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How to book a last minute Galapagos cruise, Part 2

Washington, DC
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How to book a last minute Galapagos cruise, Part 2
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I recently returned from Galapagos. I did both cruise and land tour in July/August 2021, totaling 2 weeks. I went to Ecuador without any cruise or land booking, except for my first 2 nights hotel stay at Quito.

I have noticed there are always a lot of posts asking about last minute Galapagos cruise, but very few concrete replies on how it can be done effectively.

Therefore, the tenor of my post will be on “How to book a last minute Galapagos cruise, Part 2”, though I will also touch on topics not specific to last minute booking.

Why Part 2? Because someone else has written Part 1 a few years ago. (I will talk about his post later)

I will divide my write-up into several parts.

35 replies to this topic
Washington, DC
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2,431 posts
95 reviews
84 helpful votes
1. Re: How to book a last minute Galapagos cruise, Part 2
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IDEAL TRAVELER ATTRIBUTES FOR LAST MINUTE GALAPAGOS CRUISE

First of all, I don’t think everyone is cut out to do a last minute Galapagos cruise booking, therefore, I want to be upfront about this here.

Ideally, you should

1. Have 1.5 weeks or more travel time in Ecuador

- You touch down at Ecuador 2-5 days in advance of cruise departure, depending on your risk tolerance

- You can depart for Galapagos as early as the next day if the stars are aligned, so the extra days are just for cushion

2. Have 2-3 cruises in mind that you are open to joining

- Your shortlisted cruises should ideally have departure dates +/- 4 days of each other.

- You can start narrowing down your interests from websites like https://www.galapagosadvisor.com/ and https://www.galapagosislands.com/

3. Be willing to spend half day on the ground at Quito to scout out travel agencies and boat owners

- Set a time limit for yourself for price-shopping/decision-making.

- Time is money. Spending another several hours to save a nominal sum is silly. Be happy with what you agree with.

4. Bring enough cash from home country for cruise payment.

- It doesn’t make sense to pay credit card surcharge

- Nor do you want to waste time running around making multiple ATM withdrawals across town at Ecuador.

5. Don’t need everything to be fixed in stone before leaving home country and won’t get anxious about it

- Don’t have confirmed booking doesn’t mean you don’t research online beforehand.

- Your goal is to be an informed consumer before you even step foot into Ecuador.

6. If all cruise plans failed, be willing to do land tour

- I seriously doubt you will even get to this stage.

- Several cruises I looked at and presented with, which are considered popular, still have 3+ cabins available a few days out from departure.

As of now, because the demand for cruises is still recovering from the covid impact, there is still room for flexibility even if you are not all of the above.

Washington, DC
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2. Re: How to book a last minute Galapagos cruise, Part 2
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DO YOUR HOMEWORK PRIOR TO ARRIVING TO ECUADOR

1. Shortlist 2-3 cruises while keeping an open mind for others

- Personally, I did not review all 80+ Galapagos cruises/itineraries out there, or even half of them that are actually navigating these days

- But I have a fairly good idea what I want by reviewing an itinerary I considered as gold standard, and then compare others to it while considering other aspects. All in all, I think I have only actually read 4 boat itineraries in detail.

2. Shortlist 3-6 boat owners and/or travel agencies in La Mariscal, Quito, and overnight at a hotel within walking distance to them.

- You can find their contact information from internet (company website, facebook, google review, tripadvisor).

- Once in Quito, you can reach out in several ways (walk in, Whatsapp texting, or a mix of both), but no matter how you do it, your communication should show that you are serious, by asking about the rates for cruises departing within the next 2-5 days.

3. Come prepared with all the cruise knowledge in your brain (itinerary, ship attributes/layout, cabin type, online cruise rate), such that your focus on the ground is to get the best price.

- The goal is to negotiate to achieve a win-win situation, and this is expected and cultural, in places like South America, Africa, Asia, etc.

- You do not need to speak Spanish, although I think it’s an advantage.

- Negotiating is likely more effective in person than over text, especially if you are a good negotiator.

4. Don’t prebook flights to Galapagos, or have a backup cancellable booking.

- This is a tricky question, because some cruise deals actually come with the domestic flights included. Therefore, if your shortlisted cruises do, then it is to your advantage not to prebook, and of course, to book at Quito rather than Puerto Ayora.

- Last minute mainland-Galapagos return flights typically hover around $300-500, while it can be as low as $200 when booked one month in advance.

- I chose Quito to do last minute cruise booking because there appear to be too many ephemeral mom-and-pop shops in Puerto Ayora such that I can’t say I bestow the same level of trust, having not been there at that time. However, I have altered my mindset since then, and think it’s also doable in person from Puerto Ayora as long as you are circumspect about who you are transacting with.

5. Read up on what you would do before and/after after the Galapagos cruise.

- Some people may choose to spend the time at Quito, some may choose to do land tours at Galapagos.

