Going home…kind of

As I write this I am sitting in an AirBnB in Palm Springs. Tomorrow night is my 50th high school reunion. For those of you who don’t know me personally, I grew up in the tourist-haven of Palm Springs way back in the 50s, 60s and 70s. So here I am back in my hometown with my bride, my brother and my sister-in-law. And I am kind of bummed out about the reunion because my best friend from high school that had been planning on being there had to turn around and head for home to deal with a medical problem 😔.

But we actually have been on the road since Wednesday. We flew down from our favorite airport, Everett, Washington (PAE) to John Wayne International in Santa Ana, CA where my brother picked us up. We got to see a bunch of friends we had cruised with (who just happened to be my niece and my sister-in-law’s sister and her husband and daughter and my niece’s boyfriend) when they all came over for dinner. We had a great time and my sister-in-law is an awesome cook and an award-winning baker and I may gain back all the weight I lost for the reunion before we go home.

My sister-in-law is also a great activity planner. Yesterday we drove two hours through Los Angeles traffic to visit the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. For a film buff like me, it was awesome. It is fairly new (opened just a few weeks ago). Lots of great stuff about how movies are made, about the Oscars themselves, about just everything and anything about movies. We spent three hours viewing all the exhibits as well as having a quick bite in their cafe and checking out their rooftop viewing area. It was wonderful. There were a lot of artifacts that you would know from movies.

Then we did a very cool drive up Hollywood Blvd and back down Sunset Blvd while waiting for our dinner reservations at the historic Musso and Franks. It was an outstanding dinner. Great bread, great drinks, 1050’s stuffed celery, pasta, steaks and the nightly special, chicken pot pie. The real reason to go to Musso and Franks is the experience. You sit in booths that have appeared in movies and books for years. Who knows who has sat in this booth before us.

Dinner at Musso and Franks

Today was all about getting to Palm Springs. We headed out about 11:00 am and have been here since 1:00. Stopped for a quick lunch and then it was off to head out and hopefully see my old nephew Sean who owns a vinyl record store in nearby La Quinta. Unfortunately, he was off on a record buying trip to Los Angeles so we missed him. Finally after a pretty long wait we were able to check into our AirBnB. This particular AirBnB experience has not been a great one so far. The place looks great in the pictures but not so much in reality. Tomorrow night is my reunion. More later and maybe some desert photos.

You can never go home again.

Thomas Wolfe

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

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 😜.

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.

Food, food and more food!

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!

 

 

 

Day Four and More!

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.

 

 

Stopping at the Post Office…Barrel

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.

See you back real soon with Day 4.