Well we finally jumped in and took the 11-night package. We decided that you never know when they will shut the Galapagos down and the cost wasn't going to get cheaper.
As stated we booked the 11-night package which includes 2-nights before the cruise in Quito Ecuador at the J.W. Marriot. Since we live in the country of Panama, Celebrity Air Packages were not an option. It was easy for us. We booked a direct Copa flight from Panama City to Quito and arrived around 1 pm.
After reading the Celebrity literature and reading posts we were confused on the weight limits. Celebrity tells you it is 30 lbs for checked and 14 lbs for carry on. We had read that it was 40 lbs for checked and others closer to our cruise posted that they now charter their own plane and don't use commercial TAME so there was no limit. We decided to error on the side of caution and limited ourselves to under the 30 lb checked.
We chose the 11-night because, 1) we wanted to see Quito and 2) we thought we would need the day and a half on the back end to unwind. This wasn't going to be our typical, don't get off the ship, lay around the ship eating and reading cruise. This was going to be a full bore, high octane, see everything and do everything cruise. A "you can rest and sleep when you get home" cruise.
FRIDAY, MAY 21.
We flew direct from Panama City, Panama to Quito on Copa Airlines. We departed at 11 am and arrived at 1pm in Quito. Once we arrived you move through the Quito airport. You enter into Immigration. You enter the turn styles to the booths. A light indicates the booth number when it is ready and you head over to that booth number. You give them your incoming immigration forms to the agent and they print your incoming stamp on your passport via a computer printer.
Once through you collect your luggage. Our bags were one of the last ones off. We then headed through customs. We gave the agent our customs card and put our bags through the scanners and then out the door.
Celebrity was right out side and easily identifiable. They had a sign with our name and the Celebrity name on it. We were the only ones arriving at that time so we went to the Marriott van and jumped in and off to the JW Marriot. The day was about 65 degrees and it started to rain as we were heading to the hotel and it rained the remainder of the day. We were at the hotel by 2:30pm.
Check in was very easy. Our room was ready. Celebrity gave us a form that showed what the next day's activities would be along with the times. We then went up to our room with our luggage.
The JW Marriott is a very nice hotel. There is plenty of room. Several restaurants, shops and sitting areas are in the hotel. The room was nice and standard Marriott style. The king sized bed was comfy but if you are 6' or taller your feet will hand over the end. The room had free water but don't take the sparkling water. That is not free. The only down side is the quality of the towels. Not good for a JW Marriot. Internet is not free but is available for a fee.
The staff was friendly and outstanding. We took a cab $3 to Zazu restaurant. On TripAdvisor it is the #1 rated restaurant in Quito and it deserved it. I put our review on TripAdvisor for Zazu so I won't go into details here. We got a taxi back and went to bed.
SATURDAY, MAY 22
Breakfast is at the Bistro Latino on the lowest floor. It is between 6am and 9am. It was very good. There was a large selection of hot and cold items and an omelet bar.
We were to meet in the lobby at the Celebrity desk that is right over close to the check in area before 9 am. We departed at 9am for the old part of the city. It takes about 30 minutes to get there. There are two bathroom breaks and the churches and the architecture is incredible with all the hills. You can buy scarves cheaply along with other hand made craft items. This is the time to do it. The locals approach you right after you get off the bus. Make sure you bargain with them. It is expected. Our guide told us that on most items you can get 30% to 50% off.
We are in old town until approximately 12:30. We then boarded the buses and left for the Crater Restaurant. There were about 60 of us and we had 4 buses with around 15 of us in each bus. The bus is large and you have a lot of room to move around. There are plenty of cold water bottles on the bus so make sure you take one as you tour around. Sun protection is a must. The sun is very strong in Quito even though it feels cool out.
We arrived at the restaurant at 1 pm. It is a fairly small restaurant. It has an incredible view and as the afternoon went along. The day started a little cloudy but had cleared up by the time we arrived. There are three choices. One was just a grilled chicken with veggies. The second was the same grilled chicken with a sauce they called "Coq au vin" sauce, and then they offered spaghetti. We started with an Ecuadorian soup that was very good. The chicken dishes we okay at best. We then had a flan for desert. Water and sodas were included. Wine is not and was very expensive at $6 a glass. There are bathrooms here.
After dinner we were all outside and took pictures of the scenery. The residence house had an Alpaca tied up and every one was getting pictures with it. The Alpaca seemed to be used to it and tolerated the pictures well.
We were then off for a quick trip to the Equatorial Line Monument and Museum. This is pretty interesting being at Latitude 0.0. Lots of picture opportunities being in the north hemisphere and then the south or straddling the line being in both hemispheres at the same time. You can climb to the top of the monument for pictures. There are many shops and there are bathrooms here.
We head back to the hotel at 3 pm and arrived at the Hotel by 4 pm. That gave us 2 hours to unwind before heading out to dinner. At 6:15 pm, we all met in the lobby and we were taken by bus to the Sucre's Theater Restaurant.
You had to fill out a form saying which of the main dinning options you want. There was a beef, chicken and a pizza option. The food was very good. It started with a soup or salad depending on the main course you choose. Wine is not included. The restaurant has an extensive wine list and is reasonably priced.
One note for you diet soda people. Many of the restaurants or shops do not have Diet Coke (Coke Lite). We were back in the hotel by 9ish.
SUNDAY, MAY 23
The day dawned early and sunny. We were ready for the Galapagos adventure to begin. The first thing is that you have to put your bags out by 5am. You can't leave them out in the hall overnight like a cruise since it is a public hotel and they might not be there at 5 am.
Breakfast was downstairs again. It is between 5am and 7am. They only had one server getting coffee and tea and with 60 people it just didn't go well. Many of the food items weren't ready even at 5:30. This was strange since the Hotel goes through this every Sunday.
At 6:30am you go to the Celebrity desk and pick up your boarding pass for the flight to the Galapagos. At 7:15am we boarded the buses and we were off to the airport. We were at the airport by 7:30am. We entered the domestic terminal and the Celebrity staff got us through the line quickly and without any waiting. You put your bags through the scanners and then you are in the waiting area.
