I Miss My Seattle

You may not know this but I have a website called “My Seattle.” Originally I put it together because we had so many of our traveling friends coming here to go on Alaska cruises that asked for recommendations I decided to put them all in one place. I love Seattle. When I list my favorite cities it has always been in my top five (at least it used to be).We choose to live in a Seattle suburb. One of the things we have loved about the 22 years we have lived here (Kathleen has been here even longer than I have) is being so close to the city. In fact for more than 20 years Kathleen commuted to an office that was about 5 blocks from the Space Needle. I am a Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariner fan. I am sure I will also be a Kracken fan as well. We love going into the city to eat at our favorite restaurants, to see theater, to go to concerts and so much more. That’s why this post makes me sad. Very sad.

You see, my Seattle is currently gone. What is left is an awful place that is both disgusting and dangerous.

Last week two of our friends from cruising were in town to take an Alaskan cruise. Before they came the posted on a thread we converse on from time to time that is on Cruise Critic. When they posted they were headed our way we told them we would love to see them and go out to dinner but we also told them to be VERY aware of what is going on in downtown Seattle and to take care when going anyplace on foot. They replied and asked for a much more in-depth about what to avoid and if their hotel and the restaurants they planned to eat in were OK to get to. Luckily they were but even better we decided to pick them up and get them out of the city for one dinner at least at one of our favorite seafood places in Bellevue (across the lake), Seastar. As we drove them back to their downtown Seattle hotel the sun was setting on the city. With the Olympic mountains as a background, the lights of the city looked like a fairyland. And from that distance it is. But you get close up, it isn’t.

So what’s wrong? The city has become a haven for drug users and the mentally ill with no real policing going on. One of the best ways I can tell you what is happening is to quote a reader-written Op/Ed from The Seattle Times:

“I am watching a block of downtown Seattle die. From my office on Third Avenue between Pike and Pine streets, in recent weeks numerous tents have been erected. More keep coming. No one has come to remove them. Daily, I observe people passed out on the street with needles in their arms. I must watch my step to avoid human excrement.

We have 30 employees in our firm. They do not want to return to work because they fear getting off the bus. Our offices have been burglarized four times in 12 months.

I am not conservative. Homelessness has complex causes and must be addressed through a variety of means. But allowing tent dwellers and drug users to occupy a city block is not acceptable. What message does this send to the businesses on the block and tourists who visit our city? Our company will not renew our lease if this persists.

Two blocks from Pike Place Market, where Wild Ginger previously welcomed diners pre-theater or symphony, now only remains graffiti, trash, drugs and tents. Are we willing to let what appears to be less than 300 people destroy a block of economic activity in our city? Apparently, we are.”

For those of you from out of town, the block he is referring to is on the main route from the downtown hotels to the world famous Pike Place Market. It just isn’t safe to go there. And I totally agree with his point of view.

This is what Seattle is up against. An ultra liberal city council has allowed the city to get to this point. The mayor is fed up and decided not to run again. The very capable police chief resigned. More than 200 Seattle police officers have left the force since the summer of 2020 and NOT been replaced. Those that are still here feel like they have been handcuffed themselves. Shops and restaurants in downtown and the Pioneer Square area report calling police after thefts from their establishments or to handle threatening behavior by mentally ill or drugged up people are being told, “We decline to respond,” when people call 911. There is video of a mentally ill man jumping on cars and breaking car windows with the police standing right next to the cars and they can’t do anything because they have been ordered to cease and desist if it is only a property crime.

To me, that means you are not safe in downtown. And even if you were safe in downtown it can be a disgusting place to go. An Instagram account called Seattle Looks Like Shit documents the kind of things that are going on in the city. It’s just sad. Warning, if you look at it, you may get grossed out by the videos and photographs of people urinating, defecating and shooting up on the streets but it will show you how bad it really is. It’s so sad. Many of the photos on the account were taken this week.

It is tough for Kathleen and I since we don’t live in Seattle where we can vote and have input. Yes, there are a few problems here in Redmond but they are nothing compared to what you will see in Seattle. Thousands of homeless many of whom are major drug users (the city attorney will NOT prosecute drug laws other than the sale of large quantities) or mentally ill are just camped out on the streets. Some in areas directly adjacent to schools. There have been school events cancelled because the city could not guarantee the safety of the kids participating. Many of the homeless have been offered shelter but refuse to take it because it means giving up their drugs. And things just keep getting worse. There were two other articles in the Seattle Times this very morning detailing basically the same thing. We see those articles and the reports daily. One week in late August there were 16 shootings in Seattle alone. Things are crazy here. We want them to get better but until we do, I wouldn’t come this way. I miss my Seattle.

