Eco Galaxy II Galapagos Cruise
Galaxy II cruise was an incredible experience
Galaxy II (also,called Eco Galaxy) is a new boat and we were on it for 7 days in February. This is a review of the boat and some helpful tips. I won't review the islands and wildlife as it has been covered well in other reviews (magical and wondrous sums it up). We did the western islands (itinerary D). We booked through Galapagos Natural Life and price included airfare from Quito or Guayaquil. Very happy with the agency.
We spent two night in Guayaquil before flying to Baltra. Not one of our favorite cities.
Tip #1- get to the airport early. It took us1-3/4 hours to go through the three lines, Transit Control, Agriculture Inspection, and airline check-in. These three lines are all side by side. First is Transit Control. We were told we could save time by registering on-line ahead of time and we did this and printed out bar codes to present, but they just threw these away and typed in the info. Not sure if the computers were down. Maybe it sometimes works. We were in line for this for 45 minutes. When we reached the front of the line two guys asked if they could jump ahead of us as their flight was boarding. We agreed and then saw them in the cafe an hour later. (Not sure what the moral is here. Don't be nice? Ask to see boarding pass?). Anyway, this is where you pay the $10 fee. Then you get in the Agricultural line and have bags x-rayed. Although we didn't figure it put until it was too late, one person can get in the agriculture line while the other takes the passports and money and goes through Transit Control. This speeds things up. After Agriculture you can check in for the flight.
We flew from Guayaquil, but the plane originated in Quito and everyone from our boat was on the same flight. We were met at the airport by our guide, Raphael.
Tip #2- From the airport you have a 10-minute bus ride, short ferry ride, 45-minute bus ride, and panga rode before you get to the boat. While in the airport, run to the bathroom and grab a bottle of water.
The boat is beautiful. There are 4 cabins on the main level and 4 on the upper level. Main floor cabin advantages might be less motion, not having to walk up stairs when it is rocky. Disadvantages may be more noise when anchor goes up and down and the kitchen staff below deck starts banging things early.
Our cabin was huge. King bed, more dresser and closet space than you can possibly use, 20-foot wall of windows, big bathroom. There was plenty of hot water and a big shower. Shampoo, conditioner, soap, and hair dryer provided. The bed is very comfortable. Good reading lights. All cabin lights can be controlled by switches near the bed. AC works great and is on a remote. Big mirror in the cabin. Cabins were cleaned 2-3 times daily.
We were very comfortable in the cabin, so my negatives are pretty minor. I wish there were more places to hang wet towels, bathing suits, swim t-shirts, etc. There is one hook in the bathroom and one small towel bar. The closet doors have cut-outs of leaves and everyone was using these to stuff things in to dry and using hangers in the cut-outs. This will eventually damage the doors, but there were no other options. The drawers are poorly designed with no knobs or lips and hard to open. There are no rims on the bureau and night stand and during a particularly rocky night all of our stuff from the top was thrown to the floor and rolled under the bed.
There is a large living room/dining room area with two tables that seat 8, two couches, and a bar with 4 bar stools. There is a large-screen tv which I think could be for watching DVDs but no one tried it. There is a cabinet with board games and we did play cribbage and backgammon. A shelf with some good books, mostly about the Galapagos.
Tip #3- There was not a lot of drinking done as no one stayed up very late, but the bar was used. Check the price list. We did not. Beer is $3.50. Wine and drinks are $10. We did drink wine and should have been buying it by the bottle and not the glass but did not know that was an option. Our mistake as the drink menu was on the bar and we never looked. They ran out of beer on Wednesday (which was a little odd as no one had been drinking much). Several people complained to the guide. He called the captain and they sent a panga to get beer from a nearby boat.
The front of the first floor is a meeting room with two TVs that were used nightly for our discussion of the next day trips, what to wear/bring, etc. Some of the crew played video,games and watched movies here in the afternoon.
Tip #4- if you go out the door in the meeting room to the front of the boat on the main floor there is a stairway to the bridge. This is a great place to sit on the steps, watch the scenery, and get a little alone time.
The top deck has a lounge area with astroturf-like grass, lounge chairs and benches with tables. There is a canopy over the center if you want to avoid the sun. Great place to go after dinner to see the stars and to watch birds diving during the day. Bars on the back of chairs are good for drying clothes and we just put things on the 'grass' and they dried quickly. If I were going to be nit-picky, i would have to say that this area is somewhat poorly designed. The lounge chairs are not adjustable and work for lounging but are not comfortable for napping or reading. The bench seats are not particularly comfortable and the tables don't have rims so you need to make sure your drinks don't slide off. One of the first days when we were all in the dining room at lunch the cushions from the top deck blew off and had to be pulled from the water. If one of the crew had not happened to see that, we would have had very uncomfortable benches for the rest of the week.