One important note. Celebrity at this time has a private charter with AeroGal. The weight limits are 45 lbs and not the advertised 30 lbs. I have no idea if the checked bags were ever really weighed since I left the a 5 am and didn't see them until we were on the ship. Once inside there are only 5 gates. The Celebrity person was worthless. She just went got coffee then plopped down by the gate. Most people didn't know she was there and we really didn't know what to do. We had read we could use the VIP room and we could and did. It is a very small room just to the left by gate N2. Most just set in the main area wondering what gate we were at and if we would be called.
At 8am they (AeroGal) rounded us up and we walked out to our plane and boarded. Going we had a larger 737. Everyone had a row of three seats to them selves. That was nice. We used the middle seat to store things.
We took off just after 8:30 and flew 30 minutes and had to land in Guayaquil. We were there for 35 minutes. They picked up staff here that were joining the cruise. We did not get off the plan. We were off and in the air by 8:45 and on our way to Baltra in the Galapagos. We arrived at 11:30am and as we came in we could see the Xpedition out in the bay. We were ready to go.
Upon arrival you disembark the plane via stairs. It is nice in that they open both the front and back door so it is a quick disembark. You then move into immigration. Yes, the Galapagos have immigration and you get another form. It costs you $10 a person and that is NOT included in the price of your cruise. It is charged to your room charge on the Xpedition and you pay that at the end of the cruise. The first person checks to make sure that your passport has an entry stamp when you entered Ecuador. The second takes care of the entry visa for the island.
Once you are done with that you go through and exit outside. There are restrooms but you are rushed. They move you to buses quickly and the bus takes you a couple miles to the pier. There you disembark the bus. We lined up and waited for the zodiacs. A few people asked the dock people if there was a restroom around and there was so a few went to the bathroom while we waited. It was a great start because while we were waiting there were sea lions around swimming and one was right on the dock that we had to go down to board the zodiacs.
The zodiacs arrived and we put on life vests. This is a ritual that you will repeat many times a day for the next 7 days. You also learn the Galapagos hand shake and it is very important in getting on and off the zodiacs. We were on the first zodiac and there were 16 of us along with the driver and a naturalist.
It was a quick 5 minute ride out to the boat. It overcast but the day was comfortable. The sea seemed fairly calm and the ride was fine. We were helped out of the zodiac and up the stairs from the landing site on the back of the ship. There we removed our life vests and were then taken in to the Library and Discovery Lounge. They are basically the same area. We sat down and Nuria the Chief Purser and her staff welcomed us and checked us in. They took us to our room 303. Our checked bags arrived in about 30 minutes.
The rooms were fine. There was plenty of room. The bathroom was nice and the shower was big and had a glass door not the nasty plastic ones that stick too you the entire time you shower. Water pressure and temperature was fine. The only funny thing was that the beds are cot like and shaped like coffins. The top is wide and tapers down at the feet. They cannot be put together and there is a night stand in between them. I found them comfy if narrow. The only issue is that they have a comforter blanket but no sheet. So I was either too hot or had to set the AC so low my wife would be cold. The refrigerator is stocked with some soda but mainly water. The staff keeps it stocked all day. You'll need the water.
Lunch was an International Cuisine buffet lunch at the Darwin Restaurant. It was very good. Many options and a pasta bar. The service was excellent (as it was all cruise). The wine was very good. If they weren't serving a wine you like just ask for it. They had reds (Cabs, Merlot, Malbec, blends) and whites (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and blends.) It was great not having to give the waiter my cruise card to be charged for drinks.
At 3pm we had the naturalist welcome briefing in the Discovery Lounge. The life boat drill was at 4 pm. As soon as that was done we were ready for the first activity at North Seymour Island. There were only two choices and they tended to be the same type at each stop.
Option 1 was at 4:30pm. Long Walk Activity - Dry Landing at North Seymour Island. 2km (1.2 miles) walk on an uneven path (and they aren't kidding) with small boulders along the path. Through the island trail we have the possibility to observe frigate birds and possibly Land Iguanas. You will arrive at a beach area where Galapagos Seal Lions, Blue Footed Boobies and Marine Iguanas can be observed. Due to the rocky nature of this trail it is suggested to use good footwear and possibly a walking stick (they provide if you want). Total duration about 1.5 hours.
Option 2 was at 4:45pm. Short Walk Activity - Zodiac Ride and Dry Landing at North Seymour Island. Zodiac ride along the coastline searching for Galapagos Fur Seals, Lava Herons, and Swallow Tailed Gulls. The Geology of this region is quite impressive due to the limestone that is trapped between two layers of basalt lava, this area is exposed allowing us to observe these formations. We will make a dry landing that has approximately 100 meters of small boulder terrain (1 km or .6 mile hike). We anticipate Blue Footed Boobies, Galapagos Sea Lions, Marine Iguanas, and Frigate birds.
We chose Option 1 and we gave it a sounding A+. Notes, if you have balance issues, take a walking stick from the ship. If you are going to take pictures (and you will-a lot of them) don't take a walking stick. You just can't manage it and the camera. I know I tried it and learned that I didn't need the stick and I was always dropping it or if I tucked it under my arm I was always trying to kill someone with it when I swung around to take pictures.
We knew it was going to be good because as soon as we got off the zodiac on the Island there were Sea Lions just laying right there on the dock. We had to walk around them. Birds were already there. Within minutes we saw our first of many Blue Footed Boobies. I love Boobies... There were dozens upon dozens of Frigate birds with their puffed out red chests. They are so cool.
The dance and the whistling sound that the Bobbies make is so cool. Watching them do their court ship dance is really a thrill. The rainy season has ended by the end of May and things are already drying out. North Seymour is a very desert like Island. It is rugged and there are cactus everywhere.
We also saw many Land Iguanas. They are very big and colorful. Little Lava Lizards are running every where. You will see them on all the islands. There were many Sea Lions especially with their young. We saw many nursing and they were within 3 feet of us. Mom wasn't worried and we were never threatened by them. We were just like a rock or tree to them.
