With nearly 70 vessels sailing in and around the Galapagos islands, it can be confusing to know who all the players are. Making it a bit easier is the fact that many of the ships are charter only, particularly when it comes to the smallest yachts and catamarans.
While several of the cruise lines offering Galapagos itineraries are well-known among North American travel advisors (think Lindblad Expeditions, Celebrity Cruises, and Silversea), several may be unfamiliar.
Below, we've rounded up the most important cruise operators in the Galapagos region, but before we get to the list, keep in mind that there are certain things all cruise lines in the Galapagos have in common.
The Galapagos Islands can only be visited in the company of a Galapagos National Park certified guide. In order to offer landings, therefore, every cruise ship carries at least one guide onboard. The vast majority, though not all, are Ecuadorian. Similarly, Ecuador requires that the majority of crew onboard must be Ecuadorian, and the majority of food must be locally sourced. All itineraries are set -- and assigend -- by the Galapagos National Park, so, for the most part, all the cruise lines offer similar itineraries.
Adventures by Disney
Fleet: Adventures by Disney does not operate its own fleet. Instead it charters the 100-passenger Galapagos Legend for around five sailings a year. The ship is one of the only vessels in the region to have an actual swimming pool.
Good to know: Adventures by Disney is known for its edutainment programming that keeps kids involved in the destination. And unlike most other cruise lines, child-friendly meal choices are always available.
Children under 7 years old are not permitted.
Pricing include one pre-cruise night in Quito, internal air, multiple daily excursions, unlimited soft drinks with lunch and dinner, fresh juice with breakfast, transfers upon arrival and departure, Wi-Fi, all gratuities, and all Galapagos taxes. Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks outside of meal times are extra.
Itineraries: Nine-days, including a pre-cruise night in Quito, then roundtrip from Baltra.
Pricing: Prices start from $7,199 for children and $7,999 for adults.
Fleet: Aqua Expeditions operates one of the smaller yachts in the Galapagos, the 16-passenger Aqua Mare. The luxury yacht is one of the most spacious (on a space-per-person ration) in the region, with large suites – the Owner's Suite is a whopping 861 square feet – and a one-to-one crew-to-guest ratio, not including the two naturalists onboard.
Good to know: Aqua Expeditions ranks up there with Ecoventura and Silversea as the most luxurious options in the Galapagos, but the line places as much emphasis on exploration and adventure as on the onboard luxury.
Fares include all non-alcoholic drinks, selected premium wines and beers, a minimum of twice daily excursions, the Galapagos Park entrance fee and INGALA transit card, group transfers to/from the vessel (when traveling on recommended flights), laundry, Wi-Fi, and use of snorkeling equipment. Cocktail and gratuities are extra.
The line recommends ages 5 and up, but will not stop kids younger than that from sailing. Kids aged 5 to 11 receive a 15% discount.
Itineraries: One-week Eastern and Western loop itineraries.
Prices: Starting from $10,000 for a one-week itinerary.
Fleet: Celebrity operates three ships in the Galapagos, ranging from the luxurious 100-passenger Celebrity Flora yacht to the recently refurbished and spacious 48-passenger Celebrity Xpedition, and the cozy 16-passenger Celebrity Xploration catamaran. All sailings include twice-daily excursions led by highly-trained Ecuadorian guides, and the fine dining Celebrity Cruises is known for.
Specific to Celebrity Flora, cruisers can pay extra for a glamping experience that includes bedding down overnight on the top deck, stargazing with a naturalist, and a private outdoor breakfast.
Good to know: Only Celebrity Flora and Celebrity Xpedition have suites, and suite perks. Because of its size, cruisers prone to seasickness might want to avoid Celebrity Xploration.
Fares are mostly inclusive with all drinks, unlimited Wi-Fi, twice daily excursions, gratuities, use of snorkeling equipment, and even rain poncho and backpack included.
