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Trip Report - Galapagos Cruise - Early June 2022

orlando
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Trip Report - Galapagos Cruise - Early June 2022
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Warning: this is long, hopefully helpful.

I have hesitated to write this trip report because I have very mixed feelings about the cruise operator we chose. We were supposed to be on this cruise in 2020, but like so many others, we saw it cancelled due to Covid. At first, the tour operator apologized and said there’d be no refunds because pandemics were not covered according to their terms and conditions. It was a good deal of money. We were disappointed, but I was ready to walk away and consider it a very nice donation toward the conservation of this very special archipelago. Then, maybe a week or two later, the cruise company called and said they would actually issue us a credit for a later date. We rebooked for 2021, but, well…still Covid. The company allowed us to reschedule one more time for 2022 and we were really grateful for the generous gesture. We know that many, many others who had scheduled cruises for early 2020 were – literally - left high and dry and were not given future credit; they sustained total loss of their payment. We arrived in the Galapagos with such goodwill toward the tour operator. But things eventually went sideways (sorry, you will have to read until the end for the details).

Here’s my hesitancy: if I name the cruise company, I know my individual experience will not be an accurate reflection, necessarily, of who they really are. There are extenuating circumstances involved that are unlikely to be repeated on every future cruise they do (I wish more of my fellow travelers understood that). I’m giving this company the benefit of the doubt. Frankly, there is no place to actually review boats on TA like you can review hotels or restaurants. All that said, it’s my hope that my report will add to the wealth of information here that helps others plan their own adventures. After all, there is SO much more to experience in the Galapagos than the boat. Forgive the length.

Facts:

8 Day cruise, first week of June 2022, North/West itinerary: North Seymour, Genovesa, Santiago, Rabida, Santa Cruz, Isabela, Fernandina, Mosquera.

Catamaran max capacity of 14 people. We had twelve. We were on the main deck in a small room with one bed and a private bath. Generally we had two hikes and at least two snorkels a day, except for Day 4 when we went to the Darwin Research Center and the highlands on Santa Cruz

The experience:

Our tour operator offered seamless transfers from the moment we arrived at the airport in Quito to the moment we stepped onto the catamaran, itself. No waiting, no crowding, no confusion. Anybody who books with a reputable cruise should expect the same. As for guides, there’s no guarantee. You get who you get. We were lucky. We got an astounding guide named Darwin (real name, seriously). His knowledge, passion and insight were beyond our expectations. Plus, he was a lot of fun and he consistently went the extra mile. The rest of the crew were helpful and kind but did not engage much with the passengers (even with those of us who spoke Spanish). I will say this: on a smaller boats like ours, it seems the crew has limited space to sleep and less space for privacy. Some crewmembers actually slept in the lounge or up top on deck – because they had to. Figure this in when considering how you tip.

I had really wanted to snorkel at Kicker Rock because, based on so many posts here, it looked like it was the only place in all of Galapagos to see hammerhead sharks. This itinerary did not include that. But we really wanted to see Genovesa and Isabela and we figured it was worth the tradeoff. Imagine my surprise when, with no expectations whatsoever, we encountered hammerhead sharks on our first two days of snorkeling! We saw them at North Seymour and Darwin Bay with the Go Pro rolling! Apparently, hammerheads have earned visitation rights throughout the Galapagos and do not exclusively stick to one spot to entertain tourists. Keep your eyes peeled. Elsewhere in the sea, we saw rays, sea lions (everywhere), Galapagos sharks, reef sharks, bullhead sharks, a constellation of starfish, marine iguanas, torpedoes of penguins, lots of beautiful exotic fish, and sea turtles galore. Incredible. Note: the water was shockingly cold, between 68 and 72 degrees F. We wore a full rashguard suit under our wetsuits and still joined the chorus of aching screams when we hit the water. However, as soon as you hit the water, I recommend launching into a good fierce swim and you will warm up very fast.

On land, we saw everything and more. By that I mean, wild tortoises, sea lions, land and marine iguanas, flamingos, snakes, and the aviary that is known as Genovesa. That island merits a mention of its own. We never considered ourselves “birders” but we heard others rave about Genovesa so our curiosity was piqued. Nothing could have prepared us for the display of nature. Genovesa is another world within our world. It feels prehistoric and surreal. Red footed boobies, blue footed boobies, brown boobies, Nazca boobies seeking mates with high-pitched whistles and a somewhat clumsy dance, frigates in spectacular courtship—the males inflating their pouches as if evolution is telling us that size does matter. We saw two owls there as well, pretty rare, I’m told, and plenty of other birds. Elsewhere on our journey, we spotted various mockingbirds, flightless cormorants, herons, pelicans, hawks, Galapagos doves, yellow warblers, finches, and many mommies with chicks. Have I made my point? This non-birder can tell you the islands are a birder’s paradise.

