I have never been to the Galapagos but am currently booked on the Celebrity Xpedition for April 2005. However I some reservations about this boat and am 75% sure I will be canceling this to book on another boat for reasons I’ll get to in a minute…
I recommend everyone go to the Fodors.com forum to see the many post about the Galapagos. There is very good information about what to expect. Here's what I know...
There are several types of boats you can go on: cruise ships, yachts, and sail boats. Each boat has a class associated with it (from highest to lowest): Luxury, First Class, Tourist Superior, and Tourist Class
Most boats carry around 16 passengers. Some of the larger ones carry up to 40 and a few of the cruise ships, like the Xpedition, carry up to 100. No boat can carry more than 100 per Galapagos's strict guidelines. Also per these guidelines, for every 16 passengers there must be at least one naturalist (your tour guide).
These boats vary in price from $500/person to over $4000 w/out airfare. There are many websites out there where you can find out information on individual boats and prices including special family cruises designed for kids. These tend to only happen a few times a year, primarily in the summer months. A good website to find travel agents is www. Igtoa.org. This is the International Galapagos Tour Operator Assoc that many agencies are registered with.
Most people recommend the smaller boats because you are not restricted to a time schedule since there are less people to get on and off the boat and the crew has less people to handle. But the smaller boats will sway more in the water and the accommodations may not be quite as comfortable as the larger boats. But it is really a matter of personal preference and priorities. The larger ships will be more like a cruise ship although nothing in the Galapagos will compare to the traditional 1000+ passenger ships we think of for cruising.
The length in cruise varies as well. From 3 day cruise to 14+ day cruises. You may see advertised “10 day Galapagos cruises” like the Xpedition. This counts the 2 day prior and 1 day post stay in Quito. The actual cruise is only 7 days. This is the recommended minimum to be able to see everything. 10 days is even better. The main thing is to see exactly how many days you are in the Galapagos and what is included and not included in the price.
Many agencies do not include any airfare in their prices. There is also a $100 entrance fee per person that you must pay in cash after arriving at the Galapagos airport. This usually isn’t included in the price either. The Ecuador’s currency is the American dollar now so there isn’t any conversion for those traveling from the US.
Another valuable resource is a book entitled, ”A Travelers Guide to the Galapagos” by Barry Boyce, 4th Edition. You should be able to find this book at most local book stores. The 4th edition came out this year which is why I mention it. I’ve even seen some older versions at the library.
You will need to stay at least one night in Quito or Guayaquil as most flights to the Galapagos are early morning flights. Unless you plan to sleep in the airport. It is also recommended that you stay one night in either city after the Galapagos. This is because the flights to/from the Galapagos have a reputation of being unreliable. Yes, Quito doesn’t have the best reputation in the world either, but you should have no reserves about staying there. Just be smart. You can get robbed in your own town just as easily if you’re not cautious.
Why am I not very please with the Xpedition? The Xpedition’s itinerary has not been changed from the previous owners itinerary which was a 3/4 split cruise. A 3/4 day split cruise means that there are 3 different length cruise offered for one week – 3 day, 4 day, and 7 day. At the conclusion of the 3 day, the boat will return to the airport to let some passengers off and others on. Then start the 4 day cruise. If you are doing the 7 day, you get to spend your morning on the boat, docked at the airport. There is nothing wrong with this but you loose half a day waiting for others. For the price you pay, I don’t want to just sit around.
The Xpedition does not return to the airport on day 4. Instead they cruise the waters for one morning instead of going to a port. Another day they return to Santa Cruz which was already visited earlier in the week. Celebrity says they did not change this itinerary because they do not want to “rush” their passengers to the next port. They said they return to Santa Cruz because there is so much to do there. I’ve talked to travel agents in Quito who sell both the Xpedition and other ships who said this is overkill for Santa Cruz. So I’m not sure just what Celebrity has planned on Santa Cruz.
Again, for me, I don’t want to sit around and relax while at the Galapagos. This is just my opinion, which not everyone will feel the same way about. It took a lot of calling travel agents and Celebrity to find out this info. I think it’s important for everyone to know what they are signing up for. I am hoping to read some trip reports from people who are on the Xpedition in the upcoming weeks to see exactly what the itinerary is like and then decide if I will change boats.
I could go on and on. But this is long enough. Look at some of the other major travel sites like fodors and frommers. They all have info about the Galapagos and message boards with posts. Search google and yahoo as well.