This is a personal review from one of the owners of Happy Gringo, Eva, about her voyage on the Ocean Spray Catamaran Galapagos cruise. Eva is from Holland but has lived more than 15 years in Ecuador.
In September 2017 I took a six-day cruise on board the luxurious Ocean Spray catamaran to navigate the Southern islands of Espanola, Floreana, and Santa Fe while exploring the visitor sites on and close to San Cristobal Island, in the Eastern part of the Archipelago. Being surrounded by impressive landscapes and the incredible wildlife of the Galapagos Islands combined with the all-around comfort of the Ocean Spray- this was one of the most romantic and comfortable cruises I’ve ever taken.
In the past years, I’ve had the opportunity to cruise the Galapagos Islands on several different kinds of boats for both holidays and work, with varied itineraries and different levels of comfort. This was my first time ever on a deluxe-category boat, and what can I say? I was totally impressed! Keep reading to find out what a deluxe cruise on Galapagos Islands looks like…
Our flight to Baltra departed Quito at 6.50am. When we arrived at Quito airport, we were greeted by a representative of the Ocean Spray who explained to us exactly what we needed to do. Our cruise price already included the flights, TCT card, and the national park entrance fee, so everything went quickly and smoothly, without having to wait in long queues.
Before checking in for our flight we had to pass through SICGAL- where all luggage is screened for fresh or dried fruits, seeds and plant parts, dairy and animal products, and some processed products. These measures are in place to prevent new species and organisms from being introduced to the Galapagos Islands. Non-native plants and animals pose one of the biggest challenges to the conservation in the archipelago, so this is a very important step that didn’t take us more than 20 minutes.
The flight from Quito to Galapagos took almost three hours with a 40-minute stop at Guayaquil. During this time we had to stay on board the aircraft while new passengers came on board.
Upon arrival at Baltra Airport, there was quite a long queue to pass through the national park authorities. We already had our entrance fees covered, but other tourists had to pay the $100 park fee in cash.
After we received our luggage we passed through to the arrivals area, where our guide Pepe was ready and waiting for us with a sign of the Ocean Spray. Our heavy luggage was immediately taken by other crew members and our group was asked to get on a bus for a 10-minute ride to the Itabaca Channel- where the Ocean Spray was anchored.
Finally, on board of the Ocean Spray, we received a friendly welcome and then in the lounge were briefed by both the guide and the cruise manager Jose. He explained the rules of the national park, safety measures on board, about our rooms and facilities on board, and in general what to expect on the cruise. Then we were taken to our rooms and given some time to settle in.
The Ocean Spray cabins are located on the main and upper deck. The main deck cabins are the best for seasickness, as they are lower with less movement. The cabins are actually more like rooms, just as you would expect at a four-star hotel. They are clean and spacious with a big panoramic window, modern decor, private bathroom with L’Occitane shampoo and cream, a large closet, a mirror, a desk and a small sofa- air conditioning, and a very comfortable Queen sized bed. Best of all, each room on the Ocean Spray has its own private balcony! We absolutely loved drinking a glass of wine while gazing over the sea and islands from our own private space on board!
The Ocean Spray is very spacious and comfortable, and also very light as there are panoramic views from almost every corner. The lovely decorated restaurant has a coffee and tea station with some sweet and healthy snacks. The comfortable lounge has a TV, a small shop and a library. The fully equipped bar on the upper deck offers some shade and delicious cocktails. The huge sundeck is fitted with comfy chairs and even a Jacuzzi, making for a perfect cruise!
I must say that I’ve never slept so well on a cruise before! On other boats, I’ve experienced trouble sleeping, especially during navigation at night. The white duvet bedding, orthopedic mattress, and soft pillows meant that for the first time I could really get some good sleep on a cruise- which made the whole experience more relaxing.
