Traveling the world together and helping others to travel too!
Author: Jim Bellomo
Greetings all! I am a travel consultant with Expedia Cruise Ship Centers of Redmond, Washington. We (my bride Kathleen, the K in JKTravel) have been actively traveling and cruising since we got together in 1998. As of the beginnng of 2019 we have visited 38 countries, 30 US states, six Canadian provinces and 22 world capitals. In 2018 we were on the road for more than two months. We love sharing our travel expertise and experiences with others.
First, if you are following this blog note that I posted twice yesterday (Sunday). I hope to get this one out early Monday but it may be later. So you didn’t get two e-mails by mistake, there is another post.
Morning on Fernandina
In our previous daily episode (interrupted by those pesky questions and answers) we had finished the afternoon of day four. Day five found us exploring Fernandia Island in the morning and going back to Isabela Island in the afternoon but we had moved to Punta Vicente Roca. Here’s our Day Five schedule.
As you can see, in the morning we had a choice of a long or a short walk. I took the long one and Kathleen took the short one. My long one was excellent as we got to see more of the usual animals and I finally got some good shots of the Sally Lightfoot crabs as well as lots more pictures I like of the marine iguanas, sea lions and a Galapagos hawk. Today’s walk was all over some incredible lava with huge fissures as you can see from the pics.
Afternoon cruising around Isabella
Our afternoon choices were fairly limited. Since we SURE would not be doing the “Deep Water Snorkel” we had a choice of a tender ride or a tender ride. We chose the tender ride 😜. We took the earlier of the two because they wanted to use the later ones for the people coming back from the snorkeling.
This one was very cool. Even though we are seeing some of the same animals, we are seeing totally different habitat and varying landscapes. This one included sightings of lava gulls, female frigate birds, more blue-footed boobys, sea lions and penguins again! YEAH! We also got to see some amazing geology. Here’s what we saw:
As I write this, we are sitting in the airport in Quito waiting for our flight to Miami. Had to be awake at 2:50 to make this flight at 6:30. The airport is packed. It took us an hour to get through all the checks and we are in Business Class so we were quicker through check in. Then we had go through security (computers out, belts and watches off but you can keep your shoes on which is good since I have my boots on and they are a pain to lace)
It seems as if all the flights in and out of Quito are either very early in the morning or very late at night. Part of our group that was going to Houston left around midnight and others around 2:30 am. We did not hear of anyone who had a midday day flight so everyone was either up really early or still up really late. Looking at the departures boards it looks like very little departs Quito after about 9:00 am until late tonight. That is only a good thing in one way…unlike Miami airport where everything was closed prior to our 6:30 am flight down here, here everything is open. I told Kathleen with the schedules the airlines have in Quito, this is the only time they can sell anything. And when I say everything is open, I mean EVERYTHING! You can buy a Panama hat (which comes from Ecuador) at 30% off right in front of me 😜.
I keep promising to answer some questions so here we go:
In shortening the pre-cruise portion – were you given any type of compensation at all?This question comes from the fact that originally Celebrity had us booked on an 11-night trip that included not just our seven nights on Flora but two nights pre-cruise and one night pos- cruise in Quito (with some meals and a full-day tour) but with COVID they decided to cut back to a nine night with no tour of Quito either before our after the cruise. The answer is yes, we were refunded a little less than $400. This doesn’t sound like a lot when you realize that the difference between the 11 night package and the 7 night cruise. But if you are doing just the 7 night cruise, you have to find your own way to Baltra. So part of the trip that we were not refunded for was the single night pre and post in Quito as well as our charter flight to and from Baltra. All we lost was two nights, one before and one after and two breakfasts.
