This cruise had been on my "bucket list" for quite some time, so it was approached with much enthusiasm. I have to say that it met my every expectation -- and then some. We selected the 10-day package with Celebrity, two days in Quito, pre-cruise, and one day post-cruise. The package included the J. W. Marriott Hotel in Quito, which was a first-class hotel. It also included transfers to and from the hotel, and air to Baltra in the Galapagos, as well as the cruise.
We did our own air, using miles with Delta. Everything about the trip went well, except for the Delta portion. I had read in posts here on Cruise Critic that the Delta flights can be late getting into Quito, and ours was no exception. We were scheduled to arrive in Quito shortly after 11 p.m., but delays in Atlanta changed our arrival time to 1 a.m. When Delta started delaying our flight, I contacted the Celebrity's Xpedition desk to find out if we would still be met on arrival at the airport and to ask if there were any other passengers on our flight. I was told that the airport rep did not work after midnight, so we would have to get to the hotel on our own, probably by taxi. They also told me that we were the only cruise passengers on that flight. It turns out that those answers were incorrect. We were both delighted and relieved to find the Celebrity rep waiting for us as we exited the customs area. We were also surprised to find that were almost a dozen other cruise passengers on our flight. Our luggage was taken from us and loaded on a bus, with us, to go to our hotel, which was about a 15-minute ride from the airport. Hotel check-in went quickly, thank goodness, as we were all exhausted by then. Because we belonged to the Captn's Club with Celebrity, we were given access to the Executive Lounge at the Marriott, which was a wonderful benefit. Note: you need to bring your Captn's Club membership card with you, as they do ask for it.
All meals in Quito were included in our package, as were tours of Quito. All were excellent, and our tour guides were wonderful. Chilled bottled water was very plentiful, always available on our bus. Everything about the package went well, and I would highly recommend doing that.
We had been given mis-information about our baggage allowances, too. We were told that there was a 40-lb. limit on baggage, which probably would have been true if we were flown to Baltra on a commercial flight; however, Celebrity uses a charter plane (AirGal), so restrictions didn't apply. The flight was first class as well. Food and beverage were plentiful and served on plates with the Xpedition logo.
Transfers at Baltra to the ship are done by Zodiac, and you need to consider that when you bring your hand-carry luggage with you. Some people brought more hand-carry than they could easily handle on the Zodiac. To get aboard the ship from the Zodiac is not easy even without lots to carry, although the crew gives you lots of help.
Absolutely loved the ship. There were 87 passengers on our voyage, and by the end of the cruise, you had met and visited with almost every passenger. Lots of friendships formed.
After everyone was on board and we were fed, we were taken to another island and our tours began. The tours were conducted by guides provided by the Galapagos Park Service with a maximum of 16 passengers per guide. There were normally two tours of two different ports every day, morning and afternoon. The normal routine was breakfast, a 9 a.m. departure in the Zodiacs, with an offering of a high intensity tour or a lower intensity tour, which usually meant more time in the Zodiac followed by a slightly shorter hike. As we came back from the morning tour, we were greeted with chilled wash cloths and then a snack upstairs (usually cookies and small sandwiches, beverages). Then, it was shower time, as the temperatures were in the upper 80s to lower 90s, with very high humidity. Lunch was always a buffet, and the food and choices were excellent. It was always "open" seating, and most tables sat from 6 to 10 people, so you visited with someone different almost every meal, unless you asked to be seated with someone particular. The ship moved to the next port while we were eating. Afternoon tours usually began around 3 p.m., so you had a bit of time to relax after lunch. We usually got back from tours about 5:30 to 6 p.m., again greeted with cold washcloths and snacks, beverages. Then to the showers again. Cocktail hour usually about 6:30. Since it was an all-inclusive cruise, you just ordered whatever you wanted, and the excellent bar staff took care of you. About 7:30, we had a briefing about the next day's activities. Our guide was generally quite thorough in telling us what to expect and what to wear, especially about footwear.
Some of the clothing necessities for this trip include a sun hat (loved my Tilley hat!), good walking shoes or hiking boots, shoes for the "wet" landings such as Tevas or Keens, a hiking stick (although the ship does have a limited number of these available). I would also recommend a long-sleeved shirt that has sun protection and those pants that zip off to shorts. Good sun screen is a must as is insect repellent. The gift shop carries those items as well. The ship does provide snorkeling gear and wet suits, although those weren't necessary at the time of year when we were there. I found the water quite comfortable. It did rain a couple of times, but it mostly felt pretty good, and I didn't find it necessary to use rain gear.
The wild life is incredible and varied. I wished I had brought a better camera, but the staff took photos of us along the way and presented us with a great CD at the end of the trip (free).
I had been told that the wet landings were actually easier than the dry landings, and I have to agree with that. Some of the dry landings involved getting from the Zodiac onto loose bounders and/or lava rocks. Some were quite unstable, and the hiking stick was absolutely necessary to save a fall onto the rocks. A couple of people did fall, but no one was seriously injured. A couple of cameras were casualties as well.
I can definitely recommend this cruise, although one needs to be aware of one's abilities. It's not for everyone, although there were a few people who did more than I expected they could. The crew really works hard to help people who need help. Speaking of the staff, they were absolutely wonderful. All Ecuadoran, all very pleasant, all willing to do all they can to make it a good trip.