Galápagos sea lions
Matt Dutile

Galápagos cruising at its most evolved aboard the MV Origin 

By Terry Ward

Two crazy things occur simultaneously on my first day in the Galápagos Islands. One: I am voluntarily snorkeling in water barely 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Two: Kicking just ahead of me is my septuagenarian mother—calling out, "Shark!" before swimming toward the animal for a closer view.

In the months leading up to our family cruise in the Galápagos, my sister and I had taken my parents on a few training sessions, so we'd be better prepared to snorkel in Darwin's realm. It hadn't been pretty. In the Florida Keys, my father had bellied back onto the boat, mask completely fogged up and gasping for breath. And in Jamaica, my mother had been terrified by the open water and what might be lurking in it. Yet here we were, minutes into our Galápagos vacation and finning toward a toothy predator.

The volcanic shores of the Galápagos Islands
Matt Dutile

The Galápagos has that effect: In the wild, you grow bold.

And while we may be swimming with the sharks, we are cruising in a floating lap of luxury. Our home for seven nights is the 20-passenger mega yacht MV Origin, stretching a pristinely polished 142 feet long. The 10 staterooms have large windows for eyeing the volcanic scenery, and the ensuite baths are similarly open to the outside, so you can sightsee while you shampoo. There's a hot tub astern for stargazing. And the upper deck is a sleek assembly of off-white daybeds, chaises, and hammocks.

Private-yacht pleasures aboard the MV Origin
Matt Dutile

It's an intimate ship, but a mighty crew: 13, including two Galápagos National Park naturalists whose informed commentary appeals as much to the 7-year-old Manhattanite among us as it does to my 71-year-old parents. But this is not a lecture cruise. "If you think you're on vacation, I'm sorry. It's like a summer camp," says our naturalist, Maria Gabriela Espinoza Peña, as she details another day's itinerary that will include more snorkeling, sea kayaking excursions to spot sea lions, and nature walks ashore.

Marine iguana
Matt Dutile

At Punta Suarez, on the southernmost island of Española, we step from our Zodiac to part a sea of marine iguanas commandeering the pathway like a welcoming committee. ("They're charging their batteries in the sun," Peña quips.) On Bartolomé Island, my sister and I opt to climb 400 wooden stairs to a viewpoint, while my parents join the wee New Yorker and Peña for a shoreline cruise. We hear later that they hit a Galápagos jackpot: mating penguins.

Blue-footed booby
Matt Dutile

I feel like everything is a Galápagos jackpot. We paddle past blue-footed boobies, have our swim fins nipped by a baby sea lion, and simply loll in a hammock on deck while watching frigate birds ride the ship's thermals.

Just like savvy managers in a casino who arrive with a free cocktail at the moment that you're thinking of leaving the slot machine, our crew anticipates our need for recovery with the perfect incentive: a fresh juice and warm empanada, or a table laden with Ecuadorean seafood specialties for lunch. On our final day, my sister and I consider bailing on the sunset snorkeling excursion for a celebratory coupe of sparkling wine. We are tired from squeezing into our wetsuits, and happy hour is calling.

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But there are our parents—born-again snorkelers if ever there were—already zipped into their neoprene and shouting from the Zodiac. "C'mon, girls! Who knows what we'll see!"

Cocktails can wait. The wildlife and shared wonder of the Galápagos, I remind myself, will not.

Terry Ward is a freelance travel writer based in Tampa, Florida.

Top Secret
September to mid-December is low season for cruising in the Galápagos, when the garúa (mist) brings cooler temperatures but mostly dry, comfortable days. You'll share the ship with fewer people at this time, heightening the private-yacht effect.

Take it Home
Buy a bag of organic Galápagos-grown coffee from family farm Lava Java in the highlands of Santa Cruz.

Book it Now
Ecoventura's MV Origin runs year-round, seven-night cruises in the Galápagos from San Cristobal. Rates start at $7,850 and include all meals and snacks, open bar, excursions, watersports, and gear;