Total Disappointment–Trip Cancelled–Mad as HELL!

How do you start a post where you are both sad and mad? Today is November 24. Next Tuesday, November 30th we were SUPPOSED to be flying to Europe for a four night stay in Lisbon, a three night stay in Amsterdam, a two night stay in Prague, a one night stay in Nuremberg, a seven night Viking River Cruise from Regensburg, Germany to Budapest, Hungary with stops in Vienna, Passau and Krems. After the cruise we would spend an additional two nights in Budapest. We were going to be out doing what we love best for 22 days in glorious Europe. We would have seen the Christmas Markets of Europe, done a plethora of tours, gotten to travel with my brother and his bride once again…and so much more.

But last week we learned two things that made us reconsider the entire trip. First, due to a spike in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths Germany closed all their Christmas Markets–one of the main reasons we were going. At that point we thought, “Well, let’s go ahead and go and we can do the Christmas Markets in Prague, Budapest and Austria.” On Friday of last week, Austria went into lockdown so the cruise was going to just be a lot of time on the river and not a lot of time in those cities that we really wanted to visit. When I called Viking I was told that they had rescheduled all the Austrian stops (3 days out of the seven) as river cruising days and that they might schedule a day in Bratislava, Slovakia but there probably would not be any independent touring allowed in any of the stops we would make except maybe Hungary at the end of the cruise. With all those restrictions, not  to mention the risk of getting COVID ourselves (even though we have had three shots) we decided to cancel.

This was a pretty bitter pill to swallow. We had originally booked and paid in full for this cruise in 2018. We were supposed to have taken it last winter (December 2020) but of course that got cancelled. And because it was cancelled by Viking, we could have either had a full refund or a voucher for 125% of our fare to use on a future Viking cruise. We opted for the voucher and used it to book the same cruise again in 2021. Now that we have cancelled that one Viking has again offered us a full refund or to reinstate our 125% voucher so we can try again. That’s what we decided to do. As soon as I have the voucher we will book this same cruise in 2023. If any of you would like to join us, we would love to have you travel with us. I will post all the details after we book it.

So that’s what made us sad. We had to cancel. Then we got mad. Not at the cruise line, not at the airline, not at all the tours and shows we had prepaid to do because they all gave us either a quick refund (in less than three days) or a voucher for future travel (which we are OK with since we intend to continue to travel). Of course we could have still gone to Europe but then we heard that other countries were also shutting down. Which brings to the people I am mad at. The people who caused our cancellation. The freakin’ European idiots (who are no better than our home-grown American idiots) who refused to believe in science and get themselves VACCINATED—they are why this happened.

We have two friends who live in Bavaria. They are both retired physicians. Their kids are all doctors. We were corresponding with them on a regular basis leading up to our decision. They were telling us that due to the infections in the unvaccinated, there were so many people who needed ICU beds they were shipping patients to Italy. How stupid are people? I guess we all know the answer to that one.

That’s all for now. Suffice it to say that we are sitting sadly at home and staying there until at least January…but that’s a whole other post. Stay tuned to find out how well we did with cancellations and where we are going instead.

To my US readers, have a great Thanksgiving. To everyone else–stay safe (especially if you are in Europe).

When things are a disappointment, try not to be so discouraged. –Carol Burnett

Quick (well not that quick) Updates

Just dropping in with a couple of things I have seen in the last few days that I wanted to share…and a comment on my writing.

Follow up to my Seattle post

If you read my last post you know that I am really unhappy with the state of the city we live closest to—Seattle. This morning this was in The Seattle Times:

If you have been here, you know that the number two (after the Space Needle) tourist attraction in the city is Pike Place Market. It’s now a haven for drug users, panhandlers who are aggressive and lot of other problems. This happened yesterday (October 4). Everyday brings new reports of problems. If you are coming to Seattle in the next months, be VERY careful.

Cruising is the safest way to travel right now

Earlier this week I saw an excellent article by Gene Sloan about cruising. Gene used to be the travel editor at USA Today. He now writes for the website, The Points Guy. (If you aren’t familiar with The Points Guy—the site is all about the best way to use points and mileage rewards but also covers major travel stories.) The story he wrote is all about why cruising is probably the safest way to travel right now. His reasons include the fact that most cruise lines are requiring everyone on a cruise to be vaccinated. They are, in many cases, requiring masks to be worn as well. The people who are on these cruise ships have agreed before sailing to these rules. There’s no discussion about vaccinations and no fights about masks. If you are onboard, you have already indicated you will comply. If not, they put you off at the next port.

