Cruise Ships vs. Expedition Vessels. A Note for True Adventurers

When we hear the word cruise ship, paradise-like beaches, palm trees and turquoise waters come to mind. The adventurer in us wakes up! And cruises that travel through the Caribbean and other tropical weathers do visit such idyllic places. The idea of these all-inclusive floating cities, all of which take you to exotic locations at affordable rates, is often times highly appealing. How to say no to unlimited food, drinks, and entertainment, all while navigating seas and oceans that you have never seen before? However, when it comes to the colorful ads that are found inside of magazines, there’s more than meets the eye to these floating cities. Oftentimes, it’s what’s behind the curtains (and in this case, below the water too) that we have to pay attention to. We fall in love with the ports and beaches we visit during a cruise, but we don’t often stop to think about the effect that our idyllic exploration has on the places it visits and the people it employs.

Cruise Ships vs. Expedition Vessels

Galapagos Islands pinnacle rock view.

Impressive landscape view in the archipelago.

An in-depth investigation recently published by the American-based Spanish news channel Univision titled “Vacations in No-Man’s Sea”, shows the lesser known side of these highly photogenic cruise ships. However, even though the downside to cruise-traveling is deeper than most people think, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other more sustainable, legal and friendlier ways of “cruising” available in the world. Before choosing your next vacation, read on to learn more about the important differences when comparing cruise ships vs. expedition vessels. Hop aboard your vessel of choice knowing that, in addition to getting a remarkable experience of the place you are visiting, you are also contributing to its environmental protection and its community.

Creating Community

Big cruise ships find a certain advantage in being the bearers of several flags on their ships, often times finding protection and even exploiting loopholes in the laws of other countries. Significantly lower taxes are paid to countries where the ships are registered (usually developing countries), and environmental and labor laws are sometimes completely overseen. Cruise lines claim they fall under more rigorous control because they have to obey not one but several countries’ laws. In reality, this just creates greater room for more breaches and neglect, which is why many grave and serious crimes go unpunished. Both guests and workers find that their complaints and cases often go unheard and dismissed.
Being the owners and operators of three expedition vessels in the Galapagos (Santa Cruz II, Isabela II and La Pinta), a hotel in the Galapagos (Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel) and two hotels in Quito (Casa Gangotena and Mashpi Lodge), Metropolitan Touring takes great pride in working with and for the community. Our job is to create unforgettable and unique experiences for those who visit us, but the only way of doing this is if our own teams are happy and well taken care of. In the case of the Galapagos, it’s important to note that all of our expedition teams, including crew members, naturalist guides and expedition leaders are Galapagos residents, which is a way in which we also contribute to the local community. We even have internships aboard our expedition vessels for future Galapagos guides! We abide by Ecuadorian laws, we pay our taxes, we pay our workers, we give back to our community and we take care of a place that, at the end of the day, is the country’s biggest source of pride and tourism.

Galapagos naturalist guide on a tour.

Professionally-trained and expert Naturalist Guides will take you on the tours through the Galapagos Islands.

Trust and Safety

The crew in Yacht La Pinta in the Galapagos Islands.

Meet our crew in Yacht La Pinta!

It might come as news that more than a few crimes have happened to passengers and crew members while traveling aboard big cruise ships. According to Univision’s article, of the 959 crimes reported to the FBI by cruises, only 31 of them were publicized. Because cruises are forced to investigate and solve a crime in the country closest to which the incident occurred (along with the help of the authorities of said country), most cases are simply dismissed or unfair agreements are reached to circumvent the bureaucracy of such investigations in foreign countries.
In Ecuador in general, and specifically on our Galapagos expedition vessels, we pride ourselves in working with the most trustworthy teams. Our crews have been working together for many years and the intimate atmospheres aboard our ships have been a safe space for many friends and families that have shared their time with us. Aboard our ships, we actually don’t give our guests keys to their rooms so that they can move around the vessel freely, as if they were in their own house!


The tourism industry depends on two things: the wellbeing of the place in which it operates and its people. In the same way a restaurant depends on the quality of its ingredients to make the tastiest of dishes, we depend on the beauty of our landscapes and the authenticity of our people’s culture to deliver the most breath-taking experiences. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a cruise ship with 3,000 passengers produces around 200,000 gallons of human waste, more than a million gallons of blackwater are produced by bathrooms and dishwashers, and 8 tons of solid waste and toxic laundry chemicals on a weekly basis. The investigation also found out about countless shortcomings and illicit acts that go unnoticed and unpunished on cruise ships. It’s contradictory that an industry that depends on the beauty and health of a place would be showcasing it with one hand while polluting it with the other.
Humans depend on the wellbeing of our natural habitats to survive, and tourism depends on these habitats to thrive. That is why one of the mottos that has shaped our path is to “leave no trace behind aside from our footprints in the sand.” We are not only happy to comply with our country’s laws and regulations, but the world’s as well. Our expedition vessels are 30 or even 100 times smaller in capacity than cruise ships! Size matters considerably when it comes to being less disruptive towards our environment and making sure that every part of our operations are monitored. We know our success and the future of our world depend on it. We follow strict environmental sustainability policies aboard all of our expedition vessels in Galapagos:

  • Blackwater treatment
  • Desalinization system
  • Biodegradable soaps and shampoos
  • Reusable water bottles
  • We take all of our trash and waste with us
  • We teach our guests to admire and respect nature
Chefs earth hour cake.

We are all working together to take care of our planet.

These practices are not only followed aboard our expedition vessels but also at each of our hotels located in natural areas have been awarded some of the industry’s most prestigious awards. For 4 years in a row now, the World Travel Awards has awarded both the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel and Mashpi Lodge (in Quito’s Metropolitan District) as South America’s and the World’s Leading Green Hotel. This year, Mashpi Lodge was also recognized by the United Nations Global Compact for its commitment to implementing and abiding by sustainability principles.

Let’s be Responsible Adventurers

It’s big cities that have the greatest impact on the environment, which is an even bigger reason to pay special attention to the laws and policies that protect them and its people. Cruise lines have the responsibility to take care of the natural habitats and places they visit, as much as travelers have the responsibility to remain informed about the options available which will not only enrich their lives, but also won’t affect the world negatively. This can be a win-win situation if we only look behind the curtain and make sure things are being done properly via the Tour Operator or Destination Management Company that we choose. Let’s be the adventurers we always dreamed we’d be! But first, let’s protect the only place where that dream can come true.

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