The Tip Top II (2009)

Operated by Rolf Wittmer Turismo, a company founded by descendants of some of the earliest settlers in the archipelago, the Tip Top fleet boasts 3 motor yachts. We traveled on an 8-day cruise aboard the Tip Top II—an 90′ motor yacht that carries 16 passengers and 8 crew members.  Two pangas or rubberized motor boats deliver you to and from the islands. The boat also had 2 tandem sea kayaks, for any who didn’t want to snorkel but who still wanted to explore the area.  You can read more about the Tip Top fleet here.

When we first arrived, a booklet specific to the Tip Top fleet provided lots of information about the boat, the policies and procedures, and the islands we’d be visiting. One point leapt out at me—the packet stated that all employees were paid according to Ecuadorean and Galápagos laws and given all benefits as required.  In addition, the company provided extra benefits such as private medical, life, and accident insurance.  I don’t know if all of the crew received all of that—for example, the captain was a free-lancer, I believe—but I liked that the company offered these benefits at all.  And I know that Carlos, our naturalist guide, had a 2-year contract with the Tip Top fleet, so they had provided important job security for him (and therefore had first dibs on his marvelous services as well!). It also supported what the Elderhostel material had told us: All staff were compensated fairly and a modest tip had been included in the fees we already paid; tips were only to be offered for above and beyond the call of duty.  You can read about a nightmare around this topic that I had read about before we left on a travel Web site here.

Below is a photo of the deck plans of this boat from the Wittmer Turismo page.  (Definitely a small, rather fuzzy view.  If you click on the photo, you’ll see a slightly larger version.  But it’ll still be pretty fuzzy.)    From left to right—upper deck,TTII with 2 passenger cabins; main deck, with the lounge, dining room, and galley; and the lower deck, with 6 passenger cabins.  All cabins have small bathrooms with a shower and sink. The boat had a desalination machine on-board to produce fresh water, but water conservation was on everyone’s minds.  I always had enough hot water.  Of course, I took quick showers—so much going on, there was no time to dawdle.  Although the desalinated water was potable, the boat provided a reverse-osmosis water dispenser in the lounge for drinking water.  We all were given reusable Tip Top water bottles to use, a good green alternative to disposable water bottles.  The water bottles themselves weren’t the most sturdily constructed and mine tended to leak a bit.   So I mostly used that one for toothbrushing and my own, more rugged water bottle for the hikes.

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28 Responses to The Tip Top II (2009)

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Wondering more about shore excursions and clothes. Typically, how much time are you on the boat in the middle of the day between shore excursions? Do you end up showering and changing late in the day? We are doing a 5 week SAmerica trip, so I can’t afford the space/weight of any extra clothes.

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    • Tina says:

      Hi, Elizabeth–

      Most boats send you out on a morning landing, bring you back for a mid-morning snorkel, sometimes a mid-afternoon snorkel, and then a late affternoon landing. So you’ll be on the boat for a couple of hours around mid-day and lunch time and off the boat much of the rest of the day. You can shower whenever you want–sometimes more than once a day, especially if you’ve been snorkeling. I showered first thing in the morning and after each snorkel outing; my husband showered after snorkeling and at the end of the day. Whatever is your pleasure will work just fine.

      You certainly don’t need to put on fresh clothes every time you shower. I typically only wore one set of clothes each day. If you bring quick-dry shirts and shorts/pants, you can even rinse them out, if the boat allows that (although if you’re traveling during the hot/humid months, they can take a while to dry). Quick-dry clothing is good too since you’ll likely get wet going to and from islands in the pangas. But really, by the end of the trip, clean clothes are pretty unimportant. On our first cruise, we all decided to “dress up” for our last dinner together. That entailed everyone wearing his/her least stinky set of clothes. 🙂

      Keep in mind, all of my experience is with small, first-class boats. The larger cruise ships probably have slightly higher standards.

