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Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Xpedition

Fodorite Reviews

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Jun 25, 2014

Galapagos Islands

Celebrity Xpedition, Galapagos June 13, 2014 Finally getting to the Galapagos islands ended a long desire to see the unusual array of birds and animals that we had heard so much about. We spent considerable time examining and evaluating various cruise options and based on a desire for some luxury as well as an experienced ship and crew we selected the Celebrity Xpedition, a cruise line that we had not used previously. We also liked the

inclusion of two days in Quito before and after the cruise. From the very first excursion to an island we knew our desire to visit the Galapagos was correct and now fulfilled. Every excursion brought new and wonderful sightings made all the more appreciated by the wonderful naturalists that accompanied us and provided amazing knowledge. About the only negative aspect of sailing on the Celebrity Xpedition that absolutely every conversation we had with fellow cruisers verified was the poor quality of the food. Time and time again there were dishes that had little taste or suffered in other ways. It became common practice to taste a dish, decide it was not worth eating, and then order another dish or try something else from the buffet table. An enormous amount of food ended up as waste. We found it fascinating that our waiter at the first dinner advised us to skip meat and chicken dishes because they were frozen and would not satisfy us. There were no problems or surprises with our stateroom. Though relatively small it was well designed and quite pleasant and satisfactory, with the odd feature that one person has to sleep adjacent to a wall and get into and out of bed in a strange way. As we knew the ship was small with just under 100 possible passengers we did not expect a lot of things which we have enjoyed on previous cruises. But we really appreciate the single musician that often played at cocktail times and in the evenings; he is quite a talent. The simple "shows" offered by crew and some passengers were also pretty good. The daily briefings on the next day's excursions by the naturalist cruise director were both informative and enjoyable. A special treat was the bridge tour where we learned how much Celebrity does on this ship to protect the environment and provide safety to all on board. Everyone who goes on this type of Galapagos cruise should absolutely go on every excursion, because every one offered some unique experience. We were glad that we selected a Galapagos cruise that included days in Quito, because Ecuador is a unique and most beautiful country with some of the most gorgeous people on the planet. But the disappointing food on the ship was a real negative.

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By Dave_CR

  • New

Jun 25, 2014

Galapagos Islands

Finally getting to the Galapagos islands ended a long desire to see the unusual array of birds and animals that we had heard so much about. We spent considerable time examining and evaluating various cruise options and based on a desire for some luxury as well as an experienced ship and crew we selected the Celebrity Xpedition, a cruise line that we had not used previously. We also liked the inclusion of two days in Quito before and after the cruise.

From the very first excursion to an island we knew our desire to visit the Galapagos was correct and now fulfilled. Every excursion brought new and wonderful sightings made all the more appreciated by the wonderful naturalists that accompanied us and provided amazing knowledge. About the only negative aspect of sailing on the Celebrity Xpedition that absolutely every conversation we had with fellow cruisers verified was the poor quality of the food. Time and time again there were dishes that had little taste or suffered in other ways. It became common practice to taste a dish, decide it was not worth eating, and then order another dish or try something else from the buffet table. An enormous amount of food ended up as waste. We found it fascinating that our waiter at the first dinner advised us to skip meat and chicken dishes because they were frozen and would not satisfy us. There were no problems or surprises with our stateroom. Though relatively small it was well designed and quite pleasant and satisfactory, with the odd feature that one person has to sleep adjacent to a wall and get into and out of bed in a strange way. As we knew the ship was small with just under 100 possible passengers we did not expect a lot of things which we have enjoyed on previous cruises. But we really appreciate the single musician that often played at cocktail times and in the evenings; he is quite a talent. The simple "shows" offered by crew and some passengers were also pretty good. The daily briefings on the next day's excursions by the naturalist cruise director were both informative and enjoyable. A special treat was the bridge tour where we learned how much Celebrity does on this ship to protect the environment and provide safety to all on board. Everyone who goes on this type of Galapagos cruise should absolutely go on every excursion, because every one offered some unique experience. We were glad that we selected a Galapagos cruise that included days in Quito, because Ecuador is a unique and most beautiful country with some of the most gorgeous people on the planet. But the disappointing food on the ship was a real negative.

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  • New

Jan 7, 2007

Galapagos

My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and former health services provider. We live in Phoenix, Arizona and this would be our 20th cruise. Our prior sailings have been on Carnival’s Elation to the Mexican Riviera; on the now defunct Commodore Line’s Enchanted Isle to the Caribbean for 11 days; a 7 day cruise, also in the Caribbean on Celebrity’s Galaxy; followed by

