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Seas the Day

Galapagos - Dec '06 - Lindblad review, suggestions, highlights

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I am posting this in three places: Eco-Cruising, Celebrity, and South America. So… please disregard if you have seen before.

 

I just returned from a trip to the Galapagos Islands aboard the Lindblad Polaris, along with a few days in Quito – the capital of Ecuador. I promised on an earlier thread to post a review, which can be compared to another poster’s review of the Celebrity Expedition.

 

Background: I have cruised 3 times on Silversea Silver Whisper, and one time each on Celebrity Horizon, HAL Zuiderdam, Carnival Victory, Cunard QE2, and Princess. I am in my mid-forties, and “fit.”

 

Why Lindblad?: Once I decided to go to the Galapagos, I had a tough time determining which ship to choose, and which months to go. I learned, from various sources, that the top three choices were: #1 – Lindblad, #2 – Metropolitan Touring Santa Cruz, and #3 – Celebrity Expedition. When looking at online reviews, I did not find any negatives about these ships, though I did find negatives about the Explorer for instance.

 

I chose Lindblad because I was told it had the most consistent naturalists (it didn’t matter which group you were on during an outing) and the best relationship with Galapagos National Park Officials, therefore it was given the most privilege during visits, and because a friend had gone and loved it, and the travel agent said it was the best, no question. Lindblad was more expensive than the alternatives, but the alternatives were so expensive that I decided paying a little extra to ensure I had a good experience was worth it. There are no discounts on Galapagos cruises the way there are on mainstream ones… our trip without airfare was more than $4000 per person, but other “less expensive” options were substantially more than $3000 per person – also a lot of money.

 

One of our naturalists on the Polaris had previously worked aboard the Santa Cruz. He said that Santa Cruz did many things “right” but was filled with more of a mix of nationalities, and therefore most announcements and commentaries were made in multiple languages (therefore not as in-depth.) We had a guide in Quito who did not have any naturalist training but had been hired 3x by Celebrity to be a translator on board and he complained that the Celebrity emphasis was on making the guests comfortable onboard, rather than what was offered off the ship – the Galapagos.

 

The Polaris is NOT a luxury ship, despite the price tag. Our rooms were not filled with name-brand sheets, there was only one restaurant, the bar was a counter in the main lounge. What we did have was incredible flexibility and an emphasis on the Galapagos. Here is a good example… we had come from snorkeling and the zodiac driver and guide saw a fin in the distance which they determined to be an Orca whale. Rather than going back to the ship for lunch, we went further to sea and ended up spending fifteen minutes watching an Orca whale jump and breech across the sea. At times he was less than ten feet from our zodiac, and it was AMAZING. Lindblad ALWAYS offered options depending upon what the guests wanted, and revised plans accordingly. For instance, if everyone aboard wanted to snorkel, that was ok. If only a couple wanted to go, that was ok too. Just show up at the right time, and Lindblad accommodated our wishes (and ability levels.)

 

I was surprised that the fitness level of my fellow-guests was not consistent. I had expected everyone (or at least most) would be able to hike, snorkel, etc… because that is the best way to see things. Often there were three activities a day, and the emphasis was on being off the ship – with only meals and an evening recap the consistent onboard activities. There were no trivia contests, multiple restaurants or lounges. The gift shop was small (and the prices there were low.) There were no extra charges for excursions.

 

Food was good, though not fabulous. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style, and my favorite meals. Dinner was a choice of three options – typically a meat, a fish, and a vegetarian offering. Warning: beef in Ecuador, and onboard, was often tough.

 

Packing tips: I found a suggestion for good walking shoes on the internet, but can’t remember the model though I bought a pair for my husband and myself – it was a Merrell sneaker, and these shoes were great. It is important to have a shoe that provides good stability because much of the walking is on irregular boulders, lava, or other types of natural trails. The Galapagos is not a natural park covered with boardwalks… Also important were shoes for wet landings, either TEVA’s that could dry out, or sandals that could double as walking shoes. LOTS of sunblock, and if you go during the rainy season, a light rain jacket. I was told to bring waterproof bug repellent, but did not find any bugs – however I was there at the end of the dry season, and this could have been a factor. Great binoculars were relished. Choose a good pair, the first number is the amount of magnification (8-10 is good for seeing wildlife) and a high second number which indicates the amount of light that is let in (highest is best, mine was 40) and this provides the best clarity. Better to have good clarity than more magnification… My husband and I brought our own snorkels and masks, though these were provided free-of-charge by Lindblad. We used Lindblad’s wet suit and fins, with our own equipment. If you buy your own, season your mask first by rubbing toothpaste on the inside of the lens, leaving it overnight, and rinsing it the next day. This will minimize fogging when in the water. We were provided with our own water bottles, so the ones we brought weren’t necessary – but SOME water is recommended, particularly on long hikes (though the trails aren’t long – typically less than two miles, the time we spend on them is long, and if it’s hot the water is needed. Great sunglasses are a must, and consider the lenses… you don’t want sunglasses that will provide a lot of color distortion. Finally, camera equipment – many of my guests brought multiple cameras for different circumstances – light, underwater, etc.... You can’t imagine the photo ops.

 

Time of year to go: I was lucky – I think I went at the perfect time. The first decision to make is whether you care about cold sea water vs. rain during the day. The advantage to the dry season is that there is no rain, but the downside is that the water is colder. Conversely, you can have rainy mornings and warm seas. Animal behavior is a big factor. My time period of December turned out to be great. The birds were mating, the sea lion pups were still small, and the albatrosses had not left the island. Furthermore, it was not too hot (which would have made the hikes very uncomfortable) and the waters were warming up (which made the snorkeling better.) My thought is that the transition times between seasons are the best. In any case, my December timing was perfect for me. Garua on one day only in Santa Cruz, only one day of hot trails, much animal activity – it seems as though EVERYTHING was mating my week, and that was fun to watch. The animals had their “mating colors” on, and the blue footed boobie’s dance is great.

