There have been several anecdotal and chronological reviews so far – here is my attempt at “something completely different”. Les (Pat is on a different shore excursion....)
The ABC of Xpedition (NOT in traditional order):
A is for altitude of Quito – while we took it easy walking (and drinking alcohol) and had no ill effects, some other passengers struggled with breathing (and other symptoms) on steps, at night, and after drinking. A is for Alejandra – a wonderful Celebrity guide in Quito who has many skills including wit, good humour and stopping taxis with her smile. A is for Albatrosses – they danced, they clacked beaks on cue as promised.
B is for bird-life – no red-footed booby or vermilion fly-catcher spotted on our shore excursions, but – the rest flew, nested, mated or hopped near us and we have photos to prove it. B is for bridge on Expedition – a must visit – modern technology and old-fashioned friendly officers who answered all of my dumb questions with a smile. B is for boobies – what else can we add? – blue-footed and Nazca in every imaginable pose – and so unafraid.
C is for Christian – the Xpedition Maitre d’ – he walks the talk and the staff responds with excellence in every way. C is for Carlos – another Celebrity guide par excellence in Quito – may you be on his bus. C is for Celebrity – the reputed touch of class we have experienced on other ships in the fleet is present on this expedition in all (but one? - see T) aspects from arrival in Quito to departure ten days later.
D is for Diego – attentive bar steward who tolerated our attempts at Spanish and always brought the right “vino” with a smile. D is for Darwin Research Institute – a most informative place to visit (though showing its age?). I would have liked more “free” time here to explore more slowly. Sorry to hear some concerns expressed about the uncertain future of this establishment and the Galapagos Islands. D is for dolphins – as predicted in the Xpedition Today, they came, and they played with our ship and entertained us.
O is for the opportunity to choose different levels of excursion each day – this really worked will for us all week.. O is for the oyster catchers that have stopped migrating and now live in Galapagos year round. O is for outdoor dining, and the scheduler who seemed to know which nights would be suitable for dining under the stars – clever!
F is for Freddie – a naturalist with a flair for sharing his wide knowledge – patient to a fault with answering the “what is that” question (which he had sometimes given just minutes ago). F is for Fausto – a friendly Captain who loves his work. F is for frigate birds – so beautiful in flight – so dangerous – so brilliant when a male is puffed up to impress the female. F is for Fabio – a naturalist who is well spoken, and has a genuine concern for the future of the Galapagos (albeit a pessimistic one?).
H is for healthy ship – no reports that I was aware of in terms of gastric problems… a few coughs by day 6 and some sore throats reported by Quito on day 9. H is for hand-painted skirts – worn by the folkloric ladies on the Xpedition on the last night (a summary of wild-life seen during the week before) H is for High Intensity – not to be avoided as a choice of shore excursion if you are in reasonable shape and have good footwear. Some of the best views and best bird life were seen on this level (“high” refers more to length of time and steepness of climbs than to length travelled).
K is for Katherine and her last night rendition of “Galapagos: and the living is easy”. K is for knife – that specialty one by the cheeseboard made sampling the variety of cheeses so simple. K is for keyboard – Jacobo was always there to play for us (and on pan flute too) V is for Venice Island with its flamingos reflected in the brackish pond. V is for VAT – it is 12% in Ecuador!
L is for lava – such shapes, colours, textures (and lava cactus and lava lizards) L is for Louis – a waiter who “reserved” a table for our changing dinner groupings. E is for espresso – ordered first Sunday after lunch in the Dining Room. It then came after every lunch without my ordering it – no matter which waiter served our table – how do they do that?
E is for Ecuadorian staff and crew – well trained, efficient, hard-working, and always smiling when greeting passengers. E is for endemic species – the local naturalists were proud and keen to point them out and describe the peculiar features of the sightings.
G is for Galapagos – a destination of a lifetime for those who know what is in store. G is for Guayaquil – our unexpected destination the first (short) night. Quito airport was closed as we approached from Houston and we were diverted – but Celebrity reps met us, had us through Immigration and on a bus to the Hilton efficiently. Given that we took off to Quito the next morning, we had a total of three landings and three take-offs here in the seaside city.
N is for Nacho – a well versed naturalist who led our five member band on the “survival of the fittest” hike – we will stay in his Puerto Ayora hotel if we return to the islands. N is for new friends – there were so many open, sociable, stimulating guests on board who went quickly past the ubiquitous “where are you folks from?” stage to serious discussion of topics and issues.
