How to Prep for A Cruise Vacation to the Galapagos Islands

February 11, 2020 10:45

Tips and Tricks to Help You Make the Most of Your Trip

Whether you’re a newbie or a weathered cruise veteran, preparing to embark on a cruise thousands of miles from home can be overwhelming. What to wear? What to pack? Is there anything I shouldn’t bring?

Thanks to their mild weather patterns and unrivalled wildlife, the Galapagos Islands are becoming hugely popular as a year-round travel destination. The Galapagos is also known as the cradle of evolution; famed explorer Charles Darwin came up with his theory of natural selection in part thanks to his observations there back in 1835. And what better way to experience this iconic site than on a cruise tour?

Cruises are the most efficient, convenient and, of course, the most Instagrammable way to tour the Galapagos Islands. A cruise allows you to see more of the islands with the least amount of hassle, and they often provide on-site guides and specialists to help you make the most out of your trip.

Great! Now that it’s been decided, it’s time to move onto the part that so many people dread the most: Prep time. Whether this is your first cruise to the Galapagos, or your first cruise ever, we’ve got the best tips and tricks to help you prepare for your trip off dry land.

Make sure all your travel docs are in order

Your travel documents and tickets should arrive a couple of weeks before the big day. If you bought them online, you might be able to print your tickets from home. Make sure you get these documents sorted out well ahead of time, so you won’t have to stress about them on the day you leave.

Before you do anything, do a thorough check to ensure the information is correct. Mistakes aren’t common, but they do happen, and it’s better to sort that out with plenty of time to spare. Make sure your passport is up-to-date and ready to go (it needs to be valid to 6 months beyond your date of arrival in Ecuador), then plan a safe place to keep it for the duration of your cruise.  Remember to print out your:

  • Boarding pass
  • Luggage tags
  • Itinerary
  • Cruise paperwork

Keep these important documents in a safe place with your passport until it’s time to leave. Pack them in your carry-on so you can keep them handy. Before you head out, do a last-minute check that you're ticketed for the right dates, from the right airport, and to the right destination.

Notify your bank and credit card company of your trip

Nothing ruins a vacation like a credit card mishap. If you don’t let your bank and credit card company know you’ll be travelling and they notice your card being used half-way around the world, they’ll flag it as theft or fraud. Many cruise destinations are on fraud lists and are more likely to be flagged than others. Your bank will immediately put a hold on your account, leaving you stranded at sea with no cashflow. A quick phone call a week or so before your departure will keep this cruise disaster at bay.

Make any special requests to your cruise (allergies, etc.)

If you have allergies, medical conditions or disabilities your cruise staff should know about, it’s best to call in, or send an email to let them know at least 30 days ahead of time. You can also bring it up again with staff once you arrive – especially relating to dangerous food allergies. Most cruise lines are happy to make the appropriate accommodations with a little notice.

Plan your trip to the airport/coming home (car drop off, car service, uber, bus schedule, hotels, etc.)

Remembering to plan a ride to and from the airport often slips through the cracks when there are so many other things to remember during your vacation prep. This little ‘oops’ may seem like no biggie. But when you’re stuck outside the airport in your swimsuit, in the middle of the night, in freezing weather with no ride home, you’ll definitely be kicking yourself! Plan for a car drop off, contact a car service, consult the local bus schedules, plan to take an Uber or taxi, or look into booking a nearby hotel.

Get to know the ship - ask for information, research, reviews, etc.

Since you’ll be spending quite a bit of time there when it’s not docked for an excursion, you may want to learn a little bit more about your ship. Read reviews, browse passenger chat boards and social media reviews and take a peek at the ship’s deck plans and cabin layouts. This is also a great opportunity to go over the ship’s safety features, electrical specifications (will you need an adapter for your phone charger?) amenities and menu.  Thankfully in Galapagos, ships don’t have much of a dress code.  On higher-end ships, you might feel out of place if you go to dinner in an old t-shirt and shorts, but generally, as long as you show respect for your other travellers, a clean t-shirt and shorts are just fine.

Be realistic about your Wi-Fi and cellphone expectations

Only higher-end ships have wi-fi, and even there, it’s quite spotty. Cell-phone service is available only when the ship is within range of towers – meaning typically, about 30% of the time.  Be ready for a screen-free holiday!