The two elements the traveler first captures in the big city are extra human architecture and furious rhythm. Geometry and anguish.  — Fedrico Garcia Lorca

 

 

We have a great time on the Oregon Coast with the kids except when I took a tumble


We just got home from our Oregon Beach Trip with the grandkids and had an awesome time. If you have grandkids like ours you totally get why we want to be around them on a regular basis. For us that means we grab a rental every summer (at least for the last couple of years) and spend a week with them. We play games, take outings and just have fun. Those VRBO commercials I am always seeing are totally on point when they show you making memories that will last a lifetime.

We got down there on Monday after about a three and a half hour drive from our place in Redmond. We stopped on the way at the kid’s house in Olympia (90 minute drive to get there) where we exchanged two bags of food and a cooler with my daughter and son-in-law for two awesome kids who rode with us another two hours to Sunset Beach, Oregon. We were totally thrilled when we arrived that the rental that was EXACTLY like the pictures we had seen online. A huge house with lots of light, a big back yard (that has deer walking through constantly—usually twice a day) and a super kitchen/dining/living area for cooking, playing games or watching Return of the Jedi with my grandson. That night we did dinner at a place I had found on line called Ruby’s Roadside Grille in Seaside. The website overstated what the place looked like (a converted gas station) but understated the food, which was awesome.

On our first full day, Grandpa (that’s me) made his world famous pancakes. Then we we went south to the community of Seaside, Oregon where we visited their aquarium (skip it—it’s sad), walked on the promenade (OK) and went to Captain Kidd’s amusement park (race the go-carts and skip the rest) and tried our hand at swan paddle boats on the river. Won’t do that again. Way too much work. Finished completely covered in sweat and with a massive back ache.

After we got off the swans, we headed back to the house for lunch. After lunch and at least three games played at the table before we got up, the kids headed down to the beach where they actually went swimming (the water here is very cold). They also did some geocaching (and there is a lot more to that subject below but first let me finish with the next two days). Of course after our dinner of Grandpa’s pizza and salad there had to be more games around the table—this family loves games.

Wednesday we went north to Astoria. First we stopped at Fort Clatsop where the Lewis and Clark expedition had ended. We were just in time to see a demonstration of old rifles. We even got to hold our ears while an old muzzle loader was fired. This was a biggie as Mason had done a big study of Lewis and Clarke and the Oregon Trail during the school year. Then we visited and climbed the Astoria Column. It’s a big giant column at the top of a hill in Astoria and there are 164 steps on a spiral staircase to the top. It’s a very cool tower (as you can see) but it was a long climb to the top. Some super views though and worth the climb. Not only that, it’s free except for $5 for parking which is good for an entire year.

After that it was back to the house where we had started playing badminton the night before and the kids were just getting good at it. We had bought a portable set from Sharper Image and this was the first time we have used it. We had a lot of fun playing in the backyard. In the later afternoon while Jenna and Joel went running, Mason and I watched Return of the Jedi. He and I have been bonding over the original Star Wars films since last summer. I shared the first one with him on our summer trip and the second when we saw them for his birthday in February. We finished just before our dinner that was some yummy carnitas and then after dinner was…MORE GAMES Playing games was so much better this year because now that Maylee is almost 8 (only two weeks) she can keep up with and sometimes beat all of us.

That was also the night we did our annual family photo shoot. Every year Jenna asks me to take pics of the their family. She actually thinks her old dad is a pretty decent photographer. So they get all dressed up and we head to the beach. We got some great shots. This one is my favorite. Aren’t they the best darned looking family you have ever seen? I know, I am prejudiced.

Day three (that’s yesterday) we didn’t really have anything planned so after breakfast we of course stayed at the table to play at least one game or two. Then it was off to do some geocaching. Kathleen stayed at the house because it was going to be mostly hiking through high grass and beach sand. We headed out to follow the GPS geocaching app which took us to Shipwreck Beach, so named because of the remains of a 1906 shipwreck that is still on the beach.

