CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews


Lindblad Expeditions Polaris by jdvorak@kcstar.com Galapagos Islands May 29, 2004

We enjoyed a delightful cruise aboard the Polaris, an aging but pleasant and homey ship perfectly suited for serious-minded, nature-loving travelers who want to experience everything the Galapagos Islands have to offer. Lindblad Expeditions operates the vessel, which makes Saturday-Saturday trips that visit one or more of the islands each day. The trips are heavy on animals and the environment, but there's plenty of fun thrown in.

The company

Lindblad is expensive, but you get a lot for your money. You go to the Galapagos to learn about and experience a unique place on earth, and Lindblad does a lot to help accomplish your goal. The company's 800-number lends able assistance before you depart. To get to the Polaris, you typically fly to Miami, then on to Guayaquil, the large port city of Ecuador, on American Airlines. You overnight at the Colon Hilton (a first-rate hotel), then fly on TAME, the Ecuador airline, to the Galapagos on Saturday morning.

On our trip, May 29-June 5, 2004, Lindblad personnel were at Miami airport to help, if needed. Other Lindblad staffers met us at the gate in Guayaquil, drove us promptly to the hotel, delivered our luggage to the room, and were constantly available. On Saturday morning they collected our luggage, which we next saw in our stateroom aboard the ship, then drove us to the airport. In the Galapagos, the greeting was again flawless. The company markets to English-speaking areas, so passengers typically speak English, and ship announcements are in English only. Our expedition leader and guides were first-rate. Some were graduates of universities in Ecuador, some actually live in the Galapagos, and their interest in the islands and the environment was high. The ship's crew was also excellent, obviously interested in the focus of our cruise. Tipping is done once toward the end of the cruise; $100 per person is suggested, which covers all personnel. The money can be put on your shipboard account, which makes the entire process very easy.

The ship

The Polaris is very old, nothing like the modern, much larger cruise ships you may be used to. It carries about 80 passengers. Typically they will be age 45-70, and experienced travelers. Public areas are comfortable and attractive. There is a library, an outdoor sitting area on the stern, and a large meeting room that doubles as a bar. There's also a top-of-the ship observation deck, and passengers are welcome to relax and sit near the bow or visit the bridge. You won't find a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, casino, a movie theater, midnight buffet or self-service laundry, nor any elevators. Staterooms are small, subject to lots of noise from ship movements, and could use redecorating and new furniture. The bathrooms contain a sink, toilet and shower, and are dated. But the accommodations are acceptable for cruises like this, which aren't intended to offer luxurious trappings. Maintenance and service are both excellent. Storage space is adequate. While sailing, Polaris can pitch and roll. Seasick pills are available free of charge in the reception area. Some passengers on our trip didn't always sleep well, but we were aware of no significant illnesses on our trip. A doctor is aboard.

The meals

Just as Polaris seems to care about ship maintenance, the crew also cares a lot about the dining experience. The food ranges from good to excellent. It emphasizes fish, vegetables and fruit, and the staff makes an effort to offer typical Ecuadorian cuisine. Menus are imaginative. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style, not lavish but with plenty of choices and food. You select your evening main course at breakfast time, picking from several appealing alternatives. Vegetarians will do just fine. Service is excellent. Attire is informal, slacks and shirts are fine.

The cruise

Many cruise brochures tend to overstate what you will see on your trip. But the Lindblad pamphlets for the Galapagos understate. You will make (always wearing life jackets) one or two landings a day with Zodiac boats, small 10-passenger motor craft that go right to the beach. Sometimes you will go sightseeing in the Zodiacs, never landing but seeing wonderful things; we observed penguins perched on rocks along the water's edge and sea turtles swimming beside us. Polaris carries a glass-bottom boat, and you will get several opportunities to ride in it. Snorkeling and swimming opportunities are numerous. Ashore, we saw sea lions, marine iguanas, tortoises, turtles and birds in endless numbers. We lounged on beaches right beside sea lions and iguanas. (Rules prohibit touching the animals, but you're right next to them; they show no fear.) We saw fabulous volcanic island scenery, went on hikes up small mountains and through desert landscapes. On some cruises, you spend one or two days at sea, then spend from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in port. On the Polaris, the ship cruises only when necessary to get to the next point of interest. Sometimes you cruise all night, sometimes only for a few hours. Each night before dinner, passengers hold an hour-long meeting, with refreshments, to discuss the day or hear lectures. The emphasis is on seeing and learning about the Galapagos, and at the end of our week we felt we had done plenty of both.

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