There are countless reviews on Cruise Critic about the Galapagos cruise on the Celebrity Xpedition and we echo the glowing reports already posted. So instead I am going to concentrate on only those items that we learned while on the cruise that can help others in their preparation or while on their cruise. Our trip was during the hot and wet season (early April 2013).
The Celebrity Xpedition
With only 98 passengers, you will get to know most people on a first name basis quickly. The staff was terrific and ever attentive to your needs. All staff come from either the Galapagos Islands or the Ecuadorean mainland and are very proud of their country and speak very good English. One bartender got to know us so well that when he saw us approaching the ship in the panga coming back from an excursion he made us our favorite returning drinks, ice teas and glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. As mentioned in at least another review, you can order dinner to be served to you outside on the Beagle Grill. Dining room seating is always open seating at any time the DR is open and at rounds of 6-10 people. Breakfast and lunch is always buffet style with lunch sometimes offered both in the DR as well as a BBQ on the Beagle Grill. The food was generally very good with only a few chicken dishes that were dry. I don't know why other posters said the beef was not good, but several friends we met on the cruise that had the beef, said it was fine. We always tried to eat the fish of the day and it was very good. Since it is a small ship, there is one bar and a small ship's store on board. The ship's store does stock several microfiber clothing items as well as sunscreen and toothpaste. Your cabin attendant will change dirty or wet towels three times per day so you also have a fresh set. The beds are spartan by today's cruise ship standards- no box spring, lumpy and uncomfortable. I would recommend packing either a small power strip or a 3 in 1 electrical plug for charging electronic devices as there are only two outlets in most cabins; either the one above the bathroom sink or unplugging the television. There is limited wi-fi on the ship with the best signal in the Explorer lounge. Only 8 people can be on at one time and many forget to logoff when finished.
Since this trip is a "bucket list" item for most passengers, the average age is 60+. There were a few families with children on our trip as well. Most were from the US, Canada, Australia or the UK. Everyone was very friendly, well-educated and animal friendly. This is not a cruise for those people that are mobility impaired. Entering and exiting the pangas over rocky terrain and the rocky uneven ground would present major obstacles to those people. When you get your pre-cruise booklet, you will note the baggage weight limitations of 40 lbs. for checked baggage and 14 lbs. for carry-on items. Once we got to Quito, our guide told us the weight limitation was 20 kg. or 45 lbs. for checked luggage but said it was only a guide. No one weighed our carry-on items.
Fifteen minutes each day before dinner is served, the tour director will review the excursion options for the upcoming day. He will describe the type of terrain you will walk on, whether it is a wet or dry landing and the wildlife you might encounter. There are usually 2 options in the morning and afternoon (short or long walks) and on at least one day we had a third excursion offered which was a deep water snorkel. You sign up for the excursion with one of the naturalists as you leave the Explorer Lounge and walk to the DR. You can change your mind at any time on which excursion you want to go on. None of the walks exceeded 2 miles but the terrain can be very rocky or steep. Try to pick out a group with similar abilities to you as you board the pangas. Non-adjustable walking sticks are available as you board the pangas. We brought along our own collapsible trekking poles and used them frequently.
Dress aboard the Xpedition is extremely casual. If I could sum up the clothing in one word it would be "microfiber"! We wore shorts and convertible pants with t-shirts and SS collared shirts to every meal. The only thing the crew does not want in the dining room is wet and dirty clothing. Our foot wear was sandals and sneakers. But more about foot wear later on. Be sure to bring one or more of the wide brim/floppy hats with draw strings. Baseball caps are not useful in blocking the sun and loose floppy hats with no drawstring will fly off during a panga trip. Definitely do not bring suits, jackets, ties or fancy dress shoes.
When you pack, plan on changing clothing between the morning excursion and the afternoon excursion during hot days. If you wash clothes while on the cruise, bear in mind that hanging space in an oceanview cabin is very limited.
We only packed and used one lightweight waterproof rain jacket. One the one day it was raining when our panga excursion departed, Celebrity provided ponchos which were big enough to cover the backpacks as well. We sprayed our hiking shoes several times with waterproof material prior to the trip but still had to change socks for the afternoon excursion. We also brought waterproof bags from REI that were used to protect the cameras.
Highly recommend low cut hiking shoes on many of the walks. You will be walking over loose rocks, lava fields and other assorted terrain and we felt hiking shoes gave us comfort and support on all the hikes. We liked the closed-toe footwear as you might pick up small stones or lava sand in open-toed shoes. On some beach excursions, sandals or water shoes are fine. Dining room footwear was either sandals or sneakers.
For every excursion, bring one bottle of water in your fanny pack or backpack. Bottled water is available in three places as you board your excursion. First, bottled water is re-stocked every day in your cabin refrigerator. You can also pick up a bottle of water in Explorer lounge which almost everyone passes thru on the way to the pangas. Lastly, there is a cooler on the deck where you get your lifejackets that is also stocked but does run out if many forget the first two options.
