Of course there is some truth to the adage ‘you get what you pay for’ when it comes to Galapagos cruises, but there is also quite a bit of space between getting the absolute most for your money and not. Whether you’re in your golden years and prefer the finer things, or a young backpacker trying to find a way on a ship without doubling down on old student debt, when searching Galapagos cruise options there is a wide-range of options available in any category and some, simply put, are better values than others. This article aims to help you weed through the respective piles and point out some Galapagos small-ship cruises that deliver the most value for their price tag. In addition to choosing a high-value ship, there are also techniques to ensure you don’t overpay for an awesome experience on Galapagos.
Techniques For Discounts And Best Prices On Galapagos Cruises
Of course it’s well publicized that if you book a last-minute Galapagos cruise there may be some discounts available. This is true, and most Galapagos focused operators have strong partnerships with boats and can quickly search last-minute Galapagos cruise discounts available to you and get you some suitable options. The obvious drawback of this is that if you’ll end up paying more for international airfare and have less options and choice in cruises and dates.
As a wider array of boats have begun to sail in Galapagos, last-minute price reductions have become less alluring to boat owners as they have more competition for advanced bookings, so it is not entirely uncommon for them to also offer price discounts and special offers for cruises not departing for months. Don’t be afraid to ask whomever is booking your Galapagos cruise to let you know if there are any discounted departures on your selected ship if you have date flexibility.
Also, if you are working with a specialized operator with direct partnerships with the Galapagos cruise owners, they should be able to give you a guarantee that if you find the same ship offered for less for your same cruise within 30 days of booking, they will match that price. Operators with good flow to the islands that have direct partnerships should be willing to extend such a guarantee to you.
Our Picks – The Best Galapagos Cruise Ships In Their Respective Categories, and Getting the Best Deal!
Take ships ‘classes’ with a grain of salt as, much like the hotel ‘star’ rating system, ships can manipulate their own ratings and they should be seen as a possible indicator of quality, but nothing more. We’ve personally inspected over 50 of the most reputable ships in Galapagos and cut to the bottom line of which offer the best value across the board.
Luxury Galapagos Cruises
Discounts will be scarcest in this category, but small promotional discounts on select departures are available more and more frequently if you avoid holidays. If you prefer a small ship, but want luxury and maximum comfort with large cabins (private terraces available) on a ship with impeccable service, choice itineraries, and top guides my first choices are the Ocean Spray and her sister ship Cormorant. They are among the newest catamarans in Galapagos (offering a stable ride and more space than mono-hull boats) and are simply unrivaled. In spite of this they are featuring discounted departures for select cruises in August and September at this time in order to fill the ships. Call now for your price-match guaranteed quote!
First Class Galapagos Cruise Expeditions
The MV Anahi is without a doubt one of the best values in Galapagos. She is a catamaran that by all accounts is a ‘luxury’ class vessel and experience with a ‘first class’ price tag. Carrying only 16 passengers maximum as most small ships, she differs in that the catamaran layout allows for large cabins. The food quality is exceptional (food quality is one of the most common differences between ‘first’ and ‘luxury’ class vessels) and always has a fair amount of choice (most dietary restrictions can be accommodated). Very important to note is that Anahi is the only ship in her class that I know of whose ‘matrimonial’ (cabins with one large bed for couples) beds are queen sized as opposed to full sized. This is especially important for Galapagos honeymoons as it is rare to find well-priced catamarans with matrimonial beds, and if you do they will be full size rather than queen.
Anahi’s crew is lovely and the operating company is the oldest in Galapagos, which means the itineraries are crafted by the most-knowing hands in the business; and it doesn’t hurt that they are in the good graces of the National Park due to their long-standing environmental stewardship. Her itineraries take her to the more far-flung islands with rare endemic species, such as Genovesa, the only island where you see the giant red frigate birds along with their smaller cousins.
An awesome way to make a great deal an even better one if your budget or timeline doesn’t allow for the eight-day cruise, is to opt for a five-day cruise aboard Anahi adding a couple days in Puerto Ayora, the principal town on Santa Cruz Island and a great place to start your trip. Many of the newer ships include a full day on Santa Cruz Island with visits to the Charles Darwin Research Station, the giant tortoise reserve, and the lava tubes. These are great visits, but it makes more sense to do them pre or post cruise basing from a hotel so as not to pay such a premium for them as part of your cruise. This helps you be able to see as much for a five day cruise price tag as most will see on an eight day!