Unfortunately, a mega catamaran is no guarantee for not getting seasick! On sailboats, motor yachts, and on smaller catamarans in the Galapagos, I have felt some degree of seasickness. My advice? Be prepared and take an anti-seasickness tablet just one hour before getting on board of your cruise- just in case.
On board of the Ocean Spray, most passengers, including ourselves, started feeling seasick during the very first voyage to Santa Fe Island. Luckily during the next few days, we adjusted to the point we didn’t need the medication anymore. I am not a big fan of any sort of medication, but I highly recommend playing safe and take a pill before getting on board. Seasickness can really affect your enjoyment of a Galapagos cruise, especially on the first and second days, when you are getting used to the new experience.
There are two broard seasons of Galapagos weather. The warmer rainy season runs from January until May, and the cooler and dry season (also known as the “Garua” season) from June until December. Our Ocean Spray cruise covers an experience of Galapagos in September - cool and dry.
Visiting the Galapagos during the Garua season can be just as, if not more, enjoyable than that of the warm season given the abundance of wildlife that would not otherwise be present or active. The seas are colder which means more Galapagos fish come to the surface. Not only does this mean fantastic snorkeling, but it also means more food for seabirds and sea lions that often mate during this season. I have never seen so many baby sea lions and baby boobies before!
We visited Galapagos during the Garua season and the weather was very nice! Garua in Spanish means mist – there was a fog hanging over the islands, especially over the highlands. We were told it was one of the coldest months of the year, even so, the lowest temperatures were around 23 C (75 F), so it was very pleasant! We had strong sun during our island visits, and also the occasional drizzle. Rain gear, as well as good sun protection, are absolutely a must when visiting Galapagos during Garua! The seas during Garua can be a bit more choppy, so anti-seasickness tablets are essential.
One of the things we enjoyed the most on our cruise on board of the Ocean Spray was the fantastic people we met in our group. I think that being in a nice group of people really makes the whole experience on a cruise so much better!
There was a lovely Peruvian family on board who run a family business together in Lima. You could see they were enjoying their time off work. Next, there was a young Brazilian-Swiss couple on their honeymoon – they had just come from their wedding in Brazil. The Galapagos was the most romantic place for them to enjoy their honeymoon! Following the newlyweds was an Australian couple working in the travel business who wanted to get to know more about the Galapagos and the cruise experience. We rounded out the group- a Dutch-Ecuadorian couple living with our two kids in Quito, both working in tourism.
Overall, we had a good mix of nationalities and ages on board. Not all cabins were booked, so we had a pretty small group and everyone got along very well. With every meal, we shared travel stories and our life stories. One night we even put some salsa music on to dance!
One of the great things about taking a deluxe cruise is the crew –All were very helpful and hardworking well-trained staff! We felt really looked after during our stay, they really wanted us to have a great time on board.
Unlike other cruise boats, the Ocean Spray works with a cruise manager on board who is in charge of making sure that every guest is looked after. I think this is a real plus. On most boats in Galapagos, the guide is the primary contact person for guests. Since most guides are freelancers, they may not always be very dedicated to providing the best experience for the guests. They just come to guide-nothing more, nothing less – at least, that’s what I’ve felt on other cruises before. With the cruise manager, the Ocean Spray really guarantees a more personalized service on board with impressive attention to detail.
Service is in the small details – ice for a hurt ankle, flowers, a bottle of champagne for the honeymoon couple, a special vegan meal option, a glass of wine inside your cabin, or even just pointing out a fish behind you from the zodiac. Someone was always asking if we needed anything! The Ocean Spray crew really gets this point!
The meals on board of the Ocean Spray were absolutely fantastic. Buffet style for breakfast and lunch, and a complete four-course dinner every evening!
The breakfast buffet was a little different each day with lots of fresh fruits, yogurt, granola, and an option for preparing eggs the way you want them! There were typical Ecuadorian empanadas one day, pancakes on another, banana “ bolas de verde” the next, followed by potato pancakes. Great food and service to get us started before an active day!
