We flew from DFW to Miami, then from Miami to Quitoon January 21, purposely breaking the flight up into two legs with a long layover in Miami, which gave us time to go into South Beach for a great lunch and little sight seeing. We arrived in Quito at around 11 p.m. We saw no jetways at the airports in Ecuador, so be prepared to go up and down stairs to get on and off of the planes, both in Quito and Baltra. Clearing customs only took about 10 minutes. Interestingly, once you cleared customs and picked up your luggage you had to get in line to have your luggage run through an x-ray machine prior to leaving the secured area. Once outside the secure area, we were met by several people bearing Xpedition signs. Their porters took the luggage and transferred it to the bus, for the 10 minute or so ride to the hotel.
At the hotel we were met with cold glasses of tree tomato juice, and immediately given our keys. The Marriott was a beautiful hotel with so many large arrangements of roses in the lobby that you could smell the roses when you entered the hotel. Our room overlooked the pool, and was clean, beautifully decorated and roomy. We were not asked to give a credit card imprint at the hotel, and our guide suggested paying for incidentals in cash.
Breakfast was available the next morning from 6 to 9. It was excellent. There were several kinds of fruit and melons, some of which I had never seen before. There was an omelet station, where they would also cook eggs to order. There were also regional dishes, including tamal and ceviche. My husband had the ceviche both mornings, and said it was excellent. Tea, either regular or coca, and coffee was offered, and when I asked for hot chocolate, it was promptly provided.
Once on the buses for the morning tour, we were given meal choice sheets facilitate service for both lunch and dinner. The choices were fixed menus, so that when you chose your entrEe, you were also choosing the remainder of your meal. I had chicken and lunch and steak for dinner, and both were excellent. At lunch juice, tea and soft drinks were available for free. They greeted our party with glasses of sparkling wine, but if you wanted further alcohol, you had to pay. At dinner I ordered a half bottle of wine, which was very reasonable priced.
Our Saturday was very full, with the city tour, lunch and the afternoon trip to the Equatorial Line. We enjoyed the morning, but felt that the Equatorial Line Monument and Museum were something of a tourist trap (yes, we still made the mandatory picture with one foot in each hemisphere). That night, after our dinner at the Theatrum Restaurant, we had to have our luggage downstairs between 9 and 11:30 so that it could be inspected early the next morning by the Galapagos Agricultural authorities. You could not put a lock on you luggage, however Celebrity put plastic security locks on it, and a Celebrity employee stayed with the luggage all night long. We would next see our luggage in our cabins on the ship.
Breakfast was available the next morning from 5 to 6:30, and at 6:30 we boarded the bus for the airport. We had already been given our boarding passes, so we were able to go through to the boarding process fairly quickly. We were told that since we had a charter flight, we were not limited on liquids that could be taken aboard in the carry on bags. On the flight each couple had 3 seats across, so there was plenty of room to spread out. Champagne was served, along with a light meal. A variety of movies was available on the plane, along with music and video games; free earphones were provided.
Once the plane landed, there was a delay while the ground crews had some discussion on which steps to push up to the plane, and once off we had about a 30 minute wait for the buses to arrive to pick us up. That was just enough time to look at all of the little shops and have a soft drink or a beer in the little food area of the airport.
Once we got to the boarding area, where we all made our first sea lion pictures, we were quickly loaded onto the zodiacs. On board we were met by the naturalists, who broke us up into small groups. We had a quick champagne toast, and the naturalist talked about what the remainder of the day was to be like. Afterwards we went to our cabin for the first time. Our bags were already there. The rooms are small, by cruise ship standards, but neat and clean. We kept our two beds separate, to make it easier for both of us to get in and out of the bed. The bed was fine for me, at 5'4", but a little small for my 6'3" husband. There was only one sheet and a duvet on the bed, and he had to work to keep the duvet covering his feet. I am sure that if he had told them, they would have provided a second sheet, but we just never got around to it.
