Galapagos cruise with children
Kathy tells us all about her Galapagos cruise aboard the Mary Anne, and why taking your kids can make it a unique experience. She says ...
"Adding children into a mix of adults won’t always work or be popular and my biggest concern travelling with my son, Lewis, is that he will enjoy the trip, have fun and not annoy the other travellers.
A cruise on the Mary Anne
As Lewis turned ten this year I thought he might be civilised enough to take along on a Galapagos cruise.
I had had my eye on the Mary Anne for years. Maybe it is the romantic in me, as a spacious wooden schooner she seems to me to look perfect for cruising the Galapagos, conjuring up images of early explorers in times gone by.
I admit I was concerned about being cooped up in a boat for a week, for me and for Lewis. I wondered how we would survive being in a group where all activities are programmed and super organised. There is no wandering off, no touching animals even if they come right up to you, as the sea lions often do, .. it's follow the guide, don’t step off the path, .... so, lots of rules and no freedom or spontaneity.
Well, it turned out fine, there was plenty to keep us active and entertained. We relaxed into the routine and had the most amazing time.
Arriving in the Galapagos
After a swift easy check in at Quito airport, aided by local staff, we grabbed breakfast of pancakes, fresh juice and coffee. Happily fed we got on our plane and tried to spot who of our fellow travellers, all headed for Galapagos, might be joining us on our cruise. After a 40 minute hop to Guayaquil followed by 1 hour 40 mins to Baltra we were whisked through arrival, paid our Galapagos tax, and stepped into the gorgeous Galapagos sunshine. We spotted our first finches – hopping at our feet in search of crumbs and flitting from table to table in the outside café. The sky was blue, the sun out and a fabulous feeling of space, light, warmth and excitement spread through our group.
A short minibus ride and then a taste of things to come as we picked our way around our first sea lion and hopped into the zodiac to head off to our waiting ship the Mary Anne, moored in the bay.
We were 14 guests, 11 crew, 1 guide and a trainee guide. 26 in all. The passengers were a mixed bunch, 3 couples (Dutch, US, Russian), myself and Lewis, another mum with her adult son, and four single passengers (all Brits). The Mary Anne comes into its own as all singles get their own cabin, a reasonable size, with hot water, air conditioning and enough space to stow clothes etc.
Our group was varied, from those who knew all the finches, to those that could barely distinguish one bird from another. The keenest wildlife watcher had a target of 9 new species a day, 3 animals, 3 birds, 3 fish. All but one were intent on capturing the wildlife on camera, Helen liked to sketch instead. Sometimes there didn’t seem to be long enough to just stop and watch, Helen often had to do her sketches hurriedly as the rest of the group moved on.
Life on board
Once on board we had a detailed safety briefing – all of us on deck with our life jackets to hear what would happen in case of emergency – all about the flares, beacons, etc. We were sailing alongside another boat, the Experience, which had been chartered to a group of 6, so that felt safer than being out alone.
Our first excursion was a 90 minute panga ride around mangroves, spotting White Tip Reef sharks, Eagle rays, Sting rays, turtles, some herons, frigates, pelicans, etc. It was very pretty and relaxed and I was relieved to see Lewis taking photos and getting excited by the wildlife.
After this and every subsequent excursion we were welcomed back by Jairo, the barman, with cocktails and snacks, or after snorkelling when chilled, hot chocolate & dry towels.
As the week went on we got into a rhythm of early breakfast round 0630, of fruit, cereals, crispy bacon, eggs, yogurt , coffee and tea (always on tap).
Lunch was served around 1200 after an active morning, usually 2 courses, chicken or fish plus plenty of veggies, vegans were well catered for.
Dinner was 3 courses, and more than we could eat. Soups, meat/fish with salad and vegetables, and dessert such as strawberry mousses, pears in red wine and ice-cream.