a marvelous cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires on Mercury, another Celebrity vessel. We then did our Alaskan cruise on Sun Princess, followed by a third 7 day Caribbean trip aboard Norwegian Sun and a trans-canal on Celebrity’s Infinity. We then sailed on Millennium for a Mediterranean cruise in May 2003, followed by a Baltic cruise tour on Regal Princess later that year. We then went to Hawaii for the first time on Infinity in November 2003 and did our first HAL on Veendam in the Caribbean the next spring. In March 2004 we took Galaxy from Baltimore to Rome, and returned to the Caribbean in October on Zaandam. In November 2004 we went back to the Mexican Riviera on Diamond Princess. We enjoyed our first Oceania experience on Insignia for a very different Amazon River cruise in March 2005, followed by a short “repositioning” cruise up the west coast from San Diego to Vancouver in May that year on our only Royal Caribbean ship to date, Radiance of the Seas. In November we spoiled ourselves on Crystal Serenity for eleven days on a Caribbean trip. In May 2006 we returned to Oceania; this time on Nautica for a cruise from Istanbul to Athens and in September of 2006 we sailed from New York to Quebec and back on Celebrity’s Constellation. We both wanted to do this cruise because it is completely and utterly unique. There is absolutely no place in the world like the Galapagos. Their place in history as the genesis of Darwin’s “Origin of Species” as well as their status as a totally different and unmatched naturalist’s nirvana makes this a part of the world that stands alone in its appeal and flavor. It exceeded our expectations. The Cruise Format, Itinerary and Shore Excursions This was a very different sort of cruise. The itinerary is actually chosen by the Ecuadorian government through its National Park Service managing the islands. The order of visitation of each island can vary with each cruise. 90% of the land comprising the islands and 100% of the seas around them are part of the National Park, and Ecuador limits the number of visitors to each specific island on a daily basis. Everyone starts at Baltra, a small island noted only for its airfield, with a small harbor; and you also return there for your return flight to Quito (or Guayaquil). The format of this cruise is also distinctly different. This is truly an almost 100% “all-inclusive” cruise. All shore excursions are included in the price, as are all gratuities, liquor (with perhaps a few exceptions for very expensive brands) and coffee, soft drinks etc. We paid only for laundry, while a few others purchased massages or other spa services. Even the doctor was free when she treated my cough, and later, a cut hand. Planning This Cruise Despite the fact that control over the cruise excursions is basically surrendered to Celebrity, who paid for everything; there was some pre-planning required. If you go to Celebrity’s website, you will see that it offers 7 day, 10 day and 11 day packages; all covering the same 7 day Island trip. The other days are pre-cruise packages in Quito. The 7 day package is “cruise-only” while the others provide a hotel stay in Quito, some local tours and meals as well as transportation from Quito to Baltra and return. We had originally thought that we would try to combine the cruise with a trip to Machu Picchu, so we booked the 7 day cruise-only trip. After a great deal of research and contact with several travel agencies, we determined that the Peruvian side trip was far too complicated given our time constraints, and dropped it. By then I had done enough research to determine that we could handle our own travel arrangements. This involved contacting TAME (pronounced ta’ may) Airlines. It took some web work to do this, but fortunately they have several agents who can communicate in English quite well. There is some difficulty however arising from the fact that I could not pay by credit card over the net, and had to show up at the airport to buy the tickets. I believe the website allows credit card payments, but I never was able to make the site work. Our airline flight was with Continental, which had quite convenient connections from Phoenix through Houston. Insurance As usual when leaving the country. We bought travel insurance from CSA, specifying a low trip cancellation value, but making sure we had medical and medical evacuation coverage as well as lost or delayed baggage protection. The cost was only $227.00. Arrival and Embarkation We arrived at the Quito Airport at about 10:15 on Saturday night. We had contacted our hotel, the Dann Carlton, and they had a driver to meet us. Picking up the luggage and exiting was quite fast and the drive to the hotel less than 15 minutes. It is a very nice hotel; recommended by both Frommer‘s and Tripadvisor.com. The only problem was that our room was above a night club and we were treated to “boom-box” type music until 2:30 AM. Because of TAME’s requirement that we purchase our tickets at least two hours prior to flight time we had to be at the airport by 7:00 for the 9:30 flight. The hotel shuttle apparently was not operating so they gave us a cab voucher which the bellhop handed to the taxi driver. We went to the international entrance by mistake, but it was only a short walk to the domestic check-in area. We located the TAME desk and bought our tickets, $792.00 for two round trips. We then went into a check in area. We were told to place our bags through a separate inspection machine dedicated to Galapagos passengers, which went very quickly. They are only interested in plants and animals not going to the Islands. We then went to the normal check in desk and were told we had to wait until 7:30 to check in for the 9:30 flight. While we waited we noted a number of tour groups going through the Galapagos Inspection machine area, and by the time we went up to the TAME desk for our boarding passes, there were more than 50 people waiting. While my two bags weighed slightly more than 20 kilos; the weight limit; nothing was said. Edith’s single bag did not even come close to the limit. We boarded promptly, flew to Guayaquil, about 40 minutes away, with a snack provided. After about a 50 minute wait on the ground in Guayaquil; with about a 75% turnover in passengers, we took off to Baltra. TAME provided lunch on this hour and forty minute trip. Arrival and Boarding The Baltra Airport is somewhat primitive, with a metal roof; open sides, and one store. We went to a desk marked with the Celebrity X. There someone took our baggage tickets and said they would get the luggage to our stateroom. We talked to a representative, who we later found out was one of the naturalists. He kept promising a bus ride. Outside the “terminal” were a few shops with unimpressive tourist stuff. After about an hour the bus arrived and we were joined by a host of fellow passengers who had been inside a VIP lounge that we had not been told about. While waiting, I found all the Celebrity luggage; and then watched while it was being loaded into a truck. Naturally, our pieces were the last loaded. The bus took us to a very small pier overlooking the harbor, which had about 10 or so mostly small craft. The bench by the entrance to the pier was occupied by three large sea lions who had no interest in moving. We then went down some steps for our first Zodiac experience. We were carefully instructed on how to put on our life jackets, and boarded (about 16 people per trip) to go out to Xpedition. Our Stateroom and the Ship After a perfunctory check in at the Guest Relations desk, (they did not even ask for a credit card imprint; merely gave us our room card) we went to our Stateroom, Number 414. Of the 46 cabins on the ship, 33 are this standard size, 160 square feet. The sole difference between cabins on Deck 3 (Deluxe Stateroom) and on Deck 4 (Premium Stateroom) is that the Premium cabin has windows, and the Deluxe portholes. In addition there are five smaller cabins (145 square feet), four on Deck 3 and one on Deck four. Deck 5 has seven Xpedition Suites with 230 square feet and one Penthouse Suite with 460 Square feet. Our stateroom had two twin beds with a night stand in between. Next to the wall bed was a wooden wall decorated with curved smoked glass piece about 3 by 5 feet with etchings of dolphins and back lit. Opposite the bed was a framed large photograph of trees. Next to the other bed was a small angled sofa, with another large photo of a flower on the wall. There was a small round table under the window (which measured approximately 36 inches wide by 32 inches high) and an angled desk opposite. The desk contained a refrigerator which was kept stocked with water bottles, a drawer which contained a hairdryer, and another cabinet which held glasses. The desk had a very small TV and a mirror above with good side lights. A desk chair was provided. The bathroom was small, but had a nice, glass door shower, a single cultured marble sink and, as usual, very adequate shelf and cabinet space. The toilet was of the true flush variety, and not the vacuum type found on all other cruise ships we have been on. The closets, one on each side of the entry to the bathroom, had a clothes hanging space about 15inches wide and several open shelves, one of which was taken up with a safe. There was a full length mirror on the wall opposite the bathroom. The night stand had a lamp, and three small drawers. The walls were covered with a cream colored textured paint, with some brown wood framing around the window. The ceiling lights operated off one switch at the entrance and gave very adequate light. The carpeting was a patterned orange-beige mixture. The beds were covered with duvets. Although somewhat smaller than a “normal” cruise ship stateroom, the accommodations were perfectly fine, and everything was in perfect condition. Xpedition itself is a delightful craft. Of course, with a gross tonnage of only 2400, length of 296 feet and beam of 43 feet it is tiny compared to a standard cruise ship. It is extremely well laid out and as one might expect, very easy to get around. From the top: Deck 6 has an observation deck with lounge chairs forward, the small spa, gym and sauna and then a further lounge area with a hot tub. This deck only goes about halfway aft. Deck 5 starts with a small observation area stretch from port to starboard, directly in front of the bridge. The ship has an “open bridge” policy, which means you are welcome to visit it except when it is maneuvering to stop. Behind the bridge are the eight suites. Aft of these “luxury” accommodations is another open deck with the small Blue Finch bar and a few tables. The rest of the deck has the life boats and a center section with the funnel. The aft portion of this deck has the booms used to raise and lower three Zodiacs. The other two are raised and lowered from the prow area on Deck 2. Deck 4 has the Premium 20 staterooms and 1 Ocean View cabin. The midships area has the stairs and Guest Relations. Aft of this is the Discovery Lounge used for all briefings and a generally busy gathering place. It has a bar leading to the aft deck, and three library shelves with about 100 titles. One has to ask Guest Relations around the corner for the key to the shelves. The aft portion of this deck also has the Beagle Grill used for casual food service. It has its own food preparation area. This portion of Deck 4 also has a number of tables and chairs, and the aft stairs leading down to the Zodiac loading preparation platform. This small area contains the lockers for storing wet suits, the life jacket storage, a padded bench for changing, and the stairs down to the Zodiac boarding platform. Forward on Deck 3 are the 14 Deluxe and 3 Ocean View staterooms. Aft of these is the small shop and Beauty Center, followed by Darwin’s Restaurant. Deck 2 has the medical office, which you can enter only through a door marked “Crew only”. The total brochure passenger occupancy is 92, and we had 91 on board for this trip. The ship is fairly new, having been constructed in Germany in 2001, and placed in service for this use by Celebrity in February 2003. Everything is in top notch condition, and regular maintenance is apparent. One could not ask for a nicer ship on which to cruise the islands. How This Cruise Operated The cruise was centered about “activities” which meant either trips to various islands or water based events. These activities were divided by “intensity” into “high” ‘medium” and “low” categories. Each activity was directed by a naturalist/guide. There were seven naturalists under the direction of Jason Heilmann, the Cruise Director, who also is a naturalist. It should be understood that a “naturalist” is a professional, certified by the Galapagos Government through the Galapagos National Park Service. To reach that status certain education is required, followed by a test, in which the pass rate can be only 25%. Naturalists are also National Park Rangers with statutory authority to enforce the Park rules. Jason is from California, but has lived on the islands since 1995, is married to an Ecuadorian, and has a son. Because he has lived there so long, he was able to be grandfathered into the Naturalist program, and was recruited by Celebrity when they started their program. All this was explained to us by Jason at a briefing at 3:15 after our arrival on board. Information concerning the first day’s activities was contained in the four page small newsletter given to us on arrival, and then, for the following day, in