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Celebrity Xpedition Galapagos Cruise Review

_MG_9182 Kongo just finished a week aboard the Celebrity Cruise ship Xpedition for a trip to the Galapagos.  This is a review of that trip and he's writing it before the memories fade.  If the Galapagos is on your bucket list I hope you read the review.  Please feel free to ask any questions in the comment section.


Overview

The Expedition is the smallest ship in the Celebrity fleet and carries up to 98 passengers.  The crew size is 70.  The week-long cruise visits several islands and the various itineraries available can be found at the Celebrity website.  There are several ships that host expeditions around the Galapagos and they range from smaller boats that carry 8 or more passengers up to the Xpedition, which is presently the largest and arguably the most luxurious. National Geographic offers 10 day cruises but frankly, after seven days you will have seen all the iguanas, boobies, sea turtles, tortoises, and so forth and once you’ve seen one marine iguana you’ve pretty much seen them all.  Kongo’s cabin for two on Deck 4 cost just under $10,000 and did not include airfare to and from Quito from the United States (or other point of origin).  It did include airfare between the mainland and the islands.

The only way you can go ashore on the Galapagos Islands is to go by ‘panga” a zodiac craft that carries about 16 passengers.  No matter what cruise you choose you’re going to the same places ashore and using the same type of transportation to get back and forth to the ship.  You also must have a certified guide that accompanies you at all times.

The Celebrity Xpedition has two different itineraries:  The inner loop and outer loop.  Kongo went on the outer loop and a map of the journey from the Celebrity website is shown below.

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Everybody starts out on the island of Baltra which has the only airport on the islands.  From there you board your boat and head out.  At the end of your cruise you return to Baltra and fly back to the mainland.  With Celebrity, you fly to and from Quito, Ecuador.

Aboard the Celebrity Xpedition everything is included and everything includes airfare to and from Quito, hotel stays in Quito and the start and end of the trip, all drinks, all meals, all gratuities, and all shore excursions.  Meals in Quito are included as well aa a tour of Quito city.  It is nice not to have a bar bill at the end of the cruise or to figure out gratuities for each of the staff that helps you out along the way.

Logistics

Celebrity does an excellent job taking care of all the little details.  You are met when you clear customs at Quito airport, your luggage is collected, and the next time you see it is when it appears at your hotel room at the J.W. Marriott an hour away in downtown Quito.

When you arrive at the hotel your key is waiting for you and it is a very nice hotel.  It was great to get high speed internet after a week trekking about Machu Picchu and Cusco.  There is a good city tour of Ecuador’s capital, a trip to the equator monument, and a dinner out at a very nice restaurant near the hotel.  Breakfast meals at the hotel are included.

When you depart for the island, your bags are collected the night before and you are taken to the airport in the morning, guided through customs, and then board Celebrity’s own airplane operated by AerGalo for a two-hour flight from Quito to Baltra.  After clearing customs in the Galapagos, you have a brief welcome drink in the Celebrity lounge at the airport then board a bus for a very short ride to the dock where you board your zodiac for transport to the ship which is anchored in Baltra harbor.  You will begin seeing your first sea lions and sea birds on the dock.

Aboard the ship you a warmly welcomed, escorted to your cabin, and your luggage is deposited at your room a few minutes later.

When leaving the ship it’s pretty much the reverse order of this.  Celebrity has all the details of moving you and your luggage back and forth seamlessly.  When its finally time to leave Ecuador, a bus is waiting to take you back to the airport.

The only real downside in all this is that the new Quito airport is an hour outside the city and the roads and infrastructure aren’t ready to quickly move you back and forth.  There’s no getting around it and an hour bus ride if you land late at night (Kongo arrived at midnight) is a long trip.  That’s not Celebrity’s fault, of course, it’s just part of the travel you have to endure to get to the islands.

