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Cruise Ship Information
Metropolitan Touring's 48-passenger La Pinta is a year-round Galapagos-based island hopper. The cruise yacht -- considered mid-size among the 100 or so 12- to 100-passenger vessels cruising the region -- provides an effortless means of experiencing the menagerie of reptiles, birds and marine mammals the Ecuadorian hotspot is famous for. 
While no manmade ship will ever compete with Darwin's favorite national park -- where rust colored calderas jut out of the Pacific; stoic, yellow iguanas guard fruit-laden cactus trees; and blue-footed birds dance and whistle their way to progeny -- La Pinta exceeds the basic requirement to introduce well-traveled, pretense-free passengers to sea lions and sea turtles. 
Touches like fine in-cabin showers, Wi-Fi and a glass-bottom boat (for non-snorkelers and the sea lion-phobic) are welcome inclusions. After a day peeking under the Pacific or trekking under the equatorial sun, passengers can chat in the popular top-ship hot tub or enjoy a pre-dinner pisco sour in the lounge as they swap pictures (the world's most adorable baby sea lion, say) and stories ("The baby sea lion thought I was its mother!"). 
There's also the occasional traditional cruise flourish. Observe the sun glasses-wearing towel monkey endemic to your cabin or the Beef Wellington that appears on the dinner menu. 
Passengers who spent thousands to cruise and gear up with quick-dry outfits, zoom lenses and waterproof shoes aren't visiting the world's foremost evolutionary lab just to eat Beef Wellington, take great showers and surf the Web. La Pinta, built in 1982 as a Bahamas-based casino ship, then gutted and rebuilt in 2008, also fulfills its duty as a modern expedition vessel. Tools of the trade include outdoor shower heads (de-sanding), a public-use dryer (for wet towels, swimming trunks), a goodie basket of Dramamine in the lobby, a quintet of tandem kayaks, snorkel gear (mask, fin, snorkel), a briefing room with modern A-V equipment and a crane that delivers a trio of pangas from ship to sea. 
If the pangas, inflatable water taxis that shuttle passengers from anchorage points to uninhabited islets, are the connective tissue of the experience, the top-flight naturalists (Level III, the highest in the Galapagos) are the heart. By law, the English (and other) language-speaking guides accompany passengers on all land-based expeditions, providing enthusiastic commentary and answering questions about local geology, botany and biology. They're great with kids, too. 
The overall experience on La Pinta (and every other Galapagos-based ship) is highly structured, almost military-like. (Though you can opt out of anything without threat of pushups.) It has to be. In an effort to maximize time on land, where opening hours are sunrise to sunset, scheduling is precise. Wake up: 0700. Breakfast: 0730. First landing: 0830. And so forth until you hit the pillow after dinner (at 1930). If you participate in every activity, expect two hours of down time tops -- and expect to be enthralled but slightly exhausted by debarkation day. Something more casual post-cruise, like a beach stay, is a good idea for two reasons: first, as a counterpoint to the hyper-scheduled pace, second, to unpack the mystical experience you just had, spending time in a place that starts to feel like a strange dream the moment you return to civilization.
Atmosphere on board
The Galapagos Islands are special and you want a special yacht in which to explore these islands, a ‘living laboratory of evolution’. 
Yacht La Pinta is the result of the company’s four decades of experience in the Galápagos: it’s a distillation of the wish lists generated by captains, expedition leaders, hotel managers and customers over our company’s four decades of experience in the archipelago. It’s our newest yacht, accommodating 48 guests, ideal for travellers looking for a luxury experience of the islands that inspired Charles Darwin more than 170 years ago. 
With its week-long itinerary, it promises a complete immersion in the unique environment of the Galapagos Islands, with enriching wildlife encounters accompanied by expert guides complemented by faultless service, delicious cuisine and plenty of comfort on board. Our staff embraces a spirit of adventure, while ensuring comfort and safety at all times. 
The yacht boasts among the largest cabins of any Galápagos vessel with floor-to-ceiling windows in all cabins. Its social areas have almost permanent visual contact with the islands through panoramic windows, while its outside deck areas are also wonderful havens for relaxation, including an observation deck towards the bow. 
La Pinta is the ideal yacht for families travelling together, with many connecting cabins, and beds that can be joined or separated, depending on guests’ wishes.