Contrast that with some places in the USA where many are unvaccinated, won’t wear masks or think COVID is a government conspiracy. Or airplanes where people who won’t wear masks fight with the flight attendants. So I get where Gene is coming from and I couldn’t agree more. You can read the entire article by clicking HERE.

It’s October!

Of course you knew that, but it is really exciting to us because now we can say that we are traveling this month…and next month…and the month after too. Sadly not until the very end of October and November but we are still traveling.

Later this month (on Kathleen’s birthday–October 27th) we are off to Southern California for a few days. The big reason we are going is my 50th high school reunion in Palm Springs on October 30th. Happily, it also means we get to see my brother and his family as well as spend a couple of days with them in Palm Springs.

Then on November 30th (see what I mean about the end of the month) we are flying to Europe! First up, five days in Lisbon, Portugal. Never been there before but can’t wait to go. Then we fly to meet my brother Steve and his wife Jamie in Amsterdam to stay at our favorite hotel in the world…The Banks Mansion. We stayed there in 2017 when we did a British Isles cruise and can’t wait to go back.

That part of our trip is on our own—not a cruise ship or tour group in site. But after we leave Amsterdam we come under the care of Viking River Cruises as we fly to Prague for a three day pre-cruise visit. Then we move on to Nuremberg, Germany for another one day pre-cruise visit.

Then the cruise starts. We board the Viking Long Boat Atla in Regensburg, Germany for an eight day cruise to visit the Christmas Markets in the cities on the Danube River. We stop in Passau, Germany, Vienna, Austria, Krems, Austria and then finish in Budapest, Hungary. Of course I will be blogging it all so you can follow along with us as we go. Expect a whole lot of Christmas!

Being verbose

A while back my best buddy Bob told me that I was verbose. I answered him in a post that you can read by clicking HERE.

If you don’t feel like going back to read it, here’s the definition:

Why do I bring this up now? Because I know I write that way. I mean this post was supposed to only be a quick look at three topics. And here I am at 713 words so far (WordPress keeps track of it). But about three months ago I heard a great quote about being verbose and I had to share it for those of you who read my ramblings. It is below. I had originally heard it attributed to Mark Twain but I found that it wasn’t but it does sound a lot like me.

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.  —Blaise Pascal

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

 

 

 

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 Four–Afternoon on Isabella

In our previous episode…before the food, we were on Isabella Island in the morning and afternoon found us there as well but Flora had moved north to Urbina Bay. Our choices were a short walk or…a short walk, with snorkeling. If you have been reading all of this, then you know that we are NOT snorkeling so for us it was just a short walk. That was OK because by today, we were exhausted.

Here’s the Day four schedule:

As you will see from the pictures, we joined naturalist Juan Carlos and found our first land iguanas as well as some finches. Finches are a huge part of the Galapagos as they helped Darwin formulate his theory of evolution. While there are finches on every island, they have all adapted into almost another species. Some of have grown longer beaks to be able to grab for seeds that are deeper into brush, while others nest on the ground as there are no predators to bother them.

So when I post the gallery, you will see that most of my pics are of finches and land iguanas. The land iguanas are much more colorful than their marine iguanas who are mostly black to hide themselves on the rocks onshore. The land iguanas also blend in very well to their hot and dry environment being predominately tan, orange and red. In the case of both iguanas, if you are here, you have to be very careful where you walk when you are in their environment because it would be easy to step on one. It always amazes me when we are walking and I see one sitting less than a food away from my foot.

So, here’s the pics with some captions. Back soon with answers to the rest of the questions I have and with Day 5. I am writing this on our last morning on board and it’s 9:04 am and we don’t get off the ship until 11:40 so I have two solid hours to write and do photos.

Food, food and more food!

Don’t worry. I still have more fauna and flora photos for you but right now I need to address the biggest question people have asked me  “How is the food on board.” So here goes. I promise to get to the other questions later. Many may have to wait until I get back to Quito, Florida or home.

Before we left we had read comments on the Cruise Critic boards about Flora that the food “wasn’t up to the standards of the rest of Celebrity’s ships.” And since we have been on board we have had discussions about the food with numerous people. Some expressed the same view.

