The islands that Darwin made famous more than 150 years ago are now more accessible than ever for adventurous families. There are many options for a family Galapagos Islands cruise, but finding one that is kid-friendly, plus a ship and itinerary that meet your priorities, is key to the experience. Our Ocean Adventures 7-night Galapagos Islands cruise onboard the Eclipse was a perfect mix of activity, comfort, cuisine and kids.
A common conundrum when choosing a Galapagos Islands cruise is figuring out which itinerary is best. The Eclipse takes out some of the guesswork by offering itineraries that alternate between the two most highlighted islands: Genovesa and Espanola. Our cruise included Genovesa, the northernmost island open to visitors. It was indeed the highlight island of our trip, with footpaths and a horizon filled with birds, including the elusive short-eared owl that we discovered on the BBC’s Galapagos series.
The biggest difference I noticed since my first Galapagos cruise 20 years ago is the highly regulated, government-mandated schedule that the cruise ships follow in order to preserve the environment. There are daily visitor numbers per each of the islands, and every company has to follow the same routes while touring — there is no going off the beaten path on Galapagos Islands excursions.
Cruising the Galapagos is a full day of adventure in and out of the water. The day begins early, with excursions leaving the ship between 6:30 and 8a, followed by another activity after lunch. It’s tiring but exhilarating, as activities rotate between land and water. Each evening there is a recap and briefing about the next day’s activities. By the second or third day, the majority of the passengers are in their cabins by 9:30 or 10p, ready for bed.
For families who like to snorkel, this is an exceptional opportunity to see marine life. In one week, we snorkeled with sharks, eels, penguins, sea turtles, marine birds and an enormous variety of tropical fish. Wetsuits are optional, though they help with buoyancy. There is always a panga boat nearby to take guests back to the ship if they tire; depending on the strength of the current, which varies by season, this may or may not be an issue. The Eclipse also carries kayaks, which are available on certain days for short outings, and again, the panga is always nearby if anyone needs assistance.
Land excursions range from walks to hikes and even a soccer game on the beach for kids. On the Eclipse, excursion groups are smaller, with a 1:12 guide ratio versus the regulation 1:16. It’s important to note that the sun is very strong at the equator, and a good sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses are immensely helpful to avoid sunburned skin and eyes.
All Galapagos cruises are required to use guides from the islands who have gone through a training program. The guides are independent contractors and work for different ships, and their individual levels of English and scientific knowledge vary.
On the outside, the Eclipse doesn’t give clues to the beautiful boutique decor that’s waiting inside. It’s a ship designed for comfortable socializing and relaxing downtime. The upper deck is the home of the jacuzzi and sundeck, which could be renamed the “napping deck.” It’s also the perfect spot for nighttime stargazing and watching the red-orange glow of an active volcano as the ship cruises by — a very special opportunity!
At 210 feet, the Eclipse is a good size for those prone to seasickness, which is not uncommon as the ship passes through open waters once or twice on the cruise. The Eclipse takes only 48 passengers in 26 staterooms, half the usual number of passengers on a ship this size.
Staterooms are designed in natural woods and each have at least one porthole. All include good storage space and are serviced several times a day. Younger kids receive special themed bedding, including princesses and the Cars movie.
Meals are served buffet-style, and the food on the Eclipse surpassed our expectations. Even the kids turned down chicken fingers and other kid-friendly food (available upon request) in favor of the regular menu. It’s not elaborate or fancy, but it’s fresh, well prepared and provides guests with an opportunity to try Ecuadorian cuisine. Lunch and dinner are often served outdoors with a view of the islands.
Family sailings during summer and school holidays include a designated kids’ coordinator, which ensures that parents get downtime and that the kids are always engaged yet have time to decompress with their peers. The kids’ coordinator, who is also one of the guides, plans special outings and activities throughout the cruise. Activities range from cooking classes to a soccer game to panga driving and an ad hoc, supervised swim off the ship. The staff is very flexible and goes out of their way to ensure that kids are entertained.
Our cruise had a higher than normal number of kids; of the 41 passengers, 17 were kids ages 5 to 18. Normally the ship carries 12 or fewer children per cruise. Because of the long days and physical terrain, I’d recommend this cruise for ages 8 and up. They can handle the schedule and are at the right age to absorb the educational benefits that come with a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
Rates for a 7-night Galapagos cruise on the Eclipse begin at $5,450, with children’s discounts available on family sailings.
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Editor’s Note: Kristi received a media package to review Ocean Adventures’ Eclipse cruise for families. As always, our opinions are our own. All photos by Kristi Marcelle.
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