Most of the onboard entertainment revolves around the Galapagos itself, with numerous choices for activities ashore available every day. Onboard entertainment is sparse and informal, and generally limited to evening briefings and recaps, punctuated by the odd lecture or -- on one memorable evening -- an intimate musical performance by the ship's captain.
Each day, multiple activities are offered ashore in the Galapagos; these are highly dependent on each landing site (the ship sails alternating Eastern and Western Galapagos itineraries that are determined day by day). Hikes and gentle strolls make up the basic staples, but scenic skiff rides and outings in the ship's glass-bottom boat are also offered when conditions permit. Excursions are typically held in the early-morning hours, with a few hikes departing as early as 6:15 a.m. to avoid the worst of the midmorning heat. The ship generally repositions over lunch, and a second set of activities are offered at another landing site in the afternoon.
The Galapagos is not a good destination choice for those with mobility issues. Most excursions require the ability to walk over uneven terrain for at least a mile, though at a relaxed pace with frequent stops along the way for explanations of the islands' ecology.
Most locations offer one challenging walk and a shorter stroll for those looking for a less challenging activity. The Galapagos requires a good degree of mobility, as many landing sites are either wet landings into the shallow surf, or dry landings on lava rock or stone. With the exception of Puerto Ayora, where the Charles Darwin Research Station is, don't expect to see any kind of paved road.
At landing sites where gentle walks simply aren't possible (like the lookout at Bartolome, which requires an ascent of nearly 380 steps), scenic skiff cruises, snorkeling excursions or glass-bottom boat rides will always be offered as an alternative.
Lindblad places real emphasis on its shallow and deep-water snorkelling outings in the Galapagos. These are hugely popular and usually require people to sign up the evening before to secure their space. Kayaking is offered at select landing sites in the Galapagos using double kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards can be used in certain areas as conditions permit. All water sports and excursion activities are provided free of charge.
The Galapagos is teeming with wildlife, and the expedition team aboard National Geographic Endeavour II do their best to showcase it during every landing ashore.
In the Galapagos, strict regulations prohibit people from touching or otherwise harassing the wildlife. It's a good idea to maintain a respectful distance from the animals encountered and to stay on the marked or designated paths. If you step out of line, expect to get a polite but firm reminder from your expedition staff to respect the areas you're in.
The best opportunity to interact directly with the wildlife comes from snorkeling, where baby sea lions, curious as to what you are, will play with you in the water. Otherwise, wildlife interactions are limited to viewing and photographing. Expect to see plenty of marine and land iguanas, giant tortoises, blue- and red-footed boobies, fur seals, the Galapagos sea lion, Galapagos penguins (the only penguin species to live at the equator), lava lizards, frigate birds, flamingos, mockingbirds and, of course, Darwin's famous finches.
Wildlife in the Galapagos has no real fear of humans, so be careful where you step! Iguanas are unlikely to move out of your way, and boobies will cross your path as if you aren't even there.
National Geographic Endeavour II is also equipped with a glass-bottom boat for additional wildlife-viewing opportunities and is a great alternative for those who don't wish to snorkel. Stingrays, hammerhead sharks and schools of tropical fish are just a few of the creatures you can expect to see.
To make the most of your Galapagos excursions, you'll definitely want to bring a waterproof still or video camera (like a GoPro). If you need glasses, or contact lenses, a prescription snorkeling mask will go a long way to improving your enjoyment of the snorkeling and water sports activities. Serious photographers will want to arm themselves with a wide variety of lenses for overland hikes, and binoculars are a great idea, though several complimentary pairs are available for use while onboard the ship.
Lectures on the history of the Galapagos Islands are offered during scenic cruising and run the gamut from natural history to conservation and preservation to workshops to improve your photography. There is no fee to participate, and lectures and workshops are frequently well-attended. A handful of talks are held after dinner, but for the most part, these occur during the day while the vessel is underway between islands.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Outside of the lectures and workshops offered onboard, entertainment is sparse. Outdoor adventures in the Galapagos take center stage, and most cruisers retire early after dinner has concluded. You won't find production shows, or even live music during the evenings -- and that's OK. On a few evenings, relevant documentaries about the Galapagos are screened in the main lounge after dinner.
National Geographic Endeavour II maintains an "open-bridge" policy, and cruisers are welcome to enter and observe the ship's operations as long as the bridge door on Deck 4 forward is open. The captain and officers are friendly and willing to talk about any navigational question that comes to mind.
Lounge (Deck 3): Located all the way forward on Deck 3, the forward-facing Lounge is the social hub of the ship. A bright and airy space, it offers 180-degree views of the Galapagos with plenty of seating options -- so much so that finding a seat is never an issue. Beige banquettes wrap around the room, accented by turquoise swiveling chairs fixed in position to the floor. A center console area is used for lectures and evening recaps and briefings, while a laptop (and even a microscope) are digitally hooked up to the room's five flat-screen televisions, three of which retract into their housing behind the banquettes during the daytime.