Were the fully vaccinated pax due to cruise line mandate, or did it just work out that way ie: no 5% unvax allowed onboard? Why were crew still in masks if vax’d? Was there a decrease in crew or full compliment?Vaccination was mandated for anyone eligible to be vaccinated. And since the youngest people on board are two 8th graders (who are a hoot) who are already vaccinated, we are at 100%. I suppose if people wanted to bring kids under 12 there would be some not vaccinated. The crew wore masks all the time because if there is one case on board, they might be banned from landing on any of the islands so they are just taking one more step in staying safe. I applaud them for that. And I asked and the crew is at full complement. The service has been amazing and we loved having only 66 people on board. We were told the next cruise would have just about that same number.
Are there any staterooms that hold more than two people? Nope! Not a one. Even the suites are limited (by the National Park and not Celebrity) to two people. That means if you want to bring the kids, they have to have their own stateroom. It is to make sure that there are NEVER more than 100 guests on board as there are 50 staterooms. And to get to 50, they had to give up some staterooms on their Expedition ship.
The rocking and rolling of these small ships at anchor in calm waters is worse than anything I’ve ever experienced on a larger ship in motion. No one ever warned us about this motion at night.
We have not had any problems that affected us adversely. It was just a pain some time. Others who are not used to sailing have had problems but we have felt a LOT WORSE motion on bigger ships than we did here in the Galápagos on Flora. The motion, for us, was not that big a problem…until a huge thump happened in the middle of one night. Freaked us out and I searched the entire stateroom to find the source of the crash. Couldn’t find it in the middle of the night. The next morning we realized that it was an unopened bottle of champagne that had been sitting on our small table in front of the couch. It has fallen over along with the full ice bucket it has been sitting in. It completely disappeared into the drapes of the window so I didn’t find it until morning. Carpet was wet but the bottle did not break. One other problem we had was the shower door kept slamming open and shut but we fixed that by shoving Kathleen’s sandals under the door. Celebrity might consider having a door stop for the shower (best shower we have ever had on a ship).
If you have time can you find out if a scuba diving option is offered aboard Flora?
Sorry, no scuba, just snorkeling.
I am an experienced snorkeler and on our trip I had trouble getting into the water then managing my flippers due to the strong current. On the next beach snorkel I wore my Keens in the water instead of the flippers and swam (slowly I might add) over to the rocks.
On the more difficult snorkel trips (off the Zodiacs) they will not allow you to go unless you are wearing flippers.
Looking at the menu you posted, I do hope that they repeat the menus each week as there were multiple choices that I’d love to try. Ceviche, yeah! Plus the other local specialties.
I checked and YES, they do repeat the menus with slight variations. And they completely redesign them on a periodic basis. Not sure if that is quarterly, or yearly. I will try and post all the menus eventually.
What cabin are you in? Our cabin is towards the front of the ship so I am concerned about motion.
We are in 522, a traditional verandah in the aft area of the ship. We would book it again in a minute and if you have a forward cabin, I would see if you can move back. People we met who were in the front of the ship did feel more motion but not by a lot. One of the things we loved about our stateroom was that there is a kind of “secret” stairs at the back of the ship that led up and down and hardly anyone had discovered it. We used it all the time.
You have mentioned that you are on the “Outer Loop Cruise.” What does that mean and is there an “Inner Loop Cruise?” Yes, we are on the Outer Loop. This is where we have gone:
And here is what Celebrity calls the “Inner Loop.”
As you can see, some stops are the same (not many). We have been told the Outer Loop is more about animals and birds and the Inner Loop has the most beautiful scenery. We have loved this vacation so much that we are actively making plans to come back and do the inner loop.
Our scientist friend Ellen who plans and organizes the off ship tours tells that the park requires them to have the two different trips to limit the number of people on each island. We totally get that. It is not just a ploy by Celebrity to get us to come back. 😀 BTW: I would not JUST do the inner. My favorite two days (BY FAR) were on Española and Floreana, neither of which are on the Inner Loop. So if you do one, do the Outer.
About footwear, any notes?
