By David Barclay | July 12, 2023
Over Spring Break my family knocked a major trip off our bucket list, visiting the Galapagos Islands. There are many options for staying the Galapagos, both on land and by ship. I’m a big proponent of cruises for exploring the Galapagos as they let you experience more locations during your stay (typically the ships will reposition a few times per day). There are many great cruise lines sailing this wonderful national park, each catering to different types of travelers. It’s important to match the cruise line to the needs of the entire traveling group (adults & kids). After discussing the options with my family, we decided to sail with Silversea as we wanted to connect with the natural wonder of the islands while still feeling pampered on our vacation.
The Silversea Galapagos Package
Getting to the Galapagos Islands is not a straightforward process. There are no direct flights from the U.S. as the area is protected and the Ecuadorian government tightly controls visitor access. Travelers must first travel to Ecuador and then board internal flights to one of the regional airports on the islands. Visitors must also secure a Galapagos Transit Control Card (by completing a form at the airport and paying a $20 fee) and pay a park entrance fee upon arrival in the Galapagos of $100. While all cruise lines include the cruise as part of the cruise fare, what is offered pre/post cruise can vary by line. Silversea is the most all-inclusive cruise line, offering their “door-to-door” cruise fares for the Galapagos. These fares cover all aspects of the trip from pickup at a guest’s home to when they return after their trip. This includes all transfers (including from a guest’s home to their local airport), airfare, hotels, and of course the cruise.
Silversea also operates one of the newest and most technologically advanced ships in the Galapagos, having launched the Silver Origin in 2020. This 100-guest, all suite ship has a crew of 90 (including 10 naturalists) for the best crew-to-guest and naturalist-to-guest ratio of any ship sailing the Galapagos.
Our vacation started with our car service pickup at our home. Silversea has partnered with Blacklane (a global car service company I’ve used many times in Europe) for U.S. transfers. Guests receive a code about 3 weeks prior to their departure allowing them to book their complimentary transfers to/from their local airport through the Blacklane website. Our international fights had been arranged through the Silversea air desk many months prior, and since we prefer to fly American Airlines the air desk arranged for us to fly on American through Miami. Although a mechanical issue caused our Chicago-Miami flight to be delayed, the flights we had requested with the Silversea air desk left enough layover buffer that both we and our luggage made it safely to Quito, Ecuador.
Although our arrival into Quito was late in the evening, the airport was efficient at getting us deplaned and reuniting us with our luggage. Outside of baggage claim we were met by 4 Silversea representatives and quickly directed to a waiting minibus. Although 14 guests had arrived on our flight, Silversea had two buses waiting and only 8 guests (including our family) were on our bus. This was a consistent theme of our entire trip, we never felt crowded and there was plenty of room whether on transfers, zodiacs or on the Silver Origin. On our 45-minute ride from the airport to the JW Marriott (Silversea includes 2 nights in Quito at this hotel) a Silversea representative recorded our shoe and shirt size. These would be used to select wetsuits and flippers which would be waiting for us in our suites on the Silver Origin. Upon arrival at the hotel, we were given a welcome package with details on our cruise and a few forms to complete (waivers for snorkeling, sea kayaking, etc.).
Guests who arrive 2-nights prior to the cruise have a full day to explore Quito, the capital of Ecuador. At ~9,000 feet in altitude, it is the highest capital in the world. We were advised to drink a lot of water and avoid strenuous activities to avoid altitude sickness. While a few other guests mentioned feeling a little bit of the altitude, for our family the higher altitude went mostly unnoticed. Silversea offers numerous optional private tours (for an additional fee) in and around Quito, but we opted to explore on our own, which is easy to do. Taking an Uber, we traveled to the edge of Quito to visit Mitad del Mundo (“Middle of the World”), a village built around a giant monument that sits on what is supposedly the equatorial line.
That evening, we took the complimentary “Quito by Night” tour offered by Silversea. It included highlights of the old town and a chocolate tasting at the end. We also saw a local parade pass by with great music and many enthusiastic dancers.
The next morning, we boarded buses for our trip back to Quito airport and our flight to the Galapagos. The flight had a brief stop in Guayaquil (the other major city in Ecuador) but guests just remained on board and continued on to San Cristobal Island.
The Silver Origin
The Silver Origin is one of the newest ships to join the Silversea line, replacing the Silver Galapagos in 2020. She’s also the largest cruise ship sailing the Galapagos (along with sister ship, the Celebrity Flora). She can host a maximum of 100 guests, the maximum allowed by the Ecuador government, in 51 suites. Classic Veranda suites on deck 5 each have an outside veranda and have a 3rd berth capability (though the fold out couch is small and makes the suite crowded, I would not recommend this suite option for 3 adults but it would be fine for parents with a single child). Suites on deck 6 have Horizon Balconies, each with a large upper window that can be lowed to create something like a veranda railing. I’m a traditionalist and preferred the Classic Veranda, but the Deluxe & Superior Veranda suites gain more interior space which is comparable to the interior suite space on other Silversea ships.