- I spent the bulk of my time at Santa Cruz and San Cristobal because if I am already paying to go all the way there, then why am I limiting myself? Plus, even your 8D/7N cruise cant possibly cover everything there is to Galapagos.

- To me, the best-value-for-money cruise is the one that goes to as many far flung islands as possible, and then you can visit the other islands yourself from land or via day tour. These two posts should help https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g294310-i6637-k13643624-Logistics_Galapagos_Cruise_vs_Land_Tours-Galapagos_Islands.html and https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g294310-i6637-k11378621-Galapagos_Islands_Detailed_Guide_for_Land_based_Travellers-Galapagos_Islands.html

Washington, DC
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3. Re: How to book a last minute Galapagos cruise, Part 2
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BOOK AT QUITO OR GUAYAQUIL OR PUERTO AYORA

I chose Quito over Puerto Ayora and explain why I did so earlier. I disregarded Guayaquil because my international flight didn’t land there, and also I don’t know much about the place. I think there are more things to do at Quito while you make up your mind about the Galapagos cruise. I was multi-tasking, sightseeing around Quito while texting travel agencies about cruises at the same time.

Washington, DC
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4. Re: How to book a last minute Galapagos cruise, Part 2
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LAST MINUTE CRUISE WEBSITES

Below websites list the “last minute cruise prices” are. It is not to be taken as gospel but just as a benchmark because 1. I don’t think any of these websites represent the comprehensive or accurate list of cruise that’s bookable, 2. The prices and availability are not necessarily always up to date, 3. If you look carefully, you will also notice the “last minute prices” for the same exact boat/itinerary/departure date can still vary across a huge range.

So, do not hesitate to ask about a cruise that you don’t see listed.

* Elwo Travel - galapagoslastminutes.com

* Galapagos Natural Life - galapagoslastminutes.net

* Ecuador Green Travel - dealsgalapagos.com

* Nature Galapagos and Ecuador - naturegalapagos.com/last-minute-deals

* CNH Tours/Various boat owners or sales rep - galapagoscruiselinks.com

Any TAs in Ecuador can secure last minute cruise price for you. You don’t necessarily need to book from the ones listed above.

Also, take note that these last minute cruise websites are commonly just a front for travel agencies, which is

why the URL names don’t match the name of the TAs. I can only deduce it’s due to SEO. I list their names and URL here as long as they are somewhat affiliated – whether financially or not financially.

Washington, DC
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5. Re: How to book a last minute Galapagos cruise, Part 2
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BOOK VIA BOAT OWNERS OR TRAVEL AGENCIES

All information about boat owners/operators can be found online. It’s impossible to list all of them here as they are going to be different depending on the cruise ship you are interested in. For example, Metropolitan Touring [https://www.metropolitan-touring.com/our-fleet/] is one of the major players out there.

I will focus on the travel agencies instead. From what I gather, some TAs (“wholesalers”) have direct outreach to the boat owners/operators, some don’t. You secure the best pricing when you have an arrangement that involves the least number of middlemen.

My experience is that you get better price when booking through TA over boat owner. I was quoted $300-500 more per person for the same exact boat/itinerary/departure date, and this was the case across 3 different boat owners/operators.

Washington, DC
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6. Re: How to book a last minute Galapagos cruise, Part 2
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RECOMMENDED TRAVEL AGENCIES

For Quito, I can recommend

- Galapagos Experience [https://www.facebook.com/www.galapagosexperience.net] especially if you are interested in Samba and Millennium cruises.

- Midlands Travel [https://midlandtravel.com.ec/]. Read my review for that.

For Puerto Ayora, I can recommend

- The Darwin Path [https://www.thedarwinpath.com/en]. I didn’t inquire any Galapagos cruise rates with Yogo, since I already had one booked before arriving to Santa Cruz, but find his rates for other stuff fair. He also operates the La K-Leta guesthouse. He’s really an all-around great guy.

- There are many TAs at Puerto Ayora that don’t have an online presence, whether an official website or facebook page. All they have is storefront, an email and a Whatsapp contact number. I don’t think this necessarily means they are shady. In fact, I booked my Bartholome day trip via an agency like this. And the sales guy actually came all the way to my hotel on the morning of the trip to make sure I was picked up by the bus for the tour. I wasn’t expecting that, so it was a nice gesture. If you are around Puerto Ayora for a while, you will be walking the same streets again and again and will therefore figure out who looks legit…

I also recommend

- Joining TA’s social media pages and browsing through them. You will get a sense of how last minute cruise prices look like historically since they sometimes update there more often than on their official websites.