We made it back to the zodiac and we were back on the Xpedition by 6pm. As you get on the ship you rinse your feet and shoes off depending on how sandy or dirty they got. You get a cold towel and that felt good wiping off the sweat and dirt. Then up to the Beagle Grill on the back were they have some snacks, soda, water, beer, wine or you can go right in to the bar for a drink. Everyone hung out to about 6:30 to 6:45.
The first meeting and the Captain toast was at 7:30 pm and dinner followed at 7:45 at the Darwin's restaurant. Dinner was very good. There is usually a couple of appetizer, a cold soup and a hot one, two salads. The main course usually has two specials, a beef dish, a chicken and a vegetarian dish. There are several deserts and ice cream. They serve a different white and red wine each night. If you don't like either of those wines, ask them to get a different one and they will. They also will bring mixed drinks, sodas, ice tea as well.
We went to bed early. The ship can rock bad. It is not like the mega ships. Even though it looked calm there was a lot of right and left motion. I was starting to feel it. In fact I felt so bad I barely slept. My first bad was I didn't start my motion sickness prevention as soon as I got on that afternoon. Many people were feeling it as well. Please note that they do not have the "patch" on the ship.
MONDAY, MAY 24
Monday dawned early. I hadn't slept and I was really motion sick. I just wanted off the ship. The first thing you can do is the 7am Early Circumnavigation around Kicker Rock on the Zodiac. Yes, I did much better on the zodiac. It is a real must do to see Kicker Rock up close. The formation is really interesting. There were a lot of birds that nest there. The water and currents can be rough and strong. Again that didn't bother me like the Xpedition motion. You are on the 45 to 60 minutes. We rated this an A.
We were back on board and we had breakfast at 8am and then off for the morning land activity. There is only one activity. 9am Dry Landing at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. "Disembarkation by groups at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno for a visit to the Interpretation Center (Human History Museum) followed by a short walk on the main street of Puerto Baquerizo".
The Interpretation Center is interesting but we didn't have enough time for us. We went around and read the information on the history of the Galapagos. There are many buildings and we only got around to a couple of the them. There are bathrooms here. We then were bused back down to the town.
The town is very clean and there are a lot of shops to buy items at. It is a good opportunity to get items you want. It is also a good photo opportunity. There are also a lot of Sea Lions all around especially in the community park area and on the beach right in front of it. When you are ready to go back, you just head to the pier and the zodiacs will take you back. We waited right up to the next to last zodiac to go back. I wasn't ready for the rocking of the ship.
Back on the ship the normal routine was to get off the zodiacs and go to the room dump the stuff and return to the Beagle Grill on the aft where drinks and snacks were set up. We always had a pre-lunch drink. The Discovery Bar was always open for mixed drinks if you didn't want the drinks at the Grill. Lunch was always from noon to 1:30pm. The grill was normally open at the Beagle Grill for chicken, hamburgers, fresh grilled fish (yum) and french fries. A Galapagos Buffet was served at the Darwin Restaurant. I found that I like the lunch food the best. They will get you whatever you want to drink from the bar. Ice Tea is very good if you like non-alcoholic drinks.
After lunch I was starting to feel bad again with motion sickness. Several others were having issues. Several asked the Captain if this was going to be like it the whole cruise. The answer was no. This stop was always rough and there was nothing much they could do to reduce the motion. What made it worse is at 1:30pm if you plan to snorkel you go up to Deck 6 to get your gear. The ship was rocking so bad that water was gushing out of the hot tub. A man was standing in line and water jumped out and he was totally soaked. That is how much the ship was moving.
After getting your gear you sign that it is okay and take it back to the room. I lay down and couldn't wait to get off the ship to dry land. That was only two hours away.
The afternoon activities were at 3:30pm Long Walk Activity - Dry Landing at Española Island. "Point Suarez hike, approximately 3 km (1.9 miles) over rough terrain (medium-large boulders found along the entire path). With this activity we have an opportunity of sighting Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Hawks, Sea lions, and Mocking birds to name a few. As we hike to a cliff area we will find a picturesque view with a blowhole along the coastline. Good shoes for this activity please." Duration is 2.5 hours.
The second is at 3:45pm Short Walk Activity - Dry Landing at Española Island "Zodiac ride along the beautiful coastline of Española Island. Excellent opportunity to observe many types of shore/sea birds, including Audubon Shearwaters, Naca Boobies, and various species of Storm Petrels. Immediately following the landing we will proceed inland passing two sea lion haul out areas. This hike will not continue to the above mentioned cliff area. Good shoes for this activity please as we have medium-large sized boulders along the entire path. (1.5km/.9 miles). 2 hours.
This was one of the very best stops. Make sure your batteries are charged and you have plenty of film/memory. The Sea Lions are right there, marine iguanas, mocking birds come right up to you. Blue Footed Boobies abound and you haven't gone 30 feet... It is a lovely rocky shoreline with hundreds and hundreds of birds nesting and flying. You will see Masked Boobies and yellow billed albatrosses. The albatrosses are very, very cool. The bright colored red/blue/yellow crabs are every where. They are very cool. The blow hole is very interesting as well. There is a lot to take in on this island.
We returned to the ship a little before 6pm. I was feeling good from being on land so we sat and had a glass of wine at the Beagle Grill. Bad move. Ship was still rocking and I started to feel bad. I then went to the daily briefing for the next day at 7:30 in the Discovery Lounge. I was really feeling bad. I knew I shouldn't have gone to dinner but I did. I managed part of a salad and one bite of fish and left. I couldn't drink wine nor any of a Diet Coke. I laid down at 8:30 pm and was out cold. I was told at dinner that tomorrow it would smooth out. They were right, I could feel when they hit calm waters at 11 pm that night.
TUESDAY, MAY 25
We arrived at Floreana Island and dropped anchor a little after 6am. I woke up feeling great. The water was smooth and the ship wasn't moving much. We went down to breakfast at 7am. We sat with one of our new friends Lori. She was on the cruise with her two young adult sons. I told her how motion sick I had been. She said she had some ginger root pills and asked if I would like some. I told her yes and she jumped up and we went and got them. That is what I loved on this cruise. Everyone was friendly and they were willing to help out others. A big thanks to Lori!
