Cruise Critic just returned from three days in the Galapagos, where we were among the first passengers onboard all-new Celebrity Flora, Celebrity Cruises' first purpose built Galapagos-based cruise ship. Though it is not actually the first new ship built specifically to sail in the Galapagos, it is the first ship specifically built with the Galapagos in mind. That means, the design of the ship took into account not only what a cruiser coming to the Galapagos wants to experience, but also how a ship sailing in the Galapagos could work to help the region.
The result is a ship that offers passengers a view of the outside from nearly everywhere onboard; has robust built-in research capabilities to help with conservation and restoration; features comfortable, chic furniture that was designed and made by Ecuadorians, many of whom are from the Galapagos; and has an array of environmentally-friendly features, from an anchor-free navigation system to a reduced underwater noise signature to reduce the impact on the marine environment.
It's also the most luxurious ship currently sailing in the region: gorgeously stylish, supremely comfortable and roomy, all-inclusive, and with friendly service from a crew that comes almost entirely from Ecuador. (Many of them are still learning, so while the service wasn't always spot on, their desire to do it right and do it better was always evident.)
Here are a few of our first impressions of the ship and some things you might want to know when booking your Galapagos adventure on Celebrity Flora.
Celebrity Flora is beautiful -- perhaps Celebrity's prettiest ship to date. Essentially a mega-yacht, it was designed to blend in with the Galapagos. Although it stands out among the many much smaller yachts and boats that offer Galapagos cruises (Flora is one of about five ships in the region that carries 100 people), once you're inside, it feels seamlessly blended with the natural world.
Nearly all the walls are a wood composite that looks as real as it gets, there is built-in closeting in every room that also feels authentically woody, and real wood accents throughout the ship give it an earthy feel despite its sleek, modern design, which also features plenty of polished chrome and massive windows everywhere you look. The only place on the ship without a view is the Deck 3 Darwin's Cove, which is located at water level and has only a few portholes and large glass door entrance to the marina.
Other natural touches are wicker furniture, particularly in the outdoor areas; underwater photography along most of the corridors; and -- our favorite -- inlaid pebbles in the showers that give the bathrooms a beachy feel.
As we said, the only spot on the ship without a view is the Deck 3 Darwin's Cove. Even the bathrooms (except the public restrooms) have a view, thanks to glass dividers that separate them from the rest of the suite space in each cabin.
And it's not just a view of the outside scenery. Despite a lower half that is mostly frosted (the higher up the frosting is, the streakier it gets), you can see straight into the bathroom from the living space -- and straight into the shower. For anyone who is not a couple, it's rather awkward. We hope Celebrity will figure out a way to put in some type of curtain for anyone that doesn't want to see anything other than Galapagos' natural beauty.
We've rarely been on a ship with a more spacious feel than Celebrity Flora. At 5,700 gross tons but carrying only 100 passengers, there's so much space per passenger that it's hard to believe. Tables in the Seaside Restaurant are spaced far apart from each other, but unfortunately that doesn't stop the noise level from being a bit overwhelming at times.
The Discovery Lounge has room for more than 100 people, and the marina can easily fit a dozen or more passengers at a time as they pull on their wetsuits or queue up for a tender, and there's plenty of room in every suite, especially because no room can ever have more than two people. Unless you're doing a back-to-back cruise (combining Inner and Outer Loop sailings), we doubt you'll need all the storage you'll find in the cabins.
Even the top-deck space is roomy in terms of Galapagos-based ships, which often have little outdoor room. On Deck 7, there's enough space for an outdoor grill and plenty of tables to seat all 100 passengers for an under-the-stars dinner.
Anyone who has ever done an expedition cruise knows that rigid inflatable boats are required to get back and forth between the ship and the shore. These boats -- called RIBs, tenders, pangas or Zodiacs -- are not always the easiest to get in and out of. Cruisers need to pull their legs over the wide sides, often in rough water. Anyone with mobility issues -- or who is just not as flexible as they once were -- could struggle with it.
To make the process easier, Celebrity designed specialty tenders that feature both a ramp and steps at the front. When getting onto or off of Flora, you use the stairs. The top stair is flush with the marina, and it's a simple step from tender to ship and vice-versa. Getting onto and off of land is done via the ramp; it requires the tiniest hop between the ramp and the ground and is super easy with a guide there to help you. We've never seen anything like these tenders before, and we hope they catch on with other companies operating expedition cruises.
It's been said before, but it's worth repeating: Celebrity Flora is the most environmentally-friendly ship in the Galapagos, employing all kinds of technological innovations and several green policies (no single-use plastics, for one) to earn the designation. But Celebrity has taken its environmental responsibility one step further, incorporating research, education and participatory science into the design of Flora and the programming found onboard.
Flora was designed with a flow-through surface seawater monitoring system underneath the ship. As the ship sails through the archipelago, water flows through the system and is instantly analyzed for a variety of conditions, including temperature and salinity. The data is collected and dispersed to scientists around the world, but some of it is also displayed on a large screen in the Discovery Lounge so cruisers can see where water is warmer and colder or what the levels of chlorophyll are and learn how these conditions impact the wildlife they are seeing.
The Discovery Lounge isn't the only place where passengers can get a more technical view of the region. In the lab, passengers can take a look at sand samples from several of the islands in the Galapagos under microscopes or view through a camera system and discuss the differences with the naturalists. At various times, working scientists may also join Flora and use the lab to do research in the region, sharing their knowledge with passengers along the way.