There is a small fridge in the cabin, stocked with soft drinks. We left a note asking for extra diet drinks, and there were always diet drinks in the fridge. Every time we left the cabin our cabin attendant rushed in to check the fridge and straighten the beds. The bathrooms are small but functional. I liked the glass enclosure, as opposed to a shower curtain that you see on some ships. There was shampoo and body wash, both of which I used and found adequate. The hair dryer worked fine for my short hair, but might not work as well for someone with longer hair.
After the mandatory lifeboat drill, lunch and a some time exploring the ship (it only takes about 15 minutes to see everything there is to see), we arrived at North Seymour Island. I will not say a lot about the different islands, as so much had been said by others. Cdboyle wrote a very comprehensive review of his December trip describing the excursions on each island. His review was so comprehensive, that anything I say would be redundant.
In general, however, I have to say that I saw more birds and animals than I ever imagined at closer range than I thought would be possible. We were happy to see the waved albatross even though we had been told they had already left the islands. The excursions were all excellent, and the naturalists were all knowledgeable, my favorite being Graciela. We are in our mid 60's and took all of the excursions described as more physically difficult, and didn't find any of them to be especially difficult. We checked out the wet suits, but found the water so warm that we only used them once. We only snorkeled three times. At one of the beaches, the water was so rough that they basically told us we should not snorkel. At another, the undertow was strong that I felt uncomfortable in the water. My husband, however, snorkeled there. We both snorkeled at Floreana Island were I saw turtles, sea lions, rays and numerous fish in the water. Returning from excursions you were met with cool wash cloths and cold beer, wine or soft drinks along with snacks.
The food on the cruise ranged from adequate to excellent. I am not a huge breakfast eater, but did get an omelet one morning, which was really more of a frittata. There was always fruit, cereal, yogurt,cheese, bacon, waffles made to order and some kind of potato. For lunch there were burgers, fish and
shrimp at the grill on deck. In addition, there was a station that prepared savory crepes with various fillings. Inside there was a lunch buffet with a good selection of dishes. The pastry chef was excellent, and there were many South American/Hispanic selections at for dessert at lunch including alfajores, tres leches cake, and flan. The lunch highlight was either the day they barbequed on deck, with an actual charcoal grill. There were lobster tails, shrimp, sausages and burgers, along with grilled corn and a selection of salads. Every dinner entree I had was good. Pasta carbonara, chicken cordon bleu, risotto, surf and turf, a roast beef dish, roast chicken and a pasta dish were as good as I have had on a larger ship. My husband had fish several nights and said it was good. The only jarring note was the cheese and fruit plate I ordered for dessert one night. The cheese was dry and oily as if it had been plated much earlier in the day.
Entertainment on the boat took the form of nightly cocktail parties with featured drinks which preceded the naturalist talks about the next day's excursions. There was also a naturalist music show, a karaoke night, Crossing the Equator party, talent show and a slide show of the trip. The National Geographic specials on the Galapagos were shown on two afternoons, and there were naturalist talks on other days. One night there was a wine and cheese tasting prior to dinner.
On the last night our bags had to go out in the hall before bed. We did not see them again until we arrived at the hotel in Quito. Getting off the ship was a breeze; however we did have almost a 2 hour wait at the airport at Baltra. We were finally moved to the "executive" waiting area, executive meaning ceiling fans over the wooden benches.
Arrival at Quito was quick and painless. We arrived at the hotel where once again we were greeted with cold juice. This time the staff from the spa was giving mini chair massages in our meeting area, a nice treat. There was just enough time to go to our room and leave our carry on luggage before we left for the shopping trip. The first stop was a local market with the usual touristy type things, scarves, ponchos, nativity sets. The second was a higher end shop with artisans' goods going from 20 or so dollars up to the thousands.
Our flight was at 7 a.m. the next morning, and we had to leave the hotel at 4:30. We took off just after 7:00, landed in Miami just after 11:00 had lunch at the airport in Miami, caught our next flight and were back in Dallas by 5:30
All In all, it was a wonderful trip. Like all of my trips, it was the "trip of a lifetime." Then I begin planning a new trip, and it becomes "trip of a lifetime." The Galapagos trip is something special, though, and it will always stand out as one of my favorites.