the newsletter provided before dinner each day. Recommendation on shoes, clothing and camera equipment were also included. The briefings for the following day supplemented the information in the newsletter, and were held each evening at 7:45. Sign up sheets were provided so each person could indicate what activity they wished to do, if any at all. The list was not set in concrete, but was used by Jason to assign guides and Zodiacs. Sunday After a short life boat drill, we were able to start our activities at 4:30 the same afternoon that we boarded; a far cry from the usual cruise where nothing much is done the first day until dinner. The “high” activity, which Edith and I opted for was a Zodiac trip to North Seymour Island, very close to Baltra, for a 2½ walk. The low intensity involved a Zodiac cruise past the Island, followed by a landing for a shorter walk, involving about 2 hours overall. Each Zodiac will hold up to 16 people, and had a naturalist on board and a boat pilot. Both landings were “dry” landings, meaning that the Zodiac would pull into an outcropping of rock or rock landing spot, and we could disembark without getting our feet wet. Each boatload stays with their assigned guide. We walked along an uneven path, and over some boulders on this low lying island. The first major sightings (beyond the omnipresent sea lions) were of frigate birds. These creatures, with their beautiful slender wings, live on the land and have to scoop fish from the sea without landing on the water. Their wings are not waterproof, and if they got wet in the sea, they would drown. We also saw our first marine iguanas, which live nowhere else on earth. They are masters at ignoring people, much like the sea lions. Then we turned inland and came upon a colony of blue footed boobies. These are actually very attractive birds, slightly smaller than a goose, with long, nicely marked necks and with truly bright blue webbed feet. From about ten feet we watched a male trying to persuade a female of the honesty of his intentions by whistling and poking with his long beak. True love did not run smooth as she sent him packing, with the commiserations of our group. All during the walking tour, which had many stops for photo opportunities, the naturalists would explain the various birds and animals, and other natural phenomena about the islands. All the naturalists (except Jason) were natives of the islands. As we walked back along the western shore we passed a very rocky section of the coast. Winds had sprung up and we were treated to a magnificent surf, with breakers several hundred yards long crashing against the rocks. As they just started to break, with foam along the top and dark water below, there was a long narrow line of translucent surf through which the setting sun was shining; a very beautiful sight. The dining room opened at 7:00 and since we were back on board by 6:30, we decided to eat when it opened. We walked in to find only one other couple waiting so we sat down with them. After a while we realized that no one else would show up because of the Captain’s welcome and next day’s briefing at 7:45. We therefore rushed out at the end of the entrée up to the Discovery Lounge, not so much for the welcome, but because we did not wish to miss the briefing. Thereafter, we, and virtually everybody else, went to the briefing and then went to dinner, which meant we were dining at about 8:00 every night. After this first briefing we went back to the restaurant for dessert. Monday Just as a foretaste, we got up very early to partake in a Zodiac tour around Kicker Rock, near San Cristobal island. This is a large rock, probably 200 feet high, cleft at one end so the Zodiacs could actually travel between the small portion and the main island. I took some photos, but it was still early and they did not come out well, but the rock formation was intriguing anyway. We returned to the ship and about an hour later made a dry landing on the main island with its town, San Cristobal, the capital of the Galapagos Province. We visited the Interpretation Center, which had a number of photos of pioneer settlers from the late 19th and early 20th century as well as an explanation of the overall history of the islands. We then went into the town, which has a population of approximately 3300 and strolled around for a while. The streets were very clean, but had the somewhat unfinished look of tropical towns. Not surprisingly, it had a somewhat laid-back atmosphere and all the local folks were friendly. We returned to the ship for lunch and afterwards I went to the snorkel gear handout session. I found out that although I normally wear a medium in everything, it took an XL shorty wet suit to fit me. Since I had brought my own mask and a brand new dry snorkel with me, I did not plan to use a ship’s mask or tube. At 3:00 there was a lecture on the geology of the islands which we did not attend; opting to avoid education in favor of stretching out for a while. The afternoon again provided a three intensity level of visit options to Espanola Island, and we again chose the high intensity, being persuaded that this label is a tad exaggerated; not exactly requiring a triathlon level of stamina or skill. On this sojourn we walked up to a cliff area from which we had a great view of both albatrosses and great frigate birds. We were also visited by Galapagos Mocking birds with beaks more curved than our mainland types, but who were absolutely fearless, hopping among all of us. We then saw a blowhole in action. The next bird colony was of masked boobies, several of whom had chicks around, from ones a few weeks old with down instead of feathers, and others who were newborns. We even saw the beginning of one trying to chip its way out of its egg. On the way back we saw a Galapagos Hawk, which is an attractive, somewhat small typical raptor. I should mention the Sally Lightfoot crabs (entertaining name) which are bright orange and yellow with traces of what looks like blue. They are seen everywhere on the rocks near the sea. The other two options were similar to ours except that they involved less walking and more Zodiac cruising. Once again, all landings this day were dry. As would be the drill every day, the evening consisted in cleaning up for dinner, attending the briefing followed by dinner and then to bed. Tuesday This entire day was spent at Floreana Island, one of the first to attract settlers as well as Charles Darwin.. Edith took the medium intensity wet landing and trekked to a brackish pond which had a great many flamingos. I opted for an advanced snorkel activity in which we took a Zodiac to an off shore rock formation called Devil’s Crown”. This did not work out well since there were choppy waves which immediately closed my dry snorkel, and hence my ability to breathe. On my return I obtained a ship’s mask and tube. The afternoon activity was another Zodiac snorkel swim near another off shore island called Champion’s Island. Our initial attempt ran us all into a school of jelly fish. The resulting stings, while not acutely painful for most, caused us to get back in the Zodiac and proceed a few hundred yards away to try again. This time we had a good time, being visited by a couple of sea lions who simply wanted to show us how to swim. The visible fishes were pretty good also, and there was one phenomenon none of us had ever seen. There was a huge school of small brown fish, so densely gathered together that we could not see the sea floor beneath them, although outside the school it was clearly visible a few feet below them. Our guide dove into the middle of this school and swirled them around making a hole; which immediately closed up when he left. So, despite the jellyfish stings, it was a good snorkel. That night dinner planned to be outside, but evidently the crew thought the weather was too risky, so we ate as usual in Darwin’s Restaurant. Later that evening as we arrived at out next anchorage, they shone searchlights into the water looking for sharks. We saw some shapes which might have qualified as well as a few - guess what - sea lions. Wednesday The morning featured two very similar low intensity activities on Santa Cruz Island, both starting with “wet” landings in the surf. I wore Teva type sandals with fairly substantial soles that could go virtually anywhere. Edith wore Speedo Water shoes in the surf which had less sturdy soles, so she changed into regular walking shoes on shore. My group walked along the shore known as Bachas Beach, which is a corruption of “Barges” beach where the U.S. Military abandoned several landing barges at the end of WW II. There were small pieces of rusted metal about six inches high looking like shark’s teeth at the edge of the water. This was purportedly a sea turtle nesting area, and we could see their tracks leading into the sea, and a couple in the water. Prior to that we also saw three flamingos in their own pond; as well as American Oyster Catchers on the beach. On returning to the landing beach I did some off shore snorkeling with some success near a group of rocks, which were a little tricky in the surf but worked out nevertheless. The noon hour offered two post lunch activities: the first being a tour of the negine room with the Chief Engineer, and the second, which we both attended, being a lecture on early inhabitants ( a rather dubious lot) of the islands. That afternoon we went to Bartoleme Island where Edith joined a group climbing to the top of a small hill, 375 feet high with steps to the top. She reported that there were several stops on the way and she had no trouble with this. My choice was to cross the island to a beach where we were fortunate enough to observe a green sea turtle at the edge of the shore, and thus get some good photos. Thereafter, I took a series of pictures of another American Oyster Catcher from about three feet away. I also got a good photo of a small lava lizard, which has attractive spotted markings. We then saw several land iguanas, which are less common on the islands and have good color markings. That night we crossed the equator for the first of four times, so there was a King Neptune Ceremony, which was amusing. We all got certificates, although Edith and I had crossed via ship (as contrasted with air crossings) on Insignia traveling from Manaus to Barbados in 2005. Thursday We both took an early morning Zodiac ride to the Mariela Islands, three small islands with a large population of the Galapagos penguins, which are small birds, and the most northern penguin in the world. Out pilot was able to bring the Zodiac up to the edge of the rocks, with the penguins cheerfully ignoring us. We were reminded again not to use flash photos since we were so close to the birds. At a turn near a beach which had some sea lions, we saw a flight of about eight frigate birds swooping down on the beach. When they are about four feet over your head in a Zodiac, they are large and impressive birds. Lunch featured an Ecuadorian Buffet. We have a local Ecuadorian restaurant here in Phoenix and enjoy the food very much, so we were quite pleased with this buffet. We skipped the history of conservation talk after lunch. The afternoon started with a Zodiac trip past some Flightless Cormorants, unique to these islands. We had a dry landing and another shore excursion past a huge colony of marine iguanas, and some nesting areas for more of the flightless cormorants with their stubby wings. We both did this trip in separate groups. When we returned we saw that cushions had been places on the chairs in the rear deck area of Deck Four for an evening dinner, but later it was announced that dinner as usual would be in the Darwin Restaurant because of the possibility of rain. Friday In the morning Edith went on the Santiago Island “Survival of the Fittest” hike after a wet landing. Only 13 people participated, but she said it was not difficult at all, merely involving about 4 miles. It visited an abandoned salt mine which had filled in with water that resulted in a pink colored pool. Our group hiked along the shore where we saw four Galapagos sea lions which come from southern South America. Their dense fur will have up to 1300 hairs per square inch. We also walked over a lava bridge near the sea and saw lava pits that had collapsed into the sea but filled up with sea water as the waves surged in. Land iguanas were also visible here. We returned to a black sand beach for some fairly decent beach snorkeling. Lunch featured an Italian buffet, which was quite good with everyone raving about the lasagna. There was an IMAX video about the islands at 3:00. Edith did the high intensity hike on Santa Cruz island while I tried another Zodiac snorkel with less success due to the strong current. I like more relaxed snorkeling. I did enjoy sitting in the hot tub after returning. We skipped the “Winged Migration” movie in the lounge. Saturday. We sailed overnight to the south side of Santa Cruz island and were moored in the harbor of Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the islands with a population of about 15,000. The morning trip and afternoon activities were either the “highland“ trip or the Charles Darwin Research station trip. If you did one in the morning you did the other in the afternoon. Most people, Edith and I included, opted for the highland trip in the morning because the attraction was to see the giant Galapagos land tortoise in its natural environment, and they were purportedly more active in the cool morning. We took