Galapagos Cruises: What’s the Difference between Budget and Luxury?
Dec 5th, 2011
Ask any Galapagos guide and they’ll tell you the best way to see the islands is to spend several days on board one of the live-aboard cruises.
These cruises go to far-flung islands like Española and Genovesa, which are not accessible for day trips from the main towns. But once you start looking for a Galapagos cruise, you’ll find a dizzying array of options of different categories and prices.
Obviously, most travelers want to save money where they can, which brings us to the big question: is it worth it to pay more for an upgrade from a budget-class Galapagos boat to one in a higher category?
Luxury Galapagos Cruises vs. Budget Galapagos Cruises
Needless to say, this is a big question for most travelers.
The price tag is usually the most important factor of all!
A typical first-class cruise costs about $600-$800 per person per day.
A budget Galapagos boat is considerably cheaper, averaging around $200-$300 per person per day.
Other expenses, such as airfare, Park Entrance Fee, and Transit Control card are fixed and will not vary depending on category of cruise.
The itinerary of the ship is one very important factor that many visitors fail to consider.
• Do you want to see a Waved Albatross? Then pick a boat that goes to Española Island.
• Do you want to see Galapagos Penguins? Your itinerary should include the western islands.
That being said, there isn’t really much difference between itineraries of luxury class or budget boats: schedules are fixed by the Galapagos National Park and visit a variety of islands over a period of 2 weeks, most visiting the same sites.
The specific itinerary you experience depends on what part of the set 2-week period your trip covers.
This is where the luxury ships really shine.
The differences in facilities and accommodations on a budget and a luxury ship are enormous.
Design and layout of the cabins is vastly superior.
The whole ship is air conditioned with new machines that make very little noise.
Social areas are classy and comfortable. Snorkeling gear is generally new and well-maintained.
Budget ship staterooms are generally below the deck, on or under the waterline. They are cramped, poorly-designed and uncomfortable. They are often close to the engine room, which means that they are noisy and often smell badly of diesel. Windows are generally small, round portholes.
Many budget ships have bunk beds in the cabin which can be a challenge for many passengers, while few luxury and first-class ships have bunk-beds. Air conditioning may not work or be noisy on budget boats, if they have it at all. Snorkeling gear may be worn out.
On luxury ships, service is a priority.
Luxury ships hire the best captains, crew and guides and ask their guests to fill out comment cards at the end of their cruises in order to continually monitor and improve their service.
The ship is kept neat and regular maintenance is performed annually. Representatives are usually with the guests from beginning to end: an airport pick-up in Quito to drop-off and check-in for the Galapagos flight, and assistance upon returning to the mainland of Ecuador afterwards.
Guides are first-rate, with good language skills and lots of experience. Food is outstanding and memorable, with options for vegetarians and other special-needs diners.
On the other hand, service is not a high priority for budget ships. Visitors are generally on their own to arrive to Galapagos, although almost all boats do send representatives to greet passengers upon arrival in Baltra or San Cristobal.
Guides may be new and inexperienced with a lower level of English. The ships are generally kept clean, but engine maintenance is sometimes a problem. Food is acceptable but not great.
No one can argue that saving money is important, especially when luxury ships cost significantly more than budget vessels.
When service, facilities and reliability are factored in, however, it probably makes more sense to upgrade if you can. After all, what’s the point of an expensive visit to the Galapagos if you’re uncomfortable and miserable the whole time you’re on board the ship?
For advice on selecting budget boats with high reviews, or to find out more information on choosing between luxury and first-class boats, contact one of our expert Trip Advisors! Also, you can search by type of boats and see their ratings to assist your planning.
For those on a budget, travel agents generally recommend spending a bit extra and upgrading to at least a mid-range boat, in order to avoid some service problems typically associated with budget boats.
If money is not a high factor in planning your Galapagos trip, but you want to save some money, first-class boats may be a great option:
They have very comfortable accommodations and high level of service similar to the luxury yachts, but give you some extra spending room for the rest of your trip.