Travel Review: Galapagos Cruise aboard the Camila by Haugan Cruises

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We recently had the pleasure of spending two weeks aboard the Camila small luxury cruise ship in the Galapagos Islands.  Camila, the newest ship in the Galapagos, is one of three ships owned by Haugan Cruises.  The number of ships in the Galapagos is fixed.  The only way to introduce a new ship is to retire an old one, so it’s unusual to have new ships on the water in the Galapagos.  The Camila is the only trimaran in the Galapagos, though I’m not sure that made much of a difference from a catamaran as far as stability is concerned.  It was undoubtedly more stable than a monohull however, and since we were living on the water while on board, and the seas can get rough in the Galapagos, we ruled out monohulls as an option.  All three of the Haugan Cruise ships (the Camila, the Petrel, and the Ocean Spray) are either catamarans or trimarans.  We crossed paths with the Petrel and the Ocean Spray several days.  I’d venture to guess we would have been equally pleased with any of the three Haugan Cruise ships.

The Camila was truly a pleasure to call home for two weeks.  The rooms were surprisingly large and could be configured with king-size beds or two single beds.  The bathrooms were spacious with roomy showers.   L’Occitane soap, lotion, shampoo, and conditioner were provided in full-size bottles rather than travel sizes. There was one small armoire with a few hangars and drawers provided, but it was tight for two people unpacking for two weeks.  There are individual air conditioning units in every room, and the small private balconies attached to each cabin provided a cozy sitting area for viewing the breathtaking scenery.  There were plenty of electrical outlets (where U.S. plugs work) and USB ports conveniently located on both sides of the bed, and in this respect, the rooms were designed better than most hotel rooms.

Activities included hiking, snorkeling, and kayaking.  We were on the go all day long from early morning until bedtime.  Though it’s considered a luxury cruise ship, it’s not about spa treatment pampering and relaxation.  It’s about immersing yourself in the rare natural beauty of the Galapagos.  As our Naturalist Guide described it best, “This is not a vacation. It’s an expedition.”  There were clear kayaks provided, though we never used them ourselves.  We opted for snorkeling every opportunity we had, and we were thrilled with the variety of life we saw underwater.  Brand new good quality masks, snorkels, fins, and Cressi full wetsuits were provided as part of the cruise package.  The fins were short fitted-foot style fins, which we found more comfortable to wear with the neoprene socks we brought with us.  Hiking sticks were provided for people who wanted to use them.

The food was amazing.  There were a variety of healthy food options for every meal, a lot of seafood, veggies, and fresh fruit.  Eggs and omelettes cooked to order were available for breakfast every morning, and fresh made desserts were served at lunch and dinner everyday.  A few of the side dishes were a bit salty, but the variety of options to choose from allowed everyone to find something they liked.  Breakfast and lunch were served buffet-style, and dinner was a plated service with a choice between two entrees.  Even though we were active all day long, we definitely did not go hungry.  Coffee, hot tea, water, cookies, crackers, and chocolates were available all day.  Beer, wine and cocktails cost extra, which seemed a little nickel-and-dime considering the cost of the trip, but the bartender suggested we buy a bottle of wine (which was cheaper than buying by the glass), and he kept it chilled for us to drink over a period of however long we took to finish it.

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Haugan Cruises staffs expert Naturalist Guides, which was very important to us.  Our guide, Javier Cando, had the highest level of certifications and more than 20 years of experience.  His daily talks and guided tours were a wealth of information, and even though he’s been guiding tours for years, he still seemed to have an enthusiasm for the natural beauty, the geology, history, and wildlife so unique to the Galapagos Islands.  In addition to our Guide, the Cruise Manager served as an important key contact in our everyday experience aboard the ship.  There was some disruption, however, in that our Cruise Manager switched four days into our trip.  The new Manager had to learn everyone’s names and work to get to know the guests and their needs mid-week.  Coincidentally, both Managers were named Gabby, and they were both very kind and helpful.  The Zodiac drivers were also staff members we got to know fairly well, since all tours off the ship began and ended with a ride on the Zodiac, which was the only way to get to shore or to the snorkeling spots.  Two Zodiac drivers, Jefferson and Javier, stood out as exceptionally friendly and interactive with guests.  They spoke enough English to point out wildlife and interesting things to see, which added to our overall experience every time we were on their boats.

We booked Itineraries A & B (West & East) for 14 days with the assistance of travel agent Leslie Camacho at AdventureSmith Explorations.  They specialize in small ship expedition cruises and wilderness adventures.  We loved the small ship option because we were able to get into places that the large ships don’t go, and we didn’t have the crowds of the larger ships, which I can only assume wouldn’t provide the opportunity to get as close up to the wildlife the way a smaller group can do.  I think Itinerary A was our favorite, if we had to pick one, but we were able to see so much more by doing both itineraries.  We definitely would have missed seeing some of the wildlife we wanted to see if we had only spent one week aboard, or only four days as a few of the other guests did.  Between the two itineraries, we were able to explore many of the different islands, though still not all of them even with two full weeks there.  We saw giant tortoises, flamingos, blue footed boobies, red footed boobies, Nazca boobies, frigate birds (males with their red pouches puffed up), tropic birds, one albatross (unusual for this time of year), one owl, flightless cormorants, penguins, marine iguanas, land iguanas, lava lizards, sally lightfoot crabs, ghost crabs, sea lions, fur seals, schooling golden rays, schooling eagle rays, mobula rays, a manta ray, various other stingrays, schooling hammerhead sharks, white tip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks, dozens of sea turtles, seahorses, garden eels, lobster, and huge schools of countless varieties of fish.

We’d definitely like to return to the Galapagos again in the future, and we’re sold on the small cruise option.  If we chose to do another land and sea tour rather than a dive boat, we’d certainly opt for Haugan Cruises again.

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