Our Galapagos Islands cruise is the only trip in The Travel Chronicle series that owes its existence to my partner Courtney’s previous career in the travel industry. It was in 2001 that she asked me if I wanted to take advantage of a special offer for either a cruise to London or a cruise in the Galapagos, and although I love London, the priority was not in question.
I specifically requested that we take the largest of the boats available, the cruise ship Galapagos Explorer II, solely due to the on-board doctor. I was quite new to the problem of traveling with an insulin dependent diabetic at the time, and did not want to be the responsible party while at sea in a foreign country during a medical emergency. As it turned out, we did use the services of the doctor one morning at around 3:00 AM – during a severe low blood sugar episode that could have been fatal.
In more recent years we always travel with a syringe or two of glucagon so that I can deal with the problem myself, but on that one night the decision to forgo the romantic image of sailing through the Galapagos in a tiny sailboat paid big dividends.
Highlighting the medical advantage of a bigger boat is by way of confessing that prior to making that decision for this particular trip, I was a full blooded travel snob. The idea of going on an organized tour was bad enough, but on a cruise ship? Unthinkable.
Anyone familiar with the world of cruise ships might not include the Galapagos Explorer II under that description. In fact, if you add up the entire capacity of every commercial passenger boat in The Galapagos Islands it wouldn’t equal the total number of passengers on one of the ships of the major cruise lines. As a matter of style, there is some similarity, but the scale is completely different.
The experience of being on the Galapagos Explorer II was so much better than I imagined that it eliminated my anti cruise ship bias, and even led to an Alaskan cruise a few years later. Despite the 100 or so people on board, the size of the boat assures that there is always an empty deck somewhere, so there is never the sense of being stuffed into a box with no privacy. Nor is luxury such a bad thing when it comes to cabin size or food service, or an on-board library, etc., etc. The larger boats also achieve a higher top speed, which means less time traveling and more time at your destination. Explorer II shore excursions are broken up into comfortably sized groups, and each has its own naturalist guide, so you never feel as if you are overwhelming a particular locale or fighting a crowd to have a question answered.
None of this discussion is meant to discourage anyone from the smaller vessels (as we mention elsewhere, more flexibility is possible with the smaller operators), but rather to persuade anyone with my former bias not to jump to conclusions. I still don’t think I’d be interested in one of those Caribbean deals where each port offers another shopping opportunity for a couple of thousand people, but that’s another story.
As part of our general approach to traveling, based on numerous past experiences, we planned an extra day in Quito prior to sailing. If our arrival had been delayed a full day, we would still have made our connection with the boat. Also, since South America is a long way from Colorado, we added extra days after the cruise to see some of Ecuador, thereby getting a little extra value from our airfare.
(A discussion of the general strategy we use to increase our opportunities to travel can be found at The Travel Chronicle Travel Plan page.)