 

So why did I like the Galapagos?: I couldn’t possibly give a recap of all our activities, so I’ll tell you the things that stand out…

• the fearlessness of the animals – you can be steps from sea lions, iguanas, birds, and they go about their everyday activities as if you weren’t there. It is totally unlike the skittishness of animals in other places.

• the ability to see behaviors I’ve never seen other than a documentary, and the frequency of same. It’s not as if you go on a walk and see one or two of a species, you go on walk and see hundreds of marine iguanas, dozens of giant tortoises, etc… and the animals go about whatever they wish regardless of your presence – whether it be eating, mating, taking care of their young, etc…

• constant learning. I prefer vacations where I’m a different person afterward. It’s impossible to see these islands, experience evolution, immerse yourself in Darwin, and not wonder what your priorities are in life. People on these islands live very different lives than we do in the States, and they are happy and content.

• Seeing an Orca jump RIGHT NEXT to my boat, having a sea lion “play with me” while snorkeling – swimming straight to me and making eye contact with me before diving right underneath me, sharing a floating spa with a sea lion who refused to leave the platform, swimming with penguins and sharks, seeing swarms of iguanas, a vermillion fly-catcher perched atop a giant tortoise in the wild, two large pods of dolphins bow-riding the morning we crossed the equator, the blue-footed boobie’s mating dance, the two albatrosses who were fondling one another (or the equivalent), the male frigate birds with the big red pouches, the sea lion pups (so cute!!!) and the sea lion’s territorial displays, the iguanas and lizards doing the head bob to protect their territory, and so on.

It’s different seeing these things in person. I watched many documentaries beforehand, but being their live is altogether different.

 

OK, I’m tired of writing now. If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.

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Wow! Thanks for the wonderful report. I will be on the Polaris with the Machu Picchu extension in April. What did you take in the way of clothes? I'm thinking that just clean clothes for evening is all I need. As in something I would be wearing hiking the next day. I love to snorkel so should like the warmer water at that time. I also love expedition cruising and tend to hardly ever be in my cabin so anywhere I have to lay my head down will make me happy. Suggestions would be most welcome.

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Clothing - shorts and shirts for hiking during the day (the prices for t-shirts aboard the Polaris were low, and they had great shirts, so pack lightly.) I "dressed up" for dinner, typically wearing pants instead of shorts, and a clean shirt (often 3/4 sleeves) rather than a t-shirt. I also brought a jacket, which I wore at the Captain's table (to which a large number of passengers seem to be invited.)

 

My travel agent told me the best periods were April/May and October/November, so you are in one of her ideal times. My early December was a lot like typical November I suspect.

 

When we first came aboard the expedition leader said we would need a vacation from our vacation. It's true!

 

If going to Quito after, I enjoyed Otavalo a LOT. Also the "real" equator monument which is less commercial and includes "experiments" that show the correolus effect very well. Water was drained from a basin on the equator - it went straight down. The basin was moved only six feet north and south of the equator and the water swirled counter-clockwise or clockwise. Only six feet away!

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Thank you so much for your tips - helps a lot on deciding what to take. I saw the water demonstration years ago in Kenya at the equator. Pretty interesting.

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One more thing, bring more socks - good walking socks. We had far more dry landings than wet ones and I ended up rewearing socks, as did other passengers. Also, I didn't need to bring as many bathing suits as I brought. 2 are sufficient (I thought I might be wearing bathing suits under clothes, and I rarely did.)

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One more thing, bring more socks - good walking socks. We had far more dry landings than wet ones and I ended up rewearing socks, as did other passengers. Also, I didn't need to bring as many bathing suits as I brought. 2 are sufficient (I thought I might be wearing bathing suits under clothes, and I rarely did.)

 

We are doing a Galapagos tour next month on a 20 passenger yatch/cruiser. We will be having some wet landings and have been wondering how these work in practice if there is a walk afterwards. Does the water come over a normal pair of walking shoes and is there need to wear a waterproof pair then carry them with you for the rest of the day. how did this work out for you.

 

Found your review of great interest as it is hard to get much good practical advice on this area..

 

David.

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We are just back from a fabulous trip to the Galapagos on the National Geographic Islander (Lindblad). The wet landings are just that, wet. You are getting out of the zodiacs in the surf. Lindblad provided towels for us to dry our feet with before putting on our hiking shoes.

 

 

Linda

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Great report!. We're in the process of planning a galapagos trip ourselves. This will be helpful!

 

Cheers

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It’s different seeing these things in person. I watched many documentaries beforehand, but being their live is altogether different.

 

Great report! I fully agree that seeing pictures and videos of this neat place on earth is not at all like being there yourself. It is so much better than visiting cathedrals and busy shopping malls, and being in a small group with a knowledgable guide makes a big difference.

We were there for a week and put a 'picture report' together. Perhaps some might be interested in having a peek before they venture to the Galapagos Islands; (or enjoy watching the scenery once more).

http://www.*****.com/Galapagos.html

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I did the galapagos with celebrity's Expedition and it was smialr to what you have described. Our zodiac would go to follow a turtle or ray and was very personalized.

I am looking to book Lindblad's explorer for the ice bear to the Artic circle.Anyone have any knowledge about that?

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