All in all it was a wonderful experience that I am so glad I was able to enjoy.
Pre-Cruise - We were on the 11-night cruise tour and arrived in Quito at about 10:00 PM on Friday, May 20th. After clearing Customs and Immigration we were me inside by Celebrity personnel and escorted to the bus. Their people took our luggage and the next time we saw it was when it got to the room. This was to be a much appreciated trend throughout the trip. We were greeted with refreshing towels, the schedule for the next 2 days, and a fruit drink at the hotel, received our room keys quickly and went up stairs for a much needed night's sleep. The next day there was a delicious breakfast buffet and then it was off to a city tour. Quito is very historic and we enjoyed the tour very much. Lunch was an Ecuadorean buffet at the Theater Restaurant. The food was delicious but the time we spent at the restaurant was far too long. perhaps they were waiting for a singer who arrived and was very good. After lunch it was off to the Equator Park. This was quite an ordeal (a long time spent in traffic for a stop that was not worth the time it took). There was shopping (a recurring theme) and a monument, but the bright spot was the live music going on. The Ecuadorean music is really enjoyable and it was fun to watch the local people (including children)dancing and enjoying themselves. Dinner that night was at Carmine's, an Italian restaurant that had a first rate fresh catch of the day - sea bass.
Cruise - The next day was Sunday and we were up early for breakfast and then off to the airport for the flight to Baltra to meet the ship. The plane to be used was shared between AeroGal and TACA and was delayed getting in from Lima. As a result, we were probably 2 hours late leaving Quito. The plane is chartered by Celebrity and does not make the usual stop in Guayaquil. It is a pretty new Airbus 320 and the middle seats were left open. Very comfortable. We arrived late in Baltra, but made it on board in time for us to make the scheduled afternoon excursion to North Seymour Island just north of Baltra.
Over the course of the 7 day cruise we had incredible wildlife sightings. The animals really do not have a fear of man and live their lives a few feet from where you are standing with no concern at all. Absolutely astounding! I won't try to relate the details of every stop and all the excursions. I will just say that whether you come to see birds, reptiles, land or sea mammals, beautiful landscapes, meet some genuine and incredibly warm people, learn the history, and otherwise experience a unique place you will not leave disappointed!
Excursions - There are usually 2 options in the morning and 2 options in the afternoon. One will be geared to those seeking a longer, more physically strenuous activity and one less so. Both options will usually offer similar wildlife opportunities. On those days where there is a beach snorkel opportunity, it will be included in both options. The exception is the advanced Champion island snorkel.
Naturalists - They were by and large excellent and well versed in the wildlife, island history, terrain, geology, etc. Many were native to the Galapagos Islands. They work on a rotational schedule so you might well have some that we did not work with. You will undoubtedly have your favorites, but ours were Al, Jorge, and Juan Carlos. The Zodiac (Panga) drivers were also excellent in maneuvering the boats for loading/unloading and to get photographs.
Service - The Celebrity personnel in Quito worked very hard escorting us and trying to make sure things went smoothly. The hospitality desk in the lobby was helpful, but could have been manned a little longer during the day.
Service was first rate on the ship. The Guest Relations staff was terrific. They could handle any problem or request promptly and completely. Our cabin attendant, Silvia, was outstanding as were the bar and dining room personnel. They all worked very hard to make the cruise enjoyable.
Food - It ranged from fair (meat) to very good (the fresh local fish was excellent). The only seafood that was sub-par was the yellow Fin Tuna - somewhat mushy and probably frozen. The lunch theme buffets were interesting and the Ecuadorean was our favorite. The BBQ on deck one afternoon was a highlight. Breakfast was always a good meal with omelets to order and lots of fresh fruit available.
Post-Cruise - The flight arrangements back to Quito went a little smoother than those coming to Baltra. The chaos hit when we landed in Quito as those going on to Machu Picchu were left looking for the Celebrity reps as those of us who were staying in Quito went to the buses. Things at the Marriott were the same except the bed was horrible. Probably the worst night's sleep of the trip. After a few minutes to freshen up we were out on a shopping tour - a local market and a higher-end gallery. Both were interesting. The farewell dinner was in the La Hacienda steakhouse at the hotel and the food was very good after the third attempt to get the steak cooked correctly (medium kept coming back blood rare).
There were only two extra-cost excursions offered the next day unless you wanted to book something that would be private. We opted to try the Mindao excursion and it was OK but not great. I cannot really recommend it. We also heard the Otavalo excursion was somewhat disappointing. We were flying out that night (Monday) and got out of the room quickly upon return. We then learned we could have stayed in the room since they had us leaving the next day but by then it was too late. Oh, well. A fairly long wait in the lobby and then we were off to the airport with time to spare. we cleared check-in, Immigration, Customs, and a thorough hand-luggage search at the gate. Then it was off on our flight home.
Final word - If you have the opportunity - GO!!!!!!!! It is a unique experience and if you love wildlife it is an experience not to be missed.