Like virtually all species before us, we are carried to the Galapagos Islands by the wind and the sea. Six-hundred miles off the western coast of Ecuador, the isolated archipelago, one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites, marks the spot where animals have been redefining Mother Nature’s laws for millions of years. Iguanas forage in the sea alongside penguins, colossal boulders crumble to the touch, and ambling giant tortoises bring traffic to a halt. It’s all very topsy-turvy, which is precisely the experience that Celebrity Cruises aims to deliver to guests: encounters with nature that cannot be found anywhere else on earth.
Aside from being the living museum that inspired naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, the Galapagos is an enchanting destination for friends, couples and families of all ages. The bonding happens shortly after landing on cactus-strewn Baltra Island from Quito: we don life jackets, batten down our carry-ons and climb onto gently rocking Zodiacs to scale the top of the sea.
“Ninety-seven percent of the islands are Galapagos National Park,” explains naturalist Javier Candos. Our every move, and the movements of other ships in the area, would be carefully choreographed to reduce environmental impact. Excitement builds as we inch closer to the Celebrity Xperience, and, surprisingly, we set sail for North Seymour Island almost immediately after boarding.
We quickly learn that most days aboard the ship come with the option for snorkeling, kayaking, short or long walks for all fitness levels, or Zodiac tours. Guests get a feel for the next day’s itinerary during nightly briefings that lead into dinner either under the stars or in the elegant main dining room.
The first in a 7-day whirlwind of excursions, our Zodiac pulls up slowly to North Seymour’s flat, nature-made lava rocks and we are immediately met by ornate sally lightfoot crabs, swallow-tailed gulls and snoozing sea lions. Candos guides us along a path edged by bushy vegetation that camouflages the fuzzy white heads of young frigatebirds, while the distinct drumming sounds emanating from the pouches of adult males indicate that love is in the air.
Jaunts around the islands of South Plaza, Santa Fe, San Cristobal and Floreana reveal entirely different landscapes. On South Plaza, dainty yellow warblers and Darwin finches flitter among whimsical tall prickly pear cactus trees that either bush out or tower over miles of red carpet plant. Hopping off the side of the Zodiac along Santa Fe Island, fully fitted by Celebrity with snorkeling gear, we drift through a world of curious sea lions, rays and colorful fish parades.
A wet landing on San Cristobal Island kicks-off the first challenging hike of our trip. A rugged, narrow and steep path winds its way up a mountain to reach the nesting grounds of the blue-footed boobies. The focus of Floreana Island, meanwhile, comes with a twist: an old “post office” (i.e., a decorated wooden barrel and other “debris”) on the beach originally created by 18th century traveling seamen where guests can drop off mail or deliver mail for some of the island’s 140 residents.
A Zodiac ride to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island takes us back to civilization where we get a glimpse of local life, and the conservation efforts underway for the Galapagos giant tortoise and other species at the Charles Darwin Research Station. We then board a bus and head to El Manzanillo Ranch in the highlands to see these beauties in the wild along their migrating paths.
The intimacy and relaxed atmosphere of the 48-passenger Celebrity Xperience, combined with an all-inclusive experience start to finish, allows guests to focus on reconnecting. Immersive itineraries are built on shared experiences—whether gourmet meals that are cooked under the stars via open-air grilling, luxury staterooms that lock only from the inside or rare encounters with nature. The crew is quick to customize the F&B experience as well to fit specific dietary needs (“martinis” and “daiquiris” and the trusted standbys: burgers, fries and chicken nuggets, are a hit with the handful of teens on board).
This is essentially a ship for disconnecting and reconnecting. Guests will undoubtedly climb to the sundeck for relaxation, a dip in the hot tub, sweeping views of the islands and a decent WiFi signal, and stay long into the evening chatting with new friends about the day’s experiences and what tomorrow will bring. There is a library on board that includes a variety of games, but with movie nights, frequent lectures and trivia, it’s always vacant. In such an immediately immersive environment teeming with life, guests will surely find that the urge for creature comforts is quickly redefined.
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