What I Wish I Knew Before Boarding the Galapagos Vision

By valerie on

Like many backpackers visiting Ecuador on our South America trip, we wanted to get to the Galapagos. The prices are pretty forbidding for the most part, but we’d heard and read in our Lonely Planet that it is sometimes possible to find last minute deals on boats that aren’t quite full.

We found one such deal (online), and the timing was right but we couldn’t help worrying that the price was too good to be true. After reading reviews of the Galapagos Vision online, we decided to proceed but took with us our low expectations. And while the trip itself was fantastic – we saw all we wanted to see and more of the islands and its famous wildlife – there were are few things we wish we’d know before boarding.

These few things would have helped us prepare for the trip ahead, to couch our expectations a little. If you have found this blog because you are thinking of sailing with the Vision, here is what we wish we knew:

Cabins are not assigned. When we booked with our last minute travel agent, we had checked out the layout of the boat and we requested a specific cabin – double bed with a shower on the Starboard side. (The port side is accessed through the kitchen, the middle double cabin has no shower and the stern cabins are twin beds). Our agent said he would pass along our request but said it would not be a problem. When we boarded the boat we discovered that the cabins were not assigned and we had to awkwardly discuss who would get which cabin. It was incredibly uncomfortable to lobby for one of the shower cabins with people you were about to spend 8-days at sea with. We ended up apologetically taking the port side…which turned out to have its own issues.

Cabins are not equal. Every cabin has its issues (with the exception of the starboard/forward cabin – which is the best). Our cabin had a rotten egg smell mixed with the petrol smell from the noisy generator right beside the room. The middle cabin is very short (even a 5’3” passenger could not stand up) and has no shower. The back two cabins have staggered bunks (and being a couple does not guarantee you will not end up here depending on how many couples are on board). The biggest issue was that these two back cabins are right over the motor of the boat. Being a sailboat, you might not think this a problem, but they run the motor even when the sail is up. Much of the transiting between islands happens at night and several of the tenants found that sleep was impossible with the motor going – both fumes and noise drove them to sleep on deck.

A private cabin is not private. On a small boat with 16 passengers (10 guests and 6 crew) every single inch of the vessel has a purpose – including those inches that reside within the boundaries of your room. So, for example, if the chef needs to pump out some of the water, he has to enter the cabin’s bathroom to do the job…even if you happen to be showering at the time. Uh, yeah…that happened! The crew appears to help themselves to rooms whenever needed, and while the rooms are cleaned twice everyday – you have to wonder what else is going on when you find a crew shirt in your room.

Meal requests need to be confirmed and reconfirmed. My travel agent had assured me that my special diet requests had been sent and would be met. He reassured me by showing me that my service certificate clearly stated my needs. I felt confident and didn’t mention it. The first dinner was well within my special needs, no problem. Breakfast was too. Then lunch on the second day was not. I asked about my meal and they seemed surprised…apparently it had been a fluke so far and they claimed not to have been given any special instructions. Further complicating things, we were a day away from any market where the chef could restock…I’d have to make do with exciting meals like mashed potato and rice or cheese and cauliflower. Once we restocked, the meals got better. I’d recommend that anyone with a special dietary need confirm it with the guide and the chef BEFORE setting sail on the first day.

Vegetarianism is loosely understood. The chef twice tried to pass off non-vegetarian meals as vegetarian. Now, I know that vegetarians can be confusing – some eat fish, others don’t, some eat eggs, others don’t, some won’t get mad if you slip meat in a “vegetarian” meal while others will. I had to explain to the chef (who has apparently been serving foreign tourists for years) that I was the kind of vegetarian who believes chicken stock and beef stock make a meal non-vegetarian. Luckily I had brought meal bars on board for just such an occasion. My blessed husband served as my meal-tasting meat detector for the remainder of the trip.

It’s their boat too. The crew lives on this boat. It’s easy to forget about the crew and think that the space is all for the passengers. We quickly came to understand that the inside tables were the domain of the crew and settled ourselves comfortably at the outer table. When we were in an inhabited port overnight, the crew had guest on board…most of the time they were quiet, but we could hear them enjoying drinks on the deck. It can’t be easy to live on a boat for months on end and only see your family during a short 3 hour port call.

Boats can’t be fixed when they never stop working. During our trip, only one of the two motors was working. While this was good news for one of the back cabins who had relative quiet, it meant that motoring times were a little longer. The captain did a good job ensuring that we got were we needed to go with little interruption to our time on the island or at a snorkel spot but it’s a good reminder that you have to expect that there will be problems because they never have time to take the boat to the mechanic and all problems have to be fixed on the go.

We all learned to adapt, giving the boat a fair amount of leeway since there was no denying we were on the cheapest boat plying the waters of the Galapagos.

On the positive side, I should add that those without meal restrictions found the meals fantastic – delicious and plentiful. Breakfasts included coffee, juice, fruit, toast, cereal and some form of hot dish – usually eggs and meat prepared differently each day. Lunch was always a hot meal and resembled the dinner. Each meal had a starter, a main, and a desert (fruit at lunch).
The beds were very comfortable and the rooms were kept clean. The crew were very friendly. Being a catamaran, seasickness was very limited – something other boats seemed to have a real problem with.

The best part of our tour was our guide. John was an incredibly patient man with a wealth of knowledge. He had an authentic passion for the life and preservation of the islands which he shared happily. We never felt rushed on the island and we felt like he was showing us areas that other groups weren’t seeing. He made a point of knowing the other boats schedules and adjusting our visits (even if it meant doing the route in reverse) to ensure that we didn’t encounter the crowds of larger boats.

Being the conduit between the passengers and the crew, he was the one who had to handle the complaints and issues and he did it with grace. If it had not been for him, this cruise would have been about the problems and not about the amazing islands and the wealth of wildlife on land and below the sea.

