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Oceania Marina Baltic Cruise Review

Oceania Marina Baltic Cruise Second-Rate Despite Fine Itinerary

 The Oceania Marina is a fine new ship, in service since 2011, with little signs of wear to its fixtures.  Our stateroom, as mentioned previously, was first-rate and so are most of the public areas. But after completing our Oceania Marina Baltic Cruise, we won’t book Oceania for another sailing.

Even considering our lengthy history with the cruise line going back to the R-Ships, breaking up is not that hard to do. We decided never to sail Oceania again in the finals days of our Baltic cruise. It was a surprise decision, something we never imagined. Oceania was the cruise line we’d always told others was “our favorite.”  We tell them a different story now.  It’s not as good as it was, that they can sail most of the same itineraries for far less.

What did we find so unsatisfactory we won’t sail Oceania again?  Based on our expensive experience, Oceania has become a second-rate, lower quality version of its former self.  Oceania wasn’t operating like an upper premium  cruise line should. (This link suddenly no longer works. Why? Answer at  the end.) Perhaps the most obvious example of its decline is our blog describing how our cruise began in Stockholm, Sweden.  The Marina was the only cruise ship not docked near a terminal and the Marina did not offer any sort of shelter for its arriving travelers. As a result, a good number of passengers were forced to stand in the rain, waiting in line to board. Not the kind of treatment you would expect from an upper premium class cruise line, (Thankfully, we were lucky enough to board before it rained.)

This blog will deal more with day-to-day concerns. And it should be pointed out we were not the only ones dissatisfied with Oceania last summer.

Oceania Marina Main Dining RoomOceania Main Dining Room meals are as subdued as the decor

The travel agent who booked our cruise is with one of the country’s largest agencies. After we returned home,  he asked about our experience on the Oceania Marina. We told him how much the dining had deteriorated. He wasn’t surprised, saying “Other passengers had said the same thing, that the food had declined and that they were cutting back on quality.”

Our poor Oceania experience was not out of the ordinary.

Marina  Dining Hit or Miss   

Dining is one of the most important aspects of any cruise, but particularly on one like Oceania which touts “The Finest Cuisine at Sea.”   

That was not our overall experience in the main dining room or Terrace Café. While we were served numerous picturesque dishes, many were bland, tasteless and totally forgettable. Imagine being trapped on a ship dedicated to the current cuisine fad favoring presentation over flavor, of feeding the eyes and ignoring one’s taste buds. Such frou-frou sometimes resulted in unappetizing combinations. One night in the main dining room, I couldn’t find an appealing appetizer or salad.  That was a remarkable kitchen accomplishment.

Some other passengers avoided the main dining room for a different reason. One Canadian woman explained once there was enough for her because  “It’s just too pretentious.”  Pretentious is a term you don’t often hear, so I was surprised to hear the same term from several American couples at separate times about the pompous attitude in general of the cruise staff and particularly at public functions. Grandiosity definitely did flow at the cocktail party for past Oceania passengers, but that silliness  didn’t really concern us.

The poor dining did.  For breakfast, the only place we visited was the Terrace Café because service in the main dining room was sometimes slow. The waiters there did their best but it was obvious they were understaffed, especially in the evenings.  With the Marina visiting a new port almost every day, we didn’t want to waste time waiting to be served breakfast. Although the dining room might offer more variety than the buffet, in our experience most cruise lines vary their breakfast buffet from day-to-day to prevent monotonous selections.

Same Food, Always Lukewarm

Breakfast in the Terrace Café, however, varied little. It did become too repetitive.  A single new egg dish might appear every other day while pancakes and waffles  were infrequent. What also never changed was how the buffet warming pans were poorly heated. The way to avoid lukewarm/chilly eggs was forego the buffet pans for the Terrace grill where they could be freshly prepared. A similar option for heating other “warm” buffet items did not exist. Too bad there wasn’t a microwave available. As for breakfast pastries, they were nothing to look forward to. Many were unusually dry, somewhat crumbly and with negligible taste. Bread was the safest bet.