A full-service bar located on the port side is generally open in the evenings, and a self-service cooler is stocked with bottled sodas (complimentary) and beer from mainland Ecuador and craft beers from the Galapagos Islands ($4 for regular beers; $7 for craft beers).
The Lounge also offers snacks throughout the day and has a small outdoor observation deck that can be accessed through a door at the front of the room. A coffee machine, water dispenser and fresh juices are available 24 hours per day.
The Library (Deck 4): Stocked with books on the Galapagos and board games for families, the library is a serene space situated all the way aft on Deck 4 and surrounded by 180-degree windows. A coffee machine and water station offer beverages, and a rotating selection of flavoured waters and juices are provided during the daytime. Off to the side, two Apple computer workstations allow for internet access, while a third is set aside strictly for photo editing and sharing. Books may be taken from the library to other public spaces or staterooms and have to be returned at the end of the voyage.
There are no pools or hot tubs onboard, but an expansive Observation Deck offers opportunities for lounging and tanning on the ship's uppermost level. Being a relatively small vessel, there is no outdoor promenade or jogging track onboard.
National Geographic Endeavour II has no water sports marina, but activities like deep-water snorkeling are conducted via the ship's onboard skiffs.
A small gift shop, the Global Gallery, is located on Deck 4 just ahead of the library. It sells wares manufactured in the Galapagos and Ecuador, including artisan glasses, scarves and hats. Smaller souvenirs are also available, and the biggest hit on our voyage was a book written by the ship's captain, Eduardo Neira.
On Deck 2, the "Working Desk" takes the place of the more formal-sounding Reception Desk. Sign-up sheets for optional adventures ashore are placed here, along with brochures, postcards and other items. Unlike a standard reception desk, this area isn't always manned, but one of the ship's friendly crew members are never far from reach.
Wi-Fi internet connectivity is offered throughout the ship. Time-duration packages can be purchased for a small fee and can be accessed from your own device, or from the Apple computers in the library on Deck 4. Reception and speed are better off some islands than others. Current Wi-Fi pricing is available on three separate plans: the Gold Plan includes 250 minutes for $100 (or 40 cents per minute), the Silver Plan comes with 100 minutes and costs $55 (or 55 cents per minute) and the White Plan is 30 minutes for $22 (or 75 cents a minute).
While there is no self-service laundry onboard, passengers can send soiled items to the ship's laundry for a reasonable fee. Most items are between $1.50 and $4.00, plus 12 percent tax added to the total.
A small single-room spa is located on Deck 4. While it isn't elaborate by any means, it is still full-featured enough to offer up several different types of massages, body treatments, facial masks, and hand and foot treatments. An informal sign-up sheet is located near the Working Desk on Deck 2, and all treatments run from $55 for 30 minutes to $100 for a full hour.
Right next door is a decently sized fitness center that sees quite a bit of use, particularly in the evenings before the cocktail hour and evening recap and briefing.
Complimentary morning stretch classes are held daily on the outdoor observation deck. These usually take place before breakfast, with the exact time depending on the daily schedule. All times will be listed in the daily program onboard.
There is no onboard jogging track. Most passengers stay fit simply by climbing the ship's two staircases (National Geographic Endeavour II lacks a passenger elevator) and by participating in the daily hikes and walks on shore.
Lindblad-National Geographic Expeditions encourages families to sail together, and a large portion travel to the Galapagos aboard National Geographic Endeavour II during spring and summer breaks, and school holidays. On our mid-March voyage, nearly one quarter of the ship's passenger complement was made up of kids under 18, and the vast majority of those were under 12.
National Geographic Endeavour II boasts some family-friendly accommodation features. Four cabins (224, 225, 326, 328) and three suites (415, 420, 422) can sleep up to three cruisers, while seven sets of cabins have connecting internal doors.
Kids can generally participate in all of the available activities offered in the Galapagos, including hikes, paddleboarding, snorkeling, glass-bottom boat rides and skiff cruises. Kids can go deep-water snorkeling provided they have done so in the past and are under direct supervision of their parents.
On voyages with plenty of kids, special onboard activities are arranged as part of Lindblad's Global Explorers Program. On our sailing, these included craft classes to make special postcards to leave behind for collection at Post Office Bay, the opportunity to (under direct supervision) learn how to drive the ship's Zodiac inflatable boats and even a pizza party and movie night held in National Geographic Endeavour II's main lounge. Kids were also issued with a workbook -- a sort of pseudo-scientific notebook -- that they could complete by researching various topics in the Galapagos; at the end of the voyage, their accomplishments are recognized in front of the entire ship.
The sheer number of children onboard isn't always well-received by everyone, particularly adults expecting an adult-style experience. With such a high price point (most voyages start at just under $7,000 per person) and no real children's facilities onboard to speak of, tensions can run high between the high-energy kids and adult passengers who may not be aware of Lindblad's kid-friendly policy, particularly during school holidays and summer breaks.