My husband and I have always wanted to go to the Galapagos and when I received a special offer from Costco travel for the Flora, I jumped at the offer. Be warned, that if you book only the 7 night cruise, you will not get much support ... Read More
My husband and I have always wanted to go to the Galapagos and when I received a special offer from Costco travel for the Flora, I jumped at the offer. Be warned, that if you book only the 7 night cruise, you will not get much support from Celebrity. You cannot book air through them and you will have to call and get the information you need to book air travel yourself, such as the times you should plan to arrive and leave the islands.
An important thing to keep in mind when booking flights is that the Flora stays on Ecuador time, NOT Galapagos time, which is one hour earlier.
Please note this review is written to give information to people who book the seven day cruise only who have to make a lot of travel arrangements on their own.
We flew into Quito on September 13th and spent the night at the airport Wyndham. The next day, we flew from Quito to Baltra Airport. If you are not traveling as a group with Celebrity, when you get to the departing airport in Ecuador, you must pay $20 to buy a tourist transit card (do not lose this, you need to show it when you leave the Galapagos) at the airport. In Quito, the booth is to the right as you enter the departures door. Celebrity will reimburse you for this cost. Then you must have your luggage inspected before checking it or going to the gate.
When you arrive at the airport in Baltra, you must go through another line and pay a $100 National Park Entry Fee. Celebrity will give you a voucher for this, showing the fee was paid, but if you are traveling on your own, they won't accept this, so be sure you have cash for everyone in your group. Keep the receipt and you will be reimbursed in cash by Celebrity.
We spent the night before the cruise at the Royal Palm Hotel on Santa Cruz and arranged for a driver to pick us up and take us to the hotel. If you are arriving the day before the cruise, you need to make a reservation at one of the hotels on Santa Cruz Island, a 5 minute ferry ride from Baltra. Most of the hotels are located in Puerto Ayora, on the other side of Santa Cruz Island from the ferry. You can take a cab ride; I believe that it is about 30 minutes and fairly inexpensive. There is also a bus.
On cruise day, plan to be back at the Baltra Airport around 10 am. Celebrity says you should be there by 2, but arrive earlier. There are Celebrity employees at the airport; check in with them. If they owe you for your tourist transit card or park entrance fee, they will reimburse you then. You will need to wait for the passengers arriving on Celebrity's charter flight from Quito and can wait in Celebrity's VIP lounge. Then you will be bused from the airport to a dock where you will board your tender and ride out to the Flora.
The Flora is a beautiful ship. We were in cabin 512, which featured a sky suite with a private veranda. I highly recommend booking this type of cabin; the private balcony is amazing and we never experienced any spray when sitting out there. The room had a very comfortable bed, a sofa, a large screen tv, refrigerator, and a very nice bathroom. Do not be concerned about the frosted glass in the bathroom; you still have enough privacy and it is very cool to be able to look out at the view while brushing your teeth. There is a faucet for filtered water in the bathrooms as well as complimentary metal water bottles. DO NOT drink tap water in Ecuador! Housekeeping cleaned the rooms twice a day. You can have laundry done twice for free during the cruise. There are binoculars in your room which you can use during the trip. The wifi worked fine for email and browsing, but I could not send photos using messaging. I had no problem sending photos using WhatsApp.
Food on the ship was good, but not amazing. There was an abundance of fish offered every day, and despite what another reviewer said, there is plenty of lobster. They also had beef (which is pre-cooked sous vide), as well as a chicken dish every night. I got kind of tired of the same food by the end of the cruise. Drinks are free. The wait staff in the dining rooms are all excellent and friendly and speak English well. We especially liked Natalia and Zarella, AKA Lady Gaga.
The other passengers were great, mainly from the US, but we also had several couples from the UK and one large family from Chile. There were two children on our cruise, sisters ages 10 and 11 and they were very well behaved and participated in all the activities. Be warned though, that this is NOT a cruise for children under about ages 10 or 11. There are no activities for them, no special food, and many younger kids will be very bored and will not be able to keep up on the daily walks.
Every evening, passengers meet in the Discovery Lounge for a briefing on the next day's activities. In another review, someone already posted the outer loop daily schedule, and ours was the same, so I won't duplicate this. There are morning and afternoon activities, with harder and easier versions. Unless you have a physical disability, you should be fine with the harder version. You can always drop out if you have a problem. After the briefing, you sign up for the next day activities. These include nature walks, kayaking, snorkeling, deep water snorkeling, and tender rides.
You will be issued wetsuits and they have them in all sizes, including child sized, so you should be able to find one which fits you, as well as snorkels, fins and masks, swim flotation vests, and a bag to hold everything. These are stored in the Marina area. If you enjoy snorkeling, you should try and take the Outer Loop cruise, which offers more deep water snorkeling trips (three) than the Inner Loop. The water when we went (September) was cold, in the 60s, so you will need the wetsuit. My husband did all the deep water snorkels and he also wore a neoprene rash guard and a cap to keep warm. These were the highlights of the trip for him, so if you love snorkeling, don't miss these. The regular snorkeling takes place after walks, so you will need to wear a bathing suit under your clothes. You can store your bag with gear on the beach, so you don't have to carry it on the walk.
Everywhere you go on the Islands, you will be accompanied on the trip by one of the Flora's naturalists. These are all natives of Ecuador and many were born and raised in the Galapagos. They are very proud of their country and do a fantastic job of representing their country and educating passengers about the Islands. They are all great, but two special favorites of ours were Diego and Orlando. You can sign up for a special dinner with a naturalist; please do it!
I have to give a shout out to the Captain, Captain Jaramillo, the Hotel Director, John Flynn, the Cruise Director, Marvi and Sachin, (not sure of his title) from the dining room. They were all over the ship, talking to guests, and making sure everyone had what they needed and were having a good time. John was at the tenders every day, helping passengers board and carrying life vests and bags. I was very impressed by how hard all of the crew worked.
September is a great time for this cruise, due to the cooler weather. It was in the 70s most days, so never got too hot. I can't imagine taking some of the hikes when it gets to 100 degrees or more! You don't need to take any fancy clothing for this cruise; while some people got a little dressed up for dinner, most people were very casual. Popular clothes were things like Columbia PFG pants and shirts. I would recommend capris or lightweight long pants over wearing shorts, just to protect your legs from brush on some of the hikes. I brought a pair of Keen sandals and some Dansko Paisley shoes for hiking and they worked fine. You don't need heavy hiking shoes, but do bring shoes with good soles for hiking on lava rock. You will also need a hat and a jacket. Celebrity gives you a string backpack and a poncho, but you would be better off bringing a lightweight backpack to carry your water bottle, camera, etc.
Debarkation went fine. Unfortunately, Celebrity told me not to schedule our departure flight before 2 pm, which was completely wrong. Passengers on the 7 day cruise only were in the first debarkation group, which left the ship at 9 am (8 am Galapagos time). We were at the airport before 9 am! Luckily, we were able to switch to an 11 am departure, so did not have to spend the day sitting in a small airport.
All in all, my husband and I had a fantastic time on this cruise. The ship was amazing, the staff were all hard working, knowledgeable and dedicated, the wildlife and vegetation were incredible and we made some wonderful friends. I highly recommend booking a cruise of the Flora; it is a once in a lifetime trip you will never forget. Read Less