We then head to the room to prep for the morning activities. Today is the first chance to snorkel.
The activities for the morning were: 8:00 am "Long Walk - Comorant Point - Wet Landing. We will make a wet landing on a beach that has a large amount of Olivine crystals that were part of the volcanic history of the site. Continuing into the interior we find two plant species that are only found at this particular site, eventually arriving to a very large brackish pond. Flamingos, Stilts, and White Cheeked Pinitail Ducks are commonly sited here due to the amount of food present in the pond. We continue on the trail, crossing an isthmus arriving to a fine white sand beach which has a high coralline content. At the coralline beach it is usually easy to spot small rays, turtles and sharks from the seaside area. Please be careful not to walk on the back dune area for this has sea turtle nests. Sandals with straps are sufficient for this hike of 2 KM (1.2 miles) also you may land without shoes if you choose. Please take your snorkel equipment as we have a chance to snorkel from the beach area." 2: hours
10:30am "Advanced Snorkeling Activity - Champion Island. After a 25 minute Zodiac ride we will arrive at Champion, a small satellite island of Floreana. This island is one of the very few that holds a Floreana Mocking bird population. Floreana Mocking birds were present on Floreana during Charles Darwin's visit in 1835 however they promptly left the island when cats were introduced in the eighteen hundreds, and are only found on the satellite islands. This island has rocky slopes going to depths of 100ft. We will enter the water from the Zodiac at a depth of 40-50 ft eventually ending at a shallow bay where many sea lions can be found. Apart from the playful sealions we may encounter Spotted Eagle rays, small sharks, Pacific Barracuda, and Pacific Green sea turtles. (1.75 hours)
We took only did the Long Walk. There were very few birds. We saw 3 flamingos and 1 of them was dead plus they were at a distance so it was hard to see them. It was very dry with only a little greenery. There were some birds that flew in the distance. The coralline beach was beautiful. The sand was soft and white. The ocean is so clear there.
We got back to the beach and we put on our wet suits and snorkel gear. The snorkeling was poor. There was a turtle in there. There was very little fish and the water was very murky. If you have snorkeled in the Caribbean or Hawaii, it will be poor. If this is your first time, know that this is not good snorkeling.
We did not do the 10:30 advanced snorkeling. If you did that you had to be at the beach at 10am and go back to the ship. I wish we would have done that. People who went on it said the currents were strong in places but not terrible. There wasn't much to see but they did have several sea lions swimming with them and that made it totally worth it.
We rated the morning activity a C.
We were back on the boat by 11am. Went to the room to clean up after snorkeling. When you get back you have to take your wet suites out of the bag and rinse them in water that they have out for you and then hang them on hangers with your room number. You then dunk your bag with the snorkel gear in the water to rinse them off. The staff then takes the bags and hangs it up. Make sure you get everything out of the bag before rinsing it because it will get wet plus the bag doesn't go back to your room.
Today's lunch was great. It was an Italian Buffet that they set up outside at the Beagle Grill under the sky. The day was excellent and there were plenty of options. I think I hurt my self with all I ate...
We hung out around the ship until the afternoon activity. There is only one and it leaves at 3:30pm. The activity is "Zodiac Ride, Short Walk - Wet Landing - "Baroness Lookout". Light zodiac ride through a mangrove area possibly observing Pacific Green sea turtles, spotted eagle and golden rays, great egrets and lava herons. The small islands that we navigate around are formed of "Pillow" lava, lava flows that are produced underwater making an interesting formation. We will proceed to make a wet landing at a beach which requires water shoes or sandals for the disembarkation. This area was used in the 1920s as a lookout for arriving ships. From the beach area we will climb a steep switchback trail that is about 300ft in length ending at steps and a viewing platform.
Because everyone does this activity and we were on the first zodiac we did the climb first. Floreana Island is a very dry island and the hike is hot because it is in the afternoon. The zodiac ride is the best part. We saw sea turtles, many sea lions on land and in the water and on our way back to the ship we saw our first Galapagos penguins. The are very cool. They are small and blend in to the volcanic black rock unless they stand up and their white fronts stand out. Very cool. We rated this an A- mainly because of all the cool things we saw on the Zodiac.
We headed back to the boat around 5:30. When we got back there was a guest on the landing deck of the ship. A sea lion had climbed up and was sleeping on the deck. Was we got boarded the ship from the zodiac, he didn't budge. Pretty funny. The crew said it is the same one and he comes on board every week at this site.
Dinner was in the Darwin Restaurant and was very good. That night we had the Naturalist Party in the Blue Finch Bar were they crew performed. They were very good. From dinner time till 10:30, the ship moves to the next site and drops anchor. At 10ish to 10:30 they turn on the outside lights and it attracts a lot of sea life. We saw 5 large sharks, several sea lions that chased the flying fish and we had a couple of pelicans hanging around. It was very interesting to see them come in and out of the lighted areas. We really enjoyed this evening. They will also do stargazing at 10:30 but it was a full moon so it wasn't going to be very good so we went to bed before they started that.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 26
The day started at 6:45 and breakfast was at 7am then we were off for the first activity.
The activities were 9:00am "Flamingo Search- Wet Landing Long "easy" Walk" This is a short hike along a beach area, which has a very small amount of rocky terrain for which sandals are sufficient foot ware. We will visit two different brackish ponds found at opposite ends of the beach. These ponds occasionally have Greater Flamingos, Black Necked Stilts, White Cheeked Pintail Ducks, and other shore wader. Upon our return to the landing area we have an opportunity to swim from the beach. This beach is good to "practice your snorkeling" site.
9:30am "Beach Activity - Wet Landing" We will make a wet landing at Bachas Beach for a chance to relax on the beach. Guests are allowed to walk on the immediate beach area within sight of the Naturalists. Please be aware that there are Pacific Green Sea Turtle nests present on the back beach area. For this reason the back beach is out of bounds. You may find yellow tailed surgeon fish, parrot fish and the small Galapagos Damsel fish.
