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

Celebrity Galapagos PDFs

I know I promised that yesterday was the last post on Galapagos but I forgot to give you a link to download the PDFs I have from X.

You can click here​​​​​​​ to download some Celebrity PDFs that I saved. The big one is the dailies for the entire week. Our entire schedule with other items as well. The others are menus, one is the room service lunch and dinner menu, another is a mid-week menu and the last one is the Celebrity menu choices for the pre and post hotel dinners.

Enjoy!

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

 

 

 

Flora—What a ship!

Now that I have told you all about the cruise and the adventure and shown you the islands and the animals, it’s time to talk about the ship. I can honestly say, Flora is my favorite ship we have ever sailed on. She is also the smallest ship we have ever sailed on. But I wanted to give you a little bit of an idea what our overall accommodations were like and the public areas of the ship as well. First, as you can see above, she looks wonderful in the water. Almost like a private yacht…a BIG private yacht.

Let’s start with the staterooms. Here’s an iPhone pano shot of the bedroom part of our “suite.” Celebrity calls it a suite. Other cruise lines would call it a suite but to me a “suite” means you get more than one room. At the EB Hotel in Quito we had a suite…a bedroom, two bathrooms, a dressing room and a living room. That’s a suite. The really big “suites” on Flora are true suites.

Those suites have other rooms as well (living room, two bedrooms, two bathrooms). But we had a traditional verandah stateroom. That said, it was the LARGEST stateroom we have ever been in. It was even bigger than the suite we once had on Century. At more than 330 square feet with an 84 square foot verandah we had more than 400 square feet to ourselves. To give you something to compare, on our last cruise on Reflection to Mardi Gras our stateroom had 194 square feet with a 54 square foot verandah. We found it interesting (at least to us) that we are going to go from the largest stateroom we have ever had on a ship to one of the smallest we have had on our next cruise. In December we take a Viking River cruise to the Christmas Markets on the Danube. Our stateroom on that ship will only be 204 square feet with the verandah. We were very pleased with this one. I did a quick video tour of the stateroom and the bathroom (the largest and nicest we have ever sailed).

The ONLY complaint we had about the stateroom was the lack of places to charge electronics. This ship was built three years ago. It’s not like she was built in an era before we all carried numerous gadgets. But there were exactly FOUR electrical receptacles in the room (not counting one above the sink in the bathroom for shavers).  One of those was a European plug. I always have a converter but the receptacle was inverted so my adapter/converter would not work with it. That left us three. One at the desk and two in the wall next to one side of the bed. Except that the two next to the bed were vertical and VERY THIN! So thin that if you plugged any kind of adapter or charger in to one of them, you could not use the other. That is crazy. No USB plugs at all. They have those on other, older Celebrity ships.

I know what you are thinking…how many things can you have to charge? Well, we travel with the following: Kathleen has her iPhone, her iPad, her Kindle and her Apple Watch. I have my MacBook Pro, my iPad, my iPhone, my Apple Watch, my Nikon battery charger, my Kindle and my GoPro battery charger. Twelve items to charge with two plugs. That’s crazy. I certainly hope when they dry dock Flora in a few years, this is one of their big upgrades. It is needed.

The rest of the ship

Flora is beautiful from top to bottom. The best way for me to show you that is to add some pics and explain in the captions. So here you go:

A couple of the places on board that I don’t have pics of include The Boutique and Darwin’s Cove on Deck 3. The boutique has a few trinkets, magnets, shirts, jackets and postcards but they are very spendy. See my previous Q&A. Also on Deck 3 is a science lab where you can investigate things like geological samples from the islands under a microscope. As much as our interest in science was piqued while onboard, we never got there. One cool thing to do when you back from an excursion is to go to the Boutique and look through the windows as they bring the Zodiacs in and store them. It’s a really cool operation. Also on this deck is the infirmary, but let’s hope you never have to visit there. Decks 1 & 2 are either crew quarters or storage for the Zodiacs.

On Deck 7 forward there is the Observatory. It looks like a very quiet place to just relax and face forward on the ship. It is right over the Bridge, so it has great views but they play loud techno music in there so it is NOT peaceful at all. They need to turn it off or  change the music. On my first night while trying to find somewhere to write I found the music BLARING at 3:00 am.

Just above the Observatory is the Stargazing deck. DO NOT MISS THIS! We went up twice (cloudy other days…or we forgot) and it is worth the trip. They keep the area very dark and you would be amazed at the stars you can see when there is no light pollution from the ground. And your perch is right at the equator. You can see the Milky Way, the Southern Cross, the Big and Little Dipper and so much more.

This ship is amazing. We can’t wait to sail on her again. Other than my two very small complaints about the outlets and the techno music, it was about the best a ship can be.