Yes. I have two pairs of footwear with me. With size 13 feet, that’s all I can fit in my luggage. I wore my hiking boots (up to my ankle and helpful on the rocks and lava) on the plane and had Teva sandals in my bag. I have worn the Tevas on all the wet landings. Bare feet are NOT allowed in the Zodiacs. I have also worn them on short walks. Has not been a problem. The hiking boots have been a godsend on the long walks. Especially the ones over rocks (Española walk on Day 2) and all the days we were walking on lava. All of these long walks were on dry landing days so they never got really wet. And always know that whenever you return to Flora they have a station where you have to wash off (with brushes) your footwear to make sure no biological material is transferred from one island to another. This is another park rule and a damn good one. Lastly, I wore shorts and sandals in the dining room most nights as did just about everyone.
Was all the COVID testing you had on the trip covered by Celebrity or your own extra expense? We were tested pre-cruise with a PCR test at Celebrity’s expense. We were originally told that we would also be tested as we got off but as of this morning (I am waiting to leave the ship) they have not said that we will be tested as long as we are vaccinated. We know that vaccination allows us to enter the USA without a test so maybe we won’t have to. They are being extremely cautious and we don’t blame them. I will let you know in a future post if we do have a post cruise test. BTW: All guests tested negative pre-cruise so we felt very safe. But yesterday we were off the ship at the Darwin Station (with non-Flora people) and we were asked to wear masks all day. Some people were not happy with that. They need to grow up (sorry for the editorializing but this really ticked me off as they have asked so little of us, COVID-wise).
I did google Ellen (the Celebrity Science adviser) and now I want her to be my buddy too! Do you know how long she’ll be aboard, our cruise is 7/25. Sorry no, Ellen has been here for two weeks and she is on our flight to Miami tomorrow morning. Her presence has added much to our trip. I have learned so much from her. I call her the Neil DeGrasse Tyson of the Galapagos but she is so much more and a great speaker. She was here a week before we got here touring all the islands with the naturalists to check trails and conditions. Then she stayed on for our cruise. I learned early on that she is a early bird like I am and was almost always out on the first Zodiac. I made a point to be in the Discovery Lounge early to be in Group 1 to leave the ship because as I told my fellow Group 1 friends (who also got there early most days)…the Early Bird gets the Ellen. And it was always worth it. She rocks. I think Celebrity should advertise (do you here me Sussana?) when she is onboard and have a “Cruise with Ellen!” She is that good.
I think that’s every question I have received either here in the comments or on Cruise Critic where I am posting this as well. If you have more, I can address them as soon as I get caught up with the rest of our trip.
As I mentioned earlier in this post we are waiting to get off Flora right now. My plan to finish up my Flora blog is to post Day 5 later today or tomorrow and then do a post on the ship and our stateroom followed by Day 6 and then some general stuff and Day 7 (Giant Tortoises) finishing up with some general comments so I can answer more questions then. See you soon…here online.
And welcome to all my new blog followers. You rock! So glad to have you here.
In our previous episode…before the food, we were on Isabella Island in the morning and afternoon found us there as well but Flora had moved north to Urbina Bay. Our choices were a short walk or…a short walk, with snorkeling. If you have been reading all of this, then you know that we are NOT snorkeling so for us it was just a short walk. That was OK because by today, we were exhausted.
Here’s the Day four schedule:
As you will see from the pictures, we joined naturalist Juan Carlos and found our first land iguanas as well as some finches. Finches are a huge part of the Galapagos as they helped Darwin formulate his theory of evolution. While there are finches on every island, they have all adapted into almost another species. Some of have grown longer beaks to be able to grab for seeds that are deeper into brush, while others nest on the ground as there are no predators to bother them.
So when I post the gallery, you will see that most of my pics are of finches and land iguanas. The land iguanas are much more colorful than their marine iguanas who are mostly black to hide themselves on the rocks onshore. The land iguanas also blend in very well to their hot and dry environment being predominately tan, orange and red. In the case of both iguanas, if you are here, you have to be very careful where you walk when you are in their environment because it would be easy to step on one. It always amazes me when we are walking and I see one sitting less than a food away from my foot.