Shore Excursions

There are at least two shore excursions a day at different spots on the various islands. Snorkeling, both off the beach and in deep water, are frequent options.  Kongo didn’t go snorkeling this trip but the ship provides guides, gear, and wet suits for those who wish to go in the water.  As with everything on Xpedition, this is included in the price.

Shore excursions are via 16-person zodiacs.  You board these from the aft end of the ship and depending upon the location you will either have a “dry” or “wet” landing.  A dry landing enables you to step directly from the zodiac to rocks while wet landings require you to jump into the water and wade ashore.  In the image below, the zodiac is coming in for a wet landing.

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A group headed ashore departs the Xpedition.

A group headed ashore departs the Xpedition.

The trips are all led by a certified Galapagos guide.  Everyone must stay together and straying from the trail is strictly prohibited.  Also, don’t even think about leaving behind any litter.  Smoking is not allowed on the excursions.

The excursions vary from easy walks along the beach or rather strenuous treks across lava fields or along trails where you hop from one boulder to another.

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Each land excursion is about 2 to 2 1/2 hours long but keep in mind that there are no restroom facilities on any of the trips so plan your meals and liquid intake accordingly.  There’s also no kiosks, shopping, water stops, trash cans, or anything else.  It’s all exactly as it was thousands of years ago.

The guides on the excursions are excellent.  All Xpedition guides are Level 4 certified (the highest level), are university educated, speak excellent English, and are passionate naturalists.

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Naturalist and guide Jorge briefs a group about the Galapagos sea lions.

The Ship

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The Xpedition was built in Germany in 2004.  It has passenger accommodations for 98 explorers as well as 70 crew.  While compact, the ship has plenty of space for eating, drinking, lounging about on deck, or sleeping in your cabin.  Kongo’s cabin on Deck 4 was small but adequate with two closets, an ensuite bath with shower, a desk, and small couch.  The cabin was configured for two twin beds but this could be rearranged to put the beds together.  Large suitcases stow handily under the bunks to allow for more storage area.  Kongo’s cabin had a large window but no balcony.

There is a flat screen television in the cabin with a movie channel and information about the Galapagos.  There is also a single 120 VAC and 220 VAC outlet so bring a small power strip if you have lots of things to charge.

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Meals and Drinks

Kongo rates the meals aboard Xpedition good but not excellent.  Breakfasts were outstanding, lunches were hit or miss and dinners were either excellent or just okay. For lunch you have a choice between eating a buffet lunch in the main dining room or going for a burger, grilled fish, or a hot dog on the main deck.

The drinks were good and the bar well stocked.  Since this cruise is all inclusive there is no worry about bar tabs so feel free to buy all your new best friends a round!

There had been an outbreak of the norovirus the week before so the crew was especially cautious.  Everyone had to get hand sanitizer every time they came back to the ship and before every meal.  Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style and the crew does the serving.  Keep your hands away from the food!  The extra precautions worked because nobody got sick on this cruise.

Shipboard Activities

There’s an onboard spa that Mrs. Kongo claims is great.  There is also a small gym for those that don’t feel they got enough exercise on the shore excursions.  Every evening before dinner there were briefings about the next day’s activities and after dinner there was entertainment that ranged from talent shows to karaoke to a crossing the equator ceremony.  Most people were pretty worn out at the end of a full day and were in bed before 10 PM.

 Passenger Demographics

The passengers aboard Xpedition were mostly American and Canadian with a dozen or so from the UK.  Ages ranged from early 40s to a couple in their mid 80s.  Kongo guesses that the average age is between late 50s and mid-60s. This is not a cruise you want to take your young children on.  Not only will they be severely challenged by the shore excursions, the other passengers will not appreciate the little darlings running about underfoot.  Wait till they’re really old enough to appreciate the experience and can carry their own bags.

The passengers are mostly couples but there are a lot of single women traveling together.  If you’re a single male monkey looking for adventure and the possibility of meeting someone this cruise may be for you.

