We booked the 11 day trip with Celebrity. A day to fly in, a day to explore Quito, 7 days onboard the Xpedition, a day back to Quito, a day to explore Quito on our own until we flew out the day after. Flights in and out of Quito were ... Read More
We booked the 11 day trip with Celebrity. A day to fly in, a day to explore Quito, 7 days onboard the Xpedition, a day back to Quito, a day to explore Quito on our own until we flew out the day after. Flights in and out of Quito were with Delta then American. Nothing special to report. Celebrity was waiting for us and quickly got us on a bus to the hotel (about an hour from the airport).
Day Tour of Quito: Visited the Basilica del Voto Nacional (ticket to get inside); the Church and Convent of St. Francis (San Francisco); Compania de Jesus (Jesuit Church); and Independence Square/Plaza Grande. In that square, you can see Carondelet Palace (seat of government), the Cathedral of Quito, the Archbishop’s Palace, the Municipal Palace, and the Monument to Heros statue in the middle of the square. After an excellent lunch at Sucre’s Theatrum restaurant, it was off to visit the Equatorial Line Monument ad Museum. We found this tour to be very informative as well. Later that evening Celebrity transported us to the La Gloria restaurant for another excellent dinner.
In the morning, you go back to the airport and board a plane chartered by Celebrity to fly to Baltra. The experience on this plane was top notch. Certainly better than our flights to and from the United States. The week at sea was the inner loop itinerary. During this time, we visited Gardner Bay, Suarez Point, Cormorant Point, Champion Island, Bahia Post Office, Moreno Point, Urbina Bay, Espinoza Point, Vicente Roca Point, South Plaza, Dragon Hill, and Puerto Ayora (Darwin Research Center, local fish market, and the forest restoration project in the Highlands). The schedule is set pretty much the same each day….breakfast, morning excursion, lunch, afternoon excursion, themed party, discussion of the next day, dinner. Not much entertainment on board but the Discovery Lounge usually had something going on….and of course that’s where the bar is. I think every night though you sleep well after a hiking/snorkeling day especially the day on Floreana Island. That day consisted of a long hike, 2 open water snorkels, a short walk, and a Zodiac ride. Usually, each excursion came in a long and short version. You can do the long or the short hike and still participate in all snorkeling. Zodiac landings come in two versions. Wet and dry. Dry means a very basic cement structure or rocks. Wet meant stepping into the ocean but no more than 12 inches of water. After each excursion, you were greeted with a snack, drinks, and a wash cloth. You need to heed the warnings about this cruise and be prepared for various weather conditions and be in good physical health. If you are in good shape, this isn’t difficult even if you do the long hikes and the snorkel trips.....but the terrain can be tricky. A few people fell down and needed some first aid (a cleaning and a band aid). I used Merrell hiking shoes and Keen closed toed waterproof sandals. While each island was unique in terms of terrain and vegetation, amazingly a lot of the same animals, birds, and reptiles were surviving everywhere. One of the open water snorkels we got good video of tons of turtles and playful sea lions. I would have done video of the white tipped shark but I was so surprised to see him that I only have a couple of pictures. The day in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, I would recommend you sign up for the restoration project in the highlands of Santa Cruz. The day starts off with a visit to the Darwin Research Center with an opportunity to do some shopping in the downtown area. Don’t forget to watch the sea lions & pelicans beg for the fish guts at the local fish market. Next a bus will take you to the highlands where you don boots and given 2 trees and a spade. You’ll need that spade to work hard to break up that volcanic soil. After you plant your trees, you’ll go to the Rancho El Manzanillo for a very good buffet lunch with beer & wine. Then you will be treated to local entertainment followed by walking the property to see dozens and dozens of land tortoises. You’ll get back in plenty of time to stop at the bar, eat dinner, and then head to the final night’s slide show of the trip.
On the day you get off the ship and fly back to Quito, you’ll have a chance to do some shopping at the La Mariscal Craft Market. Don’t miss it. Probably the best prices of the trip for souvenirs. That night, dinner was at the La Hacienda restaurant in the hotel. It is an excellent meal with excellent local entertainment. Choose the baby beef!
