We all have our priorities. Before you take this Flora adventure – your experience for a life time, make a decision, which is more important to you: working internet or flushing toilets, because you may not get both at the same time.
Am I joking? Yes – just a little, but I got your attention, right?
Gorgeous new boat aside, we felt like we were on a “shake-down cruise” because we were the forth group (of 100) to sail the Flora.
In a smart move by the Ecuadorian government, they contracted with Celebrity to have a large percentage of Ecuadorian citizens working the Flora. But, in a rush to get the Flora in service, the lack of training and preparation for these employees was evident. The Flora experience/service is nowhere the same as with all other Celebrity ships.
• Check-in/Embarkation. The two women who “run” the Quito operations (Paula and Liz) are remarkable. They speak clear English and know what they are doing. Can you imagine working with 100 weary-anxious passengers every weekend? At all hours of the day/night? They do it all. Our only “glitch” was plastic bags. In packing, I use clean plastic bags from a supermarket’s produce section to keep our shoes separate from everything else. You CAN NOT have any flimsy plastic in your luggage. I didn’t know this. I had to use the ice bucket liners (thank you Marriott housekeeping) and Marriott laundry bags to change out all our shoes and repack. You can only use “Zip-lock” type bags or bags of sturdy plastic thickness.
• In an effort to cut out any and all environmental waste, the ship produces very little paper for informational purposes. No daily updates; only one for the entire week (and on the on-board TV station). We found out things from talking to our cruise-mates. (What? There’s an ice machine on your deck? To find out how to work all the buttons in your cabin, you just play with them until you get it right. Your cabin steward (as with other Celebrity ships) most likely will not speak enough English to show you how things work.)
• Brush up on your Spanish or be prepared to use “Google” to translate. See note above about how things work in your cabin or ask questions in Spanish.
• This is a SMALL ship. Got that? Do NOT ask for a wine list because there is none. I was told that the one person working the bar service had to make a physical list of what was on board—by hand. (Unfortunately for me, I only like non-dry wines. The Hotel Director suggested a Rose and I was happy from that point on.)
• The Dining. The food was very good and prepared/platted beautifully. Service, however, was noticeably lacking. Again, small ship, small number of experienced staff. This problem was very prevalent in both dining areas. You may be used to wait staff working in teams; waiter to take order and ensure it come to you as you requested. The second half of the team is a “bus” person who ensures water glasses are filled, used plates are removed, utensils are replenished, and table is ready for next course. Not so on the Flora. In both the Restaurant and the Ocean Grill & Bar there was usually only TWO people working the tables. If you chose a table that was cleared from previous buffet user, you get to pick up clean settings from another table not yet used. If you want your glass of water refilled, you need to get up and ask for it. Once food comes to the table, you will not see that person again, until you are ready for dessert.
o Dining—Breakfast. Buffett in the Restaurant. Which makes a lot of sense for that many people. However, we noticed that no matter what time you get there, they run out of foods (e.g. no more bacon?) One brilliant note: the dispensers for the two juices have long spoons for you to stir the concentrate before you dispense your juice. The DIY toaster does not toast. It warms the bread.
o Dining—Restaurant. Always lovely. Food always great. Service… well, on the first night, I saw the hotel director actually bringing food plates out to the waiters’ station—they are that short on dining staff.
o Dining—the Ocean Grill & Bar. Open for lunch on Deck 7 and sometimes special dinners. You will LOVE having your meal in the sun/shade, enjoying the views of the water and islands. You may even love watching the frigate birds, gliding expanded, full-winged over the Deck 7. Just incredible. Warning: one day a table of four next to us screamed, jumped up and ran to another table. I asked why. I was informed that one of those large birds pooped and it all came down on them, one iPhone and the table. So, if you’re enjoying the view and the birds, do it with your mouth closed! Also, one day the Ocean Grill & Bar had an invasion of wasps. I think the staff sprayed for them. Like I said, only 2 waiters and they didn’t clean up from the dead and dying wasps. Kind of kills the appetite. (We did not have an infinite veranda, but I was wondering of how many staying in IV Cabins left their windows wide open and received flying visitors.) The 2 waiters are very nice and accommodating, but with limited language skills, you may or may not, get what you ordered; so be prepared to send your meal back until it comes correctly.
o If you heard there will be lobster, “forgetaboutit.” No such venue on the menu.
