First, if you are reading this in an e-mail, please do yourself a favor and click on the headline and read it in a web browser. The photos look better and the formatting is the way I intended you to see it. If I could figure out a way to get WordPress to just send you a link and not the complete post I would.
This was written starting on Sunday but I haven’t been able to get it out until today (Tuesday). They keep us very busy. So it looks like I will be about two days behind from here on in.
It’s Sunday morning and I am going to start this post now while I have a few minutes. We are waiting in our Quito hotel lobby for our charter flight from Quito to Baltra where we will tender (Zodiac) out to Flora for our Galapagos adventure.
This morning we had to have our checked bags in the hall outside our hotel rooms by 8:00 and we went down for our health screening at 7:45. We had been told it was just an antigen (spit) test but it turned out to be a full PCR, up the nose, test. Our first one (if you can believe that) and now I get what everyone complains about. Not that bad but still brought a tear to my eye. Breakfast in the hotel did not live up to the two previous meals but I guess the chef has to sleep sometime and leave the food in the hands of his assistants…who kind of failed. It was just “fine” with our first cup of coffee being cold, my “Everything” omelette having nothing in it and no jam for the rolls and croissants but it was still satisfying and should get us through until we have a box lunch (I am assuming) on the plane…which we are off to in about 10 minutes.
Eight hours later
We are onboard and have been VERY busy. At this point, I am being what my friend Paul would call a “grumpy git.” I get that when things are off from what I expected, I find that I forgot something, or something does not go the way I had planned. Hopefully I will get over it.
Ten hours later
It is now 3:45 am and I am not over it. In fact, this is the worst night I have ever spent on a cruise ship or maybe on vacation, in my life. I have been awake since 1:30 am (went to bed around 10:00). I am sitting in a lounge on the top deck all the way forward. For a variety of reasons I am not able to sleep. Noisy stateroom, noisy ship. Horrible pillows–my neck aches. Ship is rocking and rolling. I sat in bed for more than two hours trying to get back to sleep before I just got the hell out of there and let Kathleen sleep.
For those of us who have this sleep affliction (although I have slept GREAT every night since we left home) of waking up and not being able to get back to sleep, this is NOT the ship to do it on. On most ships if I can’t sleep, I can get up and go find a quiet place to sit and do stuff like this (writing or working with my pics). But on Flora that is impossible. This tiny lounge at the front of deck seven is the only place I could find. All the public areas on deck four are in pitch black darkness with doors closed. I have not seen a crew member anyplace. This is one of the benefits/problems with a small ship I guess. But…this lounge sucks because it is playing what I call thump-thump (electronic music) at a volume level that is not helping my massive headache. Much of my grumpiness now is due to my lack of sleep and inability to find someplace to just sit and write that is quiet and warm. Where I am is cold and noisy. the ship is really rocking and being on the top deck all the way forward is not a good place to be so I will have to go down and see if I can find someplace better.
I found a spot on deck three. The chairs are really uncomfortable but at least the music is better and not as loud. So let me explain where things went wrong.
We did leave the hotel right on time and made it to the airport. This is where I have to add that if you don’t like waiting in lines, producing document after document then this cruise (at least for the next few months until the world returns to more normal times) is maybe not for you. I had to show my passport and other docs at least five times yesterday. That doesn’t sound like a lot but it does mean that I usually had to stand in a fairly long line to do it. I have also filled out at least four forms (that could easily have been sent to me as PDFs way before the cruise for me to fill out and bring with me).
(Note from Kathleen – BRING AT LEAST ONE PEN – YOU ARE GOING TO NEED THEM!) Some of those were health forms, others for all kinds of things like one promising to not do anything bad I while I am in the islands (future Flora cruisers should note here that you can bring absolutely no food to the islands. That includes pre-packaged granola bars—the penalties are pretty big so leave everything edible at the hotel or on the plane).
I think things really headed downhill when we got in the Zodiacs to head out to the ship. I am trying very hard to find a way to phrase this that does not sound like I am whining or don’t understand how the crew feels but I can’t, so I will just tell it as I see it. Please know that since you aren’t on the first cruise back like we are, hopefully some of this will not happen to you if you decided to do this cruise. But I digress.