Many passengers were in groups.  Kongo’s group, for example, was a loose collection of 40 that use the same travel agent and have often travelled together in the past.  This group is not particularly good friends, although there are good friends within the group. it’s just a group of generally compatible folks who love their travel agent, Betty.

Clothes

Casual is the word of the day in the Galapagos. That means T-shirts, sandals, shorts, light clothing, sunglasses and hats with big brims.  This is the equator after all and formal wear isn’t appropriate.  Some of the women wore long light tropical wraps in the evening and most men wore long pants and a collared shirt to dinner but just about anything except a wet bathing suit is fine in the dining room after the sun goes down.

Even though this is a cruise, forget about dressing up for Captain’s table dinners and elegant cocktail parties under the sunset.

Hats with big brims and sunglasses are essential on land excursus.  Light colored clothing reflects the hot equatorial sun and is less attractive to the occasional wasp or bee colonies that inhabit some of the islands.

Hats with big brims and sunglasses are essential on land excursus. Light colored clothing reflects the hot equatorial sun and is less attractive to the occasional wasp or bee colonies that inhabit some of the islands.

Most people pack too much.  Not Mrs. Kongo, however.  She claims that she wore each of the five different pair of shoes she brought along as well as the ever changing fashionable combinations of tops, capris, slacks, and so forth. There is a laundry aboard the ship and prices are cheap.

Women probably don’t need all the usual tonnage of hair and cosmetic products they often lug along on overseas journeys.  After all, as good friend Carol who lives in Myrtle Beach once said, “Men don’t see so good up close after 50.”

You do need at least two pairs of shoes.  One for the dry landings and one for the wet.  dry landing shoes should be sturdy hikers that provide plenty of ankle support for traversing rocks and lava beds.  Wet landing shoes should be something that dries quickly and is still easy to walk in.  Water shoes (Kongo wore a pair made by Aviva) with socks to keep the sand and rocks out are good.  Keen brand sandals are a good choice.

What else to bring

Be sure to pack plenty of sunblock and insect repellant.  If your back is prone to aching after carrying about backpacks and scampering in and out of zodiacs then an extra bottle of your favorite pain killer is a wise choice.  Kongo never leaves home without a supply of anti-diaherral medicine.  Aloe based body lotions are good for slathering on after a day in the sun.

Photography

The Galapagos is a photography paradise.  You will regret not having your best camera with you but think twice about carrying your entire lens package.  Kongo brought his Canon 7D, a 24-105 EF-L lens for wider angle shots, and a 70-200 EF-L lens for getting closer to the action.  Mostly he used the 70-200 ashore and the 25-105 aboard the ship.

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Keep your camera with you all the time when you’re out and about on the islands. Versatile lenses go a long way here and be sure to use the camera strop to keep the camera from becoming an ocean floor relic.

Kongo brought a tripod but never used it.  When you’re moving with your group ashore you simply do not have time to set up and adjust a tripod and here’s a news flash for you: ships move so a tripod on the deck of a ship is not going to work for that awesome sunrise photo you want to take home with you.

Kongo captured this sunrise with a steady hand, a high ISO setting, and made a panorama.  Tripods don't work so well on ships.

Kongo captured this sunrise with a steady hand, a high ISO setting, and made a panorama. Tripods don’t work so well on ships.

Morning excursions are often going to be in harsh sunlight so bring along polarizing filter and think carefully about your settings.  Kongo shot a lot in Av mode and set his exposure about 2/3 of a stop below ideal to avoid washing out everything.  Afternoon excursions that end up about 5:30 or 6 usually have plenty of great light.

Kongo shot over 1000 images a day on most days.  That seems like an awful lot but you can’t just take one picture of a nesting albatross up close.  He also shot a lot in high speed mode, especially when trying to capture birds in flight or when trying to anticipate exactly when that green sea turtle was going to poke his head above water.  Needless to say, this means you need some hefty memory cards (Kongo used 64GB CF cards and always shoots in RAW mode), particularly if you’re shooting video as well as stills.  Kongo took along at least two batteries all the time and kept them charged up every night.