There is coffee, tea,and water available 24/7. We were given Galaxy II water bottles on board, but they were leaky. One of our passengers liked iced coffee and taught Eduardo, the bartender, how she liked it and he delivered it to her daily.
Tip #5- Use the Galaxy water bottle for water in the bathroom for brushing teeth and bring your own water bottle. I had one with a loop on the cap that clipped to my pants so I could have my hands free for camera/balance on the islands.
The food is good. Breakfast and lunch are buffet, dinner is served. There are always plenty of options. Heavy on the fruits and vegetables. Breakfast always has some type of egg and another option (pancakes, etc.), bacon or sausage, cheeses, cereal, yogurt, toast. Lunch is their biggest meal of the day, also with two main dishes and plenty of sides. Lunch and dinner always include soup and dessert. After the first night we were given a menu at lunch to choose our evening meal with three options, always a chicken, beef or fish plus a vegetarian option. The beef was never very good. Fish and chicken were always good. On Friday they served Ecuadoran specialties and the chef showed us how he made ceviche with fish, squid, and shrimp and that was our first course. The first two meals are unlimited buffet, dinner is served. A teenaged boy and some of the men on board felt like dinner wasn't big enough (especially the night everyone got one chicken leg), but it was fine for us.
The crew were great. Helpful, friendly, attentive. Could not have been better. Our guide, Raphael, was good. He told us the guides are mostly freelancers and skip around a lot.
The snorkeling was at least once a day and often twice a day, both off the beach and off the back of the boat. The gear did not look new and some people had problems with masks leaking, but I think by the end everyone got fitted correctly. We brought our own masks and snorkels. They had wetsuits to rent, but no one used them. Our first two snorkel spots the water was quite cool bit all the other stops it was fine. (On the other hand, those of us snorkeling were from the Northeast US and Switzerland, so maybe we are more tolerant of cold water.... ). The snorkeling is great- we snorkeled with sea lions, turtles, and penguins.
Bring a lot of sunscreen. One of our fellow passengers was very burned in Quito before he arrived. I found my lips very dry and tingly and had SPF lip balm and applied often.
A decent pair of sneakers is fine for the walks and dry landings. There is a lot of walking on lava on the Western Islands. There are walking sticks on board to borrow but no one did. They were all one size and quite tall. A couple of people had folding walking sticks which were great for two of the walks. The important thing is to just watch your footing and stop when you want to look around. Don't walk and gaze at the same time.
We had 1-2 activities on the morning, back on boat 11:30-2:30 while we sailed to a new location (and avoided mid-day sun) and 1-2 activities after lunch. It was a great schedule as we were busy but also had time to rest.
Tip #6- There are two shower hoses on the back of the boat. If you swim/snorkel in the morning and are going again in the afternoon just use the outdoor shower to get the salt off and save the real shower for night. After the first day you realize the whole trip is a bad hair day and don't care.
You really don't need to bring many clothes. I saved one 'clean' sundress and wore it every night after I showered. I try to avoid sun and had a pair of trekker pants from LLBean with multiple pockets and clip for water bottle and wore these daily with a quick-dry t-shirt and an SPF lightweight long sleeved shirt. Cotton T-shirts never really get dry. I wore a Lands End SPF swim T-shirt over my bathing suit and liked that. You need something on your feet on the ship as the decks and 'grass' on top deck get really hot. They provide those hotel slippers but no one really wore them. Flip flops or light sandals are great.
Hats are a must. Wide brim. Mine had a flap in the back to cover my neck (yeah, with the long pants, long-sleeved shirt, and hat with flap I looked crazy bit came home with no sunburn after a week on the equator!)
Tip #7- If you are going to buy a hat for the trip, Galaxy sells them on board (navy or beige, with or without flap), so you could get it on board and have a souvenir hat.
The people aboard our ship were a varied bunch, 4 from England, 3 from Switzerland, a family with two teens from New York, 1 from Massachusetts, and us (Maine). A very well- traveled group with very interesting stories of past adventures. We all got along very well and we will stay in touch with some of them.
I saved the negative for last. There are some safety issues with the boat. It has only been operating for 3 trips and hopefully some of these were left unfinished and will be completed soon. We have not been on other similar trips, so it could be that the safety standards are not as strict as we might expect in the US. One couple aboard was quite vocal about the issues and I am sure the owners will be aware of the problems soon. There is no hand rail to the second deck. The stairway is steep, curving, and often wet. After complaints the crew did hang a rope to grab onto, but it was difficult to go up and down. Also, if you happened to fall down the steps at night you could roll right off the boat as there was no gate or webbing on the two stairways down to the platforms on the back of the boat. There is no ladder off the back platforms (or even a ladder that can be lowered), so after swimming or snorkeling off the back of the boat it is very difficult to get back up to the deck.
All in all, we loved this boat and had an amazing vacation. Very highly recommended. We have been back a few days now and it just seems like a dream.