We drag ourselves from the Marriott's supremely comfy beds and depart at 6 a.m. for Quito Airport and a two-hour flight to the small Galapagos port of Baltra, home port for Celebrity Xpedition. Gorgeous blow-up photographs of Galapagos wildlife in Quito Airport's departure lounge whet our appetite for the adventures to come -- but first we must cool our heels on a 40-minute refueling stop at Guayaquil.
We arrive at Baltra eager to meet the "locals" -- and encounter them sooner than we expected, stepping over a snoozing sea lion, who lies at our feet as drowsy and impervious as a sleeping dog as we queue at the port's small jetty to don lifejackets for the Zodiac ride to our ship.
At first sight, I can see Celebrity Xpedition is a beauty; small (at 2,329 tons and with only 92 passenger berths), but perfectly formed with a pretty raked prow and a jaunty air, she looks fresh, sparkling clean and very welcoming. We disembark onto a wooden decked platform at the stern to be greeted by smiling waiters offering cold towels and drinks.
Two decks up, we find cabin 501, a pretty cream-and-blue, honey wood-trimmed mini suite with a small balcony, twin beds and a two-seater sofa. Unpacked and ravenously hungry, we're ready for a buffet lunch in the ship's elegant Darwin Restaurant, which has plenty of sociable, sit-where-you-please circular tables with semi-couchette seating.
The waiters are friendly and very attentive, the grilled fish excellent and the complimentary wine a good-quality Chilean. I think this is going to be my kind of adventure cruise! After lunch, it's straight to business and time for our first excursion to North Seymour Island, famed for its large colony of blue-footed boobies.
Each excursion is divided into three grades of activity: High Intensity (a two-kilometer walk over rocks); Medium Intensity (a Zodiac ride along the coast, followed by a short hike for animal observation); and Low Intensity (a Zodiac ride with no landing).
We opt for the happy medium, clambering ashore over black rocks covered in sleeping sea lions to discover black-feathered, red-chested frigate birds, marine iguanas lying in groups with their arms thrown matily across each others' shoulders, and legions of boobies squatting on the ground, their comically large, pale blue feet splayed as they nurse two fluffy white chicks apiece.
Sadly, our guide Tatiana informs us, only one of each pair of chicks is destined to survive; unless food is very plentiful, the smaller and more vulnerable of the chicks is usually killed by its larger sibling -- with the collusion of its parents. It's nature's own version of the Cain and Abel story, a reminder of the harsh realities of the survival of the fittest -- and a big talking point over that night's five-course dinner in the Darwin Restaurant, which is a-buzz as new friendships are formed on the common ground of the day's experiences.
Tomorrow's call at San Cristobal, famed for its Galapagos Interpretation Centre, should help us make sense of what we've seen so far ...