The focus of Delfin III and other Amazon cruises isn't the entertainment factor you find on large oceangoing ships, so there's no casino, no theatre or big live music productions, and little by way of entertainment options. But that's part of the charm, simplifying things and getting you close to the amazing nature just outside the cabin. Passengers never lacked for things to do, though, and every afternoon and evening made their way to the Sun Deck and Canopy Lounge for games, to talk and have a drink, to read or to sort through photos on their phones and tablets.
Twice daily -- morning and afternoon -- the naturalist guides take passengers aboard Delfin III out on excursions to explore the Amazon and the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. Some excursions are purely water-based, while others will find you trekking through the jungle or visiting a village. All excursions are included with the cruise and there is no need for advanced reservations, but if you are going to skip an excursion, tell both the cruise director and your naturalist guide so the skiff-boarding and disembarkation process can go more smoothly.
Daytime excursions happened shortly after breakfast, then again in the afternoon, around 3 or 4 p.m. When you board the ship, you're assigned a skiff, a skiff pilot and a naturalist guide. With few exceptions, you'll stick with this crew for every excursion, which makes for a personalized experience as you get to know your naturalist and your naturalist comes to know you and your group.
Typical daytime excursions include jungle walks (on maintained, but still rustic, trails), village visits, wildlife spotting and bird-watching and can even extend to swimming, kayaking or stand up paddleboarding (although we did not find the latter two on our cruise).On wildlife spotting expeditions -- which take place on every skiff outing -- your naturalist guide will identify every bird that flies by or calls, point out sloths hanging high in the trees and spot gray and pink river dolphins. Bring your own lightweight binoculars or ask your naturalist for his and get a better look at sloths in the trees or birds roosting or wading the bank. Each of the naturalist guides aboard Delfin III carried powerful laser pointers, which made identifying animals like sloths (which, frankly, look like a fuzzy clump of leaves in the tree if you don't know what you're looking for), snakes (which you may see on the jungle walk), monkeys and the like.
Twice the Delfin III visited villages. Our first visit was to see a pond (our sailing was during the low water or dry season so the pond was small, but it grows during the high water or rainy season) filled with enormous lily pads. The second was to the village of San Francisco, where we took a tour, met with locals and helped our naturalist guide distribute goods donated by passengers. Both villages rely upon the cruise industry for economic support and set up craft stands where locals sell handmade goods and art pieces, with prices ranging from 5 to 50 S/. (Peruvian sol, which comes out to $2 to $15 USD).
On that note, donations to villagers should be better addressed in Delfin's pre-cruise materials. There is mention of brining “some items you can give away to the locals (T-shirts, pens and paper)” but that falls short of addressing the diversity of items the villagers could use. In a conversation with two of our naturalist guides, they said sought-after items are clothing for children (from toddlers to pre-teens), shorts and pants, socks and the aforementioned T-shirts and writing tools.
There are the occasional nighttime excursions. Passengers from Delfin III had the opportunity to leave the boat one night after dinner for a short skiff ride and a walk into the jungle where we met a local shaman. She told us about plant-based medicines and cures, answered questions and gave us a blessing for safe passage.
One other excursion extended from the late afternoon into full dark. On this trip, the skiffs carried passengers up tributary creeks for bird-watching and wildlife spotting, then for an hour or so of piranha fishing. While it's true that piranha have a fearsome reputation, the naturalists, pilots and other crew on each skiff make it safe and are happy to bait hooks and will always remove your catch (if you wonder why you can't remove your own fish, ask your guide to see the scars on their hand, then look at the piranha teeth, then hand them the fish). And you will catch a piranha or two. After fishing, the trip changed to a search for caiman, which, with the aid of a spotlight, you'll spot along the banks and in the river. On our skiff, we found and caught a caiman nearly 2-feet long, which gave passengers the chance to photograph and touch it. You may also see fishing bats, night herons and other nocturnal wildlife.
Cruising on Delfin III includes one final shore excursion, a trip to the Rescue and Rehabilitation Center of River Mammals. Located in Iquitos, this final stop gives you a look at private conservation efforts in a facility where rescued animals (from former pets to animals injured on the river) are rehabilitated and used for education. Manatees are their centerpiece, but they have a small collection of caiman, boa, monkeys, birds and even an ocelot.
The nature and ease of excursions changes from the dry to the rainy season. During the rainy season (December to April), the river can be as much as 20 to 30 feet higher, putting you that much closer to the wildlife and making smaller, inaccessible dry-season streams, virtual thoroughfares. In addition to higher waters on the river, you may find streams and wet places on your jungle trek. It's advised to bring some rain gear -- hat, rain jacket -- but the cruise line will provide ponchos and rubber rain boots as needed.
