The Galápagos Islands are without a doubt one of the world’s most rich and unusual ecosystems offering visitors a unique perspective into the marvels of the natural world. Made famous by the discoveries of Charles Darwin following his 1830’s voyage on the HMS Beagle, Darwin’s discoveries permanently altered our views of science, evolution and the natural world. Naturally cruising is the way to visit this watery wonderland. And ultra-luxury cruising is the best way to experience it. Happily, Silversea Cruises has made that possible with its newest addition to its expedition fleet, the dazzling Silver Origin, providing a truly all-inclusive, ultra-luxury expedition experience.
On board the Silver Origin last week when it was officially christened by Bishop Patricio Bonillo, and esteemed conservationist and Galápagos Islands permanent resident Johanna Carrión was named as the ship’s Godmother, I experienced its one-week western itinerary. The Silver Origin is the region’s only ship that does back-to-back eastern and western itineraries allowing guests with additional time to experience all the magic that the Galápagos offers.
Ultra-Luxury at the Equator
Built as a specific destination ship in 2020, the 5,800 ton, 331-foot long, 52-foot wide vessel is exquisite. There are 51 suites accommodating a maximum of 100 guests. The ship is staffed by a friendly, English speaking Ecuadorean crew of 80, plus eight to 10 expedition leaders and naturalists. With Silversea’s high staff to guest ratio, one is never kept waiting and service, in typical Silversea fashion, is superb.
The smallest accommodations, the Classic Veranda Suite, is an extremely generous 325 square feet. There are seven other suite categories up to the 1,722 square foot Owner’s Suite to choose from. Regardless of which suite you select, all have fantastic views. All suites also feature Silversea’s dedicated butler service – the only ship in Galápagos to do so – a private veranda or horizon balcony, replenished stocked mini bar with preferred alcoholic beverages and highly addictive local snacks, fresh fruit, an in-suite water purification system and refill station. There is also a pillow menu, eco-friendly bath amenities, touch controls for lighting, drapes, and windows, and of course 24-hour room service. Suites also have walk-in closets, 65-inch flat screen televisions with an interactive media library, USB ports, a charging station, and enough outlets to satisfy any computer needs. The decor is set in calming, neutral shades to permit the outdoors to be guests’ central visual focus. Luxurious bedding has high count sheets and insure dreamy sleep. Just minutes after I arrived, my butler came to my suite and took my special requests for the minibar. Like magic those items appeared moments later and set the tone for a marvelous week.
The ship’s “Base Camp” located on Deck 3 has an enormous curved full wall LED screen with a freestanding podium touch screen control. Here guests can learn about nearly every aspect of Galapagos history, flora, fauna, and geology. Base Camp is also where all equipment is discreetly housed and where excursions depart. As the zodiacs can pull right up to the ship’s stern, heading out on the well-curated excursions is incredibly convenient.
Relaxing in Style
If you can tear yourself away from your luxurious suite, there are several other places to relax on board the Silver Origin. The Explorer Lounge on Deck 4 is where pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are enjoyed, and naturalist lectures, slide shows, and destination briefings take place. There’s also comfortable outdoor seating on Deck 4.
The Observation Lounge at the bow of Deck 7 is a delightful place to read, although taking your eyes away from the area’s ethereal views can be challenging. Another comfortable lounge area is on Deck 7 stern with sun beds to snooze on warm days and fire pit and jacuzzi for cooler nights. My favorite spot was Deck 8’s stargazing area where equatorial skies magically lit up on clear nights. To add more magic to the mix, one night as the Silver Origin hovered the equator about 2.5 miles offshore of Isabella Island's north side with both the Southern Cross and North Star visible, we bore witness to Wolf Volcano magnificently erupting in all its fiery glory. It was an unforgettable sight.
A small state-of-the art fitness center on Deck 5 has a treadmill, elliptical, spin bike, free weights and two full body weight machines. Though normally a gym rat, I only got there three times during the week as I was happily occupied with Silver Origin's mind-blowing excursions. Also on Deck 5, Zagara Beauty Spa has a serene massage suite and a two-station beauty salon. All Silver Origin guest suites are located on Decks 5 and 6.
Ecuadorean Food Redefined
Both of Silver Origin’s dining areas, The Restaurant on Deck 4 and The Grill on Deck 7 have 100-percent capacity. This means everyone on board can decide to eat at either restaurant and be accommodated, without waiting. As expected, dress is far more casual on expedition ships than ocean or river cruises, though no jeans or shorts were worn at dinner.
Silver Origin Executive Chef Carlo Bermudez celebrates “New Ecuadorean cuisine” by incorporating the freshest local ingredients. Indeed, 90-percent of seafood is from Galapagosian waters, and more than 55-percent of fruits and vegetables are locally sourced from small independent island farmers producing fantastically fresh, tasty produce and cheeses. Carnivores are kept happy with meats, chicken and pork coming from the Ecuadorean mainland.
Menu options varied with every meal and were beautifully prepared. Fish and shellfish were delicious and so delightfully presented, they often resembled art. While I’m neither a vegan nor a vegetarian, Chef Bermudez’s vegan and vegetarian options available at every meal were so beautifully prepared, I tried them several times. They were all excellent and so inspiring I could likely become a vegetarian. That is if Chef Bermudez would cook for me forever. Several actual vegans and vegetarians on board confirmed my opinions. In typical Silversea manner, all meals were accompanied by top shelf cocktails mixed to perfection, with excellent regional and European wines to enjoy as well.
Exciting Excursions with Silver Origin Experts
The Silver Origin has the highest zodiac-to-guest ratio and the highest naturalist guide-to-guest ratio. All excursion leaders and naturalists are Ecuadorean and possess incredibly detailed, intimate knowledge of flora, fauna and marine life, as well as an evident, abiding love of sharing this information with guests to the region. Zodiac pilots also displayed profound marine skills allowing for seamless experiences.
Venturing on one of the many, well-curated included excursions, Silver Origin provides high quality Alessi masks and snorkels, waterproof backpacks, raincoats, and premium stainless water bottles, all of which guests can take home.
Typical days had three excursions, including nature hikes or walks, beach or deep-sea snorkeling, and kayaking. I went on 15 of the 18 excursions offered during my voyage and all were remarkable, informative, and awe-inspiring. There was astonishing wildlife at every turn. A confluence of perfect weather and conditions also resulted in the best deep water snorkeling I’ve ever experienced anywhere in the world: in crystalline waters swimming with an unimaginable number of frolicking sea lions, adorable penguins, thousands of barracudas, rays and neon-colored school fish, and for good measure, a half-dozen, six foot white-tipped reef sharks to keep us company.
The Galapagos is for many a bucket list trip. However, Silversea’s Silver Origin is quite wonderfully also the destination, gracefully facilitating the ultra-luxury experience for which Silversea is famous, with adventurous expedition discovery in one of the world’s most remarkable natural ecosystems. Happy sailing!
Written by Julie L. Kessler
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