After we checked out the shipwreck we headed into the tall beach grass at the top of the dunes to search out the first of two geocache capsules. We walked about half a mile, not on any trail at all, through grass up to our waists. Finally the kids found the first one under a tree. When you find one, it’s usually in some kind of tube or watertight container. You open it and inside there’s a piece of paper with the people who have found it before. You add your name to the paper and then you put it back. We did that twice (there was another about .2 miles away). Still in deep brush and very high grass.

After we found the second one we decided to head back to the beach because we didn’t want to go all the way back the way we had come, fighting our way through the brush. Too much hassle getting through. So we turned right and headed to the beach so we could walk back on the sand. The only problem was when we got down to the end of the beach grass on the dunes, there was about a five foot drop off from the beach grass down to the beach and the beach was covered with driftwood below this drop off. I thought maybe I could kind of lower myself very carefully down to the ground but one minute I was getting ready to do that and the next thing I knew, the bank I was standing on collapsed and I fell about five feet, landed on my right side with my camera under me. Needless to say, I am banged up. Huge bruise and bump on my right arm and a badly bruised left leg that I was standing on and hit first when I fell. And my camera is damaged. Enough that it will take some serious repair. I think that hurts the most. I have been icing and stretching since I got back to the house and now at home but it is still pretty painful. I wasn’t really not looking forward to the three and a half hour drive home today but it turned out OK.

But should say that as banged up as I was, I was well enough to pile in the car and head north to Dairy Queen with the whole gang for my first ever blizzard. I had the frosted animal cookie flavor that when Mason tasted it, he said it tasted like cardboard.

So to finish the day we had a super dinner (Jenna and Joel did burgers) last night,  I played video games with the kids and we all played another couple of board games after dinner. Then it was ice up again and watch some TV until bedtime. Was feeling kind of low. I know I will live. I know my camera will be OK but right now, I wish that bank had not given away.

But let’s sum this all up by saying that it was still the best week of the year so far…and we have been to the Galapagos this year. That’s how much we love traveling with this family.

No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.   —Lin Yutang

Heading out for more travel…this time with kids!

Just thought I would give the regulars a heads up that we will be traveling next week which means I will be posting a little more often. It’s our annual (2nd year in a row 😀) trip to the Washington/Oregon Coast with our grandkids👍🏻 …and their parents. We started doing this last year so we could have them all to ourselves for a few days. Last year we did a three night stay in Ocean Shores, Washington. This year we are venturing further south to Sunset Beach, Oregon.

We have a rental that sits right between the beach and a small lake. (Click here to see where we are staying.) The rental looks really nice and for the first time we are getting it through VRBO and not AirBnB. I just could not find anything I liked on AirBnB. We usually book with them and have one set up for Palm Springs in late October. If you aren’t a regular vacation rental person, we love them. We have used AirBnB 18 times (I just counted and I was pretty surprised it was that many). We have done them all over the USA as well as one outstanding one in Edinburgh and a nice big one for three families in downtown Dublin, Ireland. If you haven’t used them, both services are pretty good. We have had only one place we didn’t like and many we loved. And the place we didn’t like just needed a good sweeping.

We have found that when we travel with the kids it is more challenging to find a place to rent because we need more. When we are by ourselves we can get anything with a bed and a bath. For me a real must is a living room so when I wake up REALLY early I can go in there and not disturb Kathleen. I also like a living room when we are traveling with friends. One of my favorite parts of getting a rental when there is more than just us is that it gives you a great place to socialize with everyone you are traveling with. Hotel lobbies are not conducive to family/friend fun. That’s another reason we cruise. Everyone has a bedroom and the entire ship is your living room.

When we book with the kids it HAS to have three bedrooms and two baths. We love them dearly but we aren’t sharing a bathroom 😜.  Also, for the trips with the kids, a kitchen I can cook in is a must. Grandpa loves to make pancakes for his grandkids. And we eat most of our meals at the rental. The one we have this year has a nice kitchen (according to the pictures and reviews) and unlike the one we had last year, this one has a gas BBQ as well. We also found out that there is a bakery less than 400 feet from the front of the driveway. This sounds very dangerous to us as the bakery is very well reviewed and pictures of their baked goods look awesome.

Other than pancakes, it’s everyone for themselves at breakfast, lunch wherever we are in the day. We take turns making dinner. I usually take two of them, my daughter and son-in-law take one or two. This year I have already pre-made and frozen Grandpa’s famous pizza and Grandpa’s newly famous carnitas so we can make tacos and nachos. Those will come along with us, and the kids are doing hamburgers and hot dogs since we have a grille this year.

