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2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2004
Let me expand on the other review already posted here [on Cruise Critic]. Let me state right up front that this is a "NOT TO BE MISSED" cruise. Celebrity really has their act together on this offering. Don't even try to ... Read More
Let me expand on the other review already posted here [on Cruise Critic]. Let me state right up front that this is a "NOT TO BE MISSED" cruise. Celebrity really has their act together on this offering. Don't even try to book the cruise yourself and try to do the land portion on your own. This isn't one of those "start to board at noon, sail at 5pm" cruises. If you don't arrive on the correct TAME flight, you are not going to get on the cruise....and you can't just buy a TAME ticket from the US..they don't take credit cards...it's very tricky. Just pay Celebrity to handle things (the 10 or 11 day options). They meet you at the airport, transfer you to the hotel, give you a full day tour of Quito and pick up the baggage outside your hotel room on Sunday morning at 5 AM (not a typo)...which is Ok because you have to leave at 6am. The next time you see your luggage is in your cabin aboard the xPedition, unless you happen to spot it on the zodiac on it's way to the ship. Everything comes to and leaves the ship on one of the four zodiacs..you, your food, your luggage, and all ship supplies. The xPedition never docks at a real terminal. TAME (ta-may) airlines is just one of the pleasant surprises of the trip. Expecting nothing, we found a new Airbus with attentive ground and cabin people and good food. Nothing to worry about here. The ship "terminal" isn't non descript,it's non existent. The bus from the Baltra airport terminal drives down a road next to the water and stops. You cross the road and go down concrete steps to your waiting zodiac. The ship's crew gives you a life vest (you must wear a life vest every time you are on a zodiac), you get on the zodiac using wood steps with a handrail and they take you to the ship which is anchored almost out of site...one of the longest zodiac rides you will take all week. The zodiac life vests are not those bulky orange vests you've worn on other cruises, they are much smaller and actually wearable. A word on the zodiacs. You don't have to sit on the edge like a Navy Seal...there is one seat just in front of the controls where you can "hide" or you can sit on the steps if you are nervous. By the second trip, you'll be ok on the side like everyone else, but if you are afraid of falling in (my wife was terrified...she can't swim), you will still be OK. BTW, my wife didn't miss a single shore trip and sat on the side of the zodiac by the second trip to shore...if she can do it, anyone can...and no one even came close to falling off. Cabins: The only difference between XD and XP cabins is one deck..they are identical in every way and there is no reason, other than snob appeal, to book in XP (sorry Celebrity..). However, whether you are on deck 3 or deck 4, you do want to be as far back as possible...our cabin was perfect. This is a small ship and they anchor during the night. Those in the very front cabins were sure that the anchor chains ran directly thru their beds. Drinks: Drinks are included unless you want the top brand and then they are normal $5-6 prices. They don't serve junk liquor though...I drank Kettle One Vodka included free not needing to spend the money to buy Belvedere. Johnny walker red scotch included and so on. Now here's an unusual warning...the bartender is obviously penalized if you come back for a second drink :-) I asked for a vodka on the rocks, he added a few ice cubes to a 12 oz glass and filled the glass to the top with vodka. This was their normal drink. My wife's Kaluha was equally large. I actually switched to drinking vodka in a martini glass because it was smaller (True). Clearly, they want their guests to enjoy their cruise. Wine is included at dinner...they pick the choices but they are good wines and the price is right....no limit. Expeditions: Don't be afraid of going on the "high intensity" trips. There are a couple that walk up alot of steps so those you might avoid, but the others are really no more difficult than the lesser intensity trips. The Galapagos are so rich in animals that you're going to have a great experience no matter which trip you take. The wet landings are not more than drop off the side of the zodiac into about 8" of water (beach)...you don't have to swim to shore or even worry about your camera getting wet. The rocky paths and rocky landings are also very easy..and the guides help you off the boat and make sure you are ok before they help the next person. Don't let the descriptions scare you....they are overly cautious. We had a legally blind gentleman on our trip who did every "high intensity" excursion..he could see well enough to make out enough....he used a cane and his wife to help guide him. Food: Adequate to good....certainly not normal Celebrity quality but they are working with Ecuadorian provisions...by agreement with the government. They aren't allowed to fly in good beef from the US and so on. Not much variation in breakfasts although there is a make to order omelette station where they will also make fried eggs and such to order. The grill lunch on the rear deck is probably the one thing to try to miss... Will you get seasick? OK, the boat does rock when anchored...all boats rock when they are at anchor...this isn't a 2000 person ship. I'd say 1/4 of the guests got sick the first night..and then everyone adjusted when they realized that's as bad as it's going to get. I will give you a helpful hint: The people that said, even before getting on the boat, "I am going to get seasick" or "I might get seasick" got seasick. Now I know that some folks really do have ear imbalances, but most seasickness on boats is caused by people who are afraid they are going to get seasick and constantly checking themselves to see if they are getting seasick. If you think you might be prone to seasickness get a wrist band, take bonine or non drowsy dramamine and tell yourself, now you aren't going to get seasick...and if you can avoid thinking about it, you won't get seasick....and just forget about it. Think I'm crazy...try it. Guides are terrific and they love what they do. I made the mistake of asking one of the guides why the Sally lightfoot crabs were bright orange rather than a camouflaged brown/black color...and I got a full five minute answer. Unlike another reviewer, I had no trouble understanding any of them and their goal was to help and inform..not just lead you around some paths. Not to dash you illusions, but you visit the Galapagos on marked paths; you can not just wander off. This is to protect the animals and their breeding grounds. This is in no way offensive...they aren't paved paths...but you must stay inside the white marker posts. There is no litter..if the guides see something dropped by a previous visitor, they pick it up and take it back to the ship. You are seeing today what visitors saw 50 years ago...the galapagos have not been ruined by tourists. Cruise schedules are coordinated tightly by the Galapagos National Park. They don't allow more than one ship to dock at a site at a time...so your cruise is a private one even though the Galapagos gets some 70,000 visitors a year. Altitude Sickness: At this point, Celebrity only handles arrangements thru Quito..not thru Guayaquil. Hopefully, they'll figure out that they have to change this to attract the types of folks they are trying to attract to this cruise. Quito is some 9000 feet above sea level and some people do get altitude sickness which is very real...and there is no way to know if you will be effected or not. Guayaquil is less interesting, but you aren't going to risk altitude symptoms (headache,etc..look on the web). Fortunately, the cure for altitude sickness is to go to a lower altitude which is exactly what you do when you fly to Baltra. Then at the end of the cruise, you fly back to 9000 feet again...what can I say? Celebrity, I hope you read my critique and this review...it's the one change needed. Okay...one other comment. This is a trip for people that love animals and wildlife. If you get bored sitting with two hour old seals lying two feet away from you, if you don't want to sit and watch a baby albatross learning to fly, if you don't want to stand two feet from blue footed booby sitting on it's egg and watch the mate switch places (they both share sitting on the egg), if you don't want to snorkel with a penguin within arms length and a sea lion tickling your belly while looking down on giant sea turtles....then this isn't the trip for you. If those things excite you...this is a must do experience...and the Celebrity xPedition makes it truly enjoyable. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2004
We arrived in Quito Friday at midnight. Celebrity reps took us in hand, helping to gather and expedite our bags through the baggage claim check-out process and speeding us through customs. Our room at the Marriott Quito was very nice. We ... Read More
We arrived in Quito Friday at midnight. Celebrity reps took us in hand, helping to gather and expedite our bags through the baggage claim check-out process and speeding us through customs. Our room at the Marriott Quito was very nice. We got to bed at 2:30 a.m., then had breakfast at 7:00 a.m. and a city tour from 9:00 to 4:30. By mid-afternoon I was feeling ill. By late afternoon my husband was feeling ill. We skipped dinner and were violently ill all night. With little sleep Friday night, no sleep Saturday night, and being too sick to eat breakfast, we were taken by bus Sunday morning to the airport for the flight to Baltra, with a stop-over for refueling in Guyaquil. Before leaving Quito, a Celebrity rep found us some Gatorade (at 5:30 a.m., no less!) to fight our dehydration. We found out that at least six other people suffered the same fate. Food poisoning? (Important note about touring in South America: always have tissue and paper towels with you as public bathrooms typically don't have any. Sometimes there is someone who will gladly sell you some, but don't count on it. Obviously, hand sanitizers are also good to have on hand.) As soon as we got into Baltra, we were taken by bus to the dock and loaded onto a Zodiac for the ride to the Xpedition. There are sea lions hanging out at the dock and you have to be careful to not trip over one. We were taken to our suite at 11:00. We skipped lunch but went to a briefing about the afternoon excursion choices and a life-vest muster. Our first excursion went from 4:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. We chose the high-intensity excursion even though we were still ill because we didn't want to miss a thing. From there things got better every day. The daily routine: breakfast 7:00-8:00, morning excursions 9:00-11:30, lunch 12:00-1:30, documentary series about the Galapagos 2:00 2:45, afternoon excursions 4:00-7:00, cocktails and canapes 7:15-7:45, briefing about the following day's excursions 7:45-8:15, dinner 8:15-10:00, stargazing, then in bed by 11:00. This is a very busy, challenging cruise. You're there to see and learn. There are typically 6 excursions to choose from each day, one of 3 for the morning, and one of 3 for the afternoon. They are categorized as high-intensity (hiking and climbing over rough terrain), medium-intensity, and low-intensity (a Zodiac ride with an optional landing for light exploration). We did as much of the high-intensity as we could, although we found you could see a lot from the Zodiac rides also. During lunch, the Xpedition moves to the next position, either another island, or another bay on the same island. The wildlife and scenery: fantastic. Land iguanas, marine iguanas, lava lizards, albatrosses, boobies (red-footed, blue-footed, and masked), flightless cormorants, pelicans, penguins, flamingos, frigate birds, the Galapagos hawk, too many other birds to name, sharks, giant land tortoises, sea turtles, too many fish to name, and sea lions. We even found an octopus in a tide pool. You are so close to the animals that you must watch your step. They're unafraid of us and approach us rather than run away. A baby sea lion even came straight for me, put one flipper on my foot and tickled me from my toes to my knees with its whiskers. The passengers: range in age from mid-thirties to seventies. Some in top physical condition, some needing extra assistance (like the woman in her seventies who walks with two canes.) I'm not sure the policy of free alcohol (except some premium drinks) is a good one. One older female passenger spent the whole cruise stewed. She was loud and obnoxious and I felt ill just being near her because of the alcohol fumes she radiated. We also met some wonderful people we intend to keep in touch with. The staff: outstanding! Nine naturalists for 98 passengers meant we went out in small groups to explore. They were knowledgeable although a bit hard to understand at times due to their accents. Some of them are Galapagos natives. Our cabin attendant tidied our room four times a day, even folding up dirty clothes we left in a pile because we were in a hurry to get to the next activity. The waiters and bar staff were all gracious and friendly and genuinely tried to please. The accommodations: clean and well-maintained but tiny. Our Xpedition suite wasn't even as big as a Princess mini-suite. There are no elevators, so you do a lot of stair climbing every day. The suites are on deck 5 and they're the only rooms with balconies. We were in 502. The dining room is on deck 3. There's an outdoor grill on deck 4. Access to deck 3 where the Zodiacs load and unload is only by going to deck 4 rear, then down some steps. There is no swimming pool, just a hot tub on deck 6. The heat wasn't working, but we still enjoyed firing up the bubbles and soaking our sore muscles. The spa on deck 6 is not much bigger than a stateroom, with one massage table and a treadmill. Exercise equipment (though who needs it when you're worked to exhaustion every day?) out by the hot tub includes 1 stair-stepper, 1 weight-bench, and 2 exercise bikes. We were glad we had a balcony. At night, if the ship is sitting still you can see activity to the rear - the ship's lights on the water attract insects, which attract fish and result in feeding frenzies. We had a great view one morning of smaller fish being herded and trapped against the boat by larger fish, then an eruption of activity as the larger fish eat the smaller fish, then the sharks (three of them) moved in to feed on everyone else, followed by sea lions and pelicans coming around to clean up. Comfort level: If you're at all prone to seasickness, you must take meds with you. Luckily, we didn't get sick, although there was a lot of pitching and rolling. At times, I wished for a strap on my bed to keep me from rolling out of it. The Xpedition's stabilizers help somewhat while it's moving, but when it's anchored they don't help at all. The worst pitching and rolling occurs while it's standing still. It's the worst we've ever encountered, but then it's also the smallest boat we've ever been on. The food: so-so. Because the Xpedition operates within the Galapagos national park boundaries, there are restrictions as to what food items can be brought on board. The emphasis is on food from the Galapagos. This meant there was lots of seafood, but beef only one night, and it wasn't that good. There were hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza served every day at lunch outdoors on deck 4. The hamburgers were dry and tasteless. Occasionally there was an attempt at chicken or turkey shish-ke-bob, but the meat was undercooked. We felt the chef could have used a little more imagination instead of having a pasta bar every day at lunch, pretty much everything swimming in heavy sauces, and too many fried foods - in general, food that was too heavy. Also, there is only one dinner seating starting after the briefing at around 8:15 p.m. Heavy food late at night followed by an early start the next morning is a recipe for heartburn. The weather: A little chilly at night and first thing in the morning, but often very warm to hot during the day. The only precipitation we experienced was a light misting from time to time. Clothes: A lot of people came to dinner in t-shirts, often ones they bought in the few places where shopping was available. A few women insisted on coming in resort wear with their hair and make-up in place, but they were the exception. We typically wore shorts & t-shirts for the day's activities, with light windbreakers. For dinner, my husband usually wore a golf shirt and Dockers and I wore leggings and a top. Some beach landings involve sliding out of the Zodiac into water, so you need shoes (sandals are best) that can't be hurt by getting wet. Some landings are on rocky, uneven surfaces. You need good sturdy shoes/hiking boots with good tread. Since there may be two activities in one day that involve swimwear, you need two swimsuits, as the one you got wet in the a.m. won't be dry by the afternoon. The nice touches: Champagne on arrival. Cold water on leaving for an excursion, and cold towels and chilled fruit juice on returning from each excursion. Snorkeling equipment is included and the wetsuit even fit. If you ask for a plate of vegetables instead of the entree at dinner, you're treated to a beautiful arrangement of sauteed and steamed fresh veggies - delicious and much easier on the stomach. We were treated to a slide-show on our last night, featuring photos the naturalists had snapped of us and the sights we saw during the week. Each couple received a copy of the slide-show on a CD and a beautiful coffee-table book, "Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire" by Tui DeRoy. And I must mention the ship's doctor. The Celebrity rep who got us the Gatorade called ahead and told him to expect us. We didn't see him until the second day because they had us running from one activity to the next. He scolded us for not coming in sooner ("I was expecting you to come in right away. I've been calling your room. Are you okay?"). He checked us over, gave us a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, and told us to enjoy ourselves but don't overdo it. We ran into him several times, sometimes in port, other times in the public areas of the ship. He always asked how we were feeling and scolded me the last night for drinking champagne. Would we recommend this cruise? In a heartbeat. If you want to go where Charles Darwin went and see what he saw. If you want to see unusual plant and animal life. If you want to see totally unspoiled volcanic islands. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2005
When most people think of the Galapagos, if they think of it at all, they associate it with Darwin and Evolution. Maybe they remember hearing about the unique wildlife found there. Most likely they don't really know where it is, but ... Read More
When most people think of the Galapagos, if they think of it at all, they associate it with Darwin and Evolution. Maybe they remember hearing about the unique wildlife found there. Most likely they don't really know where it is, but it's probably a long way away, and the travel is unpleasant, and once you get there you're on a very small boat with limited services. That was my picture of it, too, but I decided that the natural history of the islands was enough to compel me to learn more. The final result is that I'm writing this review aboard an airplane on my way back from the Galapagos, after having spent 10 nights with Celebrity Xpeditions, 7 of which were in the Galapagos proper. Quick summary: this trip was exceptional, as was the ship, the destination and the people. Although I did have one disappointment -- there were no naturalist lectures on-board -- it is impressive that there's only a single complaint I can think of. And that complaint is easily resolved by buying a book about the Galapagos before you leave home. THE GALAPAGOS: Let me start by talking about the Galapagos themselves, since you might be interested in visiting them regardless of cruise line. They are a chain of islands owned by Ecuador off of the Pacific coast of South America. They are directly on the equator, as is Ecuador itself. The mainland of Ecuador is basically due south of Florida, and the Galapagos are roughly due south of Texas. Despite being islands directly on the equator, they are not a tropical paradise like Hawaii or Polynesia. The islands are quite arid, some extremely so. Although they have some beaches, the overall sense is more like the rocky volcanic style of the Kona Coast of Hawaii. Because of the islands' location they are the subject of cold currents coming up from Antarctica, making the waters surprisingly chilly, but bringing a lot of nutrients that make snorkeling and diving exciting. What truly make the islands unique are two distinctions. First is that there was no human contact with the islands (according to most scientists at least) until very recently. Second is that there are no predators of land vertebrates native to the islands. Because of this, vertebrates (e.g. birds, reptiles, sea mammals) have no fear while on land, and will let you walk right up to them. In fact, you often have to step right over them, because they plop themselves down in the middle of the trail. I've been nuzzled by a baby sea lion, come face-to-face with a sea turtle while snorkeling and sat down right next to a giant tortoise who was looking right at me. Does this sound intriguing? Post-human contact has taken its toll on the islands. Gigantic tortoises used to be everywhere, but unfortunately for the them they are extremely slow, they don't try to hide, they can survive for months on a ship with no food or water and apparently they taste really really good. European sailors killed tens of thousands of them over the years, and the cats, rats, pigs and goats brought by settlers nearly finished the job. But on several islands they do survive. Today, 98% of the land is a protected national park. All access to that land is strictly controlled. As a tourist, you must be in the company of an authorized guide at all times in the park. The remaining 2% hold a couple of towns with a total of 20,000 people or so, and in fact many of the guides were born on the Galapagos. Some people just fly out to the islands, stay at a hotel in town and book day-tours as they go. You can book scuba tours and surfing and beach trips if you'd like. But most people seem to get on a tour boat for a week at a time. VISITING THE GALAPAGOS: The Galapagos are the crown jewel of Ecuador. While this isn't the poorest country you're likely to visit in your travels, it can certainly use the help, and they milk the tourist trade as much as they can. All flights to the Galapagos leave from Ecuador, and they're pricey. So, step 1 is to get to Ecuador. Typically you will fly from the US to either Quito or Guayaquil. We went through Quito, the capital, which is high up in the Andes at over 9000'. Flights were either on Continental through Houston or American through Miami. I believe that TACA also had flights through Mexico City. From Quito, there are limited flights to the Galapagos. They sell out, so book early if you're traveling independently. As an aside, the official currency is the US Dollar. This makes things real easy for US citizens, but be aware that they do press their own coinage, so if you get coins as change they may not be good in the US. Due to flight timings, it is impractical to fly straight through from the USA to the Galapagos, or vice versa. Conveniently enough, you have to spend a night on either end on the Ecuadorian mainland. Celebrity had us spend two nights prior to the Galapagos in Quito, giving us a full day to tour the former colonial capitol. It was nice enough to spend the day in Quito, but we were all looking forward to the Galapagos. Due to the altitude, Quito's weather is downright cool, highs may hit 70, lows are never too cool -- around 50. Coming from San Francisco in January, it was like I hadn't left home! The Galapagos, not surprisingly, were much warmer, typically 80's and sometimes 90's, somewhat humid but nothing like the mainland coast. The above is accurate for the dates we traveled. The Galapagos have a distinct rainy/cooler season which begins in January, followed by a dry/hot season. We got lucky and had perfect weather throughout, but you might want to read up on the weather before you leave. Also, if you're interested in a specific animal, you might want to research when it is in mating season, as that is usually a more interesting time to see it. Once you're in Galapagos National Park, your movements are very controlled. There are a large number of choices for activities, with each island having several options, but once you've made your choice you must follow your guide. Each guide leads a group of up to 15 people or so. One thing to note is that the guides are authorized by the Park, but are employed independently, i.e. our guides worked for Celebrity (i.e. Royal Caribbean). Incidentally, you will be told that there is a 30 pound limit on bags checked to the Galapagos. I had been told that this is unenforced, and in fact my 50-pound piece of luggage went through without problem. A number of people were upset to have been forced down to just 30 pounds, but most of them later decided that it was better to travel light. The risk is yours to take. One last note: on your return flight from Quito back home, you will have to pay $25 in cash, per person. It's one last way that Ecuador has to get a little more cash from you. THE CELEBRITY EXPERIENCE: I chose Celebrity mostly because I'd sailed with them before and enjoyed my cruise, and also because I tend toward motion sickness and so wanted the largest ship I could find! The Galapagos have a reputation for rocky waters. Celebrity Xpeditions, however, works a little differently from a standard Celebrity cruise. Nearly everything is included. It was difficult to find anything to spend money on, other than souvenirs. Even alcohol on board the ship was completely free, unless you specifically asked for a top-shelf liquor. Surprisingly enough, the transfers were included even though we booked our own flights. I guess there are so few flights into Quito that it wasn't a burden. From the moment we cleared customs, the Celebrity representatives were waiting. Everything was extremely smooth, with baggage being whisked away at appropriate times and reappearing in appropriate places. All the guides in Quito were friendly and helpful. Upon hotel check-in there were drinks and hot towels. The next day, all meals were included and a full-day tour was offered. The hotel (the JW Marriott) was definitely up to U.S. standards, and the food was decent. It also had a really hot hot tub! The next morning -- ridiculously early, I'm afraid -- we were up for the flight to Baltra in the Galapagos. I put out my bags the day before, and I didn't touch them again until they reappeared in my cabin aboard ship. I also was able to leave a bag with the hotel for pickup upon return in a week. All through the airport in Quito we were taken around by the guides. Incredibly, TAME airlines served a meal on both legs of the direct flight, even though the first leg was only 40 minutes long and the second only an hour and a half. And a better meal that you usually get in coach on a US airline. Upon arrival in Baltra we were met (unbeknownst to us at the time) by our naturalist guides for the coming week. Buses were waiting, and we were quickly sent to the dock 10 minutes away. Within a few minutes the Zodiacs began ferrying us all to the ship. Again, it was very well handled. Upon arrival at the ship, we were welcomed with cold towels and fresh juice. This would continue to be our welcome upon return to the ship throughout the week. We were sent to the lounge to relax and have a drink as they checked everyone in, then off to lunch. Even that very first day we had an afternoon excursion. The typical pattern throughout the week would be one excursion in the morning and one in the afternoon after lunch. For each excursion, typically three choices would be offered. You could usually choose a low-intensity zodiac ride along the island's coast spotting coastal wildlife, or a high-intensity hike along a trail. Mind you, high-intensity is not really that strenuous. Most trails were under 3 miles round-trip, with minimal elevation change. The big problem is walking on rocks. Many of the hikes had extended sections where you had to watch your footing carefully. There were also several snorkeling opportunities. I believe the third opportunity was the one that was declared "best" by the naturalists. Don't miss it! You will find yourself swimming with many sea turtles and sea lions, plus if you're lucky you'll spot rays, penguins, sea iguanas and yes even a shark or two in the depths. (They're small, don't fear!) I had originally wondered if traveling on a large ship, relative to local standards, would detract from the experience. Our ship had 100 guests, whereas many others had 15. No fear! This is what allowed us to have so many choices for activities on each excursion. There was still one naturalist for every 15 people or so, so we weren't herded like cattle. There were also no problems with waiting around. The ship had four Zodiacs and they were great. They had everything so well scheduled that you never had to wait more than a few minutes to disembark or to return to the ship. Usually they would start by dropping off the hikers on the island, then return to the ship for the low-intensity zodiac tour, and then after that they would go out to pick up the hikers. Worked perfectly. As on the mainland, everyone was extremely friendly and helpful. Apparently the crew has even more reason to be happy. Almost a year ago, when Celebrity decided to enter this market, they bought out the Galapagos sailing rights from a local cruise line with a similarly sized ship. They kept the crew, junked the ship, replaced it with the Xpedition and gave everyone raises. And they deserve it. On the last night, a local troupe came on board to perform. They sang and danced local music of Incan origins. Afterward, a wonderful surprise was waiting for us in our staterooms -- a really nice touch. I'll leave it as a surprise. On the way back to Quito we were escorted to the airport, and with customary efficiency we returned to our hotel. A quick shopping expedition was offered at 4 p.m., and at 6:30 p.m. we were taken to an excellent group dinner at a local restaurant. Then we all returned to the hotel to prepare for the trip home. Throughout the trip I never paid for a meal, for a taxi, for a drink, for a shore excursion. Bottled water was provided both by the hotel in Quito and by the ship in the Galapagos. All