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Top Metropolitan Touring Ships
Metropolitan Touring's three Galapagos-based ships, the 90-passenger Santa Cruz II, the 40-passenger Isabella II and the 48-passenger La Pinta, toe the line between the necessity of an expedition cruise and the need for comfort. The blue-footed birds, cactus-loving iguanas and baby seals are the reason to cruise the Galapagos, but passengers certainly don't complain about the top-ship hot tubs, congenial lounge, and ceremonial post-excursion snack and juice.
The line's former flasghip Santa Cruz retired in 2015 to be replaced by Santa Cruz II, which takes the comfort and cuisine levels up a notch or two, but as with the other ships: the emphasis is on what you see and do on the islands, not really onboard.
Despite the variation in size, MT's ships are similarly configured. Open seating meals are served in a dining room that accommodates all passengers simultaneously. A general purpose, Wi-Fi-ready lecture room doubles as the ships' before- and after-dinner watering hole. And in the case of the two smaller ships, the sun decks include a hot tub, secondary dining space for the occasional al fresco meal and a smattering of sun beds.
There is, however, considerable variation in cabins. For instance, all cabins found on La Pinta, added to the fleet in 2008, are at least 189 square feet. Most cabins on the larger Santa Cruz II are sized at a more expedition-like 163 square feet.
Experiencing the undersea world is a quintessential part of a Galapagos cruise, so snorkeling gear (masks, fins and snorkels) is included in the cost. Wet suits, which most passengers wear during the "cool season" (June/July to December) are available to rent onboard. Each vessel also carries several "pangas," zodiacs that shuttle passengers from ship to shore; sea kayaks; and a glass-bottom boat.
Entertainment comes by way of BBC documentaries, briefings given by the amiable, multi-lingual naturalists, and conversation with the extremely well-traveled passengers the line attracts.
Smoking is prohibited in all indoor areas, including cabins, dining room and reception lounge. Passengers are allowed to light up on a few designated outdoor deck areas.
From September through May, Metropolitan Touring attracts an extremely well-traveled, well-educated babyboom-plus crowd. Passengers are sociable and have an obvious affinity for nature. During the summer months, families materialize.
La Pinta and Isabella II cater predominantly to English-speaking passengers drawn predominantly from the U.S., Australia and the U.K., though there may be a decent mix of multi-lingual Europeans.
The larger Santa Cruz II attracts a more international crowd, including Spanish and Ecuadorians, and is the only ship with special family programming (kids' meal times, dedicated shore excursions and a kids' room). Multi-lingual guides are matched to appropriate passengers.
Metropolitan Touring Fleet
Metropolitan Touring owns and operates three Galapagos-based expedition cruise ships. The flagship, the 90-passenger Santa Cruz II launched in October 2015, and replaces Santa Cruz after 36 years of service. It began life in 1992 as Mare Australis, operating cruises round Cape Horn for Chile-based operator Australis, before MT bought the ship in 2015 and completely refurbished it. The 48-passenger La Pinta was introduced in 2008 after an overhaul (it debuted in 1982 as a Bahamas-based casino boat). The 40-passenger Isabela II was built in 1979 as a supply boat. The ship was converted into an expedition ship in 1988.
All ships in the Galapagos are mandated to follow the same 15-day route, which can be sliced up in several ways. Metropolitan Touring offers three-, four-, five-, six- and seven- and nine-night segments, which can be combined where possible.
While there is quite a bit of variation between the itineraries, the six- and seven-night cruises offer a broad overview of the Galapagos, visiting the western islands of Fernandina and Isabella (the most volcanically active destinations), as well as a smattering of smaller islets like the striking Rabida, known for its burgundy beaches (iron oxide). The four-night cruises might head north to Genovese, where the stunning red footed boobies dwell. The more limited three-nighters focus on the eastern islands, including Espanola, where waved albatross primarily perform their indescribable mating dance from April to June.
All cruises begin or end on the islands of Baltra or San Cristobal, where the Galapagos' two major airports are located. Cruise fares do not include air transportation to and from the Galapagos, but guides will pick up passengers at the start of the cruise and escort them to the airport on the final day.