Of course photos will be forthcoming. Especially wildlife and early morning stuff. Probably some beach stuff as well. I usually don’t post pictures of the grandkids without my daughter’s permission so you may not see any of those. Last year (because they knew they would be with Grandpa and he would have his camera) we did family portraits that came out really great (at least I think so), My guess is we are doing those again.

There’s lots to do in that area as Sunset Beach is right between the Oregon Coastal communities of Astoria and Seaside. Astoria has a famous column and Seaside in the other direction has the Seaside aquarium. Plus, last year in 4th grade, our grandson Mason studied the Oregon Trail. The class all became pioneers (he was the famous Nate Arnold😜) and in a three month unit, they moved from Springfield, MO to Oregon, just like Lewis and Clark. That trip ended at Fort Clatsop which is also in Astoria so we have to stop there. These kind of things will take up our days. Last year we really couldn’t do any of that stuff due to COVID.

All this stuff sound like a bunch of fun but the most fun we will have being together and playing all the great games we bring along. If you like games or you have grandkids and want to play games, you have to see the line of games from Exploding Kittens. Between us and the kids, we own all their games. They are hilarious to play and are really fast and creative. Everyone from the two of us (68 years old) to our granddaughter who is almost eight, loves playing them. Check them out if you want to have some fun. You can get all but one of them through Amazon. Sadly we ordered the newest one that you can’t get through Amazon directly from Exploding Kittens and it is still stuck in Indiana.

So follow along as we travel south to the beautiful Oregon Coast (for those of you who don’t live in the Northwest, I have always thought it was funny that in California you go to the beach, in the Northeast, it’s the shore but here, it’s the coast) next week.

The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy. —Sam Levenson

 

She can’t stand it…and neither can I

When we were on Celebrity’s Flora two weeks ago we spent a bunch of very pleasant dinners with two new friends, Katherine and Jamie (that’s them on the right). Jamie and I (even though they are both young enough to be our children) had a lot in common. He loves beer, Formula 1 racing and octopus. All three of those interests make him a great person to have a conversation with…in my book.

Then it turned out that I had two things in common with Katherine. First, she is as big a fan of the what we (Katherine and I) consider to be the greatest television show ever made—Ted Lasso (back tonight for season 2 on Apple TV+! We can’t wait! If you haven’t seen it, go watch the first season now) and she also (like me) can’t stand to finish a vacation without having another one planned.

It just about kills either of us to have nothing coming up and booked. Thankfully for Kathleen and I, we have so much booked I don’t have that problem (but there have been times I did) with our annual beach trip with the grandkids next month, my 50th high school reunion in Palm Springs in October, our Portugal/Amsterdam/Christmas Markets cruise in December, our Pacific Coastal cruise in May 22 and our Mediterranean cruise in the fall of 22.. But Katherine had that problem—nothing booked. I told her to get going. I gave her some suggestions but sadly, I can’t be her travel agent because she works for Royal Caribbean and gets some really nice employee discounts. I am pretty sure that’s how they wound up on Flora.

But if YOU don’t have any travel plans and it’s killing you too (blatant and shameless plug coming 😀), drop me a note. I have plenty of ideas of where you might be able to go and I can even help you to get there.

When you can look forward to something outside of now, then you have an open door.    —Esther Peril on Armchair Expert

Summing up the Galapagos on Celebrity’s Flora

This was a hell of a trip. We have decided it was the best we have ever taken. On the final night on board Captain Patricio (one of the nicest guys you will ever meet) talked for a few minutes about how he feels about the Galapagos. He said that (paraphrasing here) that “the Galapagos should be the model for the rest of the earth. A place where every animal and bird has learned to live together. And the people who come to visit care about those islands and do their best to nurture them.” I loved that. It’s the way I felt walking through the nests of the albatrosses, stepping over sea lions, watching penguins be totally unafraid and letting us get within inches and so much more.

It is also the way I felt when I talked to the naturalists and crew members who lived and had grown up on the islands. Their love for the place they live was evident in the way they protected the land, the animals, the birds, the foliage and the geology. These islands are truly magical.

One thing I love that Celebrity Cruises is doing, is giving back. From the perfect ship (that does not run on smog producing bunker oil) to the fact that they never drop anchor so as not to disturb the ocean floor and the tree planting that we did and they continue to support. I will admit that in the middle of our day on Santa Cruz Island I was not that thrilled to stop to plant some trees in the rain, but as I look back on it, it was more than just a symbolic gesture on Celebrity’s part. It was making us think and giving us a chance to give back to these incredible islands.