Oceania Marina Jacques French Bistro Specialty RestaurantJacques French Bistro was sometimes open for lunch

For lunch, you will not go wrong at the outdoor Waves Grill. Wonderful sandwiches made fresh to order with no effort to dumb down their taste. The selection was large enough for a new sandwich every day for a week.  The Waves Grill was a viable lunchtime option for the Terrace Café which started out strong but gradually deteriorated.

The Terrace Cafe at both lunch and dinner was consistently reliable for its sushi and its salads, especially the individual Caesar salads made to order quickly. In the evening, its  grill also was dependable for steak and  lobster. Adjacent to the grill you could have a freshly prepared different Asian wok dish most nights; those were usually excellent. Regardless of the quality of its specialty stations,  the Terrace Café’s primary flaws remained at all meals: semi-warm/cool  bland buffet foods that too often wouldn’t match a Golden Corral all-you-can-eat restaurant.

The Terrace Cafe will be remembered for the worst lasagna Linda ever tasted.  And the slice of semi-petrified apple pie with dehydrated  fillings that must have been in a freezer for a long, long time. Should have taken a photo of that.  But the dehydrated pie also explained why the breakfast pastries were so dry as well as cookies in the concierge lounge. They’d all been trapped in the same freezer.

Room Service Poor & Limited 

Room service was available virtually anytime. With the exception of its breakfast options, the menu was small, basic and never varied during the cruise. We didn’t dare request breakfast room service after making our one and only order for a simple late lunch: sandwiches and salads.  The sandwiches,  made of unusually dry bread and minimal, flavorless ingredients were left mostly uneaten.  The salads weren’t quite as bad but hardly up to Terrace Café standards. Both  sandwiches and salads tasted as if they were made days before and then shoved into a refrigerator. A good hotel would never dare offer such lousy room service fare.

Yet operating a superb room service is not beyond the ability of other cruise lines. Some gladly deliver anything from the ship’s  lunch and dinner menus while the main dining room actively serves those meals. Not on Oceania.

We cannot imagine an extended cruise on the Oceania Marina. We once spent 35 days on Holland America’s Maasdam and found the dining not only varied but exceptionally good. After 12 days on the Oceania Marina, we were eager to eat elsewhere.

Linda and I are foodies.  See our posts on cruise dining aboard the  Maasdam and  National Geographic Endeavour.  Those who praise Oceania for its  fine dining may  base it on the specialty restaurants–which, regretfully, are not open for three meals a day.  And are not representative of Oceania’s  ordinary dining venues.  

The Exceptional  Specialty Restaurants

The saving grace at dinner was the four specialty restaurants: Jacques (French), Toscana (Italian), Red Ginger (Asian) and Polo
Grill .

Our meals matched  the high standards we recalled from previous cruises.  All of the Marina’s specialty restaurants do offer some of the “finest cuisine at sea.”  Unfortunately, a shortage of  dining room waiters sometimes spoiled an otherwise perfect evening.

Oceania’s no extra-charge specialty restaurants are much sought-after by passengers ravenous for quality cuisine. Except for Jacques, open for lunch on occasion, the specialty restaurants serve dinner only and require  advance reservations, which limits their access.

The specialty restaurants demonstrated the Marina could serve flavorful meals. When it chose to.

Oceania Marina Red Ginger Specialty RestaurantRed Ginger’s flavors are as pronounced as its colors

The most popular restaurant on our cruise seemed to be Red Ginger with its spicy Asian menu.   Red Ginger lives up its name. so if you don’t appreciate a pronounced ginger flavor, this isn’t the restaurant for you. We dined there twice, when all reservations were booked. Yet we noticed quite a few tables without place settings when other passengers wanted to be there. Were the restaurant’s three cooks working in view at the back of the room unable to accommodate any more diners?  Or did the vacant tables reflect a lack of servers? Or more cutting back?

Our favorite of the four restaurants was long reliable Polo Grill featuring high-grade steaks, lobster, chicken, pork and lamb. The only time we could book this restaurant was for the last night of the cruise.   This will sound exaggerated but it’s true: when I tasted the garlic mashed potatoes accompanying my entree, it was a jolt to my system. I realized how starved I was for garlic and every other flavor. This was the first and only time on the 12-day cruise I tasted any distinctive seasoning except at Red Ginger.

