This is not what I would describe as a leisurely pleasure cruise. There is no showroom or casino on the ship, very little entertainment & no pool. This is for those interested in close up encounters with an amazing variety of animals on land, in the sea & in the air that have no fear of humans. Many of these creatures will come within a few feet of you or swim right by you. Many are found nowhere else & some were almost driven to extinction by visitors many years ago.
I had been to the Galapagos Islands once before. My wife & I went there in May 2011 & I loved it so much that I wanted to return. When we were planning that trip we were considering the Lindblad / National Geographic Endeavour, we assumed they would have the best naturalists for this once in a lifetime trip. Our travel agent suggested we look at Celebrity Xpedition. When we did the comparison, the ships & itineraries were similar, but Celebrity Xpedition was much less expensive & all inclusive. We select the Celebrity trip. We were later told by one of the naturalists on the Celebrity Xpedition that all naturalists in the Galapagos are trained & certified by the Galapagos National Park Service. It is possible that the larger ships can attract the more sought after naturalists, but both the Endeavour & the Xpedition carry the same number of passengers & all of the naturalists we encountered on the Xpedition were excellent.
My wife really enjoyed the trip, but had a problem with the heat & humidity of the Galapagos Islands in May.
First, a little about me: I am a 70 year old male in good health. That’s enough about me.
The remainder of this report is about my Galapagos trip that started on April 4, 2014. This time I was joined by my adult son, David. The same as last time, I chose the 10 night package which included 7 nights on the ship plus 2 nights in Quito prior & 1 night after the voyage. I felt this gave us time to adjust to the time zone, recover from the long flights & get to see a little of Quito.
Celebrity offers 2 itineraries in the Galapagos Islands. On my previous trip there Celebrity only offered one itinerary. Sometime within the intervening 3 years the Galapagos National Park decided that some of the islands were getting too much traffic while others saw little. As it was explained to me, in an attempt to even out they traffic to the various islands they now require that no ship can visit the same island within 10 days. This required an itinerary A & B (now called inner & outer loops). I chose itinerary A (outer loop).
I flew from Newark, NJ & David flew from Denver, CO. We met in Houston, TX & took the 5 hour 20 minute flight to Quito, Ecuador; arriving at about 11 PM local time. Getting our luggage & going through customs & immigration was fast & easy. As promised, Celebrity personnel were at the airport to greet us. Along with 12 others arriving on the same flight, a bus carried us & our luggage to the J.W. Marriott in Quito. The new airport is about 1 hour bus ride from the hotel. Note: Quito is at 9,350 feet above sea level & is it is the highest official capital city in the world.
Tour Day 1 - Friday
We stayed at the hotel for 2 nights. The J.W. Marriot Quito hotel is the same hotel that Celebrity used three years ago & is first class. As we entered the hotel lobby, Celebrity had a desk where they issued us our room keys, ship luggage tags & itinerary for the following day. Our luggage was brought to our room shortly after we went in & looked around.
The hotel has large rooms, an outdoor heated pool, free fitness center & a free hot buffet breakfast from 6 to 9 AM daily. Omelets to order are included. The security system includes a card that unlocks your hotel room lock by placing it near the reader device on the door. The elevator will only go to the lobby & spa floors without using your card. The elevator will also stop at your assigned floor if you use your card.
There was a charge for multi-device internet access from our room. Probably because of my previous stay at this hotel, I qualified for the VIP Lounge on the top floor where they had free snacks, beverages, Wi-Fi all day & some hot items at dinner time. It also had a balcony with a nice view of the surrounding area.
Tour Day 2 - Saturday
After an included hot buffet breakfast in the hotel, 4 air-conditioned busses picked us up at the hotel at about 9 AM for a guided tour of Quito. The busses always have an ample supply of cold bottled water. A local Celebrity guide was assigned to each bus. A security guard carrying a baton is also assigned to each bus. They assist by stopping traffic when the group crosses a street & discourage any locals who might want to prey on tourists. While it may have been overkill to have security guards on this tour, it shows that Celebrity was super conscious about providing first class service & safety. A nice lunch was provided at a local restaurant (Sucre’s Theatrum).
