We Brits can fly from Europe to Quito direct, via Madrid or Amsterdam, but we prefer to take more time so we booked the cruise and stay package separately and then sorted out our own flights - London/Miami by Virgin Atlantic and Miami/Quito by American Airlines. We stopped off in Miami for two nights on the way out and one night on the return.
Ecuadorian immigration was very efficient at Quito and the Celebrity staff met us at airport arrivals. A bus then transferred us to the nearby JW Marriott hotel for a two night stay which included a full day tour of Quito and lunch and dinner in local restaurants. The flight to Baltra was by local airline 'Aerogal' on a brand new Airbus 320 chartered by Celebrity. The only problem everyone had was the luggage allowance. The brochure says a maximum of 30 lbs each for checked in luggage and 14 lbs for cabin bags - the reality is that checked in luggage can be 45 lbs each and the carry on baggage is usual airline standard - so all that careful packing was unnecessary!
The ship can take up to 100 but there were only 80 on our cruise - mostly Americans and Canadian, with some Germans, and three British couples. The average age was about 60 (though there were a few in their 20s) and we were all of a similar mind - surprisingly, relative few people were regular cruisers and for many, this was their first experience of cruising and Celebrity. They were great company and there were some very interesting discussions on the differences between our respective countries.
This is most definitely not an R and R holiday, it's more like a safari - up early for a trip, back for lunch and then out again in the afternoon on another trip, drinks, socialising , dinner, and early to bed. The weather was also very hot, especially on the afternoon trips - but Celebrity gave out free water and recommended at least two bottles each to take with you before you left the ship.
Our stateroom was on the middle deck and, while obviously smaller than the bigger ships, it was perfectly adequate - though the double bed (actually two singles) against the wall took a bit of getting used to. The shower was a good size and there was always hot water - with the heat you need to shower after every trip!
There was a lounge with a well-stocked bar (all drinks and water are included in the price), plenty of deck space (much of it with awnings for shade), and a hot tub and plenty of loungers for those who like to lie in the sun. A small gift shop stocked sun cream, insect repellent and a range of lightweight clothing and internet access was via a wi-fi connection in the lounge.
The food was good. Breakfast was a buffet with eggs and waffles cooked to order if you wanted, and then a themed buffet lunch, or burgers/chicken served at the Beagle Grill at the rear of deck 4 - there was an excellent outdoor sea food barbecue there one lunchtime. There was also a good choice on the dinner menus with local sea food and fish a prominent feature (we had lobster three times and it was some of the best we have had). The wines were good quality South American and glasses were refilled quickly.
There was one dinner out on deck which had a fabulous atmosphere - a great pity that they did not do more of it as the dining room is a bit dull dEcor wise.
The choice of excursions suited everyone, whether you preferred hard or easy walks, boat rides or snorkelling. My preference was the zodiac rides which took you to the parts of the islands you could not walk to but my wife preferred the walks. You see a huge variety and number of animals and birds (land and marine iguanas, tortoises, turtles, sea lions, fur seals, blue footed boobies, frigate birds etc etc) and they really are not scared of you. There is also the opportunity to see sharks and dolphins while the ship is going from island to island (and one night the ship puts lights on over the water to attract them). The stars in the southern hemisphere are fantastic - one of the officers used a powerful laser to point out the star constellations while you lie on the sun beds staring into the sky.
For those interested in the ship itself you could arrange visits to the bridge and the engine room.
The naturalists on the ship (one to every sixteen guests) are knowledgeable and informative and they also double up as cruise directors' staff in the evening. There is a short talk before dinner outlining the following day's activities and on the last night, an excellent power point presentation of the weeks' cruise - and you are then given a copy CD free!
Our return to Quito on the Sunday was well organised (with access to Baltra airports' executive lounge) and Celebrity staff took care of all the transfers to the airport on the following day.
If you want to see the Galapagos in 5 star comfort the Xpedition is the way to go. It has every thing you could possibly want - great service, a very friendly crew, good food and drink, and interesting fellow passengers - a perfect cruise.