Celebrity Xpedition Cruise Review by Host Anne
- Sail Date: December 2017
- Destination: South America
- Cabin Type: Premium Ocean View Stateroom
November 24 – December 4, 2017
I started writing this review during the trip and am finishing it about a month after getting home. Because this was such a different cruise, my review will be a bit different, too. We did the outer loop option, visiting five islands. I’m going to skip describing each tour options on each island. Know you will see iguanas, sea lions, blue footed boobies, albatross, penguins, sally lightfoot crabs, eagle and golden rays, giant tortoises, and a variety of other birds. I’m going to focus on other aspects of the trip since it was so different from a typical cruise.
This is a cruise we’ve wanted to do for many years. Celebrating a milestone birthday seemed like the perfect time to do it. Traveling with our daughter, son-in-law and good friends, we knew this was going to be a special trip.
We booked the pre-cruise Quito option with Celebrity, so this would be a ten-day trip.
My first word of advice is that you actually read through all of the e-documents you receive from Celebrity through your travel agent (or from Celebrity if you booked direct with them). There are some different and unusually important items you’ll need to be aware of before you head to Ecuador.
First, there are luggage limitations – one piece of 44 pounds of luggage per person plus one carry-on that is supposed to be limited to approximately 14 – 15 pounds.
Next, there is a special Galapagos desk pre-cruise that can answer questions. If you call Celebrity reservations, advise them you are on a Galapagos sailing and ask to be transferred to the Galapagos desk so you don’t have to explain things to multiple people. We had some dietary restrictions noted in reservations but I wanted to ensure they were relayed properly to the ship. The Galapagos pre-cruise desk told me they would relay the information….but I’m not sure it would have happened had I not called, even though the restrictions were specifically documented in the cruise reservation confirmation. I say this because the restrictions were NOT communicated to the Celebrity staff in Quito that were taking care of us while we were there the day and a half prior to the cruise. It wasn’t a problem because the ground staff in Quito were outstanding. I immediately mentioned the dietary allergies, and they immediately took care of it, even though they didn’t know why Celebrity US operations didn’t inform them.
IMPORTANT TIP: If you are traveling to Quito on a connecting US flight, I urge you to book flights with a several hour layover. We were going to book flights that had a two hour layover in Atlanta, however, we decided to book a four hour layover to be safe. As it turned out, our original flight to Atlanta was delayed for a mechanical problem so we were two hours late arriving in Atlanta. Having that extra cushion for a layover made for a stress less travel day to Quito.
We arrived in Quite just before midnight and were met by Anna just after we exited the baggage area (note…you go through immigration, then get your luggage and then customs which was a random selection of whether they stopped for luggage screening and questions….we did not have to stop). As soon as everyone checked in with Anna, we boarded a bus for a 45-minute ride to the JW Marriott in downtown Quite. Upon arrival, we went to the Celebrity hospitality desk where we were handed our room keys and provided with the schedule for the Quito portion of our trip. Quick and easy.
Our first day in Ecuador started with a very nice buffet breakfast included at the JW Marriott. Following breakfast, we gathered in the lobby for a day tour of Quito. Our first stop was to ????, a winged Virgin Mary statue visible from nearly everywhere in Quito. This site, overlooking much of the city, was the perfect spot to get a good feel for just how big the city is (approximately 2.5 million within the city of Quito).
From here we ventured down into the Old Town where plenty of photo opportunities presented themselves. Everything from baroque to modern architecture could be seen with lots of churches and people. Most noticeable with the number of families out and about. Loved seeing the children feeding pigeons, skipping along the sidewalk, playing football (soccer). The two churches we visited were both baroque-style and put the churches in St. Petersburg, Russia to shame. Honestly, they were over the top. When our guide said they didn’t like to leave “any empty spaces” they took it literally. No photos permitted in either church and plenty of guards were vigilant to ensure you didn’t take photos so it’s best to honor their wishes.
A very nice buffet lunch was included at Theatrum Bar and Grill where there was plenty of good food to satisfy everyone. Appetizers included a choice of three empanadas, two kinds of ceviche and two different soups. Entrees offered a chicken, pork and fish option with two kinds of rice, vegetables followed by a dessert table.
When lunch concluded we headed to the Equator outdoor museum. Upon arrival, you might think this would be a bit overly touristy but we found it informative, fun and interesting. A guide from the museum spent about an hour walking us through the exhibits, telling us about the history of Ecuador as well as interesting facts about living along the equator. We’d recommend a visit if you do the day in Quito before heading to the Galapagos.
Back at the JW Marriott we had about an hour before leaving for a ten minute bus ride to dinner at LaGloria Restaurant. Our evening menu consisted of a choice between two appetizers, three entrees and a trio of desserts. Coffee and soft drinks were included. Alcoholic beverages were extra. Our guide explained that they rotate restaurants from week to week but we felt this was a perfect dinner. We were back at the JW Marriott by 8:00 PM.