We chose the 9am activity. Wasn't much animal life. One crane, two flamingos and a lot of crabs. You also could see the metal posts from the old barges that got stuck and sunk on the beach here. There was a path in the sand where you could see that a sea turtle came ashore over night to deposit eggs in a nest. That was cool to see. We didn't snorkel but we did see sea turtles out in the water and a two oyster catchers that were hunting on the beach. We just walked the beach. It was nice beach on a sunny day. Very relaxing. We gave this a B.
We were back on the ship by 10:45am for our morning cocktail. Then off to a World Buffet Lunch in the Darwin Restaurant. We then went up to deck 5 for some shade, reading, and to watched the world go by.
The afternoon event is on Bartolome island. This is a great island. It is so rocky and mountains all around on other islands. The beach area is beautiful as well. There are two activities.
At 3:30pm "Long Walk To the Top hike Activity - Dry/Wet landing at Bartolome Island. You will hike on a trail to the top of the hill at a height of 374 ft. The trail is about 1 mile with 358 wooden steps. Along the trail we have two viewing platforms where we may rest on the way to the top. After returning to the zodiac we will proceed to land (wet landing) at Bartolome Beach for snorkeling and swimming. If you chose to swim/snorkel please leave your equipment at the stern of the ship when you disembark so they can transport it to the beach.
At 3:45pm "Zodiac ride/* Isthmus Hike - Short Walk - Wet Landing at Bartolome Island". You will start with a zodiac ride along the coast searching for penguins and enjoying the geological formations. The volcanic cones that we see have been exposed by erosion allowing us to see a central solidified lava flow. Along with the cinder cones we can also find small lava tunnels that have flowed into the ocean. After a wet landing at Bartolome Beach we will proceed to cross the Isthmus that separates the two main beaches. We will search for Galapagos Hawks, sea turtles and different shore birds. When the tide is high we may find close to this beach white tipped reef sharks. Sandals are acceptable for the walk.
We chose the first option. It is one of the top 3 activities we did. The track is all on a wooden path but it is hot, no shade and you go up high. Thank goodness for the two stops because there were a few people that really struggled. The scenery is totally volcanic and very interesting. The remnants of the lava flows are very prominent and many times looks like folds. The other fun part is that the lava is very, very light. The Naturalist will pick up a large piece that you would think would weight 60 to 80 lbs but it is very light (maybe 10 lbs). They pass it around and you can get your try with it. A lot of "He-Man" pictures are taken at that time.
The afternoon was totally clear. When it is like that the view from the top platform is breath taking. You aren't doing this part of the activity for the animals. That is later. The views and the landscape are amazing.
We got back to the zodiac and did a quick tour of the landscape. It was great. We found 6 or 8 penguins and sea lions were about. After that it was off to the beach. In my opinion, this was the only good snorkel place. We were lucky in that we had a penguin, small reef tip sharks, and a sea lion close by the beach and they swam or played with those in the water close to shore. Not only did the snorkelers love it but those watching on the beach had a great time watching the penguin's antics. There are many bright colored fish. We are good, experienced snorkelers so we went around the tip to the area to where we saw the penguins on the zodiac ride. They were in the water there and on the cliff ledges. There are also the biggest starfish I have ever seen in the wild. I bet many were a foot across and there were at least 20 of them and may be more than 30. They were a very colorful red. Going back we saw a huge sting ray resting on the bottom about 15 feet below us. It didn't move but it was cool to see it.
We were one of the last ones out and last ones back on ship. We rate this a solid A+. We went and got ready for dinner and then had a pre-dinner drink at the Beagle Grill. The moon was just past full and it was a beautiful evening.
This is a great night. After dinner between 9:45 and 10:30 pm we cross the equator and King Neptune and his band of nasty pirates make an appearance and elect a Queen and the find slaves to worship her. It is a hoot and with all the young cruisers (who were the slaves) it was even more hilarious. Add a touch of alcohol and it is a total riot. After words it is Disco time. Everyone had a great time. Do not miss this event no matter how tired you are. It is just down right fun.
THURSDAY, MAY 27
The day dawned clear and beautiful and continued through out the day. We were just off Isabela Island. Breakfast at 7am as normal and then we were ready for the morning activities.
There is only one activity this morning. It starts at 8am. "Long easy Walk - Urbina Bay - Wet Landing" We will begin with a wet landing at this very small bay. This landing site is one of the most difficult due to the inclination of the beach. After landing we will proceed behind the beach area to search for Giant Land Tortoises and Land Iguanas. The trail is approx 1 mile returning to the main landing beach. This terrain is mixed with compacted ash, gravel, and sand. After the hike there is a possibility to have a short swim and snorkel. Duration 1.5 hours.
Once we got to the landing site, they warn that it is difficult or can be. It may be but at our landing it was fairly easy. This was an interesting hike in that about 50 years ago an earthquake raised the land about 40' and while you are hiking you can see the old shore line and rocks that you can walk on that still have the old coral on them. There are huge land Iguanas. There were also several young land turtles. We made it back to the beach and snorkeled. It was okay. We saw three turtles but they were far out. There were some colorful fish and rocks but you had to go out a ways. The snorkeling was okay. We were back on the boat by 10:45am. We rated this activity as a B+.
Back onboard the ship, we then changed and went up on the deck for a drink. At 11:30am we lifted anchor and we started through Urbina Bay. During this time you look for whales and dolphins. We saw two Humpback whales. They were sometimes close to the ship and sometimes away. The captain went over by them 200 yards away and cut the engines. We stayed with them for about 30 minutes. They didn't breech or sound, but you could see them and you would get good looks at their humps when they came up for air. Then it was off to lunch and a Galapagos lunch buffet in the Darwin Restaurant.
