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.

Galapagos Day 3—So much to see, so little time

Every day gets better and better after the day one hiccups. This has gone from a cruise that was not making me happy to one of the best traveling experiences of my life. But I do have a warning if you are planning on sailing on Flora—it is exhausting. I have never been so tired on a trip in my entire life. You have seen our daily schedules (Day 3 is below) and I can honestly say that if you do everything (and you HAVE to do EVERYTHING) you will be so worn out at the end of the day you will literally pass out when your head hits the pillow. You know the old joke about needing a vacation from a vacation? Well, this is that vacation.

Here was our schedule for Day 3 on Flora

Every morning we are up between 6:00 and 6:30. I am normally a person who likes to shower in the morning but on this cruise I have already taken two showers by the end of the day—one after the morning excursion and one after the afternoon excursion. Mostly to get all the sand and sunscreen off but also because on some of the “walks” (hikes in real life) can you leave you very hot and sweaty.

This morning (actually two days ago) we started with a wet landing at Point Cormorant on Floreana Island. I am not sure if I explained what the difference between wet and dry landings is, so here goes—besides the obvious you need to know that the Zodiacs that Celebrity uses are amazing pieces of machinery and they are custom built for the Galapagos. On the front there is a set of steps that you use to get off and on the ship. I had seen that in photos prior to coming but I will be honest that I had no clue that when you got off the ship on a beach, that the area just to the right of the steps goes down so that you can step right off the Zodiac. When we do a wet landing it is just that. Your feet get wet as you step off. On a dry landing you are normally going to step off onto rocks that are about level with the top of the steps of the Zodiac. This means when we have done a wet landing I wear Tevas so they can get wet and when we do a dry we are usually doing a longer hike so I wear my hiking boots. BTW: Those are the only shoes I have with me on this trip and that seems to be all I need. I usually go to the dining room and everywhere else on the ship in the Tevas and save the hiking boots for hiking.

On Floreana we had a “long easy walk” from one side of the island to the other to one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Unfortunately there is not a lot of swimming off this beach as we could see a bunch of rays swimming in the shallows and there are sometimes Galapagos sharks just offshore. The naturalists told us that neither of those species is aggressive but if you step on ray by mistake you will get stung and it may put you out of capacity for a day or two.

On the way across we stopped to see and hear about a number of both geological and fauna related facts. I can’t begin to tell you how much I have learned on this trip. And I have not been disappointed yet on any of our excursions. There was a large lagoon that we hoped to see flamingos in but it was not to be. I have to constantly remind myself that this is NOT a zoo. Animals and birds move where they want to but there are plenty of them and the naturalists know where to go to find them if they aren’t where they are expected.

One thing that I haven’t shown you yet is how close you can get to the animals. Some people have commented on FB or Insta asking how far away I was and what kind of lens was I shooting with—it must have been a long zoom lens. In most cases the animals or birds were within a few feet of me. For instance, yesterday I posted the first photo below of two albatrosses doing their courtship dance. I was pretty close when I took it. About as close as the people in the second photo. And the animals and birds just don’t care. Only the smallest birds scurry away. Albatross, blue-footed boobys, Nasca boobys, marine iguanas, land iguanas, sea lions…all just stay right where they are and you have to walk around them. (Keep in mind that in a browser you can click these pics to see a larger view.)

Some other amazing sites I was able to see during our morning excursion to  Floreana included these shots.

Amazingly enough, this was just our morning. Seriously. Wait until you see the afternoon. Coming soon to a travel blog near you.

Again, please forgive the typos as Kathleen just doesn’t have time to proof them before I put them up. And ask questions if you have them.

 

All is well in the Galapagos!

Jim’s Note: I am going to put this disclaimer at the top of every post throughout this trip. If you are reading this in an e-mail, STOP! Click the headline above and go to the post in a web browser on the largest screen you have. I promise when you see the photos, you will appreciate them so much more.

