Many of us have come around to some new realizations about travel during the past year. Due to the current global health crisis, many are unable to take that once-in-a-lifetime trip, but one can still dream about post-pandemic travel. Now is the perfect time to start mapping out your “bucket list” vacation, which should absolutely include a trip to the Galapagos Islands. This magical volcanic archipelago located in the Eastern Pacific is about 600 miles west of Ecuador, the country that claims the islands under its flag. Best known as the site where Charles Darwin marveled at the sheer variety of flora and fauna on the remote islands and developed his Theory of Evolution by means of natural selection, the Galapagos remain one of the true natural wonders of the world.
The islands are not the sort of destination where travelers can simply fly into an airport, rent a car and drive around discovering the area for themselves. This is a maritime destination, protected by the Galapagos National Park system and its status as the second-largest marine preserve in the world, second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. To visit these marvelous islands, you really need to engage the service of experienced guides, and no one does that better than Celebrity Cruises with their fleet of three ships that are specifically fitted to carry guests around the islands with a minimal impact on the delicate environment. In fact, Celebrity has been prudently introducing the Galapagos to their guests for 17 years, and the latest addition to their fleet, Celebrity Flora, is the first purpose-designed vessel ever launched specifically to offer an extremely low impact cruising experience.
Celebrity’s Galapagos Director of Sales and Communications, Susana Romero, describes the company’s relationship with the islands this way: “First and foremost, our purpose is to care for the destinations and the communities we serve. It’s a privilege to visit the Galapagos, and we do everything we can to take care of them. The special paint we use on our hulls allows us to glide through the water and use less fuel. We buy our food from local residents. Our guests have planted more than 50,000 trees while on trips, and we encourage them to donate to local projects like rebuilding soccer fields.”
Solar panels reduce emissions by supplementing electricity production. Flora’s unique Dynamic Positioning System allows the ship to stay in position just offshore without the use of anchors, further protecting the ocean bottom. “The technology lowers our impact,” Susana proudly shares.
But what is the experience of cruising in the Galapagos like? (“It’s not a cruise; it’s an expedition,” Susana politely corrects.) First of all, forget most of what you thought you knew about shipboard life on other cruise ships. Celebrity’s Galapagos fleet of three ships carries between 16 and 100 passengers in luxurious accommodations that feature natural materials and furnishings. Menus are crafted by their own Michelin-starred chef and often served under the stars on deck after a day of excursions. Each night, onboard Galapagos National Park certified naturalist guides present briefings about the next day’s destination and offer up options for small group activities. All excursions are assigned by the Galapagos National Park to ensure the safety of the environment, and groups are kept to 10 guests accompanied by a guide to teach and answer questions about the destination.
Between the three vessels, Celebrity offers six distinct itineraries through the Galapagos archipelago, and special care is taken to ensure an ecofriendly allotment of guests during each visit. Individual excursions are also carefully distanced from one another, so you’ll really feel like a private guest on each island.
Even on such small ships, the flexibility of scheduling is impressive. After the guide briefings, guests can plan their next day’s activities which may include snorkeling, hiking or beach activities in the morning followed by an afternoon of coastal exploration, kayaking, or another hike or walk. The activities are generally appropriate for most guests, but you can always substitute a shorter walk for a long hike if you’d prefer to take it easy. A trip to the Galapagos is appropriate for all ages of cruisers, but Susana does suggest that children younger than 7 or 8 might have a little more difficulty following the guides’ instructions, something that is crucial to maintain the safety of the guests and their surroundings. She adds that she sees many multi-generational parties onboard and how wonderful it is when teenagers interact with grandparents as they experience the marvels of the Galapagos.
Each of the three ships in Celebrity’s Galapagos fleet has its own personality, but they all offer the same level of luxurious amenities, including linens, bedding and quality of food. The smallest ship is the Celebrity Xploration, a 16-passenger luxury catamaran featuring four suites and four elite ocean-view cabins with giant picture windows. Every cabin stateroom is equipped with two beds which are convertible to queen-size, 300 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, a flat-screen television, refrigerator, en suite bathroom and a desk to write down your day’s memories in your journal each evening.
Other attractions include several beautiful venues as well as a lounge for daily briefings and enrichment lectures as well as entertainment or reading a book while enjoying a cocktail. There’s also a top-level sun deck where guests can spend hours sunbathing, whale watching or relaxing in the hot tub. Because Celebrity Xploration is a small vessel, guests are really connected to the experience of maritime travel. Susana suggests that Celebrity Xploration is best for “people who want a very small experience. People who are sailors at heart!” She also points out that a trip on this vessel is perfect for a family adventure since it’s possible to book the entire ship for a private yacht experience.
