We are a married couple in our mid 40s - we love to cruise. I am a girly-girl and DH is a guy's guy who likes the dive. This was my bucket list vacation (yes even girly girls like animals! I was, however, fearhul of the hiking and outdoor stuff!)
We arrived in Quito on April 29th. The plane was over an hour late, but as promised a very nice Celebrity rep (Adriana) was waiting once we got our luggage. Our bags were immediately taken and put on a bus. Once everyone on the flight was there, we made a short 15 minute trip to the Marriott. We were promptly greeted with fresh juice and a very organized check in.
The room (on floor 8) was spacious with a nice king bed and huge bathroom. I immediately went to the cafe and got coca tea just to stave off any altitude sickness.
We got up early on Saturday for a nice tour of Quito with well-versed guides. We visited several sites, included some unbelievable churches. Don't miss the tour - it is really nice and even if you've seen churches before, you've not seen ones like these - unbelievable.
The lunch has changed from prior years and is not at the Crater restaurant. We ate, instead, at where dinner used to be - the Theater Opera House restaurant . If you get there first (we did) you can eat on a balcony - so nice! The food was plentiful, white glove service and wonderful! We ordered a ½ bottle of wine - be sure to ask the price - it was $35 - quite good but pricey.
Next it was off to the equator monument. It was fun to go there - there were a few little trinket shops there - nothing very nice. Also throughout the day young kids were selling scarves, etc. for next to nothing. We were careful with our valuables, as suggested by X.
Sat. night we had dinner at an Italian restaurant. It was rushed, somewhat small servings and just OK - the dEcor was lovely. You got one glass of wine and it was very expensive to buy more (only by the bottle) - I think they wanted us out because they wanted to serve "real" paying customers maybe? We ate fairly early at 6:30 pm.
We took luggage to the waiting Celebrity guides in the lobby area that evening after dinner. They were apparently checked overnight for any items (food etc) that can't be taken to the Islands. You are allowed one checked 44 lb bag and one carry-on plus a purse, etc. There was a scale in the lobby if you needed to weigh luggage (TIP: We packed separate bags before we left - one for our days in Quito and a separate bag for the Galapagos - we weighed the one for the Islands before we left to make sure we were within the limits. We left our Quito locked bag with the Marriott bellman and retrieved it after we returned to the hotel after the trip to the Galapagos.).
We woke up early on Sunday and went to the fabulous breakfast buffet at the Marriott - so many choices. We did not experience any altitude sickness while in Quito, but I drank several cups of Coca tea everyday. We went to the airport in Quito - this was the only place were Celebrity didn't help much - the reps at the airport were no where to be seen and on the plane were not helpful - you were kind of on your own as to how to get around.
The private charter plane was great - straight trip to Galapagos from Quito - nice service - free movies, etc and wide seats. Most middle seats were left open.
There was a funny event on the plane- when you are almost there the attendants open the overhead compartments and spray the bags for "pests" not allowed in the Galapagos - not a big deal - it didn't smell or anything. One lady started screaming she was so upset! She said she called X three times and was told her natural food would not be sprayed??? Made quite a scene!
Once we landed, we promptly went on a bus, taken to the pier - sea lions all around already! We took the zodiacs (with carry-ons in hand) to the ship (a 5 minute ride) and were greeted with drinks and warm welcomes. After a introductory talk, we were escorted to our cabin.
We were in room 506, a suite - lots of folks say a suite isn't necessary, but I was glad for it - we had extra room and a balcony to store and dry wet, smelly clothes and other stuff. The room was nice and neat, if small. I can't imagine staying in one of the smaller rooms as this was pretty tight.
As for motion, the boat DEFINITELY moved a lot the first two days and the last two - people mentioned it a lot. I took Bonine everyday and did fine, but getting ready for dinner, showering, etc was a feat! Stuff was falling off the dressers, etc. It was very rocky.
The stabilizers don't really work well, because of the shallow hull.
So after you settle in, you have lunch in the dining room - the food onboard is good, not great - service is nice.
You are then introduced to the naturalists and told about the afternoon excursions to North Seymour Island -basically every day (usually before dinner) you have the head naturalist explain the two morning and two afternoon excursions - you then sign up for which you want - most days there are "long" and "short" walks. Some are harder than others. We pretty much did all long walks.
