The best laid plans…are made to be changed

If you may recall from my last installment we found out that we are going to be able to take our July 4 Galapagos Island cruise on Celebrity’s Flora. We had heard about all this on a TA-only Celebrity webinar that we watched three weeks ago tomorrow.

Of course the very first morning after the announcement we wanted to get all our plans set up. We had originally planned on flying from Seattle to Los Angeles on Alaska Air (our hometown airline) about three days before we were flying to Quito, Ecuador. While in the area we would see my brother and sister-in-law and spend a couple of days doing LA fun stuff. Then we would board our flight to Quito on Friday July second, spend a full day on Saturday touring Quito with Celebrity before heading to the Galapagos themselves on Sunday. We were also scheduled to spend an extra day in Quito after we visited the islands.

But Celebrity has wisely decided that even though most people on the islands are vaccinated, the COVID situation in mainland Ecuador is not a good one. So they have shortened our trip from 11 days to nine. That was OK with us as this trip is all about the Galapagos.

But now we had to redo all our flights because we would be leaving out of LA a day later than we thought and coming back a day earlier. So I got on the phone with Celebrity (they had booked our Quito flights as part of our package) to find out when the new times would be so I could change our other arrangements that would get us to and from LAX.

Besides the fact that they told me they couldn’t be sure of anything for a least a week, when they finally sent me the itinerary, it had changed a WHOLE BUNCH! We had originally been scheduled to fly on Copa Air (the national airline of Panama) from LAX leaving at 11:30 AM and arriving in Quito at 9:30 pm our time. We had about a 2 hour layover in Panama City which was OK for us.

The new schedule had us leaving LAX at 2:30 AM!!! And then we had an almost nine hour layover in Panama City, still taking the same Panama to Quito flight we had been on originally that got us in at 11:30 pm. Now I fully realize that some people like flying red-eye flights but we are not two of those people. That would mean missing a night of sleep as we would have to stay up to get on the plane and then even if we were in Business class and had lay-down seats, by the time we got to sleep, we would be landing not to mention the really long layover in an airport we don’t know in a country that still has major COVID problems. At our age (seems like I say that a lot 😜) we would be wiped out for about two days of the cruise. So this flight was out for us.

I jumped online and started looking for flights either from LAX or SEA but no dice. Either we left really early in the morning (like 2:30) or the previous afternoon and would have to spend the night in an airport, there was basically nothing. We were just not sure how this was going to work out so I decided to take my daily walk and see if just getting out would give me an idea. Walking often does that.

Sure enough, I came up with an idea that Kathleen actually liked 😁. My idea was, let’s find a non-stop flight to Quito from someplace in the United States, fly to that city the night before and then fly to Quito the next morning. Now we had to pick a city to fly to that had a non-stop to Quito. The airlines made that easy because you can really only fly to Quito on a non-stop from very few airports. We were kind of limited to Houston, Atlanta or Miami.

When I said Miami we both looked at each other and said, “YES!” We decided right then and there that this was the way we wanted to go. One of our best friends in the world, the god of shore excursions, Mike Preisman lives just north of Fort Lauderdale and we will pretty much take any reason to go and visit him. Plus, since the last time we saw him (March 2020) he has met and fallen head over heels for his new lady friend, Cathy. And even though we have met her on FaceTime we really want to meet her in person…and now we will. So we will spend three days with them and have fun in sunny, hot and humid Florida. Not only that, Mike is such a great guy he volunteered to pick us up in Fort Lauderdale and drop us off three days later at MIA.

Our flight from MIA to Quito is only four hours. I always forget that Quito, Ecuador is just about directly south of Miami, Florida and it’s in our Central time zone. This makes for a nice medium length flight. And because we had been cancelled on this cruise last year and chose to rebook it, we had some bonus dollars to spend which we used to upgrade to Business Class on American Airlines. The other thing we love is that this flight leaves and gets in at a “normal” time. We fly out at 8:30 am and get in at about 12:30 pm. Our sleep cycle should stay intact and we should have an awesome cruise.

One of the things I love about the flight (Kathleen seems kind of unimpressed) is that on our way down we are flying on a Boeing 787. We have never flown on a Dreamliner before and I am really looking forward to the experience. On the way home we just get a 737…boring. But by then we will be so thrilled about the trip to the islands we have just completed (or so exhausted) that we won’t care what plane we fly home on.

