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Our Live Voyage Report aboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos begins next week, and we’re already gearing up for the journey: our documents arrived just last week.
One thing I’ve always appreciated about Silversea is their extraordinary pre-cruise document package, which consists of a leather document holder that changes yearly; two leather Silversea luggage tags; personalized luggage stickers; and silver-coloured document holders – all of which comes delivered in a shiny light-grey box emblazoned with the word “Silversea” on it. But they don’t mail the box – it typically arrives inside a FedEx box, in mint condition.
The first thing I noticed about my document package for this Silver Galapagos trip when it arrived the other day: it’s massive, almost bursting at the seams. This is because the leather wallet inside not only includes your air and cruise information, but also two new booklets that are applicable to the Galapagos: a multi-page Setting Sail guide and an equally-detailed Itinerary Guide.
Both of these should be read fully prior to departure, because they contain invaluable information about your journey; information that even I didn’t know despite nearly a full month of research into the area and some of the operational challenges that come along with that.
Because there’s so much interest in Silversea’s new Silver Galapagos expedition program from new and loyal Silversea guests alike, I thought I’d take the time to point out some of the most crucial information contained within my documents prior to the start of our Live Voyage Report on November 1.
One of the most highly-regulated areas of the world, operating a luxury product in the Galapagos is far from easy. Unlike Silversea’s other vessels that operate with Italian and European Officers and an international crew, Officers and crew aboard any Galapagos-bound vessel must be primarily Ecuadorian. Certain foods and beverages have to be sourced from Ecuador, which then have to be flown out to Baltra and loaded onboard the vessel.
The journey between the Galapagos Islands and mainland Ecuador is roughly three and a half hours by air.
Let’s take a look at some of the finer points of Silversea’s educational Galapagos itinerary documentation:
Airfare: I haven’t even stepped aboard an airplane yet and already I’m thankful I decided to go with Silversea’s Silver Galapagos Air Package, which includes economy-class airfare from Quito to Baltra, and the return journey from Baltra to Guayaquil, Ecuador. This also includes all transfers and the $100 Galapagos National Park Entrance Fee and the $10 Immigration Fee, along with an overnight hotel in Quito and day room use in Guayaquil for those with flights departing after 6pm.
A Silversea host also provides passengers who have booked the air package with additional assistance, including assisting guests with the SICGAL (baggage inspection) process, providing them with their Baltra airline documents (which are not included in the documents due to being assigned 14 days out by the airline), and assisting with the Ingala Control Card that must be filled out prior to landing in Baltra.
Flying to Baltra isn’t like flying to an ordinary airport. There are only three flights per day, all of which leave early in the morning. Guests have to go through additional screening before boarding their flight, including an agricultural scan of all luggage. Upon arrival in Baltra, another round of immigration must be cleared before baggage can be collected. Once it is, Silver Galapagos guests will make their way to the coaches that are waiting for them.
There are no trolleys or porters at Baltra Airport – which exists on a barren island with just a single road – so be prepared to handle your own luggage. Once at the busses, regulations state that they may not depart until all guests have arrived. All the more reason to take the charter flight package, which may or may not be operated by a regularly-scheduled flight, depending on availability.
Another great plus: transfers are handled by Abercrombie & Kent Ecuador. These guys have been here for years, and they know their stuff. Which is excellent – because despite what you may have read, Mariscal Sucre International Airport is not nestled in the heart of Quito. It was, until February of this year, when the new Mariscal Sucre International Airport was constructed – some 20 kilometres east of the city. Silversea’s documentation gives the correct transfer time (90 to 120 minutes), while many central Quito hotels still state the airport is “five minutes away.”
So why would I not book my flights myself? It’s just not worth the hassle. You’re in a country where arranging dedicated transportation to and from airports can be challenging, and the repercussions of being on a delayed or cancelled flight to or from Baltra could be devastating. Just like flying to Ushuaia in Argentina prior to an Antarctic voyage, you want to be with the group for this one.
Embarking the Silver Galapagos is done by Zodiac raft. The ship isn’t docked, or tied to the pier. This holds true for disembarkation as well. It’s a pretty darn cool way to arrive at your floating hotel for the next week, but as Silversea notes, it pays to dress appropriately: wear good, non-slip shoes and prepare for a bit of spray on the ride over!
Luggage is transferred separately in both directions, and will be collected by guests at the airport upon disembarkation.
Medical Considerations: hiding in your Silver Galapagos documentation is a Medical Questionnaire that must be filled out and returned to the line by fax or email. It is important to bring enough quantities of any medication you normally rely on to sustain you for a week or more; the Galapagos is very remote, and while Silver Galapagos has basic medical facilities onboard, help is a very, very long way away.
I don’t take any medications – but I am stocking up on several things that I rely on for any cruise, like Advil, antihistamines, even Pepto-Bismol. Never take a cruise assuming they’re going to have your favorite painkiller or decongestant in the gift shop – and even moreso when traveling somewhere remote.
Know The Rules Ashore. All excursions are conducted by a team of guides certified by the Galapagos National Park Service, and there’s some rules they’ll expect all guests to abide by while ashore. They’re very reasonable regulations, but they are rules. Expect a good degree of embarrassment from your fellow guests at the minimum for breaking these. Remember: the object of any expedition is to come, see, and leave no trace.
- Do not remove animals, plants, rocks or their remains (including shells, bones and pieces of wood) from the islands.
- Be careful not to transport any live animals to the islands, or from island to island.
- Do not take any food to the uninhabited islands.
- Do not touch or handle the animals.
- Do not feed the animals. It can be dangerous, and it can destroy the animals’ social structure and breeding habits.
- Do not disturb or chase any animal from its resting or nesting place.
- Stay within the designated visiting areas.
- Do not litter while on land or sea.
- Do not deface the rocks.
- Do not smoke on the islands.
- Do not buy souvenirs or objects made of plants or animals from the islands.
- Do not visit the islands unless accompanied by a licensed National Park Guide.
- Restrict your visits to officially permitted areas.
- Conservation is everyone’s business. Please do not hesitate to show your conservationist attitude.
Finally, there is one other important disclaimer on the documentation that is likely to be of note to past Silversea guests. The line has always prided itself on its ability to get, well, anything that guests want and bring it to their ships. I’ve personally witnessed the crew bring on a shipment of fresh mangos specifically for one guest to enjoy at breakfast each morning. I’ve seen boxes of Fruit-Loops cereal appear as if by magic for guests who had requested them in advance.
But due to the strict regulations in the Galapagos, something like imported mangos would be impossible to bring onboard the Silver Galapagos. It’s not that they don’t want to; it’s that they physically can’t.
The penalty for breaking the rules is stiff, as Celebrity Cruises found out this past spring. Some out-of-season lobster tails were found onboard their vessel in the Galapagos, and authorities revoked their operating license. The repercussions? A month’s worth of cancelled sailings and refunded cruise fares.
So while the line’s hands are tied in some respects in the Galapagos, I am very excited to see what they can do in the area.
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos will kick off with a preview post on October 31, and will begin live from Quito, Ecuador on November 1! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
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