When we got off the plane as we headed into the terminal we saw our first Galapagos animal–an iguana waiting to meet us. Actually saw two. Once in the airport they had a really nice lounge ready for us to wait in until they could call us to take a short bus ride to the Zodiacs. I was all smiles. But this is where things started bothering me. I am not sure what we did or who we offended but somehow we always seem to be called last for every line. The cruise director came into the lounge and started calling numbers for people to board the bus and went through the all of deck five including the stateroom numbers on both sides of ours without mentioning ours. Then she did half of deck six. Then we were finally called in the next to last group. This played out poorly a little later on.
Since this was the first ship back post-pandemic the crew led by our gung-ho hotel director was really trying to celebrate the reopening. I totally get that. But that meant they wanted each of the Zodiacs to arrive by itself so the 12 or so people on board could be escorted into this hallway on deck 3 where they blew horns and danced and chanted about how happy they were to have guests back on board. If it had been any other circumstances, I would have thought it was great but to make sure that each Zodiac had group had a separate welcome, they delayed each one out in the water for almost 40 minutes.
What should have been a five minute ride to the ship (we were even told it would take about five minutes—we could see the ship) turned into a thirty+ minute ride. We were not prepared for that. No sunscreen, no hats, no water. They did try and make it interesting by taking us near the coast where we could see some of the local birds (pelicans, blue-footed boobies and a few others) but the entire time we were baking in the sun. I personally was totally frustrated because here we were seeing all these great birds and my camera was in my camera bag and I could not get to it. I had my phone with me but the photos I got with it did NOT make me happy at all.
After baking in the sun for all that time we finally got on board the ship around 4:00 and went through the welcome by the crew, were able to pick our carry-ons back up (they had been sprayed with disinfectant) and then the scheduling started. I tried to find a way to describe it but I think it is better to just show you the schedule and then give you some details. I should also say that this schedule is not printed anyplace on paper. If you don’t have a phone/tablet/laptop, you are out of luck. Again, another COVID thing? Not sure. Here’s the schedule for day one.
Let’s start with the first item. Because we were driven around baking in the hot sun on the Zodiac for almost 40 minutes (we knew this was what was occurring because our Zodiac driver kept radioing the ship to ask if he could bring us on board) we didn’t arrive in time to get anything to eat. So at this point it was the snack they gave us on the plane that was going to hold us until dinner which was supposed to be at 7:15.
As you can see there was a “mandatory meeting” at 5:00. So between when we finally got on board and got to our stateroom it was almost 4:20. In that time between getting on board and the meeting at 5:00 pm we are supposed to do the following: 1) Go to our stateroom, get settled and meet our stateroom attendant so they could explain how the room amenities work (we still have not met that person as of Monday morning). 2) Go to deck seven to attend the new post-COVID muster drill where we sat at a table with a naturalist (just the two of us) and had our life jackets explained to us. 3) Then go back to the stateroom and unpack and sometime before 5:00 find time to get something to eat. I have a video tour of the stateroom but I will have to publish it later. My laptop battery is almost gone.
We were able to do most of that (other than eat) by 5:00 but just barely. So at 5:00 pm when the “mandatory” meeting was supposed to take place we are sitting in the Discovery Lounge ready to hear all the important stuff they needed to tell us. Strangely enough, we were sitting there alone. People started straggling in about 5:10 or so and the actual meeting we were there for did not start until pretty close to 5:30.
As you can see from the schedule this meeting was supposed to transition (in the same place) into a “snorkel safety briefing,” and it did. Then our hotel director (a very nice and well meaning guy) had another surprise planned for everyone. We stopped the meeting and went up to deck seven (top deck) so that we could sail away from where Flora had been anchored. The other Celebrity ship in the Galapagos (Expedition‚ which is not sailing yet) was off our port side and many of her crew were standing outside waving to us while the ship’s horn went off and the crew on the Expedition shot some water in the air from hoses on their back deck.
After that it was time to distribute the snorkeling gear so we went back to our stateroom to wait for them to call us down to pick it up. Again, we are one of the last staterooms called. But eventually I did go down and get my wetsuit, snorkel, mask, flippers and small life vest. You get to leave much of this stuff (other than the snorkel and mask) in a big mesh bag near where you get on the Zodiacs so that’s a good thing. Kathleen has decided that she is not going to attempt snorkeling so she didn’t get any gear. I am still not sure I want to snorkel either but I thought I better get the gear anyway, just in case. More about that tomorrow.