Somewhat else that makes Flora different from every other Celebrity ship (besides the  other two small ships in the Galapagos) is that there is no caste system on board. I think I have mentioned that after 21 cruises with Celebrity we are switching our cruising to Viking Ocean. This is because on their other ships, if you aren’t in a suite or aqua class you do not get the same experience as the others on board. You get a lot better trip if you spend a lot more money. You can actually sail in a suite on their big ships without ever seeing the folks in the “economy class” staterooms. They can stay in “The Retreat” and have a “luxury” experience and never have to associate with the riff-raff. But on Flora, everyone is the same. Unless I stood outside the door of the biggest suites, I would NEVER have a clue who was in them. That would not be the case on the other Celebrity ships. There would be lots of places those in suites could go, that I couldn’t. Sad.

This post is all about summing this cruise up and answering some last questions and giving you a few more pieces of information I have missed in previous posts.

Let’s start with the questions:

  • What was the weather like?
    When we there in early July it was magnificent. In the 70s every day and pretty much every night. Before we made the decision to go, we did a lot of research on the weather. As we were told by our naturalists mid-June through mid-August and mid-November through early-January (the transitions between seasons) are the best times to go. Here’s a chart on the weather:

    From looking at this there may be a better time if you are a snorkeler, you may want to go when the water is warmer.
  • I like cocktails. What were they like on the ship? Are they expensive?
    First, everything is included onboard including all alcoholic beverages. That said, as much as we love our wine and cocktails we drank less on this cruise than we have on any of our 25+ previous cruises. Why? I think for two reasons. We knew that we had to be up early every day to be on the islands on the ship’s schedule. Being even the least big hung over or dehydrated was something we could not do and be at an optimum for the excursions. The other reason we didn’t drink as much is that there was less time to drink. Seriously, on other cruises, gathering in our favorite lounge both before and after dinner to socialize and sip is not something you do on this cruise. Before dinner you hear about the islands and what you will be doing the next day and after dinner…you go to bed.
  • What was the one thing you bought for this cruise that you could not have done without?
    That’s easy. My dry bag. I would have been lost without it. I owe the advice to get one to my Instagram friend Marvic_212. He is a crew member on Flora and takes the most amazing photos of the islands. He and his family live there as well and one of the biggest regrets I had was not being able to meet him when we were there. He was going to come back onboard a few weeks after we left. But if you love my pics, you will love his. When I asked him what I would need to keep my camera dry, he said “get a dry bag.” So I got the one I linked. I also ordered a strap so I could carry it with me. You will need a backpack with straps to take on the Zodiacs. The reason you need the straps is because you have to have both hands free to board the ship or get off on a wet or dry landing. So this is the strap I got.  I am really glad I got this as on the very first Zodiac trip, the bag got soaked. If I hadn’t had it, it would have been my camera getting soaked. And there would have been none of the great photos I took.
  • What was the best thing that Kathleen got before the cruise?
    She says, “That little turtle backpack.” Celebrity gives you a small mesh backpack but it is just too small. This one was the envy of all our fellow cruisers.
  • Are there bathrooms facilities on the islands?
    Nope, the only facilities are the bushes and trees. Seriously. I asked Ellen what do people do if they have to go. She said that you tell your naturalist and they will direct you to a place (hopefully out of sight of others but sometimes that is not possible) where whatever you will do the least damage to the environment. On all our trips (always more than 2+ hours) I only saw one person “using the facilities.” It was a young lady and I felt sorry for her because she had a wetsuit and a one-piece bathing suit so she pretty much had to disrobe. And it was on an island with hardly any bushes or trees, just lava. Everyone just looked in the other direction. As for me, I stuck with one cup of coffee every morning 😀.
  • Can you say a little more about the motion of the ocean? Will I get seasick?
    Kathleen says, “A couple of nights it was rough. The wind was blowing in one direction and the currents going in another. So if you are a person who has problem with motion sickness, you should consider possible preventive measures.” Kathleen always has her “Relief Band” with her on any cruise. It has saved her a bunch of times since she learned about it from our friend Carol. The ship does have dramamine-type drugs available if you need them and some of our onboard friends used a behind the ear patch.
  • What was the best thing about the ship?
    I loved the bed facing the ocean. That and deck eight where we went to see the stars on two nights (DON’T MISS THIS!). Kathleen says hers was hands down the shower. So well equipped, so well designed. For instance, there was a towel rack on the outside of the shower door that opened inward so you didn’t have to reach out and get the floor wet. Brilliant.
  • What was the worst thing about the ship?
    Kathleen says the lack of electrical outlets. Especially none on her side of the bed. The two that weren’t on the desk, were on my side of the bed. If you asked me, I would have to say the pillows. I am a side sleeper and the two we had were just too soft. I had to use a couch pillow under one of them or my neck was sore all day.
  • What was the most amazing you saw on the ship?
    Kathleen says that for her it was everything we saw while we were off the ship. It was just so magical. I would totally agree with her and add that one of the most amazing things I have ever seen a human do is the way the seamen on board handled the Zodiacs. They were able to do things with them that blew me away—such incredible skill. And you don’t realize it before you ride in one that they NEVER tie them up to the ship or to any dock. They control them while loading and unloading with the throttle and the steering. It’s amazing.