tips were included in the price. CELEBRITY XPEDITION -- THE SHIP: I've been saving my comments on the ship itself. Quite simply, it was a great ship. I've been on ships varying from the Royal Olympic Stella Solaris to the Carnival Ecstasy to the Radisson Paul Gauguin, so I think I have a reasonable basis for comparison, although this is far and away the smallest of those ships. I can definitely say this, however: we never saw another ship in the Galapagos that we would have preferred to be sailing! The standard cabins were 160' and well laid out. Given that there were no formal or informal nights, we had plenty of space for our luggage. The only requirement for dinner attire was no bathing suits, so that's pretty relaxed! They all had air conditioning and private bathroom, just as one would expect on a larger cruise ship. There is only one indoor lounge, but it was large and had a bar which was open all day and into the night. The couches and chairs were all very comfortable, and the windows gave good views outside. There were three different outdoor decks to choose from: one in the stern (right next to the lounge and its bar), one protected from the wind amid ship with the hot tub (which was only warm) and one in the fore. There was always plenty of space for everyone, and if you chose to be lazy and skip an excursion, you could relax in the sun (or shade) with a drink. Or you could schedule a massage for $50 for 50 minutes at almost any time you liked. One thing to be aware of is that there is no elevator on this ship. The Zodiacs disembark on deck 2, and rooms are variously on decks 3, 4 and 5. Smoking is quite restricted. The only place you can smoke is on deck. All indoor spaces are non-smoking, and the park itself is also non-smoking. Even in the towns I didn't see much smoking. Exercise facilities were fairly limited. There were a few exercise bikes on deck amid ship. There were also a few basic workout devices in the room where the massages were given, but massages take preference and so you can get booted out. Also, there's no wraparound deck to use for jogging. Due to the nature of the shore excursions, however, there's probably enough activity to keep you busy. Except for the performance on the final night, there is almost no entertainment provided. The only exception is a keyboardist playing music as people return from an excursion, and in the evening on deck. Fairly simple, but pleasant enough. Food was quite good, but generally not inspired. This wasn't a menu filled with showy ingredients such as lobster and caviar. The food was almost all of Ecuadorian origin (required by law, apparently). The beef was better than I'd been warned about, but in general the fish was always the freshest option. Breakfast was a buffet in the restaurant. Lunch was either a buffet in the restaurant or a simple hamburger/hot dog and mini-buffet on deck. Upon return to the ship in the afternoon, simple sugar cookies were available. During the 7:45 p.m. briefing on the following day's activities, hors d'oeuvres made the rounds. Dinner itself was a more traditional affair in the restaurant, open seating, except for two nights which were on deck. Also, room service was available except during late-night hours. For snorkeling purposes the ship provided fins, snorkel and mask to all passengers, sent directly to your room before the first snorkeling opportunity, to be returned on the last night. Wet suit shorties (3mm) were also available in various sizes. Most of the passengers wore them, although admittedly most of the naturalists didn't. These could be left hanging to dry overnight on deck, so no worries about a wet smelly suit hanging in your bathroom. As to SCUBA: I'm afraid the answer is no, they don't offer it. Yet. On-board our sailing was a representative from Celebrity who was evaluating the water sports offerings, and he is looking into the possibility of offering SCUBA in the future. But as of now, nothing is settled. There was a small library available from which to borrow books. I left one entitled something like "God and Evolution in the Galapagos," which I found quite interesting. There is a small gift shop with some basics. A doctor is on board if you need her. And they have an open Bridge, so you can get a tour anytime, day or night. There is a TV in your room, but it has no live satellite link, just pre-recorded programming. Aesthetically I found the ship to be very pleasant, even if some of the artwork clearly predates the ship's repositioning to the Galapagos. The restaurant was very nice, and just large enough for everyone to be seated. The best word for it was: comfortable. It had most of the amenities one looks for on a larger ship, with the coziness of a ship where you recognize everyone within a few days. SUMMARY: The Galapagos are an amazing destination for anyone interested in seeing a unique side of nature. Celebrity seems to have found an excellent itinerary with excellent guides and crew who are helpful, friendly and keep everything operating smoothly. And the Xpedition is a great ship from which to explore the Galapagos. Some mornings require you to be up very early, especially if you want breakfast. If you're not one of those people who can handle a short night's sleep, or varying sleep times, just accept in advance that you'll occasionally sleep through a morning excursion. It'll leave you in a better mood to enjoy the others. The only thing which I was disappointed by was the lack of a lecture series on board. They did have one lecture on the history of people in the Galapagos, and they showed a short video that I think was originally an IMAX film about the Galapagos. But I was hoping for something seriously informative regarding the theory of evolution and how it relates to what we were seeing. The Galapagos are, after all, the "Mecca" of evolution. Perhaps they were concerned about becoming controversial for those who reject evolution. More likely is that the naturalist guides, while well trained, were not truly scientists prepared to give such a lecture. And I feel compelled to mention, on behalf of a friend I made on the trip, that there were no chocolates left on the pillows at night. So be warned! Read Less
Sail Date: February 2005
Well, finally getting around to writing, after having to work without Cappuccino, get caught up on sleep without the anchor dropping into the water, and sorting thru all the pictures. It's here. First as sort of a preemptory ... Read More
Well, finally getting around to writing, after having to work without Cappuccino, get caught up on sleep without the anchor dropping into the water, and sorting thru all the pictures. It's here. First as sort of a preemptory comment, for those that have canceled already, you have made a really BIG mistake. This cruise goes well beyond an adventure trip of a lifetime. As for problems with illnesses, there was only one that I knew of and the condition was resolved in a couple of days. There were no grossly obvious measures out of the ordinary for hygiene other that when returning from Puerto Ayora to use the hand cleaner at the bottom of the stairs. Yes, you hit the ground running and it's a trip of unbelievable sights from the moment you get on the boat. Nearly everything you have read about this cruise is true, only better - when you are there. From the cold towels when you step on the boat to the briefings at night laying out tomorrow's adventure. We had excellent weather for the entire trip on the cruise itself. In Quito - it rained until we left Sunday morning. Really didn't need that, but that's another story in itself. OK, the numbers, passengers - 72, staff 65, find that on another cruise...ANYWHERE. This is the summer/rainy season in the islands, but we had absolutely NO rain. High 80's during the day and into the 70"s at night - always comfortable. We were in room 311. Water temperature for the divers pleasant. Only used my farmer john's twice, DW used her's plus the ship's shorty once, the rest of the time it was swimsuit, mask & snorkel. If you are planning on scuba bring your C-card, you must have an advanced rating.. If you have one, you know what I am talking about. One man on the ship babbles about having been a diver in all sorts of different places, but didn't know what a C-card was - after watching him, it was obvious he was a better T-shirt buyer than a diver. The activities are well planned and are what they say they are, but high intensity does not mean you have to be 25 in superb condition. Yes a good sense of adventure is important. From the first stop at North Seymour where you tend to take way too many pictures because you think that this will be the only time you see a Booby, sea lion, marine iguana, land iguana, frigate bird, etc. - don't worry there's more of everything everywhere. If you are up to the high intensity, go with it and have a great time, but don't feel like you have to do ALL of them, really you can see an awful lot just on the zodiac rides without a lot of physical demands. There was an older couple on the ship, you knew by looking at him that he was not particularly healthy, but with his cane he made most of the trips both morning and afternoon. The ship's crew were outstanding in supporting his efforts. Getting in and out of the zodiac, up/down the steps, they were patient and never appeared resentful. Another thing about this cruise that is different is that virtually all the people on this one were here for the same thing, not gambling or nightlife - really you are exhausted by the end of the day if you participate in what you are there for. The Food was excellent - period. Considering that the greatest portion of the food MUST come from the Galapagos Islands preferably, or at least Ecuador. The vegan plates appeared to be tasty to the one vegan on the ship, sorry but I am a carnivore and I had no problems with anything that I had. The wine selections are from out of the country, and they are presented and matched well. Taking pictures is the best way to "take nothing and leave only footprints" which is the best way to think of the entire trip. There is no computer availability on the ship at this time (inferred in the future though). This means high capacity digital cards and/or bring a laptop or storage device, or lots of film for those SLR shooters remaining. In a previous message someone took 36 rolls and his wife thought he was crazy. Maybe, but you can take the picture while you are here, or wish you had taken another one when you get home. Yes, I went a little overboard, but have had a great time going thru the nearly thousand pictures I took including all the missed shots and splash ones, but that is what I enjoy doing. Because of that, I have a daily record of many things that we saw and enjoyed. I was able to cut it down to a little over 100 "really good shots". Clotheshounds, don't worry about bringing fancy dress-up clothes - you'll stand out more than you want to. Nice casual clothes are fine and much more practical. Bunch here, ask questions and I'll get back to ya when I can. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2005
We sailed for a week to Galapagos in 2005 and wanted to give my feedback since this website has been so useful to husband and I in the past when deciding on our cruise vacation. We arrived for a precruise extension of 3 nights in Quito, ... Read More
We sailed for a week to Galapagos in 2005 and wanted to give my feedback since this website has been so useful to husband and I in the past when deciding on our cruise vacation. We arrived for a precruise extension of 3 nights in Quito, Ecuador, upon arrival at the airport were met by a Celebrity Rep, who helped us with our luggage and guided us to a minibus w/ wet towels and bottled water. We had an about 20 minutes ride to the hotel (Marriott ), where we were taken among other Xpedition travelers to a private salon where we were offered a cocktail and a quick/very organize check in process. Give it a 10! Hotel was very nice, with all the amenities to be expected from a Marriott, specially recommend taking a massage at the spa (it was under $ 40 !!!! ). The land itinerary in Quito was very comprehensive, we visited the most important colonial sites. Quito is a beautiful city, and I think it was completely worthy to take the precruise extension as it we got to know a little bit of the city and relax before going to our most expected adventure ! Cons: Quito is at a high altitude so be easy on food and alcohol as your body takes longer to digest it. Flying into Galapagos: Celebrity shuttle took us to the Airport, where we had a short wait before getting into our plain to Galapagos, airport processed was ok, taken in consideration, this is a 3rd world country. We flew above the Andes, the view was spectacular, and later over the Pacific where you star seeing in the far this small (from the plain ) "rocks" coming out of the water in the middle of nowhere, it is an amazing scenery, at this point you start to realize what a wonderful and unique week is ahead of you! Embarkation Process: Given that this a 100 passenger ship ( in our cruise we were about 90) embarkation was prompt and organized. Our Cabin: We booked a balcony suite. Cabin was very comfortable, good closet space, the ship had just been refurbished (2005) so all the furniture and features were new and updated. There was a small seating area and we loved our sliding door and small balcony that accommodates a small table and 2 chairs.(If you don't want to spend a lot, keep in mind you will spend very little time in your room, a very basic cabin should do fine) The Ship: In my opinion Xpedition was the newer and most beautiful ship sailing in Galapagos, none of the other ships I saw were close to our Xpedition. Common Areas: Common areas are well appointed and distributed and being such a small ship it was not a problem to find a secluded place to relax or a spot where to meet and interact with other fellow cruisers. The dinning room was very elegant and it did not feel crowded at any time. We loved the open seating, you will never have trouble finding where to seat. There were always empty tables or seats available. (All tables had 4 seats or more) but it was possible at certain times to seat by yourself if you wanted to. Food : Excellent food, breakfast were buffet style with a lot of choices, hot entries, fruits, cheeses, cereals, juices, etc, service was prompt and attentive. (I only experience breakfast in the main dinning, there is the alternative of having a simpler buffet breakfast in the outdoor cafe). Lunch was excellent, the menus and cuisine in Celebrity are great , very well planned, they use lots of local ingredients. Dinners were the best!!! gourmet menus different every night, excellent wine selection, great service, an overall 5 star dinning experience in the middle of nowhere!!!! Day Trips : This was the best part of our trip you have a morning trip and and afternoon trip, and sometime a 3rd trip in between or at sunrise. Every time you have the option of going : easy, moderate or more active, you go in small groups (10 to 14), each group has its own guide. Galapagos is one of the most beautiful places on earth, every island is different, the wildlife is unique and so is the topography. Passengers: Our group was great, mostly adults, 2 couples in the 30's, a few 40's, and the majority 50's, 60's, 70's. Only one child on board about 10 yrs old. Service: Was great, prompt and very attentive. This goes from cabinattendant to naturalist. Extras: snorkel equipment and wet suites are provided by Celebrity, very well thought as Galapagos water are cold but not to be missed. Overall this was a great cruise, good activities, good ship, good food, great service. A very unique, one in a life time vacation. Strongly recommend it! Read Less
Sail Date: September 2005
Seeing the Galapagos on the Xpedition turned out to be better than one could imagine. The boat is really first class in every aspect. A tour of the engine room and explanation of the working of the ship was a real experience too. This must ... Read More
Seeing the Galapagos on the Xpedition turned out to be better than one could imagine. The boat is really first class in every aspect. A tour of the engine room and explanation of the working of the ship was a real experience too. This must be one of the most Eco friendly ship afloat. The tour starts with a two night stay at the J.W. Marriott in Quito, a tour of Quito with an excellent guide and a chance to visit the equator (a real kick to take a picture with one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern). The next day off to Baltra and arrive on the Xpedition. The ship takes normally 90+ passengers with a crew of 60+. As this was "low" season we had only 43 passengers and we were treated like royalty. Amazing that you experience a day that you feel was an experience of a life time only to be blown away the next day by what seemed a even more memorable experience. Snorkeling with sea lion pups, thought, was probably the highlight. The crew was super friendly and the guides, one couldn't say enough about their excellence. The food for Ecuador was outstanding. The final surprise the guides took pictures all week and the last night we saw the week in review set to music and then were given a PowerPoint CD of the show. What a great touch. The final verdict, if you have chance to do this...GO! You will never forget an experience like this. Celebrity has hit a home run with not only this ship but with the all inclusive policy of an open bar, tips included ( I find the practice of making an optional item, based on service, compulsory on other cruises...obnoxious to say the least) all land and water trips are part of the package and everything, and I mean everything is included. The final verdict, if you have chance to do this...GO! You will never forget an experience like this. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2005
There have been several anecdotal and chronological reviews so far - here is my attempt at "something completely different". Les (Pat is on a different shore excursion....) The ABC of Xpedition (NOT in traditional order): A ... Read More
There have been several anecdotal and chronological reviews so far - here is my attempt at "something completely different". Les (Pat is on a different shore excursion....) The ABC of Xpedition (NOT in traditional order): A is for altitude of Quito - while we took it easy walking (and drinking alcohol) and had no ill effects, some other passengers struggled with breathing (and other symptoms) on steps, at night, and after drinking. A is for Alejandra - a wonderful Celebrity guide in Quito who has many skills including wit, good humour and stopping taxis with her smile. A is for Albatrosses - they danced, they clacked beaks on cue as promised. B is for bird-life - no red-footed booby or vermilion fly-catcher spotted on our shore excursions, but - the rest flew, nested, mated or hopped near us and we have photos to prove it. B is for bridge on Expedition - a must visit - modern technology and old-fashioned friendly officers who answered all of my dumb questions with a smile. B is for boobies - what else can we add? - blue-footed and Nazca in every imaginable pose - and so unafraid. C is for Christian - the Xpedition Maitre d' - he walks the talk and the staff responds with excellence in every way. C is for Carlos - another Celebrity guide par excellence in Quito - may you be on his bus. C is for Celebrity - the reputed touch of class we have experienced on other ships in the fleet is present on this expedition in all (but one? - see T) aspects from arrival in Quito to departure ten days later. D is for Diego - attentive bar steward who tolerated our attempts at Spanish and always brought the right "vino" with a smile. D is for Darwin Research Institute - a most informative place to visit (though showing its age?). I would have liked more "free" time here to explore more slowly. Sorry to hear some concerns expressed about the uncertain future of this establishment and the Galapagos Islands. D is for dolphins - as predicted in the Xpedition Today, they came, and they played with our ship and entertained us. O is for the opportunity to choose different levels of excursion each day - this really worked will for us all week.. O is for the oyster catchers that have stopped migrating and now live in Galapagos year round. O is for outdoor dining, and the scheduler who seemed to know which nights would be suitable for dining under the stars - clever! F is for Freddie - a naturalist with a flair for sharing his wide knowledge - patient to a fault with answering the "what is that" question (which he had sometimes given just minutes ago). F is for Fausto - a friendly Captain who loves his work. F is for frigate birds - so beautiful in flight - so dangerous - so brilliant when a male is puffed up to impress the female. F is for Fabio - a naturalist who is well spoken, and has a genuine concern for the future of the Galapagos (albeit a pessimistic one?). H is for healthy ship - no reports that I was aware of in terms of gastric problems... a few coughs by day 6 and some sore throats reported by Quito on day 9. H is for hand-painted skirts - worn by the folkloric ladies on the Xpedition on the last night (a summary of wild-life seen during the week before) H is for High Intensity - not to be avoided as a choice of shore excursion if you are in reasonable shape and have good footwear. Some of the best views and best bird life were seen on this level ("high" refers more to length of time and steepness of climbs than to length travelled). K is for Katherine and her last night rendition of "Galapagos: and the living is easy". K is for knife - that specialty one by the cheeseboard made sampling the variety of cheeses so simple. K is for keyboard - Jacobo was always there to play for us (and on pan flute too) V is for Venice Island with its flamingos reflected in the brackish pond. V is for VAT - it is 12% in Ecuador! L is for lava - such shapes, colours, textures (and lava cactus and lava lizards) L is for Louis - a waiter who "reserved" a table for our changing dinner groupings. E is for espresso - ordered first Sunday after lunch in the Dining Room. It then came after every lunch without my ordering it - no matter which waiter served our table - how do they do that? E is for Ecuadorian staff and crew - well trained, efficient, hard-working, and always smiling when greeting passengers. E is for endemic species - the local naturalists were proud and keen to point them out and describe the peculiar features of the sightings. G is for Galapagos - a destination of a lifetime for those who know what is in store. G is for Guayaquil - our unexpected destination the first (short) night. Quito airport was closed as we approached from Houston and we were diverted - but Celebrity reps met us, had us through Immigration and on a bus to the Hilton efficiently. Given that we took off to Quito the next morning, we had a total of three landings and three take-offs here in the seaside city. N is for Nacho - a well versed naturalist who led our five member band on the "survival of the fittest" hike - we will stay in his Puerto Ayora hotel if we return to the islands. N is for new friends - there were so many open, sociable, stimulating guests on board who went quickly past the ubiquitous "where are you folks from?" stage to serious discussion of topics and issues. P is for Pedro - we quickly nicknamed him Pedro - King of barmen. Was there a time in the Beagle Grill or Discovery Room Lounge when he was not there smiling and serving? P is for penguins - they posed, swam, and fished so close to us - so tiny! P is for Puerto Ayora - shops, DRI, Highlands and more - glad we visited twice. P is for Post Office on Floreana where we witnessed the human equivalent of a feeding frenzy (we have one card to deliver close to home). I is for iguanas - they are everywhere and sometimes hard to spot (that is not a handrail, Clive) - do they think we are as ugly as we think they are? I is for Isabela with her five volcanoes - some of the best views from the top of the stairs here. I is for Imodium - a word not heard once during the whole time on board. Q is for Quito - some incredible Old Town structures (modernized inside but not out) - but litter and smog detract from its beauty. Q is for questions - passengers asked probing and productive ones of naturalists and thereby added to our learning experience (but there were also "dumb" ones from the non-listeners and this grated by week's end). Y is for yawns - seen often at early morning (e.g. 5.15am in Quito on the last morning) and every evening during dinner after two or three excursions each day. This is not a late night party ship. Y is for yo quiero - 2 of the 22 Spanish words we used on board when ordering - resulted in lots of smiles in the bar and dining room from the appreciative Ecuador staff (or were they laughing at me?) R is for Raoul – Executive chef who works miracles with the local produce in a small galley. The Ecuador buffet lunch, the fish dishes (such sauces!) and the desserts were outstanding (and those jellies eh Michele?) R is for routines – e.g. back aboard in the afternoon – off with life jacket – receive a refreshing cold towel – use the anti-bacterial soap provided – up a deck for a different fruit juice from Diego each day – Jacobo on keyboards to pipe you to you cabin (some added a cerveza from Pedro en route) – shower! S is for Suarez Point on Espanola – how can such an uninteresting looking island (from the sea) have everything in such close quarters – the visit of the week! S is for sea lions – all ages, all sizes and so close – and smells…… S is for stateroom attendants – rarely seen but took extra special care of our cabin the belongings we forgot to put away in the rush to go ashore again. S is for South American wines served – generally very good quality though restricted in grape variety. S is for soups – enjoyed every hot soup at lunch and cold (fruit based) ones at dinner. U is for “unbelieve it” – naturalist Nacho’s favourite word to special sights and experiences. U is for unprepared – there were some passengers who did not expect to work so hard at this “vacation” – their lack of interest in the experience became a distraction hard to ignore. T is for turtles and tortoises – sleeping, hissing, walking, mating – small to Antony sized. T is for TV set in the cabin – with a front input for the cable from my camera we were able to enjoy a quick look at daily pictures – made culling easy to free up memory. T is for Theatro Sucre – dinner here on the last night in Quito was a very “unCelebrity” event in our opinion (ex-restaurant reviewers and current opera subscribers) – cool food, un-professional and erratic service, not a wine-bar as advertised, wines substituted without asking, prices on list and bill differ (guess which way), and a singer who could not stop from going flat. Décor and tuxes alone do not magically turn a one star restaurant into a four star place. W is for welcome at Guest Relations – at any time of day they provided top-notch Celebrity service. W is for wave action – we were pleasantly surprised at how smooth the seas were (took off our preventative measures after two days). Some passengers reportedly were not so lucky. W is for wine list – the premium one has some strange listings (Mario explained why). W is for weeks – it will take several weeks to digest the experiences, sort photos and souvenirs, and to recover from the pace of activity. Z is for zodiac rides – the pipeline from ship to shore - sometimes wet, always safe – loading and landing from that rear deck is so efficient and practical. J is for Jaime – the “teasing” naturalist who kept my wife and I smiling when on Zodiac or on shore. J is for Jaime – the waiter for our first dinner – called me by my first name every day from then on whether I sat at his section or not (and my wife Madam Patty too). J is for Jason – what a class act – humour, knowledge, patience, initiative, energy – a real leader of expeditions! M is for Mario – as Hotel Director he claims to be having a holiday working on Xpedition – don’t believe it. He looks calm and unruffled but he is paddling like crazy underneath to make sure everything in his department works for passengers – and the results are extra special. M is for Marriott – very enjoyable Quito home – worthy of the Celebrity choice and confidence. X is for Xpedition – a classy lady – glad we met! She looks so elegant as you approach by Zodiac, and her performance and design makes exploring the Galapagos so much easier. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2006
What can I say about the trip of a lifetime? It's been close to one week since our return and my husband and I are still talking about it constantly. On June 2, we flew from Toronto, Canada, to Quito and were welcomed at 11:00 pm by ... Read More