So, here’s the pics with some captions. Back soon with answers to the rest of the questions I have and with Day 5. I am writing this on our last morning on board and it’s 9:04 am and we don’t get off the ship until 11:40 so I have two solid hours to write and do photos.
Don’t worry. I still have more fauna and flora photos for you but right now I need to address the biggest question people have asked me “How is the food on board.” So here goes. I promise to get to the other questions later. Many may have to wait until I get back to Quito, Florida or home.
Before we left we had read comments on the Cruise Critic boards about Flora that the food “wasn’t up to the standards of the rest of Celebrity’s ships.” And since we have been on board we have had discussions about the food with numerous people. Some expressed the same view.
So if you know me personally, you know I love to eat, I love to cook, I just plain love food. But I am an adventurous eater. My favorite food in the world is octopus. I will try just about anything once. I have eaten grasshoppers at Mariner games. Don’t get me wrong…I am not Tony Bourdain. He truly would have eaten anything. I do have some limits but mostly I like new things. And when I am a foreign country, I like to eat cuisine from that country or other nearby countries and cultures.
This is our 21st Celebrity cruise and I can honestly say that overall, this is the best food I have had on any of them. Have I had better meals on Celebrity? Yes. In the old United States Dining Room on Infinity, in Quisine or at The Porch or Lawn Club Grille on Reflection I have had some great meals. But day in and day out I have enjoyed the food here on Flora more than any other. Let me explain.
Breakfast, which is a buffet but in the dining room has been good. First I need to say that since the second day of the cruise, we have been greeted by every single person in the dining room (and pretty much every part of the ship), by name. I feel like I truly am a Celebrity. I guess that’s one of the good things about a small ship but these people try hard and are great at their jobs even on a smaller ship.
Back to the buffet. I should add here that post-COVID you walk around the buffet with a server and he/she puts food on your plate. (all crew are wearing masks). But what I love about that is if I want an omelet that is made to order, I get my other items, leave my plate with the server who helped me and a few minutes later, it appears at my table.
Plus, let me tell you some other amazing things that have happened while I was picking out my food. Geovanny and his wonderful bride Natalia have poured our water, grabbed us a cappuccino from the adjacent Discovery Lounge, put two croissants on my bread plate, brought me my marmalade and are waving to me as I walk back from the buffet area. And then they are back in no time to make sure everything is OK. It’s like a miracle and easily the best service I have had anywhere in the fleet or maybe in the world. And yes, it is a small ship but the dining staff (pictured below) is also small and you would never know it. I can’t say enough good things about them.
Not only is this the kitchen staff but the awesome guy on the right hand side is the head chef. And can he cook.
Back to the food. Lunch has been a buffet every day in the dining room. I should add that you can also go up to the Grille on deck seven for a burger, fries, quesadillas or guacamole and chips and a few other specials but we only did that one day. It was fine but not what I was looking for. We did LOVE the fries up there. The burger needed sauce of some kind. We didn’t go back. Not because we didn’t like it but because we can get that food at home. We wanted something different.
So each day in the dining room the lunch was a buffet (served the same as breakfast) each day with a different theme. We had Aztec (authentic Mexican), Spanish, Amazon (combining cuisines from countries on the Amazon River) and of course Ecuadorian. All had a huge selection of interesting food. There was also sandwich makings, a bunch of salads that fit the theme (I got an octopus salad on the Spanish buffet) and a carving station but I can’t tell you about it because the other dishes were so good I skipped it. I can get ham, turkey or prime rib in the USA or on any other cruise ship.
Dinner for us was always in the dining room. We usually ate with friends we had made on shore hikes, tender cruises or walks as well as people we had talked to at the hotel in Quito. This is a very friendly ship. You can get a table for two but there is never a shortage of parties to join in on. On two nights we were “supplied” with people to eat with. One night we were invited to join Captain Patricio and Chief Engineer Paul at dinner. We have eaten at the Captain’s Table on previous cruises but this was different. Usually it is you, the captain and about 12 other people. This time it was the aforementioned two and just us. That’s it. Keeping the conversation going was fun but the two of them were a joy to have dinner and great conversation with.
