Up close and personal with unique creatures in a unique landscape this cruise to the Galapagos exceeded our highest expectations. And after all we had read and heard, our expectations were high indeed. But Celebrity just did everything right: the personal pick-up at the airport in Quito, the accommodations at the magnificent Quito Marriott Hotel, the guided tour of the city and surrounding countryside, the chartered flight to Baltra, Galapagos. And then the week-long cruise in those "enchanted islands" what an experience!
First of all, the Xpedition is a wonderful small ship, with about 90 passengers and 60 crew, including eight very knowledgeable naturalists/guides. Almost the whole crew were Ecuadorian, and some were from the Galapagos. Our stateroom was in the least expensive category, but was quite comfortable. Public rooms aboard ship were lovely. There was a spa and exercise area, but few people used it, for reasons that will become obvious.
This is not a cruise for relaxing. There was a shore excursion the first afternoon we arrived, and after that there were two a day. You could choose your level of "intensity" low, moderate, high but we tended to choose the excursion based on what we were likely to see. Although we are in our mid-sixties and not particularly fit, even the high-intensity excursions were manageable.
Here's how the days went: in the morning a shore or snorkeling excursion by Zodiac, always accompanied by a naturalist; then back to the ship for lunch and a siesta, during which time the ship moved to the next anchorage; an afternoon shore excursion; a daily briefing about the next day's activities by the chief naturalist and Cruise Director (on our cruise the excellent and charming Karina Lopez); then dinner in the elegant dining room. There was a talented musician aboard and a few organized evening activities, but most of us were ready for bed after such an active day.
And every day was memorable. We had of course heard of the various animals that are unique to the Galapagos: blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, marine and land iguanas, Galapagos sea lions and fur seals, giant tortoises, to name a few. The Xpedition itinerary was planned so well that we got to see all of these, and more.
Besides the interesting volcanic landscapes, what was so special was that the animals have no fear of humans. For example, when we visited a breeding colony of waved albatrosses, we literally had to watch out that we not step on any of the birds, they were that close. Sometimes we had to shoo a sea lion or an iguana out of our path. On one snorkeling expedition, a young sea lion circled me a few times, then put his face just a few inches away from mine and blew bubbles. On another, we watched a sea turtle feeding so close to us that it nearly drifted into us. Of course, it was forbidden to touch anything, and we didn't but we certainly could have. Even a Galapagos Hawk landed just a few feet away from a group of us. No fear at all. And if we had stood still, I think some Darwin's Finches would have landed on our heads or shoulders. It was a nature-lover's dream.
Service aboard ship was impeccable. The naturalists were not only knowledgeable, they were very attuned to the needs and abilities of the passengers, and were always on the watch for something special to point out. The stateroom attendants, restaurant staff, baristas, Zodiac drivers all were excellent. (I should point out that this was an all-inclusive cruise, no tipping required.) We found the food to be a little below Celebrity's big-ship standards, but the use of local seafood and fruit made for some excellent meals.
Ninety-seven per cent of the land of the Galapagos belongs to the Galapagos National Park, and Celebrity is cooperating with the Ecuadorian government to preserve the quality of this fragile and threatened archipelago. I can't imagine a better way to experience this really unique place than the Celebrity Xpedition.