If you’re a tree hugger, electric car owner or lover of animal videos on Facebook then this particularly conservation-minded Galapagos-centric line will float your boat. * Goes to: Galapagos Islands
Snapshot: This family-run expedition cruise company has specialized in small-ship cruises to the Galapagos Islands for more than 20 years and owns a fleet of four vessels — three 20-passenger motor yachts (one brand new and more high-end than the other two) and one 16-passenger dive live-aboard boat for advanced divers. All are custom-built in Ecuador for Galapagos cruising. Ecoventura is focused on quality, small-group travel with a guarantee of no more than 10 travelers per guide. The conservation-minded company prides itself on its commitment to sustainable tourism, from reducing carbon emissions — for instance, by installing 40 solar panels and 2 wind generators on its ERIC yacht — to partnering with conservation organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Ecology Project International to fund marine conservation education programs for local children and teens. Back in 2000, Ecoventura was the first company to earn and maintain the Smart Voyager volunteer ecological certification that’s based on a set of strict conservation standards created by scientists and other experts that spurred other lines to do the same. More recently they earned another conservation verification set by the Rainforest Alliance for travel companies who meet a laundry list of comprehensive benchmarks for conserving natural resources, protecting wildlife and helping local communities thrive. You’re in safe green hands when you travel with Ecoventura.
Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers: ERIC (built 1991; 20 passengers); LETTY (b 1994; 20 p); ORIGIN (b 2016; 20 p); GALAPAGOS SKY (b 2001; 16 p).
Passenger Profile: About 70% hail from North America, and the rest mostly from the UK, Australia/New Zealand and Europe (on SKY it’s a more even mix between North Americans and Europeans). On ERIC, LETTY and ORIGIN, about 40% are families with the kids and another 40% are active seniors 60+. Families with children 12+ are welcome at any time throughout the year, while for younger kids, there are special family-oriented departures during school breaks for ages 5 through 11 (younger kids are allowed if the family is charting the entire vessel). Every year there are a handful of special cruises geared to families with teens and a few others for families with college-age offspring.
Passenger Decks: 3; no elevators.
Included Features: Meals and non-alcoholic drinks, plus house wine and local beer at dinner (the higher-end ORIGIN has an open bar 24/7), plus all guided shore excursions, use of snorkeling gear, kayaks, wet suits (coveted June to November when water temps are between 65 and 72 degrees), and transfers from the airport to the docks. On GALAPAGOS SKY, the line’s live-on dive boat, fares also include diving tanks, air fills, weights and weight belts. Airfare to the Galapagos is not included (as it is on many other lines). While gratuities are optional, the suggested amount is a hefty $250-300 per person for the week for ERIC, LETTY and ORIGIN, and on SKY the suggested amount is higher, at 10% of total fare.
Itineraries: ERIC, LETTY & ORIGIN alternate between two different 7-night Galapagos itineraries round-trip from San Cristobal and departing every Sunday, making it ideal for those who wish to combine them for a two-week trip. (The Galapagos National Park requires lines to alternative routes in an effort to lessen over-use of the most popular islands).
Southern/Central route visits multiple points on the islands of San Cristobal, Espanola, Floreana, Santa Cruz, Bartolome, South Plaza and North Seymour.
Northern/Western route calls on multiple points on the islands of Genovesa, Santa Cruz, Fernandina, Isabela and Santiago.
For divers on SKY, there’s one weekly itinerary out of San Cristobal also departing Sundays, with stops in multiple spots in and around San Cristobal, Bartolome, Wolf, Darwin and Fernandina islands.
Cabins: The identical ERIC and LETTY have 10 outside cabins across three decks, measuring a compact 100 square feet or so. The décor has a nautical flair with polished teak wood and brass fittings; the rooms have two twins or one double bed, with two cabins accommodating three people. The Iguana Deck cabins, on the lowest level, have very small “port light” windows, while the cabins on the upper two decks have larger windows.
The 8 cabins on GALAPAGOS SKY are similar with dark wood paneling and large windows on the four top-deck cabins, and small port light windows on the four at the lower level.
ORIGIN’s 10 roomy double cabins have a modern, light décor and a much more upscale feel than the cabins on ERIC and LETTY; they measure 140 square feet and are all located on one deck and have large windows. Twin beds can be converted to kings and there are two rooms with interconnecting doors and two with a third pull-down bunk-style birth. The cabins have Apple TV with pre-loaded movies, universal docking station and an Espresso and tea kettle set-up.
Public Rooms & Dining: Each of the four boats has an indoor lounge for island briefings by the two onboard naturalists and for hanging out and mingling with your shipmates. There’s also a bar (2 on SKY), a mini boutique for logo items, a small library, and outdoor deck space for lounging and scenery gazing. Aboard the new ORIGIN, the open decks have bed-sized chaise lounges and a pair of hammocks, and there’s a hot tub at the stern of the cabin deck. ORIGIN also has a small gym — a big WOW on a ship of this size.
All have an indoor dining salon with buffet-style breakfast and lunch, and served dinners at tables for four (except ORIGIN, where tables can seat from 2 to 10). The ORIGIN also has an outdoor grill and adjacent seating for lunch; occasionally lunches aboard LETTY and ERIC are also served out on deck. At dinner, you get a choice of two appetizers (such as mushroom risotto with goat cheese or a seafood and potato leek soup) and two entrees (from beef loin to crab encrusted wahoo fish over sautéed spinach), followed by a dessert the likes of cheesecake or bananas foster. There are always vegetarian options as well.
Activities & Entertainment: Like on all Galapagos cruises, the main show is the wildlife and scenery of the destination itself, and it’s entertaining to chat about it all with your fellow passengers, naturalists and crew. Each day, you’ll be exploring on land on guided hikes and also in the water via tenders and zodiac boats (2 are carried on board each vessel), flipping over the side to snorkel and swim. On all but the SKY dive boat, there are a handful of kayaks on board for passengers to take turns using where possible. If you’re feeling cold in the water (those hailing from warm climates may find the water chilly), there are complimentary wet suits to borrow.
GALAPAGOS SKY is the ticket to an underwater paradise for experienced divers who can navigate the strong currents and cold water. Expect to be wowed by sightings of schooling hammerheads, giant whale sharks, bottlenose dolphins, octopus, rays of all shapes and colors, turtles, Galapagos fur seals and much more — the ship visits all of the top dive sites in the Galapagos on every trip, including Wolf and Darwin Islands, considered some of the best sites in the world, There are three or four dives a day, plus sometimes a night dive, all geared to the advanced diver, which the company defines as those with 50-100 open water dives under their belts, experience in currents, and the ability to remove gear in water and the ability to get into small boats in choppy seas.
Along the Same Lines: Closest are Kleintours, International Nature & Cultural Adventures (INCA), Andando Cruises, Quasar, and Ocean Adventures (recently bought by Celebrity Cruises).
Contact: Ecoventura, 5805 Blue Lagoon Drive, Suite 160, Miami, Florida 33126; 305-262-6264, www.ecoventura.com. For ERIC, LETTY & ORIGIN, the US-based sale agent is Galapagos Network (part of Ecoventura) and DivEncounters (www.divencounters.com) is the US-based sales agent for GALAPAGOS SKY.