Cruising in the Galápagos is like visiting another world. Sailing from island to island in this incredible, protected archipelago—famous for blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and the finches that inspired Darwin's theory of evolution—is perhaps the most unusual travel experience you can have.
These cruises are also very active. Each typically includes a couple landings a day so that travelers can go on guided hiking, snorkeling, and kayaking excursions and observe the wildlife up close. And the exploration continues onboard, where passengers learn about the islands from naturalists, including scientists from the Charles Darwin Research Station.
This year there are more ways to explore the far-flung Galápagos Islands than ever before as two seasoned operators are aquiring new vessels. The first is Celebrity Cruises, which has been plying the Galápagos for a decade with the 100-passenger Celebrity Xpedition. The ship’s 10- or 11-night programs (which are so much in demand that it’s often hard to book passage), include a seven-night cruise from Baltra with stops at Santa Cruz Island, where the misty highlands are home to the Galápagos tortoises; North Seymour Island, home to blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, and frigatebirds; Bartolomé, which has beautiful hiking vistas and the arrowhead-shaped Pinnacle Rock; and other spectacular spots.
This week, Celebrity announced that it is acquiring two new vessels to join the Xpedition: a 16-passenger catamaran, the Athala II, and a 48-passenger upscale expedition vessel, the Eclipse (which is currently sailing for Ecuadorean tour operator Ocean Adventures). These smaller vessels will enable the line to visit even more landing sites, like Puerto Villamil, where passengers can take treks to the often fog-shrouded crater of Sierra Negra volcano; Darwin Bay, where red-footed boobies nest in the mangroves; and Chinese Hat Islet, which boasts Galápagos penguins, reef sharks, sea lions, and green sea turtles. In addition, travelers will get the chance to spend several nights in a hotel on the islands to immerse themselves in the local culture.
The second operator with new plans is Lindblad Expeditions, which is acquiring the Patagonian expedition vessel Via Australis to take over for their older ship, the National Geographic Endeavour. The newer ship will provide better viewing from all public spaces and is quieter and more maneuverable. It will also have quick, easy access to the open decks (so that passengers can respond quickly when the captain announces wildlife sightings) and a more efficient loading platform for reaching zodiacs and kayaks. A modern audiovisual system will also allow high quality presentations onboard. Lindblad also plans to spend up to $10 million on a renovation that will reduce occupancy from 136 passengers to 96 passengers.
Lastly, Un-Cruise Adventures has just introduced its first Galápagos program. The nine-night itinerary includes a seven-night cruise aboard the 48-passenger La Pinta and two nights in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, at Casa Gangotena, a 31-room boutique hotel. Guided walking tours of the historic city are included.
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Night at the Museum
This July, when Crystal River Cruises begins sailing on the Danube, passengers aboard the Crystal Mozart will have access to an exclusive event at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna. The palace is one of Europe’s most stunning baroque landmarks and a renowned art museum, and it will be open to Crystal Mozart passengers for a special evening tour of the works of Austrians Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele. The evening will end with a concert of works by Mozart and both Johan Strauss I and II in the palace's spectacular Marble Hall.
The 160-passenger Crystal Mozart will sail three varied itineraries along the Danube, exploring the Bavarian Wachau Valley, Vienna, Salzburg, Budapest, Belgrade, and other European destinations. The evening at Belvedere Palace will be offered at no extra cost through 2017.
Far from the Cruising Crowds
Royal Caribbean International is helping travelers craft customized shoreside experiences in ports around the world with its new Private Journeys program. This service provides a savvy guide or "Destination Insider" to help cruisers design personalized activities and adventures for individuals, couples, families, and small groups. Possible itineraries include getting a behind-the-scenes visit to a Michelin-starred restaurant in Bruges followed by a gourmet lunch; exploring Alaska's Misty Fjords from a floatplane, then enjoying a fireside meal of smoked salmon and Dungeness crab; or touring Germany's countryside in a vintage auto. Private Journeys are planned in advance of the cruise (so you should reach out to the service as soon as you book) and require a $100 deposit, which will be applied to the final cost of the experience. However, to launch the service, Royal Caribbean is waiving the deposit for Private Journeys booked before March 31.
Anne Kalosh doesn't count the cruises she’s taken, though there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she's on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.