After lunch the tour visited the “Half of the World Park” which lies on the Equator; 15 km north of Quito. Celebrity provided the entrance passes. Note: the restrooms at the park are free, but don’t have toilet paper. That can be purchased from a small vending machine outside the restrooms for 10 centavos. Celebrity seems to have thought of everything & had a roll of toilet paper near the front of the bus.
We enjoyed the tour which lasted about 7 hours & returned us to the hotel at about 4 PM.
At about 6 PM the busses took us to a local restaurant (La Gloria) for an included dinner which was very enjoyable. Again the busses had a local Celebrity guide. Our security guards were visible outside the restaurant. Since we arrived in Quito so late, the lunch & dinner provided opportunities to meet some of the other group members.
The busses returned us to the hotel after a leisurely, enjoyable dinner.
Checked luggage with the ship luggage tags needed to be brought down to the hotel lobby at night. The Celebrity staff sealed each suitcase with a plastic tie. During the night, Ecuador inspectors were able to randomly open the luggage to make sure it didn’t contain any food, plants, etc. that aren’t native to the Galapagos. If a bag was opened for inspection, the Celebrity staff re-sealed it.
Tour Day 3 - Sunday
After an included hot breakfast, we boarded the busses at about 7:30 AM for the 1 hour trip to the airport. Our checked luggage was transported separately & we didn’t see them again until they were delivered to our stateroom on the ship. Celebrity provides access to the airport VIP lounge at the airport until boarding the plane at about 9:30 AM. Another nice thing about the Celebrity package is they provide a charter flight directly from Quito to Baltra in the Galapagos. Most passengers going from Quito to Baltra first fly to Guayaquil on a commercial aircraft & then fly from there to Quito. I decided to pay an extra $99 per person each way to upgrade to first class in order to make sure neither of us ended up in a middle seat during the 2 hour flight. This was probably overkill, but I wanted to make sure we stated the cruise in the best possible frame of mind.
When we arrived at Baltra airport, the authorities efficiently checked our documents & inspected our carry-on bags. Celebrity includes the $100 Galapagos National Park entrance fee & the INGALA Tourist Card fee. Next we boarded a bus for the short ride to the dock where we boarded Zodiaks (small, stable inflated craft with outboard motor) for the 10 minute ride to the ship.
We were in Premium Cabin Category XP Stateroom #414 on deck 4. The Celebrity Xpedition is a small ship holding a maximum of 98 passengers. Galapagos National Park rules limit ships to a maximum of 100 passengers. Every ship must include at least 1 certified naturalist/guide with a maximum of 16 passengers per naturalist/guide. By limiting the number of certified naturalist/guides, the National Park limits the number of visitors & ships at any one time. Celebrity Xpedition has 7 naturalist/guides on board that accompany groups of up to 16 passengers on all excursions.
Internet access was available free in the lounge.
Celebrity Xpedition has staterooms on decks 3 & 4 with suites on decks 5 &6. While our stateroom category was “Premium”, it was about 160 square feet. Deck 4 has 19 cabins & also housed the small library, lounge (with open bar), Guest Relations & the outdoor Beagle Grill (BBQ available for lunch). Deck 4 aft (rear) is also the place you gather prior to boarding the Zodiacs for every excursion.
Deck 3 has 18 cabins, Darwin’s Dining Room (the only dining room on the ship. It has tables for all guests in a single seating), a small gift shop & the Beach Club (aft) where snorkeling gear is stored & where the Zodiaks arrive & leave the ship.
Deck 5 has 8 suites. Deck 6 has 3 suites, a small exercise room & sauna. Outdoors there is a hot tub. Messages (fee) could be scheduled on this deck. David had one which helped reduce his arm pain.
