There’s no doubt that the Galapagos are one of the natural wonders of the world. These isolated volcanic islands some 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador boast an incredible number of bird and animal species you just can’t see anywhere else. From the famous Galapagos Giant Tortoises to the tiny finches that inspired Charles Darwin’s thoughts on evolution, to the wonderful antics of the Blue-Footed Boobies, these unique islands should be on every nature lover’s bucket list. But what about Galapagos as a family-friendly travel option?
A family trip-of-a-lifetime?
For a long time, the Galapagos hasn’t been an easy place to take kids and families. The government of Ecuador declared them a protected national park in 1959, and since then tourist numbers and development has been strictly controlled to preserve the unique, and often endangered, species that live there.
The limited number of hotels and guest houses means that the most practical (and environmentally-friendly) option to see the best the islands have to offer was to travel around by boat. Because numbers are restricted, operators have tended to target the luxury end of the market. So while couples looking for a luxury trip of a lifetime have been well catered for, it’s never been an easy task to find a great option for people who want to give their kids an experience they’ll always remember.
That’s been a real shame because getting up close and personal with fantastic creatures like marine iguanas and Galapagos penguins, and visiting some of the most unspoilt landscapes in the world is something that children, as well as adults, should be able to experience at least once.
Finding the perfect Galapagos cruise
Specialist travel site Galapatours.com is championing the Galapagos as a destination that can be a fantastic choice for families. They are an independent travel company that works directly with all the boat owners and operators to help you pick your perfect option and get the best price. Their cruise search portal lets you enter your exact requirements and dates to match you with the boat, and now they’ve introduced a new filter to highlight all the family-friendly Galapagos cruise options. This means vessels with either specific child-friendly features and/or those who offer discounted pricing for junior travelers.
One really great aspect of this independent company is that they have personally visited every cruise ship, which means they’ve got hands-on knowledge of the amenities, the crew and the ship’s itineraries and activities. They also group the boats and ships into budget classes, meaning you can find the best family-friendly Galapagos cruises to suit your wallet. We used the portal to hunt down the 3 best family-friendly cruises in the First-Class, Mid-Range and Budget classes to give you an idea of how your family could experience the Galapagos for yourself.
A First-Class Family Experience
If you’re looking to push the boat out (pardon the pun) then what better way than to look for a First-Class family-friendly Galapagos cruise. I was immediately drawn to the stunning Galapagos Legend, a 300ft expedition cruise ship that carries only 100 passengers. This is an excellent choice for a family trip. The Legend is larger than the average Galapagos cruise ship (usually only around 16 passengers), and her 5 decks mean younger members of your party have plenty of space to explore while you sail between islands.
But it also means you get “big ship” facilities in a more intimate setting. I love the fact that there is a dedicated “kids’ corner” with games, books and movies for youngsters, plus there’s a swimming pool, and plenty of open air spots to sit and relax - even hammocks for a real “pirate” experience! A standout feature for me is that this ship features glass-bottomed boats. This means even the youngest family members who are too little to snorkel won’t miss out on seeing the amazing underwater creatures.
Adults will have plenty to be happy about too, with jacuzzis, inside and outside bars and even a gym! When it comes to practicality, the Legend is hard to beat. A range of cabins is available offering flexible options, including junior suites that can be made up as triples or quadruples - perfect for keeping younger families together.
All the crew are well-used to young adventurers and are welcoming and friendly. If there are a number of children on board at a time the guides will often give them their own child-friendly briefing, and put together some “kids only” excursions. This really adds to their experience. Adults will also feel well taken care of. Because there are almost 80 crew members for only 100 passengers you’ll find the service is incredible. The ship’s naturalist guides speak English, and because each guide only takes a maximum of 16 guests per excursion, they will go out of their way to make sure your family have all their questions answered.
A mid-range option with an exclusive feel
I looked for a more intimate option in the mid-range budget section and fell in love with the idea of a Galapagos cruise on Millennium. This is a large catamaran-style yacht, yet it only takes a maximum of 16 passengers, giving a whole different feel to a family Galapagos adventure. They offer a 30% price reduction for all passengers under 12 years of age.
One thing to note about a catamaran is the increased stability the two hulls give you. If you have kids who may be prone to motion sickness, the twin-hull design will minimize any discomfort if the sea gets a little rough.
Despite the mid-range price tag, I think you get a lot of high-end features for your buck with Millennium. Every cabin comes with a private sea-view balcony, for example, and there’s a huge shaded sundeck with lots of comfortable places to sit and relax. There are both indoor and outdoor dining areas, and the food onboard is superb quality. Nice child-friendly touches include the rear dive platforms that make it easy for younger family members to get into and out of the water when snorkeling, and the free and unlimited water and juices that are always available for thirsty adventurers.
With a maximum of 16 passengers at any one time, a family of four can relish being a quarter (or more) of the total guests on board! This means you and the children will feel almost as if you are getting your own personal tour of the islands, and you’ll get a tremendous amount of attention from the ship’s English-speaking naturalist guide.
Can you find a Galapagos family cruise on a budget?
Let’s be honest, there is never going to be a “cheap” option in a destination as remote and protected as Galapagos! However, I think I’ve found a great, family-friendly option for those who are willing to sacrifice some of the luxury amenities of other boats for a great price and an awesome island experience:
The Nemo I is another Galapagos catamaran, so again perfect for anyone who may suffer from motion sickness. But this catamaran has a twist - sails! As well as her engine, Nemo can hoist them when the conditions allow giving you a fantastic sailboat experience. You might even get to help the crew pull on a rope or two!
Nemo has only 7 cabins, including one with triple occupancy, and offers a 20% discount for under 12’s. All her cabins are in the catamaran hulls, so you lose out on panoramic windows. But the decor is really bright and fresh, and they don’t feel dark and claustrophobic. They all have en-suite bathrooms and are perfectly comfortable. The triple cabin is ideal for a small family, or if you have older kids, they can have their own cabin right next to yours.
Communal areas include a lovely lounge area with a large semi-circular communal sofa and a big sundeck, as well as an al fresco dining area. But the best bit for kids (big, as well as little!) is the safety netting strung between the hulls at the bow. I can’t think of anything more remarkable than grabbing a sun lounger cushion and lying on the net looking down at the water - and maybe a dolphin or two playing with your wake!
So you don’t get as much space as on more expensive boats, but you still get really great service. With a maximum of 14 guests and 6 crew to look after you, there’s a very personal feel about a Galapagos cruise on the boat like this. Nemo has some awesome itineraries to choose from, and there are activities like snorkeling, kayaking and hiking to look forward to as part of your Galapagos experience.
The perfect family adventure?
As part of a wider family adventure to South America, or as a remarkable stand-alone experience, a Galapagos cruise can definitely be a great way to see one of the most incredible habitats on the planet, and there are now plenty of options to suit all tastes and budgets. Now seems to be the perfect time to plan your family’s Great Galapagos Adventure.