a small bus (actually there were several of these) through farming areas and the small town of Bella Vista to a farm of some 700 hectares owned by an American whose parents had settled there in the early 1950s. He had pretty much given up farming for the easier job of licensing tours to the various cruise operations serving the islands. The farm was in what is known as the “highlands” and appeared to be several hundred feet above sea level, with rolling hills. By way of contrast to the rocky barren lava and rock shores seen on most of the rest of the trip; the higher rainfall in this area provided lush green meadows, with bushes and trees. We left our buses and walked to the farm while exploring a cave on the way. When we came to the meadow area we could approach a number of the giant tortoises of the “domed“ variety. They weigh from 300 to 500 pounds and seemed to be quite content in their pleasant surroundings with ample food and shade if they needed it. The farmer operated a small coffee stand on the site. With 120,000 visitors to the islands each year, most of whom will want to see the tortoises in a non-strenuous free environment, I imagine he does better with tourists as a cash crop than with anything else he could grow. We were not charged for the coffee, but I am sure Celebrity paid for this as well as our visit. This was a very pleasant and relaxed morning excursion. After lunch we took another bus about a mile through a different part of Puerto Ayora to the Charles Darwin Research Station. The Charles Darwin Research Foundation is an international non-profit research foundation, set up by UNESCO and the World Conservation Union to study and preserve the Islands. It is administered by the Foundation in partnership with the Galapagos National Park Service. We walked through the Research station which has a lot of information about tortoises, and conducts a breeding program. There were originally about 14 sub-species of these animals, each particular to a different island. When Darwin visited Floreana, the governor told him he could distinguish tortoises from each separate island by their shells, or carapaces. Darwin originally thought this was simply spoofing the English visitor, but later consideration of this helped form his evolution theory. Three of these species no longer exist, and a fourth is represented by a single specimen at the Station. He is from Pinta Island and is called “Lonesome George” due to unsuccessful efforts to mate him with females from other islands, although the researchers have not given up all hope. We saw a small group of “saddleback” tortoises here, whose high, slightly notched shells and long necks enable them to reach up four feet or more to feed on prickly pear cactus pads which hang down from their trees. We walked back to the ship through town, down a street which was lined with stores, some selling very attractive wares, priced to match. I noted a medium sized woven grass basket for $1550.00. It was quite nice, but not that much better than our own Gila River Tribe baskets which sell for a lot less, although they are not cheap. Edith did buy our only souvenir, a T shirt with a blue footed booby, for $11.00. We were not charged the omnipresent Ecuadorian VAT of 12%. A scheduled “Dinner under the Stars” was again moved back to the Darwin Restaurant, following the farewell party and demonstration of the CD which we all received. This CD consisted of a slide show composed of the best of the more than 1000 photos taken by our guides as we were on our activities as well as more standard photos of the staff of Xpedition. The CD actually contains extra photos not part of the show. After dinner there was a folkloric show put on by dancers from Puerto Ayora, which had some nice costumes. The dancers got several passengers involved and it was fun for a while, but we retired at about 10:30. Sunday Disembarkation We had purchased our own airfare from TAME. When we made our reservations we were told that the earlier of the two daily return flights from Baltra was fully booked and that we would not be able to leave until 12:15. When we landed in Baltra originally, I went to the TAME desk and confirmed this. When we boarded the ship, Guest Relations saw our ticket and asked for it. When we received our disembarkation material, it said that we all would be taken to the airport and placed on the earlier, 10:15 flight. This included us, which we appreciated since it would give us a few hours of daylight to see Quito. We were not required to put our luggage out until 7:00 A.M.; but almost everyone, us included, had our bags in the hallway by midnight. Saturday dawned with the first threat of rain. After breakfast we picked up our bill, which amounted to $20.16 [$18.00 laundry + VAT]. We also picked up a list of e-mail addresses of several of our fellow passengers, which we had been invited to supply. We then boarded our Zodiacs and donned our life jackets for the last time and went ashore. It started raining as we went to the airport, but we got inside and went to the VIP lounge without getting too wet. We were a little more concerned about our luggage, but it arrived in Quito pretty dry. The flight back stopped in Guayaquil and arrived in Quito about 2:00. Jason was with us as far as Guayaquil since he was joining his wife and 5 year old son who were spending the holidays with her family on the mainland. On arrival in Quito almost everyone else went to the Marriot, and we went back to the Dann Carlton. The time was a little confusing since the ship ran on mainland, and not Galapagos time, a difference of one hour. We had enough time (and the weather in Quito was fine) to take a cab for $5.00 to the old city and wander around; a self guided tour that was marked by observation of the preparations in the main square for the inauguration of Ecuador’s new president which was to take place the following morning. We visited three churches, and a plaque on a wall with the names of the founders of the city - in 1534! The cab driver took us back to the wrong hotel at first, but corrected himself. Although neither cab was metered, they both charged only $5.00 and I imagine this means that cab drivers in Quito are honest. We had an excellent dinner with very fine fresh fish for $35.00 including wine for Edith and a desert (of course) for Phil. Our room for this stay was a sort of mini-suite, and both quiet and comfortable. We had to get up early the next day for a flight that was scheduled for 7:40. We arrived at the airport at about 6:15, paid our exit fees of about $37.80 apiece and went to check in. Shipboard Observations As noted, all-inclusive means just about that. The food was generally very good. Obviously the menus cannot be as extensive as on a full size cruise ship; but the staff did a good job. Dinner provided a choice of two soups, two appetizers, two salads, four entrees and two desserts, plus two choices of ice cream. Lunch had several hot entrees, a pasta station, salads, cheese and a fairly decent dessert selection. Breakfast always had bacon and usually sausage, plus potatoes. An omelet station was also available as well as juices, fruit and cereals. When we cam back in from our activities there always was a cold washcloth for your face and a tray of cold fruit juices. Of course you could get bar service at virtually any time during the day or night, as well as coffee, tea and cappuccino. Room service is available. Although I did not think it was used much except by one lady who was ill at the time she boarded. Passengers seemed to form loosely structured groups, apparently based on age and interests. There were a number of younger passengers on board, including a couple of apparent college students with their parents; a graduate student from Chapel Hill, N.C and several younger couples. There also were a small group of Spanish speakers, but we never did find out from where they came. At age 74, I was probably one of the older people on board, with most of the balance composed of couples in their 50s or 60s. One couple was the object of everyone’s sympathy because their baggage had been lost en route. Now if one is on a normal cruise, it is possible to buy some make up clothing, but they could do no more here than purchase a few souvenir T-shirts. Their luggage arrived on Wednesday to cheers from one and all. There were a few assorted injuries in addition to my cut hand. One gentleman had fallen in his Quito hotel room, and there were a small assortment of falls and bruises on land and sea. The sea itself was never rough, although I noted a “rocky” passage moving from Santiago to Santa Cruz Island on Friday. There were times on a few of the “high intensity” walks that some people had difficulty in keeping up; although it never bothered hiker Edith or even me. The general atmosphere was extremely friendly, and some of our dinner conversations were outright hilarious. The drill at meals is that you could find someone you knew and ask to sit with them, or simply grab a seat and wait for others to arrive. Clothing was causal, the only “rule” being that bathing suits were not to be worn in the dining room. Men wore khaki pants or shorts with collared golf type polo shirts. I like long sleeve sport shirts at night, but probably was the only one wearing them. The ladies “dressed” for dinner with nice casual tops and usually slacks. We had read that cool nights might require a light sweater, but neither of us used the ones we brought. Fortunately we did not have to use any rain gear, although it would be a good idea to include a light poncho in making this trip. Cameras were seen firmly clutched in many hands, although it is a good idea to be selective and not to forget to see what is all around you in addition to photographing it. There are as many opinions on what type of camera or cameras to bring as there are budding Ansel Adamses; so I will not offer any advice. I used a Konica Minolta digital with an 8X optical zoom, which worked for almost everything except long rand shots of the Galapagos Hawk. Be sure to bring extra batteries. The CD you receive at the end of the trip has enough photos to provide a lot of memories. The crew were among the friendliest we have ever experienced, although their language skills were not great. We had difficulty explaining not only to our cabin stewardess, but Guest Relations what we meant by a facecloth when we were shorted in that department. One dining room guest had to try three times before he was able to obtain an omelet without cheese. I used the word “medico”, which my Spanish dictionary says is the word for “doctor” when I wanted to get Guest Relations to contact her to change my bandage, and had trouble with that. But they were always trying, and always with a smile and effort to comply. We were told that Celebrity had bought the ship in Europe, bought the cruise franchise slot from another Galapagos cruise line along with its ship, scrapped the old ship, and hired the old crew at salary increases refurbished Xpedition and started this cruise in February 2003. The crew has reason to be happy with their jobs. We found out that there are about 650-700 licensed naturalists in the island group, so there is probably some competition for jobs. One of our naturalists, and perhaps the most educated with a college degree, was in fact a free lance naturalist who was working on a six week contract. I have remarked with some accuracy that this is a cruise in which you do not gain weight, but lose it while bounding over rocks and lava fields. There is some truth in this, although if you want a relaxed trip you can get that by confining your activities to low intensity outings. This is also a cruise which requires an interest in wildlife and the remote and unusual; with little or no night life or on shore bars and restaurants filled with margarita consuming party goers. But I would not imagine that anyone plunks down the fare required without knowing that. There are other cruises to these islands. Two ships, Galapagos Explores and Galapagos Legend are very close to Xpedition in size, number of passengers, naturalist guides and on board amenities. There are many other expeditions available on smaller yachts carrying from 10 to 20 passengers. We noted that we were never at a location, after Baltra, and excepting Puerto Ayora with any of these two larger vessels because the Park Service wants to limit daily visitors to the more ecologically sensitive islands. There are several websites which will carry descriptions of all these cruises; but I would think that none would match Xpedition in its amenities, crew dedication and skill, and overall experience. And considering the all inclusive aspect, the pricing was not bad. This was a very special cruise. If you love wildlife and nature in an absolutely fascinating and totally unique environment; it is not to be missed. It will rank way up there in our list of favorite trips. Our general South American cruise experiences have been among the best we have taken, and we look forward to a Rio to Barcelona cruise in March 2008 on Insignia. The idea of returning to these enchanted islands to stay for a few days with less exploration has some appeal, although I doubt that we will actually do that. We have seen as many sea lions (although the one and two month old pups are marvelous) marine iguanas and marvelous birds as we need to, but we will always remember carefully stepping around them, and having them look up at us in a friendly and fearless way.