- Working with TA that goes on cruise inspection visits. What this means is that they go on Galapagos cruises from time to time to evaluate the offerings, so that they know what actually happens on the ground. It’s a work trip for them, not leisure like it will be for you. And following that, they are frank about the pros and cons of each boat with you. These days, it’s less likely they go on such visits due to fewer cruise navigations, but any recent experience helps.

- Inquire what would happen if the cruise you booked and paid for didn’t end up navigating. Because of covid-related uncertainty, it is important for every booker, moreover the advanced bookers, to have contingency plans. The answer I was given is that I will be reassigned to an equivalent cruise ship/itinerary. So you have to ask yourself whether you would be happy with that, and if not, do you have any flexibility in moving your sailing date to another time, change your international flights etc, to have the same cruise. Or get a full refund. I knew the chances of this happening to me was extremely slim, so I didn’t deliberate on it. But I do think the uncertainty is greater the further out your sail date is, as things are generally in flux. Typically, barring force majeure, cruise ships will depart as long as it makes financial sense to do so. But covid has added an additional layer of uncertainty to such matters. So make sure you are aware of the booking terms you agree to, both from the TA and boat owner/operator.

Washington, DC
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7. Re: How to book a last minute Galapagos cruise, Part 2
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SINGLE SUPPLEMENT ON CRUISE

Many (but not all) cruises are waiving single supplement these days. So don’t be alarmed if you see 50-80% single supplements published online. Those probably apply pre-covid but not necessarily anymore.

In fact, right now, I think there is actually no reason to pay single supplement unless you are married to the boat. So if you are picking between A that costs $1800 and B that costs $1400+$400 ss, then A is probably a better deal since there’s a valid reason why A costs more than B to begin with.

If you are really married to the boat, then you can offer to room with someone (usually same gender) and pay the double sharing per person rate. But make sure the contract you agree to stipulates that you don’t pay the single supplement if your roommate doesn’t materialize.

All in all, it is a good time to travel solo, or in a party of 3, 5 or 7.

Washington, DC
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8. Re: How to book a last minute Galapagos cruise, Part 2
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TYPE AND DURATION OF CRUISE ITINERARY

Personally, I favor the NW itinerary over SE. If you look carefully, the south islands are actually doable without involving a cruise. So if you are someone who wants to do “everything” but don’t want to spend more than 8 days on a cruise ship, then a NW-focused itinerary is the way to go.

8D/7N is the standard length. I did not look at anything shorter than 5D/4N. I believe the shorter cruises don’t typically navigate to the faraway islands. 6D/5N itineraries usually involve open jaw so this is advantageous for someone who wants to spend more time in Santa Cruz and San Cristobal before and after the cruise.

Washington, DC
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9. Re: How to book a last minute Galapagos cruise, Part 2
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MONTH OF CRUISE TRAVEL

Traditionally, I believe the Northern Hemisphere summer months and end of year/start are the busy periods for Galapagos cruise. Former because of school break, latter because of Xmas/New Year. So last minute cruise options may be more limited during these periods although that’s not my experience recently in the covid era.

Washington, DC
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10. Re: How to book a last minute Galapagos cruise, Part 2
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SOME SAMPLE CRUISES

I pick these 3 boats to talk about them more in depth, because they have various interesting points, pros and cons. No cruise is perfect, so it’s up to you to decide what you are willing to trade-off.

BELUGA cruise [https://www.belugagalapagos.com/destinations] – If you are looking to do both the NW and SE itineraries, Beluga 6+6 days Hood/Isabela combo itineraries are fantastic. They maximize time at the outer islands while minimize time spent on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, islands where you can explore yourself. It also comes with an open jaw itinerary. And you spend 12 days on the boat instead of the traditional 15 days. If stand-alone, the individual 6 days itinerary are quite a bit weaker compared to other standard 8D/7N itineraries.

SAMBA cruise [http://www.galapagosamba.net/] – The NW itinerary of Samba cruise is the best of the best, hands down. Probably the only aspect I can think of to improve would be to substitute Mosquera with North Seymour but that is covered by their SE itinerary. Now, about its downsides. The boat is small, even among monohulls. You are likely to feel the swell of ocean more when navigating with this boat versus other monohulls or catamarans. The cabins are tiny and equipped with bunkbeds. It is an adventure boat and puts a lot of emphasis on water-based activities. It suits many but not everyone.

TIP TOP cruise [https://www.tiptopcruises.com/cruises/] – The Tip Top IV NW itinerary is a close second, while the Tip Top II and V corresponding itineraries are considerably weaker. II and V are catamarans, while IV is a yacht. What’s interesting about this cruise is that 1. The deal package includes domestic flights, and 2. Currently the IV vessel is not navigating (under maintenance), but there are some prospective dates where the IV itinerary is being operated but using their newest fleet, the V. These boats are also typically chartered by Galapagos Travel [https://galapagostravel.online/11-day-trips], the company founded by Barry Boyce, for their photography-focused trips.

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