CELEBRITY XPEDITION REVIEW 12-19 November 2006
The following review was composed with the help of my wife Diane and two ladies I met on Cruise Critic, Dee and Susan. This was our eighth cruise, sixth on Celebrity. We were attracted to this sailing because of the location and the ship. Overall, it was the trip of a lifetime. If you are considering this cruise, you should read on, and then book the trip if you have not already done so.
First let me say that you won't find many of the things on a larger cruise ship. There is no casino, no swimming pool, no nightly entertainment, and certainly no formal wear. You will find a wonderful ship, fantastic wildlife, and a crew that receives the highest marks for service.
We did the eleven day trip which has two nights in Quito on both ends. We arrived in Quito around 8 pm and were met by Celebrity representatives who put us on a nice motor coach. They took us to the JW Marriott where we were given a cold towel, fruit juice, and a list of what we were to do before the cruise. They also had our room keys and had our luggage delivered to our rooms. It is a very nice hotel. We just had time to look around the first evening and then go to sleep. We had a nice breakfast in the hotel and left on coaches for the city tour at 9 am. It is a neat tour and you see the most ornate church in South America. Lunch was at a restaurant called The Crater and it was very nice. The afternoon highlight was going to the Equator museum and taking pictures straddling the Equator. There was a pre cruise dinner for us in the Presidential Suite. It was very well done. We were told to have our cruise luggage outside our doors no later then 8 am the next morning and to be ready to get on the busses by 9:45. Boarding passes for the flight were available at 9 am in the library lounge. You may leave luggage at the JW Marriott, just see the bellman.
They collected and inspected our cruise luggage at the Marriott. It was eventually delivered to our stateroom once aboard ship. It was very nice to have them bag drag our stuff from the hotel, to the airplane, and then to the ship. It was about a 20 minute ride to the airport and we had a direct flight to Baltra. Upon arrival in Baltra, we were met by the cruise director and a few of the naturalists. We spent some time in the VIP lounge and there was a cash bar, I believe soft drinks were no charge. We were taken to a pier on busses where we boarded the Xpedition.
We boarded the Xpedition via Zodiacs (large rubber rafts with outboard motors ). Let me state here that every time you leave the Xpedition it is on the Zodiacs. The Xpedition never docks and always seems to be the ship farthest away from the landing zone.
The ship carries up to 90 passengers, this sailing had 84. It has three floors of staterooms, two bars, Darwin restaurant, Beagle grille, a hot tub, and a small exercise area. It was commissioned in 2001 and is in great condition. We had a premium ocean view stateroom on the fourth deck. It was small, but had most everything you find in a big ship stateroom. There was one 110 volt outlet. There was also a small pair of low powered binoculars in the room.
There is a small gift shop with hats, shirts, jewelry and sundries.
I can't say enough good things about the staff. They wait on you and do indeed treat you famously. They go above and beyond to make this the most enjoyable time you have ever had.
The areas they might think about improving would be the food and food service in the main dining room. We were told all provisions have to come from Ecuador, which limits what they can serve. There are usually two appetizers, two soups, two salads, two entrees, and various desserts on the dinner menu. The menu was often seafood intensive and prepared with ingredients many folks did not enjoy. Also, the dining room seemed chaotic when we had it full. Maybe many of them were new, but it really seemed to throw things off when we all went in at 8 pm. They had three dinners served under the stars outside and that was a nice touch.
Breakfast and lunch were available in the restaurant and Beagle Grille. The grill was lighter fare than the restaurant and had burgers for lunch. There was an omelet station in the restaurant during breakfast.
There are usually cookies and other snacks available in various places on the ship. You are always met after excursions with small sandwiches, cookies, and juice.
The food and service staff get the highest marks for effort. They are working on the execution and hopefully they will figure out how to serve the evening meal a bit smoother.
All excursions are included in the price of the trip. There are usually morning and afternoon excursions. They offer low, medium, and high intensity excursions. The high intensity events usually involve snorkeling or some type of challenging walking or hiking. The low and medium trips usually start with a chance to see things from the Zodiacs and a shorter walk on land. There is plenty of opportunity to see a great deal of wildlife no matter which excursions you choose. There is a nightly briefing at 7:45 pm given by the cruise director. He explains where you will be the next day and presents a nice slide show. He will also let you know if that is the only opportunity to view a specific animal. After the briefing you then sign up for what you want to do the next day. It should be noted that you are not required to sign up for excursions unless you want to do them and they make sure everyone gets to do the excursion they sign up for. Also, there was a decent break after lunch where we had time to nap and reenergize for the afternoon and evening. This was generally when they moved the ship to the next location.