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Nov 19, 2006

Galapagos

Our trip started off with a flight from Tampa to Miami, and then on to Quito, Ecuador. On arriving in Quito, we stayed at the J. W. Marriott hotel & resort for 2 nights. This is one of the finest hotels that we have had the pleasure to spend time in. Spacious clean rooms, excellent and friendly staff. Our first full day in Quito was filled with a tour of both old and new Quito. First a visit to a very large church that had some

very beautiful stain glass windows. This church began construction in 1910. Next a visit to the old palace of the archbishop, the presidential palace, and old convent (for priests) and then a really old church the "Church of Jesus" that began construction in 1605. This church has 24 kt. gold leaf on the front doors and inside it is completely covered in 24 kt. gold leaf. So brilliant, you could use sunglasses inside! We had to scan in post cards of the church interior because they did not allow cameras inside. We had lunch at a restaurant (great food) on the rim of a dormant volcano, (elevation approximately 10,000 feet), you can look down into the old volcano and see that people now live down in there, amazing! Then on to the equator where we could straddle both the northern and southern hemisphere! A very busy day with lots of walking. On day 3 we left Quito on Tame Airline (pronounced like “calm” except with a “T“) for a direct flight to Baltra in the Galapagos. Embarking to the ship is via Zodiac from the pier. In visiting the various islands over a period of 7 days, we were always accompanied by a naturalist in our Zodiac with approximately 12/14 passengers. This meant that we were always in a small group which made it a very pleasant experience. There were several opportunities to snorkel around areas like the "Devils Crown" and view the many various colorful reef fish, sharks, marine turtles, etc. This area is known for Hammerhead sharks but the only time we saw them was from the ship as they swam around. Traveling on land we got to view," up close and personal", a large variety of Masked Boobies, Blue Footed Boobies, Great Frigate birds, Waved Albatross which were all performing their various mating rituals or some sitting on eggs about to hatch. Sea Lions, including one that just gave birth, Land Iguanas, Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Penguins, Flightless Cormorants, Giant Tortoise; an abundance of all types of beautiful wildlife that were so close you have to watch where you step to avoid stepping on them. Some birds that we passed within inches, were sleeping and remained completely undisturbed! While we were within inches of all this wildlife, you are not allowed to touch. These animals have no fear of man and the government of Ecuador wants everything on these islands to remain as untouched as possible. All of the excursions are included and are clearly classified as either high intensity, moderate intensity, low intensity. But none are intended for anyone with any substantial physical incapacity. Most involved a lot of hiking over boulders or lava terrain. Every evening on board ship there is a briefing of the next days’ activity with slides to show everyone exactly what to expect for each of the several daily events. Activities generally start at 8 A. M. and end around 6:30 P. M. There is one dinner seating at 7 P. M. or 8 P. M. depending on the days events. The Celebrity Xpedition is a relatively small ship with 92 passengers and a staff of 60. While it does have stabilizers, it is a shallow draft ship of only 12.5 feet so you do feel more movement than you would on a larger vessel. This ship is spotless; the staff is very friendly and accommodating (one of the best we have experienced), and after a day or two, fellow passengers are almost like family. A very pleasant experience. The food on board is very good, variety is somewhat limited to what is available in Ecuador because the Ecuadorian government does not allow any fresh food to be imported. At the end of our voyage we left the Baltra airport on Tame Airline for Quito, with a stop in Guayaquil and back to the J. W. Marriott. That evening, we were treated to a very fine dinner at the opera house in old Quito. The people at Celebrity treated us like royalty and were there for us every step of the way. We never had to worry or be concerned about any detail, meal, luggage or travel arrangement at any time during the trip. All of the tour guides in Quito were exceptional. This was an adventure that was truly the best of many places that we have been to in our travels. The only downside was having to go through the Miami Airport in Florida which is a confusing mess that requires hiking shoes to get from one gate to another which can be 25 minutes away by foot.

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Dec 4, 2005

Galapagos Islands

Day 10 Depart the Xpedition return to Quito Day 10 started with our wake up call from Guest Services at 4:30 AM. We had set our luggage in the hall the night before, so we proceeded to shower and head for the Beagle Grill for Early Risers Coffee and pastries, our last. We were sad and not ready to leave the Islands. We have never taken a cruise we enjoyed so much and one in which we had such personal contacts with staff and passengers.

The zodiac departed the ship at 7:00 AM for the transfer to the bus and from the bus to the airport (bus on right in picture). There were a few shops in the airport for any last minute purchases before leaving the Islands. The bus let us out at the shops at the Baltra Airport When we arrived at the airport we were given our airline tickets to Quito by Rod. We went through a very brief security check-in and were ushered to a lovely VIP waiting area. The waiting room had a bar, shown in the picture, for passengers use, coke was free and a beer was $2.00. Waiting area Baltra Airport The plain departed Baltra at 11:00 AM. It made one stop in Guayaquil. Passengers on a through ticket to Quito did not have to deplane. There was a 30 minute layover in Guayaquil prior to departing for Quito. Lunch was served on the plane. The food was better than the usual airline food. Guayaquil Airport from the plane We arrived in Quito in the early afternoon. We were met out side the secure area by a Celebrity representative and transferred to a waiting bus and driven back to the J W Marriott. Celebrity transferred the luggage straight from the ship to the hotel. It was nice not to have to deal with the bags until they arrived in our room at the Marriott. Landing in Quito The Marriott had kept our credit cards open so check in was brief. We took a look at our room and waited for the luggage to arrive, before meeting the Celebrity representative in the lobby for the afternoon excursion to the local native market. Prior to the bus trip to the Native market we had the Bell Captain retrieve our stored luggage and had it delivered to our room. Entrance to the Indian Market Place The Indian market was a short bus ride from the hotel. The native craft items such as scarves, painted bowls, trays, boxes, alpaca scarves, alpaca stuffed animals, pillows, rugs, musical instruments, water colors are beautiful and reasonably priced. Dee and I bought several scarves, and stuffed animals, jewelry and one decorated musical instrument and one elaborately decorated bowl. Our group had an hour and one half to shop prior to returning to the hotel. Shopping in the Indian Market, Quito The bus returned to the hotel arriving there around 6:00 PM. Dinner that evening was scheduled for 7:00 PM at a local restaurant. We had to hurry to get ready in time. The guide said dress for the evening was causal. I think we were underdressed for the restaurant selected. Several people choose not to go to dinner as it had been a long day. In retrospect I wish we had passed on dinner. We boarded the bus for the drive to Independence Plaza where we had walked around on day 2. The restaurant was beautiful and upscale. We were served a 4 course gourmet meal. There was a gentleman singing a medley of songs through out the meal. The problem was we were too tired for a long elegant meal. Dinner was not over until 9:30 PM and by then we were exhausted. We had to be up at 4:30 AM for our departure flight home. Going out to a late dinner made for two extremely long days. Day 11 Return Flight Home Today began at 4:30 AM with a call from guest service. Our bags were in the hall by 5:00 AM. We dressed and went to the lobby for a cup of coffee, as the buffet was not yet open. Celebrity had checked all the flight schedules for us and the corrections were noted. We boarded the busses for the 20 minute ride to Quito airport. Upon arriving at the airport, the Celebrity staff unloaded our luggage and transferred it to a cart, which was wheeled into the secure area of the terminal. Bob unloaded our luggage from the cart. Dee let the porter unload her luggage and left with out tipping him. That was a real breach of protocol and the porter came to her in the check in line and requested his tip. At that point everyone who had not tipped him did so. Tipping is apparently mandatory. Getting past that hurtle we proceeded through the check in line and on to line number 2, for passport review, then to the airline check in, then to the departure tax line, then to another line, seems as if it just kept going. Remember to tuck $25.00 away for your departure tax. Everything went smoothly, it just took time and the airport was hectic. We finally got to a nice waiting area and had about 45 minuets before the Continental flight left for Huston. All went well in through customs in Huston. Dee had one hour to get through customs and make her flight to Dallas and she did. Unfortunately we had a 5 hour wait for the flight to Sacramento. We made it home by 10:00 PM. We were tired, but overwhelmed with the wonder of what we had seen. The Cruise: Conclusions: We all agreed this was by far the best cruise we have ever been on. The itinerary could not be better, the animals could not be more unique, the staff could not be more personable, the guides could not have be more knowledge and the ship could not be more beautiful or elegant. I hope I didn’t boor anyone with the biology but the biology is what you go for. The luxurious ship adds so much to the experience, as the contrast of hiking, snorkeling and generally being hot sweaty, covered with salt water and then returning to such a elegant ship and great staff and tasty food is a perfect contrast. We had some concerns about choppy water and the movement in the zodiacs, as Dee has motion sensitivity. She always takes medication such as meclizine, which she did on this cruise and had no ill effects from the movement on either the Xpedition or the zodiacs. Information on the weather said the seas could be choppy in December but they were calm and we had no rain. We would all highly recommend this cruise to anyone who is interested in nature, biology, geology, loves animals or just loves to be pampered in a luxurious environment. Pros: The highlight of this cruise, without question, is the fantastic itinerary and the unique animals. Each Island held a surprise The all inclusive package is an excellent value for the money Knowledgable Naturalist Guides Small group feeling as the zodiacs hold 12 people and were not full on each excursion Wonderful ship and public rooms Excellent food and service in all areas of the ship. Friendly and pleasant staff The cleanliness of the ship Cons: The only improvement I could suggest is to use a biologist as the lecturer Camera Equipment: We took several cameras: 1-35mm Minolta with a 70-300 lens 10 rolls of 35 exposure film 2 Canon Digital cameras with a 1024 MB card and a 65 MB card 10 disposable underwater cameras 1 Canon Elph for wide angle shots 6 rolls of film 1 Sony Handycam with 15 30 minute DVD disks Celebrity recommended the following: Wide Angle and Zoom (>55mm) Underwater camera Filters for early morning and afternoon sunshine Fast film to offset movement by the zodiac Suggested Reading: Galapagos a Natural History by Michael H. Jackson Birds, Mammals & Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands by Andy Swash & Rob Still Galapagos Wildlife a Visitors Guide by Davis Horwell & Pete Oxford These can all be ordered at www.longitudebooks.com