Every lunch buffet had three different types of salads. There was always an option for chicken or meat, and sometimes Ecuadorian-style seafood. The desserts were also delicious. I wondered how the chefs were able to prepare such great food in such a small kitchen?! On one day we had a BBQ lunch al fresco which was a great surprise!
For dinner, there were always two options given for the main course. The meal included soup, a small second entree, the main course, and dessert. One day we had mashed potatoes with chicken breast, different day seafood in coconut sauce, and the next- beef in mushroom sauce. Everything was absolutely delicious- everyone gained some extra pounds on this cruise!
I myself love vegetarian and vegan food and with every meal, they gave me lots of great options. Extra fruits and veggies, grilled and stuffed mushrooms, fried banana and delicious Milanese soy burgers on the BBQ! I was happy :o)
We were on the six-day itinerary visiting the South and East of the archipelago. Keep reading for a brief day by day description of each visitor site:
Santa Fe is one of my favorite islands. The sea in the little bay is not so deep so the bright blue colors of the water really stand out. The waters here are so clear that from the boat we could see a school of manta rays pass by!
We had an amazing snorkeling experience in the bay amid schools of colorful fish, several marine turtles, and sea lions who playfully swam around us. We observed a sting ray lying on the bottom with only the eyes and spiracles visible, having buried itself in the sand. Later on, there was a big school of maybe 20 spotted eagle rays flying by and making endless twists and turns over the sandy bottom.
After snorkeling, we used a kayak to explore the bay a bit more where we came upon mangrove trees, blue-footed boobies, and sea lions. The kayaks are a great bonus of the Ocean Spray yacht - not all Galapagos cruises offer kayaking as an option.
The island of Santa Fe is very pretty with huge Opuntia cactus trees, and it’s one of the few islands where one can find land iguanas. The trail is not so long, but a bit rocky. On the small beach, we discovered several sea lions including a huge alpha male, making barking sounds to impress the ladies. We also spotted the endemic Galapagos Hawk from just a meter or two away, isn’t that incredible?
Espanola is an incredibly rich island for wildlife. The landscape is particularly beautiful, covered with green and reddish Galapagos purslane, Palo Santo trees, and stunning cliffs overlooking an impressive blowhole.
When arriving at the rocky landing site we were greeted by sea lions and several large red-colored marine iguanas – we literally had to step over and around them to get on the trail. The trail on Espanola is very rocky- because of this, the boat provided hiking poles for some passengers.
The first part of the trail took us to a small beach where we saw a mother sea lion with her newborn baby –protecting her cub from aggressive mockingbirds. Brightly colored marine iguanas were laying on top and alongside each other in the sun-these are the only iguanas that have such a bright green or red color in the Galapagos.
The rocky trail continues through saltbush until reaching the impressive nesting zones where blue-footed and Nazca boobies had made their nests, right next to the visitor’s trail. Birdlife is particularly abundant here – we spotted finches, swallow-tailed gulls, red-billed tropicbirds, and Galapagos doves. One of the highlights of Punta Suarez is the Galapagos Waved Albatross. During this time of the year, we saw only a few of these impressive birds. The Waved Albatross mate for life and come to Galapagos to lay just one egg per year. Both parents share responsibility for its incubation. Isn’t that romantic!
After lunch, we snorkeled on the other side of Espanola Island, close to Gardner Bay. The guide told us it’s a good spot for seeing sharks, but unfortunately, we were unlucky. Despite this, we fully enjoyed this deep sea snorkeling experience following underwater cliffs. We found several huge sea stars with stunning colors, and we even spotted a Moray Eel that was looking very territorial-so we quickly decided to swim away. We also came upon the King Angelfish – black with a white stripe and yellow fins, and a big school of surgeonfish. Another highlight was pufferfish- black with white polka dots. At the end of the session, we were suddenly surrounded by four young sea lions who started playing with us by quickly moving around us.