Our hikes were mostly easy. There were a few climbs, and one strenuous hike/climb on a volcano. Hikes across the lava fields were uneven and sometimes required a great deal of balance and precision lest you slip (not naming names). Your hikes and walks will give you a great opportunity to not only experience the geology of the islands, but also a chance to appreciate the diverse flora that decorates the landscapes. Footwear: we only brought two pairs of footwear and they worked perfectly; hiking sandals for easy hikes, wet landings and general boat wear; hiking shoes (not boots) for more strenuous hikes and challenging surfaces.

Our cabin on the boat was not as small as I expected, but certainly not big. The bed, itself, was plenty big for two people and comfortable. The shower/sink/toilet combination was a bit of a challenge, but not a deal breaker.

We had no problem with insects. No mosquitoes. Horseflies and gnats in some places, nothing major. Our weather was fine. Our day on Santa Cruz brought us very fine blowing mist (“guara”); most days were either sunny or partly to mostly cloudy. The weather did not impact any of our activities. The sea, however, was extremely rough on some nights. As has been famously said in maritime folklore, the tiny ship was tossed. So bad that I put on a scopolamine patch for the first time in my life. I’ve been on boats everywhere, but this rocking and rolling was intense. Things flew off shelves. We heard glass breaking in the lounge. People got sick.

SIDEWAYS:

Speaking of sick. COVID happened. Yup, the thing we dreaded most. A few days into the cruise, several people were complaining of severe cold symptoms and fatigue. They tested themselves and tested positive. My partner tested positive. Somehow I did not. And here’s where things went sideways. I would not say the cruise operator did an admirable job of handling the Covid outbreak. At least half of the passengers tested positive and there was very little discussion of protocol. It wasn’t as if the industry didn’t have time to prepare. But there wasn’t a lot of quality communication. Passengers were left to largely separate themselves or join the non-infected on the scheduled activities. And, a few days later, when it was time to disembark, the cruise operator instructed all of us to get on the plane to Quito, infected or not. This happened before the US lifted the Covid test restriction for reentry, so most of us were stranded in Quito. While the cruise company was not directly responsible for the Covid outbreak, unless one of the crew brought it on, it showed complete disregard for its passengers. Normally, we would not need support getting ourselves home after a cruise. But knowing (and I stress knowing) this cruise had a Covid outbreak, the cruise operator could have and should have offered support to those stranded in Quito (i.e. help making hotel arrangements, transportation). Instead, we found ourselves at the Quito airport at 6pm scrambling to find a place to stay and transportation to get there as well as medical services to eventually clear us for travel. At the airport, I called the cruise company’s 24-hour emergency hotline only to reach some kind of party with people laughing and shouting and a woman who told us nobody would be available to help us until the next morning. It was pretty outrageous. Once I reached somebody in the office the next morning, she briefly said something about travel insurance and offered nothing in the form of support. We had travel insurance. That was not the point. Lesson for others: please ask your tour operator what protocols it has in place in case of a Covid outbreak. Granted, the restrictions for reentry to the US have been lifted, but still it would be advisable to know there is a plan in place to deal with sick people.

I should also mention that one night we were cruising on unusually smooth water, but everyone started throwing up, or losing it from the other end. It seemed to hit everyone at once. Whether it was food poisoning or another virus (norovirus?), we will never know. The crew seemed unwilling to acknowledge or address this problem.

Some people choose to do two different itineraries back-to-back on the same boat. Maybe I’d feel differently if Covid hadn’t struck, but by Day 8 we were done. Sensory overload, exhausted from the packed itinerary and activities, and ready for dry land.

All things considered, we are glad we went. We’ve been very fortunate to travel the world for many years nearly trouble-free. We were due for a glitch. I know things could have been handled better, but the frustration and disappointment did not eclipse the wonder and joy of experiencing such treasures of the earth. When you get on a boat with strangers in a strange place, when you venture out into the unknown anywhere, you sign up for the unpredictable and the risk of adversity. But our human problems are such small specks compared to the problems facing the planet. This made me a better traveler.

9 replies to this topic
Tucson, Arizona
Destination Expert
for Quito, Ecuador
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1. Re: Trip Report - Galapagos Cruise - Early June 2022
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Thanks for your report. I'm thrilled that you were able to enjoy the bird life on Genovesa. Too many people only want to see "animals," forgetting that birds were very important in Darwin's (the first Darwin, not your guide!) development of his theories. Also glad you discovered that the hammerheads do not read this forum nor the guidebooks, and go where they please.

