The Galapagos cruise aboard the Flora is Celebrity's attempt to break into the all-inclusive luxury market. As of the August 4th sailing, Celebrity is failing in epic fashion. The Flora is an incredible ship to be sure. However, the service aboard the Flora is well below the service I have received as a suite class passenger on other Celebrity ships, and it is far below the service one expects from a luxury vacation. For the price, you can find far better service aboard an actual luxury vessel. And if you're willing to accept the poor service you'll receive onboard the Flora, you can take a much cheaper vacation. I have a lot to say about this "once-in-a-lifetime" trip, so I'll try to be concise:
Booking: Proof that Celebrity is not ready to enter this market is the fact that the Flora is treated as an afterthought or an entirely different ship while booking. For example, the Guest Ticket Booklet (which you are expected to print off yourself because Celebrity can't be bothered to mail you a copy of this 42 page document) doesn't even list the Flora among Celebrity's ships. I had to wait for 45 minutes on a phone call to Celebrity to find out what number family members should call in case of emergency because the Guest Ticket Booklet didn't even list the Flora. This is just one of many examples of Celebrity and its Galapagos desk not being ready to debut this ship.
Arrival: Arrival in Quito was one of the few good examples of Celebrity service. Someone met us right outside customs and took us to the JW Marriott where we had the King size room we had requested. (We are currently on the land extension of our trip and none of our rooms have been booked correctly and Celebrity has yet to address the issue.)
Quito: Our one day in Quito was filling with amazing food and adventure. Celebrity has a really good group of people running the ground operations here and it was probably one of the top three parts of this trip. We always had bottled water, access to restrooms, and were given an lovely introduction to and education about Quito.
Galapagos arrival: We flew on a chartered flight from Quito to Baltra and were served a nice breakfast on the plane. We had to wait in a lengthy customs line, but I don't think Celebrity could have done anything about that. However, they could have provided us WiFi access while waiting, in addition to bottled water because it was quite hot. Celebrity's "VIP lounge" is a terribly small room with a soda fountain. This was the beginning of the realization that there was nothing luxury about this trip.
Ship check in: You would think that on a luxury cruise of only 98 passengers, the crew would know everyone's names. However, the crew never even learned our names (or standing drink orders) by the end of the trip. We were not offered any kind of unpacking service. Key cards didn't work for half of the ship upon arrival and we had to trouble the attendants to gain access to our own rooms. (For the inconvenience, which lasted nearly half a day, we were provided a chocolate bar.)
Ship and rooms: Outstanding. The Flora is a beautiful ship, meticulously appointed and breathtaking. We went with the standard balcony and weren't disappointed. The beds were comfortable; the rain shower was awesome, as was the constant ocean view; and we always had hot water. The dining room and Discovery Lounge are beautiful and it never felt like there wasn't enough room for the 98 passengers onboard. I could say more, but a ship like this is only worth it if the quality of the food and service matches the quality of the ship itself, and it does not. No ship is nice enough to justify a poor service experience.
Food Service: The food is mediocre. Not terrible, but certainly not great. There's one wonky toaster, the eggs are always cold at breakfast, and some of the desserts were the most stale and bland items I've ever eaten. For being in a country that prides itself on its chocolate (and for being on a ship that only uses local foods), we had surprisingly few chocolate desserts.
More importantly, food is not always available! There is a gap between breakfast and the beginning of room service where you can't find anything to eat unless you manage to catch a bartender and ask him for chips or peanuts. If you appreciate that one of the hallmarks of cruising is the free-flowing food and drink, don't book this trip! It's quite easy for Celebrity to call this an "all-inclusive" experience when very little is actually available. For the better part of our cruise, there was only one working soda machine on the ship. And no one ever took my drink order in under five minutes, so getting a Diet Coke was a 15 minute experience. After a particularly long hunt for a bartender one day, we took to fixing our own drinks.
None of this may not seem like too much of a problem to you now, but when you realize that you have to start every single day early to make the excursions, you'll wish you could get into and out of the dining room in a reasonable amount of time. Instead, we found ourselves having to wake up an additional half hour earlier (WARNING: You will NOT sleep in on this vacation unless you want to miss an excursion. So don't think of it as a vacation--think of it as an adventure.) to compensate for the slow food and beverage service.
Laundry: Celebrity provides laundry twice, but only for four days of a seven night cruise. Thursday is the last day for laundry even though you don't leave the ship until Sunday. For folks like us that had a land extension, this was particularly inconvenient, and Celebrity doesn't offer laundry once on the land extension. Otherwise, the laundry service was great.
Excursions: Once you understand how the Galapagos works, you'll realize that Celebrity has very little input on this part of the cruise, so it seems unfair to comment. However, I'll note for anyone considering a Galapagos cruise that you should realize how little freedom you have to explore the Galapagos. You'll always be accompanied by a naturalist. You'll never be able to stray off on your own. You won't be able to interact with wildlife (outside of blowing bubbles at sea lions while snorkeling). Ships have to go to particular places at set times so that there are never too many people in one place. It's the most heavily regulated "adventure" you'll ever take.
The fact that excursions are so rigid--and the fact that the first ones of the day are so early--are what make it SO important that your time aboard the ship be particularly enjoyable. That's where Celebrity is falling short here. There's really nothing to do on board the ship between excursions--you can't even eat. Sure, you can order some incredibly mediocre room service. But what you'd really like to do is go up top to the Ocean Bar and sit outside with a drink and a snack. But the crew is unable to handle that, so you have to wait until lunch.
It also doesn't help that no matter how many times your husband orders coffee and you order Diet Coke, no one will remember. You can't even get WATER in a timely fashion. I took to sneaking behind the crew section in the dining room to get my own.
I'll admit that my review is somewhat biased by the fact that we are still on our "vacation" with Celebrity doing a land extension. This portion of the trip has been equally marred by incompetence and indifference on Celebrity's part. Today they left me on hold for 30 minutes only to tell me to call back tomorrow because the person who could help me had gone home. Keep in mind that they know I'm in a foreign country on a vacation WITH CELEBRITY. I'll update my review later when my rage subsides to see if I want to up the ratings at all. But I don't think that'll be the case...
Cabin was amazing. Bed was comfortable. Bathroom design was incredible. Everything always worked and we always had hot water. Plenty of storage. We never felt cramped. It is NOT suite, despite the name. And it doesn't come with suite service (despite the advertisement that it does), but it is a nice cabin.
Our guide had terrible English and kept speaking to our group (almost all of whom have professional degrees) like we were kindergartners. We were taken to the Surquillo market where she pointed out various fruits and vegetables, like we didn't know what a tomato or potato looked like. She would tell us such banal things as: "The market is where we go to get foods that we cook in our meals. In the market you will see fruits and vegetables. You will see things like quinoa which is white or black. There are many different kinds of potatoes."
It was such a waste of time that over half the group took a cab back to the hotel where we all returned to our double queen rooms. Celebrity neglected to inform any of us that we would be there during the Pan American games and that they had books us at the same hotel where the games were headquartered, meaning no King rooms were available. That's fine, and if they had told me that in advance I would have understood. Instead what happened is that I asked Celebrity for a King, they told me a King was confirmed, and then when I showed up I found out that they lied.
I called Celebrity today to see if I could get King rooms for the rest of my trip and after 30 minutes on hold, they told me to call back tomorrow (DURING MY VACATION) because there was only one person who could help me and she is gone for the day.