Staterooms have a Cooling Box, not a true refrigerator. It is stocked with complimentary sodas & bottled water. Our stateroom didn’t have a clock but other passengers told me that theirs did. I brought a travel alarm so it wasn’t a problem. I am sure that Guest Relations would have supplied one if I asked. We had a phone with automated wake-up call capability. There was a TV, hair dryer, desk & small couch. The queen bed was convertible to 2 twin beds. Each stateroom has a pair of binoculars (for use while on the cruise) & a plastic sheet with color drawings & names of Galapagos marine life (to keep).
While almost everything is included in the upfront price (including gratuities), you may want to buy something at the gift shop, have a massage, etc. All purchases are charged to your stateroom to be settled on the last night of the cruise. Major credit cards & cash are accepted.
We found a Bottle of champagne in our stateroom for previously taken a Celebrity cruise (Captain’s Club). Towels were changed up to 3 times per day due to showering after morning & afternoon excursions. There was no smoking except for designated outdoor areas on certain decks.
The ship has no formal nights; dress is always casual for dinner & beach attire is fine for breakfast & lunch.
I signed up for a free tour of the Captain’s Bridge which was conducted by the ship’s Navigator. It was very interesting & I recommend it to anyone interested in how the ship works, navigates & communicates.
While you aren’t in the middle of the ocean, the small ship can cause nausea, especially when it is anchored. There are almost no docks on any of the islands we visited so the ship anchors off shore & Zodiaks are used to transport passengers to & from the islands. Several of the passengers were wearing sea-sickness patches & some wore wrist bands. I wore SEA-BANDs & they seemed to help. David used the patches & they worked very well.
Breakfast & lunch buffets are good. There was a BBQ lunch available most days in addition to the buffet. Dinners included a choice of appetizers, salads, soups (usually 2), 8 or more entrees & deserts. The left side of the menu was constant throughout the cruise while the right side changed nightly. On some nights when I wanted a light meal I ordered just a hot soup & salad, no entree, & then I ordered seconds of both.
From early morning to late night there is a free open bar with some fresh fruit & cookies. There is free bottled water at the bar all day & night plus on the rear of deck 3 before & after every excursion.
Life jackets must be worn by all while on the Zodiaks. When you return from an excursion, the ship’s staff collects your life jacket (& a bag containing your gear after snorkeling), offers you a cold, wet wash cloth as well as a cold non-alcoholic drink.
The only negative I had with the entire trip was a problem with our cabin’s temperature; the lowest it went was 76 degrees Fahrenheit. I like the room cool, especially when sleeping. I asked for it to be made cooler & they sent an electrician who confirmed that the thermostat in the room was working properly. I then asked for an engineer to look at it. He changed something in the ceiling vent that would improve air flow. That change resulted in the cabin temperature getting down to 71 degrees F. The staff also delivered a double headed fan. The repairs plus the fan made the cabin much better for sleeping.
Some other passengers on various decks also complained about their cabin temperatures while others were happy with their cabin’s temperatures; some could get their cabin down to 69 degrees F.
Each night on the ship the room attendant would leave a 1 page agenda containing the following day’s activities. Each night the Cruise Director would present a slide show & discussion of the following day’s excursions. At the end of her presentation she answered any of the passenger’s questions.
Tour Day 4 - Monday
This was the first day of excursions. The day started with early coffee & croissants from 6:15 to 8 AM. At 6:45 there was stretching offered on deck 5. The hot buffet breakfast was offered from 7 to 9 AM. At 8:30 AM those interested in the morning excursion congregated to board the Zodiaks for a Beach Walk & Swim or Snorkel in Gardner Bay on Espanola Island. I found this interesting & the swim was refreshing. We returned to the ship at about 11 AM.