Most excursions are easy and accessible to those capable of climbing from the ship onto the skiff, making their way up crude earth or wooden steps and walking through the jungle at a slow pace. Accessibility is an issue on Amazon cruises in general and on the Delfin III specifically. There are no accessible cabins or aides (like elevators or chair lifts) to carry you from deck to deck, and there is little that can be done to make the jungle or villages compliant with ADA rules. Know your limits before you book.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Delfin III relies on its staff to serve as entertainers, and they do an excellent job. One night, a short skiff ride brought us to the origination point of the Amazon. There, the ship's trio of skiffs tied together and crew members began playing guitar and a percussion box, singing and dancing. Much of the entertainment for the rest of the cruise was like this, with the crew transformed into singers and musicians and put on a great show. The maitre d' was the lead singer and guitar player, and at three lunches he and his crew mates serenaded the dining room. They appeared for a birthday and anniversary celebration at dinner. They played for us once at night, then again on the final night, putting on a show that saw nearly every crew member singing, dancing -- in costume or uniform -- and cajoling the passengers into joining in. Songs were a mix of Spanish and English, pop songs from The Beatles to contemporary Latin hits and each one was better than the last. This is the only organized entertainment aboard Delfin III, but, thankfully it's all you need.
Enrichment opportunities were limited on our four-day cruise, with only a handful of organized educational activities taking place, with many of those on the same afternoon. In one blockbuster afternoon, our ship's chef demonstrated how to make juanes, a rice-filled, leaf-wrapped regional delicacy (that we ate the next day at lunch); the cabin stewards also gave an impressive demo on towel origami and invited guests up to try their hand at it. Another afternoon there was a film about the Amazon. A final enrichment activity came late in the cruise when our bartenders gave an informative and hilarious lesson on making a pisco sour. All of these activities were free of charge.
Given how much information our naturalist guides were providing on our twice-daily tours, lectures on the flora and fauna would have been overkill. That said, it did feel that there were missed opportunities to educate passengers on the culture, environment or history of this region of the Amazon.
There's only one lounge onboard Delfin III, and you'll find it on Deck 3. The Canopy Lounge is large and inviting, filled with comfortable, modern furniture that brings a bit of the Peruvian Amazon into the room in a chic way. The walls on either side of the lounge are floor-to-ceiling windows, providing panoramic views of the jungle and river. At the back of the room is the bar, where the bartenders put out a small spread of snacks -- potato and plantain chips, cookies -- in the afternoon and evening, and where they make cocktails -- like Peru's national drink, the pisco sour -- and coffee, pour wine and beer and chat with guests.
The bar is open daily from 6 a.m. until the last person goes to bed. The selection of spirits was small but well curated, with recognizable whiskeys, bourbons, gins and vodkas on the menu; wine was dominated by Peruvian vineyards, and beer was overwhelmingly Peruvian too. Drinks are not included and there is no drinks package offered, but everything was reasonably priced.
Every evening the Canopy Lounge is the place to be as the cruise director or one of the naturalists provides an overview of the next day and answers any questions. It's also the place to be as it is the largest gathering spot on the ship, so at times it can get loud, especially when the band -- made up entirely of crew members -- puts on a show.
This is also the place where you'll gather for movies or enrichment activities like a cooking demo, towel origami, mixology lessons or lectures.
Deck 3 holds the ship's only outdoor public areas. One is a breezeway where a collection of chairs and benches make for a shady spot to grab a drink and watch the river and jungle slip by. The other is the sun deck where a few chairs provide room for lounging and a plunge pool offers a place to cool off. Every afternoon, and even some evenings before dinner, the pool was a popular spot and many passengers grabbed a drink and enjoyed a few minutes with a book or with the scenery.
On Deck 1 at the foot of the only staircase on the ship, you'll find the cruise director's desk (where you can book your spa treatment, inquire about excursions or deal with any service issues that may arise), the paramedic's office and a small boutique carrying hats and T-shirts, playing cards, postcards, Amazonian photography and a few other souvenirs and Peruvian handicrafts.
On Deck 2, you'll find a map of the region and a pair of chalkboards, one listing the crew, the other detailing times and excursions for the day; the boards are changed nightly after dinner so you'll always have a central place to answer the “What are we doing tomorrow afternoon?” question.