Itineraries: Seven-night Inner, Outer, Northern, and Southern loops; 10- to 11-night Inner, Outer, Northern, and Southern loops with Quito; plus longer itineraries that add on Peru and Machu Picchu.
Prices: Starting from $6,654 for one week on Celebrity Xpedition, $7,804 for one week on Celebrity Xploration, and $9,125 for one week on Celebrity Flora.
Fleet: With more than 30 years of experience sailing in the Galapagos and a fleet of the only Galapagos-based yachts to be members of Relais & Chateaux, Ecoventura combines the best of expedition and luxury. The line's three 20-passenger yachts – Origin, Theory, and Evolve – maintain a true yachting feel with daybeds and a hot tub for relaxing, as well as oversized staterooms with marble countertops and rainfall showerheads in the bathrooms.
Good to know: One of the only Galapagos cruise lines to offer an extra-fee private package including a private naturalist guide on all excursions, private transfers, a private table in the dining room, and a private Zodiac sunset ride. The line also offers a handful of themed departures every year including dedicated family and solo sailings, and culinary- or photography-focused trips.
(Children age 11 and younger are only permitted on designated family departures and children under the age of 6 are only permitted on ship charters.)
Prices include most beverages, Wi-Fi on one device per cabin (except in suites), twice daily shore excursions, use of snorkeling equipment during the cruise, and select transfers. Gratuities, premium drinks, and Galapagos park permits and entry fees cost extra.
Itineraries: Two seven-night options – Northern & Western Route or Southern & Central Route (all within the Galapagos Islands)
Prices: Starting from $9,950 per person for a double cabin ($9,750 for a triple), up to $19,900 per person for a suite.
Fleet: One of the newest entry's to Galapagos cruising, Hurtigruten charters one ship in the Galapagos, the completely refurbished MS Santa Cruz II, which is operated by Metropolitan Touring. The 90-passenger expedition-style ship is comfortable, but a little basic when compared to some others in the region. For instance, the onboard recreation is limited to a small gym and two hot tub. Cabins come in single, double, and triple options.
Like most other Galapagos-based vessels, the ship is equipped with kayaks, snorkeling gear, paddleboards, and a glass-bottom boat for viewing marine life.
Good to know: Unlike most ships in the Galapagos, MS Santa Cruz II has free washers and dryers for guest use. Every sailing features an onboard photographer to help guests with their photos.
Kids under 7 years of age are not permitted onboard.
Fares include pre-cruise hotel, select transfers, in-country flights, Wi-Fi, select drinks at meals (plus welcome and farewell cocktails), twice daily excursions, and use of snorkeling equipment. Beverages and gratuities cost extra.
Itineraries: Options range from seven to 14 days (Eastern, Northern, and Western loops), traveling between January and March, or July and December. Itineraries include mix of those that include only four days in Galapagos and those that include seven or more days.
Prices: Starting from $8,141 for a seven-day trip with only four days in the Galapagos ($16,243 for an 11-day itinerary that gets you eight days in the Galapagos), and up.
Latin Travel Collection
Fleet: Within its portfolio of tours and hotels, the Latin Travel Collection also operates the 16-passenger catamaran-style yacht Anahi. The cozy yacht offers all ocean-view rooms (including three suites with capacity for up to three people), dining room and lounge, bar, and Jacuzzi.
Good to know: Anahi is a budget-friendly option in the Galapagos, with sailings of several lengths to fit with any travel schedule. The ship is fairly basic, there is no Wi-Fi, very little is included beyond the basics (excursions and food), and there's only one naturalist guide.
Prices include daily excursions, use of snorkeling equipment (extra fee for wetsuit rental), transfers to and from Anahi, and coffee, tea, and access to a purified water dispenser. Extra costs include the Galapagos National Park entrance fee and transit card, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and gratuities.
Itineraries: Three-, four-, seven-, 10-, 11- and 14-night options.
Prices: From $1,650 for three nights, all the way up to $12,200 or higher for 14 nights.