In the afternoon we visited the long, tropical, white-sand Galapagos beach of Gardner Bay. The bushes along the beach are an important nesting zone of the marine turtle. We were given a bit of free time to walk along the beautiful white sand beach on our own. We saw several turtles in the waves and found a big family of sea lions resting on the beach. A great place for taking pictures!
The morning of Day three we spent in the highlands of Santa Cruz before headed to San Cristobal island. In the port Puerto Baquerizo Moreno of San Cristobal Island, we went inland and took a half an hour bus ride to La Galapaguera, the tortoise breeding program of the island.
We traversed an easy trail through the bushy, mist-covered highlands of El Galapaguero, where we found Galapagos giant tortoises living in a semi-natural habitat. Our guide explained their origin, evolution, and threats that they face from introduced animals.
We also observed baby tortoises that live in protective cases until they reach a certain age when they can be released into nature. Our guide Pepe explained the whole breeding process to us- beginning when females lay eggs, and continuing to when the eggs hatch. We also learned about the protection in place for the baby tortoises against invading introduced species such as goats and rats.
Our guide told us about the devastating effects on the natural ecosystems caused by introduced animal species, such as cattle and rats. These animals, brought to the islands by humans to provide food, have been inhabiting the islands since the times of the pirates. Since these animals don’t have any predators, they have been able to easily reproduce for decades. The fragile ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands has suffered from introduced species because endemic animals and plants cannot defend themselves against the invaders. Even plant species, such as the raspberry, has started overgrowing original endemic plants, taking too much of their share of the moisture and nutrients in the environment. There are several eradication projects active on the islands, however, it is a tough task that some say could be impossible to accomplish.
After the tortoise breeding center, we were dropped off at the Malecon of San Cristobal for some free time in town. Some went shopping for souvenirs and others visited the island’s interpretation center for some background information on human history in the Galapagos.
After lunch, we sailed for almost two-hours to a beautiful bay of Lobos Island, where we had the first snorkel of the day. The seas here are not very deep, and the clear waters made snorkeling amazing.
We saw cornet fish, swimming very slowly below a school of tiny fish- almost transparent with blue markings. We also saw parrotfish, dressed in the colors of the rainbow. Sea lions passed by very quickly and green marine turtles were peacefully swimming- eating algae from the rocks. What a paradise!
Islas Lobos has a short trail that doesn’t take longer than 15 minutes, the whole visit lasted less than 45 minutes. As the name already says, this island is inhabited by a huge colony of sea lions. It was a dry landing, meaning the zodiac took us to a little pier where the trail started.
On land, we were surrounded by so many sea lions that were so close to us that it was actually a bit scary. There were a bunch of baby sea lions playing in a small pool while their mothers were keeping a close eye on them. Some mothers were feeding their young and we could hear the sweet sound of the baby sipping. When we walked a bit further on the trail, we saw two huge male bulls in a fight –the spectacle was frightening to watch. Making loud barking sounds they looked very aggressive, and one of them ended up with a bleeding wound after the fight.
Punta Pitt is a small visitor point on the northwestern part of San Cristobal Island. It is a famous nesting zone of the red-footed booby. The visit took about two hours in total, following a very jagged trail that climbed up the rocks of the eroded volcano cone that formed the island.
The trail is rocky and climbs up the mountain- but it is not too hard at all-the views on the top are absolutely breathtaking. It was very hot and sunny when we were there, which added to wonderful views after a great hike. The island is one huge nesting zone for both blue-footed and red-footed boobies. One of the best things about this visitor site was that it was breeding time, so there were lots of cute fluffy babies! The red-footed boobies nest in the trees, and the blue-footed boobies have their nests on the ground. It was a true spectacle to see the babies begging their parents for food and mothers protecting the little ones under their wings while tending to recently laid eggs. The males make strong cackle sounds, while the females make a whistling sound.
The landscape looks out over beautiful cliffs with strong waves clashing on the rocks below. The island was absolutely gorgeous-covered in the spectacular colors of puslane plants.