There were two afternoon activities. The first is at 3:30pm "Long Walk Activity - Espinoza Point - Dry Landing Fernadina Island" A dry landing on an uneven but flat trail of approximately 1 mile. The landing area may be a concrete dock or exposed slippery lava rocks depending on the wave action and tide level. Aa and Pahoe-hoe lava flows are found here along with the incredible volcanic scenery. As we walk towards the point we can find one of the largest Marine Iguana "colonies" here in the archipelago. Scattered among the iguanas we may also come across Galapagos Flightless Cormorants nesting along the coastline. Duration: 2.5 hours.
At 3:45 is a "Short Walk Activity Dry Landing". 1 hour.
We chose the long walk again. This is a very rugged, volcanic landscape. The old lava flows are very obvious and cool looking. Some of them looked like twisted licorice. There are hundreds if not thousands of the black and gray marine iguanas. They are every where and piled 2, 3 and even 4 high on top of each other. Colorful crabs are every where by the sea shores. There were also many sea lions around. Sea turtles were visible just off the shore. There were 3 to 5 of them hanging out in the water. There were two flightless Cormorants showing their small, unusable wings. They were very interesting. This is an excellent island and deserves an A rating.
We were back on the boat for our early evening drinks and then off to get ready for the next day briefing and dinner. Dinner was on the back deck by the Beagle Grill and up on Deck 5 by the Blue Finch Bar. It was a beautiful night and dinner was excellent. It was nice eating out side.
After dinner was the talent show. We had a few very talented individual. One gentleman played and sang well and sounded like James Taylor. Two young girls (in their 20s that's young to me...) wrote a song about the cruise called the "Galapagos Go-Go". It was a good time.
FRIDAY, MAY 28
Another sunny day dawned. Breakfast as usual and there were two activities for Santiago Island at Puerto Egas. The first was the 8:00 am "Long Walk Activity - Wet landing at James Bay" Along 50% of the trail we will have a coastal walk. There is a possibility to find shore birds and iinter-tidal species in the tidal pools. At the end of the coastal walk we come upon lava tunnels that have collapsed allowing us to view crystalline pools and a resting area for the Galapagos Fur Seals. We will continue inland along a very flat compacted ash trail returning to the landing beach. At the beach you can swim and snorkel. Distance 1.4 miles. 3 hours.
At 8:15 "Zodiac ride Activity - Wet Landing at James Bay" 30 to 40 minute zodiac ride followed by a wet landing at Port Egas. At the beach we have a very small and easy walk on the beach to search for Sea Lions and shore birds. This is followed by an opportunity to swim and snorkel.
We chose the first option. The trail is easy and packed ash and dirt. Nothing much on it. Very dry area. The lava rocks are very cool but it is treacherous. If you have balance problems this is not for you. There weren't many animals and only 1 fur sea lion. Of course our Naturalist didn't take us close while other groups got close to the fur sea lion. From our distance it looked like a regular sea lion from the distance we were at. I was unimpressed with this island and this tour. Part of it is how good the Naturalist leads you and how in to it they are. William was not it. I found him to be disappointing. He was on the plane back to the main land Ecuador at the end of the cruise and I don't think his heart wasn't into it. We didn't feel like snorkeling so we just went back to the ship. People said it was just okay snorkeling and there wasn't much there. This only got a C+ and the only reason I gave it that was because of the interesting lava formations.
Back on the ship we had several drinks and watched the others return. We then headed to a Mexican lunch buffet at noon in the discovery restaurant. It was good. They had a burrito bar and it was very good. After lunch we went up by the Blue Finch bar and had drinks and read. It was a relaxing afternoon.
We anchored off of Santa Cruz and were to go to Cerro Dragon. There were two activities this afternoon.
3:30pm "Long Walk Activity - High Intensity Activity Dry-Wet Landing at Dragon Hill". A 1.5 mile hike inland to search for Land Iguanas. Darwin Finches and arid zone vegetation. You will pass a small brackish pond that occasionally has flamingos and other waders. One third of the trail has small boulders to walk on so please bring good shoes. Upon return to the beach you will have an opportunity to swim and snorkel. 2 hours
3:45pm "Beach and Swim - Short Walk Activity Dry-Wet landing" The zodiacs will transport you for a landing at Dragon Hill. We will stay at this small beach to swim or snorkel. If you choose your Naturalist can take you on a short hike (10 to 15 minutes) behind the beach area to a small pond that might have Flamingos, Black Necked Stilts and White Cheeked Pintail Ducks. 1.5 hours
This was another disappointing site. There was not much vegetation. It was very dry. We did see four Land Iguanas. Again, I was uninspired and unimpressed with the Naturalist. They say this hike. It was not a hike it was a race. Once we got to the half way point the Naturalist took off like it was a race. I have pictures to prove it. There were times that he was 300+ yards ahead of those mid pack and those at the end were even further behind. When we got to the beach I didn't feel like snorkeling so back we went. Rating a C because I'm feeling generous.
Today's disappointment was part that these islands don't have much going for them (at least at the end of May). In addition, the attitude of the Naturalist today just made it close to a waste. It was really a downer to me.
Tonight before dinner was the Margarita Cocktail party. Margarita's were all around but if that is not your taste you can get what ever you want from the bar or the waiters will bring it to you. The briefing was at 7:30pm as is normal every night and then dinner was at 7:45 like always. Dinner was tasty. I found the dinner food to be very, very good. It is not big ship quality, but I didn't expect it to be. I always found something to eat and I never went away hungry.
After dinner in the Discovery Bar on Deck 5, it was Karaoke night. This was a hoot as well. There were a few who could sing but others couldn't but it was fun. Then off to bed.
SATURDAY, MAY 29
It is hard to believe that today is the last day. It has flown by. Up and ready for breakfast at 7am and then we got ready for the mornings activity. Today we are on Santa Cruse Island all day at the town of Puerto Ayora. The town is the biggest and there are hotels, restaurants, shops, and stores.
There is only one morning activity. At 8am you visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. It is a short bus ride from the pier to the entrance. From there you must walk to the center. The Naturalist takes you there. You go through all of the turtle farm areas. I admit I wasn't looking forward to this. It turned out to be very interesting and the turtles are very interesting. Lonesome George is interesting but he wasn't as big as I thought he would be. Others made the same comment. You have an opportunity to get close to the giant turtles. They are huge.