As I noted earlier, all excursions are conducted by certified guides/naturalists, no more than 16 passengers per guide. They organized this by allowing no more than 16 passengers per Zodiak plus a guide/naturalist and the driver. As soon as a Zodiak is filled, it departs & the next one pulls up ready for loading. When passengers exit the Zodiak on the island, it returns to the ship until all of the passenger that wanted to go on that excursion have been accommodated. The guides/naturalists have radios to signal the Zodiaks when to return to the island for the return trip. If there is swimming or snorkeling involved in the excursion, one or more Zodiaks stay near the swimmers in case they needed any assistance. Most landings on the islands were “wet landings”. That meant that you got off of the Zodiak into shallow water. I wore water shoes when going into the Zodiaks for a wet landing. If we were then going on a walk I would dry my feet & put on socks & sneakers before continuing. I would reverse this process for the return trip.
Your stateroom attendant makes sure there are always dry beach towels in your stateroom for your use.
The ship has walking sticks, masks, snorkels, floatation vests, fins & wet suits that you can borrow for free for the entire cruise.
After the buffet lunch & BBQ from noon to 1:30 PM, we embarked on the afternoon excursions on Punta Suarez on Espanola Island. Here there were 2 options with dry landings; a “short walk” & a “long walk”. Both were about 2 hours long & could more accurately be called “rocky with some sandy areas” versus “very rocky hike”. The “long walk” departed the ship at 3:30 PM with the “short walk” departing at 4 PM. Everyone was back on board by 6 PM. David & I chose the “long walk”. Each passenger is asked to sign up for their preferred excursions the previous night. The Cruise Director was very flexible with last minute changes or groups that wanted to stay together. The guides/naturalists never rushed us & let each passenger walk at hers/his own pace. They provided interesting facts about what we were seeing & answered all questions. Their English was very good & understandable.
At 6:30 PM there was a cocktail party followed by a briefing on the next day’s activities. Dinner was served at 7:30 PM followed by live music starting at 9:30 PM. The music was provided by a very talented keyboardist who also played in the afternoons when we returned from excursions.
All activities on the ship were optional. If you wanted you could stay on the ship & not participate in any excursions, but you probably should not take this cruise for the excursions ARE the reason for this cruise.
Tour Day 5 - Tuesday
Each day started out the same with breakfast & stretching. Each evening ended the same with a briefing & dinner. I will only mention the unique events each day.
The excursion choices in the morning were a “long easy walk with optional beach snorkeling” or a “short easy walk with optional beach snorkeling” at Punta Cormorant on Floreana Island. Both required a wet landing & started at 8 AM & 8:30 AM respectively. There was also an option for “advanced snorkel activity” instead of the beach snorkeling. This was intended for experienced snorkelers & involved snorkeling from a Zodiak in deeper water. You could always raise your hand above your head while snorkeling & a nearby Zodiak would pick you up. You could also wear a floatation vest. Fins were recommended.
After an Italian buffet lunch plus paninis & hamburgers there was a viewing of part 1 of a BBC film about the Galapagos. At 3:30 PM there was a visit to the “Post Office” & a Zodiak ride along the shore line. The “Post Office” is a barrel set up many years ago by sailors who would drop off their outgoing mail without postage to anywhere & go through the accumulated mail looking for items that they could deliver. This process continues to this day. Several people in our group found mail addressed to areas near their home town & took them for delivery.
At 6:30 PM there was a Wine & Cheese Tasting. After the nightly briefing & dinner there was an Ecuadorian Naturalist Party with music & dance provided by the guides/naturalists.
Tour Day 6 - Wednesday
This morning’s excursion options were “long walk & short Zodiak ride” for 2.5 hours & an “extended Zodiak ride & optional short walk” for 1.5 hours on Punta Morena on Isabela Island. After a BBQ lunch there was a lecture on the geology of the Galapagos Islands. This was followed by the afternoon excursion options of “long fast walk & optional snorkeling” for 2.5 hours and “short walk & optional snorkeling” for 2 hours. David took the fast walk & I took the short walk. Afterwards, David told me the “fast” walk wasn’t fast. A cocktail party & briefing preceded dinner which was followed by a passenger & staff talent show.