What can I say about the trip of a lifetime? It's been close to one week since our return and my husband and I are still talking about it constantly. On June 2, we flew from Toronto, Canada, to Quito and were welcomed at 11:00 pm by Carlos and an assistant. We were the last people out of customs because our luggage had been pulled from the carousel by baggage handlers and set aside. However, it was only a couple of minutes before we found it and were on our way. There was a small bus with a number of others from our flight waiting and we were immediately handed bottles of cold water which we drank while we made our way to the hotel. The Marriott was beautiful and there were welcoming cocktails, munchies, and wet towels waiting in the lobby even though it was close to midnight. We were shown to our room and our luggage was delivered quickly. The next morning we rose early excited about the day's excursion around Quito. After a tasty breakfast, we climbed onto the small shuttle buses at about 9:00 am and set off. It was very interesting touring the old city of Quito and seeing the view of the city. We got stuck in traffic jams a couple of times, but that only added to the adventure. The Crater Restaurant food was very good and we were seated with some lovely people. Our only complaint had to do with dinner that night. The Marriott decided to rent out one of the rooms to a private party and there was also no seafood buffet in the ballroom. We dined on a buffet in the "coffee shop" and although the food was only adequate, the company of the people we had met on the shuttle that day more than made up for it. We celebrated the 45th wedding anniversary of a couple from California and had a wonderful time. The next morning we picked up our TAME boarding passes in the Marriott library and boarded the bus to the airport and Galapagos. Our flight to Baltra was quick with a meal thrown in during the 1 1/2 hour flight. At Baltra we were greeted by our cruise director, Jason, and waited in the VIP lounge where we were greeted by a Naturalist and given cold drinks and a few instructions. Then off we went to get on the Zodiac and head for the ship, stepping over sea lions on the way. We had the smallest room on the ship but it was more than adequate, and there was plenty of room for everything. I only heard the anchor once and that was the last night. I was very impressed by the small things provided like Q-tips and cotton balls as well as a converter to use for the electrical items we brought. There is also a small clothesline in the shower, although it took ages for anything to dry. There was a TV set that had a few channels, but we were much too busy to watch anything. The maid service is excellent and we had a constant supply of clean towels. I can't say enough about the service on the ship. Everyone tried so hard to please and they constantly had smiles on their faces. Lavinia, Pedro and the others in the bar (my memory is failing). They were constantly asking what we wanted to drink and seemed to appear out of nowhere to open doors. The dining room staff was super and I wanted to take them all home. We seemed to sit more often at the table of Steven and I adopted him for a week. Whenever I entered the dining room he said "hi mum" and gave me a big grin. Manuel, Christian, the maitre d', and Juan were also wonderful. The meals were excellent and there was a good variety. My husband ordered a lot of steak and except for one night, found it to be very good. Lunch and breakfast were buffet and for the size of the ship there was a terrific selection. The icing on the cake, of course, was the excursions and the Naturalists. To Freddy, Willie, Fabio, Nacho, Luis and Jaime---Thank You. You gentlemen made this trip a dream with your helpfulness and information. I wish that I had brought a tape recorder to help me remember everything you told me. And Jason, the Cruise Director, was fabulous and very helpful. He taught us so much at the gatherings and was so friendly that I felt like I had known him forever. I won't talk about the excursions, because you really have to be there. All I can say is that I am 63 years old and took many high-intensity excursions without a problem. If I did get into trouble the Naturalist was there to help. The last night we had a slide show showing pictures taken by the Naturalists of the passengers visiting the islands. Many of the women, including myself, were in tears. Then all of the staff shook hands with the passengers and thanked them for coming. I didn't want to leave these wonderful people. We had a slight problem on the TAME trip home. My husband has claustrophobia and we forgot to ask for an aisle seat. A photographer, who had been hired by Celebrity, put some children in our seats and asked that we not break them up. We stupidly agreed and my husband had a panic attack when we landed in Guayaquil for refueling because he was sitting on the inside seat. Thanks to the psychologist and psychiatrist who realized what was happening, we got through the rest of the trip to Quito without serious problem. The Celebrity staff in Quito was wonderful and brought oxygen for my husband and helped us get him up to the room. By the next day we were ready to leave for home. To anyone who is considering this trip---don't wait. It is truly wonderful! Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2006
My wife and I, experienced cruisers, had heard that the Galapagos cruise was "the trip of a lifetime," and expected the islands to be fantastic. We had known others who had been on (more)expensive tours than ours, and although ... Read More
My wife and I, experienced cruisers, had heard that the Galapagos cruise was "the trip of a lifetime," and expected the islands to be fantastic. We had known others who had been on (more)expensive tours than ours, and although they loved the tours had less than enthusiastic things to say about the ship they were on. We had never cruised on a ship as small as the Expedition, and thus did not expect much of the shipboard experience itself. Boy, were we positively surprised by the ship, and on board experience! The Expedition is a 5 year old ship designed originally for a different purpose, but purchased by Celebrity a few years ago. It had just returned from dry dock before our boarding, and was "spic an span" with new carpeting and upholstery. The rooms are GREAT--roomy and nicely appointed for such a small ship. We were in the least expensive cabin on the ship, but it was as nice and comfortable as more expensive cabins. All are outside, and the more expensive cabins had a larger window, but ours was "just fine." There are a few balcony cabins (more expensive), but the tours are so wonderful,and the ship is so small there is little need for the extra expenditure. The food is "exceptional" and the dining room very nice. There is no reason to "dress up" for dinner, with slacks and polo shirts just fine. There is a large lounge with bar--super. There is even a small gift shop with most everything you might need, including sundries, clothing, dvds, and even galapagos jewelry. There is an outside eating area as well. One night we even had dinner under the stars, and one night a special Ecuadorian dinner. Although the ship is wonderful, the best thing about the Expedition is the crew. From the Captain, to the Maitre D, the waiters, cleaning crew, to the Cruise Director and Guide Staff ("Naturalists") everyone is exceptional. On most cruises the staff smiles on cue, and appears to be responsive to the needs of the guests, on this ship it looks like the staff REALLY IS what they appear to be. Everyone was so kind, happy, professional and really seemed to enjoy the guests and their own jobs. There is an open bridge policy, and the Captain and staff seemed to love showing us around. There was also a chance to visit the cooking staff and tour the kitchen---often available on other ships, but on this one we really felt welcome! There was even a young man who played the piano (and other local instruments) in the evening and during outside dinners. He was great as well. The best of the crew however was the Cruise Director, Jason, and the naturalists. Although the ship holds 96 passengers, on our cruise there were only 74, with 6 naturalists. Each evening Jason told us about the following days tours (generally 2 per day), and gave us a choice of High, Medium, or Low intensity activities. With these choices guest of all physical conditions could participate. During the day, he gave lectures on the geology, and socialization on the Islands. The ship, even though small, cannot land on the islands directly, so from the ship guest are loaded onto rubber rafts (like the ones used by the Naval Seals) called Zodiacs. The Zodiac drivers were wonderful, and if a special animal was spotted, the drivers would stop the Zodiac or circle around so each of the 10-15 guests could snap as many pictures as they wanted. Of course, the Galapagos are all about the scenery, and the animals. Sea Lions, Turtles, Tortoises, Iguanas, Birds of all types and sizes and colors, and other animals---were unbelievable. The animals have no fear of humans, and will walk up to you (or vice-versa) without seeming to mind the presence of the visitors with cameras and binoculars. Many of the animals are only found in these Islands, and after visiting it is understandable how Darwin used what he saw there to help develop his theory of Evolution. My wife and I took over 2000 pictures!!!! The Expedition provides many useful extras: Binoculars, Wet Suits (the waters are cold, but once in are not too cold), Snorkeling gear, and Bathrobes, to name a few. The last night of the cruise, all guests are given a very special gift (I won't reveal what it is, so that you can be as wonderfully surprised as we. There is plenty of time for shopping at the 2 Islands where shops are found, and at the Airport on day of departure (Shirts, hats, and knick knacks are relatively inexpensive). There is even nice jewelry found on Santa Cruz, the Saturday before departure. There is internet available on the ship at a cost of $30/60 minutes). The minutes can be used throughout the cruise, but the connections are generally slow). With the exception of internet, purchases and premium liquors---everything else is INCLUDED IN THE COST OF THE CRUISE. Drinks are included---even gratuities to staff and naturalists! A heartwarming touch was the disembarkation, when Jason and all of the Naturalists accompanied the guests to the airport, and remained there until the time the flight was called, at which time they hugged us and shook hands and seemed to genuinely thank US for having been there! My wife and I made our own pre and post cruise arrangements in Quito (and saved alot of money compared to the Celebrity package), and would be happy to provide more details by email if anyone is interested. The bottom line is this---If you love nature, unusual animals, fantastic scenery that is photo perfect, and a cruise that is A number 1--the Expedition is the one to take---indeed, it is the TRIP OF A LIFETIME. Harry (& Benay) Croft Read Less
Sail Date: November 2006
Coming from Northern California, it was a long flight to Quito, though not as far as our fellow passengers who came from Canada and Europe. We arrived in Quito at about 9:30 p.m. local time, picked up our luggage and were escorted by ... Read More
Coming from Northern California, it was a long flight to Quito, though not as far as our fellow passengers who came from Canada and Europe. We arrived in Quito at about 9:30 p.m. local time, picked up our luggage and were escorted by Celebrity representatives to the bus that would take us to the J.W. Marriott hotel. Our bus guide shared tips on how to combat altitude sickness (Quito is nearly at 10,000 feet), what to expect the next day and a few hints on how to maintain our personal safety in Quito. It only took about 15 minutes to get to the Marriott. We were checked in quickly, and our luggage was brought up to our room. What a beautiful room it was! It was spacious, with a nice view and a fabulous bathroom. It had a wonderful deep tub, perfect for soaking, and some nice amenities. We were also supplied with two bottles of purified water at no cost each day. My DH was hungry, so we stopped at one of the hotel restaurants before turning in for the night. The food was continental and was mediocre and overpriced. I would not recommend eating at any of the hotel restaurants, unless it is included in the package. The next morning, we went downstairs for breakfast before our excursion into the city. Breakfast was a buffet, and it offered typical American fare as well as local Ecuadorian specialties. The staff was very willing to explain the more exotic items, and it provided a nice opportunity to try new foods. We boarded our busses and headed into old town. Each tour group had about 20 people, and each group had its own guide. Our guide was Mauricio, who was very pleasant and knowledgeable. All of the guides spoke English very well, and though their English was heavily accented, they were not difficult to understand. We saw several churches, including one whose interior was covered almost completely in gold leaf. We also saw the presidential palace and the residences of the mayor and the archbishop. There were a number of children selling scarves and other trinkets on the streets, but our guide recommended avoiding them because of the risk of being pick-pocketed during our transactions. The tour of old town took about an hour and a half. The walk would not have been too taxing under normal circumstances, but due to the altitude and the heat, it took its toll on several people, especially those who were out of shape to begin with, such as myself. After the walking tour, we boarded the bus and headed to El Crater, a restaurant just past the equatorial museum. It was touted as one of the premier restaurants in Quito, and it took over an hour to get there. As it turned out, it was something of a disappointment. The soup was very good, but the main courses that my husband and I had were nearly cold. We ordered coffee at the end of lunch, for which there was a charge, and it tasted like it came from a fish tank. Our next stop was the equatorial monument and museum. It was pretty cool to actually stand on the equator. Step one way, and you're in the Northern Hemisphere. Step the other way, and you're in the Southern Hemisphere. It was a great photo op. The museum had some very interesting artifacts and photos of the indigenous peoples, and there was a great view from the top. There was also a small shopping area, for my fellow shopaholics. We returned to the hotel for a nice dinner, which provided a good opportunity to meet our fellow passengers. The meal was decent, and there was a gentleman who sang and played the saxophone (not at the same time!) during our meal. Several passengers were unimpressed by him, but DH and I enjoyed him very much. The next day, we boarded our plane for Baltra. It was only about an hour and a half, but we were served a light meal onboard. They also sold duty free items on the plane, which I had never witnessed before. (This may be commonplace. I am not a world traveler - yet!) We were all very anxious to see the Xpedition and see the islands. We were greeted at the dock by two sea lions, lying on a bench next to the pier. There were also several sleeping under the pier. We saw a gigantic male slip into the water. One of the guides told us he was the beach master, and that this area was his domain. The ship was small compared to cruise ships, but large for a yacht. The ship could hold 90 passengers, but our cruise only had about 80, which made it even nicer. Xpedition is the largest ship that sails the Galapagos. We were very pleased with our cabin, and found it to be more spacious than most cabins we have had. (We tend to stay in lower-category inside cabins.) Every cabin on Xpedition has an ocean view. Our cabin, #315, was on the Marina deck. I think this is the most convenient deck, because this deck also has Darwin's Restaurant (the dining room) and the Gift Shop. Our cabin was near the bow, which meant the sound of raising and dropping the anchor was quite loud. However, this was never an issue, since it always took place when we were already awake. The afternoon of our first day in the Galapagos was probably my favorite. I took the medium intensity excursion, while my husband took the high intensity. There were so many animals! I never thought I would ever visit a place where I would have to watch my step to avoid stepping on a sea lion. They were everywhere! We also saw frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas and lava lizards. My husband and I felt that this excursion alone was worth the entire price of the cruise. Every day there was an excursion in the morning and one in the afternoon. Usually, you could choose from low, medium or high intensity. I took mostly low intensity, while my husband tended to take medium or high. You are asked to sign up the night before for the type of excursion you want, so the cruise director can schedule the guides accordingly. Each excursion requires a trip on a Zodiac (a motorized raft), which holds about 15 people. There were about seven naturalists on board, and they were all very friendly and knowledgeable. They were very attuned to the individual needs of passengers. We found Manuel and Tommy to be especially helpful, as was Jason, the cruise director. This cruise is probably best suited for people under 35 in good physical shape. Unfortunately, most people who can afford this trip are older than that, and as we get older, we often are not in the best shape possible. The median age on our cruise was probably 65, and we saw many passengers who probably should not have tried to take this trip. Quito's altitude was very hard on people with a heart condition or respiratory problems. The islands have a lot of uneven surfaces, either do to rocks, boulders or lava flows. There are also several beaches that are hard to walk on due to the depth of the sand. For a person with no physical hindrances, there would probably be no problems whatsoever. Anyone with cardiopulmonary problems or joint/balance issues should think long and hard before considering this cruise. If you love animals the way we do, you will not be disappointed. Every day there were new wildlife experiences, either on the land, in the air or below the water. If you like to snorkel, this is probably a paradise. We do not snorkel, but there were several opportunities to see things like sea turtles and rays just below the surface in the clear waters of the mangroves. Come prepared. Bring a sunscreen of at least SPF 30, for you are on the equator, and it is very easy to get a serious burn, especially when it is overcast. A strong insect repellant is also recommended, as there are some really nasty critters around that would love to make you their next meal. (Our travel nurse strongly suggested a repellant that contains DEET.) You will want good, supportive walking shoes, and something to walk in the water with, since there are several wet Zodiac landings. Many people wore the strappy waterproof sandals with a covered toe that are supportive enough for hiking. Just be aware that there are a lot of cacti and other spiny flora in Galapagos, which would not feel good sticking into your bare flesh. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and neck, or pick up one of the Xpedition hats on board. They were only $15, and offered good protection and included a chin strap. In fact, most souvenirs in the gift shop were very reasonably priced. Finally, you will take more photos and video than you ever intended, so brings enough memory, or film or whatever you might need. Also bring some ziplock bags to protect your camera equipment on the Zodiacs and during wet landings. We knew this would be a once in a lifetime experience. We did not take this cruise for the fabulous food, which is a good thing, since the food overall was good but not excellent. We did not take this cruise for the free booze, even though beer and wine were included at no additional cost. We did not take this cruise to be pampered. We were taken care of very well, but we have never worked so hard on a vacation. We were up by 6:00 every morning, and in bed by 10:00 almost every night, exhausted by the physical demands of the day. We took this cruise to see wildlife, and we were not disappointed. My favorites were the sea lions, the penguins and the tortoises. The guides were top rate, and we met many people like ourselves who want to conserve and preserve the islands and the wonderful animals they contain. You are asked on this cruise to, Take only memories, leave only footprints. Our memories will last a lifetime. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2006
CELEBRITY XPEDITION REVIEW 12-19 November 2006 The following review was composed with the help of my wife Diane and two ladies I met on Cruise Critic, Dee and Susan. This was our eighth cruise, sixth on Celebrity. We were attracted to ... Read More
CELEBRITY XPEDITION REVIEW 12-19 November 2006 The following review was composed with the help of my wife Diane and two ladies I met on Cruise Critic, Dee and Susan. This was our eighth cruise, sixth on Celebrity. We were attracted to this sailing because of the location and the ship. Overall, it was the trip of a lifetime. If you are considering this cruise, you should read on, and then book the trip if you have not already done so. First let me say that you won't find many of the things on a larger cruise ship. There is no casino, no swimming pool, no nightly entertainment, and certainly no formal wear. You will find a wonderful ship, fantastic wildlife, and a crew that receives the highest marks for service. Pre Cruise We did the eleven day trip which has two nights in Quito on both ends. We arrived in Quito around 8 pm and were met by Celebrity representatives who put us on a nice motor coach. They took us to the JW Marriott where we were given a cold towel, fruit juice, and a list of what we were to do before the cruise. They also had our room keys and had our luggage delivered to our rooms. It is a very nice hotel. We just had time to look around the first evening and then go to sleep. We had a nice breakfast in the hotel and left on coaches for the city tour at 9 am. It is a neat tour and you see the most ornate church in South America. Lunch was at a restaurant called The Crater and it was very nice. The afternoon highlight was going to the Equator museum and taking pictures straddling the Equator. There was a pre cruise dinner for us in the Presidential Suite. It was very well done. We were told to have our cruise luggage outside our doors no later then 8 am the next morning and to be ready to get on the busses by 9:45. Boarding passes for the flight were available at 9 am in the library lounge. You may leave luggage at the JW Marriott, just see the bellman. They collected and inspected our cruise luggage at the Marriott. It was eventually delivered to our stateroom once aboard ship. It was very nice to have them bag drag our stuff from the hotel, to the airplane, and then to the ship. It was about a 20 minute ride to the airport and we had a direct flight to Baltra. Upon arrival in Baltra, we were met by the cruise director and a few of the naturalists. We spent some time in the VIP lounge and there was a cash bar, I believe soft drinks were no charge. We were taken to a pier on busses where we boarded the Xpedition. The Ship We boarded the Xpedition via Zodiacs (large rubber rafts with outboard motors ). Let me state here that every time you leave the Xpedition it is on the Zodiacs. The Xpedition never docks and always seems to be the ship farthest away from the landing zone. The ship carries up to 90 passengers, this sailing had 84. It has three floors of staterooms, two bars, Darwin restaurant, Beagle grille, a hot tub, and a small exercise area. It was commissioned in 2001 and is in great condition. We had a premium ocean view stateroom on the fourth deck. It was small, but had most everything you find in a big ship stateroom. There was one 110 volt outlet. There was also a small pair of low powered binoculars in the room. There is a small gift shop with hats, shirts, jewelry and sundries. The Staff I can't say enough good things about the staff. They wait on you and do indeed treat you famously. They go above and beyond to make this the most enjoyable time you have ever had. The Food The areas they might think about improving would be the food and food service in the main dining room. We were told all provisions have to come from Ecuador, which limits what they can serve. There are usually two appetizers, two soups, two salads, two entrees, and various desserts on the dinner menu. The menu was often seafood intensive and prepared with ingredients many folks did not enjoy. Also, the dining room seemed chaotic when we had it full. Maybe many of them were new, but it really seemed to throw things off when we all went in at 8 pm. They had three dinners served under the stars outside and that was a nice touch. Breakfast and lunch were available in the restaurant and Beagle Grille. The grill was lighter fare than the restaurant and had burgers for lunch. There was an omelet station in the restaurant during breakfast. There are usually cookies and other snacks available in various places on the ship. You are always met after excursions with small sandwiches, cookies, and juice. The food and service staff get the highest marks for effort. They are working on the execution and hopefully they will figure out how to serve the evening meal a bit smoother. Excursions All excursions are included in the price of the trip. There are usually morning and afternoon excursions. They offer low, medium, and high intensity excursions. The high intensity events usually involve snorkeling or some type of challenging walking or hiking. The low and medium trips usually start with a chance to see things from the Zodiacs and a shorter walk on land. There is plenty of opportunity to see a great deal of wildlife no matter which excursions you choose. There is a nightly briefing at 7:45 pm given by the cruise director. He explains where you will be the next day and presents a nice slide show. He will also let you know if that is the only opportunity to view a specific animal. After the briefing you then sign up for what you want to do the next day. It should be noted that you are not required to sign up for excursions unless you want to do them and they make sure everyone gets to do the excursion they sign up for. Also, there was a decent break after lunch where we had time to nap and reenergize for the afternoon and evening. This was generally when they moved the ship to the next location. Cruise Director and Naturalists Our cruise director was Jorge. He was full of energy and always had a huge smile on his face. He worked very hard to ensure everyone had a great time. All I can say is that he was awesome. All the naturalists have been trained through the Galapagos National Park and are very knowledgeable. They go to great pains to explain the wildlife and their surroundings. They also keep a good eye on guests and ensure each excursion goes at a reasonable pace. They also make sure everyone has plenty of photo opportunities. They were all great. Post Cruise We left the Xpedition via Zodiacs and were taken back to the same pier where we boarded at the beginning of our cruise. Motor coaches took us back to the Baltra airport, where there was ample time to do some last minute shopping. One shop offered passport stamps for free and we did that. We later learned that the official Galapagos National Park passport stamp was available in the airport in their office. Just ask one of the naturalists to help you get the official stamp and they will be glad to help you. We made a 45 minute stop in Guayaquil and returned to Quito. There was an hour shopping tour offered that afternoon, but we chose not to partake. The post cruise dinner was at the Quito Opera House. It was about a 20 minute bus ride from the Marriott. The dinner was very well done and it was nice to reflect upon the great time we had the previous week. The dinner was over around 8:30 pm and we were back at the hotel relatively early as a number of folks had very early flights the next morning. It should be noted that we booked the eleven day trip and had the extra day on the end. Once back at the Marriott we were told that there were day trips available for $130 per person on the last day. We chose not to take any of them and were content to relax at the hotel and take a few short walks. Escaping the Quito airport was quite an adventure. Those who bought air through Celebrity had to leave the hotel three hours prior to departure. We asked the hotel and they said two hours was plenty. Upon further review, I would recommend at least two and a half hours. We had to make five stops in the airport before we boarded the airplane. Be sure to plan for the exit tax which was $31.60 per person USD. They only take cash. Odds and Ends I will try to cover some other topics here that may have not fit exactly into one of the other categories. Tipping - we were told that all gratuities were included in the price of the trip. There were no tip envelopes and we did not see any crew tip box. Some folks said they tipped some of the staff who went well above and beyond with their service. Motion Sickness - this is a small cruise ship and we experienced quite a bit of rocking and rolling. There were a few people who had significant motion sickness and were out of action for awhile. I would suggest that anyone who might be prone to motion sickness take every precaution (i.e wrist bands, patch, or pills. Also, I would suggest that if anyone has a problem see guest relations or the ship's doctor right away. They have some remedies that can help quickly. Photography - wow, what pictures you will take. Take plenty of film or digital capability. There are multiple opportunities to photograph the following: sea lions, sally light foot crabs, marine iguanas, blue footed boobies, sea turtles, and giant tortoises. You will also have the chance to take pictures of much more wildlife depending on the time of year you go and which excursions you choose. There was a Kodak Kiosk in the lounge of the ship, where I believe some folks were able to print digital photos. Internet and communications - the ship has 2-3 computers in the corner of the main lounge and they offer 60 minutes of internet for $30. You have to buy the package of 60 minutes and there is no refund for unused minutes. It is a decent connection and is fine for email. We have Cingular for cell phone service and they charged $2.29 per minute for international roaming. We had good reception in a number of places and I heard some people were able to use their Blackberry devices off and on. Packing - Celebrity has a good list in the cruise documents and there are a number of good packing lists on the internet. Be sure to take a floppy hat with a chin strap. There is only one 110 volt outlet in the room, so if you need more for electronics take an extension cord or multiple outlet plug. A light poncho or rain jacket is a good idea for the Highlands trip. It will keep you and your camera dry. Shopping - There are two opportunities on the cruise to shop. There are various small shops with lots of shirts, coffee cups, and souvenirs. If you want to shop in Quito suggest you take the eleven day trip and work with the Concierge in lieu of the trips Celebrity offers. Altitude sickness - some folks experienced problems in Quito due to the altitude. Most people experienced a shortness of breath when climbing stairs and during the walking portion of the city tour. There is a cafe in the hotel that offers Coca Tea as a remedy. In closing this was a fantastic trip to see great things one can only experience in the Galapagos. It was also a chance to make new friends and enjoy their company. This is Celebrity treating you famously and you will enjoy every minute of it. If you have questions you may contact me at Catfish47@aol.com. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2007
We have cruised many venues and NONE compare to this adventure. The entire experience was First Class. Every detail was taken care of, and every expectation was met. This is an all inclusive cruise - we only paid for souvenirs, drinks at ... Read More