After our first day Kathleen told me it would all work out. And it has. First with my non-sleep incident and then yesterday Kathleen got herself a migraine headache after lunch and stayed in bed until this morning. But everything has worked out and today (Tuesday-Day 3) was marvelous. Day 2 for me (without the migraine) was also amazing. Especially the afternoon walk. More about that later.

Question and Answer Time

But first I have had some questions. Here’s the answers:
1) There are 57 passengers on the ship (max is 100) so we have it pretty nice.
2) Things have calmed down as far as this being the first cruise back. Everything is now back to normal (from what we have been told by the crew).
3) The food (especially lunch and dinner have been superb. Lots of fresh fish and great Ecuadorian dishes for me to try. Their food is amazing with things really being fresh. It kill me to overhear those at the other tables ordering “steak or chicken and not that weird food.” I am always all in on the local food. And unlike most cruises, this one gives you the ability to eat like a native. And their food is so much healthier.
4) We have two choices of places to eat. There is an open deck grille on deck 7 and the regular dining room on deck 4. You can pretty much wear anything you want to either. I have been going to both in shorts, Martini Mates izod shirt and sandals. I might dress a little better tonight because we are eating with the captain. But since all I have with me are Tevas and hiking boots, I won’t be too fancy.
5) The captain and about 95% of the crew are Ecuadorian. The hotel director is from Canada (near Toronto) and we have seen a few other badges with different countries but not many.
6) The naturalist guides are incredible. They seem to know everything. Most of them have been doing this for 10+ years or more. I hang on their every word. And I can’t believe how much I have gotten into science on this trip…already. We have a world renown scientist/geologist/oceanographer (Ellen J. Prager) on this cruise and she is so interesting. Went to hear her talk about the geology of the islands today and it was really good.
7) We figured out why most of the ship was always late to everything. The ship operates on Quito time. Ships of over 40 people sailing the Galapagos are asked by the national park to do that. It regulates the number of people on each island. But the guides (who are supposed to be the ones who tell us about that) forgot. Kathleen and I had known that from our research, thus we were always on time. Others were running about an hour late. Quito is on CST and the Galapagos run at MST. Once they got that through everyone’s thick head, things are going much more smoothly.

I think that covers the questions. I will be happy to answer any others. Just post them as comments.

Now let’s talk Monday. Here was the schedule:

In the morning we chose to do the Gardner Bay Beach walk and swim or snorkel. The walk was awesome. That’s where I got all those crazy sea lion pictures. They are a hoot. But as much as I loved the walk, I did not enjoy the snorkel. Previously I had mentioned that I had tried snorkeling a few months ago in a hotel pool but people, it’s not the same. For one thing, even though I had tried the snorkel, I had not worn flippers. That messed me up like nobody’s business. I have never worn flippers before and I found myself just tossed about and not able to do much of anything. I could see the bottom directly below me. I could even feel it with my knee but darned if I could stand up. Also, I did give it a try for about five minutes but saw nothing but the bottom. When I asked someone coming out of the water who had been snorkeling for a while, they pointed to a rock formation about 2/3 of a mile out and said, “You have to go over there to see the best fish.” For someone who does not swim on a regular basis and is not incredibly comfortable in the water, that was it for me.

Especially since most of the rest of the snorkeling is off a Zodiac in deep water with strong currents and they are really telling us you have to be a good swimmer (I am not) and an experienced snorkeler (I am not that either). So for this week I will stick to  the beach and putting my feet in.

Speaking of putting my feet in you may notice on the schedule that it says “wet landing” or “dry landing.” When we do the wet landing, the Zodiacs have this really cool front end that bends down so that you can just walk off into about a foot of water. When we do a dry landing, they are able to put us on rocks or a pier.

In the afternoon, I had a dry landing on another part of Espanola (Pt. Suarez). Kathleen had developed her migraine and was sleeping in our darkened stateroom…which gets very dark. Even though window/sliding door is the full width of the stateroom, it has great blackout curtains that open and close with a switch. How cool is that—motorized.