Tour Day 7 - Thursday
The morning excursions options were “long walk” at 8 AM for 2.5 hours or “short walk” at 8:30 AM for 1 hour on Espinoza Point on Fernandina Island. At 10:45 AM there was a “deep water snorkel” along the coast. After a Mexican buffet & hamburgers there was a viewing of part 2 of a BBC film about the Galapagos. At 3 PM there was another “deep water snorkeling”. At 4:15 & 5:30 there were Zodiak rides exploring the cliffs & coastline for 1 hour each. Before dinner there was a cocktail party & a crossword challenge. After dinner there was a “Crossing the Line” party celebrating the ship’s crossing the Equator twice.
Tour Day 8 – Friday
After breakfast there were 2 excursion options: “short walk” of about 1.5 hours or “long walk” of 2 hours on South Plaza Island, both with dry landings. After a lunch of hamburgers, hot dogs & a small hot buffet, the guides/naturalists gave a presentation about their lives in the Galapagos Islands. Afterwards there were 2 excursion options: “short walk” of about 1.5 hours or “long walk” of 2 hours on Cerro Dragon on Santa Cruz Island. A margarita party, trivia game & daily briefing preceded dinner followed by Karaoke.
Tour Day 9 – Saturday
The morning excursion was a dry landing & walk to the Charles Darwin Station & Giant Tortoise Breeding Center & optional shopping. After an Ecuadorian buffet lunch plus paninis & hamburgers, the excursion was to the highlands to see giant tortoises in the wild & optional shopping. Before dinner the Cruise Director gave a slide show of the best pictures taken by the guides/naturalists on this trip followed by a cocktail party. Dinner was followed by live music. Secret: Each passenger was given a copy of the pictures taken by the guides/naturalists.
Tour Day 11 - Sunday
We left the ship in Baltra & flew to Quito with busses taking us back to the J.W. Marriott. Later, busses took us to a giant outdoor market & a high end store. After returning to the hotel we had an included dinner in the steak house. I requested & was given a very late checkout for the last day at the hotel.
Tour Day 12 – Monday – Going Home
We started with an included hot buffet breakfast. Since we had a lot of time before our flight home, I used the free fitness center & David had a massage (fee). Celebrity schedule busses to take us to the Quito airport based on your departure time. Some passengers were continuing on to Machu Picchu & 1 couple was headed for Costa Rica. At the appointed time about 12 of us boarded our bus. Our luggage was loaded in the compartments in the lower section of the bus. At Quito airport the Celebrity representatives guided us to our airline’s check-in. David & I flew to Houston where we boarded our individual flights home. A few days later David called me to say what a wonderful trip it was & that everyone interested in wildlife should take this trip at least once. I was lucky enough to take it twice.
I can’t remember everything I saw on each excursion, but it was truly wonderful, including many sea lions & pups, blue footed boobies, albatross, giant tortoises, marine & land iguanas, a hybrid iguana, warm weather penguins, lava lizards, hawks, various finches, petrels, green sea turtles, Nazca boobies, gulls, Sally Lightfoot crabs, pelicans, flamingos, tropical fish & many more. On one deep water snorkeling excursion I was taking underwater video of giant green sea turtles as they leisurely fed on algae on the rocky bottom. Suddenly a penguin rapidly swam by. I did my best to follow it with the camera. Later, I was taking a video of a swarm of small fish when a sea lion swam through. It wasn’t until that night while I was reviewing my day’s pictures & videos that I saw I actually got good video of the events.
On another occasion I was taking a video of a sea lion pup as it was looking for its mother on a beach when I got a great video of a blue footed boobie diving into the water head first with wings tucked back to catch a fish. I ended up with over 1400 pictures & many videos to review over the coming weeks. At the end of the cruise there was a list where passengers could sign up with their names & email addresses to facilitate picture sharing & to maintain contact after the trip. One nice lady shared a picture she took of David & me on the ship.