While there are several excellent and reliable cruise companies here in the Galapagos, booking a cruise can be a real gamble. The odds are high that you will not get the cruise that you paid for.
Do not depend on one of the “cruise-brokers” that sell hundreds of cabins every month. They sell every boat that plies these waters and rely on volume to prevail in a crowded and very competitive marketplace. There is a good chance you will save money but equally good that you will end up disappointed. They will not apply the individual care and diligence that we do to ensure your satisfaction.
Do not rely on the many Internet sources, such as TripAdvisor, for objective or relevant reviews. A boat that has given good service even in the recent past may be a liability now.
Better to rely on Galeodan’s local knowledge, expertise and integrity to get you the best cruise to suit your interests and budget.
By way of explanation: here is some background on the cruise operations and how they work.
The Licensing System
Each boat depends for its operation on a license (patent), issued by the Galapagos National Park to a business or individual. Some of these entities take a more active role than others in the operation of the boat, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Each patent is good for 16 passengers, the maximum number of travellers for one guide and the maximum group size anticipated to visit each site at a time. It did not take long for operators to circumvent this policy by contracting with 6 or 7 patent-holders with the result that there are several ships of 90, even 100 passengers. When these boats arrive at a visitor site, the passengers have to split into groups of 16 and maintain a distance between each group to limit their impact.
Some operators actually own their own boats while others lease. At the same time, an agency or another operator may charter the boat for a month or even an entire season. Some alliances are more stable than others and as some alliances sour and others are forged, it can be hard to keep track of who is in control of each boat and the implications for the quality of service on that boat.
As an example: several years ago, we booked clients on one of the first class catamarans and they received excellent service. Last year, on the same boat, passengers refused to board one morning because the crew were drunk. A new crew was flown in but the cruise was still an unmitigated disaster. The boat had changed hands but was still drawing passengers on the strength of excellent online reviews from previous years.
Cruise Itineraries & The Park
Most cruise boats run a 15 day cycle around the Archipelago following itineraries which are “fixed” by negotiation with the Galapagos National Park. If you purchase a 4, 5, 6, or 7 day cruise, you will be joining for a portion of the overall itinerary. The Park coordinates all the boats and itineraries to minimize stress on the visiting sites and the operators have limited scope to determine their own itineraries as they have to fit in with the overall matrix.
Once an itinerary has been agreed, the boat cannot deviate without the Park’s consent.
Occasionally the Park will set an island or visitor site off-limits to all boats to allow the site time to recover from the impact of the constant procession of tourists. In that event, boats will be given alternate sites to visit that can be incorporated into the scheduled itinerary. The Park does not make boats switch from one itinerary to another.
8 day itinerary covering Eastern Islands
8 day itinerary covering Western Islands
Some boats are more reliable than others
Some patent-holders are more responsible than others.
Some operators are more reliable and informative than others
Some itineraries are better than others (some are so bad that passengers regularly demand refunds).
The best itineraries sell out first.
Some operators are more forthcoming than others when it comes to providing information about itineraries. In some cases, the information is very hard to find.
The “Blame the Park” Game
When you discover that you are not on the cruise you were expecting, the explanation given, almost every time, is: “ the Park made us change the itinerary”.
Don’t buy that excuse. As explained above, the Park may impose a minor change to the itinerary but it will not cause a boat to switch from one itinerary to another. So if you find yourself on “Cruise A \ Eastern Islands” instead of “Cruise B \ Western Islands” don’t buy the excuse that its the Park’s fault. What really happened is that you were shunted to help the operator and/or agency fill cabins on a less popular itinerary.
This happens on all types of boats, from budget to ultimate luxury. Sometimes its the operator that makes the switch and sometimes its the agency that sold you the cruise. If you know what boat you are on and what date the boat leaves then you should know what itinerary will be followed. Unfortunately, some agencies and operators make it almost impossible to obtain that information first hand. Even then, you might find yourself on another itinerary because you are on a different boat!
On any 8 day cruise, you will only see half the islands. If you are returning to Galapagos, to take in the other half, being shuffled like that would defeat the purpose of your visit.
Booking With Galeodan
We will do our best to make sure that you are on the most suitable boat and itinerary to suit your priorities and budget. For example:
If you have a particular wish to see certain islands, we will do our best to find a suitable boat and itinerary to accomplish that.
If you are spending extra time with us in San Cristobal (perhaps fishing) we will steer you away from some of the cruises that spend 2 days in and around San Cristobal.
We are also going to avoid itineraries where the boat lingers or revisits San Cristobal or Santa Cruz so that it can fill the cabins with more passengers on shorter itineraries that overlap with yours.
You should know that the cruise operators pay us a commission that comes out of the published price. So you pay the same as if you booked direct. You might save some by going to a cruise-broker, or another agency, but then you run a greater risk of disappointment.
We deal with only a limited number of boats and operators - Those which we feel are reliable and forthcoming with detailed information about their boats and itineraries.
Last Minute Bargains... (for the gambler in you!)
You can get some really good last-minute cruise bookings: $500, $1,000, sometimes even more off the price.
We receive regular bulletins from operators alerting us to the last minute deals before they are published by the operator. For various reasons, some operators simply do not publish these bargains. They do not want passengers who paid full price to have knowledge of the discounts being enjoyed by some of their fellow travellers or they do not want to advertise the fact they are not in demand.
While some bargains are advertised months in advance, others are revealed only days before the boat sails.
It’s important to bear in mind that the best itineraries do tend to sell first, so the closer you leave it to your departure date, the more chance the cruises you would prefer will be sold out - Unless you really luck-out with a cancellation.
Sometimes, cabins are blocked by agencies but never sold so they are released to the market at the last moment. Some operators are happy to advise us in advance of these blockings so that we are ready to jump in when the cabins are released.
So if you want to hang in there for a last-minute bargain, we are more than happy to assist - We only ask you to be aware of the dwindling supply of good choices with each day that passes. But then, you never know!