Family with Kids/Teens
While there are no children's facilities on La Pinta, a Galapagos trip is fantastic family unit fodder -- though the price for four or more can be a deal-breaker. (There is some discounting for those 12 and younger, typically 25 percent off.) June, July and August attract the largest number of families, and the affable guides -- who've clearly retained their sense of childlike wonder -- pay particular attention to the smaller cruisers. The ship's tiny library may feature an Uno deck and Galapagos-related board game, and Texas Hold'em and Go Fish battles are hatched during down-times. Though some would call it anathema, bringing a Nintendo DS for the occasional scenic sail or skipped onshore outing isn't a completely baseless idea.
The minimum age to cruise on La Pinta is 6. The youngest age acceptable for a Galapagos cruise? That depends on the interest and maturity level of the child, but Darwin's ideas, while indescribably profound, can seem elegantly simple in the right hands. Still, more than one guide thought that 12 was probably the most appropriate minimum age.
Past Passenger Programs
La Pinta's combination observation lounge-lecture room-bar features 270 degrees of panoramic windows, a spotting scope and an eager barman ready to dole out pisco sours (minus the raw egg white, which tops the traditional version of the frothy drink), blue margaritas and Club Premiums (Ecuadorian pilsner). Spinnable blue chairs are clustered around twin pull-down projection screens used for multimedia presentations and next-day briefings, which precede dinner each night. The majority of drinks range from about $2.50 for a soda to $4 for a beer to $10 for a cocktail. (Passengers settle the bill at the end of the cruise.) The space also features one of two TV's on the ship. (The other is in the lobby.) Both scroll through hi-res wildlife pictures and a spreadsheet of the day's schedule.
Two Web-ready computer terminals and the self-service coffee machine are set up in an adjacent tiny "Expedition Library," which features a number of titles from Darwin, on Darwin and about Darwin's discoveries. The spines also reveal recommended Galapagos-related reading (memoirs, mysteries), nature photo-filled books, tomes on South America and a handful of left-behind pulp paperbacks. Wi-Fi, available in the library and lecture room, is $40 for unlimited use on a weeklong cruise and $20 for both the three- and four-nighters. Connection can be spotty, but that's perfectly understandable. 
La Pinta's lobby houses a candy jar, seasickness pill goodie basket and signup sheets for deep-water snorkeling, panga rides and glass-bottom boat trips (for the non-snorkelers). The space also features a small gift shop, offering a selection of necessaries -- sunglasses with strap, toothbrushes, sun block, single-use underwater camera , aloe -- plus a bit of apropos kitsch ("I Love Boobies" T-shirts). 
Should you get motion sickness -- and the most swaying is typically felt in August, September and October, say the naturalists -- there is a doctor onboard. His small examination room is located adjacent to the lobby. Passengers who've been bitten in half by a bull sea lion (the so-called beachmasters) will be out of luck, but the doc can offer creams for wasp stings, pills for gastro- and virus-related ailments and something slightly acidic for the occasional jelly fish-related issue. Achievable onboard medical care is included in the price of the cruise.
The top deck houses La Pinta's four pangas (and a crane to deliver them to the water), a glass-bottom boat and five tandem kayaks. Snorkeling gear (mask, snorkel and fin) and rented wetsuits ($30 for the week; some tour operators who sell Metropolitan cruises include this in the price) are initially doled out there. Nearby is the bridge, which is open to passengers any time, apart from when the ship is maneuvering in or out of port. The captain makes regular appearances throughout the cruise, and he (or anyone else manning the bridge) is happy to talk ship. 
It's not a public room, per se, but Deck 1 aft features a pull-out platform, which typically serves as one of two panga launch points or, very occasionally, a swim-off dock. (A pangero keeps watch during the designated cool-off times.) This is also where passenger wetsuits, sandals and snorkel gear hang out to dry. Finally, there's a single clothes dryer, which is free to use and shared among passengers and crew.
Fitness And Spa
Every day features a guided nature walk, some more rigorous (uphill, over lava) than others. Still, extreme trekking this is not. There are always innumerable stops to ogle a red-legged Swallow-Tailed Gull squatting over its newborn chick or a land iguana rolling spines off a cactus fruit before greedily devouring the pod. During the hikes, sometimes over rough lava -- ropy Pahoehoe and rubble-filled aa (pronounced ah-ah) -- proper footwear is essential. Bring a hat and water, too. Despite the slow pace, the equatorial sun can certainly wear down even the hardiest eco-passenger.
