By David Barclay | November 30, 2022
While there are many places one can visit by cruise ship and many types of cruises, today I wanted to focus on expedition cruising. Expedition cruises take you to hard to reach locations that can either only be reached by or are best explored by ship. And one of the most well known places for an expedition cruise is the Galapagos Islands archipelago.
A Galapagos cruise is a prefect expedition cruise for anyone who loves nature and wishes to see unique wildlife. Only in the Galapagos can you see penguins and giant iguanas in the same day. Darwin’s finches sing their songs and green sea turtles swim the waters between the islands. Most itineraries are designed to let travelers see as many of the “Big 15” animals as possible, including Blue-Footed Boobies (pictured above), Galapagos Albatrosses, Frigatebirds, Sea Lions, Giant Tortoises and Flamingos. It’s great for couple’s trips, trips with friends, or multi-generational family trips. The experience appeals to all age groups (though most cruise lines will have a minimum age of ~6-8yrs). Since the Galapagos is located near the equator, the weather is pleasant year-round.
And just as varied as the wildlife in the Galapagos are the options for cruising between the islands and seeing the natural wonders. In this blog post I’ll highlight five great options, I guarantee one of these options would be perfect for you.
Options for Cruising The Galapagos
The Ecuador government limits the size and number of ships that can sail in the protected waters of the Galapagos, you won’t find any of the mainstream cruise lines with ships here as ships are limited to a maximum of 100 passengers. Lines that sail the Galapagos tend to be smaller lines, either luxury lines with purpose-built ships, expedition lines, or smaller yachting lines. The five lines I’ve highlighted below span the gamut of options for exploring the Galapagos by ship, and in my opinion are the best cruise line options available. Each line offers a unique cruising experience. One of the keys to truly enjoying and immersing yourself in this bucket list experience is matching your unique travel desires to the right cruise line.
Silversea Cruises (Silver Origin)
Silversea is the ultra-luxury option for sailing and exploring the Galapagos. In 2021, Silversea replaced the Silver Galapagos (their prior ship in the Galapagos) with the purpose-built Silver Origin. This all-suite ship can accommodate a maximum of 100 guests. The Silver Origin pampers guests with butler service, the expertise of 10 expedition leaders/naturalists, and a total crew of 90, for an most 1:1 crew to guest ratio. All suites include either an outdoor veranda or a Horizon Balcony veranda. The Silver Origin boasts the largest interactive screen on any ship sailing the Galapagos and oversized zodiacs to ensure guests explore the islands in comfort. Silversea maintains its high level of service for the guests, including their usual all-inclusive luxury experience. One change from their traditional cruise experience, the dress code is a more relaxed country club casual both day and night and there are no formal or informal nights. Silversea offers their door-to-door fares, which includes all transfers (including black car pickup from guests homes), economy air (upgradable to business), 2 nights in Quito with daily activities before departing on the charter flight for the Galapagos, and return flights and transfers home after the cruise.
Celebrity Cruises (Celebrity Flora)
The Celebrity Flora is the newest and largest ship in the Celebrity fleet to sail the Galapagos (joining the smaller Celebrity Xpedition and Celebrity Xploration). Also purpose-built for the Galapagos, the Celebrity Flora is a cousin to the Silver Origin, they share the same general hull design and were built in the same shipyard, but the Flora’s interior has a more hip and trendy design to match the “New Luxury” brand image of Celebrity Cruises. The Flora has a total crew of 80, including 8 expedition leaders/naturalists (~1 per 12 guests). Celebrity includes their traditional all-inclusive experience on this all-suite ship (food, beverages, wi-fi, tips, etc.). All suites on board include an outdoor veranda. Base fares include the cruise and all-inclusive onboard experience, but guests will need to make arrangements for travel to Ecuador and then out to the Galapagos Islands, or guests can add a pre-cruise package which includes a pre-cruise stay in Ecuador and flights to/from the islands.
Lindblad Expeditions (National Geographic Islander II)
Lindblad Expeditions is a cruise line solely focused on expedition cruising. In 2004 Lindblad partnered with National Geographic and rebranded almost all of their ships with the National Geographic name. The recently launched Islander II replaced the National Geographic Islander and sails the Galapagos with the larger National Geographic Endeavour II. The Islander II accommodates only 48 passengers, providing a more intimate cruising experience compared to the larger ships in the region. As with all Lindblad ships, the naturalists on board are National Geographic naturalists and one of the crew members will be a certified photo instructor, able to assist guests with their photography. A few cruises per year will invite famous photographers on board as guest speakers/photography instructors. Lindblad is known as a family friendly cruise line and offers the National Geographic Global Explorers Program, a program for kids 18 and under with special onboard programs and excursions geared for kids interests. All staterooms on board are outside suites, with large windows for viewing the outdoors. Base fares include an overnight stay pre/post cruise in Ecuador, transfers to/from the Galapagos, all ship-board meals and beverages, and activates/excursions.
Hurtigruten (Santa Cruz II)
Hurtigruten is another well known expedition cruise line sailing the Galapagos. Hurtigruten has over 65 years of experience sailing the Galapagos. It is also one of the most green and environmentally forward thinking cruise lines, with a goal of being at the forefront of the cruise industry’s move towards lower and eventually emissions-free ships. Its latest ship in the Galapagos, the Santa Cruz II, can accommodate up to 90 guests served by 50 crew members. All cabins are outside cabins, with large windows for viewing the outdoors. Base fares include a 2 night stay pre cruise in Ecuador, transfers to/from the Galapagos, all ship-board meals and beverages, and activates/excursions.
Aqua Expeditions (Aqua Mare)
Aqua Expeditions is an expedition cruise line with a focus on a super-yacht experience. Their new super-yacht, the Aqua Mare, just started sailing the Galapagos in 2022. With only seven suites accommodating up to 16 guests, the Aqua Mare is one of the smallest and most intimate ships sailing the region. A crew of 16, including two naturalists, offers one of the best crew to guest and naturalist to guest ratios. Base fares include all ship-board meals and beverages, laundry, wi-fi and activates/excursions, but guests are responsible for their own arrangements to reach the Galapagos (Aqua Expeditions can recommend flight options).
Owner, Barclay & Company Travel
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