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Celebrity Xpedition
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Celebrity Xpedition Cruise Critic's Great Britain-based correspondent Maria Harding recently returned from a cruise on Celebrity's (still) new Xpedition. Xpedition represents a major departure from the line's big ship, luxe-oriented pleasure cruises. The ship is the first in what is anticipated to be a spin-off fleet of small vessels that visit exotic and hard-to-reach destinations that are, well, out of reach of traditional cruise ships.



In over 20 years spent covering the cruise business, I've explored most parts of the world by ship, from Hawaii to New Zealand, Alaska to the coast of Brazil. But there is one destination which had, so far, eluded me. While some cruise travelers long to tour the great historic sites of the Mediterranean or visit the ornate imperial palaces of the Baltic, my dream destination has no such manmade delights to recommend it.

It does, however, boast the world's most fabulously varied collection of wildlife and stunning volcanic landscapes.

The region I've long yearned to visit is the Galapagos Islands. And the reason I've always wanted to go there is that, as Charles Darwin discovered in 1835, this archipelago of 19 islands and 42 islets off the Ecuadorian coast is a world in itself, a micro-climate in which frantic volcanic activity, fertile soil and both hot and cold sea currents have combined to create a miniature Eden, home to 607 species of plants, 29 species of land birds, 19 species of sea birds and 484 species of fish.

A big part of the Galapagos Islands' appeal is that they are relatively unexplored. Only 70,000 visitors arrive every year -- most combining an adventure trip around Ecuador with a week-long cruise on one of the small, locally owned and rather basic ships which operate around the region.

And that's just as it should be; the ecological balance of these unique islands is too fragile to be exploited by mass tourism and visitor numbers are strictly limited.

The good news for nature-loving cruise fans, though, is that small-ship Galapagos cruises have moved out of basic backpacker territory to become accessible to a wider variety of travelers with this year's arrival of Celebrity Xpedition, a 90-passenger luxury ship operated by American-owned Celebrity Cruises.

The chance to explore this fascinating environment without having to rough it (Xpeditions' tag line for the new cruises is "where the spoiled meet the unspoiled"!) was a treat indeed, so when Celebrity invited me to join its inaugural Galapagos cruise, I jumped at the chance.

I flew from London via Madrid and the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, to embark on Celebrity Expedition in the small Galapagos port of Baltra. It lies on the archipelago's main island of Santa Cruz, from which the ship sails roundtrip every Sunday for North Seymour, San Cristobal, Espanola, Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill), Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz, Bartolome Island, Fernandina Island, Isabela Island, Santiago Island, Rabida Island, Floreana Island and again to Puerto Ayora.

Ten- and 11-night cruise-and-stay packages, including pre- and post-cruise stays at the five-star Marriott Hotel in Quito, Ecuador and return flights from Quito to Baltra, cost from around $3,000 per person. The price also includes onboard drinks and tips, a full-day tour and farewell dinner in Quito and half board at the hotel. It does not include international flights into Quito.

And here's what it's like....
Day 1: Arrival in Quito
Day 2: Sightseeing in Ecuador's Capital
Day 3: Embarking on Celebrity Xpedition
Day 4: Exploring San Cristobal
Day 5: Visiting Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island
Day 6: Swimming on Santa Cruz's Bachas Beach...or Not!
Day 7: Enjoying Fernandina Island
Day 8: Strolling the Beaches on Puerto Egas
Day 9: Today's Wacky Adventure -- Sending Mail from Floriana
Day 10: Returning to Quito...and Home.
Related Links
Celebrity Xpedition ship review
Celebrity Xpedition Member reviews
South America & Antarctica Cruises
South America & Antarctica Messages
Celebrity Messages
Attend Celebrity/Cruise Critic Connections!
Day 1: Tuesday, Arrival in Quito
Arrival in QuitoWe arrive in Ecuador's capital, Quito -- after a 15-hour journey from the United Kingdom via Madrid -- to discover that our bags have not accompanied us. After a traffic-clogged drive to the Quito Marriott Hotel, we meet some of our fellow passengers -- mainly Americans, with a couple of Canadians and a few Italians in the mix -- and find many of them are in the same boat as us, having left their luggage behind in Miami or a host of other U.S. gateways.

But even at first glance, we can see they're not the types to let minor inconveniences get them down; cheerful, adventurous midlifers Don and Sandra from Virginia just can't wait to get up close and personal with all that wildlife. Indeed, Don, a former U.S. Navy man, has come equipped with his own wetsuit for deep-sea snorkeling, and is optimistic that it will turn up before long.

Fortunately, since the Celebrity Xpeditions package sensibly includes a two-night pre-cruise stay, there is time for our errant luggage to catch up with us before we begin our Galapagos adventure. The Quito Marriott is a lovely hotel, with obliging staff, a wood-panelled library, a pretty health spa and a large restaurant overlooking landscaped gardens and a substantial swimming pool.

Quito, too, is a pleasant surprise. We are struck by the air of prosperity in the area around the hotel, which has broad, tree-lined boulevards and attractive nightclubs, cafes and restaurants.

But tired from our journey, we decide this is not the time to explore them and opt instead for the included buffet dinner in the hotel restaurant and an early night to prepare for our full-day Quito tour next morning.

Photo of Quito was taken by Gonzalo Guana and appears courtesy of www.quito.com.ec.
  Day 2: Sightseeing in Ecuador's Capital

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