We arrived in Quito Friday at midnight. Celebrity reps took us in hand, helping to gather and expedite our bags through the baggage claim check-out process and speeding us through customs. Our room at the Marriott Quito was very nice. We got to bed at 2:30 a.m., then had breakfast at 7:00 a.m. and a city tour from 9:00 to 4:30. By mid-afternoon I was feeling ill. By late afternoon my husband was feeling ill. We skipped dinner and were violently ill all night. With little sleep Friday night, no sleep Saturday night, and being too sick to eat breakfast, we were taken by bus Sunday morning to the airport for the flight to Baltra, with a stop-over for refueling in Guyaquil. Before leaving Quito, a Celebrity rep found us some Gatorade (at 5:30 a.m., no less!) to fight our dehydration. We found out that at least six other people suffered the same fate. Food poisoning? (Important note about touring in South America: always have tissue and paper towels with you as public bathrooms typically don't have any. Sometimes there is someone who will gladly sell you some, but don't count on it. Obviously, hand sanitizers are also good to have on hand.)
As soon as we got into Baltra, we were taken by bus to the dock and loaded onto a Zodiac for the ride to the Xpedition. There are sea lions hanging out at the dock and you have to be careful to not trip over one. We were taken to our suite at 11:00. We skipped lunch but went to a briefing about the afternoon excursion choices and a life-vest muster. Our first excursion went from 4:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. We chose the high-intensity excursion even though we were still ill because we didn't want to miss a thing. From there things got better every day. The daily routine: breakfast 7:00-8:00, morning excursions 9:00-11:30, lunch 12:00-1:30, documentary series about the Galapagos 2:00 2:45, afternoon excursions 4:00-7:00, cocktails and canapes 7:15-7:45, briefing about the following day's excursions 7:45-8:15, dinner 8:15-10:00, stargazing, then in bed by 11:00. This is a very busy, challenging cruise. You're there to see and learn.
There are typically 6 excursions to choose from each day, one of 3 for the morning, and one of 3 for the afternoon. They are categorized as high-intensity (hiking and climbing over rough terrain), medium-intensity, and low-intensity (a Zodiac ride with an optional landing for light exploration). We did as much of the high-intensity as we could, although we found you could see a lot from the Zodiac rides also. During lunch, the Xpedition moves to the next position, either another island, or another bay on the same island. The wildlife and scenery: fantastic. Land iguanas, marine iguanas, lava lizards, albatrosses, boobies (red-footed, blue-footed, and masked), flightless cormorants, pelicans, penguins, flamingos, frigate birds, the Galapagos hawk, too many other birds to name, sharks, giant land tortoises, sea turtles, too many fish to name, and sea lions. We even found an octopus in a tide pool.
You are so close to the animals that you must watch your step. They're unafraid of us and approach us rather than run away. A baby sea lion even came straight for me, put one flipper on my foot and tickled me from my toes to my knees with its whiskers. The passengers: range in age from mid-thirties to seventies. Some in top physical condition, some needing extra assistance (like the woman in her seventies who walks with two canes.) I'm not sure the policy of free alcohol (except some premium drinks) is a good one. One older female passenger spent the whole cruise stewed. She was loud and obnoxious and I felt ill just being near her because of the alcohol fumes she radiated. We also met some wonderful people we intend to keep in touch with. The staff: outstanding! Nine naturalists for 98 passengers meant we went out in small groups to explore. They were knowledgeable although a bit hard to understand at times due to their accents. Some of them are Galapagos natives.
Our cabin attendant tidied our room four times a day, even folding up dirty clothes we left in a pile because we were in a hurry to get to the next activity. The waiters and bar staff were all gracious and friendly and genuinely tried to please. The accommodations: clean and well-maintained but tiny. Our Xpedition suite wasn't even as big as a Princess mini-suite. There are no elevators, so you do a lot of stair climbing every day. The suites are on deck 5 and they're the only rooms with balconies. We were in 502. The dining room is on deck 3. There's an outdoor grill on deck 4. Access to deck 3 where the Zodiacs load and unload is only by going to deck 4 rear, then down some steps.
