On a small expedition ship like this one, don't expect rock climbing walls, bowling alleys or lavish production shows. The key attraction is the exotic but accessible Galapagos wildlife, and all activities focus on getting passengers up-close and personal with it.
Off-ship excursions (included in the cost of the cruise) are led by experienced naturalist guides who can spot elusive Pacific seahorses hiding in sargassum algae, identify each species of Darwin finch and explain the difference between aa and pahoehoe lava. One day you might walk along a beach to a lagoon where flamingoes feed; the next, you might take a panga boat into a secluded alcove where you can snorkel with sea turtles or sea lions.
For all longer or more intensive hikes, there are shorter versions (or alternatives, such as panga rides to look for wildlife) for passengers with mobility issues. Guides are sensitive to health concerns and will do their best to tailor activities as necessary.
Back onboard, the ship's activities have an educational focus to help passengers learn more about the islands. Each evening before dinner, everyone assembles in the lounge for a briefing in which the guides share photos from the day's activities, preview the schedule for the next day and give an informative talk on such topics as the geology or marine life of the Galapagos. Some sailings feature guest lecturers that include wildlife and conservation expert Joan Embery or Zoo Miami's Ron Magill.
The night of our Puerto Ayora call, we had a special pre-dinner treat: A group of local musicians and dancers came aboard for a live performance. Passengers gathered in the open-air bar and sipped glasses of hot canelazo, a drink from the Andean highlands made of sugar cane alcohol and cinnamon, while costumed dancers twirled to South American rhythms played on wooden flute, goatskin drum and other traditional instruments. In the end, passengers and crew alike joined in the dance.
Aside from organized activities, passengers seemed happy enough to entertain themselves -- either with good conversation or a book.
The homey, wood-paneled lounge on B Deck is the primary gathering point for informational talks and daily activity briefings. Although there are windows and portholes on three sides, these remain shaded most of the time to keep the room cool. A dozen chairs in the center face a flat-screen TV for slideshow presentations or movies. Around the perimeter are comfy leather couches with throw pillows.
Naturalists chart the ship's itinerary each day on a large wall map on the right of the television. On the other side is the library corner, where several shelves offer everything from bestselling novels to Galapagos field guides and, naturally, Darwin's "Origin of Species."
Between the dining room and the lounge is a reception desk with a basket of candy (free for the taking) and a lost-and-found area, as well as a small shop where you can purchase items like Crocs, a sweatshirt or a sun hat at rather lofty prices.
Toward the bow of B Deck is the sun deck, where four lounge chairs and a spacious hot tub beckon. It's also where wetsuits and other snorkeling equipment are hung out to dry between outings. Take the stairs up from the main sun deck, and you'll reach a second, smaller sun deck right in front of the bridge, where there's a pair of double loungers perfect for stargazing with your sweetheart after dinner. The bridge is open to passengers for visits at any time.
On the top deck over the stern is the open-air bar. After the final hike or panga ride of the day, passengers gather there to recap their adventures while noshing on snacks and enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail or two. There are enough comfy chairs and couches to seat just about everyone on the ship, and the area is covered with a canopy in case of rain or hot sun. This is also a popular spot for passengers who elect to play hooky from one of the day's activities in favor of a few hours of relaxing with a volume from the ship's library.
Evolution's infirmary is in the middle of C Deck. A doctor travels with the ship and is on call 24 hours a day. On our sailing, he treated a variety of minor ailments -- splinters, motion sickness, traveler's diarrhea, an ear infection -- and several passengers expressed how grateful they were that he was there.
There is no elevator on the ship, and the stairs between decks can be steep. It's important to keep hold of the handrail when going up or down -- especially when the ship is moving -- and to wear shoes with good traction; one passenger shod in flip-flops took quite a spill on our cruise. (Fortunately, she wasn't hurt.)
There is no gym or exercise equipment aboard Evolution, but each day's excursions offer opportunities to stay active. Snorkeling, swimming and walking are major parts of the itinerary, and there are occasional chances to kayak or do more intensive hiking, as well.
You can soothe any sore muscles with a quick dip in the hot tub on B Deck. It's a favorite spot to relax and warm up after snorkeling outings. If you'd like to use it at other times of day, the staff will be happy to fill it for you with a little advance notice.
As expedition trips go, the Galapagos is a popular destination for families. What kid doesn't like animals, after all? Although most passengers on Evolution are adults, the ship does welcome children who are at least 7 years old, and naturalists make a special effort to engage the kids during hikes and other activities.
Note that there are no special areas or programs for kids, so parents considering a trip may want to bring some entertainment options (like a tablet stocked with movies) to keep young ones occupied during siestas or other down time. The ship has a limited number of wetsuits for kids.