Today’s travel adventure comes from my good friend Sandra Stewart. She sailed with Celebrity last November and I begged her to write up a Galapagos cruise recap and share photos with you. Here’s her story…
Long ago in grade school I was learning about Charles Darwin and his evolutionary theory and The Galapagos, I knew this was a place that I just had to see for myself….someday.
Many years later the time had finally come, and to choose a reliable company to fulfill a lifelong dream was not a simple task as there are many so choose from. I knew from the beginning that Celebrity had a lot to offer and they did not disappoint. Xpedition is one of their larger ships which was a big factor in the final decision as we are prone to sea sickness and Galapagos boats have little or no stabilizers. The dates of our trip offered the inner loop itinerary.
This vacation included a pre-cruise tour of Quito, Ecuador’s capital, and an option to add on a day at the end of the cruise. We chose to add on the extra day making this an 11 day adventure. This is not the cruise for you if you are looking for typical large cruise ship entertainment or late night fun. This is more of an adventure and exploration, you will be tired at the end of the day and a good night’s rest will come early.
Prior to the beginning of our adventure, Celebrity offered us the chance to upgrade our suite to the Penthouse, after almost talking myself out of it because it was already the most expensive trip we have ever taken, we decided to go ahead and book it. After all we are ones that do not want to come home saying “I wish we would have”.
If you are looking for a worry free vacation then this is for you. From the time we landed in Quito, Celebrity took care of everything, this was one of the most worry free trips we have ever taken. There was someone at the airport to greet us and arrange travel to the hotel. The bus trip took about 45 min and provided some wonderful views of the cities along the way and a guide to provide information about the route.
Our accommodations were at the J W Marriott for the next two nights. Celebrity took care of check in and provided us with our keys. They went so far as to even bring the luggage to our room. There was a Celebrity Concierge in the lobby available to help us with anything that we needed.
At this point dinner was on our own. We were offered a few suggestions by the guide on the bus. All were within walking distance of the hotel and we decided to try one of the recommendations. The food was very good and reasonably priced but they did not speak much English and there was a definite language barrier, but an overall great experience.
The room we were assigned was 419, which overlooked a public parking area. Later that night after falling asleep around 11pm I was awoken by the thumping of very loud music. I could not determine where it was coming from and tried to go back to sleep but the noise was just so bothersome that sleep was not possible. This continued untill 3am when I was finally able to get back to sleep. Thinking this was an anomaly I did not mention it to the hotel staff, until the next night when it happened again. It started around 10pm and by 11:30 we were still unable to sleep. We call down to the front desk to ask what could be done about it and they admitted that it is a problem and it happens every night, when we asked to be switched to another room they said they would get back with us in a few minutes. Within 10 minutes there was a knock on the door and a bell hop was waiting to take us to a new room, the 10th floor on the side of the building away from the parking lot, and finally peace and quiet.
The next day was our Quito city tour, the sights and sounds of locals made this an amazing day. The guides were very eager to teach about their heritage and spoke very good English. Highlights included Basílica del Voto Nacional and Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus. A lunch at a local Ecuadorian restaurant was provided with a buffet and local entertainment with music and dancing. Ample time was allowed to eat and rest a bit. After lunch was a trip to the Half of the World Park and Museum, quite interesting exhibits in the monument with souvenir markets outside. I felt we could have used a little more time here as we hurried through the museum in order to have time to shop. A return to the hotel afterward to rest a bit and get ready for dinner which was provided at a local gourmet restaurant. The food was excellent and even though it was a set menu they were eager to please and accommodate special requests. This is the first time we have ever been applauded as we exited the restaurant and headed back to the bus. I think they were essentially glad to have us as patrons.
FLYING TO BALTRA ISLAND
It was time to say adios to Quito and head to Baltra Island. We did not know that the upgrade to the Penthouse also meant that we were upgraded to a suite in the hotel and upgraded to 1st class for the flight to Baltra, both were a nice surprise, now making the upgrade amount a little more reasonable.
You will need to take your checked luggage to a specified area the night before your flight to Baltra. As for carry on luggage, Celebrity sets a weight limit. We did abide by the limit, but at no time did I see anyone weighing the carry on bags. Flying time was approximately 2 hours from Quito to Baltra and a meal was served. After arrival, a short bus trip to the dock and we were on our first Zodiac ride to the Xpedition. You will take your carry on onto the Zodiac with you. There were several crew members available to aid with donning life jackets, assist in boarding the Zodiac and help with your bag.