After the tour you are on your own to either take the bus back to town or walk back to town. If you can do it, walk back. It is worth it. There are dozens of shops and things to see. This is the best chance to buy any souvenirs. There is some shopping time after the afternoon outing but there isn't much time. Do your shopping now. The town is clean and well kept and there are a lot of options. Also stop by the public area. They will probably cutting up the morning's catch. They were on our trip. There were dozens of fish cut up and a dozen huge tuna. It was funny to watch the pelicans hanging around and one lone sea lion waiting for the scraps. Zodiacs start back to the ship at 11am and last zodiac is noon. I rated this activity an A-.
We got back at about 11:45am and went right to an Ecuadorian lunch buffet in the dinning room. After words we were up on deck 6 reading. As Elite members on Celebrity we each received a complementary 25 minute massage with Luly. She is very skilled and it was excellent. What I loved about it was that unlike the big cruise ships all Luly was there for was to give the massage or the service you bought. She was not trying to sell me products I didn't want or need. That was nice. I hate that on the big ships and I don't even bother with a massage on them.
After that it was time for the afternoon outing. There is only one in the afternoon. You leave the ship at 3pm and catch a bus at the pier where you take a 30 to 40 minute bus ride to a turtle farm where you walk around looking for the large Land Turtles in the wild. We found one out in the open. The other three we saw were partial viewings because they were tucked away back in the wooded area. They were hard to see but it was fun when those monsters started moving. Small trees, shrubs and grass came crashing down. It was like a small tank moving through. There are bathrooms there. There is an old shell and people can get into it and try doing push ups to see how heavy the shells are. This is quite funny and a big photo opportunity. There are a couple of souvenirs shops there as well. Then it is 30 minutes back to town.
From there you are dropped off at the pier for more shopping. We got back on board by 5:50. Zodiacs run from 5:45 to 6:30.
Back on they had an Ecuadorian Beer Party on deck 4. Then at 7:30 it was introduction of all the crew and a thank you and farewell toast by the Captain. Then a slide show showing pictures that the Naturalists had been taking through out the cruise. It was wonderful. After dinner when you get back to your room a copy of the slide show and all the pictures that they took are on a CD for you to take home with you. It was really a very good job.
Then off for the final dinner that was under the stars on deck 4 and on deck 5. It was funny, they lowered the grills down via the cranes they used to lower the zodiacs. We are thinking those look like charcoal but know surly not. Yes they are. It was really funny. We have pictures of the charcoal started and flaming and the ship is rolling right along to Baltra with the flames dancing in the breeze. They cooked all kinds of items on the grill. Lobster, shrimp, red snapper, yellow fin tuna, chicken, beef, sausages. They had salads and other items. I had at least 4 lobsters and 3 skewers of shrimp and one tuna. Oh it was good. I think I hurt myself. It was excellent. One note, be carful with the Chicken. My wife got it and it was not close to being cooked.
Back in the room you have a letter telling you about disembarking. They ask that your luggage that is to be checked at the airport be put outside your room that night or before 6 am in the morning. We put ours out that night because we didn't want to get up any earlier than we had to.
SUNDAY, MAY 30
We were up by 6:45. Breakfast is served from 7 to 8:30am. You have to be out of your room by 8:30 am so that they can get the rooms ready for the next victims. You then set around on deck 4 and 5 until the zodiacs depart to take you back to the airport. This starts at 9:20 am. You are at the airport at 9:30 am. You then have an hour and a half out side the airport. There are many shops to buy any final gifts and the prices are reasonable for being at the airport.
Since we did the 11-day package, our airfare was included back to Quito. About 40 minutes into it the Naturalists gave us our boarding passes. At 11 am were allowed into the terminal and went right to the VIP room. It is a very nice and comfortable room. One note, there is a bar in there. First, the liquor is not free. It was $5.50 a drink. Soda was free. They did not have beer or Diet Coke. The bathrooms are nice.
The plane with the new passengers comes in at 11:30am (same time we arrived). It took them 30 minutes to disembark and to clean the plane. We boarded up at noon and were in the air by 12:15. It was a smaller plane plus there were about 8 staffers that were done with their contract and they were going back to Guayaquil. Because of that most seats were full and we did not get a row of three seats to ourselves on the way back. We stopped at Guayaquil and were on the ground for 40 minutes and then off to Quito. We landed in Quito about 3:00 pm.
One note on our trip. Saturday before we returned we found that a volcano 3 hours south of Quito erupted and they had closed the airport at Guayaquil due to the smoke and ash hazard since the winds were taking it south and close to Guayaquil. Well it was operational Sunday for us to land and go on to Quito. The bad news for the 8 guests that booked the Lima trip was that they were to disembark in Guayaquil and then catch a flight to Lima, Peru. Well they weren't flying to Lima from Guayaquil due to the volcano. Of course no one told them or the Celebrity rep so they got off the plane. We all wished them the best of luck not knowing they couldn't fly from here. Fifteen minutes latter to our surprise they are coming back on board. They had to fly to Quito and Celebrity arrange for a flight from Quito to Lima. Sad part was they were going to loose time in Peru. I hope it turned out okay and they had a good time.
Back at the Marriott by 4pm, check in was easy. They still had our charge card on file and 4 staff people doing checkin. We were in with in 5 minutes and in our room. You can just hang out at the hotel or at 5pm you can go on a 2 hour-2 stop shopping excursions. Celebrity had two buses ready. About 40 of us went on the shopping tour. The first was a local market with all kinds of leathers, table cloths, clothing, jewelry and other items. You could negotiate most prices. They did not budge on tee shirts or on coffee. We bought a table cloth and a table runner. We were there for about 45 minutes until 6 pm.
We then went to an upscale shop that closed at 6pm but was open till 6:45 just for us. The prices were very high. If you wanted Alpaca clothing or items, they had it. They have many other up scale items besides the Alpaca items. There were some things in the $10 to $40 range but most are expensive. We caught the bus and were back at the hotel before 7 pm.
