Cruise Destination: Galapagos Islands
Cruise Dates: April 2009
Guest Contributor: seastef
With more realistic expectations, the Millennium cruise would have been okay. But the advertisements we used to purchase the cruise, as it turns out, have grave factual errors, so we were extremely disappointed. We also had a number of issues that hopefully were limited to our one week. The Galapagos are incredible, and while we are glad to have gotten some taste of the Galapagos, we ended up feeling like we were being prevented rather than assisted in appreciating these unique islands by touring on the Millennium.
Several shortcomings seem to apply to all small (i.e. 16 passenger) ships so I wanted to begin by pointing these out to help others go into a Galapagos cruise with more realistic expectations than we had based on promotional materials. Afterward, I will cover more specifics of our experience aboard the Millennium.
- National park rules specify that visitors must be escorted by a certified guide in groups of no more than 16 at all times (the reason so many ships have 16 passengers-- more and they would need to hire a second guide). National Park rules also stipulate strict landing and departure schedules, so tardiness will simply reduce the amount of time you can spend at a given stop.
- Your tour is entirely at the whim of the one naturalist guide. If he/she is having a bad day (or week) and doesn't feel like walking the whole trail on your one shore stop during a day, you will not get to see that portion of the itinerary. If he/she doesn't feel like pointing things out or explaining them and if you aren't observant and didn't bring books with you, you will feel like you did not see anything. If he/she is terrible with logistics and practicalities, your little time in the Galapagos will be eaten up with needless errands and convoluted plans that could and should have been streamlined with a little more thought and care. If his/her English isn't great, you will not be able to have your questions understood and answered (again, I highly recommend bringing books with you).
- Your tour is severely impacted by the other passengers and there is no escaping the group. If one has mobility problems, is chronically late, elbows everyone else out of the way for photos, insists on trying to touch the creatures or going places visitors are not permitted, or simply has no interest in being in the Galapagos, that will strongly negatively impact your experience, unless you have a far more gifted guide than we did who can effectively prevent one or two passengers with issues to bring down the whole 16 passenger group.
- Boats with a split tour (3 day and 4 day portions combined into one week) simply expect guests to live with the guest change-out day being a lost day (at least Millennium insists to us that this is standard). For us, no activities (other than a trip to the airport to drop other people off) were provided from 9AM to 3PM; and after a 40 minute, mostly unescorted stop at a visitor center at 3PM, we were again left on our own the rest of the day. Recall that due to national park rules, there is no place natural you can go unescorted. So, before booking a week tour on a split week boat (and some of them are very good about disguising that the week is split), keep in mind you will likely be losing a day.
- Apparently hot water is considered a luxury on these smaller ships, even the upscale ones. Until the 5th day of our trip, we did not have hot water. The travel agency indicated that it is just expected not to have hot water some of the time on small boats (since we never had hot water until 5 days in and after requesting a refund, they did admit this was out of the ordinary. But they also made clear that constant hot water is unrealistic on any 16 passenger ship no matter how luxurious). So, do not count on being able to warm up with a hot shower after snorkeling in the cold water. Apparently that is not something you can rely on even on an upscale ship.
The Millennium itself provides an impressive amount of space for each guest; we were told it was the best space to passenger ratio of any ship in the Galapagos and that seems plausible.
The staff, other than the naturalist guide, could not have been more pleasant and they did everything within their abilities to attend to guest comfort and enjoyment. Unlike some 16 passenger boats we saw, Millennium did operate two zodiacs on every shore stop which either provided more space for the transfers, or allowed more time on shore as the group did not have to wait to assemble on shore with two round trips required of one zodiac.
The itinerary was unimpressive. It seemed a very high priority was placed on spending the night within small boat distance of a settlement (note that by request they were very willing to take passengers to shore too. But, they never offered, you had to ask). All the destinations we visited were advertised in Puerto Ayora as day trips by various operators, and all (with the exception perhaps of San Cristobal) seemed pretty reasonable as day trips. All but one of our stops during the week was made with other ships, often several, so we typically found ourselves on crowded beaches and trails.
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