More Questions…More Answers

So I have had a lot of questions from both the comments on this blog and from Cruise Critic, I thought I would do those first and it would give me a chance to add some additional info I haven’t covered yet. So let’s get to those questions. (BTW: I may have answered these on Cruise Critic or on this blog before but not in both places. This will give me a chance to do both.)

  • We’re on the July 25th sailing, and I’m starting to think about what to pack. How quickly does the laundry turn around and do we need to bring slacks or just shorts? 
    I got away with one pair of decent shorts, three pair of hiking shorts and the jeans I had worn on the planes (I don’t like flying in shorts). Took a bunch of izod shirts I didn’t have to iron, my hiking boots and my Tevas, underwear and socks. That was it. You get two free bags of laundry and we left both of them out in the morning before we went on our morning excursion and our stateroom attendant picked them up when she serviced the room. In both cases, they were back by that evening while we were at dinner. We did not ask for rush service but we got them back that fast. I am guessing part of the speed was because there were only 57 passengers on board.
  • How cold is the water? Have the snorkelers mentioned this? We’re Floridians and I’ve packed second skin so I won’t be cold. Is this necessary? 
    Since I didn’t snorkel or swim that much I asked three friends (one of them was Celebrity’s scientist in residence Ellen who does the Galapagos 3-4 times a year) who did snorkel and swim everyday it was available and their answer was that the water was really nice. The times I got in the water, I did not find it too cold. But Ellen mentioned that it will get colder until the fall. Ellen said the second skin is a good idea. Many of those snorkeling wore a rash guards under their wetsuits. All three of them said that no matter what you bring to wear under the wetsuit you need to wash them out EVERY NIGHT. Two of our friends said they came back after dinner on the first night they snorkeled and the smell was overpowering. Ellen says she always just wears whatever was under the wetsuit into the shower, soaps it up and then rinses it out. Be prepared to take it off in the morning wet. I had a rash guard that Kathleen had gotten me and since it was also sun protective I wore it a bunch. Pretty much on every walk. She got it at Land’s End and I loved it.
  • Can you buy postcards or souvenirs on board? Should you?
    Yes and no. We are kind of old school. We like to send postcards. I even pre-print address labels to take with us. So we went down to the very small ship store on deck 3 and bought 15 postcards. Kathleen saw a tee-shirt there that she liked and got that too. And we bought a magnet as we kind of collect those. Total: $80. Didn’t realize that until we settled our account by the end of the trip. Later we found out that had we waited we would have paid half of that in the airport in Baltra on the way home. Save your money. Also, the airport in Baltra has a lot of souvenirs. Not knowing this, we bought something before we went through security. And then we found there were tons of places to buy things.
  • Did you get any take home gifts from X? 
    Yes we did. I need to preface telling you what we got by saying that we don’t know how many were given to us because we were the first cruise back after the pandemic or are given to everyone on every cruise. We got a really cool hand carved wooden tortoise, two Galapagos-themed coffee cups, two really nice metal water bottles, two backpacks (not that usable) a fanny pack, a baseball cap and Ecuadorian chocolate. All are awesome and we will use them. The wooden tortoise is sitting in our living room right now reminding us of all the good memories. Oops! I almost forgot the best thing we got. A small USB thumb drive on the very last day just before we got off the ship. It wasn’t the drive but what was on it. Every picture taken by the naturalists/guides during our week as well as pictures of the entire crew we had shared the week with. It is awesome. Especially if you were afraid you didn’t get enough pics.
  • Do you have a packing list? 
    I detailed above what I had with me. I did the entire cruise with a 24 inch carry on bag. Unlike other cruises you can wear whatever you want to the dining room and no one will say anything. Also, if you look on Cruise Critic there is a super great thread we followed to get ready. It is tremendous and there is a complete packing list on it. You can find that thread by clicking here. You may have to join Cruise Critic to see it though but that would be a very good thing if you cruise.
  • What was the average age of the people on board? What were your fellow cruisers like?
    There were all kind of people. The youngest were two outstanding 8th graders who entertained us all and there were people in their 80s. If you are a regular cruiser, remember that this is not the cruise where you will meet fellow cruisers with like backgrounds. For about half the people onboard, this may have been first time cruisers. They were there for the Galapagos and not the ship. We were there for both.
  • Coffee and booze—what’s the story?
    Coffee was available from about 6:30 am until around 10:00 pm in the Discovery Lounge. You could get your usual variety of coffee drinks you could get at your local Starbucks. We loved their cappuccinos. The Ecuadorian coffee in the dining room was wonderful.