We have cruised many venues and NONE compare to this adventure. The entire experience was First Class. Every detail was taken care of, and every expectation was met. This is an all inclusive cruise - we only paid for souvenirs, drinks at the Quito Marriott and airport taxes leaving Quito back to USA. Although tips are included, we did discretely tipped our favorite naturalist (you will find that if you take the same level of excursion - high, medium, low intensity - you will have the opportunity to have the same naturalist most of the time), waiter (although it was open seating we always went to Omar's table as we found him to be extremely attentive), bartenders (as they had a tendency to have our favorite drinks ready for us as they saw our Zodiac pull in from a scorching hot excursion), and our cabin maid - (she never missed a beat and always had our room in superb order, delivering clean towels, snacks, water bottles, and late night drinks). We suggest you consider budgeting tipping for outstanding service. We were concerned about the quality of the food by reading previous reviews. DO NOT BE CONCERNED! The food was fabulous! Keep in mind this is not a big ship, and the items are limited, but wonderful. The steaks and veal were fork tender. The fish was very fresh. The specialty lunch buffets were very good with lots of variety. If you don't see something you like on the dinner, just ask for an alternative. There was always an option of shrimp cocktail for appetizer, Caesar Salad was also always available - even grilled chicken or shrimp on it for an alternative main course. The chef - Raul was very flexible for some guests. Although we never needed a main course substitution - there were guests with specific dietary needs that were given advanced menus to approve and make their choices. These guests were amazed at the attentiveness given to their needs and loved their meals - diabetic and gluten intolerance. The excursions were fantastic. We seemed to always do the high intensity choices. If you are not in shape, all you need to do to get ready is treadmill three/four times a weeks for about six weeks, or walk regularly and opt for the stairs at work occasionally - and you can do it. There were 70 year olds making most of the high intensity walks - just doing it slower. All the naturalists are well versed in the Galapagos history, nature, and answer most questions readily and happily - they are mostly locals and very proud of their homeland. Unless you are ill, do not skip a single opportunity to go on an excursion - even if it is a low intensity Zodiac ride. You will never regret it - and you may regret not going. Be sure you bring GOOD shoes. We bought Timberline low ride hiking shoes that were light weight and had good tread. They were perfect for the dry landing hikes. We also bought Keen Teva water shoes. They look like tennis shoes with tread bottoms and cutouts to look like sandals with very good toe protection. Much to our delight, many naturalist were wearing them too when we came on board. These were invaluable for wet landings that included lava flow hikes that crossed wet beaches,pools and streams. We found these on our feet more than any other footwear. We were very lucky. The weather was beautiful and NO RAIN! However, we heard stories of down pours from the naturalists. Bring a poncho. We had extremely hot days - it was 120F one day - Be sure to bring water with you on the excursions. Although the naturalist brings some on the Zodiac, it runs out quickly on the hot days. We brought a very light weight back pack to hold water bottles, our disposable rain ponchos, extra camera disks and batteries. This worked out great. Batteries - Recharging them - There is only one 110 outlet in the room - and it was in the bathroom. There was several 220 outlets also in the room. If you need to recharge your PC (for downloading the 100's of pictures you will take), Camera Batteries, etc - bring a converter. We had to orchestrate the battery charging at night in order to be ready for the next day. Our only complaint is that we had to go home. Eventually all things come to an end. This cruise is not for everyone - don't bring children under 12. Don't come if you can not get in and out of a Zodiac (raft type boat) easily. There is no other way to get on board - even at the beginning and the end of the cruise. Don't come if you don't like nature, lizards, and small ship rocking - there are NO stabilizers and the ship rocks back and forth alot. (If this bothers you, a cabin on the 3rd deck will rock much less than the 5th deck.) Don't expect big ship entertainment - but there is plenty of good dinner music, local cultural movies, presentations, and information presented. BUT DO EXPECT TO HAVE THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE!!! Thanks to Celebrity and the Crew of the Xpedition! We will never forget this experience. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2007
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS M/V XPEDITION JANUARY 7 - 14, 2007 Introduction My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and former health services provider. We live in Phoenix, ... Read More
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS M/V XPEDITION JANUARY 7 - 14, 2007 Introduction My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and former health services provider. We live in Phoenix, Arizona and this would be our 20th cruise. Our prior sailings have been on Carnival's Elation to the Mexican Riviera; on the now defunct Commodore Line's Enchanted Isle to the Caribbean for 11 days; a 7 day cruise, also in the Caribbean on Celebrity's Galaxy; followed by a marvelous cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires on Mercury, another Celebrity vessel. We then did our Alaskan cruise on Sun Princess, followed by a third 7 day Caribbean trip aboard Norwegian Sun and a trans-canal on Celebrity's Infinity. We then sailed on Millennium for a Mediterranean cruise in May 2003, followed by a Baltic cruise tour on Regal Princess later that year. We then went to Hawaii for the first time on Infinity in November 2003 and did our first HAL on Veendam in the Caribbean the next spring. In March 2004 we took Galaxy from Baltimore to Rome, and returned to the Caribbean in October on Zaandam. In November 2004 we went back to the Mexican Riviera on Diamond Princess. We enjoyed our first Oceania experience on Insignia for a very different Amazon River cruise in March 2005, followed by a short repositioning cruise up the west coast from San Diego to Vancouver in May that year on our only Royal Caribbean ship to date, Radiance of the Seas. In November we spoiled ourselves on Crystal Serenity for eleven days on a Caribbean trip. In May 2006 we returned to Oceania; this time on Nautica for a cruise from Istanbul to Athens and in September of 2006 we sailed from New York to Quebec and back on Celebrity's Constellation. All except the first two cruises have been reviewed on another site; and from Insignia on, they have been on www.cruisecritic.com. Why This Cruise? We both wanted to do this cruise because it is completely and utterly unique. There is absolutely no place in the world like the Galapagos. Their place in history as the genesis of Darwin's Origin of Species as well as their status as a totally different and unmatched naturalist's nirvana makes this a part of the world that stands alone in its appeal and flavor. It exceeded our expectations. The Cruise Format, Itinerary and Shore Excursions This was a very different sort of cruise. The itinerary is actually chosen by the Ecuadorian government through its National Park Service managing the islands. The order of visitation of each island can vary with each cruise. 90% of the land comprising the islands and 100% of the seas around them are part of the National Park, and Ecuador limits the number of visitors to each specific island on a daily basis. Everyone starts at Baltra, a small island noted only for its airfield, with a small harbor; and you also return there for your return flight to Quito (or Guayaquil). The format of this cruise is also distinctly different. This is truly an almost 100% all-inclusive cruise. All shore excursions are included in the price, as are all gratuities, liquor (with perhaps a few exceptions for very expensive brands) and coffee, soft drinks etc. We paid only for laundry, while a few others purchased massages or other spa services. Even the doctor was free when she treated my cough, and later, a cut hand. Planning This Cruise Despite the fact that control over the cruise excursions is basically surrendered to Celebrity, who paid for everything; there was some pre-planning required. If you go to Celebrity's website, you will see that it offers 7 day, 10 day and 11 day packages; all covering the same 7 day Island trip. The other days are pre-cruise packages in Quito. The 7 day package is cruise-only while the others provide a hotel stay in Quito, some local tours and meals as well as transportation from Quito to Baltra and return. We had originally thought that we would try to combine the cruise with a trip to Machu Picchu, so we booked the 7 day cruise-only trip. After a great deal of research and contact with several travel agencies; we determined that the Peruvian side trip was far too complicated given our time constraints, and dropped it. By then I had done enough research to determine that we could handle our own travel arrangements. This involved contacting TAME (pronounced ta' may) Airlines. It took some web work to do this, but fortunately they have several agents who can communicate in English quite well. There is some difficulty however arising from the fact that I could not pay by credit card over the net, and had to show up at the airport to buy the tickets. I believe the website allows credit card payments, but I never was able to make the site work. Our airline flight was with Continental, which had quite convenient connections from Phoenix through Houston. Insurance As usual when leaving the country. We bought travel insurance from CSA, specifying a low trip cancellation value, but making sure we had medical and medical evacuation coverage as well as lost or delayed baggage protection. The cost was only $227.00. Arrival and Embarkation We arrived at the Quito Airport at about 10:15 on Saturday night. We had contacted our hotel, the Dann Carlton, and they had a driver to meet us. Picking up the luggage and exiting was quite fast and the drive to the hotel less than 15 minutes. It is a very nice hotel; recommended by both Frommer's and Tripadvisor.com. The only problem was that our room was above a night club and we were treated to boom-box type music until 2:30 A,M. Because of TAME's requirement that we purchase our tickets at least two hours prior to flight time we had to be at the airport by 7:00 for the 9:30 flight. The hotel shuttle apparently was not operating so they gave us a cab voucher which the bellhop handed to the taxi driver. We went to the international entrance by mistake, but it was only a short walk to the domestic check-in area. We located the TAME desk and bought our tickets, $792.00 for two round trips. We then went into a check in area. We were told to place our bags through a separate inspection machine dedicated to Galapagos passengers, which went very quickly. They are only interested in plants and animals not going to the Islands. We then went to the normal check in desk and were told we had to wait until 7:30 to check in for the 9:30 flight. While we waited we noted a number of tour groups going through the Galapagos Inspection machine area, and by the time we went up to the TAME desk for our boarding passes, there were more than 50 people waiting. While my two bags weighed slightly more than 20 kilos; the weight limit; nothing was said. Edith's single bag did not even come close to the limit. We boarded promptly, flew to Guayaquil, about 40 minutes away, with a snack provided. After about a 50 minute wait on the ground in Guayaquil; with about a 75% turnover in passengers, we took off to Baltra. TAME provided lunch on this hour and forty minute trip. Arrival and Boarding The Baltra Airport is somewhat primitive, with a metal roof; open sides, and one store. We went to a desk marked with the Celebrity X. There someone took our baggage tickets and said they would get the luggage to our stateroom. We talked to a representative, who we later found out was one of the naturalists. He kept promising a bus ride. Outside the terminal were a few shops with unimpressive tourist stuff. After about an hour the bus arrived and we were joined by a host of fellow passengers who had been inside a VIP lounge that we had not been told about. While waiting, I found all the Celebrity luggage; and then watched while it was being loaded into a truck. Naturally, our pieces were the last loaded. The bus took us to a very small pier overlooking the harbor, which had about 10 or so mostly small craft. The bench by the entrance to the pier was occupied by three large sea lions who had no interest in moving. We then went down some steps for our first Zodiac experience. We were carefully instructed on how to put on our life jackets, and boarded (about 16 people per trip) to go out to Xpedition. Our Stateroom and the Ship After a perfunctory check in at the Guest Relations desk, (they did not even ask for a credit card imprint; merely gave us our room card) we went to our Stateroom, Number 414. Of the 46 cabins on the ship, 33 are this standard size, 160 square feet. The sole difference between cabins on Deck 3 (Deluxe Stateroom) and on Deck 4 (Premium Stateroom) is that the Premium cabin has windows, and the Deluxe portholes. In addition there are five smaller cabins (145 square feet), four on Deck 3 and one on Deck four. Deck 5 has seven Xpedition Suites with 230 square feet and one Penthouse Suite with 460 Square feet. Our stateroom had two twin beds with a night stand in between. Next to the wall bed was a wooden wall decorated with curved smoked glass piece about 3 by 5 feet with etchings of dolphins and back lit. Opposite the bed was a framed large photograph of trees. Next to the other bed was a small angled sofa, with another large photo of a flower on the wall. There was a small round table under the window (which measured approximately 36 inches wide by 32 inches high) and an angled desk opposite. The desk contained a refrigerator which was kept stocked with water bottles, a drawer which contained a hairdryer, and another cabinet which held glasses. The desk had a very small TV and a mirror above with good side lights. A desk chair was provided. The bathroom was small, but had a nice, glass door shower, a single cultured marble sink and, as usual, very adequate shelf and cabinet space. The toilet was of the true flush variety, and not the vacuum type found on all other cruise ships we have been on. The closets, one on each side of the entry to the bathroom, had a clothes hanging space about 15inches wide and several open shelves, one of which was taken up with a safe. There was a full length mirror on the wall opposite the bathroom. The night stand had a lamp, and three small drawers. The walls were covered with a cream colored textured paint, with some brown wood framing around the window. The ceiling lights operated off one switch at the entrance and gave very adequate light. The carpeting was a patterned orange-beige mixture. The beds were covered with duvets. Although somewhat smaller than a normal cruise ship stateroom, the accommodations were perfectly fine, and everything was in perfect condition. Xpedition itself is a delightful craft. Of course, with a gross tonnage of only 2400, length of 296 feet and beam of 43 feet it is tiny compared to a standard cruise ship. It is extremely well laid out and as one might expect, very easy to get around. From the top: Deck 6 has an observation deck with lounge chairs forward, the small spa, gym and sauna and then a further lounge area with a hot tub. This deck only goes about halfway aft. Deck 5 starts with a small observation area stretch from port to starboard, directly in front of the bridge. The ship has an open bridge policy, which means you are welcome to visit it except when it is maneuvering to stop. Behind the bridge are the eight suites. Aft of these luxury accommodations is another open deck with the small Blue Finch bar and a few tables. The rest of the deck has the life boats and a center section with the funnel. The aft portion of this deck has the booms used to raise and lower three Zodiacs. The other two are raised and lowered from the prow area on Deck 2. Deck 4 has the Premium 20 staterooms and 1 Ocean View cabin. The midships area has the stairs and Guest Relations. Aft of this is the Discovery Lounge used for all briefings and a generally busy gathering place. It has a bar leading to the aft deck, and three library shelves with about 100 titles. One has to ask Guest Relations around the corner for the key to the shelves. The aft portion of this deck also has the Beagle Grill used for casual food service. It has its own food preparation area. This portion of Deck 4 also has a number of tables and chairs, and the aft stairs leading down to the Zodiac loading preparation platform. This small area contains the lockers for storing wet suits, the life jacket storage, a padded bench for changing, and the stairs down to the Zodiac boarding platform. Forward on Deck 3 are the 14 Deluxe and 3 Ocean View staterooms. Aft of these is the small shop and Beauty Center, followed by Darwin's Restaurant. Deck 2 has the medical office, which you can enter only through a door marked Crew only. The total brochure passenger occupancy is 92, and we had 91 on board for this trip. The ship is fairly new, having been constructed in Germany in 2001, and placed in service for this use by Celebrity in February 2003. Everything is in top notch condition, and regular maintenance is apparent. One could not ask for a nicer ship on which to cruise the islands. How This Cruise Operated The cruise was centered about activities which meant either trips to various islands or water based events. These activities were divided by intensity into high medium and low categories. Each activity was directed by a naturalist/guide. There were seven naturalists under the direction of Jason Heilmann, the Cruise Director; who also is a naturalist. It should be understood that a naturalist is a professional, certified by the Galapagos Government through the Galapagos National Park Service. To reach that status certain education is required, followed by a test, in which the pass rate can be only 25%. Naturalists are also National Park Rangers with statutory authority to enforce the Park rules. Jason is from California, but has lived on the islands since 1995, is married to an Ecuadorian, and has a son. Because he has lived there so long, he was able to be grandfathered into the Naturalist program, and was recruited by Celebrity when they started their program. All this was explained to us by Jason at a briefing at 3:15 after our arrival on board. Information concerning the first day's activities was contained in the four page small newsletter given to us on arrival, and then, for the following day, in the newsletter provided before dinner each day. Recommendation on shoes, clothing and camera equipment were also included. The briefings for the following day supplemented the information in the newsletter, and were held each evening at 7:45. Sign up sheets were provided so each person could indicate what activity they wished to do, if any at all. The list was not set in concrete, but was used by Jason to assign guides and Zodiacs. Overview of the Galapagos Islands According to the encyclopedia, there are 13 main islands, six smaller islands and over a hundred rock formations or islets. We visited eight of the main islands (if you include Baltra, a fairly small island as one of the main islands) the small island of North Seymour and many of the islets or rock formations. Some of the smaller islands were low lying. They ware notable for lava rock formations, boulders and sand. The vegetation we saw was largely grey and brown, very dry and appearing dead. We were assured that in a few weeks, when the rains arrived, these plants would come to life, and most of the chain would have green over all the surface. The islands were called Las Islas Encantada the Enchanted Islands, by the Spanish because of the soft haze that hovers around them during parts of the year, giving them a mystical appearance. The name is deserved I think because of the sense of complete isolation from human contact that is true of much of the archipelago. The larger islands had haze around the mountains. On Isabela, the largest island, there are four volcanoes, the most active having erupted last year. These conical mountains rise to more than 7000 feet in one case, and above 5,000 for the others. You feel that these lands are, and should be, untouched by human contact, belonging to the birds and animals who have made this their unique home. The archipelago runs about 150 miles from northwest to southeast, about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. The northeast to southwest depth is about 60 miles. Isabela, the largest island, looking like an upside down hammer, is about 90 miles long, 45 miles across the hammer head and 51 miles across the handle. Santa Cruz, in the center with the most people, is a slightly flattened circle, about 35 miles across and 28 miles in its other dimension. Fernandina, about 15 by 15 miles square, is in the bay formed by Isabelas angle between hammer head and hammer shaft and thus the westernmost island. Floreana, the first island to receive human inhabitants on a regular basis is almost the southernmost and most remote. It is roughly circular and about 15 miles across. It is about 49 miles southeast of Isabela and the same distance south of Santa Cruz. It is 60 miles west of Espanola, a small island we visited on our second day. Espanola is at the southeastern edge of the archipelago, 35 miles south of San Cristobal, and only about 10 miles long and 3 wide. San Cristobal, our first stop, is about 50 miles east of Santa Cruz, and our easternmost site. Baltra, with the airport, is just off the northern edge of Santa Cruz, and probably runs about three miles in each direction. San Salvador , a rectangular island about 30 miles long and 15 wide, is about 10 miles northwest of Santa Cruz, which puts it about 10 miles east of Isabela. So it is possible to see many other islands from Santa Cruz and San Salvador, and even, on a clear day, from Floreana. The equator runs through the northern tip of Isabela, and is north of all the other islands forming the main part of the archipelago; although there are outlying islands to the north, including Pinta, the home of Lonesome George. There are a number of good maps available on the web; found by googling Galapagos Islands Map. Sunday After a short life boat drill, we were able to start our activities at 4:30 the same afternoon that we boarded; a far cry from the usual cruise where nothing much is done the first day until dinner. The high activity, which Edith and I opted for was a Zodiac trip to North Seymour Island, very close to Baltra, for a 2½ walk. The low intensity involved a Zodiac cruise past the Island, followed by a landing for a shorter walk, involving about 2 hours overall. Each Zodiac will hold up to 16 people, and had a naturalist on board and a boat pilot. Both landings were dry landings, meaning that the Zodiac would pull into an outcropping of rock or rock landing spot, and we could disembark without getting our feet wet. Each boatload stays with their assigned guide. We walked along an uneven path, and over some boulders on this low lying island. The first major sightings (beyond the omnipresent sea lions) were of frigate birds. These creatures, with their beautiful slender wings, live on the land and have to scoop fish from the sea without landing on the water. Their wings are not waterproof, and if they got wet in the sea, they would drown. We also saw our first marine iguanas, which live nowhere else on earth. They are masters at ignoring people, much like the sea lions. Then we turned inland and came upon a colony of blue footed boobies. These are actually very attractive birds, slightly smaller than a goose, with long, nicely marked necks and with truly bright blue webbed feet. From about ten feet we watched a male trying to persuade a female of the honesty of his intentions by whistling and poking with his long beak. True love did not run smooth as she sent him packing, with the commiseration of our group. All during the walking tour, which had many stops for photo opportunities, the naturalists would explain the various birds and animals, and other natural phenomena about the islands. All the naturalists (except Jason) were natives of the islands. As we walked back along the western shore we passed a very rocky section of the coast. Winds had sprung up and we were treated to a magnificent surf, with breakers several hundred yards long crashing against the rocks. As they just started to break, with foam along the top and dark water below, there was a long narrow line of translucent surf through which the setting sun was shining; a very beautiful sight. The dining room opened at 7:00 and since we were back on board by 6:30, we decided to eat when it opened. We walked in to find only one other couple waiting so we sat down with them. After a while we realized that no one else would show up because of the Captain's welcome and next day's briefing at 7:45. We therefore rushed out at the end of the entrEe up to the Discovery Lounge, not so much for the welcome, but because we did not wish to miss the briefing. Thereafter we, and virtually everybody else, went to the briefing and then went to dinner, which meant we were dining at about 8:00 every night. After this first briefing we went back to the restaurant for dessert. Monday Just as a foretaste, we got up very early to partake in a Zodiac tour around Kicker Rock, near San Cristobal island. This is a large rock, probably 200 feet high, cleft at one end so the Zodiacs could actually travel between the small portion and the main island. I took some photos, but it was still early and they did not come out well, but the rock formation was intriguing anyway. We returned to the ship and about an hour later made a dry landing on the main island with its town, San Cristobal, the capital of the Galapagos Province. We visited the Interpretation Center, which had a number of photos of pioneer settlers from the late 19th and early 20th century as well as an explanation of the overall history of the islands. We then went into the town, which has a population of approximately 3300 and strolled around for a while. The streets were very clean, but had the somewhat unfinished look of tropical towns. Not surprisingly, it had a somewhat laid-back atmosphere and all the local folks were friendly. We returned to the ship for lunch and afterwards I went to the snorkel gear handout session. I found out that although I normally wear a medium in everything, it took an XL shorty wet suit to fit me. Since I had brought my own mask and a brand new dry snorkel with me, I did not plan to use a ship's mask or tube. At 3:00 there was a lecture on the geology of the islands which we did not attend; opting to avoid education in favor of stretching out for a while. The afternoon again provided a three intensity level of visit options to Espanola Island, and we again chose the high intensity, being persuaded that this label is a tad exaggerated; not exactly requiring a triathlon level of stamina or skill. On this sojourn we walked up to a cliff area from which we had a great view of both albatrosses and great frigate birds. We were also visited by Galapagos Mocking birds, with beaks more curved than our mainland types; but who were absolutely fearless, hopping among all of us. We then saw a blowhole in action. The next bird colony was of masked boobies, several of whom had chicks around, from ones a few weeks old with down instead of feathers, and others who were newborns. We even saw the beginning of one trying to chip its way out of its egg. On the way back we saw a Galapagos Hawk, which is an attractive, somewhat small typical raptor. I should mention the Sally Lightfoot crabs (entertaining name) which are bright orange and yellow with traces of what looks like blue. They are seen everywhere on the rocks near the sea. The other two options were similar to ours except that they involved less walking and more Zodiac cruising. Once again, all landings this day were dry. As would be the drill every day, the evening consisted in cleaning up for dinner, attending the briefing followed by dinner and then to bed. Tuesday This entire day was spent at Floreana Island, one of the first to attract settlers as well as Charles Darwin.. Edith took the medium intensity wet landing and trekked to a brackish pond which had a great many flamingos. I opted for an advanced snorkel activity, in which we took a Zodiac to an off shore rock formation called Devil's Crown. This did not work out well since there were choppy waves which immediately closed my dry snorkel, and hence my ability to breathe. On my return I obtained a ship's mask and tube. The afternoon activity was another Zodiac snorkel swim near another off shore island called Champion's Island. Our initial attempt ran us all into a school of jelly fish. The resulting stings, while not acutely painful for most, caused us to get back in the Zodiac and proceed a few hundred yards away to try again. This time we had a good time, being visited by a couple of sea lions who simply wanted to show us how to swim. The visible fishes were pretty good also, and there was one phenomenon none of us had ever seen. There was a huge school of small brown fish, so densely gathered together that we could not see the sea floor beneath them, although outside the school it was clearly visible a few feet below them. Our guide dove into the middle of this school and swirled them around making a hole; which immediately closed up when he left. So, despite the jellyfish stings, it was a good snorkel. That night dinner planned to be outside, but evidently the crew thought the weather was too risky, so we ate as usual in Darwin's Restaurant. Later that evening as we arrived at out next anchorage, they shone searchlights into the water looking for sharks. We saw some shapes which might have qualified as well as a few - guess what - sea lions. Wednesday The morning featured two very similar low intensity activities on Santa Cruz Island, both starting with wet landings in the surf. I wore Teva type sandals with fairly substantial soles that could go virtually anywhere. Edith wore Speedo Water shoes in the surf which had less sturdy soles, so she changed into regular walking shoes on shore. My group walked along the shore known as Bachas Beach, which is a corruption of Barges beach where the U.S. Military abandoned several landing barges at the end of WW II. There were small pieces of rusted metal, about six inches high. Looking like shark's teeth, at the edge of the water. This was purportedly a sea turtle nesting area, and we could see their tracks leading into the sea, and a couple in the water. Prior to that we also saw three flamingos in their own pond; as well as American Oyster Catchers on the beach. On returning to the