By Julie L. Kessler
For those who enjoy the marvels of the natural world, few locales compare with Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands. Happily, for those who wish to have this experience on an ultra-luxury, truly all-inclusive ship, Silversea’s newest expedition ship, the destination-specific Silver Origin is just the ticket.
I was on board the Silver Origin in late February when it was officially christened by Bishop Patricio Bonillo, and esteemed conservationist and Galápagos Islands permanent resident Johanna Carrión named as the ship’s Godmother. (The Silver Origin first started welcoming guests in June 2021, but the Omicron variant had postponed the naming festivities. Since its first voyage last June there have been 36 weekly voyages with eastern or western itineraries and not a single case of COVID.)
Built in 2020, the 5,800 ton, 331-foot long, 52-foot wide ship is a site to behold. 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 depending on passenger load. On this voyage there were 68 passengers. With Silversea’s high staff to guest ratio, one is never kept waiting and service is superb.
The Silver Origin is about one-third larger than Silversea’s prior vessel in the region, the Silver Galapagos – on which I sailed five years ago – yet the Silver Origin is 50-percent more efficient. It also has dynamic positioning so it can stand still and not bother marine life. Its water systems are highly sophisticated and the ship’s exterior lighting is dimmable so the ecosystem is undisturbed. This is all in keeping with Silversea’s continuing commitment to conservation and preservation.
The smallest accommodations, the Classic Veranda Suite, is not small at all but a very generous 325 square feet. There are seven other suite categories up to the 1,722 square foot Owner’s Suite. Regardless of which suite you book, all feature dedicated butler service – the only ship in Galapagos to do so – private veranda or horizon balcony, stocked mini bar with preferred alcoholic beverages and highly addictive local snacks such as mixed vegetable chips, fresh fruit, in-suite water purification system and refill stations, pillow menu, eco-friendly bath amenities, touch controls for lighting, drapes and windows, and 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 maven. The decor is set in calming, neutral shades to permit the outdoors to be the central visual focus. And when you venture outside 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.
Less than five minutes after I arrived to my suite the butler came and took special requests for the minibar. Like magic those items appeared moments later and set the tone for a marvelous week.
Deck 3’s Base Camp has a massive curved full wall screen with a freestanding touch screen podium control where guests can learn about nearly every aspect of Galapagos history, flora, fauna and geology. It is also here where all equipment is discreetly housed and excursions depart. As the zodiacs are able to pull right up to the ship’s stern, heading out on excursions is a snap.
Deck 5 has a small state-of-the art fitness center with treadmill, elliptical, spin bike, free weights and two fully body weight machines. Though normally a gym rat, I only got there three times during the week as I was happily occupied with mind-blowing excursions. Also on Deck 5, Zagara Beauty Spa with a serene massage suite and a two station beauty salon. All guest suites are located on Decks 5 and 6.
Both of Silver Origin’s dining areas, The Restaurant on Deck 4 and The Grill on Deck 7 have 100-percent capacity so everyone on board can choose to eat at either simultaneously. 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. Meats, chicken and pork all come from the Ecuadorean mainland. Menu options varied with every meal and were beautifully prepared. Even though I’m neither a vegan nor a vegetarian, I had to try several of Chef Bermudez’s vegan and vegetarian options available at every meal. They were excellent and inspired. In typical Silversea manner, meals were accompanied by top shelf cocktails, and regional and European wines.
The heart of the Silver Origin is Deck 4 with both The Restaurant and the Explorer Lounge where pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are enjoyed, and naturalist lectures, slide shows and destination briefings take place. In addition to the large main screen, each cluster of seating groups have their own large screens so everyone sees everything.
Deck 7’s Observation Lounge at the bow is a serene spot to read, assuming you can tear your eyes away from the ethereal views. Deck 7 stern has a comfortable lounge area with a fire pit, sun beds and jacuzzi. My happy place was Deck 8’s Stargazing area where equatorial skies magically light up on clear nights. And one night as we hovered the equator about 2.5 miles offshore the north side of Isabella Island with both the Southern Cross and North Star visable, guests bore witness to Wolf Volcano magnificently erupting in all its fiery glory. It was an unforgettable sight.
The Silver Origin has the highest zodiac to guest ratio and the highest naturalist guide to guest ratio. All 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 intrepid travelers. Zodiac pilots also displayed profound marine skills allowing for seamless experiences.
Typical days had three excursions including nature hikes or walks, beach or deep sea snorkeling and kayaking. I went on 15 of the 18 during my voyage and all were remarkable, informative and awe-inspiring. A confluence of perfect weather and conditions also resulted in the best deep water snorkeling ever experienced anywhere in the world: swimming in crystalline waters with an unimaginable number of frolicking seal 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.
While the Galapagos is for many a bucket list trip, Silversea’s Silver Origin is quite wonderfully also the destination, facilitating ultra-luxury with adventurous discovery in one of the world’s most remarkable natural ecosystems. www.Silversea.com
Check out this video from Ralph Grizzle’s 2019 voyage on Silver Galapagos.
Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney and the author of the award-winning memoir: “Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at [email protected]. This cruise line hosted the writer; however content was not reviewed by it prior to publication and is solely the writer’s opinion.