Our long-awaited Polo Grill evening  turned into a disaster due to understaffing.  Thirty minutes after receiving our dessert menus we still were unable to order. A group of eight had arrived just as we were handed our dessert list. Our waiter and his helper were so busy attending to the new group they didn’t take time to scribble down our short order.

Tired of waiting, we left our table. We mentioned our situation to the manager, who consulted the table chart showing the tables our server was assigned. He said, “But he’s only serving 12 people. I don’t understand how this could happen.” Maybe because the arrival of eight was monopolizing his time?

Although the restaurant manager wasn’t doing anything in particular, he didn’t call for anyone to assist us or even consider helping us.  Perhaps he missed the memo about providing  “upper premium class” service?

The Moody Marina  

With the exception of The Polo Grill manager, the cruise staff always was helpful and acted friendly yet something felt off, not quite  right. Linda and I can’t put our finger on precisely what it is. We think back to other cruises.

“These people don’t seem happy.”

Indeed, they didn’t. Waiters did not joke with or act especially friendly toward passengers they saw every day. We noticed very few of the staff going out of their way to interact with passengers. Exceptions were the cruise director (he does his job well), all of the room stewards on our floor and the concierge lounge staff. They couldn’t have been nicer or more efficient.

Otherwise, whenever passengers were not gathered together, the Oceania Marina often felt like an abandoned ship.

Oceania Cruises Sold To NCL

The very day we disembark the Marina, it was announced that Prestige Cruise Holdings– parent company of Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises—had sold both cruise lines to Norwegian Cruise Line. No wonder Oceania crew members were unhappy. They had to be wondering their futures under new ownership since rumors of the impending sale must have been well known.

Reading the NCL press release confirmed our impression that the dining had deteriorated noticeably.  As our travel agent later pointed out, Oceania probably cut back on dining quality in order to increase its profit line before completing the sale to NCL. Cutting costs would also account for the chronic understaffing we encountered..

The PR release also stated NCL would pay Oceania’s parent company “a cash consideration of up to $50 million to Prestige shareholders would be payable upon achievement of certain 2015 performance metrics.”

Oceania Cruises performance metrics should place customer satisfaction near the top.  Our Oceania dining experience lowered our satisfaction with Oceania from 10 to 3 or 4. Whatever happens with NCL/Oceania in the future, for better or worse, we won’t be back to find out.  It would be too costly a gamble and, frankly, there are too many other good cruise lines to choose from less pretentious, less expensive and more dependable.  We know not to care about Oceania anymore.

This is the slowest blog in history because we  never wanted to get to where we shout “the king has no clothes!”  Ironically, Oceania’s recently updated website lacks any previous claims (dead link above)  of   its “upper premium class” status  that I can find.   New owner,  new  reality?  The latest corporate description of Oceania is of a comfortable, upscale cruise. Yet the prices remain premium class.    

New 2012 Attractions at Orlando Theme Parks

 

Legoland-1               Orlando’s newest theme park, LEGOLAND Florida, is the 2nd LEGOLAND
               in the U.S. and only the 6th LEGOLAND theme park in the world.

Visitors to Orlando this summer will find numerous changes in all the large theme parks. Some years the changes are minimal but this year the additions and renovations are unusually plentiful.

This is why so many visitors return to Orlando year after year. Always something new to experience.

LEGOLAND Florida

Since opening Oct. 15, 2011, LEGOLAND Florida park attendance figures are surpassing expectations, according to LEGOLAND sources. A new water park opening in summer 2012 features a wave pool, Build-A-Raft lazy river, tube slides, body slides and an interactive water-play structure (of Legos, of course).

SeaWorld Orlando

turtletreklogo_282x88Opened in April,  Turtle Trek follows a sea turtle’s life struggle via a 3D film in a 360 dome theater. Replacing the long-time manatee attraction, Turtle Trek also features two large habitats, one containing manatees and freshwater fish. The second houses more than 1,500 saltwater fish and a handful of sea turtles.

“Antarctica – Empire of the Penguin,” SeaWorld Orlando’s largest attraction expansion ever, will open in spring, 2013.