OUR PENTHOUSE SUITE
The ship staff and crew were ready for our arrival. Our cabin attendant met us in the lounge and escorted us to our Penthouse, it was huge, a merger of two suites into one. We pretty much had two of everything, except the bed. Two bathrooms, TV’s, refrigerators, two closets and two balconies. The side balcony was smaller and had a chair and small table. The front patio balcony was massive and had a Jacuzzi. The view from the patio balcony was worth the extra money in itself. It overlooked an area of the ship where two of the Zodiacs were stowed, we often watched them raise/lower them as well as raising the anchors.
Next was the basic ship embarkation routine, muster drill and safety information. Afterward we were given our snorkeling gear (wet suits, masks, snorkels, and fins), which we kept throughout the cruise in a dive bag. They were hung up by room number so you were sure to get the same gear each time. We brought our own snorkels as they just had the basic ones and from experience we knew we would need the dry snorkels as ocean waves can often crash over the top of the snorkel and you get a mouthful of sea water.
DINING ON THE XPEDITION
Dining on the Xpedition was outstanding. The main dining room (Darwin’s Restaurant) served buffet breakfast and lunch with a large array of selections, including an omelet station at breakfast. Dinner was more traditional, the regular staple items on one side of the menu and the other side changed daily with several entrees to choose from.
The Beagle Grill served a continental style early breakfast and hamburgers, sausage, fish, pizza etc. for lunch. There was an afternoon where they served a seafood buffet that was just wonderful.
Service was impeccable, there wasn’t anything that they would not try and do for you. They all were amazing and seemed to anticipate your needs. Hard work and long hours did not sacrifice in the service they provided, always professional and eager to please. Prompt and punctual and so caring about the environment and preservation of the Galapagos.
In the evenings we would gather in the lounge before dinner and were presented with options for the next day.
The types of wildlife/flora fauna we could possibly encounter, pictures were shown so we would be able to identify the different types. Available options included hiking, swimming, wildlife treks, snorkeling etc. Most days, there was more than one option to choose from. There were a few days that more than one island was visited. The excursions generally lasted 4 hours or less, depending on which you chose to do. Most of the time there was ample time allowed there were a few times where we would have enjoyed a little more time.
All of the islands were so diverse, which is not something I expected. The difference in them varied from black sand, red sand and mica sparkling sand. A few areas that we visited had reminders that these are fairly new islands, geologically speaking, and life was still trying to take hold on recently formed lava fields. Stunning vistas of coast lines and unique wildlife. Getting to see firsthand what inspired Darwin’s theory was a dream come true.
More amazingly, the wildlife had no fear of our presence, you could get close enough to take great photos and not have to use a zoom lens. Our guides did remind us to give them their space and 8 feet was the guideline. They all seemed to be as curious about us as we were about them. A few islands were homes to sea lion nurseries, one island in particular was in abundance of cuteness as the time we visited the females were out feeding which left the pups alone most of the day. We were able to get a lot of close ups photos and enjoy their adorable faces as they watched us watching them.
There were a few occasions to go snorkeling, and in doing so we were able to swim right along with sea lions, penguins and even a few different varieties of sharks in the deep water. I can’t describe how it felt to be able to swim with wildlife that are not afraid of you being there.
The sea lions seemed to enjoy us being in the water as they swam around us giving us a great show. Penguins were a bit less invasive and hard to get photos as they swim very fast.One time when we spotted sharks we were deep water snorkeling and two white tipped reef sharks came swimming toward us, at first I was scared as they were pretty big, but they just passed us and went on their way and we did the same but not before we got some great video of their existence.
THE JOURNEY HOME
After the cruise was over we returned to Quito the same way we arrived. We had to leave the ship very early in order for them to prepare for the arriving guests, which was a bit odd and left a lot of time at the airport for our flight. Arriving at the hotel we were given the same room as we had pre-cruise, that night’s dinner was included at the hotel’s restaurant. The next day most of the travelers were heading home or on to Machu Picchu, here is where we added the extra day in Quito as there were some things we wanted to do on our own.
One thing to note, if you are prone to sea sickness be aware that a lot of times at night the ship is anchored off shore which leaves it susceptible to rocking as it does not have stabilizers. We were prepared with prescriptions (patches and pills) to prevent that and they worked like a charm as there were a few nights I thought we would need seat belts for the bed.
I would highly recommend Celebrity Galapagos Cruise, although I don’t have anything to compare it to I can’t imagine anyone else superseding the excellence of Celebrity, they truly are the experts. I wouldn’t trust anyone else to manage such an experience of a lifetime.
For more information on this experience visit CelebrityCruises.com