Galapagos Islands: Back to Basics

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Harley points out that children over 7 are welcome aboard the Evolution year-round; however, Family Voyages are specially designated on July 20 and Aug. 6 sailings, while a $500 discount applies to kids 7-18 cruising with adults on all January-November departures. Before traveling, each child will receive a “Young Explorer’s Field Guide” with puzzles, history, wildlife information and a journal area, and highlights on tour range from visiting pirate treasure caves on Santa Cruz, to learning to prepare ceviche with the Evolution chef.

President of Metropolitan Touring, Paulina Burbano de Lara’s take on the evolution of cruising in the islands is that, “The Galapagos National Park and environmental agencies have determined that after three decades of tourism in Galapagos, only one aspect has been declining: the guests’ experience due to overlapping itineraries.” While revamping itineraries for the company’s trio of vessels has been a monumental task, she points out some of the benefits from the mandated changes such as, “…sites that at present cannot be visited by vessels of more than 40 guests will be opened to all, such as Genovesa, Tagus Cove, Santa Fe Island and South Plaza Island. Additionally, overall there will be more snorkeling, kayaking, glass-bottom boat opportunities, and [due to better distribution of all boats] our vessels will often have certain sites to themselves during many visits.”

A pioneer in Galapagos cruises, Metropolitan Touring presently owns and operates three deluxe vessels: the 90-passenger Santa Cruz, the 40-passenger Isabela II and the 48-passenger Yacht La Pinta. And all three boats will be introducing the itineraries on Jan. 20, 2012, collectively offering a roster of 3- and 4-, 5-, 6-, and 8-night cruise choices. Additionally, many itineraries work easily with a land stay at the company’s Finch Bay Eco Hotel on Santa Cruz Island. One product the company will not be offering in 2012 is designated family departures. However, on cruises with 7- to 12-year-old passengers, the company’s Young Pirates program—nature videos, handicrafts and treasure hunts—will play an integral part. Sample cruise prices for a 9-night sailing in a twin cabin on the Santa Cruz start at $5,310/adult and $3,982/child; for a 7-night sailing aboard La Pinta, the cabin rate starts at $5,634/adult and $4,225/child. Prices include the new fuel charge.

According to Rosita Perez of Ladatco Tours, starting next year, selling the Galapagos Islands will require more research among the 3- to 14-night cruise itineraries to match each client’s expectations with the optimum cruise. However, for family travelers, La Pinta is Perez’s first choice among cruise vessels. “Ours is a luxury travel clientele, and connecting cabins are a must these days for adults with young kids. Our best option is La Pinta, which has connecting cabins for up to five family members. Further, this is also the only medium-size expedition yacht with cabins all on one deck, the kid-oriented activities are really good.” Perez’s second choice is the 48-passenger Eclipse, which, “while there are no connecting cabins, there are four large cabins with a sofa bed and two suites with an extra bed. Additionally, the Eclipse does everything right for family travel; we never have complaints.”

Connecting cabins are also a feature aboard the 16-passenger Galapagos Grand Odyssey that made its cruise debut in the islands this year. The new luxury yacht has eight spacious Galapagos cabins—twin and matrimonial, including connecting suites for families—and one Odyssey Suite. Public spaces include a dining room, large solarium with two jacuzzis and sun loungers, and a mini-spa offering treatments and massages. Guests also gather in the social areas, and on family departures, there is a play zone for kids. Snorkeling equipment and kayaks are available at no charge. Grand Odyssey will cruise on 4- and 5-, 9- and 10-, and 14-night itineraries; cruise costs range from $3,758 pp dbl for 4-night sailings to $11,605 pp dbl for a 14-night cruise.