The next night was “Dinner with A Naturalist” and you get to join your favorite of the naturalists who lead our tours each day and have dinner with them. We we joined by one of our favorites (they all are really), Juan Carlos. A few minutes after Juan Carlos sat down, a gentlemen asked if he could join the three of us…Fausto. Fausto is the head of all operations for Celebrity in the Galapagos and that was a SUPERB dinner. We learned so much about both of them but also about all the things Celebrity is doing in the islands.
So the dinners were pretty much three courses; appetizer, entrée and dessert. For long-time Celebrity cruisers Flora even has the “left hand side of the menu” with all the standard fare (shrimp cocktail, steak, salmon, chicken, onion soup, etc.) but we never ordered from that side. We did overhear (at an adjacent table) people saying, “I am sure glad they have this side of the menu and we don’t have to eat the weird food.” Boy did they miss out. I love the “weird food.” So we have decided that what people were complaining about on Cruise Critic were the non-adventurous eaters.
Today as I was writing this I also realized I have done something on this cruise I have never done before…eaten fish every day. Sometimes twice a day. There are so many amazing ceviches, fish entrées, fish salads that I could not pass them up. And all (except the salmon on the right hand side of the menu) were done in an Ecuadorian style. That was it for me.
This style is also a lot lighter and healthier than our usual cruise fare. We leave the table feeling full but not stuffed. The food is healthier and more fish and vegetable based. This is how I try and cook at home and the tastes were fabulous. Ecuadorian sauces rock.
And the desserts (especially with Ecuadorian chocolate) are not to be missed. WOW!
One other very special thing happened last night (Day 6). On the afternoon before Kathleen and I were outside the dining room looking at the menu for that night. I was kind of sad because nothing looked totally Ecuadorian and/or interesting (I ended up having an amazing scorpion fish) when the Maitre d’ walked up and heard me complaining that there was no Ecuadorian options. He said if I really wanted to try some Ecuadorian food, he could make it happen. We thought nothing of it and I enjoyed dinner that night. The next night we were with our friends Jamie and Katherine and the waiter said he had a special surprise for me.
The chef had put an Ecuadorian appetizer on the menu for that night. But when we ordered I told our waiter how much I loved octopus (as did our dining companions) so all of a sudden we had a big octopus salad full of avocado and the amazing tomatoes we have been having all week. It was awesome.
But then when we ordered our entrées, he brought them (octopus and spaghetti with a beer-achiote sauce)…but then also brought…Sango! This is a dish we were told that is cooked in every Ecuadorian home. It is a fish stew with a base of plantains and rice. I cannot begin to tell you how awesome it was. It had shrimp, scallops, squid, cod and octopus (I have had octopus six times on this ship so I am VERY happy). Kathleen was not thrilled because it has shellfish so she couldn’t eat it but Jamie (our dining companion from Devon, UK—who loves beer, F-1 and futbol) and I loved it and between us we devoured two big serving plates. We were so much in a hurry to eat it I forgot to take a pic. But I did get the octopus salad.
Do I have any criticisms of the food? Just one. In the morning some of the items on the buffet that are meant to be hot, aren’t. At least by the time they got to the table. That’s why I have an omelet every morning because I can be sure it will get there hot. The potatoes, mushrooms, etc. that should be hot are often not. Other than that it was my kind of food. Lighter, healthier but delicious.
And I almost forgot one of our favorite food things on board. When you come back (twice a day) from your off ship hike, walk, Zodiac ride, when you get off the Zodiac and take off your life jacket, check in, get your cold towel to cool off and go up some stairs there are nibbles. Lots of nibbles. Usually little sandwiches but sometimes desserts too. One day there was even a bread snack with three kinds of bread (an incredible vegetable-topped focaccia) with almost perfect Spanish olive oil and Italian balsamic. I ate all of mine and Kathleen’s too. I included some pics of what you get when you walk back on. So much more than the lemonade or hot chocolate on most Celebrity ships.