    As far as alcoholic beverages, the same bar in Discovery Lounge will make you whatever you ask for but the liquor selection is very limited. For instance, there was one tequila, one gin, one vodka, one whiskey, etc. Much of this is because it is very expensive to ship it in and there is very little space to store it. This also reminds me to tell you that when it comes to wine for dinner, you get a choice of red or white. That’s it. For the same reason—importing and storage. We had red every night (yes, even with fish) and it was always from South America. Many times it was either Malbec or a red blend of Malbec and something else. Our favorite was a Malbec/Cab blend from Chile. They had maybe four brands of beer. Plus in your stateroom there is your typical mini-fridge with two bottles of an excellent Ecuadorian pilsner as well as four soft drinks. They get replenished as you drink them and they, like everything else on the ship are included. No charge!
  • What kind of weight limits did they have on the Baltra flight?  Was it full?  Did they have any diabetic passengers…they couldn’t go that long without food or the ability to carry food with them?  
    We were told they would limit us to 14 pounds for carryons (ONLY ONE ALLOWED) and 44lbs for checked luggage (again, only one). We were well under the checked luggage requirement but my camera bag weights at least 30lbs but no one checked it. The flight was not full and would not have been even if the ship had been full. It is a charter and most couples had a row to themselves. There was food served (a pretty lousy ham and cheese sandwich) but I don’t know if there were any diabetics on board. Kathleen says, “when they offer you food, take it because you don’t know when you will be offered food again.” Unlike a regular cruise when there is ALWAYS some food available, this is not the case on Flora since there is no regular buffet, only the dining room and the grille upstairs.
  • Would this cruise work for someone who is in a wheelchair?
    Sadly, no. There would be no way to get on or off the ship if you can’t go up or down the stairs on the Zodiacs. There is an elevator and it always cracked me up when people used it because there are only five passenger decks and we were on deck five which meant we only had to go up or down two levels no matter where we wanted to go
  • Was this a good post-pandemic cruise to take?
    We don’t think you could find a better one.  All except one day, we were completely in a bubble. There is no COVID on any of the islands other than maybe Santa Cruz. That was the only island we saw people who were not sailing with us. Celebrity did a great job with COVID precautions and testing. It is the perfect post-pandemic cruise.
  • “You take amazing photos! What kind of camera do you use? What lenses did you take?”
    Thank you! Photography is my favorite hobby. If you click here you can see the best of my previous travel pics. And yes, I do sell them on that site but feel free to just look. I shoot a Nikon D810 DSLR. It’s a big heavy, full frame camera. I took two lenses with me; a Nikor 24-300mm zoom that I shot every photo with. I also had a 50mm lens with me but it was just as a backup. Every single photo was taken with the zoom lens. I will also mention that prior to this cruise I didn’t take a lot of wildlife photos. But to prep I watched a ton of videos on YouTube and read a lot. You should do the same if you want the kind of moving action I got.
  • We were recently informed by the Galapagos Desk that all travelers in our party would need coverage for both medical  and evacuation. Were you asked to provide proof of either?
    We were also told you HAD TO HAVE medical and evacuation insurance and it was REQUIRED by the National Park of Ecuador. We have friends who had taken the cruise before and they had to show proof of insurance but we did not. I think that may have been because of all the COVID stuff just got in the way.  If you go without either of those insurance policies, you are NUTS! Even though there are two doctors onboard Flora, there are no major medical facilities on the islands. Medical Evacuation insurance is a MUST. 
  • We are interested in booking a private tour on the last day when we return from Balta, as our flight home leaves at midnight.  But also concerned about last minute Celebrity changes and what the schedule will be for testing on the last day to return to US.
    If it works as ours did, once you fly back from Balta you will be given an appointment in the later afternoon when you must go for a COVID test. You get the results in about an hour. You can’t get a boarding pass from any airline leaving Quito without the test results. I would not make any plans for that day. We didn’t reach the hotel until 4:30pm and our test was at 6:20pm. We went to dinner (X paid) and then got the test results. By that time it was too late to get a boarding pass so we got them at the airport at 4:30 am the next morning.
  • After all the hassles you had with your air cancellations we are worried we will have problems as well. Any advice? 
    Yes! Check your airline reservations all the time. Verify them daily in the week or two leading up to your cruise. This is true no matter where you are flying. I want to make it clear that we do NOT hold Celebrity responsible for the cancellation of our original flight to Quito. American Airlines (WHO I WILL NEVER FLY WITH AGAIN for so many reasons—I would rather walk) who cancelled our flight to Quito with less than a week to go and did not inform us even though I had given them our e-mail and phone number. But that does not excuse Celebrity Air from not notifying us either. I just happened to be checking seats and found out that way. Check, check, check. Especially if you are flying with one of the big carries like United, American or Delta. They fly so many flights that they can cancel them with impunity. Keep in mind if they do cancel you and don’t offer you a flight within six hours of your original flight they must refund your airfare. It may take a while but you will get it. Not a voucher, a refund.

I think that about covers it. If you have any others, please let me know in the comments. Tomorrow more about the ship.

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 😜.