Dinner is at La Hacienda restaurant in the hotel and is open seating. They did let you make a reservation to sit with your new friends if you wanted to. We ended up going in and two of our new friends came in and joined us. You had a choice of 3 main courses (Chicken, beef, fish). The chicken was very good as was the fish. Our friend order her steak medium well and it came out medium-rare so it had to go back to cook. When it came back it was like Panama beef. It is grass feed so the beef is a little tough and has a gamey taste to it. She wished she had just got the chicken. The meal was fine but we were in a corner and they kept forgetting about us. A glass of wine is included in the meal. Our table mate was polite but decided to see if we could get anything out of them for forgetting us. They agreed to give us a second glass of wine. That made it worth the wait! After dinner, we went up to bed.
MONDAY, MAY 31
This was our 11th day. Many people were catching the transports through out the morning to go to the airport. We got up after 7 and wondered down for the breakfast. It was a good breakfast again. We decided just to hang around and relax that morning. We went out by the pool to read.
At 1 pm we went to Zazu again for lunch. It was as good as before. Our friends that we had dinner with the night before (Anna and Deb) were at the table next to us. So we spent the time talking with them again. They were leaving in the afternoon to go to Peru on their on (not through Celebrity). It was great for them that in their rate they have the day pass and get to keep the room right up until they left. That makes it nice if you have an afternoon or evening flight.
Since I now knew the way back from Zazu to the Hotel, we walked back. It was easy and since it was day light we didn't feel threatened. We walked around a little around the hotel. There really isn't much there. We went back and read some more and relaxed. We then had a 7 pm light dinner at the Mexican restaurant in the hotel. It was very tasty.
The Marriott has a kiosk that you can do advance online check-in for your air travel and no you can't check email on it. I recommend that you do this. We did and it was nice to have that done.
We then went up to bed because we had to get up a 3:45 am to be down in the lobby for the shuttle to the airport.
TUESDAY, JUNE 1
Celebrity did a great job. They give you a list of all the flights that they know guests are leaving on (Monday and Tuesday) and they tell you what time the shuttle leaves. We were on Copa this morning and our flight left at 6:55 am. Our shuttle was at 4:30 am.
When we got down there at 4:15 we checked out. Celebrity was there with a bus. There were suppose to be 6 of us but at 4:30 only four of us were there. Celebrity knew who was missing and went to the desk and found that the people already had checked out and left on their own.
We boarded the bus and we were at the airport at 4:45. Celebrity helped us get a porter for our bags and went in with us and showed us where to go to check in at the airlines. The porter dropped us off first at Copa and then right next to us was the American check in. American had a long line. For us, we were lucky the Copa line was empty. We walked right up and checked in.
The important thing to know is that there is a country exit tax of $40.80 a person. You go there after you have your boarding pass and check in at the airline counter. It is very, very important to know that you can only pay with CASH. No credit card, no debit card, no traveler checks. If you don't have it, you don't leave. End of story. After you pay the tax, they put stickers showing you paid on the boarding passes. You then head up stairs past shops and enter the Immigration area. When we were there it wasn't busy yet. We went right through. Once through you go through the metal detectors. Once inside there are 4 gates upstairs numbered A1 to A4. The US bound flights are down at A3 and A4 because you get your hand luggage inspected before you go to the waiting area for your flight. For us going to Panama we just sat down. No other inspections. We were in the lower area that had gates B1 and B2.
There is a cafe in there and several shops. We were called and we had to board a bus to go board our flight. I don't think American had to do that but don't know for sure. We took off by 7 am and we were in Panama by 8:30. Made it through our Immigration, claimed our bags and were home by 11 am.
This was our first small ship cruise and first all inclusive cruise. It was really wonderful not having to worry about if the drink was included and having to pull out my ship board card to pay.
The quality of the food was very good. We had no complaints. I think lunch was the best. Enjoyed breakfast and dinner. One note, if you like omelets in the morning, go to that station first and order your omelet, find your seat, and then get your other items. They will bring it to you and sometimes it can take 5 to 10 minutes depending how many people are waiting or that have ordered. They make fresh waffles for you but for some reason Friday and Saturday they didn't have that. If you want waffles, don't wait until the end they may run out of batter. Please don't try and compare the food to the large ships. They just don't have the supply chain or the resources. If you really think about it the food is quite excellent.
All drinks and wines are available for all meals. If they aren't serving the wine or drink you want, just ask them to get you the one you want. They are happy to do it.
The staff is incredible. The only ones that I felt were less than enthusiastic at times were the Naturalists. Freddy was excellent. A couple others were good. The other two seemed like they were ready to go home and less than enthused.
The ship does rock and roll. If you have motion sickness issues, be prepared. The first days were the worst (Sunday and Monday) and the seas were seemed calm to me. I can't imagine it at other times of the year when the seas are higher.
The zodiacs were fine and fun. There was only one dry landing that was a little tricky. The crew is really concerned about making sure you get on and off safely. The wet landings can be a little tricky getting back on the zodiacs. I didn't have any issues but it took a day or so for some to finally get the trick.
The other cruisers were fantastic. We had people from all over the world (Asia, Australia, England, USA, Canada, and probably other places). We had a great time. Get to know as many people as you can. It was an important part of the cruise and added a lot of value.
The islands and animals were very amazing. Try to get an understanding what the weather, animals, and plants will be like when you want to go. My review is what it was like at the end of May. Other times of the year, the animals, fauna, seas, climate, etc. will be different.
Do as much as you can. You can relax and unwind when you get home.
Finally, respect the Galapagos. Follow the instructions of the Naturalist. Be courteous. Others will be along and want to see the sea turtle path so don't go messing it up by walking all over it like happened on our cruise. Also if you are in the front of the line on the activities, remember others in the middle and the back probably can't see or hear the guide. Please take your pictures and let those in the middle and back come forward to hear and observe. 16 in a group is really too big. If you are in the back, you really miss a lot if the group isn't courteous or aware.
Have fun. You are on a trip of a life time.
Happy Sailing - John