landing beach I did some off shore snorkeling with some success near a group of rocks, which were a little tricky in the surf, but worked out nevertheless. The noon hour offered two post lunch activities; the first being a tour of the negine room with the Chief Engineer, and the second, which we both attended being a lecture on early inhabitants ( a rather dubious lot) of the islands That afternoon we went to Bartoleme Island where Edith joined a group climbing to the top of a small hill, 375 feet thigh, with steps to the top. She reported that there were several stops on the way and she had no trouble with this. My choice was to cross the island to a beach where we were fortunate enough to observe a green sea turtle at the edge of the shore, and thus get some good photos. Thereafter I took a series of pictures of another American Oyster Catcher from about three feet away. I also got a good photo of a small lava lizard, which has attractive spotted markings. We then saw several land iguanas, which are less common on the islands and have good color markings. That night we crossed the equator for the first of four times, so there was a King Neptune Ceremony, which was amusing. We all got certificates, although Edith and I had crossed via ship (as contrasted with air crossings) on Insignia traveling from Manaus to Barbados in 2005. Thursday We both took an early morning Zodiac ride to the Mariela Islands, three small islands with a large population of the Galapagos penguins, which are small birds, and the most northern penguin in the world. Out pilot was able to bring the Zodiac up to the edge of the rocks, with the penguins cheerfully ignoring us. We were reminded again not to use flash photos since we were so close to the birds. At a turn near a beach which had some sea lions, we saw a flight of about eight frigate birds swooping down on the beach. When they are about four feet over your head in a Zodiac, they are large and impressive birds. Lunch featured an Ecuadorian Buffet. We have a local Ecuadorian restaurant here in Phoenix, and enjoy the food very much, so we were quite pleased with this buffet. We skipped the history of conservation talk after lunch. The afternoon started with a Zodiac trip past some Flightless Cormorants, unique to these islands. We had a dry landing and another shore excursion past a huge colony of marine iguanas, and some nesting areas for more of the flightless cormorants with their stubby wings. We both did this trip in separate groups. When we returned we saw that cushions had been places on the chairs in the rear deck area of Deck Four for an evening dinner, but later it was announced that dinner as usual would be in the Darwin Restaurant because of the possibility of rain. Friday In the morning Edith went on the Santiago Island Survival of the Fittest hike after a wet landing. Only 13 people participated, but she said it was not difficult at all, merely involving about 4 miles. It visited an abandoned salt mine which had filled in with water that resulted in a pink colored pool. Our group hiked along the shore where we saw fur Galapagos sea lions which come from southern South America. Their dense fur will have up to 1300 hairs per square inch. We also walked over a lava bridge near the sea, and saw lava pits that had collapsed into the sea, but filled up with sea water as the waves surged in. Land iguanas were also visible here. We returned to a black sand beach for some fairly decent beach snorkeling. Lunch featured an Italian buffet which was quite good with everyone raving about the lasagna. There was an IMAX video about the islands at 3:00. Edith did the high intensity hike on Santa Cruz island while I tried another Zodiac snorkel with less success due to the strong current. I like more relaxed snorkeling. I did enjoy sitting in the hot tub after returning. We skipped the Winged Migration movie in the lounge. Saturday. We sailed overnight to the south side of Santa Cruz island and were moored in the harbor of Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the islands with a population of about 15,000. The morning trip and afternoon activities were either the highland trip or the Charles Darwin Research station trip. If you did one in the morning you did the other in the afternoon. Most people, Edith and I included, opted for the highland trip in the morning because the attraction was to see the giant Galapagos land tortoise in its natural environment, and they were purportedly more active in the cool morning. We took a small bus (actually there were several of these) through farming areas and the small town of Bella Vista to a farm of some 700 hectares owned by an American whose parents had settled there in the early 1950s. He had pretty much given up farming for the easier job of licensing tours to the various cruise operations serving the islands. The farm was in what is known as the highlands and appeared to be several hundred feet above sea level, with rolling hills. By way of contrast to the rocky barren lava and rock shores seen on most of the rest of the trip; the higher rainfall in this area provided lush green meadows, with bushes and trees. We left our buses and walked to the farm while exploring a cave on the way. When we came to the meadow area we could approach a number of the giant tortoises of the domed variety. They weigh from 300 to 500 pounds, and seemed to be quite content in their pleasant surroundings, with ample food and shade if they needed it. The farmer operated a small coffee stand on the site. With 120,000 visitors to the islands each year, most of whom will want to see the tortoises in a non-strenuous free environment; I imagine he does better with tourists as a cash crop than with anything else he could grow. We were not charged for the coffee, but I am sure Celebrity paid for this as well as our visit. This was a very pleasant and relaxed morning excursion. After lunch we took another bus about a mile through a different part of Puerto Ayora to the Charles Darwin Research Station. The Charles Darwin Research Foundation is an international non-profit research foundation, set up by UNESCO and the World Conservation Union to study and preserve the Islands. It is administered by the Foundation in partnership with the Galapagos National Park Service. We walked through the Research station which has a lot of information about tortoises, and conducts a breeding program. There were originally about 14 sub-species of these animals, each particular to a different island. When Darwin visited Floreana, the governor told him he could distinguish tortoises from each separate island by their shells, or carapaces. Darwin originally thought this was simply spoofing the English visitor, but later consideration of this helped form his evolution theory. Three of these species no longer exist, and a fourth is represented by a single specimen at the Station. He is from Pinta Island and is called Lonesome George due to unsuccessful efforts to mate him with females from other islands, although the researchers have not given up all hope. We saw a small group of saddleback tortoises here, whose high, slightly notched shells and long necks enable them to reach up four feet or more to feed on prickly pear cactus pads which hang down from their trees. We walked back to the ship through town, down a street which was lined with stores, some selling very attractive wares, priced to match. I noted a medium sized woven grass basket for $1550.00. It was quite nice, but not that much better than our own Gila River Tribe baskets which sell for a lot less, although they are not cheap. Edith did buy our only souvenir, a T shirt with a blue footed booby, for $11.00. We were not charged the omnipresent Ecuadorian VAT of 12%. A scheduled Dinner under the Stars was again moved back to the Darwin Restaurant; following the farewell party and demonstration of the CD which we all received. This CD consisted of a slide show composed of the best of the more than 1000 photos taken by our guides as we were on our activities as well as more standard photos of the staff of Xpedition. The CD actually contains extra photos not part of the show. After dinner there was a folkloric show put on by dancers from Puerto Ayora, which had some nice costumes. The dancers got several passengers involved and it was fun for a while, but we retired at about 10:30. Sunday Disembarkation We had purchased our own airfare from TAME. When we made our reservations we were told that the earlier of the two daily return flights from Baltra was fully booked and that we would not be able to leave until 12:15. When we landed in Baltra originally, I went to the TAME desk and confirmed this. When we boarded the ship, Guest Relations saw our ticket and asked for it. When we received our disembarkation material, it said that we all would be taken to the airport and placed on the earlier, 10:15 flight. This included us, which we appreciated since it would give us a few hours of daylight to see Quito. We were not required to put our luggage out until 7:00 A.M.; but almost everyone, us included, had our bags in the hallway by midnight. Saturday dawned with the first threat of rain. After breakfast we picked up our bill, which amounted to $20.16 [$18.00 laundry + VAT]. We also picked up a list of e-mail addresses of several of our fellow passengers; which we had been invited to supply. We then boarded our Zodiacs and donned our life jackets for the last time and went ashore. It started raining as we went to the airport, but we got inside and went to the VIP lounge without getting too wet. We were a little more concerned about our luggage, but it arrived in Quito pretty dry. The flight back stopped in Guayaquil and arrived in Quito about 2:00. Jason was with us as far as Guayaquil since he was joining his wife and 5 year old son who were spending the holidays with her family on the mainland. On arrival in Quito almost everyone else went to the Marriott, and we went back to the Dann Carlton. The time was a little confusing since the ship ran on mainland, and not Galapagos time, a difference of one hour. We had enough time (and the weather in Quito was fine) to take a cab for $5.00 to the old city and wander around; a self guided tour that was marked by observation of the preparations in the main square for the inauguration of Ecuador's new president which was to take place the following morning. We visited three churches, and a plaque on a wall with the names of the founders of the city - in 1534! The cab driver took us back to the wrong hotel at first, but corrected himself. Although neither cab was metered, they both charged only $5.00 and I imagine this means that cab drivers in Quito are honest. We had an excellent dinner with very fine fresh fish for $35.00 including wine for Edith and a desert (of course) for Phil. Our room for this stay was a sort of mini-suite, and both quiet and comfortable. We had to get up early the next day for a flight that was scheduled for 7:40. We arrived at the airport at about 6:15, paid our exit fees of about $37.80 apiece and went to check in. We were told that the flight had been moved up to 7:05 and that they were being extremely gracious to allow us to board. The security people took our 1.5 oz toothpaste, a 1 oz jar of hand cream, and a small bottle of aftershave, although they allowed me to keep and identical bottle of pre-shave. This made no sense, but it would have done no good to argue with someone who could not speak English anyway. I think he was both new and confused by English rather than metric measures. We made it on board with about 20 minutes to spare, and the flight was full. The young lady in the seat next to me, an Ecuadorian going back to her job in San Francisco, said that when she arrived at the airport on Sunday an hour and a half before her flight, she was told that because she was not there two hours prior to the flight that she could not board. This seems ridiculous. In any event, our return was successful, and our bags arrived with us. Shipboard Observations As noted; all-inclusive means just about that. The food was generally very good. Obviously the menus cannot be as extensive as on a full size cruise ship; but the staff did a good job. Dinner provided a choice of two soups, two appetizers, two salads, four entrees and two desserts, plus two choices of ice cream. Lunch had several hot entrees, a pasta station, salads, cheese and a fairly decent dessert selection. Breakfast always had bacon and usually sausage, plus potatoes. An omelet station was also available as well as juices, fruit and cereals. When we cam back in from our activities there always was a cold washcloth for your face and a tray of cold fruit juices. Of course you could get bar service at virtually any time during the day or night, as well as coffee, tea and cappuccino. Room service is available. Although I did not think it was used much except by one lady who was ill at the time she boarded. Passengers seemed to form loosely structured groups, apparently based on age and interests. There were a number of younger passengers on board, including a couple of apparent college students with their parents; a graduate student from Chapel Hill, N.C and several younger couples. There also were a small group of Spanish speakers, but we never did find out from where they came. At age 74 I was probably one of the older people on board, with most of the balance composed of couples in their 50s or 60s. One couple was the object of everyone's sympathy because their baggage had been lost en route. Now if one is on a normal cruise, it is possible to buy some make up clothing, but they could do no more here that purchase a few souvenir T-shirts. Their luggage arrived on Wednesday to cheers from one and all. There were a few assorted injuries in addition to my cut hand. One gentleman had fallen in his Quito hotel room, and there were a small assortment of falls and bruises on land and sea. The sea itself was never rough, although I noted a rocky passage moving from Santiago to Santa Cruz Island on Friday. There were times on a few of the high intensity walks that some people had difficulty in keeping up; although it never bothered hiker Edith or even me. The general atmosphere was extremely friendly, and some of our dinner conversations were outright hilarious. The drill at meals is that you could find someone you knew and ask to sit with them, or simply grab a seat and wait for others to arrive. Clothing was causal, the only rule being that bathing suits were not to be worn in the dining room. Men wore khaki pants or shorts, with collared golf type polo shirts. I like long sleeve sport shirts at night, but probably was the only one wearing them. The ladies dressed for dinner with nice casual tops and usually slacks. We had read that cool nights might require a light sweater, but neither of us used the ones we brought. Fortunately we did not have to use any rain gear; although it would be a good idea to include a light poncho in making this trip. Cameras were seen firmly clutched in many hands, although it is a good idea to be selective and not to forget to see what is all around you in addition to photographing it. There are as many opinions on what type of camera or cameras to bring as there are budding Ansel Adamses; so I will not offer any advice. I used a Konica Minolta digital with an 8X optical zoom, which worked for almost everything except long rand shots of the Galapagos Hawk. Be sure to bring extra batteries. The CD you receive at the end of the trip has enough photos to provide a lot of memories. The crew were among the friendliest we have ever experienced; although their language skills were not great. We had difficulty explaining not only to our cabin stewardess, but Guest Relations what we meant by a facecloth, when we were shorted in that department. One dining room guest had to try three times before he was able to obtain an omelet without cheese. I used the word medico ; which my Spanish dictionary says is the word for doctor when I wanted to get Guest Relations to contact her to change my bandage; and had trouble with that. But they were always trying, and always with a smile and effort to comply. We were told that Celebrity had bought the ship in Europe, bought the cruise franchise slot from another Galapagos cruise line along with its ship; scrapped the old ship, and hired the old crew at salary increases refurbished Xpedition and started this cruise in February 2003. The crew has reason to be happy with their jobs. We found out that there are about 650-700 licensed naturalists in the island group, so there is probably some competition for jobs. One of our naturalists, and perhaps the most educated with a college degree, was in fact a free lance naturalist who was working on a six week contract. I have remarked with some accuracy that this is a cruise in which you do not gain weight, but lose it while bounding over rocks and lava fields. There is some truth in this; although if you want a relaxed trip you can get that by confining your activities to low intensity outings. This is also a cruise which requires an interest in wildlife and the remote and unusual; with little or no night life or on shore bars and restaurants filled with margarita consuming party goers. But I would not imagine that anyone plunks down the fare required without knowing that. There are other cruises to these islands. Two ships, Galapagos Explores and Galapagos Legend are very close to Xpedition in size, number of passengers, naturalist guides and on board amenities. There are many other expeditions available on smaller yachts carrying from 10 to 20 passengers. We noted that we were never at a location, after Baltra, and excepting Puerto Ayora with any of these two larger vessels because the Park Service wants to limit daily visitors to the more ecologically sensitive islands. There are several websites which will carry descriptions of all these cruises; but I would think that none would match Xpedition in its amenities, crew dedication and skill, and overall experience. And considering the all inclusive aspect, the pricing was not bad. Conclusion This was a very special cruise. If you love wildlife and nature in an absolutely fascinating and totally unique environment; it is not to be missed. It will rank way up there in our list of favorite trips. Our general South American cruise experiences have been among the best we have taken, and we look forward to a Rio to Barcelona cruise in March 2008 on Insignia. The idea of returning to these enchanted islands to stay for a few days with less exploration has some appeal, although I doubt that we will actually do that. We have seen as many sea lions (although the one and two month old pups are marvelous) marine iguanas and marvelous birds as we need to, but we will always remember carefully stepping around them, and having them look up at us in a friendly and fearless way. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2007
We recently returned from the May 13 cruise aboard the Xpedition in the Galapagos Islands. This was our 10th cruise—our 4th with Celebrity/Royal Caribbean. While my expectations were high, I was completely "blown away" by the ... Read More
We recently returned from the May 13 cruise aboard the Xpedition in the Galapagos Islands. This was our 10th cruise—our 4th with Celebrity/Royal Caribbean. While my expectations were high, I was completely "blown away" by the experience—the best of my life. The concept of a small ship with limited passengers; an informal atmosphere—casual dress, open seating, the opportunity to visit the bridge and engine room; the "all inclusive" format; the focus on well designed, varied and interesting daily activities—preceded by expertly presented, informative lectures, and conducted in small groups by friendly, well trained, knowledgeable naturalists created an experience that, in my view, is impossible to beat! As great as that concept is, it was the crew that made the cruise "The Experience of a Lifetime". Everyone, from the Captain on down was friendly, competent, helpful and really wanted to please US and it showed! First, Master German Ponce and First Officer Jose Ma.Villavicencio, in addition to running a 'tight' ship, were most cordial, informative and patient with me whenever I visited the bridge and asked dumb questions. Chief Engineer Ivan Northia was equally gracious when we visited his "domain". Maitre D' Hotel Fernando Caicedo, in addition to being ever solicitous of our wishes in the dining room was most helpful in accommodating a group of us one evening. Hotel Director Niyazi Korkmaz and the competent young ladies in Guest Relations cheerfully helped us numerous times. Cruise Director Jason Heilmann did an incredible job preparing and presenting pre-activity lectures and flawlessly organizing and managing the ship activities. While every one of the Naturalists did an outstanding job, Jaime really stood out with his extensive knowledge of the Islands, his good humor and dry wit. We are indebted to the entire crew for making this cruise our most memorable! The CD gift of photos of the cruise was truly the 'frosting on the cake'. I realize that the Xpedition is not a big money maker for the company but might I suggest that the dividends may extend well beyond? Consider, that with each cruise you have created a group of ambassadors who I assure you will be much more loyal to Celebrity than the usual cruise traveler and perhaps have considerably more influence in causing others to choose Celebrity Cruises. I would be very interested in doing this type of cruise in other parts of the world and hope that Celebrity is studying this idea. Finally, we really appreciate your support of the Galapagos Fund and the Save The Waves Program as well as your significant efforts to improve the environmental 'footprint' of the Xpedition. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2007
Our 11PM arrival in Quito was met by a friendly Celebrity rep, holding up a sign, and his assistant who immediately took charge of our baggage. A short bus ride to the JW Marriott hotel, and they had our pre-registration about done; we ... Read More
Our 11PM arrival in Quito was met by a friendly Celebrity rep, holding up a sign, and his assistant who immediately took charge of our baggage. A short bus ride to the JW Marriott hotel, and they had our pre-registration about done; we just signed a credit card slip got our room keys and headed to bed. In the hotel lobby, we began to experience altitude sickness, dizziness, shortness of breath & nausea. Quito is 9,500 ft in elevation. The following day, we had a nice tour of Quito, and then the next morning we headed to the airport to fly to Baltra, Galapagos. Left our suitcases outside the room and they were transported to airport, checked for us. We were just handed boarding passes and off we went, on a pleasant 2 hr flight on TAME, the Ecuadorian national airline. At Baltra, our luggage was taken care of and a short bus ride to the port, where we boarded the inflatable Zodiacs for a short ride to the Xpedition. Got a friendly greeting, with champagne, our baggage soon was outside our room doors and off we went. We soon learned that not only are the meals included, but also cocktails. If you wanted a real exotic brand of liquor, then it was charged, but nearly everything that us common folk drink was gratis. Each meal you had several entree choices in the main dining room, and also there was an open air grill. A few nights when it was nice, we dined out on the open deck with full dining room food & service. Each day consisted of morning and afternoon shore excursions; the evening before, the cruise director would give details about the next day and then you could sign up for either low, medium or high intensity activities. My wife and I are are in our 60's so we opted for low intensity most of the time. On several days there was snorkeling; most wore wet suits as the water was a bit chilly. Every shore excursion was included in the cost of the cruise package; all were handled with the large inflatable Zodiac boats which held about 15-20 people, and had 100hp outboards, so they moved quickly. Some shore excursions were "dry landings"; others involved a short wade in knee deep water to get ashore. The food on board was perhaps not as good as on a larger ship, but it was definitely sufficient; one day some fishermen showed up with a big basket of lobsters so we had those for dinner - quite good! I wont try to list every type of animal we saw, but they included iguanas, sharks, sea turtles, sting rays, whales, and of course the giant tortoises. Also a small colony of miniature penguins, only about a foot tall. Sea lions were everywhere we went. There was a "no touching" rule about animals as they don't want them to get human diseases and they could also bite us. There are only a couple of the islands that have small towns, but otherwise, there are no restrooms, so you have to plan ahead. Most excursions were a couple hours after meals, so that timing helped. After debarking, we flew to Guayaquil, that is the 8 of us from the ship who had opted on the extended tour to Machu Picchu. We had a short tour of Guayaquil, then flew to Lima, where we stayed in the Country Club Hotel, a luxurious place. One night there and then we flew to Cuzco, which has an elevation of 11,500 ft. There we stayed 3 nights at the Monasterio Hotel, another great facility, built in 1595 as a monastery. You could get oxygen pumped into your room at night ($30 a night); we did not get it as we figured it would just make things worse the next day. We had some nice tours in that area, including the Sacred Valley. The last day we rode the Hiram Bingham Orient Express train from Cozco to Machu Picchu. It is a narrow gauge train, but strictly First Class. The first car was a power car & kitchen, then a full diner with booths, and the rear car had a full bar and brass rail open platform; all food and drinks were free. After a 3 hour ride, then we disembarked and had a bone-rattling, hair raising bus ride up the mountain to Machu Picchu. MP is "only" 8,000 ft up, so the altitude was not as big a problem. They don't believe in obstructing this magnificent place with handrails, so watch your step. A misstep could mean a fall of a few feet or a few thousand feet, depending on where you are. The next day, flew back to Lima; had another tour; they gave us a day room at the hotel and then a late night flight back home. We've dealt with Celebrity before and this trip further confirmed our satisfaction with them in every respect. Everywhere we went, they had a rep to meet us, take care of our luggage; all hotels were 5 star, all meals were included both on ship and on shore, all at very nice restaurants. Celebrity is a class operation, no doubt about it. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2007
Friday, August 3, 2007 - Travel to Quito We traveled on American Airlines from Philadelphia to Miami and connected to a direct flight to Quito, Ecuador where we met our Celebrity hosts, Tatiana and Vladimir. While in Miami for a long ... Read More