Discovery Cove

Freshwater Oasis adds a new swimming and wading attraction this summer that provides face-to-face encounters with otters and marmosets.

Universal Orlando Resort

Islands of Adventure

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man has new animation and special effects that require high-tech 3-D glasses. It opened in March.

Universal Studios Orlando

Harry Potter at the Islands of Adventure overshadowed Universal Studios in recent years but now the emphasis has shifted to Universal’s original Orlando theme park.

Jaws closed in January, to be replaced by a new, unannounced ride. Some speculate a Harry Potter addition but this location seems too distant and too disjointed to be part of the Wizarding World at the Islands of Adventure.

With an early May, 2012, debut, Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular – 100 Years of Movie Memories multi-media  show (9 p.m. nightly) celebrates the movie companies’ classic films by projecting them onto cutting-edge waterfall screens. Narration by actor Morgan Freeman.

Universal's Superstar Parade at Universal Orlando                            Floats are a big part of the Universal All-Star Parade

This month, Universal also launched its first parade: The Universal All-Star Parade features such film characters as the minions from Despicable Me, E.B. from Hop, Nickelodeon’s Dora & Diego and SpongeBob SquarePants in a live, interactive parade at 5 p.m. daily.

This summer, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem replaces the Jimmy Neutron attraction with a 3-D simulator ride.

CityWalk!

These two new attractions were ready early in 2012.

Blue Man Group: New stage, new performances, new music. Possibly even more paint!

Hollywood Drive-In Golf: Located near the park’s main entrance ramp, this mini-golf course features two 18-hole themed golf courses named “The Haunting of Ghostly Greens” and “Invaders From Planet Putt.”  An adult ticket is $14. 

Wet ‘N Wild

Wet ‘N Wild, voted the favorite water park of Orlando residents, this summer adds Blastaway Beach, new family interactive area with jets, waterfalls, 15 water slides and more than 100 soakers and water cannons. This will make Wet ‘N Wild Florida’s largest interactive water play attraction.

Walt Disney World

Disney Hotels

 art of animation resort    The Art of Animation Resort featuring family suites is opening in three phases, beginning the end of May and extending into September.  

In addition, all levels of Disney hotels are being upgraded to include free Wi Fi, with mini-fridge and extra beds available (but not always for free).

Downtown Disney

In the fall, Splitsville with 30 lanes of bowling open in at site of the Virgin Megastore.

Hollywood Studios

SwashbucklinÕ this Fall: The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow

The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow ride opens sometime this fall, located in the old Chronicles of Narnia theater. Details are scarce.

Magic Kingdom

This is where much of the action is. Continued expansion of New Fantasyland includes including a new Storybook Circus with two Dumbo The Flying Elephant attractions opening this summer (July). In late 2012, Under the Sea: The Voyage of The Little Mermaid attraction and the Beast’s Castle at the Be Our Guest restaurant join New Fantasyland. More new Fantasyland attractions will open in 2013.

Epcot

“Captain EO,” an ancient 3-D musical production starring Michael Jackson, for some reason returned to the World Showcase last fall. Watching this video years ago when it first came out was strangely unsettling, and that was long before there was any suspicion that the talented singer had a strange fascination with young children.

Test Track is undergoing a makeover, which will result in an all new GM pavilion sponsored by Chevrolet. Details have been sketchy and contradictory, but it appears the attraction will be closed for most of 2012.

The Agent P World Showcase Adventure with new special effects and featuring Phineas and Ferb replaces the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure in June.

Walt Disney World Speedway

The Exotic Driving Experience –where you do the driving, not a professional driver– features supercars by Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi and Porsche are an added part of the Richard Petty Driving Experience. The Exotic Driving Experience operates about 150 days annually on the specially configured The Exotics Course, which includes both an interior road course as well as part of the mile-long NASCAR track. Driving fee is $199.

Florida Eco Safaris @ Florida Forever

Rattlesnake by Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida                           The Rattlesnake, the first zipline roller coaster in the U.S.