      Tina

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      • Elizabeth says:

        Thanks. I went to the Galapagos 35 years ago on a boat that had a common sleeping area and NO shower, so the Samba will seem luxurious. I am trying to figure if I’ll be hanging around in a bathing suit and therefore need a cover up. Also don’t know how chilly it will be at night. I will have a sweater and a jacket from the Cusco/Quito part of our trip, but I may leave them in checked baggage. Do you think a hoodie is sufficient?
        Elizabeth

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      • Tina says:

        Hi, Elizabeth–

        You didn’t say when you were traveling, which can make a difference. (You’re going on the Samba? You should absolutely love it!) I can’t speak for you, but no one on either of our trips stayed in bathing suits between snorkeling outings. (Perhaps you look better in a bathing suit than most of us did…) We just kept putting on the same clothes we started out with in the morning. We traveled in both Sept. and May; the Sept. evenings were a bit cool but the May evenings were comfortably mild. But on both trips, I just used at most a long-sleeved lightweight fleece shirt in the evenings and that was fine. However, if you’re traveling in the next ~6 months, you probably want to bring a light rain shell or poncho. Reports from those currently in the archipelago say that El Niño has been creating more rains than usual (although nothing torrential). This light shell can also act as an outer layer if a hoodie isn’t quite enough for you.

        Tina

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  2. Kathy says:

    Tina, I was surprised to read about the toilet paper issue. Do you know if this the case with just the smaller boats, or also with mid to large boats as well? It doesn’t seem very sanitary especially if it were a mid to large boat. Thanks!

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    • Tina says:

      Hi, Kathy–

      I don’t know anything about the larger boats (say, 48 or more passengers), so I can’t answer your question directly. (Perhaps someone reading this blog can pitch in?) Indirectly, you could probably read people’s reports on the larger boats; if they comment that their cabin was cleaned 2 or 3 times a day, I’d wager that they too disposed of toilet paper in a container. That’s the typical way the smaller boats handle the passengers’ worries about smell or sanitation. I don’t know if you’ve traveled in Central and South America before, but this practice of not putting toilet paper down the toilet is a common practice even on the mainland throughout the countries we’ve visited (predominantly Costa Rica and Ecuador)–especially when staying in less urban areas. I was surprised the first time we ran into it, but now it’s just something we expect.

      Tina

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  3. Sharon says:

    I envy you because you still have your trip to experience! I can tell you that we had a great time and that your adult children will enjoy it very much. Machu Picchu was unbelievable in its history and discoveries. I am not sure about the weather at that time, but we had a chilly morning when we rose very early to see the sunrise at Machu Picchu. The Galapagos was very warm and amazing in its offerings. Be sure to take advantage of all the adventures and come home with great memories. Let me know if you have any questions and enjoy your anticipation.

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  4. Jane Atkinson says:

    Comment to Sharon – we were on the TipTop11 In Jan 13 – there were hair dryers on the boat – but who cares?? I took a hat and just wore that – I have short hair and the breeze quickly extinguished any hairstyle I managed to blow dry. If you have long hair – it will dry. As to luggage – this is not a dressy trip. You might look at Road Scholar’s web site for similar trips to get some idea of what to take. It is a very casual atmosphere – take what you think you will need to be comfortable. Reading material might be an issue – if you run out – there is little more. Also be sure you have backup camera batteries – once you are on the boat little is available.

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    • Tina says:

      One small point about camera batteries, if your camera has rechargeable batteries. You’ll be able to plug in a charger in your cabin if your plugs are compatible (e.g., the same kind used in the US or Canada). If your camera doesn’t have rechargeable batteries, consider packing lithium batteries, which are shockingly light and long-lasting compared to traditional batteries.

      And I concur about forgetting about your hair, if you can handle that. 😉 April is a very hot month–and you’ll need serious protection from the pounding equatorial sun that is always directly overhead any time you venture off the boat. The broader the brim, the better. Between hat-scrunched hair after landings and salt-water-plastered hair after snorkeling, no one will care about your hair–most likely, including you!

      Tina

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      • Tina says:

        Oops–and pardon my rudeness. Thanks so much for the update, Jane!

