Cruise Specialists Director of Operations Teresa Tennant, takes us along on her recent jaw-dropping voyage, so you know exactly what to expect, when to go and why it’s so incredible.
The Celebrity Galapagos 10-night Southern Loop cruise tour was a fantastic experience. Celebrity is running a very well-organized, high-quality program that all guests enjoyed very much.
It started in Quito, Ecuador, where we were met at the airport with an easy van transfer to our hotel for the night. The next morning we enjoyed a full-day tour of Quito, which included a stop at El Panecillo (Bread Loaf Hill) to visit the statue of the Virgin of Quito and enjoy panoramic views of the city; a walking tour of old town with lunch at La Belle Epoque restaurant overlooking the central square; and an afternoon visit to the Equatorial Line at the Middle of the World Park and Ethnographic Museum.
The next morning, we transferred back to the airport for our flight to Baltra, Galapagos, onboard Avianca Airlines. On arrival in Baltra, refreshments were provided in the VIP room while the full group completed arrival formalities.
Our National Park guides met us at the pier to distribute life jackets for the inflatable rubber boat ride (referred to locally as “zodiacs” or “pangas”) to the Celebrity Xperience. The ship does not dock anywhere during this itinerary – all transfers are by zodiac.
We headed out for our first shore experience on North Seymour Island, home to a large number of Blue-Footed Boobies and the largest colony of Frigate Birds in the Galapagos.
As it is currently breeding season for the Frigate Birds, the males were very impressive with their red gulars (throat pouches) inflated to attract a mate. There are also many land iguanas, sea lions and marine iguanas on this island. The path is rocky and sandy in different places. Good walking shoes were necessary for all of our hikes in the Galapagos with the exception of a few beach walks.
Galapagos National Park
The Galapagos Islands have a very high level of endemic species. Approximately 80% of the land birds, 97% of the reptiles and land mammals, more than 30% of the plants and more than 20% of the marine species are found nowhere else on earth.
All visitors to the Galapagos National Park must be accompanied by a certified naturalist guide and each guide takes a maximum of 16 guests at a time.
Only four of the 20 islands are inhabited by fewer than 30,000 people, occupying about 3% of the land area. On the Southern Loop itinerary, only one included stop, at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, was inhabited by people.
At all other locations, the days are filled with walks/hikes, optional beach or deep water snorkel activities, and swimming or kayaking opportunities. Briefings by the lead naturalist were provided each evening to describe the activity options for the following day including expected weather, the type of landing (wet or dry), the clothing/accessories/equipment needed, and what wildlife we could expect to encounter. Snorkel gear and mini-wet suits were distributed for all guests interested in participating in the beach and deep water snorkel activities.
South Plaza Island
On South Plaza Island, a short, scenic hike past tall prickly pear cactus allowed us to view Swallow-Tailed Gulls (the only nocturnal feeding seabird in the world), land iguanas, marine iguanas, sea lions and Sally Lightfoot crabs.
A wet landing on Santa Fe Island in the afternoon brought us to a beach with a colony of sea lions on the sand and playing in the surf. After a short walk, many guests enjoyed snorkeling from the beach. Each time guests return to the ship, shoes and snorkel equipment are rinsed off to avoid transporting seeds from one island to another.
San Cristobal Island
On San Cristobal Islands, a challenging steep climb led guests to a lookout point where Red-Footed, Blue-Footed and Nazca boobies all have breeding grounds.
As the birds were incubating their recently-laid eggs, it was a challenge to get a good view of their colored feet. An afternoon zodiac ride took us along the rocky cliffs to a beautiful white sand beach with a view of the Kicker Rock formation, more friendly sea lions, and some Oystercatcher birds.
Post Office Bay
Before arriving at Post Office Bay on Floreana Island, we were reminded to write and address a postcard to someone (or to ourselves). The post office barrel was established in about 1793, where pirates, whalers and others could leave mail to be picked up by outbound ships.
Guests took turns reading out addresses from the cards in the barrel. Anyone willing to hand deliver cards to the address called out could claim them. Then, we left our new cards in the barrel in hopes they would be claimed for delivery in the future.
Several guests took part in the deep water snorkel activity at Champion Islet. In the afternoon, another wet landing took guests to the green sand beach of Cormorant Point, where we saw Flamingos, not Cormorants, at the lagoon, and a number of sea turtles playing in the surf at the beach.