Friday, August 3, 2007 - Travel to Quito We traveled on American Airlines from Philadelphia to Miami and connected to a direct flight to Quito, Ecuador where we met our Celebrity hosts, Tatiana and Vladimir. While in Miami for a long layover, we opted to buy a day pass to the American Airlines Admiral Club where we could enjoy a quieter, relaxing environment complete with free beverages, snacks, newspapers and internet access. We were also able to order from a limited menu at the bar. The price of $75 (2 adults, 2 children) was well worth it, given that we were there for 8 hours! Our flight to Quito was on a Boeing 757 and was quite full - we suspected that a number of people were traveling like us to the Galapagos but we had no way of knowing who was on our trip. The Quito airport was quite modern and the people were very polite. We went through the usual immigration and customs routine. I think this took a little longer than usual in an international airport because they enter all your passport data by hand into the computer and print out the "stamp" in your passport. Since we didn't check any luggage, we were able to find the Celebrity guides rather quickly. We boarded a small touring bus stocked with a cooler of bottled water and waited for the other passengers to join us. Celebrity branded headrests helped us easily identify our buses later in the trip. The buses were very clean and featured foot rests in each row. At the hotel, we were greeted by a special host serving welcome cocktails and were provided with our room keys - two large rooms next to each other. The JW Marriott is a first class hotel with huge bathrooms and comfortable bedding. We were pleased to see that you need your room key to access the sleeping floors. Our rooms did not connect so we opted to sleep with one child and one adult in each room. We were cautioned not to drink the water so we brushed our teeth with bottled water provided in the bathroom and fell into bed. The JW Marriott in Quito is a large modern hotel with an atrium style lobby. It was bright and airy during the day in the lobby. There is a small shopping area with a gift shop, ATM machine, various galleries and a cafe where you can purchase a cappuccino or latte. The rooms are "classic" Marriott with green lattice style carpeting, flowery bedspreads and marble bathrooms. We later learned that they are changing their decor as our rooms at the end of the trip featured high quality white cotton bedding including down duvets. The huge bathrooms featured a separate soaking tub, large neo-angle shower that was lighted and separate stall for the toilet. A marble top vanity featured a single sink basin. There is a wall-mounted hairdryer with a built in night light. There was no makeup mirror. Bathroom floors are limestone. The lighted hall closet is stocked with bathrobes, umbrellas, slippers, shoe horn and safe. A nice feature is shelving in the closet - we didn't use these because our stay was short, but it was a nice feature for a longer visit. The beds sit rather high and at first seem quite hard, but we discovered that they are very comfortable. Linens are high-thread count cotton and the ample pillows are a combination of down/feather or polyester. There were ample 110 (US-style) outlets both at the desk and in the bathroom. Furniture and woodwork are cherry wood in color. In the morning, we discovered that our rooms faced a big, free form swimming pool with bridges, waterfalls and alcove and a separate hot tub and shallow children's pool. Palm trees, greenery and an outdoor bar and eating area completed the area. The kids were anxious to explore, but the cool temperatures did not invite us in until we discovered that the water was heated (and comfortably so). August 4, 2007 - Quito, Ecuador ?We woke and went down to breakfast. We gave our room numbers at the cafe and helped ourselves to a large buffet that featured stations of hot and cold foods. There were separate stations for breads, meats, cheeses, cereals, hot eggs and breakfast meats, fruit and juices. Many options were available. Again, we saw many people that we suspected were our shipmates but hadn't acquired that comfort level yet to approach people. Quito is a mountainous city that appears quite large. It reminds me a little of Athens the way the buildings climb up and down the many hills, as far as you can see. The weather is cool - 60s with no humidity. The altitude (9,200 ft.) gives us headaches and light-headedness, but this is easily remedied by aspirin and lots of water. After breakfast, we boarded the same touring buses and we traveled into the older section of town to see the cathedral, government buildings and other churches. We toured a "typical" hacienda with an interior courtyard and visited a church completely covered in gold leaf. The palaces in St. Petersburg, Russia had nothing on this ornate church. Beautiful wood floors with hues of red and brown were common inside of the buildings and I imagined they were exotic woods from Brazil. All through the downtown area, darling children dressed in Otavalan traditional dress approached us with beautiful scarves, bags and paintings. We wanted to buy things but we didn't have much time. It is worth noting that the children were polite and respectful and the wares were incredibly inexpensive. We would have loved to buy things and I encourage others to do so. You can bargain here, but the savings almost don't warrant it. We boarded a bus for lunch at El Crater Restaurant that sits on the top rim of the Pululahua volcano at nearly 14,000 feet. Their website is located at www.elcrater.com. This astounding experience features beautiful grounds, a contemporary restaurant with innovative dishes and incredible views down both sides of the mountain. There is an art gallery with outdoor sculptures and meticulous gardens and a small hotel. Fog rolled in and out with ever changing winds and we could see homes nestled in the bottom of the volcano, the only inhabited active volcano. Do stop in the restrooms near the front door for an interesting surprise on the outside of the doors. The art that described which bathroom was men's or women's were quite humorous. We re-boarded the buses and traveled to the Mitad del Mundo (Center of the Earth) - latitude/longitude of 0/0. We took some pictures and shopped in the various shops. We purchased some of the same beautiful multi-colored scarves, a wool poncho, small alpaca shoulder bag and some Tagua ivory figures. Prices were great and the shops were willing to bargain as well. There is also a shop that will stamp your passport with a stamp from the center of the earth for $1. Note that Ecuador dollars are tied to the United States Dollar so there is no exchange rate. We returned to the hotel and the boys were able to get into the pool, which they thoroughly enjoyed. The nearby spa provided ample (and warm) pool towels. We cleaned up for dinner and boarded the buses. We learned that we were eating at Theatrum, the restaurant at the Teatro Nacional Sucre in the old section of town. This is a dramatic restaurant featuring deep red velvet drapes on the walls, large crystal chandeliers and elegant table settings. We enjoyed great service and a performance by one of the tenors affiliated with the opera company housed in the same building. Pictures and menu are available at their website (www.theatrum.com.ec/english). The performance by the singer was terrific, especially his rendition of "Time to say goodbye."(Con Te Partiro) August 5, 2007 - Fly to Baltra, board the ship and North Seymour Island Excursion Options: 4:30p - high intensity dry landing at North Seymour (1.5 hours) 4:45p - low/medium intensity zodiac ride and dry landing at North Seymour (1.5 hours) We left our bags outside our hotel room at 8:00am, returned to the cafe for buffet breakfast and retrieved our boarding passes for the flights at 9:15am on TAME airlines, the national airline of Ecuador. Our flight is direct to Baltra Island (with no stop at Guayaquil) on an Airbus A320. Buses were due to leave at 9:45a, but were delayed until 10:30a. We learned that the flights were delayed so we stayed at the hotel and enjoyed getting to know our shipmates while we waited. Luggage that was previously collected outside our hotel rooms were lined up in the library where Celebrity staff secured everything with cable ties. We later learned that our bags had already been inspected for seeds and other prohibited items on the Galapagos. Note: TAME has a 30lb limit per person for checked bags. We carried medium size LLBean duffel bags that were only about 18lbs each (packed). This gave us room for shopping. We also were permitted one 14lbs carryon. A full backpack meets that restriction. There are no restrictions on liquids, gels and aerosols so these can go into your regular luggage and we did not have to take off our shoes. The airplane was SPOTLESS and the flight crew was extra polite. We were served a full lunch in coach (no first class). Lunch consisted of sliced chicken rolls with ham and cheese, rolls, mangoes, grapes and a Galak bar (white chocolate crispy). While we were in the back half of the airplane (rows 22 and 23), we learned that we could walk down steps at the back of the plane - a plus for a full flight. The flight was quite bumpy - not a surprise given the mountainous terrain, but we were comfortable at 37,000 feet and the crew allowed us to walk around once it settled down a bit. The flight was exactly 1 hour and 50 minutes (as planned). We landed on a starkly volcanic island landing strip - reminded me of Death Valley with an occasional cactus but no other sizable vegetation. We passed the small airport on the landing, turned around and taxied back on the runway. There is no taxi lane and we saw that there was one other plane parked by the airport. It was an AeroGal plane and people were assembling to board the plane. The airport sits up on a plateau that rose up to meet us as we landed. We learned that this airport remains from a WWII era U.S. military base, intended to protect the pacific campaign. After we landed, two sets of steps were rolled out to the plane and we were able to disembark from the back of the plane (great bonus for sitting in the back!). We walked about ¼ mile to the airport and watched our luggage being transported on wagons to the airport. We were greeted by Celebrity staff holding paddles and escorted through an inspection process to ensure that we did not bring seeds or other damaging goods to the islands. We enjoyed the Royal Palm VIP Lounge while we waited for the buses that would take us to the ship. This open, airy lounge was furnished with wicker furniture and had a bartender that was serving complimentary drinks. We waited about 10 minutes and then were escorted to buses that looked like typical city buses in any major city. The bus ride is about 5-10 minutes. We saw that we just had to descend the plateau down to a small harbor with about 3-4 smaller boats moored close to a small dock. We could see our ship anchored further out. We assembled on the dock and listened to instruction for putting on life jackets and boarding the zodiacs. The "Galapagos handshake" was an essential part of ensuring safe boarding of the zodiacs. The naturalists will grab your right arm and you simultaneously grab theirs so that you have an interlocking grip on each other's arm. Sea Lions lounged on the seating area and Sally Lightfoot crabs crawled on the rocks. Soon we were heading out to the ship. I have to say that I got very sentimental as we approached the ship, realizing how lucky I was to be taking this journey. We had never done anything like this and it already felt special to me. ? Once onboard, we took off our life jackets and walked up a few steps to the Discovery Lounge where we were asked to sit and wait for assistance with checking in. Unlike a larger cruise, where you wait in line before embarking the ship, here you were personally assisted while being served refreshments. A guest relations representative took our Celebrity contracts and passports and then escorted us to our rooms where we found our keys and various welcome materials. Like other Celebrity cruises, we received a booklet a few weeks earlier than our trip with the contract, luggage tags, etc, but these were contained in a nice faux leather folio that we will keep for future trips. Our luggage arrived about 5 minutes later (Wow!) straight from the plane. Because our flights were delayed, we were quite hungry and proceeded to Darwin's restaurant for a buffet lunch while the ship pulled up anchor and we proceeded to North Seymour Island to see frigate birds. At 3:15p, we joined fellow passengers in the Discovery Lounge for a briefing on our visit to North Seymour and also learned about the rules of the National Park. The excursion options were : 1. High intensity dry landing for 1.5 hours 2. Medium/low intensity zodiac ride along the coastline with a dry landing at North Seymour for 1.5 hours (total) Note, throughout, you will see this reference to high intensity or medium/low intensity. Generally, assume the high intensity excursions afford you the greatest opportunities to see wildlife and the terrain. Passengers seemed to know their limits and we had a good mix of ages and abilities on our trips but with one or two exceptions we always took the high intensity trips because we didn't want to miss anything. At 4:00p, we participated in a muster station drill with life jackets provided in our room (typical for any other cruise). There are two muster stations, both on deck six. We were arranged by odd and even room numbers - so everyone on the starboard side of the ship went to the starboard lifeboat and the same for the port side. These appeared to be standard size covered lifeboats (like tenders) - more than enough for all passengers and crew. At 4:30p, we boarded a zodiac for the High Intensity dry landing. The water was rough but the zodiac driver was expert at pulling up to the rocky lava "dock." The routine was similar from here out - the first zodiac driver to leave the ship brings another crew member who jumps off first, lays down slip resistant material on the rocks and stands ready to receive life jackets as they are removed. The naturalist and this assistant help all passengers disembark safely. I never saw anyone fall or hurt him/herself getting on or off the zodiacs. The bag of life jackets is put back onto the zodiac and leaves for the next group. The crew member on shore stays there to assist the next zodiac and then leaves with the last one. Very efficient. Our naturalist escorted us over a red rock path and pointed out small wooden stakes that mark the trail. We take hiking sticks and set off for the hike, heading inland. Another group that follows us heads toward the beach on the other side so we figure that we will be making a circle and pass this group later in the hike. Our trail is a boulder strewn "path" that is quite difficult to maneuver without a stick. This is not for people with mobility issues, but I was very impressed with how well the more senior members of our tour managed. These were clearly determined people, like us. We saw many blue footed boobies, including nests with babies. We were able to get within a few feet of the birds as their nests lined the trail. Frigate birds and doves were also visible on the ground and in the air. There was a mother boobie and baby that played with the carcass of its dead sibling. We learned that the stronger of the two babies pushes the weaker out of the nest to die. Large Frigates, particularly the males, sit on nests with their large red throats puffed up to attract females. Back toward the beach, we see sea lions as well. The walk here is much smoother and sandy. This was a fantastic first day, but we quickly observed a few things about how to dress and what to expect. First, in spite of cloth seating on the zodiacs, these are wet. You can expect to disembark with a wet backside - don't worry - everyone else is in the "same boat." It can also be windy and wet on the zodiacs. If you are traveling with some speed, the front of the boat can be wetter because of spray from the bow. I began to take my rain jacket for both the wind and the water on the zodiacs. Later, I might tie this around my waist. Also, guest relations will provide zip lock bags for your camera - be sure to take one. Finally, I recommend a hat with either a wide brim or a sun flap in the back and a chin strap. You are so close to the Equator that the sun can burn even with the cool temperatures we experienced. And, the windy rides stole at least 2 hats from fellow passengers. Expedition style hats are ideal. I saw one passenger with a cap/sun flap design and the flap could be pulled under the chin and snapped in the front if wanted - this would solve the wind problem. Finally, dry landings don't always mean totally dry conditions. And I don't advise that you bring brand new white sneakers on this trip. The terrain is rough and the soil can be any number of colors. The red soil here at North Seymour turned everything an orange color, including my new white sneakers. hiking sneakers or sports sneakers in shades of gray, green, blue or brown would make more sense. Note, this was one of only two islands where we saw another group - in both cases, Lindblad Expeditions. But there was never a time when we felt crowded by the number of people on the excursions. Around 6:30p, we returned to the ship to clean up and have dinner. We sat in the dining room tonight and discovered that we were one of the only families to eat before the briefing later. Most people seemed to hang out at the bar until the briefing and then have dinner later. At 7:45p, the captain and officers toasted us on the beginning of the trip and we got a briefing on the next day's activities. We always signed up for our activities at night to ensure a spot the next day. We also went to the bridge to take a look around, since this ship has an open bridge policy. We just walked in and were able to browse around. August 6, 2007 - Kicker Rock, San Cristobal & Espanola Islands ? Excursion options: 7:00a - early circumnavigation of Kicker Rock (zodiac ride only - for about 45 minutes) 9:00a - Dry landing at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal island, including a visit to the interpretation Center and a short walk on the main street (2 hours) 4:00p - High Intensity Dry Landing at Espanola (2.5 hours) 4:15p - Medium Intensity Dry Landing at Espanola (2 hours) 4:30p - Low Intensity zodiac ride with optional landing at Suarez Point (2 hours) We woke early to board zodiacs to circumnavigate Kicker Rock. A continental breakfast of coffee, juice and various rolls and croissants was available outside at the Beagle Grill. At 7:00a, we boarded zodiacs and approached Kicker Rock. Leon Dormido (Spanish for Sleeping Lion) is located off the northwest shore of San Cristobal. It is a huge rock that rises straight out of the water with wildlife living in the cracks and crevices. There is a large opening that can be navigated but the currents were high so our zodiac driver skipped it. But, the sun was rising as we passed around the rock and the interplay of light, water and stone was breathtaking. Here we saw crabs, sea lions, doves and blue-footed boobies. We returned to the ship and prepared for the next morning excursion at 9:00a to San Cristobal where we visit Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, a small city that features the Interpretation Center. This highlights the geological development of the islands, information on conservation and history of the islands. The Government of Spain finances this facility - not the first such investment we encountered here and in Quito. We took small buses to the facility where the highlight was an assortment of very large cactus plants. The bay is beautifully blue and peaceful. Small beaches feature many sea lions lounging on the sand. We returned to town to shop for 1 hour. Here you will find hats (I bought a wide brimmed hat with the logo of the National Park), T-shirts, other clothing, various knickknacks and groceries. We purchased a woven runner from Otavalo in beiges and oranges, 2 stuffed blue-footed boobies and patches for our backpacks. Others purchased unique teas, candies and t-shirts. We enjoyed the sea lions on the dock before returning to the ship. After lunch onboard, we were instructed to pick up snorkeling gear at 1:30p on deck six. We found piles of snorkeling gear based on size and we were assigned equipment, which was tried on before taking it. You sign a waiver for the equipment and for snorkeling and then collect a wet suit, flippers, snorkel, mask, safety vest and mesh bag with your stateroom number on it. We took these to our rooms until needed. After our first snorkeling trip, the ship stores these in lockers by room number at the back of the ship. We will use the same equipment for the duration of the cruise. Note: there are a limited number of full-length wet suits but most are shortees. The long wet suits are in smaller sizes and we learned these were available mostly for the children on board. I was fortunate to get one as I was worried about the temperature of the water. A demonstration of the gear follows in the lounge - don't miss this because the cruise director and one naturalist will describe the proper fitting, emergency signals and the appropriate way to board zodiacs with snorkeling gear. At 3:00p, we got an afternoon briefing on Espanola island and at 4:00p we left for a high intensity walk with dry landing. We land onto black lava flows and walk on the beach, through the low brush and mangroves and then along majestic cliffs on the other side of the island. We stopped to see bull sea lions, red marine iguanas, yellow warblers, fly catchers (small pale yellow birds that seemed to follow us), Nazca boobies, Blue-footed Boobies, waved albatross and their eggs (very large), Galapagos Hawks and a 50-ft high blowhole. We see the nesting grounds for iguanas and got to see some struggling in the water returning after feeding on underwater algae. We found a flying-fish that was discarded or dropped well-inland, most likely dropped by a Frigate or boobie. The terrain is gray rocks and sand - most of the trail is large boulders and was tiring by the end of the walk. This was one of the best excursions for the variety of wildlife and terrain. The cliffs and blowhole are magnificent. The waved albatross nesting area was stunning and it was a thrill to see these huge birds aloft. Some have a 7 ft. wingspan and stay in the air for days at a time. We returned to the ship and were greeted by staff with trays of snacks and drinks. Jacobo was playing calypso music on the keyboard and we enjoyed the sun and breeze on the back deck before getting ready for dinner. Note: after disembarking the zodiacs, depending on the terrain, faucets are available for washing off mud, dirt or sand. After climbing the stairs, the staff are there to help with the life jackets and provide cold towels to wash your face and hands. From here, you sign back into the ship and can access hand cleanser before proceeding up another level to the grill, refreshments and seating area. With regard to the zodiacs, you board these from the bow of the zodiac where there is a staircase. A zodiac driver is ensuring that the zodiac remains pushed up against the back of the Xpedition while a naturalist collects your things and grabs your arm with the Galapagos handshake. From there, you proceed toward the back of the zodiac and sit on the inflated edge of the boat. The floors of the zodiacs are teak and the sides are covered with a cloth (which can be wet). There is also a cooler filled with bottled water, which are offered routinely. You always wear a life jacket while on the zodiac. About 12-14 people sit on each zodiac. Walking sticks are always available for your use for each excursion. We clean up and go to the Discovery Lounge to listen to Jacobo perform on the piano before the briefing for the next day. Jason (our cruise director) explains that we will be visiting Floreana Island the next day to see flamingoes, sting rays, crabs, etc. Dinner follows in the Darwin Restaurant August 7, 2007 - Floreana Island Excursion Options: 8:00a - Medium intensity - Cormorant Point - Wet Landing (2 hours) 10:30a - High intensity - Advanced Snorkel Activity (1 hour, 45 mins) 2:00p - High Intensity Snorkel - Mystery Bay (1 hour, 30 mins) 4:00p - Low Intensity Wet landing - Baroness Lookout (1 hour 45 mins) Once again, I was up early for coffee and rolls on the back of the ship. I discovered that the bread onboard was delicious toasted and this became my routine for the mornings. I enjoyed the dark on the back of the ship and fresh coffee while others were asleep. My family enjoyed a buffet breakfast in Darwin's Restaurant and we boarded zodiacs at 8:00 for Floreana. This is our first wet landing on a green sand beach. It is chilly and I am glad that I have my rain jacket because it is misty in the morning. We head toward the hills through foliage that consisted of mangroves and Jerusalem trees. Almost immediately, we reach a brackish pond with 20+ flamingoes walking through the very shallow water. The males are bright pink and the females are lighter. We learned that the flamingoes diet consists of shrimp that live in the ponds and turn the fur the bright pink color. We see one juvenile that is almost white. We view the lake from several vantage points including a viewing platform up a short, steep set of steps. There is a railing which is helpful as the steps are uneven. The flamingoes walk through the water leaving a darker trail behind them, digging up the shrimp as they go. The trails, interestingly, remain for some time, leaving a free form design on the floor of the pond. We observe flora and fauna as we climb over the hill to the beach on the other side. This beach has beautiful, white and pink sand. We find a display of carcasses of puffer fish - apparently left to provide education for passersby. We see the nests for the sea turtles in the dunes. Small sting rays float in the surf at our feet and further up the beach, Sally Lightfoot crabs cover the rocks. We returned to the green sand beach where the boys snorkeled, seeing turtles, sea lions, parrot fish and schools of small white/silvery fish. The water was quite cold. We returned to the ship and rinsed our shoes and ate lunch at the Beagle Grill. After lunch, I wandered into the gift shop and discovered that all the naturalist gear is available for sale - shorts, climber pants, expedition shirts, vests, hats, rain jackets, waist packs and various other logo merchandise. They also stock an assortment of picture books, small knickknacks and sundries. Note that the shop does not stock an assortment of memory cards for digital cameras. They only had 2 types of memory sticks - no SD or CF type cards. It is also noteworthy that the gift shop is available after hours if needed. If you would like to purchase something when the shop is closed, they will open it for you. Amazing! At 4:00p, we left for Baroness Lookout on Floreana, which is located in a quiet harbor with a shallow, mottled color. Baroness Lookout is up a short climb to a wooden platform and the view is of the harbor, water and vegetation on the back side of the lookout. The path to the platform is strewn with very loose, gravely lava rocks and the platform steps are uneven. This requires care to navigate safely, but it is not treacherous. It just can be slippery given all the loose stone. I was glad to have a walking stick for added stability. After the climb, we wandered through the tidal pools back at the beach, searching for squid or octopus. We did not see these, but spotted Sally Lightfoot crabs, sea cucumbers and small fish. We boarded zodiacs and slowly circumnavigated the small harbor observing pelicans, sea turtles (in the water), a sting ray and sea lions playing in the water. The mangroves and lava rock were strikingly juxtaposed here. Otherwise, the island was quite desolate. Back onboard, I purchased a shirt, enjoyed music on deck 4, listened to the briefing, enjoyed dinner and other guests. Because drinks, including expresso drinks were free, the atmosphere was very convivial - people lingered to have a glass of wine, coffee or frozen hot chocolate. This treat was created by one of the teenagers on board and the bartenders gladly obliged, repeating as frequently as possible. At 10:15p, we dropped anchor and turned on the anchor lights. Almost immediately, numerous birds and sea lions appeared in the lights. They were attracted to the lights because fish are also attracted to the lights. We saw 5-10 pelicans floating in the water until they spotted fish. We were anchored off of Santa Cruz island where the surf is calm. It is an overcast night so we could not enjoy the star gazing that was on the agenda. August 8, 2007 - Santa Cruz and Bartolome Islands Excursion options: 9:00a - Flamingo search - wet landing, low intensity (2-3 hours) 9:30a - Beach activity - wet landing, low intensity (2-3 hours) 4:00p - To the top - high intensity dry/wet landing at Bartolome island (2.5 hours) 4:15p - Isthmus hike - medium intensity - wet landing at Bartolome island (2 hours) 4:30p - Coastal exploration - low intensity - wet landing at Bartolome island (2 hours) We wake early to look at the stars since the sky has cleared. With no lights in sight, the stars seem incredibly close to the ship. Today, we go ashore at Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz for a low-intensity beach stroll and snorkel. Our snorkel bags easy to carry onto the beach where we pile them up before our hike. It was surreal to pull the boat up to this pristine white/beige beach. I could easily imagine how awful it would become in another place. But here, the sea lions rest on clean undisturbed sand and the water is crystal clear to the bottom of the shallow harbor. We see small birds and nests for baby turtles. There were sea urchins and molted crab shells on the beach. We also saw a very large blue heron perched on a lookout rock near the shore. Small puffer fish swim close to shore and are easily spotted in the clear water. We saw 2 sunken barges left by the United States after WWII. All that were visible were metal posts that poked out of the beach. We learned that certain times of the year, the sand is much lower and more of the barges can be seen. Bachas Beach is "Spanglish" for Barges. The surf here is "lapping" at most. Blue skies invite me into the water, which is cool, but not horrible!. After trekking back to our snorkeling gear, we hop into the water - quite doable given the warmer water and clear bottom. There wasn't much to see in these waters, but we did see puffer fish, one large parrot fish, sea cucumbers and schools of small fish. We took the zodiacs back to the ship for lunch and a lecture on the people of the Galapagos. Lunch was Mexican today, but it was hard to distinguish from some of the Ecuadorian food we'd enjoyed up to now. We met two more well-traveled people while our children enjoyed cards in the lounge with their friends. Carlos, the bartender, entertained the young people with magic tricks and there were a number of board games they enjoyed too. We learned that Carlos had been on the Infinity when we sailed on it to the Caribbean. We signed up for a tour of the engine room for the next day. Note, this tour only gets offered 2-3 times and is limited to 8 guests. If this interests you, be sure to sign up early. We sailed to Bartolome Island and at 4:00p. Here the water was a deep blue and the swells and winds were much higher. The terrain here is a deep orange/red color - volcanic and stark. This is the island most people refer to as lunar or mars-like. We take the zodiacs to a lava dock. From here, we hike almost 400 steps up to the top of a volcano. This walk is a combination of sand, dirt, loose stones and wooden walkways. The steps are uneven but the handrails are sturdy. The wind was also strong at times - I recommend a strap here for your hat and sunglasses. Several people complained of sand in their eyes, so larger wraparound sunglasses would pay off here. There are 3 viewing platforms where our group stopped to catch our breath and to learn about the numerous volcanoes that we could see from here. At the top of the hike, there is a lighthouse and a large area to walk around and take pictures. The view below is probably one of the most famous of a peninsula with twin beaches and greenery between. There is also an interesting pinnacle rock formation to the right. We could see 15-25 volcanoes from this vantage point. On the way down, we had an opportunity to "play" with some of the volcanic rocks that were very light to pick up. Numerous "he-man" photos were taken here! Please note that most of the passengers made this assent and they all made it. It was tougher than our prior hikes, but well worth the climb. We returned to the zodiacs so that we could tour the coast looking for penguins, which were perched on rocks or swimming in the waters near the island. We also saw the coastal end of the many lava tubes that results from cooled floes. Snorkelers went to shore where they had a very cold swim. I think the penguins were the first clue! They saw swimming penguins, schools of fish, a giant starfish, chocolate chip starfish and sea cucumbers. The water was about 30 feet deep. They also indicated that the submerged rock formations were very interesting along the shore. Back onboard, we enjoyed dinner and a performance by Jacobo on the flute. We had our briefing for the next day. Unfortunately, we chose to go to sleep because we later learned that this evening, when we crossed the Equatorial line, a surprise visitor (King Neptune) arrived and picked a queen from among the passengers. King Neptune was actually one of the naturalists. From the pictures, we gathered that everyone had a really good time, so be sure to consider staying up for this. It is also noteworthy that we did not hear any of this, in spite of the fact that our room was directly below the lounge. August 9, 2007 - Isabela and Fernandina Islands Excursion Options: 8:00a and 9:30a - Zodiac Ride - Mariela Island - low intensity (1.5 hours) 11:00a - Scenic cruising (onboard) to view whales, dolphins and sea lions 4:00p - Espinoza Point - high intensity dry landing at Fernandina Island (2.5 hours) 4:15p - Zodiac Ride and optional dry landing - low intensity (1.5 hours) This morning, we woke early to board an 8:00a zodiac at Isabela Island to see penguins, sea turtles and flightless cormorants. We approached the shore which was lined with mangroves. We entered a narrow mangrove lined passage into protected coves where we turned off the engine of the boat and paddled in very shallow and clear waters. We floated