In reading other people's reviews, we noticed a constant theme which was, "trip of a lifetime" and that proved to be the same with our trip. If you are planning on taking this trip as a relaxing cruise, think again and change to another ship. This trip was one of the most active that I have been on and everyday got better and better. However, let me digress back to the beginning.
We arrived in Quito on Wednesday night as we had tacked a couple extra days on our stay to give us more time to unwind. We stayed at the J.W. Marriott so we could roll into the Celebrity pre-cruise package, which I would highly recommend. The hotel is nice, but not as nice as other J.W. Marriott hotels that we have stayed in. We took the Celebrity "city tour" on Saturday and found it to be well organized but somewhat boring. Others seemed to enjoy it and the lunch that was provided was great. Some reviews I read indicated the area around the hotel did not appear to be safe and not near any shopping. That is not correct. There is a three story very modern shopping mall that is a 10 minute walk from the hotel which we went to and were impressed. Anyway, on Sunday, we loaded up on the buses to the airport for our flight to Baltra. We left our luggage in the care of Celebrity and the next time we would see it would be in our stateroom.
The airport was an easy experience and we were soon on the chartered A319 Airbus for the two hour flight. The service on the plane included a great hot meal and any drinks with outstanding service. This was the start of perfect service that would continue throughout the week. Upon arrival in Baltra Airport, we quickly moved through customs and were on another bus being moved to the harbor. That drive took all of eight minutes and we were escorted out to large Zodiac boats for the Zodiac trip out to the beautiful ship. On that note, be sure to wear appropriate clothing and shoes for the Zodiacs. They can be a little challenging to board!
Upon arrival at the ship, we were handed ice cold towels and taken to the lounge where we were served cold Champagne and were briefly told what to expect that day. We were then taken to our rooms where another chilled bottle of sparkling wine was waiting for us. The tour of the ship took less than five minutes and then we had the usual lifeboat drill, which was painless. We pulled up anchor and were on the move within an hour. By four thirty in the afternoon, we were changed and heading back to the Zodiac boats for our ride to the first island!
Our first island had us stepping over baby sea lions, Iguanas, walking by Blue-Footed Boobies and every other bird known to mankind it seemed. The most amazing part is that none of the creatures seem to be afraid of you. They either stare at you or just plain ignore you. After spending a couple of hours there, we were back on the Zodiacs heading to the ship. Walking up to the rear deck from the water line we were greeted by live music and a mini bar with iced-down beer, wine, cold water, appetizers, or you could go inside and get something stronger if desired.
The following days proved to be as exciting as the first. There are different levels of activity, from strenuous to easy. We chose the strenuous and averaged quite a few miles walking each day. The snorkeling was fabulous. The sea lions (and you will see fur seals later in the trip) watch you get in the water and the baby ones immediately come swimming over to play. I had been told that anything you do in the water, the sea lions will mimic. I did not believe it until the sea lions tried to repeat my movements. I blew a bunch of bubbles and one swam up to my mask and blew a bunch of bubbles in my face....too cute to describe. The sea lions took off for a few minutes and I did not understand why until I saw the shark under me. The white tip reef shark is not aggressive and makes for a good photo op if you can get it.
Each day there are two excursions in the morning and two in the afternoon. The night before you pick one morning and one afternoon. Of the two in the morning, one is more walking than the other, and the same for the afternoon. I am 57 years old and in decent shape and did not have any problems with the harder ones. The entire crew is fantastic, especially the Naturalists. The food was good, however, there were problems with the service in the dining room. If you are expecting service like the large cruise ships, this won't live up to it. I learned that the cruise line can only hire the local Ecuadorian citizen and it appeared we had a new group who were in training with limited English. However, they were all trying extremely hard to please and I was not on this cruise for a dinner party; so no worries.
All throughout the week the Naturalists had been taking photos, and on our last night we were treated to an amazing Power Point slide show of our photos and were then given a free CD of the show. A very classy touch.
We had the suite with a balcony which was very nice, however, I am not sure it is needed. We did not spend much time on the balcony as we could just walk out of the room and take a few steps and be on deck with a better view. If you have the extra money, then go for the suite but if not, don't waste your money on it.
The transfer back to Baltra then to Quito was just as painless and we never touched our luggage again until it appeared in our room at the J.W. Marriott later that afternoon. Overall, if I had to rate this experience between a 1 to 10, I could not....I would have to rate it a 100.