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Dec 4, 2005

Galapagos Islands

Day 6; Bachas Beach & Bartolome Island Bachas Beach is a beautiful beach located on the northern coast of Santa Cruz Island. The name “Las Baches” comes from the locals’ poor pronunciation of the word “barges” which were washed on shore during WW II when they broke their moorings. The beach is one of the largest nesting areas for Green Sea Turtles, so we walked carefully. We arose early this morning to watch

the sunrise from the Beagle Café. In the early morning the ship is quiet and the coffee and pastries are wonderful. This is our favorite time on any ship. Sunrise from the Beagle Café Deck 4 The morning excursions are both low intensity. The first one, Flamingo search – is a wet landing departing the Xpedition at 9:00 AM. This excursion is a short hike inland looking for Flamingos and other shore birds ending with time to snorkel for those who want to. We choose a “Beach Activity”. It was the second activity departing the Xpedition at 9:30 and after a wet landing on Bachas beach we had an opportunity to snorkel for 2-3 hours. There were many fish, not as colorful as the fish in Hawaii or the Caribbean but certainly beautiful. This snorkeling was unique and an adventure because of the large number of Green Sea Turtles, Marine Iguanas, feeding Blue Footed Boobys and  the wonderful antics of the Galapagos Sea Lions. The time just flew by and we were thankful for the wet suits as we were in the water for a long time.  We floated above the sea turtles and Iguanas observing them graze on the algae. Green Sea Turtle feeding on algae We reluctantly departed the beach at 12:30 and headed back to the ship for another great lunch, this time in Darwin’s Restaurant. The afternoon lecture at 1:30 was given by Chief Engineer Yevhen Terekhov. He spoke on the engines and cruising in the Galapagos and afterward offered interested guests a tour of the engine room, one of the advantages of being on a small vessel. If you were interested arrangements had to be made through Guest Relations. Bartolome Island, a recent, volcanically active island, is located in the central portion of the archipelago. With its characteristic moon-like landscape and volcanic cones, it’s a good introduction to the Geology of the Galapagos Islands. Moon-like landscape and volcanic cones, Bartolome Island The afternoon excursions began at 4:00 PM with the High Intensity dry landing on Bartolome Island.  Then a “to the Top” hike up 358 wooden steps to a picturesque vista for picture taking. (2.5 hours) The Medium Intensity excursion departed the Xpedition at 4:15 and was a wet landing, and a hike along the Isthmus which separates the 2 main beaches found on Bartolome Island. (2 hours) The Low Intensity excursion departed at 4:30 and was a zodiac-ride along the Coast of Bartolome Island looking for Galapagos Penguins, then snorkeling. We chose looking for Penguins. Good thing we did, as it turned out this was our only opportunity to photograph Penguins. We saw a mating pair (below) and several groups of individuals. We saw a few feeding while we were snorkeling but didn’t have adequate camera equipment to photograph them.  (2 hours)   Galapagos Penguins, Sally lightfoot crab and a Lava Herron (above penguins)  We returned to the Xpedition at 6:30 and again had just enough time to dress for the evening briefing and dinner. Day 7: Isabela & Ferandina Islands This morning began again with coffee at the Beagle Café and another beautiful sunrise.  The Xpedition cruised along the coast of Isabela Island searching for whales and dolphins. Isabela is by far the largest island in the Galapagos Archipelago. It is composed of 3 active volcanoes. The last eruption occurred in October, just prior to our arrival in December. The western portion of Isalbel is historically important as it was part of the itinerary of Darwin’s exploration on the HMS Beagle. We crossed the equator at 7:00 AM during the search for marine life. The naturalists were on deck available for questions and to help in the search. We did spot one whale, a Sei Whale but from a distance. We received a frameable certificate for the equator crossing in our cabin. At 9:30 AM the excursions began with the High Intensity Activity, a dry landing at Tagus Cove, Isabela Island. A 1.5 mile hike followed by a short zodiac ride along the coast searching for Galapagos Flightless Cormorants and Galapagos Penguins. (1.45 hours) We chose the Low Intensity Activity which departed at 9:45 AM, which was supposed to be a zodiac ride along the coast looking for Penguins and Cormorants.  (1.5 hours) Our Naturalist guide was Fabio, an excellent biologist. He spotted bird activity on the water and took the zodiac in that direction. We were fortunate to encounter a pod of Bottle Nose Dolphin playing in our wake.  We never did make it to the coast line, but had a wonderful time with the Dolphins. Reluctantly we returned to the Xpedition for another wonderful lunch. Our Naturalist, Fabio helping everyone safely board the Xpedition. Today’s lunch was an Ecuadorian Buffet set up at the Beagle Café. They served many traditional dished such as Ceviches, Muchines, Empanadas de Viento, Carne en Palito and many others. The food was excellent and prepared with much care. I was surprised the food was not spicy, as I expected. Picture of buffet (Celebrity photo) This afternoon at 2:00 PM there was an Advanced Snorkeling Activity offered, snorkeling from the zodiac.  We could not pass that up. Getting ready to enter the water to snorkel We were able to snorkel for an hour before the guides forced everyone from the water. It was so interesting no one wanted to leave. We were able to observe Galapagos Flightless Cormorants and Blue Footed Boobys and Marine Iguana’s feeding. Again we were joined by a young Galapagos Sea Lion that just wanted to play. Such fun! Galapagos Sea Lion We returned to the ship at 3:00 PM in time to clean up for the afternoon excursion which began at 4:00 PM. Fernandina Island: Is the youngest and most western of all the Islands. It is also one of the most volcanically active. The latest eruption was in 2005. In 1968 the floor of the caldera sank 990 feet in a two week period, showing this island to be one of the most spectacular in terms of geology. The excursion made a dry landing at Punta Espinoza on the northeast corner of the island. The Afternoon excursions began at 4:00 PM with the High Intensity Activity a dry landing On Fernandina Island and a 1 mile walk on a Pahoe-hoe lava trail, searching for one of the largest Marine Iguana colonies and nesting Flightless Cormorants.  (2.5 hours) This was the activity we choose. The Low Intensity Activity was a zodiac ride around Espinoza Point searching for Spotted Eagle Rays, Golden Rays, Pacific Green Turtles and nesting Cormorants. (2 hours) Our Naturalist Guide was Rod. We made a dry landing on Espinoza Point. A dry landing involves stepping from the zodiac onto a rock out-cropping or man made pier or cemented area as in the photo below. Example of a dry landing, rock and cement man made pier We observed several large Marine Iguana colonies. These Iguanas are unique and are found only in the Galapagos. Pearl, Bob, Marine Iguana’s, Sally Lightfoot Crabs on Pahoe-hoe lava   Marine Iguanas Bob, observing nesting Flightless Cormorants and Marine Iguanas The above pictures illustrate the diversity of animals, the numbers of animals and their lack of fear of humans. It was amazing to sit there and watch the interactions, and competition for space between the animals. In the same area the Galapagos Flightless Cormorants were beginning to pair off and start nest building. Notice the blue eye. Their nest building and mating ritual activity was amazing to watch from such an intimate distance. Galapagos Flightless Cormorant Nesting We hiked further down the coast entering a Mangrove area. Again a unique environment, different from anything else we had seen. In the Mangroves you can see Galapagos Fur Seals, a different species from the Galapagos Sea Lion. It’s the Sea Lion that has come out to dive with us. The Fur Seal is not as inquisitive. Galapagos Fur Seal in the Mangroves Again a wonderful adventure must come to an end, time to return to the Xpedition. After the evening briefing by Jorge, in the Discovery Lounge, we were lucky to have our Naturalist, Fabio, join us for dinner in Darwin’s Restaurant. It was such a pleasure to have the Hotel Manager and the guides join us, their personal stories greatly enhanced our experience and understanding of the Country.  We turned in after dinner, getting ready for the next day’s early start. Dinner at Darwin’s Restaurant; Fabio, Pearl, Dee and Bob Day 8 Santiago and Rabida Islands Santiago Island: This Island also called James and San Salvado, is the fourth largest island in the Archipelago. In the 1930’s a group of people attempted to colonize this island. The Conway’s wrote a book about their experiences entitled “The enchanted Island”, published in 1947. Day 8 off the coast of Santiago Island started with a sunrise and cup of coffee from the Beagle Café. Bob and Dee, Sunrise and Coffee The High Intensity Activity “Survival of the Fittest” began at 8:00 AM. A wet landing at James Bay, Santiago Island, followed by a 2.8 miles roundtrip hike to an eroded cinder cone used in the past for a salt mining operation followed by a swim and snorkel from the black beach. (3 hours) The second High Intensity Activity departed at 8:15 AM. It was a wet landing at James Bay with a coastal walk to find shore birds and inter-tidal species in the tide pools. We walked along collapsed lava tunnels, a resting area for Galapagos Fur Seals and their young. The excursion ended at the black beach for snorkeling prior to returning to the ship. (3 hours) This was the excursion we choose. The Low Intensity Activity was a zodiac ride along the coast line followed by a wet landing at James Bay for swimming or snorkeling. (2 hours) Wet landings can be tricky and care should be taken with photographic equipment. On the left, an example of a wet landing (not James Bay) On this excursion as I jumped from the zodiac I slipped and went to my knees in the water. No problem unless your camera is attached to your waist.  In this case I ruined a new Sony DVD Handycam. My advice is never having your camera on your person when boarding or disembarking the zodiac. Always have someone hand it to you after your footing has been secured. Or, if that is not possible have the camera in a sealed plastic bag. Fortunately we had 3 hours of video recorded and secure in the cabin, but this was an expensive mistake. As we walked along the trail we observed many resting Fur Seals and their young. Galapagos Fur Seal with pup nursing, notice the Yellow Warbler in the background We were able to observe intimate moments between the Seals and their pups. This was an amazing experience. So many fur seals; we just had to keep photographing. Between the three of us taking pictures we had a wonderful assortment and many great memories. There are never enough sea lion and seal pictures. December is the month the Seals and Sea Lions give birth to their pups. It’s a great month to visit the Islands. Galapagos Fur Seal Pup We returned to the beach to snorkel and caught the last zodiac back to the ship for lunch. The guides in the zodiacs (in the back of picture) always kept a close eye on everyone snorkeling to insure their safety. Snorkeling, with the gear issued; wet suit, mask, snorkel and fins, After getting cleaned up and having lunch, we gathered in the Discovery lounge at 2:00 PM for a demonstration by Executive Chef Raul Castillo, Maitre D’ Christian and Pastry Chef Daniel for an interactive culinary Xperience, followed by a tour of the Galley. Pastry Chef Daniel, Executive Chef Raul, Maitre D Christian and Hotel Director Mario in the Discovery Lounge (notice the seal picture in the back ground) This was fun, informative and all attending received a recipe booklet. I joined in by volunteering to make a decorative rose for the cake. It was a small group and everyone seemed to have a good time. Following the demonstration I took the Galley tour; very stainless steel and clean. Before I retired my job was Manager of Environmental Health for the County of El Dorado in California. I have done many kitchen tours and inspections. This kitchen was clean with top of the line equipment. I noticed that posted on the wall were past passenger comments, expressed in graph form. The comments made by guests are taken into consideration by the staff. Executive Chef, Raul Castillo, conducting the galley tour Following the galley tour, I watched the last part of an IMAX video presentation on the Galapagos Archipelago, which started at 3:00 PM in the Discovery Lounge. Rabida Island: Situated between Santiago and Isabela Islands it is considered the geographic center of the islands. It is named after the “La Rabida” Monastery in Spain, where Christopher Columbus first arrived when he left Italy. It is also known as the “Red Island” due to the mineral composition of the rocks. The Medium Intensity Activity for this afternoon was a wet landing at Rabida Island with a beach walk to observe Sea Lions and birds, followed by a short hike inland to a bluff for an overview of the island returning to the beach for snorkeling. We departed the ship at 4:00 PM for the 3 hour activity. This was the activity we choose.  The 4:15 excursion was a wet landing at Rabida Island for snorkeling. (2 hours) The Low Intensity Activity was a Zodiac ride along the coast line followed by an optional wet landing at Rabida Island departing the ship at 4:30 and lasting for 1.5 hours.  Rabida Island beach was crowded with Sea Lions, the Xpedition in background After hiking to the top of a bluff for an Island overview we returned to the beach and snorkeled for the remainder of time available. You must always be careful while walking as there are obstacles in the trail coming down from the bluff to the beach which could be hazardous. (See Picture) Hazards in the Trail During the different snorkeling activities we observed fish unique to the Galapagos such as Galapagos Garden Eel, Black Tailed Mullet, and Four Eyed Blenny. Snorkeling: Dee, Pearl and Bob (check the clarity of the water) Returning to the ship at 6:30 we cleaned up and proceeded to the Discovery Lounge for cocktails with friends prior to Jorge’s lecture on tomorrow’s activities, then to Darwin’s to see Luis and have another great dinner.

