Taking a trip with a grandchild can be one of life’s most treasured experiences. There’s nothing quite like the time you spend before and during the trip with them. It is one-on-one, sharing the excitement with them in exploring the options, finally selecting the perfect trip for them and then the actual doing. We chose to take each grandchild on a trip by themselves when they were eleven. (See Grand Trips with Grandkids for why we chose eleven and other tips.) It was one of the best decisions of our lives and we are so happy to have three more grandchildren to plan and take trips in the next few years.
The feature trip for this article is the Galapagos Islands with grandkids. A truly magical vacation for a child who is fascinated with birds, animals and fish, particularly the rare species only found on the Galapagos Islands. We chose a National Geographic cruise which was a great choice if you are going with a child. Rather than just give you my point of view on the trip, I interviewed my granddaughter Grace to get her perspective, as well.
Grace: I liked that the boat was small and I could walk around without getting lost. The food was pretty good and they had some interesting things to try but normal food I could eat if I didn’t like it. I was glad the guides didn’t spend too much time talking on one thing. They would move on before you got too bored.
D (what my grandchildren call me): I confess that I did not like the ship. Having been on other cruises like Silverseas and Regent, I was really missing the luxury. The cabins are small by comparison and the food is best described as average. However, it was perfect for Grace. I think National Geographic probably attracts more families that the luxury lines that are now cruising the Galapagos Islands which meant she made friends with kids near her age. Also, I could not fault the guides. They were well educated, knew the islands and everything you would want to know about every species of plants, fish, and animals, the island’s history and more – truly first-rate.
Grace: It was all so fun and hard to pick just five but here goes.
1. I absolutely LOVED landing on Isla Fernandina and seeing hundreds, maybe thousands of marine iguanas piled up all over the place. You couldn’t take a step without touching one. I took a close-up of this guy!
2. Snorkeling in shallow water with fish, turtles, and sea lions just coming right up to me. A sea lion mom and her baby swam around my legs. It was amazing!
3. Taking the glass bottom boat to see the sharks. They were right under my feet. We saw one when we were deep sea snorkeling but it was pretty scary. Better to see them from a boat. (D agrees!)
4. Walking along the beach with sea lions and iguanas. You really had to watch where you were walking. Sometimes they would roll around in the sand and you couldn’t tell they were there until you were right upon them.
5. Hiking up the volcano. I was the only kid that did it but it was really fun. D got pretty tired and Pops (the grandfather) stayed at the bar on the ship. I took a photo of this guy along the way.
D: Seeing the Galapagos Islands with grandkids is a truly unique experience. So not surprisingly, the most fun for me was spending time with Grace and watching her delight at every new discovery. Of sightings and experiences, here are my favs.
1. Standing on the deck one morning and watching a school of hundreds of dolphins swim by. They were frolicking and breaching nonstop as they swam by. Fascinating.
2. Watching the blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance was my very favorite bird/animal viewing. We were fortunate to be there during their mating season.
3. Another fascinating bird indigenous to the Galapagos Islands is the magnificent frigatebird. During courtship, the males inflate bright-red flaps of skin around their necks until they look like giant balloons to attract females.
4.The Galapagos Islands are also famous for their turtles. Some of them were as big as a small Volkswagen.
5. Sunset viewing on the deck in the evening was a great way to end the day. Grace loved watching the waters for any sign of marine life as the boat sped along to our next destination.
When to go: The peak season lasts from mid-June through early September and from mid-December through mid-January. December through May, the air and water are warmer but it is a wetter season. We went mid-March during Spring Break and it was hot but we had almost no rain the week we were there. This is also the breeding season for the land birds so you have a good chance of seeing the blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance.
Cruise Lines: There was a time when National Geographic Expeditions owned this itinerary for anyone seeking a high-end experience. However, Celebrity Cruises offers a great cruise that attracts lots of families but beware, it sells out really fast during holidays, spring break and summer. While Silversea’s is a fabulous cruise line and the accommodations/food would be top notch, I’m not sure it would be the best choice for seeing the Galapagos Islands with grandkids.
What to Pack: Super casual clothes for the most part and rain gear, especially if you’re going during the rainy season. A pair of good walking shoes that you don’t mind getting wet are a must. All of the visits to the islands involve boarding a Zodiac with deboarding either on a beach with a good chance of your shoes getting wet or climbing onto rocks where your shoes needed a good tread to prevent slipping. A packable hat with a brim to protect your face from the intense sun for yourself and grandchild are as critical as your shoes. An underwater camera for deep sea snorkeling, a couple of bathing suits, loads of sunscreen and you will be all set.
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