Squalls on San Cristóbal, the easternmost island in the Galápagos, meant my fellow guests and I couldn’t reach the Silver Origin until dusk, after a full day of travel that had begun in Quito. By then, the crisp white lines of the ship’s eight decks had transformed into a mere frame for the windows’ reflected drama of the cloud-flecked sunset over calm Pacific waters. It looked like a sanctuary, and that’s what it proved to be, unfailingly, throughout our weeklong voyage. 

Returning from an adventure among the blue-footed boobies and sea lions, we would be greeted with a smile from Juan Altamirano, my ship’s hotel director, and a drink that always seemed to be what we needed right then: a perfect hot chocolate or a fragrant canelazo, a traditional drink from the Ecuadoran Highlands made with cinnamon and cloves. Once aboard, we found an avowedly unostentatious style of luxury: A comfortably expensive atmosphere of low-slung seating and a palette of beige and taupe and cream, with lots of brassy accents; generous deck space for leisurely alfresco lunches; 51 cozy suites, each of which comes with a balcony and a butler; a hardworking little gym and a spa with a terrific masseuse; a stargazing platform that is also a prime vantage point for those epic Galápagos sunsets, not to mention the occasional dolphin sighting or distant lava flow.

What the Silver Origin never does is divert guests’ attention from the true star of the show: The Galápagos themselves. Perhaps its greatest asset is its deeply knowledgeable, deeply passionate expedition guides, who take you onto these strange and wonderful islands via the Zodiacs—always using a sailor’s grip!—to share their expertise about the archipelago’s creatures, landscape, ecology, and history. Back on board, after the day’s adventures are done, they dress up before delivering surprisingly engaging lectures about the islands, accompanied by cocktails and addictive bar snacks. Then it’s off to dinner, perhaps a soak in the hot tub on an upper deck, a group sing-along with the piano player, and bed, before another island experience the next day. Throughout it all, the ship grounds its guests, never seeking to be an end in itself but rather a lens through which to view and understand one of the most extraordinary places on Earth. Seven-day sailings from $11,500 per person. —Jesse Ashlock

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