We had been informed that there was going to be a delay in our departure for Balta due to issues with Avianca, the airline providing our transportation. Instead of leaving the hotel at 8:30 am on Sunday we would now be leaving at 11:30 am. As it turned out, it was nice not to get up early on Sunday and to ensure a leisurely breakfast before heading to the airport.
When we arrived back at the hotel after dinner, we were asked to bring our checked luggage down to the guides for inspection and transfer to the airport. We were able to keep all of our toiletries in our carry-on luggage (this is a big difference from the USA rules) so dropping off checked luggage the night before wasn’t a problem. This process took about five minutes and this is when you attach your Celebrity luggage tags with your name and cabin number on them to your luggage. We were told the next time we’d see the luggage would be in our cabin on the ship.
On Sunday morning, we stopped at the hospitality desk where we picked up our flight boarding passes and entrance/exit paperwork for the Galapagos. We noticed that there were flight upgrades on our flight so we asked and were told it was $112 each way to upgrade to business class on the flight to and from Baltra. Seemed pretty reasonable so this is something you might want to check on. The fee for the upgrade is added to your Celebrity onboard account.
A 45-minute bus ride back to the airport was far more interesting than the ride to the hotel because it was daylight. Lots of big volcanic mountains, steep roads, cyclists trying to make it up the mountain roads, mango stands all along the highway. Upon arrival at the airport, we quickly went through security and were on our way to our gate. At 2:00 PM, we boarded our Avianca Airbus 319 plane to Baltra!
We were served a nice lunch of either chicken or beef with Celebrity china service throughout the plane. Thus far, Celebrity has made this a great experience. The staff in Quito was simply outstanding and got our adventure off to a fantastic start.
We arrived in the Galapagos around 3:00 PM (we gained an hour on the flight). Our flight was several hours late so our cruise departure was late, too. After being picked up at the airport, we were transferred to the zodiacs about ten minutes away for the first of many zodiac rides. A short ride found us boarding Xpedition.
One of the first things you do is get fitted for wet suits if you are planning to snorkel. Luggage was delivered pretty quickly, and the muster drill was short and sweet. Our first “stop” (which really wouldn’t have been a stop since we wouldn’t have gotten off the ship) at Daphne Island was cancelled due to our late arrival. It wasn’t a big deal since we sailed past Daphne later in the trip.
This is not like a Caribbean or Alaska cruise where you plan your days and excursions before you get to the ship. Each night there is a briefing on the next day’s activities and you sign up for one of several options for the next morning and afternoon. The sign up takes place in the Explorer’s Lounge and only takes a few minutes each evening. You do not have to worry about missing out or any excursion “filling up.”
Each excursion is well defined and listed again in the Celebrity Today placed in your cabin each evening. If you are unsure about any of the activities, the staff is more than happy to answer any questions as well as allow you to switch excursions if you change your mind.
Excursions ranged from short easy walks to longer, more challenging terrain. While you definitely needed to be careful on some of the tours as some were over rocky boulders or lava fields, everyone on our cruise managed very well. Walking sticks were available from the ship and many passengers brought their own.
You are up early each morning as the ship’s anchor can be heard loud and clear from just about everywhere on the ship. A full breakfast, including eggs and omelets to order, is served in the dining room each morning. Juices are fresh squeezed, and pastries and breads are baked on board each day. All were outstanding. There is also a light continental breakfast with coffee and juices at the Beagle Grill outdoors at the aft of the ship. You are off the ship and headed to the morning excursions by 8:00 or 8:30 each day.
You are back to the ship by 11:00 – 11:30 each day (except the last day) for lunch. Lunch was typically available in the dining room and the Beagle Grill. The selections for both changed daily. For the most part we ate lunch at the Beagle Grill and enjoyed dining on the outdoor aft deck. Lunches at the Beagle were hot dogs, hamburgers & pizza twice; a Mexican buffet (truly outstanding); and a BBQ buffet one day with an whole roasted pig. The dining room lunch changed themes each day and included Ecuadorian, Italian, Asian, etc.
Following lunch there was normally a little “down” time which allowed me to download my morning photos onto my laptop. The afternoon excursions typically started between 3:00 and 4:00 PM and concluded by 5:30 – 6:00 PM.
The evening briefing for the following day was each evening in the Explorers Lounge followed by dinner. The dining room food was very good and featured a wide array of fish, seafood, chicken, beef and vegetarian dishes. Like a regular Celebrity cruise, there were three appetizer, entrée and dessert options that were available every night along with the portion of the menu that changed daily. The Beef Wellington on the final night was excellent! We also dined one evening out on the aft deck where they served a different nice menu (reservations were required and this was only available three evenings so book it early if it’s something you’d like to do). It was a nice change.
On the final evening, there was a “cruise in review” type event in the Explorer Lounge. A slide show of photos taken by the naturalists during our various tours on the islands was shown and then it was announced that we’d receive a flash drive with all the staff photos – at no cost. It was a very nice special touch.
