We just returned from the magnificent cruise around the western islands of the Galapagos with Silverseas. The voyage is as amazing and wonderful as most reviews have said here. Actually, we both read a great many of the reviews on this website and we were well prepared for the cruise (and yes, we saw in advance the BBC documentary Islands that Changed the World). Even so, our expectations for the Silver Galapagos were significantly exceeded and we cannot recommend this cruise highly enough.
Apart from the islands themselves, a great strength of this cruise is the staff of the Silver Galapagos. All are from Ecuador and many are from the Galapagos themselves (especially the guides). There is an esprit de corps among the staff that is like family, along with a great pride in the islands. It is a real joy to spend time with them for the week.
An additional strength, as several review here have said, is the seamless integration for logistics (much of that provided on land by Abercrombie and Kent). From plane to hotel to airline to boat and back, everything works like clockwork. If you have been on many cruises, you know this outcome is an exception, not the rule.
The outings are well designed and even better executed. We were never disappointed. Take everything they offer is our advice. We are in our mid-sixties and found everything feasible. When Silverseas says “challenging”, they mean that most of the participants will do well and a handful will lag behind. Yes, it is hot sometimes, especially without cloud cover. And yes, there are currents and waves in the open ocean for kayaking and snorkeling. Take the advice of the staff seriously, but based on that advice go for it. And yes, do bring the clothing suggested by Silverseas for the week.
As many have said here, a major weakness onboard is the food. We reject the frequent argument in these reviews that hiring restrictions (only Ecuadorians) accounts for this problem. We ate at the amazing restaurant Zazu in Quito and were blown away by the excellent food there. OK, perhaps the head chef at Zazu is Peruvian, but everyone else there seems Ecuadorian. Also, we acknowledge the problem of provisioning – we started at San Cristobal and it was days before we came close to another port that would allow onboarding fresh food. The first day at lunch, we had grilled octopus that was the best we had ever eaten anywhere in the world. Three days later, the same dish at the Grill was tough and barely edible.
The real issue seems to be the chefs and the management at Silverseas that tolerates and enables them. There are two problems. First, the chefs are not worldly or sophisticated. The phrase “Galapagos effect” in economics and business strategy refers to very sheltered agents that are not subject to selection effects outside their narrow home environment. Some of the dishes the head chef makes are amazing (like every one of his ceviches) and some are truly awful (like the salad of tomato, crabmeat, and blue cheese dressing we were served one evening). In any sophisticated environment, the latter dish would be promptly pulled. Silverseas apparently provides minimal feedback and direction for the very promising head chef, and he suffers as a consequence. Second, the chef is way too pleased with traditional Ecuadorian peasant food. May I be clear that the problem is traditional food, not any origin in Ecuador. I am from the Old South in the USA, where vegetables were cooked beyond any nutritional value, where items were fried to a crisp or smothered in gravies, where no spices were ever used, all modernized with the occasional molded Jell-O salad. Ugh. The traditional cazuela we were served onboard the Silver Galapagos was mostly tasteless and uninteresting. In contrast, the modern fish cazuela we had for lunch at Zazu in Quito was wonderful and impressive. As several have said here, Silverseas plays the “expedition card” way too frequently to justify its weak management and execution for food services.
The one significant complaint I have for this cruise is apparently a rare problem: the snorkeling masks offered by Silverseas are not that well maintained. The first mask I was given leaked at the sides, though the problem was small enough that I completed the outing with only irritated eyes as an issue. The replacement mask I was given flooded at the mouthpiece and was completely unusable. I found three other guests who suffered the first problem (out of the 24 to 30 guests on three snorkeling outings for me), and only one other guest who suffered the second problem. Fortunately for her, her mouthpiece flooded at the initial outing at a beach; she swam onshore and an English-speaking guide pulled a pebble out of the mouthpiece for her. My mouthpiece flooded in the open ocean, and the driver on the Zodiac spoke not a word of English and had no idea what to do in my case. I later found out that most but not all Zodiacs have replacement masks onboard, so Silverseas expects these problems. However, Silverseas does not inform guests of the replacements and (at least in one case) does not train drivers for replacement. If you do the math, you can see these problems are not frequent. Nonetheless, I would strongly encourage you to bring your own mask – though Silverseas can be a bit prissy over use of your own mask; one guest brought a bright yellow snorkeling mask and was prohibited from using it.
Overall this is an impressive and wonderful cruise. A little preparation in advance on your part will add to this awesome experience.
This was the old boat (to be replaced over the summer 2020). We had what was supposed to be the worst cabin -- only portholes, no balcony, immediately next to the restaurant. We were pretty thrilled. The space that would have gone for a balcony went for a huge walk-in closet. We were never bothered by noise. And there was lots of room, needed for spreading out to dry all the wet clothes this trip generates. Way better than we expected.