The Silver Origin has two restaurant options, The Restaurant and The Grill. While this is significantly fewer options than on standard Silversea ships, these two restaurants can serve up an extraordinary number of dishes and deliver the quality expected on a Silversea ship. Reservations are required for dinner at the Grill (unique among Silversea ships as usually the Grill doesn’t require reservations). Guests can make 2 reservations and the menu changes halfway through the week, starting with a more traditional “Hot Rocks” menu and then changing to an Ecuadorian menu. We preferred the latter Grill menu, but generally ate in the Restaurant (which was also unique, normally we don’t eat frequently in The Restaurant on other Silversea ships). The menu in The Restaurant was well curated, with a good number of options. It changed each day for lunch & dinner. We really liked the menu variety and the executive chef did an incredible job given the logistical challenges of getting some ingredients to the Galapagos (and at least 50% of ingredients had to be sourced from the Galapagos).
The common areas on board were also lovely. Guests embark and disembark the ship through Base Camp on deck 3. The exterior area of Base Camp is well designed to accommodate guests as they return from any of the excursions. After snorkeling excursions, guests can rinse their equipment in large tubs of fresh water and hang on nearby hanging rods to dry, ready for the next day. The interior area of Base Camp is perfect for relaxing before or after the excursions, with comfortable chairs and many artifacts related to the Galapagos. A big hit with our kids, Base Camp also has an enormous interactive screen, allowing guests to pull up details on any of the stops and all the local wildlife.
The Silversea Crew
The crew of the Silver Origin was wonderful and what you would expect of a Silversea crew. Very attentive, they made sure guests felt well cared for in their floating home away from home. Since this is a smaller ship, within 24hrs most of the crew were greeting us by name. Our butlers were among the best we’ve had on a Silversea ship and were always trying to deliver unexpected surprises. One of our butlers noticed that our kids liked the popcorn served at lunch with the ceviche. On our second day, he brought 2 huge bowls of popcorn to their suite as an afternoon snack and repeated daily after that. Another example, our other butler brought my wife and I a delicious BLT chicken sandwich as an afternoon snack when he saw we had returned early from an excursion and were just lounging in our suite.
The Silversea naturalists were incredible and were a key part of making our voyage on the Silver Origin such a memorable experience. They are all native Ecuadorians (most from the Galapagos), very knowledgeable, very friendly & outgoing, and many were very humorous and frequently joked with the guests. They were extremely good with our kids, my 14yr old son basically attach himself to whichever naturalist was leading our small group and pepper them with questions, but they seemed to enjoy this.
As mentioned above, the exec chef was very creative with the menu. He also offered cooking classes to both the adults and kids on board, a nice break from the expedition activities and consistent with Silversea’s focus on a strong onboard culinary experience.
The crew also made the Silver Origin a wonderful ship for families. Silversea is generally known as a cruise line for adults, though on every cruise I’ve seen a few families. The Silver Origin, likely because it sails the Galapagos, is much more accustomed to having guests <18yrs old. On our cruise, there were 5 families on board for a total of 9 children (~10% of guests). The crew went out of their way to ensure all of the children on board had a great time. In addition to the kid focused items mentioned above, they also organized a pizza, movie and snack night in the Explorer’s lounge for all of the kids about halfway through our cruise.
Our Experience in the Galapagos
I could write a short book on our weeklong voyage in the Galapagos and trying to capture the entire adventure in a blog post won’t do it justice. A trip to the Galapagos is a trip you need to experience yourself; you can’t vicariously live it through others due to both the breath and nuance of what you see and do. If you want to see some of the details of our trip, I encourage you to look at my social media posts which summarize our experiences by day, with many great photos to show you a sample of what you can see.
Although I won’t write about our cruise in detail, I have some highlights. First and foremost, my son is infatuated with turtles and had joyfully anticipated seeing green sea turtles and giant land tortoises from the moment I booked our cruise. The Galapagos didn’t disappoint, he saw his first sea turtle on our first zodiac ride to embark on the Silver Origin. The naturalist that checked us in learned about his turtle interest and told him to be sure to snorkel on Monday morning, and sure enough, he was in turtle heaven. Below is one of my favorite pictures, the first good underwater picture capturing my son swimming alongside one of these wonderous creatures.
Snorkeling with my family each day was also a highlight. Silversea has two different itineraries which they alternate by week, we happened to luck out and our Spring Break overlapped with the itinerary that has more water excursions and you see more of the aquatic life. Seeing my children’s joy as they pointed out the incredible underwater wildlife is a memory I’ll always cherish. My youngest daughter fell in love with the sea lions, and these playful creatures would frequently come swim with us.
The Galapagos provided such a plethora of activities and experiences, there was something for everyone in our family. I saw my family bond over both shared and personal interests and had the opportunity to both spend time as a family and to spend more individual quality time with each other. My older daughter joined my wife and I on an early morning power walk while our other kids slept in and my son and youngest daughter stuck it out with me as we swam completely around the Silver Origin on our “Galapagos Plunge”. It was wonderful to have these opportunities to have one-on-one time with my kids in addition to our great family adventures on many of the excursions.
As I said, I can’t truly summarize in words our experience in the Galapagos, but it will always be a cherished experience with many lifelong memories. I’ll end with a few of my other favorite photos from the trip, just a sampling of what we saw.
Owner, Barclay & Company Travel
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