        Tina

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      • DIana Wolf says:

        Thanks Tina ~ this is an outstanding blog! We are going on the OAT trip with Machu Picchu first, then the Galapagos. We are going in mid April 2014. Thanks so much for the info about being able to charge camera batteries. I have the “block style” battery that is only rechargeable with electricity. I was under the impression, given by the OAT rep that there was limited availability of outlets. We are going on the Tip Top 2 and it seems that I won’t need a converter, although I might need that in Peru. Again thank you ~ I am bookmarking this site for continued reference.

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  5. Sharon says:

    Hello,
    My husband and I are leaving on April 5, 2013 for our trip to the Galapagos and Machu Pucchu with OAT. I have a question I hope you can answer. Are there hairdryers in the cabins on the Tip Top II? Also, how much luggage did you take on the cruise. Thank you so much.
    Marsh and Sharon

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    • Tina says:

      Hi, Marsh & Sharon–

      When we were on the TTII, no hair dryers were available although you could certainly plug in your own in the cabin (and perhaps even in the bathroom–I can’t recall if there was an outlet there). Luggage is an interesting question. There wasn’tt a limit on luggage per se when we traveled, but we were told that we’d have to stow whatever we brought in our cabins. In fact, most of us did keep our luggage in our cabins. We had bought rolling duffels that collapsed flat, so we were able to just put ours in the bottom of the small closet and shelves we had with no problem. However, a few folks seemed to have brought hard-sided luggage that was stowed somewhere, although I don’t know where. (It would never have fit in one of the cabins.) So apparently there is some storage, but not enough to handle all of the luggage of all 16 passengers.

      I suggest that you contact OAT to see what they suggest, just to be safe.

      Have a great trip!

      Tina

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    • Mary jane says:

      Sharon, have you taken your trip? We are planning(a little late) a trip to Machu pichu and the Galapagos islands over Christmas 2013 with our two adult children, 22 and 19! I was hoping to steal some of your homework, and insights! Can you give me some further info?

      Like

  6. Li says:

    Tina, Thank you for your quick respone. I immediately looked up the Mary Anne and almost burst into tears. That is my dream boat. Will be researching booking a trip on her. This blog must have taken you months and months as it is exceptionally well researched and organized. We will be first time cruisers ( and we live in the Bahamas!) and feel very fortunate to have run across your site.

    Best regards, Li

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  7. Li says:

    Hi Tina,

    I know this blog was written several years ago. I am planning a trip for Sept. 2013 and your insight is extremely helpful. Tanks for writing in so much detail.
    Li

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    • Tina says:

      Thanks, Li! I’m glad it’s all been helpful. Even though our trip was almost 4 years ago, I’ve kept the information here updated. We’re making a return trip to visit the western islands on the Mary Anne in just a few months! So as regulations and options have changed, I’ve added those to the various pages.

      Sept. is a great time to be in the archipelago–you’ll have a grand time.

      Tina

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  8. Jane Atkinson says:

    We are going on the Tip Top II with Road Scholar in January and I’m trying to decide if I need a second tankini bathing suit. Did you wear your suit under your clothes or did you get into and out of it just for the swimming/snorkeling. I have just bought a tankini and have a one-piece too – I’m wondering if I need a second tankini since we’re traveling in the wet season. Have thoroughly enjoyed your blog – thanks for the time you’ve spent on it.

    Tina writes:

    The details could vary, depending on your specific itinerary. But on our trip, only once did we go snorkeling immediately after a hike. Every other time, we left from the boat to go snorkeling—sometimes, a panga ride to a beach or a specific spot in a bay (and jumped in from the panga) and sometimes, right from the fantail of the boat. So we didn’t have to worry about wearing suits under regular clothes. Although I don’t know this for a fact, I would imagine you’ll do just fine with the 2 suits you currently have. Traveling during the “wet” season shouldn’t be much of a consideration. It’s called the “wet” season primarily because there tend to be rainstorms that allowed for the collection of water in the early days. But the rains aren’t frequent and tend not to last long, in a normal year. (During the “dry” season, which mostly just has mists or garúas, the settlers couldn’t collect drinking water very well.)

