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Old 12-30-2012, 04:45 PM   #1
kristilew
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Andean Highlands and Galapagos Islands Dec 2012 trip report

We are home from our fabulous Adventure! FamilygoBoston did such a great job chronicling the day-to-day points of the trip that I’m not going to do a full trip report. Instead, I thought I’d just share some of the highlights for us, and a few tips.

This was really a perfect trip for our family. Every little thing was just wonderful and we enjoyed ourselves every minute. We loved, loved, loved the Peru trip five years ago, and have spent some time trying to decide if this one was “better.” We have ended up concluding that each Adventure was perfect for who and where our family was at the time we took it. So, on to the many pluses!


THE GUIDES

Oh, wow. I can’t possibly find enough positive adjectives to describe Laura and Robby! They had all the knowledge and enthusiasm and skill you would expect from a Disney guide, but they took it all to a higher level than on any of our previous Adventures. We just really clicked with both of them, and found them endlessly interesting in their own right, as well as so full of wonderful insight to the country and sights we were visiting.



My DD15 was assigned to write a paper comparing our judicial system with Ecuador’s, and Robby spent over an hour in detailed conversation with her, patiently explaining the many nuances of the government as it has evolved and is continuing to evolve in Ecuador. He also had such a huge depth of knowledge on any area of Ecuador that anyone asked about, we felt like we were getting college-seminar levels of information anytime anyone asked a random question on the bus rides. Yet he made it understandable and fascinating. By comparison, on our last day in Quito, we had lunch near a couple who had hired a private guide and were having their first meeting with him. We shamelessly eavesdropped as they asked many of the questions that had arisen on our trip. The answers were nowhere near as complete, nuanced, or engaging.

Laura was endlessly supportive and knowledgeable, and constantly adding to our comfort level in a thousand little ways. She gave us such good direction before every situation and event that we always felt one step ahead and prepared for anything . For a family of control-freaks, this really added value to our trip, as we were truly able to relax and never feel anxious about anything. Even in the Otavalo market, which I found a little overwhelming, Laura seemed to sense when we hit the wall and she magically appeared at our elbow to help us bargain and to interpret for us. She had an uncanny ability to make every guest feel that she was on their side in every situation. One guest was a sort-of vegetarian, but didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. Laura managed to casually drop by her table just as menus were going around, to make some suggestions for a perfect meal. Yet, it never felt like she was checking off a list or like she considered it a duty.

There are too many other examples to list, but I will be writing a long letter to ABD in praise of these two guides. Since Laura is pretty much the main American guide for this trip, if you take it in the next year or so, it is likely you will get to experience her fabulousness. I think Robby is not as much of a regular, but I know he is still planning on doing several of the 2013 departures.

On the ship, our naturalist Carlos was also fantastic. Endlessly energetic, patient when the group paused in one spot, fun for the kids, and funny with the adults. We couldn’t stump him with a single question. On the farm where we visited the tortoises, I even asked him to identify a bird we could hear but not see. He did, and later my DH got a photo of the bird. Sure enough, our little field guide agreed with Carlos. DD15 is a pretty big science nut, and he was able to give detailed scientific information to her on everything from the lava fields to the currents. She was in nerd heaven.


Wow, I’ve just written a novel and I’m still on the first highlight. Can you tell we loved this trip?



Next up: THE FOOD

We had not expected much from the food. We remembered the Peru food as somewhat bland and boring. What a difference a country makes! Every single day, at least once, found us exclaiming over some fabulous dish. The service both in Quito and on the ship was extremely elegant and civilized. We really enjoyed all the managing of silver and stem ware, and the beautiful presentation of the various plates.

In Quito, we ate in the hotel several times, bot h in the Mexican restaurant and the steakhouse, as well as at the breakfast buffet. All were top-notch. The Argentinian beef was so tender and delicious. The Mexican food was fresh and inspired. The omelets were great, and oh , my goodness – there was a chocolate/vanilla swirl pound cake-bread thingy at breakfast every morning that is my new definition of decadent. Any country that serves cake for breakfast is alright by me! This was also served at the Hacienda breakfast, which was not as lavish as the Marriott one but still tasty.
We also ate out in Quito twice for lunch at a restaurant Laura suggested, Mea Culpa. This was in Old Town on the main plaza and had gorgeous views as well as a beautiful interior. The food was divine and the service was fantastic. My little family even had lunch at the big mall one day, in a café called Hansel and Gretel, and we enjoyed the yummy comfort food they served.