We are totally willing to answer any other questions but this is my last post about this trip. I think I have covered it pretty well and I have struggled to think of anything I may have missed. I hope you have enjoyed traveling along with us. We have lots more adventures planned or you can go back through the archives to see our Iceland trip and our Mardi Gras trip from 2019. You can also switch over to our other website a by clicking here to see all our travels since 2002. And come back after Thanksgiving when we will journey to Portugal, Amsterdam, Prague, Nuremberg and the Christmas Markets of Vienna, Krems, Passau and Budapest.

The Galapagos Islands are probably the most famous wildlife-watching destination in the world. And no wonder – it’s almost impossible to exaggerate the sheer spectacle of the place that provided inspiration for Charles Darwin’s ground-breaking theory of natural selection. – Mark Carwardine

 

 

 

Day 7–Santa Cruz and the Giant Tortoises

Our last full day in the Galapagos found us on Santa Cruz Island. This was a very different day as there were no choices to be made about where to go today. Everyone on the ship was going to the same place…to drive across Santa Cruz Island. One thing that was different on this day were that we were all asked to wear masks for the first time off the ship in the week. This was because we would be meeting others who were outside our ship’s safety bubble.

After our Zodiac ride to the northernmost point on the island we hopped on busses to drive the entire length of the island to the Charles Darwin Research Center. But on the way an amazing thing happened. You see, so far every island we had visited had either been dry lava rock or dry scrub brush and rock. But Santa Cruz Island is split in half and as we drove south towards the Darwin Center and climbed in elevation, the dry, arid land turned to…rain forest. Seriously, all of a sudden we were driving through clouds. And it was raining. What a huge contrast to the entire previous week of weather.

After driving through some rain, farmland and finally a small town, we arrived at the Darwin Center.  The Center is all about keeping alive all the different species of giant tortoises from all the different islands. They have hundreds of turtles of all ages. The smallest are segregated by the island they came from. Then as they get older they are put into the same pens but with numbers on their shells that indicate the island of their origin.

In still another enclosure were some fully grown giant tortoises. They are truly amazing creatures. These were being kept apart because they can’t be sure which island they came from and they do not want to cross-pollinate species. As you can see from my photos, these animals are amazing. Later in the day we would see them in wild.

After our visit we headed back into the hills to visit the Manzanillo Ranch for lunch but before we got there we stopped to do some community service. Celebrity supports a reforestation project that removes invasive species and replaces them with the kind of plants that are native to the island. It was an interesting experience. Because we were planting them a ways off the road, our bus stopped (blocking half the road) and we got out and found a row of chairs and a pair of rubber boots that we swapped for our shoes. We then grabbed a trowel and two seedling trees and then we headed into the jungle. There we found pre-dug holes that we dropped the seedlings into and from there we just covered them, took pics of each other, changed our boots (while they stopped cars—it was almost funny to see this row of chairs standing on the road) and we were off to Manzanillo Ranch for lunch.

At the ranch they had a very nice covered area where a delicious buffet lunch was served. Again, just like the ship, no one was allowed to serve themselves and all the servers were masked. Lunch was tasty and was followed by an Ecuadorian folk dance performance by students from the island dressed in colorful, traditional colors . Celebrity has been supporting this group for a while including sending them to a folk dance competition to Italy.

