My wife and I, experienced cruisers, had heard that the Galapagos cruise was "the trip of a lifetime," and expected the islands to be fantastic. We had known others who had been on (more)expensive tours than ours, and although they loved the tours had less than enthusiastic things to say about the ship they were on. We had never cruised on a ship as small as the Expedition, and thus did not expect much of the shipboard experience itself. Boy, were we positively surprised by the ship, and on board experience!
The Expedition is a 5 year old ship designed originally for a different purpose, but purchased by Celebrity a few years ago. It had just returned from dry dock before our boarding, and was "spic an span" with new carpeting and upholstery. The rooms are GREAT--roomy and nicely appointed for such a small ship. We were in the least expensive cabin on the ship, but it was as nice and comfortable as more expensive cabins. All are outside, and the more expensive cabins had a larger window, but ours was "just fine." There are a few balcony cabins (more expensive), but the tours are so wonderful,and the ship is so small there is little need for the extra expenditure.
The food is "exceptional" and the dining room very nice. There is no reason to "dress up" for dinner, with slacks and polo shirts just fine. There is a large lounge with bar--super. There is even a small gift shop with most everything you might need, including sundries, clothing, dvds, and even galapagos jewelry. There is an outside eating area as well. One night we even had dinner under the stars, and one night a special Ecuadorian dinner.
Although the ship is wonderful, the best thing about the Expedition is the crew. From the Captain, to the Maitre D, the waiters, cleaning crew, to the Cruise Director and Guide Staff ("Naturalists") everyone is exceptional. On most cruises the staff smiles on cue, and appears to be responsive to the needs of the guests, on this ship it looks like the staff REALLY IS what they appear to be. Everyone was so kind, happy, professional and really seemed to enjoy the guests and their own jobs.
There is an open bridge policy, and the Captain and staff seemed to love showing us around. There was also a chance to visit the cooking staff and tour the kitchen---often available on other ships, but on this one we really felt welcome!
There was even a young man who played the piano (and other local instruments) in the evening and during outside dinners. He was great as well.
The best of the crew however was the Cruise Director, Jason, and the naturalists. Although the ship holds 96 passengers, on our cruise there were only 74, with 6 naturalists. Each evening Jason told us about the following days tours (generally 2 per day), and gave us a choice of High, Medium, or Low intensity activities. With these choices guest of all physical conditions could participate. During the day, he gave lectures on the geology, and socialization on the Islands.
The ship, even though small, cannot land on the islands directly, so from the ship guest are loaded onto rubber rafts (like the ones used by the Naval Seals) called Zodiacs. The Zodiac drivers were wonderful, and if a special animal was spotted, the drivers would stop the Zodiac or circle around so each of the 10-15 guests could snap as many pictures as they wanted.
Of course, the Galapagos are all about the scenery, and the animals. Sea Lions, Turtles, Tortoises, Iguanas, Birds of all types and sizes and colors, and other animals---were unbelievable. The animals have no fear of humans, and will walk up to you (or vice-versa) without seeming to mind the presence of the visitors with cameras and binoculars. Many of the animals are only found in these Islands, and after visiting it is understandable how Darwin used what he saw there to help develop his theory of Evolution. My wife and I took over 2000 pictures!!!!
The Expedition provides many useful extras: Binoculars, Wet Suits (the waters are cold, but once in are not too cold), Snorkeling gear, and Bathrobes, to name a few.
The last night of the cruise, all guests are given a very special gift (I won't reveal what it is, so that you can be as wonderfully surprised as we.
There is plenty of time for shopping at the 2 Islands where shops are found, and at the Airport on day of departure (Shirts, hats, and knick knacks are relatively inexpensive). There is even nice jewelry found on Santa Cruz, the Saturday before departure.
There is internet available on the ship at a cost of $30/60 minutes). The minutes can be used throughout the cruise, but the connections are generally slow). With the exception of internet, purchases and premium liquors---everything else is INCLUDED IN THE COST OF THE CRUISE. Drinks are included---even gratuities to staff and naturalists!
A heartwarming touch was the disembarkation, when Jason and all of the Naturalists accompanied the guests to the airport, and remained there until the time the flight was called, at which time they hugged us and shook hands and seemed to genuinely thank US for having been there!
My wife and I made our own pre and post cruise arrangements in Quito (and saved alot of money compared to the Celebrity package), and would be happy to provide more details by email if anyone is interested.
The bottom line is this---If you love nature, unusual animals, fantastic scenery that is photo perfect, and a cruise that is A number 1--the Expedition is the one to take---indeed, it is the TRIP OF A LIFETIME.
Harry (& Benay) Croft