Award-winning actor Blair Underwood, perhaps best known for his role in the legal drama series L.A. Law, recently embarked on an exciting journey into the heart of the Galapagos Islands with Quasar Expeditions.
Marketing director Fernando Diez sat down to chat with Blair about the experience, addressing everything from magnificent wildlife encounters to the ideal Galapagos trip length to how to make the most of family fun.
On the Unique Galapagos: “The Trip of a Lifetime”
Fernando – Quasar: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. What first got you interested in traveling to the Galapagos?
Blair Underwood: I have to tell you it was the trip of a lifetime. I first heard of the Galapagos Islands, or started paying attention, maybe about seven or eight years ago. I kept hearing stories about the islands themselves and of course heard about Charles Darwin in school. But I had friends who had visited, and they kept coming back with these stories about how amazing it is.
And I was looking for something different, especially coming out of the pandemic. Something that wasn't as crazy as going to Europe with all the travel nonsense that was going on, especially with flights being canceled. This just seemed like a perfect intimate trip with me and my fiancée.
On Small Ship Cruising: “You Really Feel Like You’re Out There All by Yourself”
Fernando – Quasar: When we craft our itineraries, we purposely avoid the larger ships so that our guests can feel similar to how Darwin must have felt when visiting the islands for the first time. That makes it much more special.
Blair Underwood: Right. I've done those big ships before and it's like night and day. I mean you really feel like you're out there all by yourself, which is amazing.
I was showing my older brother pictures of the giant tortoises we saw, and he said, "How old do you think that is?" I told him that the naturalist said it was around 500 years and he replied, "You know what's crazy about that? That tortoise or Charles Darwin probably saw each other.”
...I mean you can take that mental leap. That's mind-boggling when you think about it.
Fernando – Quasar: You’ve experienced large ship cruising, maybe 500 or a thousand passengers. How would you compare that to your Galapagos trip?
Blair Underwood: I don't think you can compare it. The fact that you don't have a lot of people crowding you and breathing down your neck. It’s a scenario where you have a chance to get to know people, have conversations, but it’s not so close-knit that you can't break off and do your own thing.
Sometimes at the end of a long day, you don’t feel like being chatty at dinner. During those times, my fiancée and I would have brought food down to our room. Another time a separate table was set just for the two of us outside on the deck when everybody else was in the dining room.
Most nights we sat with the other guests and talked about the day, week, or life in general. Without so many people you don’t get the sense of anxiety like the big giant cruises. It’s a comfortable familiarity with the guests and the naturalists. The naturalists are our guides and who we communicated with most, making it personalized, which I really appreciated.
On Quasar’s Talented Naturalists: “Their Knowledge Blew Me Away”
Fernando – Quasar: What were your impressions of the naturalists?
Blair Underwood: Amazing. Their knowledge blew me away. Their incredible understanding of the islands, the topography, the geography, the animals, the history, was fascinating to me. But their physical prowess was, too, watching them underwater taking deep dives. One time Bolo dove really deep and pulled out a lobster to let us look at it underwater and then let it go. Christina pointed out a shark that was hiding in the reef that I wouldn't have seen otherwise.
One time when returning to the ship a big storm was on the horizon and then the wind had really picked up, so the water was very choppy. We got back to The Evolution in our panga first but there were two pangas left in the water. It was phenomenal watching these naturalists and the crew help get them on the boat. It was dangerous but they were like professional athletes the way they handled that situation.
Fernando – Quasar: They are really the guys that make the difference, at least on Quasar's cruises. And that's why so much importance is placed on the guides. Bolo, I believe, has been guiding for 27 years. Can you imagine doing that every single day for 27 years?
Despite all of that time, guides like him still have this passion and enthusiasm and energy. It's the love they have for the islands, and Galapagos always puts on a different show every week
Blair Underwood: I asked him about that on the last day. He was going right back after dropping us off to go welcome another crew for the next 8 or 9, 10 days. And he was just as excited.
On Fun for Both Children and Adults: “I Love the Idea of Bringing the Whole Family”
Blair Underwood: One of the things that's amazing about this kind of trip, I think there were 32 of us on The Evolution Yacht. We had one group of people, a family with 18 members with the patriarch, an elder gentleman.
He said he decided a few years ago, "I'm going to pay for the family's vacations from here on out, instead of leaving a lot of money and my will for them to spend when I'm gone, I'm going to bring the family together.” It was great. They had a lot of young kids, even a baby around one with the rest around the ages of seven through 12, and they loved it.
Every day we were snorkeling, every day we were on the pangas, every day we were hiking or just traveling to one of the other islands. It was great because the older people loved it and the kids absolutely loved it. I'm a big kid so I absolutely loved it.
Fernando – Quasar: That's amazing. I don't know if you're aware, but this is a family company. It was actually started by my parents in 1986, so I was almost raised in the Galapagos. The first memory I have was seeing a sea lion for the first time, so I know how impactful these things can be for kids.
We have guests that have come with us 5 or 6 different times. Every single time they see something different, something unique, something that they haven't seen before. It never gets boring because there's always something new happening. And that's the magic of a wild paradise like the Galapagos.