Technically, Florida Forever  is not one of Orlando’s major theme parks.  Although it covers 4700 acres, the facility is too far away from Orland0 to qualify.  However,  the eco-ranch is quickly becoming a major zipline center in the entire Southeast. Florida Eco Safaris @ Forever Florida just completed year-long, $1.5 million attraction upgrade that added 4 new ziplines: 1) The Rattlesnake, the first zipline roller coaster in the USA. 2) Peregrine Plunge, the longest single straightaway zipline in Florida, measuring 1300 feet in length, 3) Panther Pounce, a 68-foot high challenge tower with a safely controlled rapid descent to the ground. 4) The Swooping Crane, an extreme swing where guests release into a freefall from 55 feet, finally swooping back and forth between the trees and brush.

Drug Addict Killed The Senator, One of World’s Oldest Trees

Florida The Senator Largest Cypress in USA
The Senator back in its better days.

The Senator, a 3500-year old bald cypress ranked as the fifth oldest tree in the world, was killed January 16th by an arsonist. Just as I predicted weeks ago, when silly theories of a deadly lightning strike when there was no lightning or–even more asinine–that spontaneous combustion caused by the tree’s own wind-drive branches rubbing against itself were offered as plausible causes..

The Senator, located in Longwood, FL, died a stupid death. It turns out the arson was accidental, committed by a 26-year old woman who set fire to twigs and branches around the tree to better see the drugs she was taking.

Once the tree caught on fire, she used her cell phone to take photos of it but did not bother to call the fire department or take any steps to end the devastation she started. Police were leisurely in arresting the meth head. Although they received a tip the day after the fire, the woman wasn’t arrested until February 28, more than a month later.

How much does the judicial system value the worth of The Senator? Not much. Bail for the arsonist was a measly $5,950. The low bail amount unfortunately reflects how much Seminole County officials traditionally have respected the importance of The Senator and a nearby much younger bald cypress, the 2,000-year old Lady Liberty.

The_Senator_Cypress_Tree_Burned_-3_BLOG
Seminole County officials now willing spend money to protect—a stump? 
Protecting the tree while still alive might have been a better idea.

Their home, Big Tree Park, years ago turned into a notorious after-dark location where drug use and prostitution were common activities. Not only was Big Tree Park allowed to turn into a seedy nighttime spot, Seminole County officials never installed any lights or security cameras and nightly police patrols didn’t seem to be part of any cop’s beat. The only protection afforded The Senator was a metal fence around its base –and that worked great, didn’t it?

In a classic case of too little too late, Seminole County commissioners now has decided to spend $29,000 to build an 8-foot fence around The Senator’s stump and another around Lady Liberty before she becomes someone’s demolition project. Still no park lights, though, and no security cameras. As for police patrols, that remains to be seen.

Indifference by officials compounded by incompetence are the real culprits for killing The Senator. The towering tree had stood for 3,500 years and like other equally ancient monuments–the pyramids of Egypt, Stonehenge–it was expected always to remain.

It never seemed to occur to those in charge that living monuments might require more care and protection than stone ones. So, The Senator was disregarded and left on its own. That neglect is not only embarrassing, it’s unfathomable.

The Senator Cypress Tree, One of World’s Oldest Residents, Dies in Suspicious Fire

The SenatorCypress Tree Burned to the ground

Probably a victim of foul play

The Senator, one of the world’s oldest residents, died Monday, Jan. 16. A life-long resident of Longwood, FL, The Senator spent the final days of its 3,500 years as the main attraction at Big Tree Park. At 125 feet (38 m) tall and with a trunk diameter of 17.5 feet (5.3 m), The Senator not only was the largest cypress tree in North America but was ranked as the world’s fifth oldest tree. Before a 1925 hurricane, The Senator was almost a third taller at 165 feet (50 m).

Experts say  The Senator was only a sprout when Stonehenge was being erected, iron was being created and China gave birth to one of the earliest civilizations with a recorded history. Only four other trees on earth besides The Senator were alive at that time. For those who care about such things, the loss of The Senator is devastating.