The Amazon is a wild and remote place, as such, there's little by way of cell service or internet connectivity -- even Wi-Fi -- onboard. There's also no internet cafe or internet package available for purchase, so you'll find yourself disconnected for most of the sailing. You will find yourself with cell signals and the occasional 3G wireless connection as you pass by larger communities or near Nauta, Delfin III's port. For emergencies, the ship carries a satellite phone.
Laundry service is available onboard. On the shelf in each cabin's bathroom there is a cloth bag marked “Laundry” and a form to fill out noting the items, numbers of each and prices. Fill your bag, fill out the sheet and leave both outside your door and the cabin stewards take care of the rest, returning a stack of folded clothes to your cabin no later than the following morning.
The Delfin III has no dedicated library, but there are books, DVDs, playing cards and board games available on Deck 3 in the Canopy Lounge. Selections for all three are limited. Books included a pair of copies of birding guides, popular fiction titles and dog-eared travel guides. Games included Scrabble, Pictionary and other easy-to-learn, easy-to-play favorites.
On Deck 1 you'll find the paramedic's office. There is a full-time paramedic onboard and he travels with one of the skiffs on each excursion, dutifully carrying his medical bag with him whether you stay in the boat or head out for a jungle hike. His services are limited, but effective. He carries some common over-the-counter medicines for everything from pain to stomach issues, and has a small cache of medications that can help with more serious issues. On our sailing, one of our fellow passengers had injured her back prior to the cruise, and the paramedic was able to help with anti-inflammatory and pain medication and kept an eye on her throughout the trip. He was also in our skiff during our piranha fishing activity and jokingly showed us a stack of bandages (and a few piranha bite scars on his hand) before we got started. Due to the limited store of medication onboard, we recommend visiting your doctor or seeing a travel clinic for personalized recommendations for medications and vaccinations before your trip. That said, it's always a good idea to travel with a few essentials -- Imodium or Pepto-Bismol, Rolaids or Tums, even an antibiotic -- as well as your normal medications.
On Deck 3 you'll find both The Rainforest Spa and a small gym. In The Rainforest Spa, a small, but well-appointed room with floor-to-ceiling windows, they offer a half-dozen treatments ranging from manicures and pedicures to reflexology and Amazonian Foot Therapy, as well as a facial treatment using Amazonian ingredients and the Delfin Amazon Ritual Massage, which combines reflexology, Swedish massage and stretching in a 45-minute treatment. Treatments are bargain priced and range from $20 to $50. Appointment times are flexible and the therapist understands when your excursion skiff arrives 10 minutes late and you're rushing to your appointment.
Robes are available in your cabin and you can wear your robe to and from your treatment. As with any massage, you can undress to your comfort level, however, take note that draping techniques, at least on our sailing, were on the blush-worthy side of modest. The Rainforest Spa can be a bit bright as well, what with the wall of windows that, even when shaded, allow in a considerable amount of light.
Across the hall from The Rainforest Spa, there is a small gym. Here you'll find a treadmill, elliptical machine, a few free weights, as well as towels and water. It's small, very small, but the giant window gives you a tremendous view while you burn off a few calories on the treadmill or elliptical. There's no charge for the fitness center.
Delfin welcomes children onboard provided they are at least 7 years old. Onboard there are no kids' club or dedicated activities, but in the Canopy Lounge cards and games are available and there is a moderate library of DVDs (in English and Spanish), many of which are appropriate for children.
That said, the real attraction of an Amazon cruise is the Amazon, and the naturalist guides are friendly and open with kids, and no matter the activity -- bird-watching, jungle hikes, fishing for piranha -- the guides make every effort to ensure everyone is engaged and enjoying themselves. This extends to the dining room where you'll find kid-friendly options on the breakfast buffet and a menu for kids at lunch and dinner.
There are no connecting cabins or triple-occupancy cabins on Delfin III (though on their sister ships you will find interconnected suites -- Delfin II -- and triples -- Delfin I and II). Children younger than 18 are permitted to have their own cabin provided they are traveling with parents or guardians.
Sailing on the Delfin III is best for older kids and teens, those who don't require or desire constant entertainment, or those with a fascination for the region or the outdoors in general. Excursions can grow lengthy, as can meals, which are multicourse, so patience is a must for young travelers.
With a mix of Peruvian and other South American passengers as well as Americans, there's a chance you'll find a few kids or teens on any sailing. School schedules vary across South America, and there are frequent breaks and opportunities for families to visit the Amazon, so there's less predictability than the American spring break or summer vacation.