Ship Classes Defined Once and for All!
Any search on the internet will show you that Galapagos cruise ships are classed using what appears to be a variety of classifications systems often leaving you a bit puzzled as to what they actually mean. We've done a good amount of research, contacting the Galapagos National Park Service's (GNPS) department of tourism, the Galapagos Chamber of Tourism (CAPTURGAL), and the International Galapagos Tour Operators' Association (IGTOA), and have compared the results to our own personal knowledge of several ships to come up with the following answers we hope will help clarify any confusion.
There is only one official classification system - the one set up by the Galapagos National Park Service in 1995. It classes ships according to 3 basic criteria:
- Whether or not cabins are private;
- Whether or not cabins have private bathrooms, and
- Whether or not there is air conditioning.
Galapagos National Park Ship Classification System:
Article 87 of the administrative statute for the Galapagos National Park, adopted in Quito on January 21, 1995, defines the minimum specifications for 4 classes of cruise ships operating in the Galapagos. These are:
- Class A: Luxury vessels - Private berths with private bathrooms, air conditioning.
- Class B: Semi-luxury vessels - Private berths, private bathrooms, no air conditioning.
- Class C: Standard vessels - No private berths and/or private bathrooms, no air conditioning.
- Class D: Any ship, regardless of comfort level, carrying out day trips exclusively (e.g. no sleeping aboard).
Although this provides a good first step in classifying ships, the GNPS's system is somewhat outdated in that most ships today offer both private berths with private bathrooms and air conditioning putting the vast majority of them in Class A. Of the 77 registered cruise ships listed in the Galapagos National Park Service website, 66 are Class A, 6 are Class B, and 5 are Class C/D (combined) - licensed to perform day trips only.
The very wide range of comfort levels provided by the 66 ships in Class A is not does not take into consideration other factors which might, for some people, be important contributing factors to overall comfort. Important factors are:
- General spaciousness: Room size, amount of covered and uncovered deck space available, existence and sizes of salons on board, etc.
- General maintenance standards: How rapidly does a ship fix broken or run-down items? Will the air-condition work, or is it chronically broken? Does it need a paint job?
- Professionalism of the crew: Are they always very attentive? Do they go the extra mile?
- Guide Quality: Does he/she really know what he/she is talking about? Is he/she easily understood? Does he/she have lots of enthusiasm?
- Cuisine: Simple meals versus multiple course meals with fine china settings, attentive dining room service, freshly brewed coffee versus instant, etc.
- Quality furnishings: Presence of polished brass fixings and high end marine decor, use of professionally crafted materials, versus basic fixtures.
- Extras: On board pool / sauna, email access, comprehensive reading room, medically trained staff person etc.
It is commonly acknowledged that levels of overall comfort vary greatly within ship classes. Some Class A ships will go all the way, whereas other Class A ships, while respecting GNPS class specifications (private berths with air conditioning and private bathrooms) will provide very little deck space, basic dining facilities, moderate attention to furnishings.
In an attempt to convey these differences, an alternative, informal Galapagos ship classification system has evolved, led primarily by the tour industry. Our experience and first-hand knowledge of the ships lead us to believe that the tour industry classification system is generally accurate and reliable.
Tour Industry led Galapagos Cruise Ship Classification System:
No formal definitions exist. Most commonly seen classes are:
Luxury/Deluxe - First Class - Tourist Superior - Tourist
Generally, this rating system is fairly accurate, but one can find a ship classed as "First Class" on one web site, and "Tourist Superior" on another. There is no clear separation between classes -but rather a continual improvement from Tourist to Luxury. Some higher end Tourist Superior ships might be compared favourable with lower end 1st Class ships, for instance. Luxury ships go all the way in attention to detail, spaciousness and service. First Class ships may have similar service levels as Luxury ships, but are usually smaller, and less spacious. Tourist Superior ships are usually quite reliable and offer the basics in service and attention, whereas Tourist class ships can be considered backpacker specials. Tourist class ships should be considered by those for whom the lowest possible cruise price is the main/only deciding factor. Having said this, we strongly recommend finding sufficient funds for at least a Tourist Superior class ship and reduce the chances for unpleasant surprises.
Average non-discounted daily rates (2019 / 2020 prices):
- Luxury: $700 and higher
- First Class: $525 - $700
- Tourist Superior: $475 to $525
- Tourist / Economy: $325 to $475
OUR FINAL WORD ON SHIP CLASSIFICATION: In the end, we suggest that the price of a cruise generally reflects the relative level of luxury you can expect on board, with the risk of unexpected problems occurring rising rapidly at the very lowest end of the price scale.