For me, Cerro Brujo is one of the prettiest beaches of the whole Archipelago. The spectacular bright-blue colors of the water, the black lava rocks, and the white sand make it one of the most romantic places on earth!
We were dropped on the beach and given some free time. This was perfect for a romantic walk along the beach while enjoying the sight of sea lions, iguanas, and brightly-colored sally lightfoot crabs amidst the green bushes covering the island. It was a relaxing afternoon in paradise! There was enough time for a refreshing swim and for some offshore snorkeling as well. In total, we spent an hour and a half in this magical place!
In the evening we watched the sunset over the iconic Kicker Rock./p>
Floreana is the island in the archipelago with the most interesting human history in the archipelago. In 1793 a “post office” was established here by whalers who left letters in a wooden barrel- hoping the next seamen was headed in the direction of their letter’s destination. Nowadays tourists can post a letter, and go through the pile of letters- picking out one that they can hand-deliver once back at home.
Another point to visit on Post Office Bay is the huge lava tunnel, which you enter by descending a ladder. The trail inside the dark lava tube extends for about 50 meters – bring your flashlight!
When we arrived back to the beach we saw a white-tipped reef shark very close to the shoreline. Some of us decided to jump in with our snorkeling gear but were too late to see the shark. Others decided to use kayaks to explore along the rocky coastline. The Ocean Spray crew members took some time off on shore for a soccer game!
This visitors point has two differently-colored beaches: the first is greenish because of olivine crystals, and the second beach is white- made of finely pulverized coral. The main attraction of this site is a lagoon where flamingos are often seen. We saw only a few that were very far away. What I enjoyed most about Cormorant Point was walking through the Palo Santo forest – it smelled so lovely!
From the white-sand beach, we could spot different species of rays gliding through the shallow waters of the shoreline. We even saw two black-tip reef sharks gliding through the water!
Snorkeling around the Devil’s Crown was absolutely rewarding! We observed big schools of fish from very close up, and we saw a huge grey octopus! The corals are lovely and the huge sea stars were very pretty. It was my third time at this famous snorkeling site, but I must say that due to the very cold water and strong currents, it doesn’t make for a very relaxing experience. We felt cold quickly and a bit unsafe as we drifted away from the group.
Many people think that the Devil’s Crown is the very best spot for snorkeling in Galapagos, and some would base their choice of cruise solely on this point. I personally think that this is a big mistake. Don’t get me wrong, snorkeling at the Devil’s Crown is very nice but you can see the same wildlife in other places and possibly have a better, more relaxing, experience.
I’ve had my very best snorkeling experiences in four different sites around the islands: Santa Fe (sharks, rays, turtles and very clear waters), Tintoreras (rays, turtles, lots of fish in shallow waters), Tuneles (sea horse!), and around Bartolome (penguins!). Snorkeling is a big part of any Galapagos cruise, and as long as you have a good itinerary for seeing land animals, you’ll also have great opportunities for underwater wildlife viewing!
On our last day we woke up early to visit the Black Turtle Cove – a panga ride through the beautiful Mangrove trees takes you to a mating area for the green marine turtle and a feeding area for different fish. Overall, the visit was pretty relaxing as we only had to sit in the zodiac. In clear waters, we could see lots of wildlife! We spotted baby hammerhead sharks right there from the panga! So cute! A white-tipped reef shark was also spotted near a school of golden rays. The total visit took less than 45 minutes, and it was a great way to end our Ocean Spray cruise.
On our last day, we needed to pay our bill at the bar. It was also the moment to tip the staff.
Tipping is a common practice on Galapagos cruises and unfortunately, it’s always an awkward moment. You don’t want to tip too much, but also not too little. When you are not used to tipping in your home country, this moment can feel especially uncomfortable.
