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Choosing a Galápagos Cruise

The things to consider when selecting a cruise are your expectations for price, boat quality, trip length and itineraries. In the Galápagos, the adage “you get what you pay for” is most definitely true. Because new tourist boats occasionally arrive in the Galápagos, antiquated boats stop running tours, and Galápagos boats are periodically renovated or rebuilt, the class system is dynamic. Tourist boats can move up, down, or straddle the line between two categories in the class hierarchy according to specifications set in a particular period of time.


The tourist vessels in the Galápagos Islands are regularly inspected and categorized according to a set of fixed standards, including facilities, amenities, construction, maintenance and safety. V!VA Travel Guides divides Galápagos ships into six categories: cruise ships, luxury ships, first class, mid-range, budget and diving ships. This is to help you decide which category of ship best suits you.


There are a handful of large cruise ships in Galápagos, each carrying between 48 and 100 passengers. These ships are known for great stability and service, comfortable accommodations and superior food (lunch buffet? Woo-hoo!). Because they are larger than the others, they have ample public areas like bars and sun decks. The cruise ships are fairly expensive, matching prices with first-class and luxury-class ships, but their facilities are comparable. They all have air conditioning, ocean-view cabins, gift shops and other luxurious facilities. Cruise ships are best for those travelers who tend to get seasick, as there is considerably less motion as they cruise around the islands. They often have doctors on board, so they are a good choice for elderly or unwell travelers. They are also best for meeting people: obviously, if there are 90 passengers on your ship, you’re bound to make some new friends! Typical cruise ship rates run about $500- $900 per person per day, depending on season, what sort of room you want, etc. An eight-day cruise can cost $4000-$7000/person. Prices vary greatly among the big cruisers: La Pinta and the Eclipse are significantly more expensive than some of the others.


Luxury yachts are the most expensive, since they have the most lavish accommodations,

the most professional crews, the highest quality food, and the most in-demand naturalist guides. Yachts receiving this designation have air conditioning, hot water, ocean-view cabins with private facilities, and spacious social areas (dining room, living room, sun decks). Eight-day luxury cruise tours generally cost between $4,000 and $7,000, or around $600 to $900 per day. Four- and five-day tours aboard the luxury yachts are not as common, but they do exist.

The newest ships in Galápagos usually fall into this category. Many of the best luxury yachts are catamarans, which makes them more spacious and almost as stable as the cruise ships. The luxury class is best for those travelers for whom money is not an object. If you want the best there is and are willing to pay, these are the ships for you. A great, memorable experience is practically guaranteed.


First class cruise yachts have spacious, comfortable and handsome accommodations, very experienced crews, gourmet food and

some of the most knowledgeable naturalist guides. Yachts in this category also have air conditioning, hot water, ocean-view cabins with private facilities, and spacious social areas. Although first-class yachts have unique, distinctive features that contribute to an extra-pleasurable experience, they lack the extravagant perks that would catapult them into the luxury class.

These boats can range in size, but most are well designed, stable and fast. Prices for eight-day tours aboard these yachts range from $2,900 to $4,300, or about $350 to $550 per day. Four- and five-day tours are more common on first class cruise boats, and they range in price from around $1,600 to $2,200 for four days or $2,000 to $2,800 for five days (all prices per person). Again, these are cruise prices only and do not include airfare, national park fees or beverages. First-class ships are best for those who want to splurge a little bit on a good experience but who don’t want to break the bank. The crew and staff will be very professional and the guides very good.


Boats in the mid-range category tend to be slightly smaller, less private and less fancy. Yachts receiving a mid-range designation

have air conditioning and hot water (although it may not be fully functional), double cabins with private facilities that may be below deck or with access to the outside, and moderately spacious social areas. These boats have good quality food and a professional crew. Occasionally ships in the mid-range category will save money by hiring guides with less experience or questionable language skills.

A good example of a mid-range ship might be a past-its-prime yacht with a professional crew that tries hard to keep it shipshape and make the passengers happy. Prices range from $2,300 to $3,500 for an eight-day tour, or $300 to $450 daily. Four day tours cost about $1,300 to $1,800. Five-day tours cost about $1,800 to $2,200 or so. Last-minute cruises on these yachts are common.

Mid-range ships are best for those with just enough money to climb out of the murky waters of the budget category. If you can spare an extra couple hundred bucks to take a mid-range cruise instead of a budget-level one, it will be money well spent.


Budget-class ships are the least expensive, and as such, offer the lowest level of service. Conditions can be cramped, uncomfortable and primitive. These yachts often do not have air conditioning or hot water (or any water at all); double, triple, or quad cabins with private or shared facilities; and small social areas. The food, crew, naturalist guide and itinerary are all decent but pale in comparison to the higher category yachts.

These yachts offer budget travelers and last minute shoppers (these boats often have availability) an opportunity to experience the

wonder of Galápagos by ship, but unless you have a thriving spirit of adventure and zero claustrophobia, it is worth spending a few hundred extra dollars to travel comfortably. Economy class boat tours cost between $1,800 and $2,500 for eight days, or $225 to $300 per day. Four-day tours cost around $900 to $1,300, and fi ve-day tours are about $1,150 to $1,500. Shorter itineraries are almost always offered in this class (and may just coincide with the maximum length of time you can tolerate the sub-par conditions!).

Horror stories on budget-class ships are not uncommon. Visitors who arrive to find that their ship has been overbooked and they have been placed on another one (with no say in the matter and no refund if the second ship is worse than the original), defective air conditioning that causes passengers to sleep on the deck, or snorkeling equipment that is unacceptable are some of the usual complaints. Breakdowns, bedbugs and cabins that reek of diesel are the norm on the less scrupulous budget ships.

If you do have a problem aboard a budget class cruise, it is nearly guaranteed that the management will completely ignore any complaints or demands that you make. The crew and captain of the ship will usually be fair, but the guide may not speak English or other languages besides Spanish. The bottom- of-the-barrel guides find work on budget ships: you may even find guides who have been blackballed from superior ships for things such as sexual harassment of guests, gross incompetence or drunkenness. Petty theft is common, so lock up your valuables as best you can. The worst-case scenarios described above may not apply: hundreds of visitors annually have good experiences aboard these ships. In recent years, complaints about the budget ships seem to be decreasing, possibly because some of the worst offenders have gone out of business (or sank, to tell the truth). Budget-class ships are best for backpackers and those who wish to see the Galápagos for the lowest possible price.


Serious divers will want to consider a live aboard cruise. There are a select few ships in the Galápagos which offer live-aboard diving trips. They’re usually quite comfortable and have top-notch gear and guides. Most of the dive ships correspond in price and service to first-class land tour yachts. All of them will have gear for rent and skilled divemasters with years of experience. Prices vary, but are comparable to first-class cruises. The diving in Galápagos is unforgettable, and these live-aboards offer the chance to head out to the remote islands of Darwin and Wolf, where seeing Whale Sharks, Hammerheads, Manta Rays and other spectacular marine life is commonplace. Note that these dive ships are not allowed to visit traditional landing sites, so guests will not get to see tortoises, land iguanas, etc.

24 Sep 2013

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