There are plenty of great ways to cruise the Galapagos Islands. It’s an unforgettable trip of a lifetime, no matter what ship you’re sailing aboard. But, if you’re heading to the land of Darwin and giant tortoises anyway, why not do it in the utmost style? One classic vessel has luxury, panache, and a royal and military history unlike any other. The best part: You can book a cabin right now.
The 147-foot M/Y Grace boasts one of the most fascinating histories of any ship, not just in the Galapagos Islands, but in the world as a whole. She began life simply as Monica in the late 1920s in Southampton, England, under the ownership of Jacques “Santiago” Soulas, a Franco-Argentine tycoon. Over the next decade, the ship would change hands several times before being acquired in 1939 by the British Royal Navy to patrol the area around the Isle of Wight. The newly-named Rion was stripped of her elegance, structurally hardened, and outfitted with hardcore military weaponry. Twin Oerlikons (a.k.a. “Kamikaze Killers”) were mounted astride the bridge, a 12-pound rapid-fire guy was affixed to the forecastle, and a stern rack was added to hold 300-pound depth charges.
The ship was decommissioned after World War II, rechristened HMS Noir, and returned to her original builders, Camper & Nicholson International. The team worked hard in the ensuing years to refurbish the ship as a pleasure craft. In 1951, Greek shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis, bought the ship, rechristened her Arion, and kept her in his stable of toys for several years. She was ultimately gifted as a wedding present to Prince Rainier and Princess Grace (Kelly) of Monaco. They hosted an array of lavish parties with some of the world’s most illustrious guests (Winston Churchill among them) before parting with her in 1958.
Decades on, the ship would travel throughout the eastern United States and the Caribbean under numerous banners and owners. She was purchased in 2007 by Quasar Expeditions who, in a thoughtful nod to the princess, rechristened her the M/Y Grace. The company spent two full years retrofitting and restoring the ship to her former glory. Under the new banner, and with a healthy dose of modern comfort amenities in place, the ship now sails exclusive routes to and through the Galapagos Islands.
The roughly 25 guests on each eight-day sailing are free to explore Ecuador’s famous islands amid the stately elegance of a bygone sailing era. Every interior space is awash in rich wood paneling and flooring, custom tufted seating, and plush fabrics. Even the ship’s original wheel has been returned with the inscription “Deo Juvante” (the former name).
The ship’s diminutive size belies a host of creature comforts, including an intimate main saloon, a sun deck, a wine cellar, and an alfresco dining space. Quasar’s commercial director, Eduardo Diez Jr., notes, “It is probably now one of the most sought-after products in the archipelago.” It’s easy to see why.
As of October 2017, adventurous, well-heeled travelers can book one of two unique itineraries aboard the M/Y Grace directly through Quasar Expeditions. Off-season rates in the fall of 2018 start at USD $5,600 per person (which covers almost every aspect of the eight-day trip less international airfare and domestic transfers). Although, we recommend splurging on the Grace Kelly Suite — the cabin where the Monegasque royalty honeymooned — with an all-in rate of USD $8,900. If you’re a hotshot willing to really open his wallet, you can charter the whole boat for you and 17 of your closest friends for just north of USD $125,000.
Feature image courtesy of Quasar Expeditions/Facebook.