Our last day in Quito was “on our own” though there are additional Celebrity excursions you can pay for. In our case, we booked a horseback ride with the Green Horse Ranch (not through Celebrity). We had a blast. We were picked up in front of the Magic Bean coffee shop (about 10 minutes from the hotel) and transported to the Pululahua volcano natural reserve. Then we went down and down into the bottom of the volcano to get to the ranch. The ride down is on a dirt and winding road. The views are spectacular. Stop for a picture or 5. Once on the ranch we were greeted by Astrid Muller, the owner. We were provided gloves, books, helmets, etc. I road Sam and the Mrs. rode Mithril. Along with 2 other people, we headed off along the trail for about 2 hours before stopping for lunch with the volcano crater in front of us and the lava dome in back of us. The views are breathtaking. Then it was back in the saddle for another 2 hours continuing on new trail and not just going back along the same trail we came on. We passed haciendas with gardens, cows, dogs, pigs, horses, chickens….but only in the valley. The horses were sure footed though we were often on narrow, rocky paths with overhanging trees and bushes. The horses looked as happy as we were with our time in the saddle.
Carlos (Celebrity employee in the hotel lobby) recommended “Hasta la Vuelta, Senor” for supper. Happy hour was from 6-8 pm (2 for 1 cocktails). Corn nuts and spicy sauce came as soon as we sat down. We had the sweet plantains with cheese as a starter and then ordered the sea bass and the grilled shrimp dinners. There was no room for dessert. This place was about 2 blocks from the JW Marriott. Easy to get to! Loved it.
Celebrity’s hotel of choice was the JW Marriott in the business area of Quito. It was very nice. Great wifi, wonderful breakfast, gorgeous flowers everywhere, spacious rooms, and service was always provided with “my pleasure”. The hotel’s restaurant’s (La Hacienda) dinner the night after getting off of the Xpedition was superior. Celebrity did a great job selecting this hotel.
The Ship: We liked everything about the ship. Our cabin (405) was convenient to everything….a few steps to the Discovery Lounge and the ship’s office. The excursions (all done by Zodiacs) were great; the food excellent with lots of seafood and bakery; the staff very friendly & helpful; the information well explained; and the protocols for every evolution was done like clockwork (e.g. handling of snorkel trips with wet suits). Only minor complaint would be that the WIFI connection is poor at best but I suspect that it isn’t the ship’s issue since my cell phone carrier (T-Mobile with MoviStar) only worked inside the Quito airport and nowhere else. There was a small newspaper every day in the ship’s office for those who needed the news, sports, and a crossword puzzle. Surprising to me was that the Xpedition was a single screw (variable pitch), single rudder ship. It does have stabilizers but only in use above 6 knots. While she carried spare blades for the prop, they can’t be changed out without getting to an appropriate facility for repairs. Basically, the Xpedition spends 2 years at sea or at anchor. She only ties up in a port when she is scheduled for maintenance (for about a month in Panama).
Ship’s Crew: Everyone was courteous and very attentive. Ana was great behind the bar lounge. Freddy was great as our waiter each night in the dining room. Virginia kept our room impeccably clean. Fernando Caicedo was impressive as I saw him a lot helping out his staff….in the lounge, in the dining room, on deck by the grill, and behind the bar. There were so many excellent employees on board (e.g. Luis, Leo, Xaiver). The guides and the Zodiac coxswains were all terrific!
Celebrity employees that were ashore (hotel, tours, transportation) were also wonderful (e.g. Carlos Sarango at the Celebrity desk inside the Marriott). Everything ran like clockwork….transports, instructions, paperwork, day excursions. Everything….that people needed bottled water, Galapagos fees, luggage tags, etc. all handled behind the scenes.
Weather/Time of the Season: All the weather sites predicted rain but actually the weather was terrific. Not too hot. Maybe once we got some drizzle. Because of the location among the volcanoes and the equator, I think the weather predictors just always say “rain” just to be on the safe side. Sea state was slight but the Xpedition does roll around a bit but I didn’t hear anyone say that they got seasick. We saw every type of wildlife that we hoped to….in multiple locations. The guides said everything is here (in varying quantities) all year long. Our trip in late OCT, early NOV, though was excellent for seeing many your sea lion pups because it is berthing season. Temperatures were low 80s/high 70s each day which made hiking very comfortable compared to other times of the year. I never wore a jacket though once I wore a long sleeve shirt. Another good reason for this time of the year is there were few bugs…mostly some flies in heavy concentrations of sea lions and some mosquitoes near a swampy area inhabited by flamingos. In any case, we never needed our DEET product. The open water snorkeling was chilly. Even with the “shorty” wet suits, most people wanted to get back on the Zodiacs after 30-45 minutes. Sea temps varied but were 61-63 degrees most of the time. Best tip is to head to the hot tub after you get back on board the ship!
All in all, this trip was a well coordinated effort by Celebrity! Flights, hotel, transportation, cruise, and back again went off without a hitch. Want to see the Gallapagos? Celebrity is the way to go but demand is high. Most people on board booked 2 years out. Read Less