrible. On such a short cruise at such a high cost, every day should be amazing!
Day Two: Snorkeled with sea lions, penguins, and turtles, and really saw lots of interesting animals up close. Really enjoyed both stops. Day Four was our favorite. We snorkeled from the shore of a beautiful beach and kayaked among playful sea lions in the morning, then enjoyed a glass-bottom boat tour in the afternoon. The highlight was the evening, when 12 sharks and a few sea lions swam right alongside the boat for HOURS, chasing flying fish. The fish would leap out of the water to escape, and one flew up into my son's chest on the deck. He will never forget that.
Day One (afternoon after embarkation), Dragon Hill was ok. Lots of walking for very little animal sightings, and it was hot and dry and dusty. Seems like there could be a better place to start.
Day 3, however, just felt like filler. First we trekked to the Charles Darwin Research Center, which was not interesting at all. A huge production to go into a special building where they have the taxidermy body of Lonely George, the last of a particular species of tortoises who died several years ago. Then outside to see some giant tortoises, including babies in breeding areas. Overall, not impressive and it required a bus ride, then a long walk. Would recommend omitting this stop entirely. Then we were bussed to a sugar cane farm for a 5 minute demonstration, followed by an hour of standing around. Everyone seemed hot and annoyed. Next we were loaded back on the bus and taken to a lava tube. We got out, hiked into the tube, turned around and hiked back to the bus. Again, seemed rather pointless? Then the bus took us to a restaurant, where we had an outdoor buffet. The food was fine, but then it was back on the bus again for a drive to a reserve where we saw giant tortoises. This last part at the reserve was about 45 minutes - and it was enjoyable - but it came at the end of a very long day. We would have much preferred if this day could have been broken in two like the other days, with a return to the ship mid-day, and a more interesting stop/excursion in the morning. A tortoise center in the morning and tortoises in the wild in the afternoon seemed unnecessarily repetitive. The sugar can farm and lave tube stop just seemed like filler. NOT why one travels to the Galapagos! We felt cheated out of one of our precious few days in the Galapagos on this day.
So all in all, we had a wonderful trip to the Galapagos and would recommend the Santa Cruz II, but pick an itinerary without the long day on Santa Cruz Island.
Also, if you are deciding between a full week and a 5 day/4 night as we were, we all agreed the 4 day was just the right amount of time. I think it might have started to feel repetitive with a few more days.
We had three cabins - two doubles (120, 122) and a single (124) all in a row on the main Horizon Deck. These were right next to the main desk, which I worried would be loud, but we actually loved the location. Very central to everything. The rooms did not feel cramped. The showers were nice with glass doors - so much better than the curtains the blow against you on most cruises. Nice large picture window in each. Very comfortable beds. Really no complaints at all.