If you are an independent traveler who likes to have some control of events, this is not the cruise for you. Unfortunately it is the only way to visit the Galapagos Islands and visit a substantial number of visitor sites. The Endeavour is an Ecuadorean flagged, German built fishing boat equipped for Antarctic conditions that carries 96 of your new best friends each week and a crew of 70 crammed into its hull. It is a slickly organized mass tourist market soft adventure cruise where you can do three or four activities: you can hike only with a naturalist in a group on either a designated “long” or “short” hike, you can snorkel with the group in a designated and patrolled area or you can kayak (three times per voyage and only with advance sign up for a spot on one of 7 kayaks) or you can, again with advance sign up, take a glass bottom boat ride. That is it. You cannot swim from ship to shore or around the ship or outside designated limits. You cannot up and go for a walk. Excersize will be in the small gym as the hikes tend to be short strolls with a lot of standing around rather than hikes.
There are long lines in narrow corridors to board the Zodiacs for disembarkation and a plethora of rules to obey. To go ashore requires you to know first whether or not it is a wet (on the beach) or dry (on a jetty) landing, then to remember, amongst the usual backpack items (insect repellent, sunscreen, water bottles) to put on your life vest, slide a magnet to indicate that you are going ashore so that they have a passenger count, stretch out both arms to be helped on board the Zodiac and then cram one against the other for the journey ashore. The Zodiacs are loaded to the point of discomfort for all, up to 8 per side. That leaves passengers wedged close together and is uncomfortable. The trick is to await the final Zodiac which may have fewer people on board. I found these Zodiac rides dangerous as well as uncomfortable; I have been whacked in the eye by a metal buckle as one of the ubiquitous photographers swings his camera around to catch a shot, poked in the side and sat on by a large off balance individual.
Once ashore, one discards life vests in the Zodiac and then the naturalist accompanying the Zodiac takes over, corralling her (or his) group of 16 close together for the hike. You cannot remain on the beach or stray from the group. The naturalists are all knowledgeable, some more so than others, and they lecture during the brief Zodiac ride ashore, going over the rules once again and then once on shore, the lectures do not stop; this is not a silent observation hike, nor a walk where one chooses one’s own speed. It is a forced march at the pace of the naturalist guide who will decide when and where to stop. People are herded like sheep and there is little space to enjoy a solitary moment of contemplation.