On the ship, we were impressed by how rich a variety they served, and how fresh everything was. The pasta station at lunch was a big hit with everyone, and it was nice that our group got to be there first, as the line did get quite long later in the afternoon. The staff in the restaurant onboard was so attentive and proud of their meals. One of the chefs at lunch was always urging us to try something new and come back to tell him if we liked it. Javier, the dining manager, constantly checked to make sure we were happy. One night, I tried the Ostrich “steak.” When I really liked it, he seemed genuinely pleased, even offering to go get me more. Everything was augmented by yummy sauces and well-prepared vegetables.

There was always a chance to try “typical” Ecuadorian dishes, but overall it was just a nicely varied selection of very tasty dishes that represented many styles of cuisine.



THE SHIP

We really enjoyed the small-ship cruise experience, which was new to us. We are not a cruise family, a large-ship experience doesn’t really appeal to us. We were so pleasantly surprised by the comfort of our room (yes, the beds were hard, as mentioned by FamilygoBoston, but we actually liked that), the elegance of the public areas, and the attentiveness of the staff. At one point, we needed towels for a snorkel excursion before they had been replenished in the rooms. Victor, our cabin steward, literally ran to another level and ran back to get them to us. I was impressed by how, while we certainly saw others on the cruise, we never felt like we were crammed into a small confined area with too many people. The room was thoughtfully laid out, with roomy closets and a useful vanity/counter area in the main room. There were two drawers that locked, serving as safes, which was useful. The shower was great! Plenty of hot water and pressure at all times. We happened to luck into a room with a balcony and we loved sitting out there at down times and sunset.



Everything for the panga expeditions ran extremely smoothly. The crew has the boarding and returning procedures down to a science, with life jackets being presented and collected with clockwork precision and guests being safely loaded or offloaded to the pangas without missing a beat. Even those with mobility issues or a little extra weight to haul, or those with bulky bags, were ably assisted in a graceful manner. The guides are now advising us to just keep our snorkel gear and wetsuits with us in the cabins – maybe after FgB’s experience? We had brought our own masks and snorkels, but the ones provided by the ship were brand new and those who used them seemed to like them fine. It was a true advantage to be able to go first on the excursions, and the various groups were nicely spaced so it always felt we had the islands ourselves.

The extra touches like the cute towel animals and the daily schedules delivered to our rooms were really nice. The schedules were very helpful in their detail, telling us the hike difficulty for each activity and advising what to bring. All this information was given at our nightly briefings as well, but it was nice to have it in writing. It has also been nice that we kept each one and are now using them to piece together what we did each day with our pictures. Ordering extras onboard was easy as well. The bars and restaurant kept a running tab with our cabin number and it was easy to settle the final morning. Every day a naturalist was available during some of the down time, in the ship’s library. (Where, by the way, you can also find a stocked cookie jar at all hours!) My husband really enjoyed consulting with him about the fish seen on the snorkels, and there were several really good books available to study as well. (DD comes by the nerd thing honestly!)







EVERYTHING ELSE

Of course, we were there to see the highlands and the islands, and these did not disappoint. We found the scenery breathtaking and the animals fascinating. All the activities Disney had us do were great, and the pacing was very good. The rose plantation and condor park were great stops, we learned a lot at both and really enjoyed them, as well as got some excellent photos. The chance to see the animals and birds of the Galapagos was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and we were blown away by it. And ohmygosh those baby sea lions are cute!

I feel like so much has already been written about each activity that there’s no need to go into a lot of detail, but if you have any questions, of course I’m happy to elaborate.

The accommodations were very nice, though not over the top. We actually really liked the Hacienda, with the fire lit every night at the foot of our bed. The fire had an excellent draft, so while we got to enjoy it, we did not smell like smoke the next day. With an only child, we are always put together in a room instead of having a parent room and a kid room. It was nice that our room at the Hacienda was large, with a separate alcove for DD’s bed, and a second full bathroom. (increasingly important as we travel with a teenage girl!) The Marriott was lovely as well.

