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Pearl Irby

Age: Various

Occupation:Travel Professional, Biologist

Number of Cruises: 21+

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Celebrity Xpedition

Sailing Date: December 4, 2005

Itinerary: Galapagos Islands

My husband Bob and I had been anticipating this cruise for years. I was packed and ready to go months ahead of time. As a Biologist, a wildlife cruise to the Galapagos was on the top of my list of “must-do” and it had finally come to fruition. We were fortunate that our youngest daughter, Dee was able to join us. We selected the 10 day all inclusive package Celebrity offered. A 2 night pre cruise hotel stay in Quito and a one night post hotel stay in Quito at the J.W. Marriott, all tips, alcohol, shore excursions, meals in Quito, everything was included.

I felt the cruise would be special and when the travel documents arrived, in an embossed leather bound book with a detailed itinerary and wildlife information I was sure of it.

Packing was a challenge, as a 30 pound luggage restriction was placed on all guests. We had 30 pounds of camera equipment alone. After much thought and rearrangement we made the weight limit.

Pre-Cruise (2 Days in Quito, Ecuador):
My Husband and I flew Continental Airlines from Sacramento to Huston where we meet our daughter, who had flown to Huston from Dallas. We all then proceeded to fly to Quito, Ecuador for the 2 nights pre cruise at the J. W. Marriott. It was a 5 hour flight. Quito is in the same time zone as the east coast of the United States.

We arrived in Quito at midnight, very tired. Fortunately the custom clearance went very rapidly and we were met outside the baggage claim area by a representative from Celebrity and escorted to the waiting busses. It was a very smooth transition. There was a 20 minute bus ride to the hotel.

The J. W. Marriott is a beautiful hotel. We were welcomed and given a damp wash cloth to wipe our hands and face, then were offered a cool fresh fruit drink prior to registering. After a short check in process we were taken to our room. We were in our room by 1:40 AM. The room was lovely and ample in size with a huge marble bath and shower.

The mattress was firm, almost as firm as the floor, but we had had a long day and fell asleep in short order.

The hotel recommended we drink only bottled water which was supplied in the bathroom. We also used it to brush our teeth.

Pre Cruise Day 2:
Day two started with an excellent buffet breakfast in the Hotel. The food offered was what you would expect at a nice buffet, with some extra added Ecuadorian items, such as local fruits, juices and plantains cooked in several ways. There were interesting local food choices, it is always fun to try new things. All in all it was well laid out with lots of choices and ethnic foods to experiment with.

The tour of Quito started from the hotel lobby at 9:00 AM. We boarded busses and headed for the Old City of Quito the capital of Ecuador, which was founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca city. The city is at an altitude of 9,350 feet and you can really tell it when you start hiking. Many people had brought altitude medication; we just took it slowly and were fine. The city is beautiful and a UNESCO “World Heritage Site”.

Picture from the plaza

Our group was driven to the plaza de San Francisco where we toured on foot for a mile and a half. We toured the monasteries of San Francisco and Santo Domingo and the church and Jesuit College of La Compañía. The rich interiors and beautiful art work is as impressive as anything we have seen in Europe.

During the tour we were approached by several Indian women and children selling beautiful scarves and crafts. They were asking $3.00 each for the scarves. Our guide said a 30% discount was a fair bargaining price. We ended up paying $2.00 for the scarves. I wish we had bought several more as the workmanship is beautiful. They are sweet people; we enjoyed the interacting with them. They were very picturesque and it was like taking a step back in time. The currency in Ecuadour is the American dollar which makes trading easy.

Indian lady carrying a baby and selling scarves

After leaving the Old City we stopped at a local craft market which had Indian paintings, jewelry, carved and painted boxes, trays and bowls, more scarves, rugs and wall hangings, all beautifully detailed crafts. We had checked with the hotel prior to leaving on the tour and they said they would store our purchases until we returned for the final night’s stay. That left us free to shop, and we did.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant perched on the rim of a volcano just outside the city. Unfortunately it was raining & foggy at that elevation and we couldn’t see anything, but had a lovely meal with drinks.

After lunch we proceeded to the Half of the World Park and Museum where we stood on the Equatorial line with one foot in each hemisphere.

One foot in each hemisphere

We visited the museum and toured the grounds. Ecuador is a bird watchers paradise so keep your eyes open as you tour. We saw a “Dove” hummingbird. It is the largest hummingbird with a tail 2 times the length of its’ body. It was so exciting to see! There were a few shops in the park. We found extremely good buys on high quality merchandise. I would recommend doing some of your shopping at this location. They had large alpaca teddy bears for $12.00 each. I saw a smaller bear in a museum in Victoria, B.C. for $100.00. Alpaca is so soft. They make wonderful gifts. They also had alpaca scarves for $6.00.

Shopping in Half of the World Park

Driving through the city was difficult. There was lots of traffic. It was also very smoggy. We arrived at the hotel about 5:30 PM. Dinner was arranged in the hotel dining room for 7:00. We were tired and knew that tomorrow was going to be an early day so we decided to turn in forgoing dinner.

Day 3 Transfer to the Galapagos Islands:
We pre arranged our wake up call with the front desk for 4:30 AM, as the bags had to be in the hall by 5:00 AM. We picked up our I.D. stickers from the Celebrity representative in the lobby and went to breakfast in the buffet area, which began service at 4:30 AM. At 7:00 AM we boarded the busses for our transfer to Quito airport and the flight to Baltra Island in the Galapagos. We were given our airline ticket at the airport and escorted to a lounge to wait for the flight on TAME airlines to Guayaquil, then on to Baltra. About the 30 pound luggage restriction, nothing was ever weighed. Some people had what appeared to be 50 pound carry-on bags. The plane was a 737-300 so the baggage weight restrictions must have been for the zodiacs and the transfer to the Xpedition. Quite a few people ignored it. Our flight was smooth. We had a 30 minute lay over in Guayaquil but did not de-plane.

