The 18-passenger M/Y Grace, built in 1928, had an illustrious past before Quasar Expeditions bought and refitted it for cruising around the Galapagos.
The timelessly elegant yacht has sailed under many names and many owners -- and was even drafted by the British Government into the war effort in 1939. Decommissioned in 1945, the vessel was then returned to Sir George Tilley, chairman of Prudential Insurance Company. Upon his death in 1951 it was acquired by Aristotle Onassis, joining the collection of one of the world's richest men.
Two years later Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly (newly Princess Grace of Monaco) used the yacht for their honeymoon around the Mediterranean after receiving it as a wedding gift from Onassis. This glamorous stage of its history inspired the expedition ship's current name.
But before that chapter, it was sold to a wealthy businessman in 1958 and spent the next couple of decades in the Caribbean before it was seized by the Jamaican Government in 1983 for the owner's evasion of taxes. Bought and revamped by its next owner, John Issa, chairman of SuperClubs, the yacht was brought from Montego Bay to Tampa, Florida, and then moved to Grand Lido Negril where it remained from 1989 until 2006.
Finally, it was sold to Quasar in 2007, completely rebuilt over the next two years and upgraded with modern equipment and an expanded sun deck. Another refurbishment in 2017 added the larger Grace Kelly Suite.
The canoe-stern design stands out from other cruise ships in the Galapagos, emanating a romantic vintage vibe. The onboard ambience is relaxed and casual. Grace is entirely free of single-use, disposable plastics and passengers are encouraged to bring their own refillable bottles for water.
A cruise on Grace is a truly memorable, intimate and thoroughly enjoyable experience. A highlight is the passion of the two naturalist guides, who give informative presentations each evening and lead hiking or snorkeling excursions each day. Daily "panga" rides are also offered aboard inflatable Zodiac boats to view the incredible scenery and wildlife.
Rates include meals, non-alcoholic drinks, guided excursions, snorkeling gear, kayaks and transfers within the Galapagos.
The ship is small enough to be chartered by one group or a family but it is mostly booked separately by couples including those seeking a Grace Kelly honeymoon experience. On our sailing, we were accompanied by wealthy couples from the U.S., Australia and Argentina, plus a mulitgenerational family ranging from young children to grandparents.
The company doesn't have an official dress code but casual clothing is acceptable. Some guests like to dress up for dinner -- women opt for a nice dress or pants and blouse, while men wear long pants and shirt.
Swimwear, waterproof shoes or sandals, hats, sunglasses and hiking boots or sneakers are essential for excursions. It is also recommended to bring a rain jacket/poncho, lightweight cotton pants, shorts and t-shirts. Neoprene or lycra shirts can keep you warm while swimming but wetsuits are provided.
Gratuities are not included in your fare and must be paid in cash at the end of the cruise. The onboard currency is the U.S. dollar, which is also used throughout the Galapagos and Ecuador.
Other charges on your bill, such as alcohol, can be paid with any major credit card or cash in U.S. dollars.
Grace has eight staterooms and one larger suite. The air-conditioned rooms are compact and cozy, with wood panelling for a traditional nautical look. Ensuite bathrooms are small, equipped with a walk-in shower, basin, toilet, soap and hair dryer. Electricity is 110W, 60 cycles, AC, (2 flat prongs), which is the same as in the United States. Travelers from other countries should bring a converter.
Outside Cabin: The average size is 183 square feet (17 square meters). A variety of layouts may include windows, portholes, single or queen-size beds.
Grace Kelly Suite: Located where the Prince and the Princess slept, this larger and more recently renovated accommodation has a king bed with leather headboard, custom-made Seike wood furnishings, art deco mirrors and several windows. The space was previously used as an indoor dining room.
All meals, soft drinks, juice and water are included in the fare. Passengers eat outside on the shaded main deck, which is an absolute delight. Tables can be shared or couples can dine separately.
Light and airy, the al fresco area can accommodate all passengers at once. Breakfast and lunch are self-service buffet-style; dinner is served by waiters. The food is fresh and tasty, including salads, seafood, meats, vegetables, cheese and desserts. Dietary restrictions can be catered for; inform the company well in advance.
The sundeck has an outdoor bar serving beer, wine, spirits and cocktails for an extra charge. There are comfortable, cushioned couches and chairs, lovely water views and soft background music. Service is slow but friendly.
Passengers can also relax on the lower deck where the Jacuzzi and sun chairs are located.
There is no guest services desk but the cruise director is easily found on this small vessel to assist with any enquiries.
Wi-Fi is unavailable onboard. Internet cafes are located at one stop on the cruise at the port of Puerto Ayora.
Satellite phone services onboard is charged at a cost of $5 per minute. On your cell phone, data/3G roaming reception can only be guaranteed when anchored at Puerto Ayora and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
Quasar Expeditions accepts children so if you would rather have a kid-free cruise, speak to the cruise line before booking. The ship has no formal programming for kids, but when children are onboard, they will thoroughly enjoy the wildlife encounters if they enjoy snorkeling and walking.
Other family-friendly activities include star-gazing, movie nights and board games. Children's menus are provided during family cruises.
Grace operates two-week itineraries in the Galapagos. The seven-night Beyond Darwin’s Footsteps cruise from San Cristobal Island explores the central and southern section of the archipelago, visiting Espanola, Floreana, Santa Cruz, Rabida, Bartolome and North Seymour islands. The seven-night Following Darwin's Trail itinerary from Baltra Island sails further north and calls at different sites.
Quasar Expeditions can also assist with pre- and post-cruise touring in Ecuador. Options include visiting Andean markets, colonial haciendas, local indeginous cultures or the Amazon rainforest. Longer extensions are offered to Machu Picchu, Inca cultural sites in Peru and the Patagonia of Chile and Argentina.