Cruise Director and Naturalists
Our cruise director was Jorge. He was full of energy and always had a huge smile on his face. He worked very hard to ensure everyone had a great time. All I can say is that he was awesome.
All the naturalists have been trained through the Galapagos National Park and are very knowledgeable. They go to great pains to explain the wildlife and their surroundings. They also keep a good eye on guests and ensure each excursion goes at a reasonable pace. They also make sure everyone has plenty of photo opportunities. They were all great.
We left the Xpedition via Zodiacs and were taken back to the same pier where we boarded at the beginning of our cruise. Motor coaches took us back to the Baltra airport, where there was ample time to do some last minute shopping. One shop offered passport stamps for free and we did that. We later learned that the official Galapagos National Park passport stamp was available in the airport in their office. Just ask one of the naturalists to help you get the official stamp and they will be glad to help you.
We made a 45 minute stop in Guayaquil and returned to Quito. There was an hour shopping tour offered that afternoon, but we chose not to partake. The post cruise dinner was at the Quito Opera House. It was about a 20 minute bus ride from the Marriott. The dinner was very well done and it was nice to reflect upon the great time we had the previous week. The dinner was over around 8:30 pm and we were back at the hotel relatively early as a number of folks had very early flights the next morning.
It should be noted that we booked the eleven day trip and had the extra day on the end. Once back at the Marriott we were told that there were day trips available for $130 per person on the last day. We chose not to take any of them and were content to relax at the hotel and take a few short walks.
Escaping the Quito airport was quite an adventure. Those who bought air through Celebrity had to leave the hotel three hours prior to departure. We asked the hotel and they said two hours was plenty. Upon further review, I would recommend at least two and a half hours. We had to make five stops in the airport before we boarded the airplane. Be sure to plan for the exit tax which was $31.60 per person USD. They only take cash.
Odds and Ends
I will try to cover some other topics here that may have not fit exactly into one of the other categories.
Tipping - we were told that all gratuities were included in the price of the trip. There were no tip envelopes and we did not see any crew tip box. Some folks said they tipped some of the staff who went well above and beyond with their service.
Motion Sickness - this is a small cruise ship and we experienced quite a bit of rocking and rolling. There were a few people who had significant motion sickness and were out of action for awhile. I would suggest that anyone who might be prone to motion sickness take every precaution (i.e wrist bands, patch, or pills. Also, I would suggest that if anyone has a problem see guest relations or the ship's doctor right away. They have some remedies that can help quickly.
Photography - wow, what pictures you will take. Take plenty of film or digital capability. There are multiple opportunities to photograph the following: sea lions, sally light foot crabs, marine iguanas, blue footed boobies, sea turtles, and giant tortoises. You will also have the chance to take pictures of much more wildlife depending on the time of year you go and which excursions you choose. There was a Kodak Kiosk in the lounge of the ship, where I believe some folks were able to print digital photos.
Internet and communications - the ship has 2-3 computers in the corner of the main lounge and they offer 60 minutes of internet for $30. You have to buy the package of 60 minutes and there is no refund for unused minutes. It is a decent connection and is fine for email. We have Cingular for cell phone service and they charged $2.29 per minute for international roaming. We had good reception in a number of places and I heard some people were able to use their Blackberry devices off and on.
Packing - Celebrity has a good list in the cruise documents and there are a number of good packing lists on the internet. Be sure to take a floppy hat with a chin strap. There is only one 110 volt outlet in the room, so if you need more for electronics take an extension cord or multiple outlet plug. A light poncho or rain jacket is a good idea for the Highlands trip. It will keep you and your camera dry.
Shopping - There are two opportunities on the cruise to shop. There are various small shops with lots of shirts, coffee cups, and souvenirs. If you want to shop in Quito suggest you take the eleven day trip and work with the Concierge in lieu of the trips Celebrity offers.
Altitude sickness - some folks experienced problems in Quito due to the altitude. Most people experienced a shortness of breath when climbing stairs and during the walking portion of the city tour. There is a cafe in the hotel that offers Coca Tea as a remedy.
In closing this was a fantastic trip to see great things one can only experience in the Galapagos. It was also a chance to make new friends and enjoy their company. This is Celebrity treating you famously and you will enjoy every minute of it. If you have questions you may contact me at Catfish47@aol.com.