Once in Quito, we will be spending the night at the EB Hotel (at least as of now that is Celebrity’s plan) which is near the airport. Then the next morning (Sunday the 4th) while you are prepping your fireworks and barbecues, we will fly from Quito to Baltra (the main air gateway to the Galapagos) via chartered air. We are then on the ship/boat/yacht for seven nights before flying back to Quito, spending the night and then flying back to Miami, spending another night with Mike and Cathy and then home on the 13th.

We are pretty much all set now. We do have to find a place near Mike and Cathy’s to get a COVID test within 96 hours of flying to Quito. Once we have that we will be given another test before we board the ship and another when we get off the ship. The 96 hour one has to be the nose swab but the two on the ship are the spit-in-a-tube type.

The entire crew as well as all passengers are required to provide proof of vaccination. We have also been told that 98% of the people living on the islands (there are only about 25,000 people living there) have been vaccinated as well. Besides, once we get on the ship/boat/yacht we won’t see another human that isn’t part of our cruise until the next to last day when we stop in the only town on the trip. The rest of the time all the stops are just to see flora and fauna.

Speaking of flora, our ship/boat/yacht is named Flora and we have found out that she NEVER docks. We take a zodiac-type tender out to board her and we do the same when leaving or doing any shore excursion. Plus Flora is built to never drop anchor. To not disturb the sea floor she was designed with a system that uses the propulsion system to stay in one place in the water. Pretty cool.

You can be sure that we will be sending you updates and photos from the islands so watch this space for a complete virtual tour of your own. All of that dependent on the quality of their internet connections and the amount of time I have to write and process photos. If you would like to see some amazing shots from a crew member of Flora check out Marvi Cordova on Instagram. She is not only a crew member but an incredible photographer. I plan on asking her lots and lots of questions. I stole the photo of Flora at the top of this post from her.

The only thing I like about air travel is it gives me time to read.

Jane Lindskold

Guess where we’re going this summer?

We are sitting here beyond thrilled and had to share. As most of my readers know we have booked, been cancelled and rebooked on a cruise tour in the Galapagos Islands on Celebrity’s Flora. When we rescheduled last year on our cancelled August cruise we decided to rebook for this summer (thinking we would have no problems—duh!). We really considered May, June or July but the route we wanted around the islands was only offered every other week so we finally settled on July 4 of this year. Sounds pretty independent, right 😜?

And since then we have been hopeful about going but each month since last summer we have changed what we thought our odds of going were. At first when we booked it we thought we had about an 80% chance of not being cancelled again. But then as we got into the winter months we revised that to thinking we would probably have to reschedule. Last month Celebrity cancelled all the Galapagos cruises through…June 30 but leaving all of July intact so we thought…maybe…please…please…please.

Since they cancelled through June we have been keeping a close eye on the Celebrity website and last week we saw that they were again selling our cruise, that Ecuador was open to travelers and the Galapagos Islands were 98% vaccinated. Today we were on a travel agent webinar and they officially announced…we are going!!!

Of course there are some caveats. We have to be vaccinated. CHECK! We have to pass a PCR (stick in the nose) test 96 hours before we go. We can do that but since we are going to go down to the LA area pre-cruise we will have to get it down there…so glad to have Kaiser. When we get on board we will be given an antigen test (spit) and again when we get off. We can do all that so I guess we are good to go. Now we have to get busy planning, pre-packing and so much more. Here’s exactly where we will be going once we get to the islands from Quito.

We also found out some great news about the cruise itself. First, it will be operating at about 50% guest capacity and 100% crew capacity which means incredible service and more food for me 😜. The ship we are on is the Celebrity Flora which is really just a great big yacht. By Ecuadorian law, the largest ships that can sail in the Galapagos can only carry 100 passengers so that means there will only be about 50 guests onboard. Here’s some pics of what the ship looks like inside and out.

Of course even though we are looking forward to the cruise itself, we are really looking forward to all the flora and fauna we will see. Both Kathleen and I are having having some trepidation about snorkeling in open water. Neither of us are the best of swimmers but the chance to be able to swim with giant tortoises, sea lions and other marine life is just too good to pass up. We had hoped to try it out off the beach last February in Cozumel but the weather did not cooperate so we didn’t get the chance. Kathleen did by me a GoPro more than a year ago to be able to film underwater so you will hopefully get to see some video when we return…or as we go along. Not sure how great the WiFi will be onboard. No matter when you see them, this is a chance for me to really take some amazing photos.

I love traveling and seeing new things, learning the histories of different cultures. But I’ve always wanted to go to the Galapagos to see the giant turtles.

Mikaela Shiffrin