Be sure to pack some great big plastic bags in your backpack along with a rain poncho in case you get caught by the frequent showers that move across the islands.

Should you go?

If the Galapagos is on your bucket list go sooner rather than later.  It’s not cheap but go when you still have the health and the mobility to get around and appreciate it.  Several passengers simply were not up to going ashore every day and making the walks and had to content themselves with watching the islands from ashore.  While this is nice, it is nothing compared to getting up close to the animals.

If you’re in reasonable health, can walk two or three miles on a moderately difficult trail, and can stay in the sun for a few hours at a time with a floppy hat and sunblock you should be able to handle the islands.

While you don’t need to be an acrobat to transition to and from the zodiacs, you do need to have reasonable balance and dexterity.  You will get a lot of help on and off from the guides but a sense of balance is pretty important here.

Overall rating.

Five bananas!

See a lot more of Kongo’s favorite Galapagos photos here.

Travel safe.  Have fun.

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About Kongo (662 Articles)
Kongo is a traveling monkey owned by a nice man who has a soft spot for simians. Follow Kongo at www.travel-monkey.me and on Twitter @kongomonkey

34 Comments on Celebrity Xpedition Galapagos Cruise Review

  1. Great post. I wondered what a Galapagos tour would be like. And Kongo covered everything!

    Like

  2. Awesome review. Now I want to go and see.

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  3. Living in Chile this year we’ve thought about going to the Galapagos. I’m thinking we’ll wait it out until we move to Ecuador in a couple of years or so. Your article helped make that decision. There’s only so much one can do and our planned trips to Peru, Bolivia and southern Chile will take up most of our available time. Thanks for the informative post.

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    • Ecuador is a fascinating country. Modern in many ways, very rural in others. I know what you mean about only being able to do so much! I hope you get a chance to see Machu Picchu in Peru.

      Like

    • One other thing…these cruises generally book up over a year in advance. Factor that into your timing. Kongo was lucky to have to wait only a year for this one and it only worked because someone else who had signed up months earlier had to cancel.

      Like

  4. Wow! Sign me up!!

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  5. Tremendous write-up. Enjoyed every word.

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  6. hmmmmmm sending to hubby……

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  7. Great review! Thanks for so many details.

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  8. hi kongo great, great article! my husband and i are planning on going this summer with our two sons(20 and 16). who was the travel agent you used? we live in st louis and have yet to find one that gets cruises and their nuances. thanks for your help maude kandula

    Like

    • Glad you enjoyed the article. Finding the right travel agent is a challenge. We have been close friends with Betty, our travel agent for more than 30 years and she never steers us wrong. She’s also fun to travel with. Her contact information is at the following link: http://www.brh-travel.com.

      Good luck and i hope you enjoy the Galapagos as much as we did.

      Like

  9. Great article. But what is the difference in taking the inside loop vs the outside loop.

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    • Hi, Scott. Not much difference but you see some slight variations. Not having done both loops I can’t comment for sure but I don’t think it makes that much difference. Pick a time that makes sense for you and you’ll have a great time. Which ever loop you travel you are going to see gobs of animals and sights.

      Like

  10. farwest101 // April 23, 2015 at 3:35 am // Reply

    Nice review!

    A few questions though:

    We are considering booking flights to/from Baltra ourselves (we have a ton of frequent flier points and several flight options). As such, we’re trying to figure out which flights to book.

    1) From Quito, which flight did you take? Was it the scheduled nonstop Aerogal flight from Quito that leaves early afternoon (approximately 1:47PM and arrives in Baltra at 2:52PM)? Or (as you imply) was a special Celebrity-chartered flight on Aerogal at some different time?

    2) How long does it take to get from the airport terminal to the Celebrity pangas? As I understand your review, the pangas pick you up at the little ferry crossing near the airport and not in Puerto Ayora? I ask just in case we take a different flight that what Celebrity uses and want to leave sufficient time to get to the ship.