Florida The Senator Largest Cypress in USA   Florida The Senator Largest Cypress in USA sign

Death was due a to fire that felled the tree within hours of the arrival of firefighters at around 5:50 a.m. Monday. By 8:15 a.m., the tree had largely collapsed. Most of The Senator was hollow. Local media have compared the fire inside the wood cylinder as a blazing chimney fire or the ignition blast of the space shuttle.

Cause of the fire is still being investigated. Theories include premeditated murder (arson), a lightning strike that occurred several weeks ago and–the most intriguing of all–spontaneous combustion.

Initially, responding fire fighters blamed the fire on arson because twigs and branches were piled near the base of the tree, possibly by a homeless person although Sunday night was mild compared to some previous nights this month. The initial report was that the greatest heat from the fire was at the base.

The_Senator_Champion_Tree_Burned-2blogThe investigation was quickly taken over by the Division of Forestry whose investigator blamed lightning and apparently concluded that the greatest heat was in the crown of the tree. His theory was that the strike occurred several weeks ago and the tree has been quietly smoldering before breaking out into a full-blown blaze.

This would mean that for several weeks no visitor or anyone in the area would have noticed any smell of smoke, a questionable scenario.

However, blaming lightning brings into question the competence of the company that had installed a lightning rod to protect the tree apparently following a previous lightning strike.

The lightning protection company name is prominently displayed at the main overlook of The Senator.  Blaming a lightning strike as the cause leans towards libel since it implies (clearly names?) the company as being responsible for The Senator’s death.

The spontaneous combustion theory theorizes that the few ancient limbs on the tree because were waving back and forth, creating friction, and thus the fire. Since the limbs were stubs and there was no great wind storm that night, an alien laser might make more sense.

Cause of death: UNKNOWN.

The Senator was named for Senator M.O. Overstreet, who donated this massive cypress and the land around it to the people of Seminole County in the 1920’s. Until the 1960s, Big Tree Park was one of the area’s most popular attractions for family picnics. Such a big attraction that gift stands sold souvenirs of The Senator. Besides Big Tree Park, the only other local attractions were the swimming pool at Sanlando Springs (now a private community called The Springs) and the Central Florida Zoo (still doing well).

Lady_Liberty_Champion_Cypress_Tree-7blogThe big question now is what will be done to save the Liberty Lady, a 2,000-year old cypress tree only a few yards from The Senator. With the death of The Senator, at 89 feet (27 m) high, 10 feet (3.0 m) in diameter Lady Liberty is now Florida’s Champion Tree for bald cypress. The age of Lady Liberty also makes it an unusual treasure.

Will anything be done to protect Lady Liberty from whatever fate killed The Senator?

Not unless there is an armed guard ready to intercept/report whatever happens next. The fence around the park is easily scaled, even by “homeless people” or real vandals.

Regardless of the cause, the fall of The Senator is a loss to everyone, anywhere, who cares about protecting the world’s most ancient nature. The Senator was one of the last of the Ents (Lord of the Rings).

Wading through the various causes of The Senator’s death, it would seem there is a fire bug out there that needs to be squashed.

The Senator Big Tree Park Rest in Peace Senator Sign, Longwood, Florida
A “Rest in Peace” sign left by a resident

Lindblad Endeavour Takes Us To World’s Rarest Animal

Lonesome George Galapagos tortoise Darwin Research Station Santa Cruz Island
        Well, would you be happy to be the last of your world?

Poor old “Lonesome George”

When Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour anchors off Santa Cruz Island, we go ashore for the entire day to spend much of our time with the Galapagos’ iconic giant tortoises. And to meet a world-famous tortoise estimated at 100 years old known as “Lonesome George,” perhaps the last of his race. Of the 15 different races of tortoise that once lived on 15 different islands of the Galapagos, three are now extinct, almost four.

Lonesome George, estimated at 100 years old and considered in good health, is the last remaining member of that fourth race. Guinness World Records calls him the world’s “rarest living creature.” The very last of his kind. He supposedly was named after a popular 1950’s comedian, George Goebel, whose nickname was “Lonesome George.”

Considering the near extinction of the tortoises on Pinta Island, it’s hard to comprehend that giant tortoises were once commonplace throughout the world, living not only in the Americas but Europe and Asia, going back to the age of the dinosaurs. Yet what depleted Lonesome George’s race is what killed off almost all the world’s giant tortoises.

