A little background: I spent a considerable amount of time researching the different options for seeing the Galapagos, and after having experienced Celebrity, I'm confident we chose the best option for the money. We saw the National Geographic ships and the smaller ships cruising the Galapagos and the Xpedition certainly looked more appealing in every way. Yes, it's a lot of money up front, but after you experience the cruise and don't have to pay an additional dime, you realize that it wasn't so much after all. The only extra costs are any shopping you do on the ship or islands (limited opportunity), diving (approximately $250 pp which we opted not to do), Quito airport departure tax, and computer/internet rental on ship.) Compared to a regular cruise with gratuities, shore excursions, pictures, alcohol, specialty restaurants, shopping, etc....the extra costs on the Xpedition are minimal.
Best advice we got:
-Take more memory cards than you think you'll need
-Take pictures of the daily schedule each day so it's easier to categorize your pictures post trip
-Take a camera with video capability rather than two separate pieces of equipment. Less to carry and more time to capture memories without hassle of changing equipment.
-Take a fanny pack for excursions rather than a backpack. The fanny pack was not as hot and heavy and held a few water bottles and extra camera equipment.
-Know how to use your camera and switch between settings, especially if it's an underwater camera (i.e..camera to video, etc..)
Things we were surprised by:
-The luxury of the Xpedition! I'd expected a small ship wouldn't have the luxuries of a large ship, but it did. Beautiful public areas, bars, artwork, great food and service, and the cabin amenities of a large ship. The staff was amazing and deserves kudos for their hard work.
-The contrast between the luxury and raw nature of the Galapagos: you see all this amazing wildlife up close and personal. You're hot, sweaty, awestruck and content, but then you board the Xpedition and are greeted with a wet washcloth to wash your face and hands, live music playing, complimentary beverages and snacks. Wow.
-Night activities were really fun. I thought everyone would go to sleep immediately following dinner, but there was always something fun going on put on by the cruise director and naturalists. Salsa dancing, stargazing, Crossing the Equator party, and a talent show were some of the night time activities.
-The food was really good! Favorites were any type of seafood and the few times there were barbecues outside with tons of fresh grilled fish and meat.
-Staff was super! Cabins were always clean, smiles were abundant, service was good. One evening between the second excursion and dinner the cruise director made an announcement that the captain had seen dolphins off the bow of the ship. The sun setting in the Galapagos with dolphins performing for you..what more can you ask?
-Movement of the ship is very noticeable - I specifically went with the Xpedition over a smaller ship hoping to avoid movement and seasickness. Thankfully, I had no seasickness, but if you're prone at all, take meds, ginger, pressure bands, etc.. just in case. The movement is significant.
-Sharks! Don't miss the dozens of sharks every evening and/or early morning feeding in the ambient lights of the boat.
Items we're glad we had:
-lens cleaners for cameras
-quick dry clothing to hand wash and quick dry in room
-cameras for both of us including underwater cameras. We had a total of 4 cameras including my point and shoot, his SLR, my Canon D10 for underwater and a borrowed Olympus Stylus for his underwater. We were able to capture different shots that wouldn't have been possible with only one camera to share. At one point a baby seal came up and sniffed and touched my husband. If he'd have had the camera, we would have missed the shot.
-Defog for our snorkel equipment. It was never offered that we saw. If you're really into snorkeling you'll want it.
-Fanny pack rather than backpack for excursions - less weight, less of a sweaty back.
Wish we'd had:
-Febreze - all that wet, sweaty clothing/shoes get smelly
-More socks for wearing tennies. I found sand got in my Keens and gave me blisters. I'd have preferred wearing tennies with socks more often. Your experience may vary..
-Small notebook for making notes on excursions regarding what naturalists say. A few people had these and I envied them. Only important if you're the type of person who wants to remember and record the details.
-Do your research regarding when to take this trip. We simply went with the cheapest rate we could find within a time frame. Luckily, it worked for us, but might not work for everyone. March was hot, hot, hot. We were ok with that, but for some it would ruin their trip. You could not sit on the deck without an umbrella. Everyone was dripping sweat on the excursions. On the positive side, we didn't need use wetsuits for the snorkeling. Also, everything was green and lush due to recent rainfall. Luckily, we only experienced rain one day. Also, some animals are only seen certain times of year. If weather and particular animals are important to you, do your research.