On Isabela Island, many guests were excited for the opportunity to view the endemic Galapagos Penguins – the only species found north of the equator and the third smallest species of penguin in the world. We saw several on the rocks and in the water during our morning zodiac ride through the mangroves.
On Santa Cruz Island, our morning tour took us first to the nearby Charles Darwin Research Station. We walked through the captive breeding area for the giant tortoises, which are bred here for release back to their natural environment.
Afterwards, we drove approximately 30 minutes up to the highlands to the Manzanillo Ranch where we could see the giant tortoises in their natural environment. After a snack of fruit, juice and cheese empanadas, everyone put on rubber boots and our naturalist guides took us through the grounds.
The giant tortoises can weigh up to 550 pounds and live to be over 100 years old. The Galapagos Islands were named after these tortoises with their saddle-shaped shells. The Naturalist Guides are charged with enforcing the park regulations for all visitors to maintain a distance of 2 meters or 6.5 feet from any wildlife. This can be difficult sometimes as the animals may be found on dock benches, dock ramps, jetty landings, trails, etc., but everyone did their best to be quick in passing any animals without contact.
In the afternoon, guests could return to the ship for lunch or stay in town at Puerto Ayora. Those returning for lunch could take the zodiac back in to town for shopping in the afternoon. This was the only port with any shopping opportunities during the cruise.
Guests also took advantage of wi-fi zones in town to check their email for the week. We were in port on International Women’s Day and the ship arranged a dessert surprise after lunch with pink champagne and cake for everyone. All the women (crew and guests) were assembled for a photo on deck while Pretty Woman played over the loudspeakers.
Our final stop was at one of the oldest islands in the archipelago – Espanola. We had an easy beach walk in the morning with the option to snorkel from the beach or return to the ship for a deep water snorkel. Two walk options were offered in the afternoon – short or long – and both were very difficult, rocky terrain to cover.
This island has a lot of lava lizards, which eat small insects, but we were unsure if mosquitoes were part of their diet as there were so many mosquitoes surrounding us! Nazca Boobies nest here and we saw lots of fluffy chicks, as well as Espanola Mockingbirds, Darwin’s finches, and Galapagos Doves.
Espanola is also home to the most colorful marine iguanas, nicknamed “Christmas Iguanas” due to their bright red and green coloring. The long walk takes guests to the blowhole and beautiful cliff viewpoints. This is also the area where the Waved Albatrosses breed, however, we did not see these as they are only on the island between April and December.
Meals onboard included buffet breakfasts with made-to-order eggs and omelettes; juices and snacks when returning from shore experiences; buffet lunches with a variety of salads and main course selections; and buffet dinners in the Dining Room as well as barbecue dinners at the Al Fresco Dining a few times during the week.
There were typically at least three different protein options for the main entrée – beef, chicken, pork and seafood. With advance notice, Celebrity will do their best to work with any guests who have special needs diets or preferences. Our four onboard naturalists joined the guests for several of the meals and were always happy to answer questions about everything we were seeing as well as talk about their personal lives on the islands.
There are almost as many staff onboard as guests – 48 passengers with 42 crewmembers – and they are very hardworking and friendly. Some are working behind the scenes, however, in addition to our Naturalist Guides, we met the Captain, First Officer, Chief Engineer, Chef, Hotel Manager, Guest Relations Manager, Doctor and several others at the welcome introductions. The doctor has a small, well-equipped infirmary and assisted a few guests during the week with minor injuries, motion sickness and illness.
Apart from the daily briefings, the entertainment is limited on board. Richard Attenborough’s 3-part series on the Galapagos Islands was shown in the Main Lounge over three evenings – part 1 “Origin”, part 2 “Adaptation”, and part 3 “Evolution” were each approximately 50 minutes long and enjoyed by many of the guests. A feature-length film, The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden, was shown later in the week in the Main Lounge.
This film focused on human history of the islands rather than the flora and fauna and involved a series of unsolved disappearances with some strange characters in Galapagos history. A trivia competition was held towards the end of the week which tested how well we listened to what our naturalist guides had been teaching us and there was a lot of laughter and good-natured debate.
All of the passengers we sailed with had a wonderful time on this trip. With a small group and open seating for meals, you can meet all of your fellow guests and share the different experiences of each day.