That afternoon hike was mind blowing. We walked through groups of sea lions, then on a very, VERY rocky trail through albatross nesting areas seeing the albatross, blue footed boobys, Nasca Boobys. (formerly known as masked boobys), Galapagos Hawks, Espanola snake, marine iguana, frigate birds and a few other specimen I can’t remember. Just suffice it to say that you couldn’t look one way or another without seeing something. And getting close to it. I specifically took some photos that show humans as well so you can see how close we could get to the animals.

I have so much to tell you but I wanted to get this posted so you would know that all is well here in Galapagos-land. So here’s some pics with captions.

 

 

The Galapagos and Flora-Day 1: The story of the Grumpy Git

First, if you are reading this in an e-mail, please do yourself a favor and click on the headline and read it in a web browser. The photos look better and the formatting is the way I intended you to see it. If I could figure out a way to get WordPress to just send you a link and not the complete post I would.

This was written starting on Sunday but I haven’t been able to get it out until today (Tuesday). They keep us very busy. So it looks like I will be about two days behind from here on in.

It’s Sunday morning and I am going to start this post now while I have a few minutes. We are waiting in our Quito hotel lobby for our charter flight from Quito to Baltra where we will tender (Zodiac) out to Flora for our Galapagos adventure.

This morning we had to have our checked bags in the hall outside our hotel rooms by 8:00 and we went down for our health screening at 7:45. We had been told it was just an antigen (spit) test but it turned out to be a full PCR, up the nose, test. Our first one (if you can believe that) and now I get what everyone complains about. Not that bad but still brought a tear to my eye. Breakfast in the hotel did not live up to the two previous meals but I guess the chef has to sleep sometime and leave the food in the hands of his assistants…who kind of failed. It was just “fine” with our first cup of coffee being cold, my “Everything” omelette having nothing in it and no jam for the rolls and croissants but it was still satisfying and should get us through until we have a box lunch (I am assuming) on the plane…which we are off to in about 10 minutes.

Eight hours later

We are onboard and have been VERY busy. At this point, I am being what my friend Paul would call a “grumpy git.” I get that when things are off from what I expected, I find that I forgot something, or something does not go the way I had planned. Hopefully I will get over it.

Ten hours later

It is now 3:45 am and I am not over it. In fact, this is the worst night I have ever spent on a cruise ship or maybe on vacation, in my life. I have been awake since 1:30 am (went to bed around 10:00). I am sitting in a lounge on the top deck all the way forward. For a variety of reasons I am not able to sleep. Noisy stateroom, noisy ship. Horrible pillows–my neck aches. Ship is rocking and rolling. I sat in bed for more than two hours trying to get back to sleep before I just got the hell out of there and let Kathleen sleep.

For those of us who have this sleep affliction (although I have slept GREAT every night since we left home) of waking up and not being able to get back to sleep, this is NOT the ship to do it on. On most ships if I can’t sleep, I can get up and go find a quiet place to sit and do stuff like this (writing or working with my pics). But on Flora that is impossible. This tiny lounge at the front of deck seven is the only place I could find. All the public areas on deck four are in pitch black darkness with doors closed. I have not seen a crew member anyplace. This is one of the benefits/problems with a small ship I guess. But…this lounge sucks because it is playing what I call thump-thump (electronic music) at a volume level that is not helping my massive headache. Much of my grumpiness now is due to my lack of sleep and inability to find someplace to just sit and write that is quiet and warm. Where I am is cold and noisy. the ship is really rocking and being on the top deck all the way forward is not a good place to be so I will have to go down and see if I can find someplace better.

I found a spot on deck three. The chairs are really uncomfortable but at least the music is better and not as loud. So let me explain where things went wrong.

We did leave the hotel right on time and made it to the airport. This is where I have to add that if you don’t like waiting in lines, producing document after document then this cruise (at least for the next few months until the world returns to more normal times) is maybe not for you. I had to show my passport and other docs at least five times yesterday. That doesn’t sound like a lot but it does mean that I usually had to stand in a fairly long line to do it. I have also filled out at least four forms (that could easily have been sent to me as PDFs way before the cruise for me to fill out and bring with me).

