A Galapagos land iguana // © 2018 Getty Images
Feature image (above): Quasar Expeditions’ M/Y Grace yacht was restored to its formery glory. // © 2018 Quasar Expeditions
Sitting in the outdoor hot tub on Quasar Expeditions’ M/Y Grace yacht with a cool drink in hand, I felt like I had plenty in common with those featured on the television show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” except for one little problem — I am neither rich, nor famous. But there I was in the Galapagos Islands, experiencing the yacht once owned by Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace (aka Grace Kelly) of Monaco.
There’s something to be said for sailing on a ship that has such history. It was surreal to imagine that the luxury ship I was on once served as a war vessel dispatched to the beaches of Dunkirk, France, to evacuate the British Expeditionary Force during World War II. Shortly after a stint in the U.K.’s Royal Navy, Grace was purchased by Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, who eventually gave it to Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace as a wedding gift. After many owners and many lives, it was purchased by Quasar Expeditions and restored to its former glory. Today, Grace is one of the most elegant ships sailing the Galapagos Islands.
Our seven-day cruise began from San Cristobal Island. Grace can accommodate a maximum of 18 passengers, and on our sailing, there were 17 — including one senior and two children. With such a small number of passengers with varied needs, the sailing experience is very personalized. A high staff-to-passenger ratio ensures that everyone is well-looked-after.
The nine guest cabins on Grace range from 137 to 194 square feet. Designer Adriana Hoyos updated all accommodations last October, and public spaces include a living room, a dining room, a sundeck, an outside bar, an outdoor lounge and a hot tub.
We ate lunch on the way to our first stop. Meals are served alfresco in a lovely outdoor dining area at the ship’s stern. Each meal was prepared and displayed beautifully. The ship has a well-trained kitchen staff, but to keep things interesting, the line brings in guest chefs on some sailings. We were fortunate to have Jose Sogues, a Spanish chef who works in Quito, Ecuador, on our cruise.
The adventure of exploring the Galapagos Islands began on our very first day, when we snorkeled with sea lions off Isla Lobos, a tiny islet off the west coast of San Cristobal. The playful “wolves of the sea” didn’t seem at all bothered by our presence, and some of the younger, more curious animals swam right up to us.
Our two excursion guides, Raphael and Carolina, would often split our group for excursions. The more adventurous members snorkeled or hiked while the others enjoyed a panga boat ride or a short walk looking for wildlife. The guides’ knowledge was incredible, and having two of them ensured that everyone in the group would see wildlife — regardless of physical limitations. They carefully planned our departure times so that we had most sites all to ourselves.
Over the course of the weeklong sailing, we visited eight islands and saw a vast array of birds and wildlife on land and in the water. We snorkeled with sea lions, sea turtles, sharks, dolphins, penguins and many different kinds of fish. We watched the mating ritual of the waved albatross, saw colorful marine iguanas, observed blue-footed boobies in a feeding frenzy and watched male frigatebirds inflate their red gular pouches to attract females. Amid the violent beauty of these volcanic islands, I often felt as if I had stepped back in time thousands of years.
Each night as I enjoyed a gourmet meal — and later relaxed with a cool drink on Grace’s top deck lounge — I became convinced that there is no better way to explore the Galapagos Islands. I suppose there’s something to be said for the lifestyles of the rich and famous.