As far as long walks, let me say that if you are in reasonable shape, you can do them - but be aware the terrain is often very, very rocky and easy to slip, fall or twist an ankle. Some folks on our walks did have a hard time. It is very hot and humid. By the end of the week, the long walks were dwindling in attendance, as folks figure out they were not all that easy.
They also tell you whether you will have a wet or dry landing - most are wet - take wet shoes (such as keens) with closed toes for hiking OR use your bare feet, take a towel to dry off feet and put on your shoes.
The first afternoon you go to North Seymour. I recommend the long walk. We saw many wonderful birds, boobies and frigates as well as iguanas.
The dinners at night are in the dining room - we met wonderful people from India, London and Canada and quickly made many friends and dining/excursion companions.
The next day (Monday) was absolutely fabulous - we woke early for a zodiac ride around kicker rock - beautiful! We saw lots of wildlife and got great photos.
We then did a long walk and then to the interpretations center - you can shop for a few minutes in town (although the last day on Sat has better shopping) - we saw lots of boobies, iguanas and some sea lions. That afternoon we did the long walk on Espanola - this was so great! We saw so much wildlife - one sea lion actually came up to me and nuzzled me! So exciting. Photos everywhere! However, this hike was challenging
On Tuesday, the highlight was the deep water snorkel at champion island. The day before, we got wetsuits from the ship (we brought our own fins, mask, snorkel and were glad since we knew they fit well). The deep snorkel was awesome! Lots of fish and I swam multiple times with many, many sea lions - they were right next to me!!!!!! So fun!
Let me say that the first days of this trip were the best - the best wildlife and excursions - Wed on Bachas Beach and Bartolome Island were good , but the snorkeling was not too great - it was saved when we found three little penguins and swam with them for a while - that was fun.
Thursday's highlight was the long walk on Isabela in the am when we saw giant tortoises in the wild - we got within inches of them!! Again, snorkeling was mediocre - not much to see. This time of year the water was not bad and you really didn't need a wetsuit - cold at first, but you got used to it.
Friday morning's long walk in Santiago was really cool with lots of marine iguanas, and fur seals and other great wildlife. That morning (if I recall correctly) the snorkeling was better and we again enjoyed fun with sea lions - some saw turtles and a shark.
Speaking of sharks, a few nights the captain turned the boat lights on in the water attracting fish, flying fish, sea lions, pelicans and many sharks - fun to watch them chase each other - don't miss this! Also, during the day it is fun to watch the boobies bomb-diving in the water - and one days we saw hundreds of dolphins just off the ship - amazing!
Saturday was about the Charles Darwin Center where we saw Lonesome George and other giant tortoises and there was good shopping for jewelry, t-shirts, wooden animals, etc. in town. The afternoon was a muddy and not so great hike to the highlands to see a few more tortoises.
Sunday am, it was back on the plane - be aware there is a long hot wait at an "outdoor" airport in the Galapagos before you board the plane to Quito. There is some shopping, but it is hot and a long wait. We were glad for the cool plane ride.
Back at the hotel, we checked in again and then went on a nice shopping tour - the market was especially nice for scarves, blankets, sterling silver jewelry and other trinkets - the second stop was more upscale and quite pricey. Dinner was at the hotel - very good!!! Try the steak - delicious!
The next day (day 10) most folks left. We opted for the 11 day plan, which allowed a nice day of rest. We slept in and I had a very inexpensive massage at the hotel - we sat at the pool with was heated and very nice - then we packed and went to dinner at Zazu - this place is AMAZING - huge portions of top notch gourmet food - we each had an appetizer, salad/soup and dinner with several drinks for about $80! This meal would have cost us 3 times as much in the US - it is as nice as any high end place in NYC or other major city at much lower prices. Definitely if you can, try Zazu.
The only downer of the 11 day is that the morning we were to leave, no one from X met us - we were panicked and arranged for Marriott to take us to the airport - clearly X dropped the ball on this as they were supposed to take us.
Overall, X does a great job coordinating all activities and making this trip super easy and wonderful. The service onboard is top notch - drinks are free flowing and everyone is so nice. The naturalists are all wonderful. We especially love Jorge and Manual. All were good.