(Note from Kathleen – BRING AT LEAST ONE PEN – YOU ARE GOING TO NEED THEM!) Some of those were health forms, others for all kinds of things like one promising to not do anything bad I while I am in the islands (future Flora cruisers should note here that you can bring absolutely no food to the islands. That includes pre-packaged granola bars—the penalties are pretty big so leave everything edible at the hotel or on the plane).

I think things really headed downhill when we got in the Zodiacs to head out to the ship. I am trying very hard to find a way to phrase this that does not sound like I am whining or don’t understand how the crew feels but I can’t, so I will just tell it as I see it. Please know that since you aren’t on the first cruise back like we are, hopefully some of this will not happen to you if you decided to do this cruise. But I digress.

The airport greeter

When we got off the plane as we headed into the terminal we saw our first Galapagos animal–an iguana waiting to meet us. Actually saw two. Once in the airport they had a really nice lounge ready for us to wait in until they could call us to take a short bus ride to the Zodiacs. I was all smiles. But this is where things started bothering me. I am not sure what we did or who we offended but somehow we always seem to be called last for every line. The cruise director came into the lounge and started calling numbers for people to board the bus and went through the all of deck five including the stateroom numbers on both sides of ours without mentioning ours. Then she did half of deck six. Then we were finally called in the next to last group. This played out poorly a little later on.

Since this was the first ship back post-pandemic the crew led by our gung-ho hotel director was really trying to celebrate the reopening. I totally get that. But that meant they wanted each of the Zodiacs to arrive by itself so the 12 or so people on board could be escorted into this hallway on deck 3 where they blew horns and danced and chanted about how happy they were to have guests back on board. If it had been any other circumstances, I would have thought it was great but to make sure that each Zodiac had group had a separate welcome, they delayed each one out in the water for almost 40 minutes.

What should have been a five minute ride to the ship (we were even told it would take about five minutes—we could see the ship) turned into a thirty+ minute ride. We were not prepared for that. No sunscreen, no hats, no water. They did try and make it interesting by taking us near the coast where we could see some of the local birds (pelicans, blue-footed boobies and a few others) but the entire time we were baking in the sun. I personally was totally frustrated because here we were seeing all these great birds and my camera was in my camera bag and I could not get to it. I had my phone with me but the photos I got with it did NOT make me happy at all.

After baking in the sun for all that time we finally got on board the ship around 4:00 and went through the welcome by the crew, were able to pick our carry-ons back up (they had been sprayed with disinfectant) and then the scheduling started. I tried to find a way to describe it but I think it is better to just show you the schedule and then give you some details. I should also say that this schedule is not printed anyplace on paper. If you don’t have a phone/tablet/laptop, you are out of luck. Again, another COVID thing? Not sure. Here’s the schedule for day one.

Let’s start with the first item. Because we were driven around baking in the hot sun on the Zodiac for almost 40 minutes (we knew this was what was occurring because our Zodiac driver kept radioing the ship to ask if he could bring us on board) we didn’t arrive in time to get anything to eat. So at this point it was the snack they gave us on the plane that was going to hold us until dinner which was supposed to be at 7:15.

As you can see there was a “mandatory meeting” at 5:00. So between when we finally got on board and got to our stateroom it was almost 4:20. In that time between getting on board and the meeting at 5:00 pm we are supposed to do the following: 1) Go to our stateroom, get settled and meet our stateroom attendant so they could explain how the room amenities work (we still have not met that person as of Monday morning). 2) Go to deck seven to attend the new post-COVID muster drill where we sat at a table with a naturalist (just the two of us) and had our life jackets explained to us. 3) Then go back to the stateroom and unpack and sometime before 5:00 find time to get something to eat. I have a video tour of the stateroom but I will have to publish it later. My laptop battery is almost gone. 

We were able to do most of that (other than eat) by 5:00 but just barely. So at 5:00 pm when the “mandatory” meeting was supposed to take place we are sitting in the Discovery Lounge ready to hear all the important stuff they needed to tell us. Strangely enough, we were sitting there alone. People started straggling in about 5:10 or so and the actual meeting we were there for did not start until pretty close to 5:30.