Phenomenal snorkeling is offered almost every day. Listen to the guides: they say the best course is to float and observe because water temperatures, especially in the cool season (about 70 degrees), can sap energy. There are wetsuits for rent, and they're especially necessary between June/July and December ($15 for three- and four-night cruises; $30 for weeklong cruises). 
The ship also carries tandem, sit-on-top kayaks, which are pulled out a couple times per cruise for casual paddles. 
Back onboard, La Pinta has a tiny fitness room with a Lifestyle-brand bicycle, elliptical and treadmill machines, along with a few assorted dumbbells. A framed picture of a loin-clothed Amazonian racing with spear poised provides extra encouragement. There is no spa, but the top deck features a hot tub that can snugly accommodate six passengers. A few wicker sunbeds and a handful of other outdoor seating setups are scattered throughout La Pinta's open spaces.
Food & Dining
Adequate meals provide the fuel to keep hiking, snorkeling and patiently waiting for the haggard, stumbling, flightless cormorant to plunge heat-seeking missile-like into the Pacific after an eel. All but one or two meals are served in the ship's indoor dining room, which accommodates all 48 passengers at once. 
The evening meal, always at 7:30 or 7:45 p.m., is the lone offering not served buffet-style. Four-course dinners feature one appetizer (shrimp, couscous, smoked turkey slices), one soup (cream of vegetable, Ecuardorian quinoa), a choice of entree (a fish, a foul and a vegetarian option) and dessert (fruit or something cake-ish). The occasional cruise-like flourish like Beef Wellington may rear its head, but don't be fooled: the quality isn't what you'd find on an upper-premium mass-market line (say a Holland America or Celebrity). However, most passengers we talked to weren't bothered by the asi asi food.
Vegetarians are certainly accommodated, but don't be surprised to see a few re-treads of meat-free appetizers (a plate of cold veggies) and soups (vegetable soup). Passengers who don't see something they like on the menu should chat with the cruise director. 
Given the social nature of boat life, dining is a communal affair. All tables are either four- or six-tops, so expect to mix and mingle at meals. Should groups request it, tables can be reserved. 
Breakfast is served buffet-style in the restaurant at 7:30 a.m. (with rare exception). Cold options include cereals (granola, flakes, choco-flakes), breads, yogurt, tropical fruits and juices (mix the guava or orange with some coconut water, sometimes on offer). A few basic Ecuadorian-style comfort foods, like fried plantains, compete with pancakes, greasy bacon and link sausage. A popular cooked-to-order omelet station is set up daily. 
Lunch options include plenty of light salads (bean salad, coleslaw, radish salad, pasta salad), a few hot dishes (chicken with mushrooms, baked fish) and the obligatory soup (usually a cream soup). A cook in chef's hat carves suckling pig, baked fish and turkey. Roughly once per sailing, the second meal is served at the covered top-ship restaurant, with glass panels providing protection from too vigorous breezes or sideways garua spritzes. (Garua is the misty rain that typically accompanies the cool season, July to December.) 
In between meals, passengers returning from morning and afternoon excursions are greeted with the ritualistic snack-and-juice offering -- "iguana" nuggets (chicken tenders), deep-fried pigs in blankets, mini-empanadas, pieces of fruit paired with sugary guava, orange or tree tomato juice. The daily finger-food and shot-of-sweet-juice offerings are one of the simple pleasures onboard. 
A coffee machine is situated in the library, alongside a few glass containers with a rotating (and fast-disappearing) lineup of tea biscuits, cookies or crackers. The push-button concoctions, which include hot water for tea, hot chocolate, coffee, too milky cappuccinos and espressos, are available 24 hours a day. 
While every effort is made to keep you fed, the non-reptilian eaters (low-blood-sugar types or those who like to snack between meals), should bring some of their own salty and sweet stuff -- especially if you're one of the few passengers who doesn't collapse into bed immediately after dinner. Snorkeling in chilly water (70 degrees or less during cooler months) can deplete your energy, and the aforementioned jars by the coffee machine may not suffice. Passengers stopping in Puerto Ayora, the Galapagos' largest inhabited city, might consider restocking there.
Entertainment
Performers include male lava lizards doing push-ups on basalt gyms, indescribably adorable baby sea lions careening for your snorkel mask and then avoiding impact at the last second, and whistling, grunting blue-footed boobies, whose wings flash skyward and painted webbed feet slowly rise and fall in a curious mating dance. Cue the standing ovation. 