We really lucked out with our fellow adventurers, too. It was a great group, with everyone getting along and laughing all the time. The kids ranged in age from 11 to 17. The oldest tended to stick with the adults (though not always their own families and they were a delightful addition to any table.) The rest tended to run as a pack and really enjoyed each other. Tables were set up in 4s and 6s, and everyone sort of drifted in and out of configurations to eat with each other in various groupings. It was not unusual to cram more chairs at a table when discussions got lively.


Next post...TIPS

Last edited by kristilew; 01-03-2013 at 08:54 AM. Reason: added pictures
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Old 12-30-2012, 04:48 PM   #2
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A few TIPS


The first is an AIRLINE tip. We booked what we thought was a “continuing reservation” between USAirways and LAN airlines. In reality, they are two completely unaligned airlines who have no way to communicate with each other. I won’t go into the various issues this raised, as in the end we were extremely lucky that every flight was on time and we got where we needed to be. Just, when you book flights, make sure it is with compatible airlines. My travel agent would add, don’t book international flights through Travelocity, and I would have to ruefully agree with this.


We planned on one PRE DAY and two POST DAYS for this trip. I’m so glad we did. Especially with going at Christmastime, I knew we would be absolutely wrung out and exhausted just to get ourselves out of town, but you stress at any time of the year trying to go away for two weeks. We did not book any tours ahead of time and just gave ourselves permission to sleep in and rest up and relax on these extra days. It was so worth it. And when we did get a little restless and wanted to check out the area, it was the easiest thing in the world to arrange.


The first day, after a relaxing morning, we joined with another family and did the cable car at the Teleferiquo and then lunch in the Old Town Center. The Marriott concierge helped arrange for two cars with drivers to take us around, waiting for us at each location.

On one of the post days, honestly we caught up on our sleep all morning (this trip WILL tire you out!) But then we went to the big mall and looked around, had lunch, and DD and I got mani/pedis at a salon suggested by Laura. We took a car from the hotel to the mall - drivers are always waiting to take you somewhere – and easily caught a cab coming back. The second post day we wanted to return to Mea Culpa for lunch and then look into the churches in Old Town. The doorman explained this to a driver for us, and he dropped us off and returned for us a few hours later.


Even if you do nothing special on the pre and post days, It is worth it not to be exhausted starting the trip or heading home. Laura commented that she knew she had a large number of repeat ABD guests by how many had booked a preday – they knew this “trick” to a better adventure. For us, it was nice to meet so many of our fellow adventurers a day early. There were eight families on the trip (30 people), and only one was new to ABD.


One note on the JW Marriott. This hotel does have smoking floors. On the return portion of the trip, we were put in a room on the third floor which was supposedly a non smoking room, but the floor is a smoking floor. The smell in the hallways was very strong, and in our room it was definitely there as well. The hotel staff was wonderful about switching us and moving our luggage. But if you are sensitive to this, making sure you are on a nonsmoking floor when you check in would be good. (Or, I suppose if you smoke, it would be useful to know that there are rooms for you.)


The ALTITUDE does have an effect. Remember to watch for a headache at the base of your skull, a feeling of being slightly off balance, or a sour tummy. We carried our standby BC Powders, which are just aspirin and caffeine, and they continued to work their wonders at restoring us. But we did all feel the altitude here even more than we did in Peru.


Other HEALTH ISSUES: Do pack a supply of immodium. Even if you are super careful about the water, you will get some in your system when you snorkel. Better safe than sorry. Also, the ship is kind of like a plane, with the recirculated air. We kept up our intake of Airborne and felt like it kept us healthy.


SEASICKNESS: A lot of people had issues with their tummies on the ship. My family spends a lot of time on regular (not cruise) large boats, and we think there’s nothing better than being rocked to sleep. Not everyone felt that way! You could definitely feel the motion of the ship at all times, and when it was underway it could get pretty rough. If you know you get seasick, or if you’ve never had the chance to find out, it would be worthwhile to look into some prevention. The sea bands, worn on the wrist like tennis sweat bands, seemed to help those who had them. I saw some other passengers with the little dots stuck behind their ears, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to them to see if that was helpful. I think there are prescription meds you can get as well.