    You could also ask your contact person at Road Scholar, since she/he will know the precise itinerary and can double-check whether you’ll have many snorkeling outing immediately after a walk. (If you’re working with Laura Hare at Holbrook Travel, tell her I said “Hi!”) But my guess is that you’ll do just fine.

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  9. A marvelous resource — I feel almost as lucky finding it as I did booking a last minute tour through OAT. Thanks!!

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  10. Sue says:

    Hi tina – thank you so much for your blog, its excellent. My husband and I are planning a trip to the Galapagous next october 2013. Im a marine biologist and have been wanting to go for years – now is the time. I have one question however, Im in my middle fifties, however I have arthritis in my feet which makes walking so at times. Im wondering how difficult this trip would be for me? What is the pace like when walking the trails and how difficult the terrain? Any info you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you

    Tina writes:

    Only you can know how bad your arthritis is. But in general, the pace is slow, to observe wildlife and take a gazillion photos. The terrain, in general, is not difficult; most of the paths are wide, covered with cinders, and flat. Occasionally, we had to wander around some boulders and the 370+ stairs up the extinct volcano at Bartolmé might be a challenge to bad knees (although the stairs are basically a long wooden staircase, built by the Park staff). The route up Prince Philip’s Steps on Genovesa has some rather large boulder steps. But the naturalist guide and fellow passengers help everyone up. I suggest you consider bringing a collapsible hiking staff (packed in your checked luggage). I brought one for my back issues and I found it really helpful.

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  11. nbickford says:

    I’m thinking about going with Elderhostel to the Islands, but I’m concerned about getting sea sick. Are the waters rough? I ususally get sick when the boat is just sitting and rocking back and forth. Is the boat usually moving from port to port when you are on board?

    Tina writes:

    The likelihood of rough waters depends on when you travel. Given your concerns, you’d probably want to avoid late August through December. The Humboldt Current is shifting during those times and the waters have the highest probability of being lively. Really rough waters are also most likely on the open-water crossings to the furthest-out islands (e.g., Isabela, Genovesa, Española). Around the central islands, the waters tend to be calmer much of the time. Of course, you are in the ocean, so anything can happen! Most long passages are undertaken at night, although the boat will generally do some traveling during the lunch breaks as well. The captain typically knows in advance if the waters are likely to be rough and the naturalist guide will let you know.

    You might consider a catamaran, since they are sometimes less “tippy” in waves that hit abeam. They tend to bob more than a single-hulled boat would in those instances. If the waves hit fore or aft, though, a single-hulled boat would slice through them a bit better than a cat would. Also, a larger boat would tend to be more steady than a smaller boat. But a larger boat will afford you a different–and I’d say, a far less intimate–experience of the archipelago.

    We traveled during the month with the highest probability of rough water–September–but we only had one rough crossing. Everyone just secured loose items in their cabins, went to bed, and got up the next morning ready for the coming day’s adventures. About 2/3s of our group of 16 used some kind of motion sickness remedy. The majority used the scopolamine patch (rx only, at least in the U.S.)–including my husband, who was very pleased with its effectiveness. Regardless of their choice, no one in our group was debilitated by motion sickness.

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  12. Alan Reith says:

    Very pleased to have found your blog. As others have said – very good detailed information.
    We were planning to use people like ‘Happy Gringo’ to book – they offer Tip Top II .
    What would be the advantages of dealing direct with Wittmer as opposed to Happy Gringo apart from a possible % commission?
    We are planning on visiting in early Feb or March 2013.
    Happy Gringo does not show that TT II has kayaks!

    Tina writes:

    I think deciding between going directly to an owner vs. using an agent is mostly a matter of choice. With reputable agents (and Happy Gringo is one of those, to be sure), they generally charge you the same price that the boat owners would charge you. They get a commission from the sale; the boat owners simply keep that commission when you book directly with them. So no real differences there. (If you were dealing with a last-minute “deal,” these rules can change a bit.) But some folks like to “go to the source” and eliminate the middle folks. Some agents not so much on the up-and-up will charge less than the boat owners ask them to. Nothing anyone can do about that at this time, but I prefer to deal with those doing business legitimately and respectfully.