I need to mention something that was so typically Galápagos. While I was taking these photos of the dancers in a covered area at a ranch, all I had to do was turn around in the exact spot where I was standing to take this photo. A giant tortoise that seems to have come along to see the performance himself.

After lunch we were allowed to go onto the rest of the grounds on the ranch to see the tortoises close up. Some notes about that short walk. As we started to leave the enclosure, the rain picked up and that meant my camera went into my dry bag so I didn’t get very many pics of the big guys in the wild. But I had so many from the Darwin Center, that was OK with me. Another thing that was very interesting was when a fellow traveler asked our naturalist who owned these tortoises, the ranch or the National Park that bordered it? His answer was, “No one owns them. They own themselves and can go anywhere they want on these islands. That is our  law.” In fact we were told if you were a rancher or a farmer, you could be fined for using any fencing that would block the tortoises from migrating. Speaking of migrating, our friend Fausto who runs the Celebrity operations in the Galapagos told us he had been to the ranch less than two weeks before to finalize the lunch plans and when he was there he saw two or three tortoises. Two weeks later while we were there we saw hundreds. They were migrating to the higher elevations. There were so many on the road leaving the ranch, it made it hard for our bus driver to get off the property. Think of driving in a sheep ranching area and running into a bunch of sheep on the road and have to stop until they moved. Now imagine it at tortoise speed 😀.

After our tortoise experience it was back to the ship for our final dinner, packing to leave and sad farewells. But in the meantime, here’s the balance of today’s pics.

I will be back tomorrow with some notes on the ship and our room. See you then.

 

Day 6–South Plaza and Santa Cruz

Good day readers! As I write this I am sitting in our good friend Cathy’s living room in Wellington, Florida. As I think I mentioned before I am planning on doing four more posts after this one. One to cover Day 7, another to answer questions, a third to talk about the ship and our stateroom (with video) and the last one to kind of sum things up…with a very few complaints, so stick with me please.

South Plaza Island

Just off Santa Cruz Island (the Galapagos most populated island) are two very small islands, North and South Plaza Islands. On a map they look like two halves of a circle with missing pieces at the top and bottom. Smaller boats (up to 30 people) anchor in between them during the night. Here’s what our schedule looked like:

This morning we again had the choice of a long or short walk. Kathleen took the short walk and I took the long one. This one was a real eye opener. Not for the fauna (because as you will see in the photos, there were plenty of the usual suspects) but because of the flora. All of the islands we had been on before this had been either green (foliage), black (lava) or brown (scrub brush) but South Plaza was lit up like New England in the fall. Not on trees but on the ground. And the cacti looked like a forest sometimes…after a fire when only a few good trees are still standing.

It was drop dead gorgeous. Especially since the weather was also pretty good or a long walk. This was the windiest island we were on. And that meant the amazing seaman who drive the Zodiacs had a heck of time getting us on and off. We thought that was the toughest we had seen them have doing a dry landing…until that afternoon. So here’s my pics of our morning hike. I truly loved this walk as it was like being in an entirely different type of island.

Dragon’s Hill, Santa Cruz Island

In the afternoon we headed to the island of Santa Cruz for what we were told would be a “fast walk.” Which meant as our cruise director Betina told us, “More walk, less talk.” But it seems we found time for both. I want to add here if you take the longer walk, it is fast. We were moving. I walk 4-6 miles a day at home at just over 15 minutes per mile and I found this one to be strenuous. Mostly because of the trails.

This is called Dragon’s Hill because of the plethora of land iguanas of very large size. So you will have to endure a few more to those. But to me the big revelation (for the second time that day) was the geology. Many of my fellow walkers felt it looked like Mars (with water) or the Moon (again with water 😀). Check out the photos to see what I mean.

One thing to know if you take this walk—it is HOT! Even with a breeze. So take lots of water. You will need it. And thus ends day six. I really liked this day. Just when I thought they couldn’t show us anything different, they did. These were two awesome hikes I would not have wanted to miss. But day seven was even more different. I should have that for you tomorrow but later in the day as we don’t fly from Fort Lauderdale today until 6:30 pm EDT and don’t arrive in SEA until 10:00 pm PDT. So who knows how we late we will get up. Plus I want to walk, need to shop for groceries and then collapse 😀.

 

Day 5–Morning Fernandia, Afternoon Isabela

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 😜.

You got questions…I got answers

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.

Day Four–Afternoon on Isabella

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.