There is no swimming pool, just a hot tub on deck 6. The heat wasn't working, but we still enjoyed firing up the bubbles and soaking our sore muscles. The spa on deck 6 is not much bigger than a stateroom, with one massage table and a treadmill. Exercise equipment (though who needs it when you're worked to exhaustion every day?) out by the hot tub includes 1 stair-stepper, 1 weight-bench, and 2 exercise bikes. We were glad we had a balcony. At night, if the ship is sitting still you can see activity to the rear - the ship's lights on the water attract insects, which attract fish and result in feeding frenzies. We had a great view one morning of smaller fish being herded and trapped against the boat by larger fish, then an eruption of activity as the larger fish eat the smaller fish, then the sharks (three of them) moved in to feed on everyone else, followed by sea lions and pelicans coming around to clean up.
Comfort level: If you're at all prone to seasickness, you must take meds with you. Luckily, we didn't get sick, although there was a lot of pitching and rolling. At times, I wished for a strap on my bed to keep me from rolling out of it. The Xpedition's stabilizers help somewhat while it's moving, but when it's anchored they don't help at all. The worst pitching and rolling occurs while it's standing still. It's the worst we've ever encountered, but then it's also the smallest boat we've ever been on. The food: so-so. Because the Xpedition operates within the Galapagos national park boundaries, there are restrictions as to what food items can be brought on board. The emphasis is on food from the Galapagos. This meant there was lots of seafood, but beef only one night, and it wasn't that good. There were hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza served every day at lunch outdoors on deck 4. The hamburgers were dry and tasteless. Occasionally there was an attempt at chicken or turkey shish-ke-bob, but the meat was undercooked. We felt the chef could have used a little more imagination instead of having a pasta bar every day at lunch, pretty much everything swimming in heavy sauces, and too many fried foods - in general, food that was too heavy. Also, there is only one dinner seating starting after the briefing at around 8:15 p.m. Heavy food late at night followed by an early start the next morning is a recipe for heartburn.
The weather: A little chilly at night and first thing in the morning, but often very warm to hot during the day. The only precipitation we experienced was a light misting from time to time. Clothes: A lot of people came to dinner in t-shirts, often ones they bought in the few places where shopping was available. A few women insisted on coming in resort wear with their hair and make-up in place, but they were the exception. We typically wore shorts & t-shirts for the day's activities, with light windbreakers. For dinner, my husband usually wore a golf shirt and Dockers and I wore leggings and a top. Some beach landings involve sliding out of the Zodiac into water, so you need shoes (sandals are best) that can't be hurt by getting wet.
Some landings are on rocky, uneven surfaces. You need good sturdy shoes/hiking boots with good tread. Since there may be two activities in one day that involve swimwear, you need two swimsuits, as the one you got wet in the a.m. won't be dry by the afternoon. The nice touches: Champagne on arrival. Cold water on leaving for an excursion, and cold towels and chilled fruit juice on returning from each excursion. Snorkeling equipment is included and the wetsuit even fit. If you ask for a plate of vegetables instead of the entree at dinner, you're treated to a beautiful arrangement of sauteed and steamed fresh veggies - delicious and much easier on the stomach. We were treated to a slide-show on our last night, featuring photos the naturalists had snapped of us and the sights we saw during the week. Each couple received a copy of the slide-show on a CD and a beautiful coffee-table book, "Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire" by Tui DeRoy.
And I must mention the ship's doctor. The Celebrity rep who got us the Gatorade called ahead and told him to expect us. We didn't see him until the second day because they had us running from one activity to the next. He scolded us for not coming in sooner ("I was expecting you to come in right away. I've been calling your room. Are you okay?"). He checked us over, gave us a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, and told us to enjoy ourselves but don't overdo it. We ran into him several times, sometimes in port, other times in the public areas of the ship. He always asked how we were feeling and scolded me the last night for drinking champagne. Would we recommend this cruise? In a heartbeat. If you want to go where Charles Darwin went and see what he saw. If you want to see unusual plant and animal life. If you want to see totally unspoiled volcanic islands.