Below are some pics from our meals. Check out the paella. Those prawns were bigger than my forearm! And delicious. Yum!
So I have some questions but first day four. (In fact I am going to answer the questions in the next post so I can get this one online. Sorry to give you so much to read but there is so much happening.) We are still having an amazing time. How amazing a time? Well the route we are traveling on this week on Flora is called the Outside Route. It hits certain islands. Celebrity (by direction of the Galapagos National Park) must have two different routes with alternating schedules. So to tell you how much we are now enjoying this trip we were actually discussing at lunch coming back in the future to do the Inner Route. When we had dinner with the Captain and the Chief Engineer they both told us that their favorite island was Bartolome and it was on the Inside Route. So maybe we have to see that. 😁
On day four both our tours were on Isabella Island, the largest of the archipelago. Here’s today’s schedule:
In the morning I chose the long walk and Kathleen chose the short walk. I should also tell you that as you can see they also combined both of those with an “extended tender ride” which meant that after our long walk we took the long way back to the ship stopping to take pics at very slow speed. We saw so much. BTW: The “very rocky trail” was hardened lava. And since this was dry landing we had to get off on lava and we stayed on it for almost the entire way. Most of our “long walks” are about two miles but over very rocky trails. The lava varied between types but no matter which type it was (and I know what the types are but I can’t spell them. I will see if I can find Ellen our resident (for our cruise) scientist and get the rights ones.).
One other thing I want to say before I drop in the pics is that so far, this was my best day photographically. I took a photo which I consider my second best shot ever. See if you can figure out which one it is. Those of you who follow me on FB and Insta already should have a good clue. Remember, if you look at these photos on a computer or a tablet, you can click a photo and use your arrow keys to go through a slide show at full screen.
See you soon with answers to your questions and about food! And then I will tell you about day four’s afternoon excursions.
This one will be short just to bring you up to date on the afternoon of Day 3. This was a short, wet landing stop to see the Post Office Barrel.
In the olden days (17 and 1800s) whalers would be away from families for months on end, sometimes years. And they would stop on this part of Floreana Island. On the island someone had installed a giant barrel (in the pics below) and the sailors and whalers would leave a letter for their families and if they were headed home, they would pick up letters for others families, promising to deliver them, in person, when they returned to their European country of origin.
That tradition exists today. So after a wet landing we took a short walk off the beach to the barrel. Inside were hundreds (maybe thousands) of postcards that we could take and hand deliver if we lived or were going to that area of the world. We spent about 20 minutes going through the ones that were in there at this time and a few people took ones to deliver. There was on headed to Seattle but it had just been put there three days before and we didn’t want to be delivering it before they got back home 😜.
After we finished with the post office barrel we jumped back on the Zodiac and went for a slow ride. We saw more blue footed boobys, sea lions and a few other birds. It was awesome.
Here’s the pics. Don’t forget you can click the first one and it will open full screen and then use your left or right arrow to scroll through them.
Every day gets better and better after the day one hiccups. This has gone from a cruise that was not making me happy to one of the best traveling experiences of my life. But I do have a warning if you are planning on sailing on Flora—it is exhausting. I have never been so tired on a trip in my entire life. You have seen our daily schedules (Day 3 is below) and I can honestly say that if you do everything (and you HAVE to do EVERYTHING) you will be so worn out at the end of the day you will literally pass out when your head hits the pillow. You know the old joke about needing a vacation from a vacation? Well, this is that vacation.
Here was our schedule for Day 3 on Flora
Every morning we are up between 6:00 and 6:30. I am normally a person who likes to shower in the morning but on this cruise I have already taken two showers by the end of the day—one after the morning excursion and one after the afternoon excursion. Mostly to get all the sand and sunscreen off but also because on some of the “walks” (hikes in real life) can you leave you very hot and sweaty.