As you can see from the schedule this meeting was supposed to transition (in the same place) into a “snorkel safety briefing,” and it did. Then our hotel director (a very nice and well meaning guy) had another surprise planned for everyone. We stopped the meeting and went up to deck seven (top deck) so that we could sail away from where Flora had been anchored. The other Celebrity ship in the Galapagos (Expedition‚ which is not sailing yet) was off our port side and many of her crew were standing outside waving to us while the ship’s horn went off and the crew on the Expedition shot some water in the air from hoses on their back deck.

After that it was time to distribute the snorkeling gear so we went back to our stateroom to wait for them to call us down to pick it up. Again, we are one of the last staterooms called. But eventually I did go down and get my wetsuit, snorkel, mask, flippers and small life vest. You get to leave much of this stuff (other than the snorkel and mask) in a big mesh bag near where you get on the Zodiacs so that’s a good thing. Kathleen has decided that she is not going to attempt snorkeling so she didn’t get any gear. I am still not sure I want to snorkel either but I thought I better get the gear anyway, just in case. More about that tomorrow.

This might be a good place for me to talk about logistics. I like to be organized when I travel. I like things to be planned. When I don’t know how something is going to go, I worry. Right now  I am sitting here typing this and I am worried about what is going to happen at 8:45 am this morning. I guess I will find out (and I did…it went fine).

Hopefully I will feel better about this after I have done it and things will just come together but I am not at this point holding out a lot of hope. You will have to come back later or tomorrow to see how I manage all of this. I know I will be surprised. Of course the way I am feeling right now, I may not go at all.

Back to the schedule. After I got my snorkel gear squared away, it was 7:05 so we had missed the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Toast but we still needed to get to the excursion briefing. These briefings take place every evening. The cruise director (who is also a naturalist) explains what excursions are available the next day, their degree of difficulty and what we can expect to see. Then when she is done, you see one of the other naturalists and sign up for the ones you want to do. You sign up for one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Here is tomorrow’s schedule:

We have chosen to do Option 3 in the morning and in the afternoon Kathleen is doing Option 2 and I am doing Option 1.

So we again, since it is 7:05, think we are late (unavoidable since we weren’t called to get snorkel gear until 6:45). But we get to the Discovery Lounge to find we are almost alone again. There is an entertainer playing an out-of-tune piano loudly so we sit down to wait. Lo and behold we find out that we have not missed the Captain’s Toast…it still hasn’t happened yet. It is now around 7:20. They start the toasting. The captain (a very nice fellow) makes a nice toast and attempts to get us all to do the wave with our glasses held high. I am hungry, tired and have a headache and I am not in the mood. I just want to get this over with and eat dinner and go to bed. But no! Not only is the captain making a toast so is someone from corporate and so is the hotel director who tells us a long story which at any other time I would probably been moved by. Right then, I just wanted to be moved along.

Finally at around 7:40 we get to the briefing. The cruise director does an excellent job and we find out all about what we will be doing the next day (yesterday). We then get in line and sign up for what we want to do and finally it is time for dinner. At 8:00 pm (approximately). The last time we ate anything at this point is on the plane around noon. At home I have dinner ready at 5:00 and I can be adaptable but this is just too much.

We have dinner in the dining room (all that is available tonight). It seems very strange to sit in a ship’s dining room in shorts and sandals but that’s what we do. Most of the people there are similarly dressed but some have gone and changed. Where they are getting the clothes from is beyond me with the limitations of weight imposed for the flight from Quito to Baltra.

We sit at a socially distanced table for four (there were six chairs–more about the COVID restrictions later on) with a very nice couple (John and Laura) from Southern California. The service and food are Celebrity good (really excellent) but there are again problems with some things. No paper menus. Just like your favorite takeout joints at home, you scan a QR code with your phone. Only problem with that is we had four people at the table and I was the only one with a phone that had set up their internet account (free WiFi which you had to have to access the menu) so we had to pass my phone around. And to be honest even though I have a pretty decent phone, I have a really hard time reading menus and schedules on that size screen, even with my reading glasses on. All this does mean that I can post the URL links to the menus and you can see them.