SHOES: You need good walking shoes, of course. On the islands, water shoes like Keens or Tevas are a good call. There are also days where it would be good to just have a pair of flip-flop type sandals. The wet landings are fine to do barefoot, and on several of the walks you could just continue that way. They are short and sandy. There is one wet-landing that is followed by a longer walk over rougher terrain. Those of us with older feet appreciated the support of our good water shoes – the kids got frustrated with the sand that got in their shoes, though. One family had the kind of water shoes used for pool aerobics, which were more closed, and this seemed like a good compromise. I think they were made by Ryka.


DRESSING FOR DINNER: The ship’s website encourages dinner dress. However, since our little group has its own room, it’s not really an issue. About half of us had brought slightly nicer clothes for dinner, and the other half not. Everyone felt comfortable in whatever they wore.


RAINCOATS: We were really lucky with the weather, and for the most part only needed our raincoats as windbreakers. However, on the day we left the ship, everyone packed their raincoats in the checked luggage for some reason. Probably because this was the first day in while that we hadn’t been given overly specific instruction on what to carry. Anyway, it did rain fitfully the whole time we were on San Cristobal, and it was pouring when we landed in the mainland. Laura did pull out ABD rain ponchos for those of us who wanted them, but this would be a good day to keep your raincoat with you just in case.


PACKING: thanks to earlier trip reports, we knew that we needed highland luggage and island luggage. So DD and I packed together, one suitcase for each. This made the last night at the hacienda so easy. We had never even opened our “island” suitcase yet, and it was ready to go with just the addition of our toiletries. Meanwhile, our dirty clothes from the first part of the trip and the clean ones reserved for the last few days, were ready to go the Marriott to await our return. Of course, since we were an odd-numbered family, DH was stuck just packing for himself. But at least he knew ahead of time and had his stuff grouped accordingly, so he just took out the highland items and sent them back in the provided duffel.


Also, I’m sure most of the travelers on this board already do this, but it pays to pack your really important stuff in your carryon, along with at least one change of clothes. One family did have two of their bags not make it to Quito at the start of the trip. Since we are on the move so quickly, and since the Ecuadoran system is not quite as focused on reuniting bags with owners, it was touch-and-go as to whether they would get their stuff before we left for the islands. Due to some amazing efforts by the ABD staff, the bags were recovered the last night we were in the highlands. But that is still a lot of days to rewear clothes. Laura did make sure they got some ABD teeshirts and toiletries, which was nice.


FINALLY, this was an amazing trip. But it is a strenuous itinerary. Maturity, flexibility, and stamina are required, especially on transfer days. I think it’s probably not the best trip to start experimenting with adventure travel, and I think the age limit should really be raised to 10. But for older kids or experienced travelers, I really think this is a wonderful Adventure.

Last edited by kristilew; 01-23-2013 at 10:03 AM.
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Old 01-01-2013, 11:14 AM   #3
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Thanks for the report, kristilew. You make this sound like such a great trip! (Along with making me realize I have yet to read CastleandDreams and familygotoboston's reports. Bad Sayhello! I know what I'll be doing today!) I worry about the seasickness, I worry about the altitude. I haven't got the best digestive system anymore, and struggle with big ship cruises. We'll see. I will probably break down one of these years & go. Because it really does sound amazing.

Your Adventure Guides sound wonderful. I love how every single report I read lauds the virtues of their Guides. They really are spectacular, all in their own way.

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Old 01-01-2013, 03:13 PM   #4
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Thanks, SayHello! I think you could handle it fine...just would need some thoughtful planning and lots of "just in case" stuff! It really was the most amazing trip!

I've added some pictures but can't for the life of me remember how to adjust the size. I think you told me once....if there's a way to make them a little less giant, I will go back and do that!
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Old 01-01-2013, 06:24 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by kristilew View Post
Thanks, SayHello! I think you could handle it fine...just would need some thoughtful planning and lots of "just in case" stuff! It really was the most amazing trip!