During the (at least) twice-daily shore walks, one expedition leader and three naturalist guides provide the commentary and answers to any question on the islands' flora and fauna. You can stick with your favorite guide or simply get in line and end up with whoever is nearby. When snorkeling is offered, which is nearly every day, passengers can opt instead to take a scenic cruise on the glass-bottom boat. On a few occasions -- for instance when there's a lovely, sheltered cove -- sea kayaks may materialize. If there is a choice of activities, passengers are asked to add their name to a signup sheet in the lobby. (No one will be turned away -- it's just to help the staff with logistics.) 
Daytime lectures evoke memories of high school biology, with the ecology of fish and an explanation of why, geologically speaking, the Galapagos developed the way they did (the so-called "hot spot") among the offerings. 
Every night there's a briefing given by one of the naturalists, who may dive into another scientific subject (plate tectonics) and then outline the schedule and highlights for the next day. This is followed by a Q&A, should any Q's arise to be A'ed. 
A BBC docu-drama, the three-part "Galapagos End of the World," for instance, may be shown on the twin projection screens during afternoon intra-island transits. 
Chatting with the diverse passengers, united in their love for offbeat world travel, can provide entertainment and inspiration for your next trip, be it by land or sea.
Staterooms
For an expedition vessel, cabins are large and well equipped. There are 20 189-square-foot doubles and four 247-square-foot triples, all with decent-sized rectangular windows framing ever-changing rugged seascapes (and sometimes pods of dolphins). There are no wheelchair-accessible cabins.
Bed configurations are two twins, which can be combined into a queen (double rooms), or two twins and a sofa bed (triples). Pillows are on the firm side. Individual air-conditioning and heat control is a blessing, especially during February, March and April -- traditionally the most scalding months on the equator. September through November -- the coolest months of the "cool season" -- passengers may opt for a little heat, especially after a deep-water snorkel or a 20-degree temperature drop from one day to the next. 
A triple wardrobe offers more than enough space for the eco-lite cruiser, whose luggage typically includes a series of quick-dry shorts, pants, hats and shirts. A small vanity-topped desk has a phone (international phone calls can be made), a pair of 110v U.S.-style outlets and a pair of 220v European-style outlets. A meager hair dryer and a safe, par for the course in all of cruising, are tucked into the closet. A small table, sandwiched by a pair of blue-cushioned chairs, rounds out the storage offerings. It's all quickly covered by camera equipment and other gear. 
Shower-only bathrooms have three dispensers providing biodegradable shower gel, shampoo and conditioner. (For passengers bringing their own stuff, MT asks that it be biodegradable.) The showers are the most valuable accouterment in La Pinta's cabins, tiled numbers offering excellent pressure and plenty of hot water. Note that, while the water piped into the sinks and showers is potable and perfectly acceptable for showering and teeth-brushing, it is not recommended for drinking. There's a pair of two-tap units in the cabin corridor supplying hyper-filtered drinking water. The line provides a sealed plastic bottle and asks that you refill it. (They will hand out replacements, but it's a question of footprint.) Bring a reusable water bottle, or buy one onboard. 
Leave your window curtain up, and the rising sun, which doesn't shift much during the year, will serve as a 6:30 a.m. wakeup call. Otherwise strains of Chopin, Bach and Segovia, quietly piped into cabins at 7 a.m. each morning, rouse passengers in time for 7:30 breakfast. 
Given logistics and a real effort to minimize water usage (again, footprint), fresh linens are provided at the beginning of the cruise, then changed once per cruise on the seven-night voyage. (Take heed before crawling under the covers following a hike in 100-degree heat.) That said, linens will be swapped upon request.
Tipping

Fellow Passengers
For much of the year, La Pinta attracts a well-traveled, highly educated babyboom-and-beyond set. Passengers are generally fairly active, as the ship doesn't have facilities for those with mobility issues. Navigating the steep steps, metal lips and "watch your head" spaces is part of the expedition ship game plan. During June, July and August, expect an influx of parents and their offspring.
Our recommendation
Getting up for breakfast was a dream, The Restaurant is roomy, clean and accommodating, The hotel was full and we thought it would be difficult to get a table for 5 people but it was a breeze, the food is basic, but with 3 hotels in the Group, it is obvious they try their best to cater for everybody, coffee was plentiful and there was no shortage of cutlery or plates, cups etc