I ordered a shrimp ceviche with avocado that was superb. My main course was listed as seafood rice but it was really seafood risotto. Lots of shrimp but no octopus (even though it was in the description). I wish I had taken a photo of it because it was beautiful but I just plain forgot. Kathleen had a beet salad and an excellent Ecuadorian  chicken dish. We both had Ecuadorian wine (she had white, I had red) and both wines were excellent. Dessert was a “buffet” of red, white and blue things because it was Independence Day. They had cupcakes and donuts and pies and ice cream, all decorated in red, white and blue. When I say it was a buffet, I mean that you could look at it but then you told your server what you wanted and they brought it to your table. Another COVID thing.

It’s almost time to go back to the stateroom and wake Kathleen and get started on what I hope will be a better day but I am not sure. So I will add a few pics at the top and see you tomorrow. Hopefully feeling better and with some amazing flora and fauna shots.

PS: Kathleen normally proofs these but she only got through half of this so I want to get this online so I am going to go with it as is. Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors. One should never proof and edit their own work. More photos tomorrow. I promise.

I’m a perfect example of the grumpy, old man. I’m really good at it.  –Ned Beatty

 

Off to Quito

Disappointing Flights

(Hope you don’t mind me posting twice in one day but I wanted to share a bunch of stuff that happened today.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, our buddy Mike took us to Miami Airport at 2:15 am so we could get there by 3:30 which would be the recommended three hours before our 6:30 am international flight on Copa Air. This flight had been hard to come by so we took what we could get even if it meant that we had to get up way before dawn.

If you have never heard of Copa Air, they are the national airline of Panama. Originally we had a non-stop flight on American Airlines but that was cancelled last weekend and the best we could do was a one-stop trip from Miami through Panama City to Quito. The good news was we still got to keep our business class seats on both flights. But that turned out to just be an OK thing as Copa Air’s idea of business class differs widely from what we have experienced in Business or First class before.

When we arrived at the airport we were so early that there was no place open to even grab a cup of coffee. In fact there was no place open at all. To grab anything. And to the best of my knowledge nothing opened before we took off at 6:38. On our flight we got two cups of really bad coffee, a ham and cheese croissant and a very dry granola bar. The seats were much like US domestic air FC seats. Fairly comfortable but certainly no place to lie back and sleep. I need to mention we were flying on a Boeing 737-8. You will see why in a minute.

Our flight from Miami to Panama City was just a little more than two hours. We arrived in Panama City in just enough time to get from our arriving gate to our departing gate. Once we reached our new gate, we boarded within minutes. And once on board we were pleasantly surprised to see full lay down seats in a section that looked like a true business class section. And this was on exactly the same 737-8 plane that we had just gotten off. Sadly, this flight was just about 90 minutes so even though we had the seats to sleep in, there just wasn’t time to sleep.

When we saw the seats we thought maybe we would get something a little better to eat and drink but that was not to be. We were offered a bag of pretzels, a small bag of cookies and a can of Perrier for me and a ginger ale for Kathleen. One thing I am very happy about is that we did not spend our own money to upgrade as Celebrity arranged our air. If you ever get a chance to fly Business class on Copa Air, give it a pass.

Quito!

We did it! We finally arrived in Ecuador and we have much to report if you are planning on cruising the Galapagos with Celebrity post-pandemic…at least for awhile.

When we landed in Quito we made it through customs in no time and with a minimum of questions. There was a temperature check and we had to show our vaccination cards but after they checked those, we headed to passport control. We were very lucky because our flight (which was not full) was the only international flight landing at the time and being in the front of the plane, we got to the health check and passport control very quickly. Our luggage took a little longer so getting through customs inspection (they didn’t inspect anything) took a little longer. Once on the other side of security in a very nice and clean airport we used the facilities and I was about to try and contact Celebrity here in Ecuador when a man walked up to us holding a Celebrity sign. Within minutes we were in the van and on our way to the EB Hotel.