    3) What time does the cruise end on Sunday morning? What is a reasonable time to catch a departing flight? We are considering a 10:25 AM flight to Guayaquil that works well for us on our trip to Lima (and then onwards to Macchu Pichu).

    Thanks!

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    • Hi, farwest. I’ll try to answer your questions.

      First, I believe the airfare between Quito is part of the Celebrity package cost. As I recall, we took the Celebrity Aerogal charter flight that had us at the island about 3. There are other airlines that fly in and out of Baltra. BTW, there is nothing to do at Baltra except get on the pandas. Celebrity took us on about a 5-minute bus ride from the airport to the dock.

      The Celebrity cruises leave and return to Baltra. We did visit Puerto Ayora but I am not aware of having the ability to join the cruise there.

      We returned to Quito arriving about 1 pm. I don’t recall exactly when we left the boat but you would need to arrange for a separate panga run to the dock in Baltra and then arrange transport from the dock to the airport. It’s not far, probably less than a mile, but I don’t know how you do it with all your luggage.

      I suggest you talk to a Celebrity agent about your questions.

      Frankly, I would just pay the package price and not have to worry about schlepping your luggage all over. The Celebrity package also includes a full day tour of Quito, your stay at the JW Marriott, and a shopping tour on your return if you are up for it.

      Good luck and I hope you enjoy your trip to the Galapagos and Machu Pichu!

      Like

      • farwest101 // April 23, 2015 at 12:25 pm //

        Thanks for the quick reply! Useful info. Confirms what we have tentatively been told. And clarifies where the Xpedition embarks. Lets us book in relative confidence.

        Yes, we could buy the add-on thru Celebrity (and we would have in past years) but we’ll never use our award miles/points (8 figures and counting) if we keep paying for stuff like this that we can book ourselves.

        Cheers

        Like

  11. Hello,

    Did you see Blue footed Boobies on this Outer Loop? Can you make a distinction between Outer and Inner differences? Cheers, Bob

    Like

  12. Thank you for the informative review. I am going in May and I was wondering if I will need a waterproof camera bag or a dry sack for my camera?

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    • Hi, Joanne. May is a wonderful time of year to visit the Galapagos. The waters surrounding the islands are generally calm but when the pangas go to and from the shore you can expect some spray depending on where you sit in the boat. I put my camera in a small waterproof backpack during transits between the shore and the Xpedition and never had any problems. You can also stuff a bottled water, sunscreen, and spare lenses in the pack and be ready for anything! Good luck and hoping you have a wonderful time in these enchanted isles.

      Like

  13. Hi. Great review. We’re due to go in February and some advice I have been given says we need a rabies shot for Quito and/or Galapagos. What do you feel/think/know? Also: Big Floppy Hats seem a good idea but light or darker colours of clothing?? I have “zip off” trousers that’ll turn into shorts and “diving” slip on shoe-lets for wet landings and lighter walking boots, to use after using my micro-fibre towel to dry my feet off. I hope I am prepared but just need some re-assurance/confidence boost etc. PS: I’m 62

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    • Hi, Clive. You’re going to have a wonderful time in the Galapagos. First, I have never heard of rabies shots being required for humans visiting Quito or the Galapagos. I believe many countries in South America would require certification of rabies shots if you were taking a pet, which I hope you don’t attempt because they won’t let it on any of the islands.

      Regarding clothing, remember that the Galapagos Islands straddle the equator so the sun can be fiercely hot but it’s moderated somewhat by the Humbolt current that comes up from Antartica. I think a floppy hat with light colored clothes is the best for staying comfortable.

      I think your zip off trousers will be perfect as well as shoes designed to go in and out of the water for wet landings.

      It seems to me Clive that you are well prepared for this adventure. Have lots and lots of fun!

      Best

      Like

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