The pangas, AKA Zodiacs, are RIBs (ridgid inflatable boats) and all guests sit on the sides of the pangas. Each panga holds a maximum of 16 people (8 per side) plus a naturalist, a driver and sometimes an additional crew member. Pangas are used to bring people to and from the ship as the ship does not dock at any time. For excursions where you are going to be sightseeing on a panga/zodiac, try to be in the front 2 people on each side to get the best pictures. Those sitting in the back are constrained in movement. Panga drivers will almost always turn the pangas so people on both sides get chances to see the wildlife. Most panga rides last 5 to 20 minutes unless they are an excursion ride.
In a word "unlimited". Whether you want a frozen drink, mixed drink, on the rocks or straight up, they will make it for you with pleasure. We are wine drinkers so wines offered on board the Xpedition were from Chile and Argentina and included Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and some others. As far as we know, no Italian wines such as Pinto Grigio or Chianti are carried on the ship.
The Xpedition is a small ship as you probably already know. It is a relatively flat bottom boat that allows it to anchor close to the islands. However, it has no stabilization and on several days and nights we experienced very strong rocking of the boat that caused drawers and doors in the cabin to open and close automatically. If you are prone to sea sickness, be sure to have all your Rx and OTC products with you. You will probably need them!
Wet and Dry Landings
The pangas are propelled by a 100hp motor and with tilting the engine, they can get pretty close to shore. The wet landings are done on beaches. You swivel on your butt at the front sides of the panga and slide off into a foot of water or less and then walk to land. Brown towels are available, from the cabin attendant, which are the ones you should bring with you for beach activities. Dry landings take place on rocky edges where you walk off the panga at the bow with the help of the naturalist who is already on the rocks or at town docks where there were bus excursions. We hiked with backpacks and other guests had fanny or waist packs. Due to the uneven terrain you will encounter and the entering and exiting of the pangas, you will need some sort of bag that will leave your hands free.
No doubt everyone wants to remember this trip with pics. Some of the wildlife is visible close to the walking trails or from the panga during an excursion. But most of the wildlife is either farther away or higher up. We brought 3 cameras with us. A small pocket Nikon P8000, a larger P&S Nikon P100 and a DSLR Nikon D5100. The Nikon P100 has a 26x optical zoom which allowed some close in shots but the best wildlife pics we took came from the Nikon D5100 with a 70-300mm lens. Some passengers were shooting with 400mm lens and at least one passenger was using a Canon D20 underwater camera and got some great marine life shots. If you plan to use a cell phone camera or a small P&S with little or no optical zoom, you will not get good pictures. If you are planning on taking pictures with a tablet device-forget it!
We went on almost every snorkeling excursion and saw plenty of marine life. Wet suits are available to everyone as is other snorkeling gear. We only wore the wet suits once as the guides advised us that the water was colder at that location. Ever other time we just wore swim shirts to avoid sunburn. Besides a wide variety of fish, we saw rays, turtles, sea lions and boobies diving. Some others on the trip saw sharks. Get your equipment early as some of the sizes are limited and some of the equipment is damaged and needs replacing.
Your cruise/tour generally starts and ends in Quito. Quito is approx. 9300 ft. above sea level and you might experience shortness of breath. If you are prone to altitude sickness, bring medications! The day long tour of the city was very nice and we saw some memorable churches and public buildings. Lunch was served in the Quito Opera house and we were entertained by an opera singer during lunch and he was fantastic! At night we went to a restaurant called Carmine (see my review in Trip Advisor-JerseyShore2) and had a memorable meal with great service. In case you did not already know, the currency in Ecuador is the U.S. dollar.
Your tour bus will be accompanied by a guide and an unarmed security guard. Quito has problems with pickpockets and jewelry thieves. The guides will tell you not to wear loose fitting jewelry of to have open handbags or open pants pockets with money in them. Pay attention to that warning since one member of our tour party wore a gold chain with a cross and had it stolen. Street thieves work in groups and hand off stolen articles to other members on the run. The thief was caught by the security guards but the chain and cross were not recovered.
At the beginning and at the end of the cruise, we were booked into the Marriott hotel in downtown Quito by Celebrity. Since the new airport was fully operational on our trip, the travel time from the airport to the Marriott can vary from 45 minutes (at 1AM) to almost 2 hours (5PM). Some of the people on our trip were booked into a hotel much nearer the airport and I would recommend asking Celebrity to book you there if you have an early morning departure flight. Our return flight to Miami was at 6:30AM and the shuttle left the Marriott at 3AM!
As I said earlier, the staff was very attentive during the cruise; however, once the cruise was over, it was like we didn't exist. On the final day, baggage was collected at 6AM. Breakfast was served from 6AM till 8AM, at which time everyone is asked to move to the Explorer lounge or outside on the Beagle Grill. We waited for almost 2 hours before the pangas started
to move people to shore for the buses to the airport. During the 2 hours we did not see one staff member nor was there any water or other beverages to drink so bring a bottle of water from your stateroom. We waited at the airport for almost 3 hours before boarding the charter flight back to Quito. Our luggage did not arrive until 2 hours after we arrived at the hotel. The Celebrity representatives at the hotel (sub-contractors-not Celebrity employees) seemed confused on where the luggage was.
With all that said, it was a fantastic experience