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Read your cruise e-docs closely. This is not like a typical cruise and the e-docs contain some important information that differs from your normal cruise.
Luggage restrictions – on the flight from Quito to the Galapagos and return we were limited to one checked bag weighing no more than 44 pounds. One carry on was permitted (plus a purse or backpack) weighing no more than 14 pounds (however, they did not weight the carry on luggage so if you are slightly over it didn’t matter.
Don’t Overpack ~ this was truly a casual cruise. I wore a rash guard and shorts for all shore excursions and slacks with a casual top for dinners.
Light or Neutral Colored Clothing ~ it says this in the e-docs but I missed it. All of the rash guards I own are colorful (pink, yellow, orange, blue) and we were advised to avoid those colors on some walks where wasps and bees were attracted to those colors. Fortunately, I had a long-sleeve mostly white t-shirt that I wore for those excursions.
Camera Equipment ~ nearly everyone carried camera equipment and much of it was serious equipment. Double check before leaving home to ensure you have everything you need as one guest didn’t have her battery charger and unfortunately is was a unique one that no one else had. About half way through the cruise her battery died and she used her phone the rest of the cruise. For me (an avid photographer) that would have been devastating on this cruise. I carry several batteries and triple checked to ensure my charger was packed in my carry on.
Truly Remote ~ You are really “out there” on this cruise. From the time you land in Baltra to the time you reach Santa Cruz on your last day, you are remote – no stores, no restrooms on islands, nothing. So be sure to double and triple check that you have not forgotten any true necessities before getting on your flight to Baltra.
YOU WILL NEED
Sunscreen and lots of it. You can burn quickly if you forget to put it on.
Water shoes, tevas, keens for wet landings and good hiking shoes for some of the excursions.
Protective hats ~ those who didn’t bring them bought one in the small store onboard the ship.
Xpedition only carries 98 passengers and 64 crew members. She is a world away from other “cruise ships” you might have sailed. First, every time you get on or off the ship you are on a zodiac. The crew is always there to help you on and off and it was clear that safety was extremely important.
Cabins (we were in 418 on deck 4) were adequate. Smaller than your average cruise ship, there was enough storage, a small desk with chair and a small couch. The bathroom/shower were fine although not nearly as large as those on the S-class ships. The ship is small enough that no matter what cabin you select, your close to everything.
The Guest Relations area is extremely small but was always staffed by smiling, friendly crew. Attached to the Guest Relations room was a small gift shop that had nice hats, shirts, etc. You would go down one deck to the dining room from here and up to a deck that had a small are for tables/chairs and the small workout room off of it. The small spa was located up there as well.
No one does the Galapagos cruise for the entertainment but there were lots of nice “entertaining” aspects of the cruise
There was a wonderful guitar player who frequently played on the back deck during lunch or late in the afternoon when we returned from excursions. Mostly background stuff, but very nice nonetheless.
Crossing the Equator Party
The night we crossed the equator, the naturalists threw a “Crossing the Equator Party.” It was a lot of fun. Music, dancing, limbo contest.
Quite honestly, most people were pretty tired after long days of excursions. Minimal entertainment opportunities were fine with us. There were plenty of passengers to chat with and a wonderful crew to serve drinks all night long.
Hands down, by far, this was the best crew we’ve ever had on a cruise. Several dynamics come into play that likely contributed to the outstanding service and happy, positive attitudes of all staff members. First, 75% of the crew is required to be Ecuadorian; next the crew works three weeks on then two or three weeks off for the most part. That means the get to go home and visit with family often. Finally, being such a small ship, the passengers and crew quickly got to know one another making for a fun and friendly experience. From the naturalists to the zodiac drivers, the bar staff to the cabin attendants, from the dining staff and chefs to the officers, everyone was eager to please and did their jobs with sincere smiles. It was a truly unique experience that made this a most memorable cruise.
Capt. Pacheco has been with Celebrity Xpedition since she began sailing the Galapagos in 2004. He certainly runs one fantastic ship and a crew that must make him proud.
We had a great mix of passengers from the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, and Belgium (I hope I got all the countries represented). Like the crew, you quickly got to know passengers, exchange information, zodiacs, dining tables and shore excursions. While the average age of the passengers was likely in the mid-60s, there were a few in their 30s, 40s & 50s as well as some older passengers.
• Photos on Flash Drive – each couple received a flash drive with more than 600 photos taken by the crew during our cruise. A VERY nice gesture!
• Email List – you could list your email if you wanted it shared with other passengers
• REALLY Good Chocolates Each Night
• Crew that Cared – you could tell how much the crew cared. Nothing was too much trouble and they were always helpful and smiling!
This cruise was worth the cost and we’d definitely go back and do the inner loop. Loved truly getting away from it all and spending time with warm and caring people…..and seeing so many wonderful wild creature and landscape. If you are thinking about doing this cruise….DO IT!
Here’s a link to some of the photos taken by me during this trip. Please note that all photos are owned and copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission.
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