gently through this area and saw many sea turtles - at first just their heads, but after a while, they swam around our boats and bobbed up for air. We spotted 5-6 Galapagos Hawks in the trees and the mangroves were large and lush in this area. Exiting the mangroves, we enjoyed 2 small sea lions that frolicked around our boat. We also saw sea lions sleeping on the mangrove trees. We returned to the open water to circumnavigate small rocky islands covered in guano. Cormorants, penguins and blue footed boobies covered the surface of these rocks. The overcast and sunny skies allowed us to see the ship, water and rocks cast in many different colors. Sometimes the boat glistened in the sunlight and other times, it was shrouded in mist. We also saw one of the most extraordinary events - hundreds of blue footed boobies circled overhead looking for schools of fish. Seemingly all at once, hundreds of the boobies would dive like torpedoes into the water to pull out a fish. This repeated itself over and over. We lingered in this area to enjoy this spectacular sight. Back on board, we enjoyed an Ecuadorian lunch. The Yuca rolls were fabulous. I enjoyed the Otavalan textiles in bright shades of blue, yellow, green and red that decorated the buffet. At 2:15p, we took our tour of the engine room where we learned about the generators, fire safety, the propellers and the onboard desalination plant. We had to wear headphones while in the engine room because of the noise but back in the control room, we were able to see all the controls and even saw the team addressing various needs elsewhere onboard. We rejoined a conservation talk by Jason, our cruise director. We learned about efforts to protect the islands and the challenges faced by the National Park. At 4:00p, we boarded the zodiacs for a high intensity walk across lava floes on Fernandina. We see large colonies of marine iguanas, a displayed whale bone, a colony of flightless cormorants - mostly the young ones waiting for their mothers to return with dinner. It was interesting that they were mostly facing the direction of the water, just like humans looking for the first sign of their mothers. Sea turtles lounged on the protected beaches and swam in tidal pools. We learned that a river flows under the lava where we walked, when the tide is high. We watched marine iguanas coming in from the sea. Here the clouds cleared and we enjoyed very hot sunshine while walking among the mangroves and on the black lava floes. There is a large piece of equipment left over by the ship "Radio" that sank here in the 1930s. Tidal pools are covered with bright green algae. We also see many spines from sea urchins - almost like walking on sand they are so plentiful. Manuel shows us hermit crabs, a mollusk and a baby sea cucumber all under a lava rock. We also see endemic lava cactus. Returning to the ship, we enjoy calypso music, small snacks and fresh cold towels. We relax for the lecture on the next day. We quickly chose the fur seal hike for the morning on Santiago Island and the inland hike to see land iguanas for the afternoon on Santa Cruz. Dinner is served as a buffet on both decks 4 and 5 with choices of Ecuadorian fare. "Candlelight" is provided by yellow globe lights that are affixed to the outside decks. Beautiful Otavalan linens grace the tables and I decide I need to purchase some of these when we dock in town or back in Quito. Everyone is in a festive mood and the waiters bring on multiple bottles of wine. August 10, 2007 - Santiago and Santa Cruz Islands Excursion Options: 8:00a - Survival of the Fittest - high intensity hike with wet landing (3 hours) 8:15a - High intensity hike to see fur seals with wet landing at James Bay (3 hours) 8:30a - Low intensity zodiac ride with wet landing at Port Egas (2 hours) 4:00p - Inland hike - high intensity with dry/wet landing (2 hours) 4:15p - Advanced snorkeling activity - high intensity from the zodiac (1.5 hours) 4:30p - Beach and swim - low intensity dry/wet landing (1.5 hours) We realize this morning that we only have 2 more full days. We have been really busy, but not ready to leave. In surveying the options for today, we decided not to do the survival of the fittest hike because we would miss the fur seals and there are no animals to view on this hike. We boarded the zodiacs for the morning excursion and landed on black sand at James Bay. The terrain here is interesting. Rock formations are sandy and clearly wind-swept. You can break apart the formations here so we are careful not to touch the rocks. We walk inland across sandy terrain to see lava and ash deposits along the coast. A large lava tube that collapsed in sections frame a beautiful grotto where we find sea lions and fur seals hidden down in the rocks. We see more marine iguanas, yellow warblers, a finch nest, Darwin finches, blue heron and Sally Lightfoot crabs. A baby sea lion is nursing on hits mother and several quite young sea lions lounge near a very large bull seal. Morning glories with their long tentacles reach along the dunes, crisscrossing and creating a natural barrier against sand erosion from the winds. The sun begins to creep out occasionally, but the morning remains misty and cool. We reached a point where we were able to see the fur seals and then returned inland to return to the beach. After lunch, we have an opportunity to sit with one of the naturalists that will share stories about their careers and lives in the Galapagos. We chose to sit with Ivan Lopez who is 26 years old. He is the 9th of 9 children, born to parents that were a surgeon and director of the university in the Galapagos. His dad founded the university in the islands. He has one young child and a wife and works for both Celebrity and the Park. He described the extensive education and training required by the park service. He started a dive master company and shared his experiences setting up an international dive festival in the islands. He works to educate fishermen about the dangers of overfishing and heads the Chamber of Commerce in his home town of San Cristobal. He remains active in local issues and interacts with the local officials regularly. We were impressed. At 4:00p, we leave for Santa Cruz. We have a dry landing on lava rocks. A blue heron greets us as we disembark. We see many large cactus. We walk down to a small beach where we drop our snorkeling gear. The sand is beige and we walk over black lava rocks to another similar beach but here you can see that the tide is low and many lava rocks with algae line the shore (in front of the sand, interestingly). Inland, we pass a couple brackish ponds with no flamingoes. The water level is quite low and from here, the terrain becomes red with small lava rocks (all red) with touches of blue, gray and black. Cactus and white trees cover the hilly landscape. Cactus trees are 10-15 feet high. As we turn inland too, we see tall grasses 3 ft. high and the soil is very red. We spot several solitary land iguanas and large holes that we learn are their nests. The holes are 8-12 inches in diameter and face downward or into the hillside. The air is much hotter here and an occasional breeze or shady cactus is very welcome. The land iguanas are quite large and bright yellow from the cactus fruit they eat. We learned that they will stay underneath a cactus for a long time waiting for a piece of fruit to fall off the tree. We climb a hill and continue to see similar terrain before descending to the other side and back to the beach. We spot finches, warblers, 2 brown pelicans near the beach, oyster catchers and grass hoppers. Some stay at the beach for snorkeling and swimming. Note that this was the driest and hottest excursion so be sure to grab a bottle of water before disembarking. There is not a lot of shade and I advise a good hat and sunscreen for this trip. ? August 11, 2007 - Santa Cruz Island Excursion Options: 8:00a - Highlands medium intensity dry landing at Port Ayora (3 hours) 8:15a - Charles Darwin Research Station - high intensity with dry landing (3 hours) 3:00p - Beach activity - Tortuga Bay - fast paced hike with dry landing (3 hours) 3:00p - Highlands medium intensity dry landing at Port Ayora (3 hours) 3:15p - Charles Darwin Research Station - high intensity with dry landing (3 hours) Note: the morning and afternoon excursions are repeated so that ½ the passengers will do the reverse of the other ½ the passengers. We have 2 choices today and both are repeated in the morning and afternoon so that everyone will get a chance to do both, but not all at once. We chose the Charles Darwin center in Port Ayora in the morning, followed by the afternoon tour of the highlands to see the tortoises in the wild. But, at breakfast, Jason asked if we could reverse our trip because of load balancing. We disembark at 8:15a and find the surf is quite rough. But, the guide says it is actually mild compared with some days. The swells make the disembarking process a little challenging with the zodiac pulling away from the ship from time to time. But the naturalists were expert at ensuring everyone boarded safely. It was an impressive effort that we repeatedly watched throughout the week. Here, we are quite far out, but this is a harbor with many smaller boats moored closer in. We work our way through the maze of boats to a dry dock where we board a small bus for the ride up to the farm where we will see the tortoises. The bus is only 2 seats on one side and 1 seat on the other side. We find that the roads are paved out of town. This contrasts with the pavers we have gotten used to seeing in the port/city areas of the islands. As we rise to the higher ground, the foliage changes dramatically. Now we see papaya, bananas, ferns and what appear to be old growth trees, with ferns growing out of moss on the tops of the branches. The enormous cactus are replaced by grasses and moss. At higher altitudes, we also have mist and rain. The roads say 50km/hr but are controlled by speed bumps that we reach repeatedly. We visit a private farm down a muddy red soil road among high brush and trees. As we turn off onto this red dirt road, we slow considerably. We wind back into the interior of this 300 acre farm. We stop up near the house after passing 10+ tortoises in the fields. We hike back into the back area after stopping to view a tortoise shell carcass. The grass is wet and high and the soil is muddy. We pick our way across the fields to approach 8-10 tortoises and saw maybe 5-6 others. The smaller ones are females and the larger ones male. They live to be 150-200 years old. Most retracted into their shells as we approached, as expected. These tortoises were not raised in captivity so they are inclined to hide, but we learned the ones at the Charles Darwin Research Center will not do that. They make a hissing noise that is the sound made when they retreat. It was kind of like air brakes! We learned the only other sound like this is a humping noise when they mate. We see grapefruit trees, white egrets (migrated from Africa), Darwin finches and fly catchers. The terrain is muddy and rocky with tall grasses that make our shoes and pants quite dirty. We walk to a huge lava tunnel with hanging vines and rocks. Pictures in this area are quite tropical. We returned to town to shop for t-shirts and textiles. We returned to the ship for lunch - sushi is on the menu! There are also a few artists that have set up tables to sell jewelry and artwork. At 3:15p, we boarded zodiacs for shore again. The sun has come out and we take a short bus ride to the Charles Darwin Research Station. The bus drops us off outside the facility and it is a short hike back through the grounds to a series of smaller buildings dedicated to information and updates on the status of the Galapagos species. We learned that destructive goats have been eradicated from the islands which will help with increasing the iguana population. We also saw a display of the incubators used to raise the baby tortoises and a display of tortoise shells that help us understand the different species. We walk outside to see pens where baby tortoises are raised until they are old enough to be returned to the wild. We see Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta tortoises. Efforts are under way to figure out how to save the species, but a solution has not been derived yet. We walk through more pens of female and male tortoises and land iguanas. A little boy dropped his yellow sunglasses into the iguana pen and the iguana quickly walked over to the sunglasses and began licking them - attracted to the color with is similar to the prickly pear fruit. Manuel retrieved the sunglasses, but not before the iguana ran very fast in the other direction. We also saw 2 female tortoises fighting in another pen. We were able to walk among some of the males and take pictures. We then wandered back to town and purchased some tablecloths before boarding the zodiac to return back onboard. We purchased 2 ice cream cones for $1.20 and noted that gas in town is $1.45/gallon. Well, we are at the end on the line. Tonight, we realize its over, but we also got to see everything we came plus much more that we didn't expect. Before I go through disembarking, I want to comment on a few things related to the experience. 1. The naturalists are unbelievably knowledgeable and interested in their work. We were all inspired and you will be too. They will make your trip extremely interesting and they tirelessly answer a million questions. 2. The staff on the ship and in Quito could not do enough for us. We never had a better experience with any category of staff - waiters, doctor, purser's desk, bartenders, cabin crew - they were the best we've ever experienced. 3. We saw 10 times more of every animal than we thought we would. 4. We took over 800 pictures on two digital cameras 5. The whole experience was first class - We could not have been happier with hotel, restaurants, ship and buses. 6. The all-inclusive nature of this trip cut down on stress - there is a lesson in that for us and for the tour operators we will seek out. 7. While reports abound about the condition of the Galapagos (being endangered), we found the areas we toured to be pristine and we were delighted about that. We left committed to help our own environments. 8. The passengers were unfailingly pleasant. We enjoyed all generations and interacted like friends and family on an adventure together. Most people had cruised before. 9. The logistics of this trip were much easier that it would seem. 10. Pack light and pack right. Okay, now back to the rest of the trip. We received a letter in our room providing us with instructions for disembarking. We received green luggage tags (everyone did) that we put on our checked luggage with our names. We received a preliminary bill and were instructed to come to the office to settle up as soon as possible. Note that 12% VAT/sales tax was added to our purchases in the gift shop. Also, we paid $60 for 3 hours of internet service. Finally, there were 2 laundry charges. I found that the laundry charges on this ship were VERY reasonable and I always received my clothes the same day I submitted them, but did not pay a fee for expedited service. Before dinner, we enjoyed one last lecture with Jason who shared a slide show of photos taken during the trip. This was great because there were many photos of our fellow passengers and some funny ones that we all enjoyed. Jason surprised us with our own copy of the show and 400 photos that would be delivered to our staterooms after dinner. We were thrilled. Proof again that Celebrity exceeded our expectations. Captain Ponce sponsored a farewell toast, followed by dinner in the dining room. We enjoyed a folkloric show following dinner. Three beautiful Ecuadorian ladies danced in dresses hand painted with pictures of the wildlife in the Galapagos. A small quartet provided music. Sure enough, when we returned to our rooms, the photo disks were in our rooms along with a signed letter from the captain, cruise director and hotel director thanking us for joining them on this trip. In addition, we received an e:mail list for our fellow passengers. August 12, 2007 We left our checked and tagged baggage outside our rooms at 7:00a and had breakfast in the dining room. We watched as our luggage was loaded onto zodiacs for the trip to the airport. At 8:30a, we began disembarking and boarded the same buses to the airport. When we arrived at the airport, we were dropped off in front of a row of small shops where we could purchase last minute items before we picked up our boarding passes. Boarding passes were later handed out in a private section of the airport and this was done by floor on the ship (i.e there were three rows). Our luggage receipts were attached to our boarding passes. We waited a short while in the main airport terminal, which is an open air (but covered) area that was quite crowded. We were instructed to proceed through security and then were escorted to the Royal Palm VIP Lounge where we were able to get coffee and other soft beverages. We boarded the flight that would stop in Guayaquil and then proceed to Quito. Travel time was about 3.5 hours. We picked up our luggage at baggage claim and quickly found our hostess in Quito. Our bags were taken directly to the hotel where they were sent up to our rooms. We were greeted at the hotel by the welcome staff and provided with our keys to our rooms. We were delighted to find out that our rooms this time were connecting and that the boys each had a double bed, while we had a king bedded room. Fabulous! We cleaned up and joined the group for a trip to a local gallery, Galeria Latina where we were able to purchase quality goods at a discount. I purchased an incredibly soft alpaca poncho with a curly alpaca color in a deep red color. We also purchased an alpaca sweater for my husband and some smaller souvenirs. I am sorry we didn't have more time because they had beautiful silver jewelry, scarves, rugs, woven bowls, bags, leather goods, etc. It is a two story place and the prices seemed very fair to me. We then proceeded to the open air market where we could purchase much lower priced items, like scarves, hats, belts and bags. We purchased my son a fedora and a few more gifts. We returned to the hotel for a quiet dinner in their upscale restaurant where we enjoyed complimentary wine and beer and a 3 course meal. The dEcor is Mediterranean and there was a live saxophonist performing for us. We were very tired so we ate quickly and said goodbyes to our fellow passengers before retiring for an early morning flight from Quito. August 13, 2007 Celebrity provided buses for early morning departures leaving the hotel at 4:00a and 5:40a. Later departures used the Marriott shuttle service and left at 7:20a, 9:15a, 2:15p and 4:11p. It appeared that these were set up based on the actual flight arrangements provided to Celebrity prior to the trip. Other departures from the hotel could be arranged through the hotel. We arrived at the Quito airport and proceeded to the American Airlines counter to pick up our boarding passes. After that, we had to go to the counter to pay our departure taxes, which were ~$42/person. Note - this is cash only. There is an ATM machine in the lobby of the JW Marriott in Quito. My bank charged a $3.60 ATM/foreign fee for the withdrawal I made for this purpose. After that, we proceeded through immigration and then security. Once we arrived at our gate, we went through another level of security, I believe because the airline was required to comply with FAA and TSA guidelines for flights going to the United States. No problem! We once again boarded a very full flight. My husband was pulled out of line for a search. We had no problems storing our carry on luggage because most people seemed to check their luggage. Good for us. We met up with a few of our fellow passengers and enjoyed a few last minute laughs. I noticed right away that we were back to the usual grouchy flight attendants from the United States - oh well...back to reality. But, it will be a long time before the smile comes off my face - we just had the best vacation of our lives. Recommendations: Clothing for this trip: 1. Lightweight and breathable rain jacket or shell 2. Expedition style hat with sun flap and chin strap (or a hat with a firm and wide brim and with chin strap) 3. Keen or similar brand sandals - waterproof, good traction and toe guards. This is a great investment! 4. Hiking sneakers in a dark color - don't bring nice white sneakers like me - they were destroyed. 5. Polarized sunglasses with strap fastened to the back (so you don't lose them) 6. 1-2 long pants like climber pants, cargo pants or athletic pants 7. 1-2 shorts or capris 8. I nicer outfit for dinners out. Accessorize with a sweater or scarf to keep the bulk down. 9. Sweater or fleece jacket for cooler nights 10. Waist pack or back pack for excursions - you will want to have a Ziploc bag for your camera, a tissue or two, and a bottle of water While this trip is advertised as strictly casual, you will want to dress up a little for dinner. I found that we were a little too casual compared with our fellow passengers. I didn't mind because I followed the outlines, but others seemed to be better prepared for the dressier places in Quito. Also, don't bring lots of clothes. Even as light as we packed, we did not use all that we had. And, the inexpensive and efficient laundry service on Xpedition is a good alternative to lugging lots of clothes with you. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2007
Having read prior reviews, I am not going to give a "blow by blow" description of the Galapagos Experience, since other reviewers have done such a thorough job of it. Instead, I will offer some insights and opinions regarding ... Read More
Having read prior reviews, I am not going to give a "blow by blow" description of the Galapagos Experience, since other reviewers have done such a thorough job of it. Instead, I will offer some insights and opinions regarding this amazing journey. I have included my email address. If you read this and have any questions regarding the trip I would be more than happy to help. So, without further ado... When people say this is the "trip of a lifetime" it is a total understatement, but is it for everyone? No. The Galapagos experience on Celebrity Xpedition is not your typical get on, stop at a port, get off, get back on, repeat tomorrow. It is a trip for those seeking activity. As Jason, our wonderful Cruise Director, put it you need "a sense of adventure". Without it, you will be lost and disappointed, which none of the (fantastic) crew of the Xpedition wants. Don't go for the food. Don't go for the entertainment. Don't go for the luxurious accommodations. Go for the journey. To begin, the journey starts in Quito. We did have altitude adjustment issues. They are not crippling but they do get some getting used to. How would I describe it? From time to time we felt short of breath and our heart raced. Talk to your doctor about visiting a high altitude destination so you know what to expect. The JW Marriott hotel is well appointed and the staff goes out of their way to make you feel welcome in Ecuador. While there I recommend to try new things (i.e. you can have orange juice at home any day, but guanabana? Go for it! It's delicious). The day in Quito is lovely. The dinner the first evening is nice. Celebrity takes care of everything, which makes making decisions easy. As others mentioned, the transfers and flight to Baltra are simple. Before you know it you are on Xpedition and on to your first "visit" (the word used on the ship instead of excursion). From then on, and for the next 7 days, you are transported to a world where the animals have no fear of humans and everywhere you look there is something beautiful - birds, flowers, wildlife - led by a group of the most knowledgeable and friendly Naturalist Guides one could hope for. The brochures and videos show people walking over and/or around the wildlife and a skeptical person might think "nice setup" by the marketing team. Wrong. Imagine standing 2 feet from a 3-month old sea lion pup. Imagine swimming with playful sea lions and majestic sea turtles. Imagine walking on lava flows hundreds of thousands of years old. That is what this experience is about. You can choose to see all this up close or from the side of a Zodiak, but you still must have the sense of adventure. Service on the Xpedition is outstanding and personal. Most moving to me was on the last night when, after a toast to the passengers by the captain, all the staff of the ship walk around and individually thank you for sharing the journey with them. They thank YOU! Quite a twist. When the journey ends, and Jason, or whoever your Senior Naturalist/Cruise Director happens to be, recounts for you (in video format) all you've seen and done you wonder how it all came to pass so quickly. You wonder where the time went. Being away from civilization for 7 days truly means returning to reality. The flight back to Quito, shopping outing (but LOTS of scarves at the "Indian" open market!) and subsequent dinner are an easement back to "reality". We chose to stay an additional day in Quito. This gave us the chance to unwind and reflect on all we had seen and done. A lovely dinner at a local restaurant (Mare Nostrum) capped our extra day. Again, other reviewers have given detailed information about what you do each day. However, if I can be of any help beyond providing the daily schedule, please email me at the email address provided by CC. This journey/experience/trip has had a visceral impact on us and changed the way we view our world and we feel privileged to have seen and done all we've seen and done. Yes. It was the "trip of a lifetime". Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: February 2008
Just a few comments on our 13 day cruise. No real details, they've been covered so well elsewhere. Celebrity couldn't do more for us. The Xpedition is a lovely ship and the crew and naturalists are superb. The high intensity ... Read More
Just a few comments on our 13 day cruise. No real details, they've been covered so well elsewhere. Celebrity couldn't do more for us. The Xpedition is a lovely ship and the crew and naturalists are superb. The high intensity excursions are not difficult. You take your time and if you are concerned the guides understand. The stops were found by some to be worse because of the standing around. We always went for the last Zodiac because there was more time and usually less people in the group. Everything really is inclusive once on board. The only extra before hand were drinks at the Theatre dinner in Quito. Laundry is inexpensive and yes we did take too many clothes! We still made the 15kg weight though. Coming all the way from England you really think of doing something else whilst out there. It's a long way. We did 11 flight in 15 days from Manchester! Being able to do both Galapagos and MP in one trip was fantastic but very hard work. There are only 10 places a week on the add on to MP at present though they would like to go to 20 in the future. Cuzco was made worse by the strikes which meant getting up at either 4 am or 5 am each morning. But at least we saw what we wanted to see. This gave problems with The Hiram Bingham train to MP. Due to strikes around Cuzco they had to alter the schedule to leave further down the route (half way) at 7:20 am (instead of 9:00 am in Cuxco) which meant a 4 am wake up call and finish at the same station at 4:30 pm instead of Cuzco at 10:00 pm. That meant we only had half the time on the train and had to travel by minibus (by Celebrity) for the rest. The "breakfast" that was supplied was basic and frugal and cannot have compared to the Brunch we should have had. The lunch in the Cafeteria at the Sanctuary Lodge was abysmal and shared with everyone else who had come up on the other basic trains and was instead of the gourmet dinner we should have experienced. Yes there were circumstances outside Orient Expresses control (the strike) and we did get to MP, but they made little attempt to meet the content of the contract with us. We did not receive value for our money. The Monasterio hotel in Cuzco was disappointing - rooms dark and depressing. Extras are extortionate - the room service was twice the price of the Country Club and Marriott. They seem to be resting on their laurels as the "best hotel in Cuzco". The Country Club hotel in Lima was fabulous - everything was perfect. The JW Marriott in Quito has a big problem with external noise - club across the road with blaring music to past 2:30 am! The part nearest the noise is on the right as you look at the front of the hotel. We were in room 705 and moved to 736 which was fine. We had minor problems with the altitude but nothing that warranted medication or oxygen. Some people were less fortunate. It really seems it's the luck of the body. Overall a great trip, mentally and physically strenuous, but well worth doing. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2008
With daughter, Jeanne (Dgtr - Luv2Trvl) we are just back from the June 11th trip. Pictures will be coming later, but want to give some thoughts that might help someone contemplating a trip. Dgtr and I did Galapagos first followed by Machu ... Read More