Galapagos Santa Cruz Darwin Research Station Breeding Center sign-1

                                   Darwin Research Station Captive Breeding Sign

Scientists say the huge tortoises of eons ago were unable to compete successfully with the many herbivores found on the continents, which is why today they exist only on isolated islands where there is no competition. Thanks to Charles Darwin’s writings, the Galapagos tortoises are the best known of the remaining giant tortoises but they also survive on the islands of Madagascar and the Seychelles, both in the Indian Ocean.

The Galapagos, of course, owe their name to the giant tortoises, taken from the Spanish word Galápago meaning saddle. Saddleback tortoises aren’t as large or as impressive looking as the bell-shaped shells of animals like Lonesome George. The smaller saddlebacks,  however, enjoy a shell shape that allows them to extend their necks higher to feed. Understandably, saddlebacks normally reside on islands with less vegetation compared to the bigger, dome-shaped tortoises still common on islands like Santa Cruz, where the vegetation is relatively rich.

Lonesome George is from Pinta Island, where the vegetation was decimated by introduced, roaming goats. Like the giant tortoises that once thrived worldwide, those on Pinta Island were out-competed. After Lonesome George was found in 1971, he was moved to the Darwin Research Station but it wasn’t until 1993–20 years later, not exactly a speedy reaction time–that the first attempt was made to breed him.

Lonesome George pen Galapagos Darwin Research Station santa cruz
Lonesome George’s isolation cell. See any females? He doesn’t either.

George was provided with two female tortoises of different subspecies in an attempt to produce offspring. George and his revolving harem produced eggs but all to date have been infertile. Even if all the eggs had hatched, technically the Pinta Island race still would be extinct after Lonesome George’s death since the offspring would be of mixed, not pure, blood. (Shades of Lord Voldemort!)

To preserve the Pinta Island subspecies, Lonesome George needs offspring with a Pinta Island female. A $10,000 reward is available for any zoo or private collector willing to provide a Pinta female to mate with Lonesome George but no females have been offered. Ironically, it’s possible there is a second Pinta Island male tortoise slightly younger than George which lives in the Prague Zoo. World renown tortoise expert Peter Pritchard considers the shell pattern of the Prague tortoise to be similar to that of George’s but no DNA tests have been conducted to confirm or refute the possibility. For the time being, rescuing the Pinta Island tortoise subspecies is at a stalemate that may never be resolved.

Galapagos Santa Cruz Darwin Research Station torotise eggs incubating-1  Galapagos Santa Cruz Darwin Research Station tortoise breeding pen-1
                               Tortoise eggs being incubated; tortoise breeding pen.

Our walk from the Santa Cruz Zodiac to enter the Darwin Research Station and reach Lonesome George takes about 20 minutes. We pass several turtle pens where species from other islands are being effectively bred. Our view into Lonesome George’s pen from a walkway overlooking it is depressing. He has a huge space to roam, able to hold scores of giant tortoises. He looks so large compared to the females present to entice him. No wonder George isn’t turned on by them. The pen seems to have everything a tortoise could want with lots of shade, vegetation and a huge concrete pond. From pictures I’ve seen of George on various web sites, he rarely leaves the pond’s edge.

Only a few steps away from Lonesome George is a crowded pen with an Espanola tortoise named Diego, a far more energetic but lesser known male tortoise largely responsible for bringing back his island’s population. Only 15 members remained on Espanola due to the impact of voracious goats. When the government began its goat eradication program on Espanola, the entire population was brought to the Darwin Research Station in hopes of increasing their numbers. But an unexpected problem cropped up: all of the males refused to mate.

Diego Galapagos tortoise Darwin Research Station

Diego, the studliest stud of Galapagos tortoises

The San Diego Zoo in California called the Darwin Research Station about a rogue Espanola male tortoise of theirs which was attacking all the other males. Did the Darwin Station want him? Yes, was the fateful answer. When this bully arrived, now named Diego in honor of the zoo, he promptly expended all his energy on the receptive females and quickly created a new generation of Espanola tortoises. Diego’s prowess inspired the formerly disinterested Espanola males. The resulting orgy sent more than 1,600 tortoises back to their homeland. Diego remains at the Darwin Station to continue his good work. He deserves a memorial, though I can’t think of a way it would be PG.