I've added some pictures but can't for the life of me remember how to adjust the size. I think you told me once....if there's a way to make them a little less giant, I will go back and do that!
Thanks, kristilew. I'll definitely keep it towards the top of the list.

For the pictures, it's an option in photobucket. If you go to your account settings, then to the album settings tab, then click on "view upload options", you can change the size the photos are uploaded as. I use 640 x 480, but you can experiment on what size works best for you.

Let me know if you have any problems with that!

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Old 01-03-2013, 06:39 AM   #6
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Happy Dance!!

Can't wait to read your review..just found it and don't have time this AM, but can't wait to dig in!! First photo I see you had Laura and Robbie, so I know without reading that everything went perfectly! Thank you for the shout out, but of course we'd still all love to hear your take and see your photos!!
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Old 01-03-2013, 07:15 AM   #7
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Great trip report and tips - thanks! This is another one on my bucket list.

I am a little concerned about sea sickness. I'm fine on cruise ships (even during rough seas), but have a harder time on smaller ships. But hopefully meds will help!
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Old 01-11-2013, 12:21 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by kristilew View Post
FINALLY, this was an amazing trip. But it is a strenuous itinerary. Maturity, flexibility, and stamina are required, especially on transfer days. I think it’s probably not the best trip to start experimenting with adventure travel, and I think the age limit should really be raised to 10. But for older kids or experienced travelers, I really think this is a wonderful Adventure.
Great report!! Loved the photos.
So, I just want to clarify, would you not recommend this trip as a first ABD? Or just not as a first adventure travel? I have not done an ABD, but I traveled to Peru & Costa Rica (separate trips) last year.

P.S. I can't believe you thought the Peruvian food was bland!! I love Peruvian food, espcially lomo saltado. Was there a specific restuarant you did not enjoy? There was a restaurant that gets high reviews on tripadvisor & in Lonely Planet in Olltaytambo that we thought was horrible, but more so for their service than the food.
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Old 01-11-2013, 02:06 PM   #9
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wow this is so amazing I hope I don't disappoint people after they read this and FamilygoBoston's trip report. You've both raised the bar pretty high. I'm really glad now that I booked and extra day on both ends of our upcoming trip. Can't wait for the rest of your report!
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Old 01-11-2013, 03:44 PM   #10
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Great report!! Loved the photos.
So, I just want to clarify, would you not recommend this trip as a first ABD? Or just not as a first adventure travel? I have not done an ABD, but I traveled to Peru & Costa Rica (separate trips) last year.

P.S. I can't believe you thought the Peruvian food was bland!! I love Peruvian food, espcially lomo saltado. Was there a specific restuarant you did not enjoy? There was a restaurant that gets high reviews on tripadvisor & in Lonely Planet in Olltaytambo that we thought was horrible, but more so for their service than the food.

Oh, I meant it wouldn't be the best first ever trip out of the country. If you've done the kind of travel that requires patience and occasional "sucking it up," then you're fine for this. If one were nervous about airports, customs, not speaking the language, not being able to find familiar food, etc, it might be better to start with a slightly less intense trip. And for little kids, it just takes a lot of stamina to keep up, and it requires eating when it's time to eat, even if the chicken nuggets don't seem like the ones at home.

Which brings us to the food and your PS....on the ABDs, it's not like you are choosing restaurants or even meals on your own. And since apparently there are far more picky eaters than not that go on these trips, Disney shoots for a middle of the road balance that allows everyone to find something to eat, but rarely knocks anything out of the park. We did have a couple of good meals in Peru, especially in Lima, but for the most part it was pretty basic. It was nothing like the choice and excellence we found on the Ecuador trip. I'm sure there is some fabulous food in Peru, it's just that we didn't have as much time to explore on our own.
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Old 01-12-2013, 08:37 AM   #11
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wow this is so amazing I hope I don't disappoint people after they read this and FamilygoBoston's trip report. You've both raised the bar pretty high. I'm really glad now that I booked and extra day on both ends of our upcoming trip. Can't wait for the rest of your report!
It's not possible to disappoint! We all love reading reports and everyone has different "takes" on the trip! Can't wait to read yours...have a great trip!
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