The tipping guideline that was given to us was $20 per person per day for the crew and $15 per person per day for the guide. My advice is to not feel pressured. For many this is a lot of money, after all, you already paid a lot for the cruise itself. Tipping is never an obligation, and you should always let it depend on the level of service received. Remember that the crew usually consists of around 10 people, while the guide is just one person! The good thing is that we were given two envelopes, so the tipping was completely unanimous in the end.
After breakfast, we said goodbye to the crew and were taken to the airport where we arrived at 9am. We exchanged contact details with the friends we had made on our cruise and off we went back to Quito.
So, is it worth it to spend your money on a Deluxe Galapagos cruise? ABSOLUTELY! The combination of outstanding wildlife experience and all the comforts and luxuries on board are definitely worth the extra money.
The Ocean Spray Yacht highlights I most enjoyed were:
• A professional crew of 13 members including a cruise manager that takes care of you
• Highly knowledgeable English speaking naturalist guides (ours was a studied ecologist!)
• Jacuzzi and beautiful sun deck
• Kayaks for use during your trip
• Spacious and comfortable rooms with a private balcony
• High-quality snorkeling gear and wetsuits
• Outstanding cuisine
• Very complete itinerary with great wildlife opportunities
Some final things to bear in mind…
…if you are not a great swimmer
If you are not a good swimmer, or if this is your first time snorkeling, it is important to inform the guide and crew about this so they can give you support, a lifejacket, and show you how it works. Stay with your group or better yet, get a buddy to snorkel together with. Never go snorkeling all by yourself or don’t let yourself drift too far away from the panga and your group. My husband is not a good swimmer and it was his second time snorkeling – he received an inflated jacket which helped, and the guide was constantly watching so he could feel safe and comfortable in the water.
…if you are not so fit or comfortable with walking
The Ocean Spray provided hiking poles, which was really good, that were used by several in our group during our trip. The trails in Galapagos vary from three hours to just 15 minutes and ranged from very rocky areas to soft sandy beaches. A Galapagos cruise is not for everyone, you must be able to walk well on your own, even on irregular rocky surfaces. The pace is usually very easy on any cruise-you’ll make enough stops to catch your breath, take pictures, and listen to the guide’s explanations. The walks are usually gentle, not fast at all. Remember it can be very hot and warm on the islands, which can be tough for some.
…about dry landings and wet landings
A dry landing means that from the panga you step onto a peer or a rock to get on the island- these are fairly easy and the crew members are always there to help you on or off the panga.
A wet landing means that from the panga you’ll have to jump into the water to get to the shore. The wet landings are especially hard for some people. The panga is never stable as it moves with the waves, so for some of our group this was a bit of a challenge. Again, the crew members were always there to assist.
…snorkeling is a big part of any Galapagos cruise
If you don’t enjoy swimming, kayaking or snorkeling you can definitely spend your time relaxing on board. On a spacious boat like the Ocean Spray, this is not a problem, as you have your own balcony or you can relax in the Jacuzzi. But, it is important to know that snorkeling is a big part of any Galapagos cruise and no other activities are offered to the people who do not wish to take part in the day’s water activities. This means one to two hours per day will be spent on board the boat.
…It is a national park!
Island visits are very strictly regulated by the national park authorities, meaning that each group can only spend a maximum amount of time on each trail or visitor site. When several boats are at the same visitor point, the park makes sure all of the groups are not on that site at the same time. Normally around lunch time, no visits are allowed on most of the trails. The strict regulations also mean that it is no longer possible to spend more time on a trail, even if you feel you would like to stay longer.
It is also strictly forbidden to hike any trail without being in the company of your guide- so when your group is snorkeling you won’t be allowed to visit the islands on your own.
The kayak activity is also strictly regulated- meaning you cannot use them anywhere you want, your guide will tell you where it will be allowed to explore.
This is a personal review from one of the owners of Happy Gringo, Eva about her voyage on the Ocean Spray Catamaran Galapagos cruise. Eva is from Holland but has lived more than 10 years in Ecuador.