The Galapagos Islands are 600 miles of the coast of Ecuador and consist of 13 large and 6 smaller islands. Upon landing at Baltra everyone had to clear an inspection by the National Park service. They were looking for anything we might be carrying that could be introduced to the islands and negatively influence the fragile ecology. After a clean bill of health, we boarded busses for the 10 minute ride to the waiting zodiacs.

At the Zodiac boarding area we were greeted by our naturalist guides and instructed how to embark and disembark the zodiacs, using the “Galapagos hand shake”. There were seals, tropicbirds, sally light-foot crabs and frigatebirds everywhere. It was so exciting to be in the midst of all the activity.

Our Naturalist Guides: Each zodiac held 12 -14 passengers, a boatman and a naturalist guide. The guides are local Ecuadorians licensed by the National Park. They make the excursions memorable by informing you what to expect on each island in the way of flora and fauna. They identify the wildlife encountered and give a history of the species and the islands. They are excellent biologists and excited to share their knowledge to enhance your experience.

A Full Zodiac with our Naturalist Rod (standing)

It was a short zodiac ride to the Xpedition where we were greeted by Captain Fausto Pacheco and his staff. We were welcomed aboard and offered a damp cloth to freshen up with, then offered fresh juice and escorted to the guest relations office where the room keys were issued. This was rapid, as there were only 72 people on this sailing. To our surprise we were met in the office by the hotel director Mario Pires and informed he had up graded Dee. Originally, we had booked one of 4 category XD cabins that slept 3 people, it turned out that the cabin for 3 next to ours had not sold, so Mario moved Dee to that cabin. This was such a pleasant surprise. We knew the cabins were small and it was going to be a tight fit for all 3 of us. Mario upgrading us made the cruise so much more comfortable for everyone.

Celebrity Xpedition

First Impression:
As the zodiac approached, my first impression of the ship was, “thank goodness we chose Celebrity”. The Xpedition was by far the best maintained and most beautiful ship in the harbor. With a length of 296 feet, beam of 43 feet, staff of 66 and occupancy of 94 (only 72 this cruise) there is almost a one to one staff to guest.

Our Cabin # 304, at sunset, Marina Deck

Our cabin # 306 and Dee’s cabin # 304 were alike (Category XD ocean view, starboard side). They were small cabins, 160 sq. ft., but ample for our needs. The bathroom had a shower with a glass door that latched closed. A very nice feature. The cabin had 2 full length closets with ample room for hanging cloths (remember only 30 pounds). Each had 7 shelves for folded clothes. The cabin had; a small night stand, refrigerator, stocked with bottled water, TV, small sofa, coffee table, bedside table, chair and full length mirror. There was one electrical outlet which took a standard 110V plug-in, hair dryer, TV, phone and a pair of binoculars. Unlike the beds at the Marriott, these beds were soft, with white down quilts. Also, notice the complementary bottle of champagne in the picture to welcome us aboard as Select Members. The cabin stewardess, greeted us upon our arrival, she was fantastic. We never saw her again. Like magic, the cabin was always clean, made up, with fresh towels for the bath and cleans yellow towels for the shore excursions. Considering we came in with sandy wet suits and feet, she did an amazing job.

The luggage being unloaded from the zodiac (good reason for a 30 lb. limit)

Our luggage arrived almost immediately and after unpacking we headed for Darwin’s Restaurant on Marina deck, just down the hall from our cabins, for lunch. Seating was open as it was during the entire cruise. After a warm greeting we served ourselves from a wonderful assortment of hot and cold luncheon items.

Darwin’s Restaurant Marina Deck

After lunch we toured the ship. Some of the ship photos were taken at various times during the cruise. Our time to photograph was limited by the life boat drill and the afternoon shore excursions.

The Discovery Lounge Bar Vista Deck Aft

The Discovery Lounge was a place we enjoyed. It was beautiful, air-conditioned and the staff was friendly and attentive. The location was very convenient to our cabin and to the area where the excursions departed. The drinks, shakes and espressos served at the bar where great. There was no charge for any drinks.

The Discovery Lounge during presentation

Gift Shop and Beauty Salon Marina Deck Aft

The shop sold T-shirts, Xpedition logo shirts, pants, hats and miscellaneous souvenir items. More importantly, they sold film, batteries and disposable cameras. We were able to purchase additional underwater disposable cameras. They also sold suntan lotion, sunscreen and miscellaneous cosmetic items. It was amazing that such a small shop could carry everything we ran out of. Someone did a very good job of anticipating cruisers needs.

Cruise Director, Ships Doctor, Hotel Director outside the Guest Relations Office

The Blue Finch bar Panorama Deck

The Blue Finch Bar offers spectacular outdoor views and is a pleasant place to mingle with other guests. It is located aft on the Panorama Deck.

The Hot Tub and Sauna area Sunrise Deck

Neither the fitness facility nor the hot tub was busy. The itinerary was so full, there wasn’t time to take advantage of these amenities.

The Fitness area and Gym Sunrise Deck

Open air dining area Beagle Grill Vista Deck

Lunch BBQ Beagle Grill One of our favorites

Beagle Grill Early Risers Breakfast Vista Deck

Lowering one of the 4 zodiacs from the upper deck storage area

Zodiacs waiting for our arrival and excursions to begin

At 2:00 PM we gathered in the Discovery Lounge for a briefing about this afternoon’s visit to Seymour Island. We were also briefed on the National Park rules and regulations. At the end of the briefing everyone signed up for the activity they wanted. The guides were then assigned to groups based on the number of people that had signed up in each category.

This was followed by an emergency Lifeboat drill for all guests.

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