This morning (actually two days ago) we started with a wet landing at Point Cormorant on Floreana Island. I am not sure if I explained what the difference between wet and dry landings is, so here goes—besides the obvious you need to know that the Zodiacs that Celebrity uses are amazing pieces of machinery and they are custom built for the Galapagos. On the front there is a set of steps that you use to get off and on the ship. I had seen that in photos prior to coming but I will be honest that I had no clue that when you got off the ship on a beach, that the area just to the right of the steps goes down so that you can step right off the Zodiac. When we do a wet landing it is just that. Your feet get wet as you step off. On a dry landing you are normally going to step off onto rocks that are about level with the top of the steps of the Zodiac. This means when we have done a wet landing I wear Tevas so they can get wet and when we do a dry we are usually doing a longer hike so I wear my hiking boots. BTW: Those are the only shoes I have with me on this trip and that seems to be all I need. I usually go to the dining room and everywhere else on the ship in the Tevas and save the hiking boots for hiking.
On Floreana we had a “long easy walk” from one side of the island to the other to one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Unfortunately there is not a lot of swimming off this beach as we could see a bunch of rays swimming in the shallows and there are sometimes Galapagos sharks just offshore. The naturalists told us that neither of those species is aggressive but if you step on ray by mistake you will get stung and it may put you out of capacity for a day or two.
On the way across we stopped to see and hear about a number of both geological and fauna related facts. I can’t begin to tell you how much I have learned on this trip. And I have not been disappointed yet on any of our excursions. There was a large lagoon that we hoped to see flamingos in but it was not to be. I have to constantly remind myself that this is NOT a zoo. Animals and birds move where they want to but there are plenty of them and the naturalists know where to go to find them if they aren’t where they are expected.
One thing that I haven’t shown you yet is how close you can get to the animals. Some people have commented on FB or Insta asking how far away I was and what kind of lens was I shooting with—it must have been a long zoom lens. In most cases the animals or birds were within a few feet of me. For instance, yesterday I posted the first photo below of two albatrosses doing their courtship dance. I was pretty close when I took it. About as close as the people in the second photo. And the animals and birds just don’t care. Only the smallest birds scurry away. Albatross, blue-footed boobys, Nasca boobys, marine iguanas, land iguanas, sea lions…all just stay right where they are and you have to walk around them. (Keep in mind that in a browser you can click these pics to see a larger view.)
Some other amazing sites I was able to see during our morning excursion to Floreana included these shots.
Amazingly enough, this was just our morning. Seriously. Wait until you see the afternoon. Coming soon to a travel blog near you.
Again, please forgive the typos as Kathleen just doesn’t have time to proof them before I put them up. And ask questions if you have them.
Jim’s Note: I am going to put this disclaimer at the top of every post throughout this trip. If you are reading this in an e-mail, STOP! Click the headline above and go to the post in a web browser on the largest screen you have. I promise when you see the photos, you will appreciate them so much more.
After our first day Kathleen told me it would all work out. And it has. First with my non-sleep incident and then yesterday Kathleen got herself a migraine headache after lunch and stayed in bed until this morning. But everything has worked out and today (Tuesday-Day 3) was marvelous. Day 2 for me (without the migraine) was also amazing. Especially the afternoon walk. More about that later.