P is for Pedro – we quickly nicknamed him Pedro - King of barmen. Was there a time in the Beagle Grill or Discovery Room Lounge when he was not there smiling and serving? P is for penguins – they posed, swam, and fished so close to us – so tiny! P is for Puerto Ayora – shops, DRI, Highlands and more – glad we visited twice. P is for Post Office on Floreana where we witnessed the human equivalent of a feeding frenzy (we have one card to deliver close to home). I is for iguanas – they are everywhere and sometimes hard to spot (that is not a handrail, Clive) – do they think we are as ugly as we think they are? I is for Isabela with her five volcanoes – some of the best views from the top of the stairs here. I is for Imodium – a word not heard once during the whole time on board. Q is for Quito – some incredible Old Town structures (modernized inside but not out) – but litter and smog detract from its beauty.
Q is for questions – passengers asked probing and productive ones of naturalists and thereby added to our learning experience (but there were also “dumb” ones from the non-listeners and this grated by week’s end). Y is for yawns – seen often at early morning (e.g. 5.15am in Quito on the last morning) and every evening during dinner after two or three excursions each day. This is not a late night party ship. Y is for yo quiero – 2 of the 22 Spanish words we used on board when ordering – resulted in lots of smiles in the bar and dining room from the appreciative Ecuador staff (or were they laughing at me?)
R is for Raoul – Executive chef who works miracles with the local produce in a small galley. The Ecuador buffet lunch, the fish dishes (such sauces!) and the desserts were outstanding (and those jellies eh Michele?) R is for routines – e.g. back aboard in the afternoon – off with life jacket – receive a refreshing cold towel – use the anti-bacterial soap provided – up a deck for a different fruit juice from Diego each day – Jacobo on keyboards to pipe you to you cabin (some added a cerveza from Pedro en route) – shower!
S is for Suarez Point on Espanola – how can such an uninteresting looking island (from the sea) have everything in such close quarters – the visit of the week! S is for sea lions – all ages, all sizes and so close – and smells…… S is for stateroom attendants – rarely seen but took extra special care of our cabin the belongings we forgot to put away in the rush to go ashore again. S is for South American wines served – generally very good quality though restricted in grape variety. S is for soups – enjoyed every hot soup at lunch and cold (fruit based) ones at dinner.
U is for “unbelieve it” – naturalist Nacho’s favourite word to special sights and experiences. U is for unprepared – there were some passengers who did not expect to work so hard at this “vacation” – their lack of interest in the experience became a distraction hard to ignore.
T is for turtles and tortoises – sleeping, hissing, walking, mating – small to Antony sized. T is for TV set in the cabin – with a front input for the cable from my camera we were able to enjoy a quick look at daily pictures – made culling easy to free up memory. T is for Theatro Sucre – dinner here on the last night in Quito was a very “unCelebrity” event in our opinion (ex-restaurant reviewers and current opera subscribers) – cool food, un-professional and erratic service, not a wine-bar as advertised, wines substituted without asking, prices on list and bill differ (guess which way), and a singer who could not stop from going flat. Décor and tuxes alone do not magically turn a one star restaurant into a four star place.
W is for welcome at Guest Relations – at any time of day they provided top-notch Celebrity service. W is for wave action – we were pleasantly surprised at how smooth the seas were (took off our preventative measures after two days). Some passengers reportedly were not so lucky. W is for wine list – the premium one has some strange listings (Mario explained why). W is for weeks – it will take several weeks to digest the experiences, sort photos and souvenirs, and to recover from the pace of activity.
Z is for zodiac rides – the pipeline from ship to shore - sometimes wet, always safe – loading and landing from that rear deck is so efficient and practical.
J is for Jaime – the “teasing” naturalist who kept my wife and I smiling when on Zodiac or on shore. J is for Jaime – the waiter for our first dinner – called me by my first name every day from then on whether I sat at his section or not (and my wife Madam Patty too). J is for Jason – what a class act – humour, knowledge, patience, initiative, energy – a real leader of expeditions!
M is for Mario – as Hotel Director he claims to be having a holiday working on Xpedition – don’t believe it. He looks calm and unruffled but he is paddling like crazy underneath to make sure everything in his department works for passengers – and the results are extra special. M is for Marriott – very enjoyable Quito home – worthy of the Celebrity choice and confidence.
X is for Xpedition – a classy lady – glad we met! She looks so elegant as you approach by Zodiac, and her performance and design makes exploring the Galapagos so much easier.