Pre-COVID this was an 11 day trip with two nights and a full day in Quito before the Galapagos segment and then a day after in Quito as well. But due to the COVID conditions Celebrity wanted to keep us out of downtown Quito. So instead of the regular hotel they use (The JW Marriott–Quito) we were at the EB Hotel near the airport.

If you are coming, do not worry about it being near the airport. These three photos show you the area around the hotel.

We have been here for at least five hours and have not heard a single airplane.  By keeping us near the airport we will be able to go right back to the airport tomorrow morning for our flight to Baltra where we embark on Flora.

The hotel itself is modern, new and beautiful and the rooms rock. Here’s a quick tour of ours. It is easier to see the video if you click the headline at the top of the e-mail and read the entire post in a web browser.

As you can see. it is pretty darned impressive. A true suite which we did not expect at all. Kathleen says to tell the ladies that if you are staying here, the products in the bathroom are all very high quality so you don’t have to plan for those. And Celebrity left us some really nice water bottles, a bottle of horchata (a plant-milk based South American beverage) and a health goodie bag with a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

After getting settled into our suite we found lots of info from Celebrity including instructions about the included dinner and breakfast as well as all the hoops we will need to jump through before we can get on the plane to Baltra and the islands in the morning. Here’s our schedule:

Breakfast is 6:30 to 10:00 either in the restaurant or via room service. But either way we have to have our luggage in the hall outside our rooms by 8:00 am when they will collect it for inspection by the Galapagos Agricultural Authorities. They are making sure we have no organic materials coming into the islands that could change the environment there. To be honest, I totally understand their doing this but I hate the idea of them going through my bag because everything BARELY fits in the small carry-on I am taking for this trip. I have to be VERY careful when zipping it up or I will either break the zippers or catch my clothing inside. But we did find out later that we don’t have to put out our carry-ons. That made me happy as I don’t want them messing with my camera or this MacBook Pro.

We are also scheduled (we don’t have our time yet) to be health-screened sometime between 7:00 am and 11:00 am. We will have to go to their health screening room, get our temp checked (mine has been taken twice today already) take an antigen test, provide proof of vaccination and be approved for our flight.

At 11:00 am they will load us into vans and move us back to the airport for the 90 minute charter flight to Baltra. I will give you a full report on that flight tomorrow if the internet connection on the ship is a good one.

Celebrity seems to have this all really well taken care of. We have seen some folk in the lobby area we know are on the ship with us and we met the head of sales and marketing (Susanna) for Celebrity Galapagos who will be sailing with us. But I also know that some poor folks won’t arrive until the last Copa flight in tonight at 11:30 pm and they will have to be up doing the same things we will have do to tomorrow.

If you are sailing on Flora while they are still doing their pre-cruise at the EB hotel, here’s a tip for you. Request a parking lot view. We have a pool view and it faces west. And the afternoon sun beating against the windows (even though it is only 60F something outside) has made our room really warm. I have the thermostat set to 18 C but the AC just can’t keep up with the sun and it’s 23C in the room right now. Love the view from here but wish it was a little cooler and hoping it cools down once the sun sets in the next 15 minutes.

Another note about the hotel; because of the lousy food on the plane we were ready for lunch when we got here and the restaurant in the hotel (Tabla Bella) makes superb food. Kathleen had a wonderful salad and I wanted to try two Ecuadorian appetizers. I got the empanadas (they were OK) and something called an arepa. It’s two pieces of masa stuffed with avocado (they LOVE avocados here), shredded, braised beef and cheese with a side of their wonderful avocado sauce to dip it in. Pics are below to make your mouth water.

Last day in Florida

If this post comes off as a little loopy it’s because we had to leave Mike and Cathy’s house this morning at 2:15 am to get to the airport for our flight to Quito. So please forgive any omissions or mistakes. Plus I am writing it in our Quito hotel room where the altitude is 9,000 plus feet.