Meanwhile, Lonesome George is rarely interested, perhaps due to “low T” or maybe he just needs to be inspired (instructed?) as Diego’s buddies were. From what I see, George’s pen is cut off from all other turtle breeding pens with no opportunity for him to see what is going on around him. He lives in splendid isolation–like someone being confined to a large mansion with his two women–while Diego and his crew are out having fun in the back yard.

George needs to be moved where he can watch Diego in action and get over his performance anxiety. Or performance ignorance. According to our Lindblad guides, they even played music to help inspire Diego. Well, show George some turtle porn. Do something to provide him the same type of motivation given to Diego, who was a bad boy and probably didn’t need it anyway.

Galapagos Darwin Research Station parque nacional national park sign santa cruz                          Lonesome George is part of the Galapagos National Park logo

A cynic might say the Charles Darwin Foundation which operates the Charles Darwin  Research Station deliberately is keeping George lonesome and uninspired in order to preserve him as a powerful conservation symbol. Not only is George the Darwin Station’s most famous celebrity and its main attraction, he keeps both the Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park in the public eye.

If there can be no true happy ending without another Pinta Island female, why not? (Lonesome George died June 24, 2012, without ever successfully mating. He was the last of his kind.)

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links

The Galapagos Experience                                        Endeavour Dining   
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                             Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                          Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                   Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                             Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                     Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                          Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                                 Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                   Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                          Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop

Lindblad Expeditions Endeavour Dining Sunday Menus

Galapagos Cruise Food

The Monday Peruvian lunch buffet illustrates how Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour highlights local cuisine.  Notice the grilled chicken sandwich with roasted onions for those who aren’t willing to be adventurous.

Soups are offered at every meal, those Sunday’s menus don’t reflect it.  Go for the fish soup anytime it’s offered. Obviously, you can’t taste the food beforehand but you can try some of the dishes, with the recipes that will be coming up at the end of our journey.

Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour Sunday Lunch Menu

Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour Sunday Dinner Menu

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links

The Galapagos Experience                             Endeavour Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                               Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                            Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                     Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                               Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                       Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                            Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                                   Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                     Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                            Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop

Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour Saturday Menus

Galapagos cruise food

These are the welcome aboard menus for passengers  on their first day of their Galapagos cruise on Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour.

When it comes to cruise ship food, a critic’s likes and dislikes can unfairly bias a dining review. My own admitted prejudices: I don’t like turnips. Though I recently had a turnip puree with something else that is slowly winning me over. 

To me, the fairest way to avoid unfair bias is to provide the menus for the entire cruise and let each person make their own decisions about the selections. Breakfast and lunch normally are buffets; dinner may be a buffet or a sit-down meal, depending on the afternoon activities.

Cheesecake is my great weakness but the chocolate cheesecake at dinner is fine, perfect for following the sea bass, my favorite of the dinner entrees.

Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour Saturday Lunch Menu

Lindblad National Geographic Endeavour Saturday Dinner Menu

Lindblad Endeavour Galapagos Cruise Links

The Galapagos Experience                            Endeavour Dining
Galapagos Adventure Upcoming                                Sustainable Dining Policy
How Darwin Saved The Galapagos                             Saturday Dining Menus
Galapagos Photo Tips                                                      Sunday Dining Menus
What To Pack For Cruise                                                Monday Dining Menus
Getting to Guayaquil                                                        Tuesday Dining Menus
Las Bachas Shore Landing                                             Wednesday Dining Menus
North Seymour Shore Landing                                    Thursday Dining Menus
Fernandina & Isabela Islands                                      Friday Finale Menus
Urbina Bay Shore Landing                                             Endeavour Recipes
Life Aboard The Endeavour
More About Life On Board
Puerto Egas Shore Landing
Endeavour’s Floating SPA
Meeting One of World’s Rarest Animals
Puerto Ayoro Walking Tour
Santa Cruz Highlands Tour
Hunting Tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands
San Cristobal, Endeavour’s final stop