Despite the issues, we loved our trip to the Galapagos and would tell anyone considering sailing on the Galapagos Vision that it is worth it…especially if the price of other boats would take the islands out of the itinerary. It was very relaxing, there was lots of down time, the itinerary is great and being in a smaller group was fantastic. Just, know not to expect too much and be ready to roll with the punches. Oh, and lock your bathroom door…despite it being in your room, it’s not a private bath!

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  • http://www.galapagosislands.com galapagosexpert

    I am so glad that some of the ¨not so perfect¨issues you encountered didn´t ruin your trip, or your memories of these glorious islands.
    Local responsible agents generally give you a contact number for emergencis, or have offices in the Galapagos where a representative can help you out. It´s great that the crew, guide and captain on Vision did their best to help you out with the meals etc… (and at least the shower incident is a good story to tell!)
    The rule of thumb in Galapagos is: you get what you pay for, and it´s good to know your fellow travelers were as laid back as you. Glad your overall experience wasn´t tainted by the inconveniences.

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  • Paty Bastidas

    Hello my friends, my name is Patty and I am owner of the Galapagos Vision.  Thank you for your very detailed comments about our boat.  Feed back is very important for us.  We would like to personally  follow  up with you in terms of any suggestions that you have regarding our boat.  Please let us know how we can contact you.  We hope to hear from you soon.  

  • BeyondBlighty

    I stayed on the Galapagos Vision for 8 days and it was the best experience I’ve ever had…although I think I had the best room (to myself!), and I’ll eat anything. I loved being on a catamaran and lying on the nets when we moved between islands in the afternoon. The crew changes around quite a bit I think, but my guide, panga driver, captain and everyone else were all fantastic. Like Valerie says, you should know what you’re getting yourself into – boats aren’t ever going to be the most comfortable accommodation – but you could do a lot worse than this awesome boat!

  • Nicole

    I think it is a little presumptuous if one wants to pay as less as possible, but expect to get the amenities of a luxuary boat…
    I spent the best time of my life on the Galapagos Vision (Januar 2012). There is little space on that boat, that’s a fact, but I did not mind it a bit. I wanted to see those marvellous islands and that is exactly what I got. We had the best guide ever: Milton was so enthusiatic and had an answer to every question. Our crew was really nice, always helpful and our room was always clean (we had never had any shirt-in-the-room-incident). The food was excellent, especially if you keep in mind that the storing capacities on a little boat a limited. There were vegeratarians among our group and I heard nobody complaining. I guess there might be problems if you are not or cannot be a little more tolerant with your eating habits compared to at home, but you should keep in mind that you are staying on a little boat in the middle of a nature’s paradise!
    As all of the other passengers were really nice people, we had no problems in assigning the rooms. The couples got the double rooms (the one who booked last minute got the room without bathroom), the others the twin rooms. There was no discussion at all, and, having a room with private bath, we did not mind to let the couple without bath take a shower in our bath.

  • annoyed passengers

    We were on the Galapago Vision at the end of December 2012. We booked a different boat but were moved to the Galapagos Vision as there were problems with our original boat. We only found out at the airport so we didn´t have the chance to check out any reviews about this boat. The Galapagos Islands were amazing, however, the Galapagos Vision was anything other than amazing (in fact a nightmare for some passengers). 

    First off there are the problems with the boat not being maintained. These were not just maintenance issues but safety issues:- The boat only had one working engine- The toilets are absolutely foul, some serious maintenance needs to be undertaken so that passengers do not have a bathroom covered in poo (yes this actually happened to most of us – toilet lids need to be pressed down firmly before flushing to ensure everything stays where it is supposed to (in the toilet). Unfortunately most of the seats had cracks so poo would be splattered regularly). Passengers complained of the constant bad smells from the bathrooms.- Adding to the toilet/pee/poo issues the boat would often be without water on our trip meaning that it was not easy to wash away any ´debris¨or have a shower.- The steering broke down at one point and we were going round in circles for a while.- One day the anchor ran away and dropped 50 metres of chain. The winch handle flew overboard (luckily not hitting any passengers sitting on the deck). It took 5 men almost an hour to pull the anchor up (luckily lots of young healthy guys on board to assist the crew!).Continuing on the lines of safety issues… Other passengers reported seeing the crew taking drugs. 

    We had different guides/no guide all throughout the trip. We were given conflicting stories about this. First we were told that the first guide quit, then we were told he had a family emergency. The captain was a rather grumpy fellow whom most of us avoided. The captain treated our substitute guide like crap, we were unimpressed about this.

    A guy named Freddie (who we found out later is apparently well known in the Galapagos as a very shady character) booked last minute tours for four passengers on the Galapagos Vision. After alot of confusion, upset, and disruption they were kicked off the boat 3 days into their trip because Freddie hadn´t handed over the money. 

    We were all left wondering why the captain and the owner of the boat (Patricia) allowed the passengers onboard in the first place (particularly when Freddie was known to have a very bad reputation). The passengers were left on San Cristobal Island despite having return flights from Baltra and not having enough money for another 7 days in the Galapagos after paying for their cruise. Neither Patricia nor the captain took any responsibility for the situation, they left the passengers to fight things out with Freddie. Thank goodness we had a great guide that day who did his best to help the passengers who were kicked off. 

    After the incident with some passengers being kicked off the boat, and all the other maintentance issues half the passengers didn´t want to return to the boat to continue the horror trip on the Galapagos Vision.

    When you book a trip on a cheaper boat you expect things to be basic. We certainly weren´t expecting a floating Hilton Hotel. However, you do expect to be on a safe boat which has been properly maintained. We were certainly not expecting what we found aboard the Galapagos Vision.

    We would not recommend anyone to travel on this boat.