I finished the last post before we left for dinner and a concert on Thursday so I wanted to drop a little bit in here to finish up our visit with Mike and Cathy. On Thursday night we went to a free community concert that Mike and Cathy go to all the time. And then on Friday we did a super relaxing “yacht tour” of the intercostal waterway from Delray Beach south for a few miles. Saw lots of cool boats and houses and drawbridges. Then it was back to Cathy’s house for an awesome pot roast farewell dinner. The next morning Mike actually got up at 1:45 to take us to the airport. That’s a true friend. And you would think it could be sad to take our leave of these friends but we aren’t that distraught as we are staying another night with them on our way home.

Make new friends and keep the old; Those are silver, these are gold.

Joseph Perry

Humid but fun Florida

 

Day 1

Our first day of travel started with a pickup by Century Car Service out of Seattle. We have used a variety of car services to get to the airport in the past but our neighbor and best buddy Lisa recommended these guys as people that she had used personally and when making arrangements for her team at Microsoft so we decided to give them a try. We are glad we did. Not only did our driver arrive on time but he called us the night before to verify the pickup time and advise us that our day to fly was going to be VERY busy so maybe we would want to get picked up 15 minutes earlier. That’s service. We said yes and when I went to open the garage door to watch for his 5:30 arrival at 5:15, he was already parked in front of the house.

At SEA in plenty of time, got through TSA pre-check in minutes and were sitting in the Concourse C First Class lounge in no time. Had a nice (if pre-packaged) breakfast before our flight and then off we went on Alaska Air to Fort Lauderdale. A totally full but thoroughly enjoyable flight. Great service, not too bumpy until landing and even then the Captain set her down beautifully.

Got our bags and called for our car service to pick us up. We were using Mike & Cathy Limos out of Wellington, Florida 😜. Seriously, we were picked up by Mike Priesman, one of our oldest friends and his new lady love, Cathy, one of our newest. We headed north with a dinner stop at what is probably my favorite traditional Greek restaurant outside of Greece, Chris’ Taverna. They serve my favorite food in the best way possible—incredibly fresh and it’s incredibly good. A bare minimum of sauce—my octopus was perfect, my trip complete—NOT. But it was really good.

After dinner we headed back to Cathy’s gorgeous house where I slept so darned well you would have thought I was on vacation 😀. If you are looking for a place to stay in South Florida, we highly recommend it. Great bed, super water pressure, lots of hot water, the owner/manager is a sweetheart but you have to watch out for the bellhop. He’s a little strange.

Day 2

After a wonderful nights sleep and a superb breakfast we were picked up by the Cathy & Mike Tour Company who took us to see the Jupiter Lighthouse. It’s a really pretty and very historical lighthouse in Jupiter (former home of Burt Reynolds and current home of Tiger Woods) just north of where we are staying. The still-functioning lighthouse is a great subject for photography and you can climb the 100+ step spiral staircase and step out onto the deck that runs all the way around the outside.

Only problem we ran into was…thunder and lightning. As soon as I got to the top and stepped out onto the platform, I heard the attendant tell the people behind me (Mike and Cathy) that, “Sorry, we have to send everyone back down because of the weather.” Of course I was already outside so I continued around the platform taking photos and that’s what you see above.

While I was shooting I could see the lightening not that far away and when the first huge clap of thunder hit I got myself off that platform in a big hurry. We were down and gone to the Visitor’s Center where they were kind enough to refund our admission even though I told them I had gotten up there for a few minutes. They said I should have been able to stay longer and it was very nice of them insisting on the refund. The lighthouse (on a non-stormy day) is a cool experience and I highly recommend stopping by if you are in the area.

Next up was lunch at Square Grouper, a fun hole-in-the-wall, right-on-the-water spot just across the waterway from the lighthouse. I got to try what I was told by Mike and Cathy is a Florida delicacy—Mahi Mahi sandwich. A big blackened Mahi Mahi fillet sandwich with cheese and grilled onions. It came with some of the best fries have had in years.

This about covered our day so far. Tonight we are going to a free concert in a nearby park and tomorrow doing a scenic boat tour on the Intercoastal Waterway. This tour company is awesome!

Anything for the quick life, as the man said when he took the situation at the lighthouse. —Charles Dickens