Our Galápagos vessel survey includes an assessment of the various vessels plying the Galápagos seas. The ships reviewed range from small, chartered yachts to large 90-100 passenger luxury vessels. Our on-site analysis includes a discussion of the various boats’ pros and cons with several Galápagos naturalists who have worked on many of the ships.
In terms of the smaller vessels, the wildlife exposures and the many shore activities are much more enhanced, resulting in a very personal Galápagos sailing experience. For some, the small vessels can cause mild seasickness. That being said, the newer vessels are equipped with stabilizing technology, allowing for a much smoother journey!
The Integrity has a capacity of 16 passengers with 10 crew members and one naturalist guide. There are a total of six 150 sq. foot staterooms on the Main Deck, one fixed-twin stateroom, and a 350 sq. foot Owner’s Suite. The standard staterooms offer plenty of space along with double windows, providing a scenic backdrop during your Galápagos exploration. A writing desk, small lounge, storage cabinet, and a full-sized shower make this feel like a fully functioning hotel room. The Owner’s Suite takes up the bow of the main deck, covering its entire width. For those desiring ultimate privacy and luxury, this does the job. Each room includes a TV, individual climate control, private en-suite bathrooms, and large double windows.
For rest and relaxation, passengers have a partially covered sun deck lounge with a 360-degree bar for their choice of view. There is also a platform at the bow of the boat, which is the recommended spot for watching dolphins surf the bow waves. At nighttime, you can search for bioluminescent life in the water at the viewing platform!
As the first true superyacht to sail the Galápagos Islands, the 50m Aqua Mare takes an iconic once-in-a-lifetime adventure to the next level. The Aqua Mare caters to those who believe the right boat is integral to any sea-faring adventure. The founder of the luxury cruise company Aqua Expeditions, Italian American Francesco Galli Zugaro, emphasizes the Aqua Mare is not meant to compete with other superyachts, but to outclass the Maldives and even Aman resorts!
Having met Galli Zugaro in the spring of 2022, I was much impressed by his knowledge and passion for luxury travel and the natural, rich life of the Galápagos Islands. I was excited to see his write-up in the recent Financial Times June 2022 issue, which further describes the relationship between the Aqua Mare and its unique, surrounding environment.
With her expansive size and world-class pedigree, the Aqua Mare boasts 30 percent more indoor volume than most yachts of her size, making her the perfect respite after active days exploring the remote wildlife and dynamic nature of the Archipelago. When aboard, guests will find seven large Zuretti-designed suites, including an
80 sqm Owner’s Suite complete with exclusive steward service. Extravagant indoor and outdoor social spaces, elegant finishing, and immaculate attention to detail make the Aqua Mare the first of its kind in the region, and the ultimate retreat while exploring the dramatic volcanic landscapes of the Galápagos Archipelago.
Aboard this luxury yacht, combined with the most personalized, high-touch service enabled by two naturalist guides for 16 guests, there is a one-to-one crew to guest ratio! The Aqua Mare also carries a comprehensive suite of top-of-the-line, non-motorized watersports equipment, including snorkeling gear that guests choose for the duration of their itinerary including masks, fins, snorkels, as well as optional shorty wetsuits, eight double kayaks and two stand-up paddle boards.
The 16-passenger Endemic is among the Galápagos Island’s newest luxury catamaran fleet. We can earnestly say the Endemic has lived up to expectations as the premier catamaran in the archipelago. The interior boasts high ceilings, elegantly clean decor, and an airy atmosphere. With wall-to-wall windows, natural light seeps into every corner of its confines. This includes all eight cabin suites, which all have private balconies, offering an unrivaled panoramic view of this equatorial paradise. Please note, there are no laundry services available aboard the Endemic.
Designed to sail the Galápagos, this sleek, twin-hulled catamaran provides guests with a stable cruise and spacious interior. Onboard you will be able to enjoy a semi-covered sky deck, alfresco dining area, and cozy bar-salon. All suites onboard are spacious (Golden Suite is 35 sq. meters), each with ocean views through panoramic windows, outdoor balcony, and rainforest style showers in private bathrooms. Aboard the M/C Elite, you will enjoy delicious meals made from fresh and local ingredients prepared by the chef on board. Just launched on June 15, 2019, with a capacity of only 16 passengers, the Elite is the perfect place to relax after a day of exploring the islands and wildlife that make up the Galápagos.
The historic, 20-passenger, 145-foot M/Y Grace expedition vessel was built in Southampton, England back in 1927 and was originally conceived as a luxury vessel for the European elites. It was later used by the British military in WWII. Its legacy continued when it was purchased by Aristotle Onassis and gifted to Princess Grace Kelly at her wedding in 1956. Flashforward to 2007, when the current owners completed a two-year complete refurbishing, resulting in the present-day, luxury expedition vessel we enjoy today. The Grace is a nice fusion of history, luxury, and exploration
Launched in the summer of 2015, the Petrel, a mega-catamaran sailing the Galápagos Islands, features a total of eight cabins for 16 passengers, with space for a 10-member crew. Named after a local seabird, the Petrel is elegant, swift, and sails quietly while at sea, allowing for maximum comfort on your expedition. Each room includes a private bathroom with shower, hot water, temperatures control, panoramic windows, and a private balcony! The common areas include a comfortable living room, dining room, and an outdoor lounge with Jacuzzi. With its sleek and modern design, we feel the M/C Petrel is comparable to the M/C Elite, though the cabin sizes are slightly smaller.
This deluxe trimaran was built in 2018 has the standard for small-sized vessels: eight cabins for 16 passengers, plus 10 crew members. Each room includes temperature control, private bathrooms with showers, tempered water, and private balconies. The unique “trimaran” design features three hulls for maximum stability with faster navigation. The commons areas aboard are indoor and outdoor dining and lounges, a nice, shaded bar area, and Jacuzzi. Of particular note is the Camila’s sustainable fuel efficiency and the staff’s exceptional service and attentiveness!
Although the large 90-100 passenger luxury vessels offer a more pampered cruise experiences (spacious cabins, spa, etc.), the critical downside is their limited wildlife opportunities and experiences. Based on their large size, they have fewer landing sites, less snorkeling and kayaking activities, and less time for the numerous shore excursions. With 100 passengers being transferred to and from the islands, the total time devoted to wildlife viewing is diminished. One of the naturalist guides referred to these larger ships as “faux-Galápagos.” With that being said, medium-sized vessels are the preferred option when exploring, providing stability in the ocean to combat sea-sicknesses while offering a more in-depth experience exploring the islands.
Celebrity Xperience & La Pinta
The two highest quality medium-size vessels are the Xperience and La Pinta. Relaunched on March 25, 2017, the Celebrity Xperience (formerly the Eclipse) takes the Galápagos mid-size ship expedition experience to a whole new level. Unlike other mid-size vessels, the Xperience will offer premium bedding, flat-screen TVs, internet access, and room service! Both the Xperience and La Pinta offer the perfect balance of premier wildlife experience with quality comfortability and stability and security of a larger ship, while not degrading the more personal, intimate wildlife offshore experience.