• Packing. We read in many, many places that we are allowed 44 pounds per large suit case. We left so many items home (or chose light weight items) to cut the baggage weight. Did you know that at the Equator, everything weights less? Oh, how I wish I knew that! See point above on plastic bags.
• Activities. The Ship’s Activity Director was a gal named Martha (she was fantastic!). Every night at 7:15, you are asked to join her and her fellow Naturalists in the Discovery Lounge to get a really good review of tomorrow’s excursions. There are morning and afternoon excursions; two to three different type each (long and short walks). You have to make a decision after that presentation and sign up for your plan. Martha was very clear about how rough the excursion can be if you are going over boulders and uneven lava terrain in order to get to the “trail” for each walk.
o Most morning excursions start about 8am. (Therefore, if you like to sleep in, this is not the ship for you!)
o We were look forward to snorkeling. We even bought full-face snorkel masks with vision correction! But we did NOT do any snorkel. The snorkel event was too confusing as you need to wear your swim suits under your walking clothes (as most of the snorkel happens after a walk), then don your wetsuit (everyone gets a wet suit, masks, fins, etc.). Snorkel is off a beach or off a tender for deep water snorkel and swimmers must be very good. No changing rooms on these Islands—you are in the wild, remember!
o The activities are so packed into the day, that you will never be bored, and you may come home needing a vacation. We had to skip the last day’s last excursion because we needed to pack!
• The Naturalists. We are so delighted with all the Naturalist that have made this trip of a life time a real experience like no other! We have all been very impressed with the many, many talents of each and every one, from Martha to the tender “captains.”
• The Laundry. So happy that this in included. We used them daily (what a very nice gift to me to come home with clean clothes!). Unfortunately, they do not use the same tried and tested laundry systems used on all large cruise lines.
o My note to Hotel Director: “Your laundry system is a disaster. We lost clothes on our first try. We were told by Guest Relations that our cabin steward was responsible for ensuring every piece should go back to the guest. That’s not a good system. Guest Relations should not have been quick to place blame on another staff member. Her response should have been, ‘Allow me to get all the information down and research this problem immediately and get back with you right away.’ If you ever worked/traveled on any other Celebrity ship, you would experience that all pieces of laundry are stamped with the stateroom number and tracked with the laundry ticket number. Your system needs to be changed to meet that Celebrity system standard.”
• What to wear? Boy, did I miss on this point! I figured: “July, at the Equator… it’s going to be hot.” I was cold all the time. Should have taken my transformable pants (to make into shorts). Thankful we had windbreaker/rain jackets because the rides on the tenders are cool and get you wet! However, only you can be the judge of your climate comfort.
• The Stateroom/Cabin. Lovely and well appointed, as expected. But the designers have not, and most likely will not, ever stay in any of these cabins!
o There was creaking and a variety of sounds throughout the night. Light sleepers could find this a problem.
o There were problems with toilets not flushing! Both decks 6 & 5 had problems several times during the week and a couple of times on both decks at the same time.
o The bathroom has a large window to allow for natural light to filter into, which is a nice idea. However, if one sleeping partner gets up in the middle of the night for an aspirin or antacid, turning on the bathroom light wakes up the other roommate. We heard other passengers agree: a curtain on the outside (over bed), would rectify this problem. Another bathroom point: I laughed when I tried to use the special magnifying mirror; but I am not 6 feet 4 inches tall. Very few women will be able to use the fine feature!
o Early in the week we met two passengers who told us how they had a huge problem with water coming out of the shower and flowing into the bedroom area. There was so much water, they had to use all the towels to stop it. One night, we had the same problem on a minor scale; water flowed out of the shower, but we were able to use towels to control it. The ship engineer informed us that the cabin stewards are supposed to clean hair out from the shower drains daily and they just don’t do that. Are they not trained to, or is the drain very difficult to get to?