While TA does not have a place for small boat reviews, I do compile them in the Top Questions on the right (not visible on phones). So if at some point you would like to write in more detail about the boat, and provide a name, I can add it to the TQs.

orlando
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2. Re: Trip Report - Galapagos Cruise - Early June 2022
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Thank you, azbuceadora. I think I used all the words in my vocabulary to craft that very exhaustive trip report, but if I find any leftovers, I'll be happy to write more about the boat and provide a name. Also, thanks for your remark about the hammerheads. I laughed out loud.

Ottawa, Canada
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for Galapagos Islands
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3. Re: Trip Report - Galapagos Cruise - Early June 2022
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Dear Stevie -

that was quite a positive review -- until the COVID section. So sorry for you. I have knowledge of very recent trips where COVID has broken out on the ship. My impression is that the industry in Galapagos is now rolling with the punches, and that there is no real strict protocol anymore on what to do if COVID appears on board, despite all efforts (including testing before boarding). Ships are dealing with any outbreak on board on a case by case basis. It may depend on the ship management, on how the guests feel about it. Also, it's based on the understanding that the chances that those that are vaccinated get seriously ill are vanishingly small.

As for the follow-up service you received, that is indeed unpardonable. Did you book wiht the ship directly? Some ships may not have much capacity to deal with anyting beyond the operation of the ship. Did you book with an agent? ALL agents should take care of their guests throughout the duration of their trip, no matter what happens.

Warmest regards,

Heather Blenkiron

Edited: 30 June 2022, 16:23
Boston...
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4. Re: Trip Report - Galapagos Cruise - Early June 2022
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I have to say, reading this has made me question my decision to book an extended duration cruise and I'm more than a bit worried. Thank you for sharing.

orlando
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5. Re: Trip Report - Galapagos Cruise - Early June 2022
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Heather,

We did book directly with the ship. I thought we'd get the best price that way. But, I suppose an agency might have looked out for our welfare more conscientiously when things went sideways. Lesson learned!

Thanks, as always, for being so responsive to posts on here.

Best, Stevie

orlando
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6. Re: Trip Report - Galapagos Cruise - Early June 2022
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2020adventuretime,

Like I mentioned in my post, this was my experience on one cruise and one cruise operator during one week in the Galapagos. It is not necessarily the reflection of the experiences others are having throughout Galapagos tourism. Assume my trip was sort of anomaly. Assume you can't predict really anything. I posted the report so people would be aware of what happened but also to highlight the truly magical things we encountered while on our trip. As for the extended duration cruise, or back-to-back itineraries, there are so many posts here by people who raved about that extra week on the boat. It's expensive and it's typically just as active and demanding as the first 8 days, but it comes down to your own comfort level. I think, even had Covid not struck, we were ready for dry land, dry clothes, and a place sleep that wasn't rocking and rolling.

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7. Re: Trip Report - Galapagos Cruise - Early June 2022
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Thank you Stevie for sharing. We happen to have a cruise with the same company (catamaran and 14 passengers per boat should be too much of a coincidence) within a couple of weeks. We do the same itinerary but the shorter 4day version, so your experiences have helped us a lot since I could not find much information about them in the forum nor anywhere else. Hope we get Darwin aswell, a good guide really makes the difference and this is a trip we've been dreaming of for years. We have also booked the cruise with them directly. Of course, I will contact them to ask about the Covid Outbreak protocol, what a shame you had to face such a situation. In our case we are just praying the current situation in continental Ecuador calms down, since the spanish goverment has already advised against traveling there The company has told us they would not refund us in case we could not get there because of the political/social disturbs. ... anyway I try to remain positive and keep on planning the trip. I was wondering, As we don't go back to Quito directly after the cruise, (so we don't go to Baltra) do you think it will be possible for us to somehow go back to puerto Ayora from the Highlands in Santa Cruz (is our last "tour")? By taxi maybe? Thank you very much and thanks again for sharing such a complete view of your experience.

Best,

Claudia

orlando
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8. Re: Trip Report - Galapagos Cruise - Early June 2022
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Claudia,

As far as I know (and I could be wrong about this), there are plenty of small catamaran tours that accommodate up to 14 to 16 passengers - all different companies. So you might not be on the same boat. Even if you are, you will probably have a unique experience of your own. It comes down to the guide, and somewhat the crew. To me, the contact with nature, in all forms, was breathtaking. And you will experience that regardless of who your tour with. So, just expect the unexpected. The good surprises will far outweigh the bad ones. Have a wonderful trip!

Tucson, Arizona
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for Quito, Ecuador
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9. Re: Trip Report - Galapagos Cruise - Early June 2022
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2020AT, read the boat reviews in the Top Questions on the right (not visible on phones). There are quite a few from the past two years. Most people truly enjoy their experiences--even Stevie, with all the hiccups.

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