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Dec 4, 2005

Galapagos Islands

Day 9; Floreana and Santa Cruise Islands Floreana Island:  The sixth-largest island in the Archipelago was one of the four islands Charles Darwin visited. Floreana was inhabited at the time of Darwin’s visit by the Viceroy, who claimed he could look at a tortoise and derive its island of origin. Later this observation proved useful to Darwin when writing his “Origin of Species”. In 1832 Ecuador annexed the islands and established

the first Human Colony here. This later turned into a penal settlement. The island was the first capital of the Galapagos. Post Office Bay a short walk up the beach has been used as a mailing system since 1793. We are down to our last day in the Islands. Where did the time go? We made up our minds to savor the day. At dawn we were at the Beagle Café for early riser’s breakfast and a beautiful sunrise. Today the morning excursions begin at 8:00 AM with a zodiac ride to Floreana Island visiting the Post Office Barrel and Sea Lion Colony - Low Intensity (2 hours) with an optional last snorkeling opportunity. At 9:15 Point Daylight Snorkeling departed, a Medium Intensity Activity 2 hours long. We choose the Post Office Barrel and Sea Lion activity and departed the ship with Rod as our naturalist guide at 8:00.  The zodiac ride took us past interesting basalt lava flows which have formed underwater pillow lava. There are very large Prickly Pear cacti along the coast interspersed with Sea Lions. Each Island is unique and unforgettable. Sea Lions under Prickly Pear Cacti As we got closer to the coast we were fortunate to see Penguins swimming. The Blue Footed Boobys on this Island were in larger numbers than on any previous excursion. They were not nesting in December and we were surprised that we could not get as close to them as we did to the Masked Boobys.  Pair of Blue Footed Boobys (Celebrity Photo)   Feeding Blue Footed Boobys (Celebrity guides photo)   Galapagos Penguins swimming (Celebrity Photo) After a wet landing on Floreana we had a short walk to what appeared to be a pile of junk and graffiti. This is the famous Post Office Barrel which started functioning as a mail system for whalers in 1793. Sailors starting their voyage would leave mail and others returning would pick it up and deliver it back home. The mail box still functions today. We looked through the mail and took 2 cards leaving one each.    Post Office Barrel After retrieving and depositing mail in the Barrel we took advantage of the last opportunity to snorkel. No one else in the group choose to stay.  As we entered the water a Sea Lion observed us from a rock. We were hoping he would choose to join us and he did. Sea Lion watching us snorkel The Sea Lion did join us This was our last opportunity to observe and play with the animals and we took full advantage of it.  We were so impressed that a zodiac stayed with us the entire time. We had our own private life guard and shuttle service. The staff on this cruise was superior and not only did they try but they exceeded our expectations. Back on board we turned in our snorkeling equipment and cleaned up for lunch. The afternoon’s excursion was a repeat of Day 5 when we visited Santa Cruz Island. On day 5 we chose to do the “Highlands”, a dry landing at Port Ayora to see the giant Land Tortoises. Today we are going to take the second option and visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. This is a dry landing at Port Ayora followed by a short bus ride to the entrance of the Station. Port Ayora is an active port and much of the food supplies used on the Xpedition came from there. Port Ayora Dock We proceeded to the Darwin Station by bus. We toured the Station and observed the Giant Tortoise rearing program. The station was very interesting and certainly a must see, but after seeing all the animals in their natural habitats this brought feelings of being in a zoo. To do research here has to be exciting. Maybe we were just a little down realizing this was our last excursion. Our Naturalist Guide was Vanessa, but somewhere along the trail Rod joined us.     Entrance to Darwin Station   Dee and Rod our Naturalist Guide At the Station you can get a lot closer to the Giant Tortoises than in the wild. That affords   an excellent opportunity for close up photographs. I used the photo of Bob and me on our Christmas card.   Bob and Pearl with a Giant Tortoise at Darwin Station The tortoise rearing program is renowned world wide and is very successful in repopulating sub-species which have become endangered on some of the islands. “Lonesome George” the last Giant Tortoise survivor of his sub-species resides in the reserve but he was not close to a viewing area when we were there. Three year old baby Giant Tortoises   Souvenir Shop in the Darwin Station National Park The souvenirs in the National Park shop had the National Park logo on them and were of high quality. This shop is the only place to purchase National Park souvenirs. At the conclusion of our visit we could either walk back to Port Ayora or call a cab. We had the very nice ladies in the gift shop call us a cab and for $1.00 all three of us got a ride of about 1.5 miles back to town. This saved us a lot of time and energy. We shopped in town for about an hour until the first zodiac arrived and started the transport of passengers back to the Xpedition. Once back on board we went through the check in process for the last time. It goes as follows, once you arrive and disembark the zodiac staff helps you take off the life vest. You then proceed to check yourself in, so the Xpedition staff is reassured that everyone has made it back from the excursion. Checking in after each excursion After checking your name off the list you are handed a damp wash cloth to freshen up with. There is also a dispenser of disinfectant hand wash, one on each side of the stairs (you can see it on the wall in the upper photo). It is suggested everyone use this to prevent the spread of bacterial illness. Dee receiving a damp cloth to freshen up with Dee receiving Fruit Juice upon boarding After coming up the stairs to the Beagle Grill fresh fruit juice is offered or you can pass by the Discovery Bar for a drink on the way to your cabin. There was always a snack offered in the Discovery Bar area such as finger sandwiches and cookies. Also you can order a cappuccino or latte from the bar along with a beer. We returned to our cabin and reluctantly started packing for the next morning’s early departure. We then cleaned up for the last night’s festivities. We heard rumors that something special was planned for the evening in the Discovery Lounge. The rumors were correct. The evening began with a champagne toast. Xpedition Staff, Discovery Lounge The staff proposing a farewell champagne toast (These are the cabin stewardesses who we never saw who were so efficient during the cruise). This was followed by a video presentation, pictures of the passengers and wild life and their interactions during the cruise. I have used some of those pictures in this review as noted below the photographs. We had noticed the Naturalist Guides taking pictures during the excursions but thought nothing of it. We assumed they were of the animals and for their own personal use. We were wrong. The CD was great and covered the entire cruise, all the islands and special events. Celebrity placed one copy in each cabin as a memento of the cruise. Celebrity thought of everything to make the journey a wonderful experience. We proceeded to Darwin’s Restaurant where Rod joined us for dinner. It was a wonderful evening and we were so sad having to depart the ship and leave the crew. We have never had such a luxurious cruise and such a knowledgeable attentive crew. They seemed to sincerely care if we had a perfect time. All cruise lines should get staff from Ecuador. Our wonderful Naturalist Guides Top row: Jorge Parrales, Cruise Director Left to Right: Fabio, Rob, unknown, Vanessa, Manual, and Hymie. (Celebrity Photo) As I understand it the guides are independent contractors and work on an as needed basis for Celebrity. The ship carries 94 passengers but the zodiacs carry a maximum of 14.  The number of guides will very on each cruise depending on the number of passengers sailing. The guides we spoke with lived on Santa Cruz Island; therefore they can come and go easily.  By this distribution of passengers to guides the ship maintains the feel of a small yacht but has the amenities of a larger vessel.