Blair Underwood: We hope to come back. My fiancée and I have 9 kids between us and we both said we want to come back at one point and bring the kids. I love the idea of just bringing the whole family.
On the Incredible Wildlife: “I’d Love to Be in the Water with those Sea Lions”
Fernando – Quasar: What did you like most about your trip? Is that the sea lion?
Blair Underwood: Oh, I can tell you. I got this in the Galapagos. I had these two pendants, but I got one that's a sea lion. I call it Seymour the sea lion. It started the first day we were out there, we saw a school of sea lions just jumping out of the water. I remember saying I'd love to be in the water with those sea lions at this moment.
Then one day we went out on a kayak and one or two were swimming around us. Seven days in, we went into the water and there were about 15 or 20 sea lions swimming all around us. We stayed there for 30 minutes.
Swimming right between your legs and all around you, they come right up to the camera. We never touch them but watching how at ease the wildlife was with human beings was amazing. When one of the crew members threw a rope in the water, they took turns playing with it, it was something I will never forget.
Fernando – Quasar: I often hear guests saying that wildlife in the Galapagos is different. But if you think about it, wildlife used to be everywhere in the world until we invaded their space. But as the Galapagos islands were isolated for so long and the park did such a good job at a very early stage to protect the animals, they never learned to fear humans. And you experienced this. In your itinerary, did you make it to Isabela and Fernandina Islands on the west?
Blair Underwood: That's right. That was just magical. I live here in the marina in Los Angeles, not far from the airport. I was meeting a friend last night for dinner and just seeing the wildlife there. I can hear the seals or sea lions from where I live, but they're so skittish. I mean you can't even get within 20 feet of them. If they see you coming, they all just jump in the water. It’s just a very different scenario.
Blair’s Tips for Visiting the Galapagos: “Say Yes to Everything”
Blair Underwood: Just come with a wide-open mind, be ready and willing to experience everything. Say yes to everything. I did say no once, to going to a beach with beautiful red sand. I wanted to go, but I just wasn’t feeling well that day. Of course, I regretted it afterward. Everybody came back saying how beautiful the red sand was and talking about the wildlife on the beach.
I think just say yes to everything and just have fun. I mean you guys, Quasar, have thought of everything. You've anticipated everything. You don't have to think much, just don't lose your passport and come ready to have a good time.
Fernando – Quasar: I think that's a great piece of advice, Blair. Some people are afraid of snorkeling with sharks. It's a common fear for many, but you get to experience that in Galapagos and it’s extremely safe. There haven't been any attacks on tourists and taking you out of your comfort zone can be a transformational experience.
Whether it’s snorkeling, hiking or being around sea lions, just say yes. Trust the almost four decades of experience that Quasar has and how we've designed these trips to take people on experiences that can change their view of nature and wildlife.
Blair Underwood: That's exactly right. I hadn't really snorkeled a lot in my lifetime. One of the other families that were on The Evolution with us had a lot of snorkeling experience, especially the father, and he said, "I've never seen anything like this.” In terms of the sea lions, how friendly they are and how close they come to you he had never seen anything like that.
I guess one other practical thing if you are open to the underwater experiences is that I got an underwater box to go over my phone. All of my footage was shot on an iPhone. You don't have to get a GoPro, it's just as good if not better actually. Just make sure that you have the wristband if you do it, as you don’t want to drop it in the ocean. It really paid off as everybody is blown away by the footage they saw, they thought it was professionally done, but it was just my iPhone.
On the Perfect Trip Length: “Each Day is Unique”
Fernando – Quasar: What would you say about the duration since you’ve had previous cruising experiences? Is a week in the Galapagos too much? Too little?
Blair Underwood: I think it was just perfect, actually. I get restless after about 10 days and I’m ready to go home. 3 days to me would not be enough because of what you're seeing, going to a different island every day for the most part. Each one is unique, so it was just enough. At the end of those 7 days, you feel like you're ready. You’ve experienced a great deal and you're ready to go at that time.
Fernando – Quasar: Plus, for most people, just getting to Ecuador and the Galapagos is a long journey. Spending only 3 days in the islands means that by the time you’re settled in it’s time to go back.
Fernando – Quasar: 14 days might be for the birdwatcher or somebody who has a lot of time. I'm glad you saw the benefits because those are the itineraries that we've been running for the last 37 years.
Blair Underwood: Yeah, well, 37 years of experience tells you everything you need to know. One other suggestion I would give is that after those 7 days, we ended up spending a day in Quito. I think it’s something I'd recommend and not miss if you've traveled that far, just enjoy the city for at least a day.
Fernando – Quasar: We often have guests that just use mainland Ecuador as a stopping point to go to the Galapagos. But there's so much to see and do in Ecuador so that’s excellent advice. There's the Amazon, the Andes, the coast, there's just a lot to do in addition to Galapagos.
Blair Underwood: I got to come back. See, this is, it's still so much more to see. I absolutely loved it. It's something I will never forget.
Watch Blair's Galapagos Cruise Highlights:
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