Sailing the Galapagos
As the National Park grants each vessel very specific itineraries that they must follow for the year, it’s not really possible as a tourist to see the Galapagos under sail, however there are a couple options to take a sail boat style vessel that uses sails as aids to engine power to cruise the Galapagos. Our favorite is the Mary Ann, a handsome 16-passenger sailboat. With smaller cabins and an adventurous spirit (kayaks on board!), Mary Ann attracts a lot of active families and younger travelers. The ship is built with 12 cabins but the National Park only allows 16 passengers. As a result, Mary Ann is the only ship in Galapagos that doesn’t charge a supplementary cost to single travelers! So if you are a Galapagos single traveler or have a group with an odd number of travelers, Mary Ann will be a great value to you. If booking Mary Ann be sure to request cabin 8, 9 or 10 as they are slightly larger and feature two non-elevated beds as opposed to bunk beds.
The eight-passenger sailing vessel Nemo can be of great value for groups of six or more as you can charter the whole boat. Not to mention cruising the Galapagos with just your friends and family is an incredible experience.
Tourist Superior – Go Big On Galapagos Experience But Small On Budget!
Tourist superior boats generally still offer en suite bathrooms, tasty and safe food, and professional staff. Our top picks in the class are Yolita II and Angelito as they are all these things and oh so much more. Of much importance is that their cabins feature good-sized windows as opposed to the tiny portholes that most of their contemporaries’ feature. The biggest differentiator of these boats is that they’re the only ships in their category that carry a level 3 naturalist (the highest certification available). And Yolita and Angelito have solid itineraries covering a range of islands, species and experiences. If on a budget, or if where you lay your head at night isn’t as important to you as saving money, these two ships are your best bet.
How to Avoid Overpaying For Your Galapagos Cruise
In the last five or so years it has become increasingly common for larger U.S. tour operators to partner with a Galapagos cruise ship and ‘brand’ it as their own ship for certain weeks throughout the year, or even for all cruises throughout the year depending on the companies size. The fact of the matter is that it is the same boat, same itinerary, same guides and staff that will be on board the following week (or in some cases even the same week, same cruise) with passengers who booked the same cruise ship through a smaller, more specialized company at a lesser price. It is not legal for foreign companies to own any cruise ships operating in Galapagos. These large companies laud ‘their cruise’ as having superior services, guiding, etc. to other Galapagos cruises, when in fact the ship is operating exactly the same as it has in the past but flying the banner of the international company for a given week or is simply a shared cruise in which some paid more than others.
As all guides in Galapagos are freelance and good boats have long-established relationships with their preferred guides, the truth is that even if booking with an expensive ‘luxury tour operator’ you will be sleeping in the same bed aboard the Eclipse and working with the same guide (although in some cases she or he will be wearing an fancy hat as opposed to a Galapagos National Park hat, in case that makes a difference to you!) as the family who booked elsewhere for less. This is also the case with some discount-oriented companies and their tourist class vessels. For the same money you can book a higher-quality tourist superior experience through different companies.
Other large U.S.-based companies leverage outside partnerships with large media and outdoors organizations, such as National Geographic magazine, and charter a boat for the entire year buying the rights to offer spaces on the ship from a local Galapagos citizen or company. This is smart of them as it means you will not find the boat offered by other companies at lesser prices, however you can find great ships in the same category also featuring level 3 naturalists and exceptional itineraries. Locally owned and operated ships that are of high quality and reputation often have been operating longer than these ships and may have more favorable itineraries as well. These large international companies generally do offer great customer service, but it may be worth inquiring about the boats they offer as well as a similar boat with a smaller company and seeing what the price difference is and how the service you receive with the smaller company is in the quoting process. That way you can make a more informed decision on your cruise purchase and evaluate whether the high price tag is worth it to you.
Watch out for the next of our Galapagos series which will size up the various sizes and categories of ships as well as itineraries from a high level to help you navigate the sea (pun intended) of cruise ship options and choose the right boat for you in our next newsletter.
For more information on weather and when to go, frequently asked questions, and more info on Galapagos and Ecuador, click here.
Big views, Jordan
Jordan is a Co-Founder of Knowmad Adventures, a company dedicated to creating unique, private and custom trips in South America. He was recently honored by Travel & Leisure as an A-List Top Travel Specialist for South America. Jordan just returned from a trip to Ecuador and Galapagos with Knowmad’s University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum group.
“Travel brings me incredible experiences and challenges, highlighting the world’s natural beauty while connecting me with inspiring people. I am convinced that travel makes us better people, and better people make a better planet.” Read Jordan’s biography and more about the Knowmad team.