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Dec 4, 2005

Galapagos Islands

Seymour Island North Seymour Island was named after Lord Hugh Seymour and is located at the central area of the Archipelago just north of Baltra. The major attraction is the colony of nesting Magnificent Frigatebirds. The afternoon high intensity excursion began at 4:00 PM. It was a dry landing and a 2.5 hour hike on the island. The medium/low intensity activity which left at 4:15 was a zodiac ride along the coast with a dry

landing. (2 hours) Landing on Seymour Island We chose the high intensity activity and were the first zodiac to depart for Seymour Island. Something to keep in mind as you sail from island to island is that each island has a species that is unique. This was the only island we visited with Frigatebirds, so we concentrated our photographs on them. Nesting and displaying Frigatebirds The dry landing on Seymour went well and we hiked literally through sea lion colonies and came to the Frigatebird nesting area. It was amazing to see such beautiful birds up close displaying all their unique breeding behaviors. Seymour Island had a serious problem with biting flies, so remember to bring an insect repellent and use it. This was the only island where we had a problem with insects. Hiking is rough because there are many rocks on the trail, or should I say the rocks make up the trail. On the ship they offer walking sticks which could be helpful, but we had so much camera equipment it was not possible to carry any thing else. Rocky Trail on Seymour Island Seymour Island was amazing. We were fortunate to encounter a Land Iguana, as they were not abundant, at least during the time we where there. The animal and bird activity changes season to season. We picked a shoulder season between the wet and dry time of year. It was also a month with low rainfall averages. Land Iguana Departing Seymour Island, we returned to the ship at 6:30 PM. That gave us time to shower and clean up before the evening lecture and briefing of the next days activities, followed by dinner. Upon returning to the cabin we found an invitation from Hotel Director, Mario Pires requesting us to join him at his table for dinner. We arrived at the lounge a little early, which gave us time for a dinner cocktail and a visit with the friends we were making. We then met Mario for dinner. It was a delightful dinner. We were made to feel very special and Mario had many interesting stories of his life aboard ship. Hotel Director, Mario Pires and Cruise Director, Jorge Parrales in the Discovery Lounge Day 4; Kicker Rock, San Cristobal & Espanola Islands For those who chose, day 4 started at 6:15 with an early riser’s breakfast at the Beagle Grill and a 7:00 AM zodiac ride around Kicker Rock. Kicker Rock or Sleeping Lion Kicker Rock is an interesting geologic structure off the Northwest shore of San Cristobal Island, the Galapagos version of Gibraltar. On our visit we observed Blue Footed Boobys, pelicans, sally light-foot crabs and soaring overhead were frigatebirds. Well worth getting up for. At 9:00 AM we departed the Xpedition for our second excursion of the day, a dry landing at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island. San Cristobal is the fifth largest and eastern most of the Islands in the Archipelago, one of the four islands Charles Darwin visited. We visited the Interpretation Center (Human History Museum) which is financed by the government of Spain and offers a journey through the history of the islands. After leaving the Center it was a short walk to main street, Charles Darwin Avenue. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno Is a small sleepy town with cobbled streets offering limited shopping. This was the only excursion offered at location. View of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno from the Interpretation Center Down Town Puerto Baquerizo Moreno The town is small but picturesque. I’m a tee shirt fan and there were many to choose from. Prices ranged from 6 to12 dollars. There are many other local items to purchase. This excursion was about 2 hours long and very informative. There are only 2 inhabitant islands so if you are going to purchase anything this is one place. Santa Cruz Island which we visited later in the week has a much bigger town and shopping area. From town we were picked up by the zodiac and transferred back to the ship for lunch. We choose the Beagle grill over Darwin’s Restaurant as they have a BBQ set up in the rear of the deck which offers fish, chicken and hamburgers. We all loved the hamburgers. At 2:00 PM in the Discovery Lounge Deck 4 the lecture series started today’s program was “Geology of the Galapagos Islands” given by the cruise director, Jorge Parrales. Jorge’s presentation was very informative but I would recommend doing additional reading prior to visiting the Islands. We went to www.longitudebooks.com for a complete listing of natural history and wildlife guides to the Galapagos. The site also has great books on many other destinations world wide. The afternoon excursion was a visit to Espanola Island. Espanola Island is the southernmost and oldest Island of the Archipelago, 4 million years old. The Island is a favorite of visitors because of the high concentration of wildlife. We made a dry landing at Suarez Point. At 4:00 PM the High Intensity Activity began with a dry landing on Espanola Island, duration 2.5 hours. We took a 1.9 mile hike over rough terrain, with large rocks along the entire path and with the opportunity to see Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Hawks, Sea Lions, Mockingbirds, Waved Albatrosses and nesting Masked or Nazca Boobys. The Medium Intensity Activity departed at 4:15 and lasted 2 hours with a 1 mile hike. The Low Intensity Activity departed at 4:30 and had an optional landing along with a zodiac ride along the coastline. We choose the High Intensity activity, the landing went fine but the trail was The trail, not only difficult but Iguanas everywhere rocky and difficult. Not only did you have to watch the trail for rocks but Iguanas and Sea Lion pups as well. There were Sea Lion pups everywhere as the females had just given birth. Very young pups came up and smelled our feet looking for their moms. They were so cute. We must have 200 Sea Lion photographs. Pup looking for Mom Further down the trail we came into an area of nesting Nazca Boobys. The birds, reptiles and mammals have no fear of people, so we were able to get very close to the nesting Boobys with out disturbing them. You could get a close up photograph with a 50mm lens. Masked or Nazca Booby’ and chick The colony of Boobys and chicks was one of the highlights of this Island along with the observation of adult and immature Waved Albatross. There were several adults Albatross flying overhead. They’re huge birds; so impressive to see as they spend most of their life at sea. Waved Albatross (photo by Celebrity Guide) Waved Albatross (photo by guide) We arrived back at the ship around 6:30 PM, checked in and had to hurry to get cleaned up for the next day’s presentation by Jorge in the Discovery lounge at 7:45. We just had time to grab a drink from the lounge which we took to our room and enjoyed while cleaning up. Evening dress is country club casual. The men usually wore either cotton Bermudas or slacks with a nice shirt and the woman wore cotton or linen slacks and a nice blouse. Several women had brought light weight dresses. After the lecture we selected our activity for the next day and headed to Darwin’s for a lovely dinner. The wine was a Chilean Cabernet which was heavy bodied and excellent. Our waiter Luis was Ecuadorian as was most of the staff. Luis was so sweet. He started saving us a table in his area. Even thought it was open seating, he put a reserved sigh on the table. Our Waiter Luis, Dee & Bob Day 5; Puerto Ayora & Dragon Hill (Santa Cruz Island) Santa Cruz Island: Is the second largest island in the Galapagos and a hub for tourists. The Xpedition anchored at Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galapagos, where the Charles Darwin Research Station and the National Park Service offices are located. In 1959 the Ecuadorian government declared all the islands, except areas already colonized as a national park. We met at the Beagle Grill for the medium Intensity Activity to the Highlands which departed at 8:00 AM. Today’s second activity was high intensity; the excursion departed at 8:15 AM and went to the Charles Darwin Research Station. Later in the week the ship returns to Santa Cruz and the itineraries were reversed, therefore everyone had the opportunity to participate in each activity. We choose the 3 hour dry landing at Puerto Ayora with a bus ride to the Highlands and a 1 mile hike to observe giant tortoises in the wild. Giant Tortoises in the wild We hiked past the tortoises, which were grazing like cattle, ending the hike at a ranch house where we were offered coffee or tea. The highlands get a lot of moisture, so be sure to bring a rain coat and protection for your camera equipment. Along the way we saw many wonderful birds among them a Vermilion Flycatcher. Vermilion Flycatcher (photo by Gene Schneider). We boarded the busses at the ranch for the ride back to town where we had a short time to walk around and/or shop. Down Town Port Ayora: Bob, Pearl & Blue Footed Booby We caught the Zodiac returning to the Xpedition just in time for lunch. The aroma of BBQ burgers, chicken & fish to made us hungry again. After lunch, for those planning to snorkel, the equipment was issued on deck 6. We were fitted by the naturalists for mask, snorkel, fins, wet suit and a carrying case. This equipment was checked out for the duration of the cruise. Bob getting fitted by Guides Fabio & Vanessa After the fitting we had to hustle to the Discovery lounge for Jorge’s presentation. Today’s lecture was on “Sharks; A Broken Myth”. The title made us a little uneasy but after the lecture we were reassured as there has not been a documented shark attack in the Galapagos. The afternoon excursions offered were two we really wanted to do. We had to choose between an inland hike with the possibility of seeing Land Iguanas and Flamingos (2 hours) or an Advanced Snorkeling Activity (1.5 hours). The Low Intensity Activity was a Coastal Exploration, which also sounded interesting (1.5 hours). We choose the Inland Hike and were glad we did as this was one of only 2 opportunities to see large Land Iguanas. We departed the ship in our zodiac at 4:00 PM for a dry landing. The hike was hot and dusty but interesting. Our guide Rod shared much information about the history and biology of Santa Cruz Island. We were fortunate to have Rod as our naturalist on the majority of our excursions as he was a very knowledgeable biologist. Land Iguana, Dragon Hill, Santa Cruz Island Flamingos, with a background of unique island vegetation At the end of the hike we had the opportunity to snorkel for ½ an hour. This was FUN as we were joined by a friendly seal. He played with us the entire time. There were also many Green Sea turtles. It was a wonderful experience. Swimming with a Galapagos Sea Lion By 6:30 PM we were ready to return, grab a cool drink form the Discovery bar and get cleaned up or the evening lecture and dinner. Dinner under the Stars; Dee, Bob and Pearl This evening’s dinner was served on deck “Dinner under the Stars”. Luis saved us a table as he did every evening. After dinner the Musician Jacobo played the piano in the Discovery lounge. We were generally ready to retire after dinner so we could get an early start for the next day, but we had listened to Jacobo earlier in the cruise and his music was pleasant and a good back drop for conservation and renewing friendships.

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Nov 30, -0001

Galapagos Islands

Introduction: 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 The 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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