With daughter, Jeanne (Dgtr - Luv2Trvl) we are just back from the June 11th trip. Pictures will be coming later, but want to give some thoughts that might help someone contemplating a trip. Dgtr and I did Galapagos first followed by Machu Picchu. Someone on this board felt the ship week was more of a "camp" rather than a cruise. I heartily agree, as we were up early for the first Zodiac ride, back for lunch, a couple of hours for changing clothes, reading, etc., out for the second excursion and then back to change clothes, go to the next day's briefing and dinner. We feel Celebrity Xpedition was a class act, as we were cared for every step of the way, any special needs were met. In the airports, we were met by a Guide holding a white sign with a blue 'X'!! Our luggage was taken care of, both incoming and outgoing. During the two weeks, the only time we were on our own was at the Lima Airport when returning to Miami. Machu Picchu will be covered in a separate page. Dgtr had an excellent Olympus Stylus 770, that took land stills and movies, together with terrific underwater pics (camera goes to 33 feet). She also had the silicone covering that made holding underwater easier. My Sony Cybershot H9 took excellent, true pics also - not underwater. I'm glad someone on this board suggested the Xpedition waist pack for holding cameras and other equipment that made getting in and out of the Zodiacs easier. Dgtr bought a great backpack at Target - lightweight with lots of pockets - and cheap. Dinner took a very long time. The Maitre D' was very good and pitched in to help. When we knew our decisions about the next day's excursions, Dgtr and I went to the 6:30 pm dinner. Service was quick and a couple of times we were through eating and able to catch a good bit of the briefing. Meds: We started Diamox and Pepto a day prior to our leaving Boston. I gave them up in a couple of days, but I think Dgtr continued for another day. After a few days, some people including Dgtr had stomach cramps and were just not feeling well. At that point, my bottle of Ginger Capsules made a few rounds. Dgtr did become ill and had to stay home from the two Darwin excursions. Dr. gave her bottle of Pedialyte, 2 Immodium tablets and another med that helped considerably. Also ordered some light meals. So glad to see Sharon up and about from her illness. When someone became ill in Machu Picchu, our guide told her to not drink OJ - perhaps the acidity. Good sunscreen and bug repellant. Clothes: Some people complained about shoes with side openings, because of sand. I had Merrell's that were closed on the sides, but mesh on top. Had Teva sandals for wet landings and a pair of slides for the plane and dinner. My personal experience with shoes was to have a good sole to deal with large and small lava rocks that are sometimes slippery. I took 2 pairs of slacks and 3 tops for dinner, 2 bathing suits, 3 pairs of shorts, 1 lightweight zip sweater with hood, 1 very lightweight rain jacket, Xpedition hat (available ship store), 3 cutoffs, 4 T-shirts. We took a little more than others, due to our extended trip. Misc.: Snorkel and goggles - take your own, if you have them. Some of the ship equipment was defective and made snorkeling not easy. Several people used ship wet suits that were fine. Water was fine after the first dip. Toilet paper - necessary in Ecuador and Peru. Dgtr found small rolls that were easy to carry; small packs of Kleenex a good substitute. Sample bottles of dry soap. $$$: Ecuador uses USA money. Hair dryer in the desk drawer I used for drying shoes and clothes. Take enough batteries, as I gave some extra AA's to a traveler. The ship only had AAA's. Internet was available but slow. Dgtr's and my small knowledge of Spanish helped. One of our travelers spoke fluent Spanish. You may want to learn or brush up on this language. It did help, especially on land. Penthouse: One traveler said it was not worth the extra $$; however, in our case it was perfect. The rooms gave us special time together, but afforded us our own space also. We moved the 2 sofas in front of the sliding doors. Re: beds: One room had twin beds that were put together to make a very comfortable dble. Twin beds in the connecting room could not be put together, due to a slight wall separation. Verandas were separate, but that was no problem. Naturalists/Zodiac: The Naturalists were excellent and extremely knowledgeable. I do have a balance problem and shortness of breath and they willingly helped me. Even other travelers including Sharon's husband gave a helping hand or shoulder. Carlos took a walking stick for me, even though I did not ask for it. The Zodiac drivers knew their business in helping to get us in and out of the ship and at the excursion points. One or two days of rough seas proved their abilities. Intensity excursions: One of the Naturalists told me that often times one can see more varied nature on the Low Intensity rides than offered on land at the same time. Guests: From reading past input, I was surprised that the ages went from 7 or 8 (just a guess) to a woman, who was 87. The younger children seemed well behaved and enjoyed themselves. Weather: We were very fortunate to have good weather - only a few drops at Darwin Station. A couple of days of rough seas that made ship walking unsteady. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
We left Toronto and flew to Miami on American Airlines. After spending four hours in Miami, we left for Quito at 6 pm. At 8:30 we were back in Miami, for what was said to be a quick instrument repair. This turned into a change of planes, ... Read More
We left Toronto and flew to Miami on American Airlines. After spending four hours in Miami, we left for Quito at 6 pm. At 8:30 we were back in Miami, for what was said to be a quick instrument repair. This turned into a change of planes, and after luggage was transferred and reboarding was complete we were on our way to Quito again. We arrived just after 3 am, and were quickly transferred to our hotel. The Celebrity representative told us the city tour was to start at 9 in the morning, but we could decide what time we wanted to go. There were eight of us on that late flight, and we decided that we could be ready by ten o'clock. We were very glad to reach our room, which was spacious and well-appointed. Because we were Captain's Club members we were upgraded to the executive level, which offered a few extra benefits, but we were not too concerned about that at 4 am. We met in the lobby at ten the next morning, and boarded a mini bus for the tour. We had a walking tour of the old city, with some impressive churches and other buildings then met up with the rest of the group for lunch at a restaurant on the edge of an extinct volcano. From there we drove to the "Middle of the Earth" for the obligatory Equator photos! That evening we had dinner at the Theatricum Restaurant where we were entertained by a tenor while we enjoyed a meal with wine. On Sunday morning we had to have our cases outside the room by 7 am, then we had breakfast and were bussed to the airport for the flight to Baltra. The flight was uneventful and the airport was a very short distance from the port so we were on board right on time. The Xpedition doesn't dock in the Islands, so Zodiacs are used for every landing. Other reviewers have detailed the excursions so I will not repeat these, except to say that the variety and proximity of the wildlife exceeded our expectations. We usually took the high intensity options, but did not find them to be too strenuous. (We are in our middle sixties and of average fitness.) The intensity level was determined by the terrain and length of the hike, but since we stopped frequently to see wild life the distance was not an issue. After the morning excursion we usually headed up to the hot tub to relax. The first time we stopped in the bar to order cappuccinos and the waiter offered to bring them up for us. After that, each morning when we returned he greeted us with "Cappuccinos in the hot tub?" and brought them for us. Some reviewers have found dinner service to be slow. We considered it to be leisurely! Although there were no assigned seats for dinner, we formed a group of ten and the waiters set us the same table each night. We enjoyed chatting with our new friends and were often the last table to leave the dining room because the conversation was flowing so freely. The choice of food was not as varied as on a larger cruise ship, but there were three or four entrees each evening and all were well prepared. This cruise was truly all-inclusive. Excursions, tips, and wine with meals were all included. in Quito as well as on the ship. Bar drinks were also included on the ship, so apart from some small purchases from the shop, we only paid for laundry. Service was excellent and we were looked after every step of the way. We returned to the JW Marriott in Quito for one night before heading home. Our flight home was early so we left the hotel at five in the morning. This was truly the experience of a lifetime. The only thing that would stop me going again is the fact that there is still a lot of the world that I haven't seen yet. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2009
Pre/post-cruise. We booked our own air using frequent flyer miles, but for the first time did the Celebrity pre/post-cruise package. This was by far the most convenient arrangement and was handled beautifully. We arrived in Quito late ... Read More
Pre/post-cruise. We booked our own air using frequent flyer miles, but for the first time did the Celebrity pre/post-cruise package. This was by far the most convenient arrangement and was handled beautifully. We arrived in Quito late after delays in Atlanta and it was a welcome relief to see the "X" sign and be whisked from customs to our hotel. The JW Marriott was first rate and we only wish we had more time to enjoy it... Note: Captain's Club members are eligible for Executive Lounge privileges which are a significant perk. (We had read about this and requested it at check-in) The Lounge has snacks, a full breakfast, and free internet. Plus the friendliest and most efficient staff imaginable. After breakfast there, we departed at 9 am for our city tour. We saw Quito highlights and had lunch at the Crater restaurant (take pics as soon as possible before the fog rolls in). After a brief turn around, we went out for a lovely evening at Theatro restaurant and were entertained by a tenor. During the pre-stay we me the first of many wonderful people we would be travelling with. We had to have our suitcases outside of our room at 5 am to be inspected before being taken to ship. (One suggestion would be to check the bags the night before.) We did leave bag with warmer clothes which we hadn't needed at the hotel. Left early to be taken to airport. Great not to have to hassle with luggage. We made one stop en route to Balta to pick up some people. TAME was a delight to fly - not sure if the white table cloth service was because our flight was a Celebrity charter. The post-cruise stay was a bit rushed; we didn't get to hotel until after 4 PM and left at 5 PM for shopping. Did like the open air market and bought some things there and at airport. Had a lovely dinner at the hotel before a very early departure the next morning. We did take altitude meds and had no problems while in Quito. Embarkation. Term hardly seems to apply. No lines involved. We were met at Balta airport taken by bus to the landing where there were the most photographed seal lions sunning on benches. We boarded zodiacs for first time, were oriented by naturalist, and disembarked onto Xpedition. While we were enjoying welcome fruit punches, we were checked in and found that we had been upgraded. We were escorted to room and had a little while to rest before formal orientation and preview of day's excursions. Our bags had been misplaced and we had our first pleasant interaction with the guest relations staff - truly there to help. Our bags were located onboard in time for first excursion. The Ship. So much attention has been paid to the wonders of the excursions, that less has been said about the Xpedition itself. It is a lovely ship. With the emphasis on ship - you are clearly on a ship and not a floating hotel. There definitely is the feel of being at sea and the movement to go with it. We had started taking bonine and had no ill effects. The Discovery Lounge is a pleasant, comfortable room where we were briefed each day and the source of espresso, cappuccino and imaginative and standard drinks. The Beagle Grill was not open during our sailing; its menu was served in the MDR. The MDR was never crowded and had comfortable seating where people lingered. An upper deck had chaises and a hot tub (which unfortunately was out of service for part of the trip and not very hot when it was working.) There was no pool. We were given a tour of the galley and could have toured the bridge. The overall condition of the ship was spotless and sparkling. While the live music was nice, the piped in music seemed at odds with the ambiance. The ship has a recycling program but guests could benefit from more instruction on how to recycle their water bottles. When I asked, I was showed where to place the bottles. Our cabin. We had been upgraded to stateroom 411. We had originally booked the least expensive stateroom reasoning that we would seldom be in our cabin. However, we enjoyed having a window instead of the porthole. May have had nicer robes, etc but this was not a consideration. Don't know if we would have felt less movement on 3rd rather than 4th deck or further back. Did hear anchor but this turned out not to be a problem and not sure any cabin escaped it. The cabin seemed larger than expected and had an enormous amount of storage space - given the weight restrictions on luggage, don't see how it would ever be filled but nice to have. The TV was pretty much a waste of space and seldom used; the refrigerator which was stocked with bottled water and soft drinks was a big help. The beds were unusually comfortable and no egg crate was required. The bathroom was larger than most ships and had a shower door instead of curtain. The furnishings were attractive and room kept immaculate which was hard given all our activity and inevitable tracking of sand and mud. The staff. In spite of some language gaps, this was the friendliest and most accommodating bunch of people you will ever meet. There is really a sense of community and the desire for everyone to have the best experience possible. I was particularly taken with how helpful the Guest Relations staff was (this had not been my experience on other Celebrity ships) and the computer person had amazing patience and a most pleasant manner. Since the internet service was understandably spotty, she was accosted constantly and kept her good humor. (I was just delighted to have computer access at all.) Our stateroom attendant was never intrusive and giggled at and encouraged my attempts at Spanish. While there was open seating and we had no regular server, some waiters seemed to learn who wanted champagne or cappuccino. The service was more informal than on other cruises and not perfect, but was warm and obliging. The cruise director, a naturalist himself, was a constant presence from early morning to night and always on top of the complicated logistics of the excursions. There was an excellent masseuse on board. The naturalists are in a class by themselves. It became apparent that they were the main asset of the ship. The quality of the small group excursions which they led was unparalleled. All were knowledgeable and provided an excellent experience while they ranged in personality with some being more outgoing than others. They are a wonderful resource and would provide help as needed on excursions. Don't be afraid to ask. The food. I hadn't expected much in the food department and was pleasantly surprised. The food is lighter than the more European menus on other Celebrity ship and was a nice change. While not everything was great, there was a good variety and something enjoyable at every meal. The fresh fruit is outstanding; I particularly enjoyed the papaya at breakfast every morning. There was excellent cerviche for lunch every day along with themed offerings. For dinner our choice was usually the local fish. We liked the Galapagos lobster but others did not. I particularly recommend the whole red snapper served at lunch and the tuna appetizer at the bar b-que on deck. There was shrimp galore. The menu did include Celebrity's chilled soups including an excellent Gazpacho; there were breadsticks; waffles were made every other am, and there were even soufflEs for dessert twice. I enjoyed trying the Ecuadorian dishes. There was a hot sauce made daily which enlivened the made to order omelettes. While I believe there was an alternate menu, this was never mentioned and I never needed it. Wine was served generously and after dinner drinks if requested. There are shorter meal hours than on regular cruises. Room service is at some times the only food available. Snacks were provided after excursions and during briefings. Activities. The cruise is clearly about the excursions, but I was surprised to see that there were other activities offered as well. For us at least, it was impossible to do everything. There was a wine and cheese tasting, various cocktail parties every day, star gazing, lectures, a film, a not to be missed King Neptune's party, a culinary demonstration, open discussion with naturalists, a Galapagos trivia contest to name some. I have been told that there was dancing but have no first hand knowledge; excursions start early and are tiring. Almost everyone attended the daily briefings and slide shows which preceded dinner. I was surprised that they were announcements of activities and could have done without them. (except perhaps for the one before PM excursions which served as a wake-up call for those of us napping.) Excursions. Amazing. I didn't meet anyone who wished they hadn't gone on one. We chose low/medium intensity which does not mean low impact! We saw more than we ever dreamed. The main difference in excursion levels in my opinion is that low/medium have more time on zodiacs and high more time on land. If someone enjoys hiking, that is an option, but it is not necessary in order to see everything. In fact, some "low" intensity excursions saw more wild life. Actually I feel that "low" is somewhat misleading or at best a comparative term. There was only one excursion other than zodiac rides (a beach walk to see Flamingoes) which I considered truly low intensity. Most low/medium excursions involved shorter walks on lava rock which was still difficult for some. I fell once as did others and also twisted my ankle getting off of a zodiac during one of the easier landings. Fortunately, neither mishap was a problem. Walking sticks were a big help. It is impossible to catalogue all that we saw - for starters, turtles mating (more than once), seal lion pups nursing (more than once), Kicker rock at sunrise, an island covered with iguanas, countless blue footed boobies, penguins, flamingoes in flight, striking landscapes, beautiful beaches. The only species I hadn't seen was sharks and they appeared just before we disembarked. I had never snorkeled before and my first time out saw a turtle and a school of yellow tail; later had a face to face encounter with a seal lion. Those who did advanced snorkeling were enthusiastic about it. Unfortunately, two snorkeling activities were cancelled due to high winds and rough seas. These conditions led to some exciting zodiac rides. I was impressed with how well the naturalists worked together to get us back when the tides were high - this involved some less than graceful hauling of passengers onto the zodiacs. The progress of the excursions and conditions are monitored by the ship and instructions relayed to naturalists. One of our landings was cancelled just before we attempted it; luckily, we had already seen an incredible amount via zodiac. Safety is always paramount. While there is water onboard, it seems like an ice pack (and first aid kit) might be worthy additions. General Comments This was not a perfect cruise; the significant point is that the imperfections did not matter. The experience transcended a broken hot tub or at times spotty service. I was very impressed with my fellow travelers; they were the very antithesis of "chair hogs" or entitled cruisers. Instead people seemed to feel privileged to be onboard. In fact, there was very much a communal feeling with everyone helping each other out even offering to exchange deck chairs so we could sit together, sharing binoculars, pointing out wild life, etc. The passengers were a very diverse mix of ages and nationalities. Most had travelled extensively. Although I'm not a fan of open seating, there was always someone interesting to sit with. By the time we were leaving we had met and had pleasant interactions with nearly everyone onboard. The charter flight back was fun as was the final dinner at the hotel. We enjoyed meeting the other two CCers onboard. I feel that the trip experience was enhanced by insights gleaned from the postings of previous cruisers. I understand now why the mega thread has been going for 5 years. We are all aware that we have shared a very precious experience. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2009
Up close and personal with unique creatures in a unique landscape this cruise to the Galapagos exceeded our highest expectations. And after all we had read and heard, our expectations were high indeed. But Celebrity just did everything ... Read More
Up close and personal with unique creatures in a unique landscape this cruise to the Galapagos exceeded our highest expectations. And after all we had read and heard, our expectations were high indeed. But Celebrity just did everything right: the personal pick-up at the airport in Quito, the accommodations at the magnificent Quito Marriott Hotel, the guided tour of the city and surrounding countryside, the chartered flight to Baltra, Galapagos. And then the week-long cruise in those "enchanted islands" what an experience! First of all, the Xpedition is a wonderful small ship, with about 90 passengers and 60 crew, including eight very knowledgeable naturalists/guides. Almost the whole crew were Ecuadorian, and some were from the Galapagos. Our stateroom was in the least expensive category, but was quite comfortable. Public rooms aboard ship were lovely. There was a spa and exercise area, but few people used it, for reasons that will become obvious. This is not a cruise for relaxing. There was a shore excursion the first afternoon we arrived, and after that there were two a day. You could choose your level of "intensity" low, moderate, high but we tended to choose the excursion based on what we were likely to see. Although we are in our mid-sixties and not particularly fit, even the high-intensity excursions were manageable. Here's how the days went: in the morning a shore or snorkeling excursion by Zodiac, always accompanied by a naturalist; then back to the ship for lunch and a siesta, during which time the ship moved to the next anchorage; an afternoon shore excursion; a daily briefing about the next day's activities by the chief naturalist and Cruise Director (on our cruise the excellent and charming Karina Lopez); then dinner in the elegant dining room. There was a talented musician aboard and a few organized evening activities, but most of us were ready for bed after such an active day. And every day was memorable. We had of course heard of the various animals that are unique to the Galapagos: blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, marine and land iguanas, Galapagos sea lions and fur seals, giant tortoises, to name a few. The Xpedition itinerary was planned so well that we got to see all of these, and more. Besides the interesting volcanic landscapes, what was so special was that the animals have no fear of humans. For example, when we visited a breeding colony of waved albatrosses, we literally had to watch out that we not step on any of the birds, they were that close. Sometimes we had to shoo a sea lion or an iguana out of our path. On one snorkeling expedition, a young sea lion circled me a few times, then put his face just a few inches away from mine and blew bubbles. On another, we watched a sea turtle feeding so close to us that it nearly drifted into us. Of course, it was forbidden to touch anything, and we didn't but we certainly could have. Even a Galapagos Hawk landed just a few feet away from a group of us. No fear at all. And if we had stood still, I think some Darwin's Finches would have landed on our heads or shoulders. It was a nature-lover's dream. Service aboard ship was impeccable. The naturalists were not only knowledgeable, they were very attuned to the needs and abilities of the passengers, and were always on the watch for something special to point out. The stateroom attendants, restaurant staff, baristas, Zodiac drivers all were excellent. (I should point out that this was an all-inclusive cruise, no tipping required.) We found the food to be a little below Celebrity's big-ship standards, but the use of local seafood and fruit made for some excellent meals. Ninety-seven per cent of the land of the Galapagos belongs to the Galapagos National Park, and Celebrity is cooperating with the Ecuadorian government to preserve the quality of this fragile and threatened archipelago. I can't imagine a better way to experience this really unique place than the Celebrity Xpedition. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
My husband and I are in our 60's, and traveled with our mid-30's daughter and her husband. We had read that this was the trip of a lifetime, but couldn't believe that it could be that incredible. We were wrong it was ... Read More
My husband and I are in our 60's, and traveled with our mid-30's daughter and her husband. We had read that this was the trip of a lifetime, but couldn't believe that it could be that incredible. We were wrong it was absolutely perfect. Other reviews have mentioned the details of the trip. We took the 10-day version, flying to Quito on Friday night. The Marriott Hotel was wonderful and we were able to have an upgraded room because we had traveled with Celebrity before. I need to echo the comment in Hoytj's reviewthe altitude is a problem. We had been to Cusco the previous year and took altitude medication, but didn't think we'd need it this time. We were sorry that we hadn't brought it, because it was almost impossible to sleep at night. The day in Quito was fine, but nothing compared to what awaited us on the Xpedition. The wonderful service began when we arrived in Baltra and didn't stop for the entire week. We arrived at the Xpedition by zodiac in time for lunch. Then we went on our first island excursion. We had two excursions a day, selecting between high and low/medium intensity. Every day was better than the day before, and we saw different wildlife at every stop. The naturalists were all wonderful. We especially enjoyed Myra. When we look at our fantastic photographs of the animals we still can't believe that we were that up-close-and-personal with so many amazing creatures. One comment about our cabin on the ship. We had decided to wait to take the trip until we could book a room with a veranda. Others have said that they felt this was a waste of money (it is expensive!), but we have to disagree. Even though we were off the ship much of the day it was wonderful to sit out on the balcony and relax with wine or a drink between activities and in the evening after dinner. The weather was perfectlow 70's all of the timeso we loved the veranda. All in all it was our best trip ever! Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
There have been many very good detailed reviews of all the excursions and about the ship, I will just add a few things. We flew from Portland, Oregon via LA and Miami. One ticket was free with flyer miles, we kept telling ourselves that ... Read More
There have been many very good detailed reviews of all the excursions and about the ship, I will just add a few things. We flew from Portland, Oregon via LA and Miami. One ticket was free with flyer miles, we kept telling ourselves that during the 10 hr layover in Miami. We had the same attentive courteous service from all the Celebrity reps as others have said. We chose the 10 day with the pre and post cruise nights in Quito.We did the cruise with only carryon luggage. We each had a duffel bag that was within the size limits of carryon, plus a backpack. We took 3 oz or less bottles of bug spray, sunscreen, etc. What we packed: one pair docker pants, 3 polo shirts, 1 long sleeved lightweight white shirt (ours were sunscreen 30SPF), 1 jacket, 3 pair shorts, t-shirts/tank tops, 2 swimsuits and 5 pair underwear. For shoes we took Keen/Teva sandals, tennis shoes and a pair of slip on canvas shoes for wearing indoors. We purchased hats at the first town, there may be some available on the ship but they were out when we went. We wore the dockers and a polo shirt on the plane and in Quito. We had laundry done once on the ship, mid-way in the week. It was about $25 for quite a few items and we got them back the same day. On the morning we flew to Baltra, check in was in the library.While we were there we located our bags (we checked the duffels for that flight) just to be sure they were there. One group of three got to Baltra without their bags not sure what happened but it took a couple days for them to get there. It was nice to have drinks included in the price, as well as tips. We had good service and enjoyed all the food, it was fun to try new items. I had a dental situation come up the last full day of the cruise, I broke a front tooth crown. It didn't just come off, the tooth post underneath broke. I talked to the ship's doctor, she said they would make an appt with a local dentist (Santa Cruz). After the morning's excursion, a naturalist (Sofia) went with us to the dentist and translated. The dentist was able to drill another post and reattach the crown. One hour's work, $60. Sofia really went above and beyond customer service to help us, as did the other Celebrity staff in setting up the appt and so forth. This is not a cruise to relax, it is to see as much of this unique place as possible, while preserving it's beauty and character. We are so fortunate to have had the opportunity to do this.   Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
We sailed on the Celebrity Expedition to the Galapagos on July 24 - August 2, 2009. My wife and two grown children shared in this voyage of discovery. We flew into Quito, Ecuador the day before the cruise. The next day we had a full tour ... Read More
We sailed on the Celebrity Expedition to the Galapagos on July 24 - August 2, 2009. My wife and two grown children shared in this voyage of discovery. We flew into Quito, Ecuador the day before the cruise. The next day we had a full tour of the city including lunch and dinner, and in the afternoon got to stand on the equator. WARNING Quite is on the Equator,but it is 9,000 feet HIGH. Breathing may be difficult particularly with luggage or climbing stairs. Bring altitude medicine from you doctor. It was also down right COLD - 12 degrees centegrade - you will need a light weight jacket - trust me on this. Flew to Baltra in the Galapagos the next day. Loaded onto the Expedition via PONGAS - we know them as Zodiacs. 20 person rafts that were our transport for the next week - sometimes with wet and sometimes with dry landings. Expedition holds about 100 passengers and had over 60 crew including 6 wonderful naturalists. All meals and top shelf liquor all day was included, as were all gratuities. 8am departures for two hour hikes each morning then another island and another hike in the afternoon. More picture opportunities than you can possibly imagine. Sea lions, iguanas, turtles, birds that defy the imagination, sharks etc - and you can snorkle with them if you choose. It was a little rocky on the ship for sleeping some nights. Almost everyone had seasickness patches - see your doctor. Wonderful food and crew - almost all from Ecuador. Trip was exactly as advertised. Expensive but I would highly recommend it. Read Less
Celebrity Xpedition Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.4
Dining 4.0 4.3
Entertainment 3.0 3.6
Public Rooms 3.0 4.5
Fitness Recreation 3.0 3.8
Family 1.0 3.8
Shore Excursion 5.0 4.9
Enrichment 4.0 4.7
Service 4.0 4.8
Value For Money 3.0 4.5
Rates 5.0 4.5

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