GALAPAGOS BOAT & CRUISE SELECTION TIPS
IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS …..
Selecting a short cruise (i.e., 3 or 4-nights) when a longer cruise is what you want; or selecting a long cruise (i.e., 7-nights) when a shorter cruise is really want you need.
What is not commonly stated is the following: The first and last day of any given cruise are short days (as they are based on the flight arrival and departure schedules into/out of Galapagos). Cruises really start with the arrival of your flight into Galapagos between 09h30 and 11h30 the morning of the first day of the cruise in Galapagos, and end between 08h30 and 10h30 in the morning of the last day of the cruise. Most classify Galapagos cruises as 4-DAY, 5-DAYS and 8-DAYS when these cruises really translates into 2, 3 and 6 full days, respectively (or 3, 4 and 7 full nights, respectively) in the Galapagos Islands. The two partial days at the beginning and end of the cruise are mainly occupied traveling to and from the islands.
In my years of experience I have equal numbers saying that a 4-night cruise was the perfect length, while others stated that the 7-night experience was without a doubt the best. If you want to cover as much of the diversity that the Galapagos has to offer, the 7-night cruise is the best and only option for you.
Selecting a cruise ship when a smaller vessel is more your style; or selecting a sailing boat when a motor or cruise ship is really what you’re after. The vast majority of the non-cruise ships are, on average, for 16 passengers (allocated into 8 double cabins). There are a small handful that carry less (i.e., 10 passengers) an equal number that can carry up to 24 passengers.
PHYSICAL ASPECT: There are different advantages and disadvantages of the various types of vessel (cruise ship, motor catamaran, motor-sail catamaran, motor boat, sailing and motor-sailers). The larger and heavier the vessel, the more stable it is in the water. The most stable (important for those extremely sensitive to sea sickness) are the large capacity cruise ships (i.e., Eclipse, Evolution, Galapagos Explorer II, Galapagos Legend, Isabella II, La Pinta & Santa Cruz). These vessels carry between 32 to 100 passengers, have spacious and well acquainted cabins & facilities, spacious decks and social areas and highly qualified and trained crew members. Cabins are generally allocated on two (or more) different decks. Several boast jacuzzis, gyms and other perks. The possible disadvantages (depending obviously on one’s point of view) are the following: (1) generally attract an older and higher socio-economic clientele; (2) a greater number of fellow passengers; (3) the activities are generally geared towards older passengers so are not demanding (for those wanting a more active cruise – plenty of snorkeling & hiking etc – a smaller vessel is better suited for you); and (4) slower boarding and debarking of the vessel (i.e., for island visits) as passengers are divided into smaller groups of 16 to 20 passengers each.
Turning to the non-cruise ship options, you have (1) the catamarans – motor & motor sailers – that include Valkiria, Archipel I (aka Galapagos Journey III), Archipel II, Nemo II, Queen Beatriz (aka GAP VI), Queen of Galapagos, Seaman II, Treasure of Galapagos, Anahi, Athala & Nina; (2) sailing & motor sailers like Angelique, Encantada, Beagle, Cachalote, Mary Anne, Nautilus, Sagitta & Alta; and (3) the motor boats – which is the largest list of vessels in Galapagos.
The heavy, wide motor catamaran version (i.e., Archipel I & II, Anahi etc) are not only well appointed, but due to the width of the vessel are spacious in terms of cabins and social areas and stable. Some even have onboard jacuzzi to soak into after a long day hiking the islands. The lighter motor sailing catamarans (i.e., Valkiria, Nemo II etc) are comfortable and relatively spacious, but not as stable as their heavy motor brothers above.
The sailing boats (most of them are technically motor sailers – when there isn’t sufficient wind, I think you would be glad that they can still navigate under motor power!) are long and narrow by nature. This makes them vulnerable to swaying (or rocking) in the seas … even when anchored. Most of these vessels have small and somewhat cramped cabins and limited deck and social areas. However, vessels like the Beagle, Cachalote, Mary Anne, and Alta have an attractive and cozy atmosphere aboard. These vessels are, without a doubt, geared more towards your adventurous and active passenger. They provide and intimate experience – something that is hard to replicate on a large cruise ship.
The bulk of the Galapagos cruise vessels fall into the ‘motor’ category – from your small, old & basic economic motor boats like the Amigo, Rumba & New Flamingo right up to the luxurious and relatively spacious Galaxy, Voyager & Grace and Tip Top IV etc. The wider and heavier the motor boat is, the more stable it is. Many (but not all) of these motor vessels have cabins allocated on two (or more) different decks.
CABINS: While most Galapagos boats only have double cabins (cabin for two people), a very limited number have single and/or triple cabin arrangements. The standard bedding arrangements are upper/lower twin bed berths (bunk beds), while a good number – generally in the First and Deluxe classes – may have several cabins that have one double bed and/or two lower twin beds. With very few exceptions, almost every cabin on the various Galapagos boats has its own private facilities (i.e., shower, bathroom, hot/cold water etc). Cabin location can be important. Generally speaking (but depends on the mechanical layout of the boat in question) the father forward and up the cabin is, the farther away you will be from the motors/generators. This translates into less noise, vibration, heat and possible fuel aroma.
Regardless of the vessel, they all navigate and operate in a similar fashion – the major inter-island transitions (i.e., from Espanola over to Floreana, for example) are done on the overnight hours. That way, when you awake the next day, the boat is already anchored off the island to be visited that morning. This maximizes the daylights hours, and thereby attempting to reduce transitions during the day to a minimum. There are occasional transitions done on some boats between the morning and afternoon visit (these transitions may be to another point on the same island or to a nearby island). These however are generally not that noticeable as passengers are enjoying lunch aboard during the transition.
That being said, there is no one Galapagos cruise that is perfect for everyone. Each person has his or her particular likes and dislikes, expectations and requirements. Some prefer the large, comfortable cruise ships that carry 40 to 100 passengers while most prefer a more intimate, smaller option.
Part II to follow shortly … which will cover important aspects as itineraries, naturalist guides, boat classes, time of year etc.