This might be a good place for me to talk about logistics. I like to be organized when I travel. I like things to be planned. When I don’t know how something is going to go, I worry. Right now I am sitting here typing this and I am worried about what is going to happen at 8:45 am this morning. I guess I will find out (and I did…it went fine).
Hopefully I will feel better about this after I have done it and things will just come together but I am not at this point holding out a lot of hope. You will have to come back later or tomorrow to see how I manage all of this. I know I will be surprised. Of course the way I am feeling right now, I may not go at all.
Back to the schedule. After I got my snorkel gear squared away, it was 7:05 so we had missed the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Toast but we still needed to get to the excursion briefing. These briefings take place every evening. The cruise director (who is also a naturalist) explains what excursions are available the next day, their degree of difficulty and what we can expect to see. Then when she is done, you see one of the other naturalists and sign up for the ones you want to do. You sign up for one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Here is tomorrow’s schedule:
We have chosen to do Option 3 in the morning and in the afternoon Kathleen is doing Option 2 and I am doing Option 1.
So we again, since it is 7:05, think we are late (unavoidable since we weren’t called to get snorkel gear until 6:45). But we get to the Discovery Lounge to find we are almost alone again. There is an entertainer playing an out-of-tune piano loudly so we sit down to wait. Lo and behold we find out that we have not missed the Captain’s Toast…it still hasn’t happened yet. It is now around 7:20. They start the toasting. The captain (a very nice fellow) makes a nice toast and attempts to get us all to do the wave with our glasses held high. I am hungry, tired and have a headache and I am not in the mood. I just want to get this over with and eat dinner and go to bed. But no! Not only is the captain making a toast so is someone from corporate and so is the hotel director who tells us a long story which at any other time I would probably been moved by. Right then, I just wanted to be moved along.
Finally at around 7:40 we get to the briefing. The cruise director does an excellent job and we find out all about what we will be doing the next day (yesterday). We then get in line and sign up for what we want to do and finally it is time for dinner. At 8:00 pm (approximately). The last time we ate anything at this point is on the plane around noon. At home I have dinner ready at 5:00 and I can be adaptable but this is just too much.
We have dinner in the dining room (all that is available tonight). It seems very strange to sit in a ship’s dining room in shorts and sandals but that’s what we do. Most of the people there are similarly dressed but some have gone and changed. Where they are getting the clothes from is beyond me with the limitations of weight imposed for the flight from Quito to Baltra.
We sit at a socially distanced table for four (there were six chairs–more about the COVID restrictions later on) with a very nice couple (John and Laura) from Southern California. The service and food are Celebrity good (really excellent) but there are again problems with some things. No paper menus. Just like your favorite takeout joints at home, you scan a QR code with your phone. Only problem with that is we had four people at the table and I was the only one with a phone that had set up their internet account (free WiFi which you had to have to access the menu) so we had to pass my phone around. And to be honest even though I have a pretty decent phone, I have a really hard time reading menus and schedules on that size screen, even with my reading glasses on. All this does mean that I can post the URL links to the menus and you can see them.
I ordered a shrimp ceviche with avocado that was superb. My main course was listed as seafood rice but it was really seafood risotto. Lots of shrimp but no octopus (even though it was in the description). I wish I had taken a photo of it because it was beautiful but I just plain forgot. Kathleen had a beet salad and an excellent Ecuadorian chicken dish. We both had Ecuadorian wine (she had white, I had red) and both wines were excellent. Dessert was a “buffet” of red, white and blue things because it was Independence Day. They had cupcakes and donuts and pies and ice cream, all decorated in red, white and blue. When I say it was a buffet, I mean that you could look at it but then you told your server what you wanted and they brought it to your table. Another COVID thing.
It’s almost time to go back to the stateroom and wake Kathleen and get started on what I hope will be a better day but I am not sure. So I will add a few pics at the top and see you tomorrow. Hopefully feeling better and with some amazing flora and fauna shots.
PS: Kathleen normally proofs these but she only got through half of this so I want to get this online so I am going to go with it as is. Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors. One should never proof and edit their own work. More photos tomorrow. I promise.
I’m a perfect example of the grumpy, old man. I’m really good at it. –Ned Beatty