Pack your essentials in your carry-on

Aside from your passport and travel documents, there are some other essentials you should probably keep handy in your carry-on. Your phone charger, daily medications, a toothbrush, facial wipes and other toiletries, a weather-appropriate change of clothes (and underwear) for when you arrive, plus any valuables that you don’t want to leave with your checked baggage should be in there. It also helps to bring a collapsible water bottle in your carry-on, which can be filled after you’ve gone through customs.

Only the higher-end cruise ships have a luggage service that brings your suitcase from the airport to your room onboard the ship. This means you likely won’t see your luggage – or anything in it – until the evening. This is why it’s also important to include everything you might need for the first day of your cruise in your carry-on.

Pack your own pharmacy

If this is your first cruise (or your tenth, for those of us who just never found our sea legs), you’ll quickly find out that seasickness and sunburns are sometimes occupational hazards of taking a cruise. Medications for constipation/diarrhea, motion sickness, allergies, bug spray and sunscreen should all be brought from home because they can cost quite a bit more at the ship’s shop.

Pack laundry soap

Depending on how many outfits you plan on packing, you may need to do some laundry over the course of your cruise. Some cruise lines offer free detergent, but in some cases, it can be expensive. Since there are no liquid restrictions on cruise ships, you can bring your own detergent and hand-wash your clothes in your cabin’s sink. Most in-cabin showers even include retractable clotheslines so you can hang your laundry to dry. This allows you to pack lighter and leaves more room for souvenirs!

Pack the right clothes and shoes

On many visitor sites in the Galapagos, expect to be walking on sandy, rocky and uneven terrain and be sure to pick the right footwear. A decent pair of running shoes will work, as will a sturdy pair of closed-toe sandals if you’re sure-footed. Some guides just walk about in flip-flops, but we don’t recommend that for first timers. You may also consider water shoes – as you will be disembarking from zodiacs onto a wet beach from time to time. Many ships suggest that you go barefoot while on board.

Protection from the sun is another consideration.  Light long-sleeved shirts and trousers might be a good idea, particularly if you are prone to sunburn. Wide-brimmed hats are also useful (or even a parasol that can double up as a walking stick). Between about June and December, evenings can be fresh and warrant a sweater/fleece jacket. 

Pack for your hikes

You’ll be going on two hikes a day.  These are generally short, but because you’re taking your time, you may be on the trail for up to 2 hours. A day pack with a water bottle, sunscreen, bug spray and other handy items will be useful.

Save some room in your luggage for souvenirs

For those who love to shop, the Galapagos Islands offer a variety of local shops that sell one-of-a-kind souvenirs to bring home for family and friends. To avoid getting caught up in astronomical overweight baggage fees on your way home, remember to pack lightly!

Be smart about your wardrobe – only pack what you need, and roll your clothes instead of folding them to save space. Shoes and electronics are some of the heaviest things you can pack, so be strategic about what you really need to bring with you. Most cruises offer soap, shampoo and conditioner, so you can generally leave those behind, too!

Weigh your suitcase multiple times before you leave for the cruise, so you know exactly what you’re starting with. When buying souvenirs, keep their weight in mind. If possible, weigh your suitcase periodically during your cruise as you add items, to avoid any nasty surprises.

Get travel insurance taken care of!

As much as we wish everything always went exactly as we want it to, there are always things that can go wrong. For the most part, you’re out at sea, which comes with its own limitations.

If, for any reason, you miss the boat, need to leave the ship early or be medically evacuated, or if your cruise is unexpectedly cancelled, it helps to have travel insurance to help get you out of tight spots. Not to mention, it provides that added peace of mind to help you fully relax and have a blissful time. 

Checklist: The Essentials

  • Are your passport, boarding pass, cruise tickets and other travel documents accounted for and easily accessible?
  • Did you purchase travel insurance?
  • Did you notify your bank where and when you will be travelling?
  • Did you plan a ride to and from the airport?
  • Have you packed your medications, sunscreen, bug spray, etc.?
  • Did you pack your phone charger and, if necessary, an adapter?
  • Did you pack a lightweight and breathable hiking outfit with the appropriate footwear?
  • Will you need snorkelling equipment, a swimsuit, water shoes and a towel?
  • Do you have laundry soap and all the toiletries you’ll need?
  • Did you pack a backpack and a water bottle for your excursion?

The Takeaway:

No matter how thoroughly you prepare, the best way to make the most of your trip is to get to know the Galapagos Islands before you go. We all love the idea of going on a cruise, but it definitely helps to be well-prepared. We guarantee you’ll also fall in love with the Islands themselves, their rich histories and their unlimited potential for an unforgettable cruise experience.