As far as tips, here we go
1. When you book, try to see if you are traveling on the same cruise as a group as if so, change dates. Celebrity really should not allow this, but on our cruise there was a group from Paul's Cruises out of Texas. The leaders of this group were very loud and rude - they basically commandeered the ship and refused to "share nicely with others." The 30 some in the group ate every night at the only three large tables in the dining room - they were asked to move one night to allow us to eat with our group of friends and wouldn't - which meant all other guests had to eat at smaller tables, even if you wanted to eat with others. They took over entire excursions, etc. with no regard for fellow passengers. Most frustrating, on the last night at the Marriott we asked the hotel to reserve a table for 12 so we could eat (finally) with newly found friends. The table was marked reserved, but when we arrived Paul's Cruises owners and group were at it. We explained that it was our table and they said "too bad - we are here now." So rude - it really upset me. So, learn from me, don't travel with a group or at least this group. The ship is too small to be taken over by a group of unaccommodating and unpleasant folks. We didn't let it ruin our vacation, but it would have been nicer without this group.
2. Pack plenty of clothes for excursions or plan to do laundry. I took about 7 bottoms (hiking skirts as I am a girly girl, shorts, etc), 3 bathing suits and 14 tops for excursions. I used all of this - you will need to change after every excursion because you sweat so much - especially tops. Also, think neutral colors. I bought very light wicking stuff so was able to get it within weight limit. You will need good walking shoes with an enclosed toe area - walking on volcanic rock can lead to stubbed toes. I brought keen sandals for water with a closed toe box and wore those the most. I also had open toe merrells which I wore on the easier excursions and a hiking sneaker which I wore only twice. Strangely, a lot of guides wore crocs, which is what my husband wore.
3. Don't worry about dressing up for dinner - nice capris and a top or a cute simple dress etc. - men wore khakis or jeans and golf shirt etc. I took bottoms (skirt and capri) that could be worn twice. I also only brought two pair of short heels.
4. It is hot - bring a hat and plenty of sunblock. Lots of folks got burned. Bring lots of water on the excursions (supplied by the ship)
5. We took 7000 photos - we had a Nikon D40X SLR with two lenses and a Nikon D7000 with a 18 to 200 lens - and we had a canon point and shoot with underwater case and strobe light - if you have an SLR take it - you will be so glad - some folks with point and shoots just couldn't get the shots - we got some really really cool stuff including wildlife in motion - You cannot believe all you will see - on one island the birds liked our lenses and landed right on our cameras! And the frigates and sea lions and boobies - OMG you will want to remember this trip!!!!! Of course I will cull those 7000 way down, but we shot lots on continuous mode and with a fast camera and lens, got some incredible photos!
6. Consider an inexpensive external harddrive and bring a laptop for the trip if you want a lot of photos. We were able to download and categorize photos every day and at the end of the trip, used our harddrive to exchange photos with others we met - we now have their photos as well - AND the ship's naturalists take photos and give you those at the end of the cruise - so fun!
7. Bring medicine you may need such as motion sickness (as the boat rocks), stomach illness, etc. There are no bathrooms on excursions so you want to be in good health!
8. As I mentioned, if you are on the 10 or 11 day plan (which I recommend since X handles everything and the Quito tours and dining, etc are nice) pack two bags - one pre-packed and weighed at 44 lbs for Galapagos - keep the other bag at the hotel.
9. Try to make this trip when you are in reasonably good shape - the long walks are really very cool, but can be somewhat difficult - you don't want to miss a thing!
10. If you go, make sure you and others with you understand that this is a vacation about wildlife - no downtime or fanciness - there are lizards and spiders, etc everywhere - some folks on our cruise were actually taking their walking sticks and "shooing" away the wildlife! What the hey! If you love wildlife, like me, prepare to be amazed - and even if you are not a nature, hiking gal (which I most definitely am NOT) - you will love this trip if you enjoy wildlife - the hikes, etc. are so worth it to see these animals.
I am sure I forgot something, but have a great trip - I cannot say enough about this vacation. We are already talking about going back! It is just top-notch - the best!