    Agents do offer a number of additional services, some at an extra charge and some not. Personally, I like dealing with an agent. (We’re currently moving toward booking a return trip to the Galápagos. Be careful—it’s just that addictive!) The agent can offer you feedback about a variety of boats without the bias of a boat owner. The agent is typically able to arrange lots of other aspects of your travel for you. The flight from mainland Ecuador to the archipelago and back is typically booked by the boat owner, so that everyone on a particular cruise is on the same airplane. If something delays the plane, you can rest assured that they won’t leave without you all! But an agent can suggest and book add-ons that can be good too—some excursions in and around Quito, for example, or an outing to the Amazon. An agent is also well positioned to help you should odd circumstances arise as you travel—say, your luggage doesn’t make to Quito before you have to leave for the cruise. Or your passport is stolen. Or a riot closes the airport in Guayaquil. Most agents have staff on the mainland and in the archipelago who are available to help you figure out the unexpected. I like having that back-up readily available, especially when I’m in a foreign country and my grasp of the local language is a bit skimpy.

    Regarding kayaks–the status of kayaks on boats may have changed for some since the new regulations went into effect early this year. It’s possible the that TTII’s permits for kayaking have changed. You could easily send the Happy Gringo folks an e-mail to clarify that, if that’s important to you.

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    • judi says:

      we returned (Dec. 25) from the Tip Top lll– booked through ROad Scholar. There was kayaking available on one day. This was not a major activity– there were two kayaks available for the 15 passengers and we were able to go for about 30 minutes. When one twosome landed on the island, our guide got quite upset!

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  13. judi says:

    I just found your blog and I love it!!! We are planning a Dec. trip with Road Scholar (formerly elderhostel) on the Tip Top iii. I am assuming that it is not much different than the TT ii you were on.

    Do you know whether they allow you to bring your own bottles of wine on board? Thanks

    Tina writes:

    Excellent question! First, the Tip Top III is a younger, slightly larger boat than the Tip Top II, but both are in the Tip Top fleet. A couple of times, when we were on landings, we spotted the Tip Top III alongside our boat. It looked like they were transferring provisions, as far as we could tell. Wittmer Turismo, which manages the fleet, is a great organization and I’m sure you’ll have a superb time.

    On the Tip Top II, we were not supposed to have our own bottles of wine (or beer, for that matter). A few folks in our group got together and split a bottle some evenings. I recall thinking the bottles were a tad expensive, but then—so are most things in the archipelago. By all reports, the wines were decent, although enjoying a truly fine bottle of wine was not really only anyone’s agenda after the marvelous days we had been spending.

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  14. CallMeChaz says:

    Tina,

    I am thoroughly enjoying your blog–it is an enjoyable part of the anticipation of our trip, just four weeks off. We will be on the sister ship, Tip Top III. We chose Tip Top based on your recommendation and many others. We liked that they treat their employees respectfully. We like the family tradition behind the company.

    Anyways, thanks so much for the insight and your travel tips!

    Chaz

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  15. Erica says:

    Hi Tina, I’m reading your entire blog to better prepare for our trip plan to the Galapagos. Thank you again (I already commented once before) for writing such enjoyable and informative blog. As I saw the picture of the bathroom you posted on this page, I want to share a travel tip whenever we cruise or will be staying in tight quarters. Often bathrooms on ship are small and lack the necessary space to hang stuff, we always pack some suction hooks so that we can use them to hang clothes or towels. The hooks are small and reusable and can be placed anywhere.

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  16. Diane says:

    Hello. Am leaving for the Galapagos in two days. Have my cruise booked, but just read in your blog that Bassett’s book lists 18 tour companies that knowledgeable Galápageños recommend. I just do not see the list in my hardbound copy of her book. I do not see an edition listed in the book, just wondering where the list is. Thanks.

    Tina wrote:
    Excellent question! I’ve now included Bassett’s full list on the page about choosing a cruise; click on p. 3. Thanks for asking.

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  17. Robin & Anthony says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write about your adventure, much appreciated. The information will help us make a more informed decision when we book!

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