Exploring the islands and their wildlife
Each day started with a walk of an hour or so – Sunday was Bartolome and a wooden walkway up to the summit of a small hill, with lava lizards chasing locusts across the dusty volcanic sand. The sparsity of wildlife there was made up for by stunning volcanic landscapes. Tuff volcanoes, lava tunnels, cones, all colours of rock, silvery grey vegetation plus views over the bay below and an almost totally submerged sunken crater. You can almost always hear and see Galapagos sea lions frolicking through the sea and on to the beaches. At the top of Bartolome we were rewarded by a display of stunt flying by the Galapagos hawks.
Snorkelling followed a quick change of clothes. Today the water felt icy and there was a chill breeze but a white tipped shark put in an appearance, and sea lions danced for some. I missed both, busy trying to photograph colourful star fish and keeping an eye on my son who loved the sharks and sea lions up so close, and was quite at home in the water.
On Monday on Genovesa we wandered through woodland, home to the fabulous red footed boobies, we watched Nazca boobies courting touchingly on the ground. We had to step over nesting Swallow tailed gulls and marine iguanas. In the evening Lewis helped haul the sails up for a sunset sail as we supped cocktails on deck.
Tuesday was Rabida with a landing on the red, gravelly beach. There were several boats anchored off shore and we crossed paths with other groups, as we wandered along this red beach, watched sea lions & traced the shores of a brackish lagoon. There was a rather incongruous lycra clad lady running circuits up and down this beach, an exercise addict.
Whenever we did bump into passengers from other boats we did our best to ignore each other, each used to a solitary tribal existence by now, secure in our own dynamic. One lady from another group pointed and loudly proclaimed “there’s a bird up there” creating some hilarity. It turned out to be a fully grown male Galapagos hawk, watching us all as we paraded past then a few minutes later paraded past again on our way back.
The best snorkelling (of 3 so far) was here with warmer waters, six white tipped sharks and plentiful playful sea lions, we all returned to the ship elated, with tales to tell and videos to share. Lewis made a video of the sea lions, with some fabulous footage. Giving him an underwater camera was a good idea.
Some afternoons we sailed and relaxed on deck as looking out for leaping rays and dolphins alongside the ship.
A good mix of activities and free time
Lewis got into a rhythm of excursions, which he always loved, and was inspired to photograph, make videos and even do some sketching. Walks, snorkelling and kayaking kept him exercised enough and most evenings he went off to bed before dinner was over and was sound asleep by the time I went to check on him. He watched DVDs in the hours between excursions and played card games with the other passengers. He often lent a hand in the bar, and Jairo seemed happy to have a young assistant to help serve drinks and wash glasses. The crew work six weeks in a row so I guess get used to not seeing their families.
On Wednesday we spent the whole day on Santa Cruz – dry land. We chose not to go back to the ship for lunch so after visiting the giant tortoises in the highlands we wandered through the small town, watched the sea lion, pelicans and herons at the local fish market, ate pizza, ice cream and found some really good coffee and WIFI. This day on shore was welcome and gave us a break from life on board, and all the passengers a break from each other.
The highlight of the cruise for me and for Lewis was the last day, on Espanola Island. The large marine iguanas were grouped on the landing spot, so we had to step over them, they then formed a procession heading back into the sea, hundreds of them one after the other. Sea lions lined up on the beach, the Waved Albatross danced for us, the waves crashed dramatically against the cliffs. In the afternoon we snorkelled without wet suits in warmer waters, swam across the bay to play with sea lions in the surf and bask in the sun on the golden sandy beach – and an air of total relaxation.
Each of the 8 days were fabulous. There was plenty to see and enough variety of activity to prevent cabin fever and to keep everyone, adults and children alike, happy.
And my son?
Well he loved the wildlife, the ship and the company of crew and fellow passengers and I think he'll remember the experience. Before taking my son on this cruise I did wonder if a land based tour would be better. But, having done it, I would definitely recommend the cruise with the family - once the kids are old enough. For younger kids I would choose a land based tour with more flexibility, more unstructured time and more freedom to run about. "