Question and Answer Time
But first I have had some questions. Here’s the answers: 1) There are 57 passengers on the ship (max is 100) so we have it pretty nice. 2) Things have calmed down as far as this being the first cruise back. Everything is now back to normal (from what we have been told by the crew). 3) The food (especially lunch and dinner have been superb. Lots of fresh fish and great Ecuadorian dishes for me to try. Their food is amazing with things really being fresh. It kill me to overhear those at the other tables ordering “steak or chicken and not that weird food.” I am always all in on the local food. And unlike most cruises, this one gives you the ability to eat like a native. And their food is so much healthier. 4) We have two choices of places to eat. There is an open deck grille on deck 7 and the regular dining room on deck 4. You can pretty much wear anything you want to either. I have been going to both in shorts, Martini Mates izod shirt and sandals. I might dress a little better tonight because we are eating with the captain. But since all I have with me are Tevas and hiking boots, I won’t be too fancy. 5) The captain and about 95% of the crew are Ecuadorian. The hotel director is from Canada (near Toronto) and we have seen a few other badges with different countries but not many. 6) The naturalist guides are incredible. They seem to know everything. Most of them have been doing this for 10+ years or more. I hang on their every word. And I can’t believe how much I have gotten into science on this trip…already. We have a world renown scientist/geologist/oceanographer (Ellen J. Prager) on this cruise and she is so interesting. Went to hear her talk about the geology of the islands today and it was really good. 7) We figured out why most of the ship was always late to everything. The ship operates on Quito time. Ships of over 40 people sailing the Galapagos are asked by the national park to do that. It regulates the number of people on each island. But the guides (who are supposed to be the ones who tell us about that) forgot. Kathleen and I had known that from our research, thus we were always on time. Others were running about an hour late. Quito is on CST and the Galapagos run at MST. Once they got that through everyone’s thick head, things are going much more smoothly.
I think that covers the questions. I will be happy to answer any others. Just post them as comments.
Now let’s talk Monday. Here was the schedule:
In the morning we chose to do the Gardner Bay Beach walk and swim or snorkel. The walk was awesome. That’s where I got all those crazy sea lion pictures. They are a hoot. But as much as I loved the walk, I did not enjoy the snorkel. Previously I had mentioned that I had tried snorkeling a few months ago in a hotel pool but people, it’s not the same. For one thing, even though I had tried the snorkel, I had not worn flippers. That messed me up like nobody’s business. I have never worn flippers before and I found myself just tossed about and not able to do much of anything. I could see the bottom directly below me. I could even feel it with my knee but darned if I could stand up. Also, I did give it a try for about five minutes but saw nothing but the bottom. When I asked someone coming out of the water who had been snorkeling for a while, they pointed to a rock formation about 2/3 of a mile out and said, “You have to go over there to see the best fish.” For someone who does not swim on a regular basis and is not incredibly comfortable in the water, that was it for me.
Especially since most of the rest of the snorkeling is off a Zodiac in deep water with strong currents and they are really telling us you have to be a good swimmer (I am not) and an experienced snorkeler (I am not that either). So for this week I will stick to the beach and putting my feet in.
Speaking of putting my feet in you may notice on the schedule that it says “wet landing” or “dry landing.” When we do the wet landing, the Zodiacs have this really cool front end that bends down so that you can just walk off into about a foot of water. When we do a dry landing, they are able to put us on rocks or a pier.
In the afternoon, I had a dry landing on another part of Espanola (Pt. Suarez). Kathleen had developed her migraine and was sleeping in our darkened stateroom…which gets very dark. Even though window/sliding door is the full width of the stateroom, it has great blackout curtains that open and close with a switch. How cool is that—motorized.
That afternoon hike was mind blowing. We walked through groups of sea lions, then on a very, VERY rocky trail through albatross nesting areas seeing the albatross, blue footed boobys, Nasca Boobys. (formerly known as masked boobys), Galapagos Hawks, Espanola snake, marine iguana, frigate birds and a few other specimen I can’t remember. Just suffice it to say that you couldn’t look one way or another without seeing something. And getting close to it. I specifically took some photos that show humans as well so you can see how close we could get to the animals.
I have so much to tell you but I wanted to get this posted so you would know that all is well here in Galapagos-land. So here’s some pics with captions.
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
Just a quick post to say, please stand by. More Galapagos stories, pictures and video are coming soon. They are keeping us so busy and we have had a few problems but things will get better. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, here’s some pics from our first morning in the Galapagos. It was a very sea lion kind of day.