The Xpedition voyage through the Galapagos was the final leg of a 2 year (cruising) adventure that allowed me to explore coastal South America and follow in Darwin's footsteps.
I booked the Celebrity Xpedition two years in advance (which tends to be a requirement of this trip — space is limited and they are regularily sold out). I chose April 11 because the new moon promised (and delivered) excellent star gazing.
I traveled with my dear friend Helen, who had never cruised before, nor had she ever crossed the equator or snorkeled — so this trip was especially remarkable for her.
We did the Celebrity package with 2 days in Quito. Everything was seamless: Flight, hotel, food and tours were all exceptional (neither of us suffered any altitude sickness). If I had to complain about anything, it would be the lack of down time, almost every hour is planned and one does hate to miss anything. The weather was very pleasant, in the mid 70s during the day, somewhat cooler at night. An odd thing about Quito is that is always seemed to rain for an hour at around 4 in the afternoon and again late in the evening.
The people of Ecuador were very friendly and justifiably proud of their country, it was a pleasure to meet so many of them.
On arriving in Baltra, the heat and humidity were a bit of a shock (it had to be in the mid 90s). We were met by Karina, our cruise director and naturalist who informed us that we had been upgraded from stateroom 306 to 404 (the rooms are the same size, so besides location, it is not really an upgrade).
There was a boarding delay of an hour or so, due to a refueling issue on the Xpedition. This was no hardship for Helen and I as we took this as an opportunity to visit the small avenue of shops outside the airport. However, some folks ahead of us were trapped on the ocean in pangas that provided no shade from the sun.
After making ourselves at home, we explored the ship, and found it to be charming, clean and friendly. Unfortunately it did take Helen a couple of days to get her sea legs, but a visit to the ship's doctor fixed her right up (she only missed one excursion).
Each day aboard the Xpedition provided amazingly, wonderful experiences and new adventures. I willl not give a blow by blow of islands visited, as that has been done very well in other reviews. But I will relate some of our most magical moments.
On the first night, as I lay down exhausted, I heard a gasp of awe from Helen. Outside our porthole, several birds could be seen keeping pace with the ship. We would later learn that these were Swallow-tailed Gulls — the world's only fully nocturnal seabird.
One dark and sultry evening, I found myself in the company of another traveler on the ship's top deck having a late night cocktail. We were attracted to the rail by splashing sounds and an odd clicking noise. For hours we marvelled at the antics of sealions and pelicans chasing flying fish. We also discovered the source of the clicking sounds — it was the echo-location of the nocturnal gulls who were also interested in a late night snack.
Another day, a school of dolphins were spotted in the ship's wake — it was wonderful to see them leaping in unison out of the water. Twice we were flabbergasted by the breaching of a shark (way too fast to catch with a camera). A school of sting rays were also spotted.
We witnessed some rather sad and disturbing facts of nature. It was not uncommon to come apon baby sea lions who had lost their mother (probably to sharks) starving to death. Knowing that this is nature's way does not seem to make the scene less sad.
Sea turtles have about a 3% chance of survival, so it was with mixed emotions (they are awesome!) that we saw several new born sea turtles swimming near the ship. Attracted to the light of the ship, the fate of these babies was likely sealed by the sharks, sea lions or pelicans who also visited that night.
Sea lions were everywhere and they often amused us wth fearless frolics. One morning, several were found taking a nap on the pangas. Another time, they actually boarded the Xpedition. And after snorkeling, I came ashore to discover a sealion using my napsac and towel as a pillow!
Speaking of snorkeling.... it was great. We had at least 6 opportunities (I took advantage of all). The water was warm enough to swim without a wet suit and visibilty varied from good to dismal. I swam with an octopus, penguins, sharks and a giant sea turtle!!! But did not have the good fortune to swim with a sea lion.
The crew of the Xpedition and especially the naturalists were exceptional in every way. Dedicated to educating their visitors, they were very knowledgeable, caring and friendly.
In conclusion, this is a fantastic trip. If you are a nature lover, it is nirvana.