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Doing the Galapagos "In Style"


AndiD
"Beyond all expectations: beauty, wilderness, wildlife"

Overall Rating: Excellent

TRIP INFO

Sail Date:02/13/2011
Destination:Other
Departed From:Baltra, Galapagos Island
# of Nights: 7 Nights
Cabin Type: Ocean View
Sailed As: Couple

RATINGS

Food:<p>0</p>
Itinerary:Excellent
Cabin:Excellent
Entertainment:Very Good
Overall Value:Excellent
Spa/Fitness: Good
Embarkation: Very Good
Debarkation: Very Good
Staff/Service: Excellent
Overall Rating: Excellent

COMPLETE REVIEW

A trip to the Galapagos had been a dream of mine since I was a young girl and saw pictures of the unique wildlife and landscapes in National Geographic! After my husband and I started cruising in 2000 I became aware of the cruises to the Galapagos, but the cost seemed prohibitive for our budget. Then I found Celebrity's cruise ship, the Xpedition! And the rest is history....

In order to book the 7-night cruise you must book 2 nights pre-cruise and 1 night post-cruise in Quito, Ecuador. You book it as a package, so it becomes a 10-day cruisetour that includes hotel, meals in Quito, flights during the 10 days, and tours. Quito is the capital of Ecuador, and the Galapagos Islands belong to Ecuador. So on February 11 we flew out early morning from Chicago-O'Hare to Miami; and after a 3-hour layover, flew directly to Quito. We were met there by the Celebrity tour staff who showed us the way through baggage, customs, and on to our waiting motor coach. No hassles! We drove the short (20 minute) distance to our hotel, the 5-star JW Marriott Hotel. Let's just say that the 5-star rating is very well deserved! We arrived thereabout 8:30 p.m. and they had refreshing cool towels (it was summer there) and juice/champagne drinks waiting for us! Hotel check-in went smoothly, our luggage was promptly brought to our rooms and we were left alone with our instructions for meeting our city tour the next morning.

Next morning we had breakfast in the hotel restaurant (included in the package) and met our bus for our day-long city tour. I'll let you form your own opinion of Quito - a mix of old and new; I never quite figured it out. The surrounding area is gorgeous, with the Andes mountains in the distance. You do have to be prepared for the altitude. I didn't think it would bother me, but it did (shortness of breath and somewhat queasy) so I followed the guide's advice to eat lightly, drink lots of water, move a bit slower. By the afternoon of that first day I was feeling better.

Our city tour included a stop for lunch at a lovely Italian Restaurant and a visit to the park that is on the equatorial line. We had our picture taken with a foot on each side of the Equator! :biggrin:

For dinner we were taken to a restaurant on the grounds of the opera house theater. Good food, good wine and delightful entertainment. Then back to the hotel to get ready for our flight to the Galapagos Islands and the beginning of our cruise adventure.

We were flown from Quito to the Baltra Airport in the Galapagos Islands (about a 3 hour flight) on a charter flight - brand new 737. They put 2 of us in a row of 3 so we had a window and aisle seat with the empty middle seat between, so plenty of room. They gave us lunch and drinks, just like the flights of yore! We landed on Baltra, were guided through customs and taken by bus to the pier. Since larger ships cannot dock at any island in the Galapagos, we were tendered by zodiacs to our waiting ship and our home for the next week. On the pier we encountered our first wildlife - sleeping sea lions who could have cared less about us - we were ecstatic!

The ship is gorgeous! We had a passenger count of 86 (I believe it holds 98) and 60 crew. Yes - just about a crew member for each one of us! You zodiac up to the back of the ship and climb the ladder to a large sun deck off of a large all-purpose lounge with a bar where we held our welcome meeting and were given our cabin keys. Cabins were small, but absolutely spotless and very well-maintained. All cabins are at least ocean view with a large square window and ample storage. The dining room is open-seating for all meals with breakfast and lunch served buffet-style and sit-down dinners. Wine is served at lunch and dinner or you can request anything from the bar (all liquor is included in the price of the cruise.) The food was plentiful and excellent in taste and presentation!

Our daily schedule went like this: Up early for breakfast then off on an island excursion that lasts 2.5-3 hours. Back to the ship where you were greeted with ice-cold towels and beverages. Off to the shower and preparation for lunch. After lunch there was usually a presentation about the Galapagos of some type: historian, documentary....or you could stay in your cabin and take a little nap before the next island excursion (the ship moved during lunch) of again, 2.5-3 hours. Back on the ship late afternoon, again greeted with cold towels, refreshments and now also canapes. Off to the shower and dress for dinner. Before dinner, we would gather in the lounge for a briefing on the next day's activities. You always had a choice of 2-3 levels of activity; and then off to dinner. After dinner there would be optional activities - sometimes live music, sometimes star-gazing/wildlife spotting or just socializing. We got to know everyone fairly well and since we were all there for the same type of experience, had something in common to talk about!

Excursions to the island were always by zodiac. We were divided into groups of no more than 16 each headed up by an Ecuadorian historian, as required. Celebrity, like National Geographic, uses the top grade of historians (there are 3 grades) so our guides were incredibly informed and could answer absolutely any question you posed. Each stop that we made (2 per day) brought different geography, geology, flora and fauna. These guides know it all and are very conscientious about taking good care of the islands and the inhabitants of them. The wildlife was absolutely amazing and we saw just about every species listed on our charts!

The ship's crew were also incredible. What amazed me the most were the cabin stewards. They made up the cabins three times a day! We would go out in the morning and come back to made-up cabins with fresh towels, etc. Go out in the afternoon and come back to clean showers, fresh towels, replenished water; go to dinner and come back to clean showers, fresh towels and turned down beds with our next day's newsletter. We so appreciated the attention to details when we came back from 3 hours of hot hiking, swimming, snorkeling excursions. We went in February when the temperature averaged about 112 degrees.....it was supposedly the rainy season, but we never had one drop of rain! I would go again at the same time of year since the seas are calmer in the "summer" - with a small ship you feel every wave.

The temperature really didn't seem to hinder us - we took hankies for the sweat, always wore a hat and had plenty of water. The air is so clean and clear that it seemed so easy to breathe!

At the end of the cruise, we were presented with a CD of pictures that all the historians had taken throughout the entire cruise - over 300 pictures of our particular cruise - priceless! On disembarkation day, we reversed the procedures of a week ago and were flown back to Quito to the same hotel. We had time for a shopping tour where we were taken to the outdoor markets and to a very nice fine arts gallery. Then back to relax and gather for a farewell dinner before our flights home the next day.

The Celebrity team from start to finish was excellent! The attention to detail showed in the smooth operations from airport to hotel to islands and back again. The cost was truly all-inclusive and came in at literally thousands less than some other well-known Galapagos players. I can't imagine having any more amenities, luxuries, hospitality or authenticity than we had. I would recommend it to anyone who loves nature, science, geology and of course, wildlife.

Just a couple of cautions: You do have to have a level of mobility - even the lightest hikes can be challenging. You absolutely have to have a hat and insect repellent! There are no restroom facilities on the islands themselves... sometimes it can take up to 1/2 hour for a zodiac to come and get you. Our population varied in age from about 30 to 83. All but one was able to navigate at least some of the outings.

I would be happy to answer additional questions (not sure how that works but am willing!)

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