The next size up in Celebrity’s fleet is the Celebrity Xpedition, a 48-passenger vessel that measures almost 300 feet from stem to stern. Susana has a soft spot in her heart for the Celebrity Xpedition. “It’s the ship that started it all in 2004. It brought luxury travel to the Galapagos and revolutionized the experience with elevated levels of service, the highest level of attention to detail and superior food.”
Originally launched with a capacity of 100 passengers, Celebrity Xpedition was refitted to carry less than half that many after the Celebrity Flora joined the fleet. Whether you’re dining in the lovely Darwin’s Restaurant or under the stars on the Panorama Deck, dining experiences aboard this vessel rivals anything you can imagine onshore. Plus, the views can’t be beat as you cruise from island to island enjoying a glass of wine or a cocktail in the opulent Discovery Lounge while listening to live music performances.
Celebrity Flora, truly the gem of the Celebrity Cruises’ Galapagos fleet, is the brand’s latest ship to set sail in this unique enclave of the world. This 100-passenger mega-yacht was designed specifically with the Galapagos in mind and also to delight the guests who choose to experience the islands aboard this all-suite vessel. In addition to leveraging technology to reduce impact to the destination, Flora was constructed using an ingenious “outward-facing concept,” with glass everywhere stretching from floor to ceiling to ensure that the scenery remains the center of guests’ attention throughout their journey, even when they are enjoying amenities like cozying up with a book in The Observatory library or dining at the Seaside Restaurant on Deck 4.
Susana explains that a lot of thought went into creating this marine marvel. “We definitely spent a lot of time designing her. At every step we considered, ‘Does she fit? Does it make sense?’ The materials that we used in the decor feel like they belong in the islands. We positioned the beds facing outwards and even added windows in the bathrooms to let light in and feature the view of the destinations. We made sure to include lots of access to the outdoors, and there’s glass everywhere. We dedicated the entire upstairs deck to the outdoors, and guests can enjoy ‘glamping’ in a two-space cabana.” This unique sunset-to-sunrise experience includes a special dinner with campfire-themed treats and cocktails followed by a stargazing session presented by one of the onboard naturalists. The second cabana converts to a double bed space where guests can sleep under the stars before awakening to a private breakfast and another day in paradise.
The time you do choose to spend in the luxurious suites isn’t too shabby, either. Every suite has access to a Personal Suite Attendant and 24-hour in-suite room service plus a stocked mini-bar and locally sourced turndown chocolate service each evening. Rooms are equipped with water filtration service to eliminate the need for plastic water bottles, a television with live TV and on-demand programming, monogrammed bathrobes, slippers and premium bed linens, complimentary laundry service and marine binoculars to view the wonders of nature while you cruise.
Celebrity Cruises has considered virtually everything you might need to relax and enjoy these legendary islands—and included it. To book your flights in and out of Quito, Ecuador, you may use your own travel agent, or contact Celebrity’s travel team. From pre- and post-cruise luxury accommodations and transfers right down to the gratuities—it’s all covered. Also included is an exclusive flight reserved just for Celebrity guests between Quito and Baltra. Celebrity’s Galapagos vacations are truly all-inclusive, making every guest’s trip as convenient, relaxing, and memorable as possible. Travelers can open their world even wider with additional South American packages, including pre- or post-cruise visits to exciting places, including Quito, Cuzco, and Machu Picchu.
So when is the best time to take a cruise to the Galapagos with Celebrity? Susana jokes, “I always say that the best time to go to the Galapagos is tomorrow! But it really is a year-round destination.” Located near the equator, the weather is generally always temperate, however there are essentially two seasons. January through May offers the warmest and clearest water for snorkeling, during the summer months, the temperatures are cooler making it very comfortable for the hikes and walks…so it is truly a matter of preference. Celebrity supplies wetsuits so that the slightly cooler water really doesn’t make much of a difference. Susana adds, “The Galapagos offer access to so many incredible animals that there’s always something fascinating going on with the flora and the fauna. The sea lions are active all year round.”
While you might not plan to take this once-in-a-lifetime trip immediately, it’s never too soon to start dreaming. Many travelers plan their trips 6-18 months in advance, and thanks to a full deposit refund policy up to 121 days prior to the trip, there’s no risk in planning ahead. There will be fewer people on whichever ship you choose than will be on the plane that carries you to the beginning of the journey, so a Celebrity tour of the Galapagos offers the sort of intimate travel opportunities that only those with private jets and yachts can usually enjoy.
Susana sums it up nicely: “Why not now? It’s always time to seek out life-changing experiences. Everything that you do that has meaning sticks with you, and we’ve learned that there are no guarantees. Don’t miss out!”
This article is sponsored by Celebrity Cruises. All photography provided by Celebrity Cruises.