So if you know me personally, you know I love to eat, I love to cook, I just plain love food. But I am an adventurous eater. My favorite food in the world is octopus. I will try just about anything once. I have eaten grasshoppers at Mariner games. Don’t get me wrong…I am not Tony Bourdain. He truly would have eaten anything. I do have some limits but mostly I like new things. And when I am a foreign country, I like to eat cuisine from that country or other nearby countries and cultures.

This is our 21st Celebrity cruise and I can honestly say that overall, this is the best food I have had on any of them. Have I had better meals on Celebrity? Yes. In the old United States Dining Room on Infinity, in Quisine or at The Porch or Lawn Club Grille on Reflection I have had some great meals. But day in and day out I have enjoyed the food here on Flora more than any other. Let me explain.

Breakfast, which is a buffet but in the dining room has been good. First I need to say that since the second day of the cruise, we have been greeted by every single person in the dining room (and pretty much every part of the ship), by name. I feel like I truly am a Celebrity. I guess that’s one of the good things about a small ship but these people try hard and are great at their jobs even on a smaller ship.

Back to the buffet. I should add here that post-COVID you walk around the buffet with a server and he/she puts food on your plate. (all crew are wearing masks). But what I love about that is if I want an omelet that is made to order, I get my other items, leave my plate with the server who helped me and a few minutes later, it appears at my table.

Plus, let me tell you some other amazing things that have happened while I was picking out my food. Geovanny and his wonderful bride Natalia have poured our water, grabbed us a cappuccino from the adjacent Discovery Lounge, put two croissants on my bread plate, brought me my marmalade and are waving to me as I walk back from the buffet area. And then they are back in no time to make sure everything is OK. It’s like a miracle and easily the best service I have had anywhere in the fleet or maybe in the world. And yes, it is a small ship but the dining staff (pictured below) is also small and you would never know it. I can’t say enough good things about them.

Not only is this the kitchen staff but the awesome guy on the right hand side is the head chef. And can he cook.

Back to the food. Lunch has been a buffet every day in the dining room. I should add that you can also go up to the Grille on deck seven for a burger, fries, quesadillas or guacamole and chips and a few other specials but we only did that one day. It was fine but not what I was looking for. We did LOVE the fries up there. The burger needed sauce of some kind. We didn’t go back. Not because we didn’t like it but because we can get that food at home. We wanted something different.

So each day in the dining room the lunch was a buffet (served the same as breakfast) each day with a different theme. We had Aztec (authentic Mexican), Spanish, Amazon (combining cuisines from countries on the Amazon River) and of course Ecuadorian. All had a huge selection of interesting food. There was also sandwich makings, a bunch of salads that fit the theme (I got an octopus salad on the Spanish buffet) and a carving station but I can’t tell you about it because the other dishes were so good I skipped it. I can get ham, turkey or prime rib in the USA or on any other cruise ship.

Dinner for us was always in the dining room. We usually ate with friends we had made on shore hikes, tender cruises or walks as well as people we had talked to at the hotel in Quito. This is a very friendly ship. You can get a table for two but there is never a shortage of parties to join in on. On two nights we were “supplied” with people to eat with. One night we were invited to join Captain Patricio and Chief Engineer Paul at dinner. We have eaten at the Captain’s Table on previous cruises but this was different. Usually it is you, the captain and about 12 other people. This time it was the aforementioned two and just us. That’s it. Keeping the conversation going was fun but the two of them were a joy to have dinner and great conversation with.

The next night was “Dinner with A Naturalist” and you get to join your favorite of the naturalists who lead our tours each day and have dinner with them. We we joined by one of our favorites (they all are really), Juan Carlos. A few minutes after Juan Carlos sat down, a gentlemen asked if he could join the three of us…Fausto. Fausto is the head of all operations for Celebrity in the Galapagos and that was a SUPERB dinner. We learned so much about both of them but also about all the things Celebrity is doing in the islands.

So the dinners were pretty much three courses; appetizer, entrée and dessert. For long-time Celebrity cruisers Flora even has the “left hand side of the menu” with all the standard fare (shrimp cocktail, steak, salmon, chicken, onion soup, etc.) but we never ordered from that side. We did overhear (at an adjacent table) people saying, “I am sure glad they have this side of the menu and we don’t have to eat the weird food.” Boy did they miss out. I love the “weird food.” So we have decided that what people were complaining about on Cruise Critic were the non-adventurous eaters.

Today as I was writing this I also realized I have done something on this cruise I have never done before…eaten fish every day. Sometimes twice a day. There are so many amazing ceviches, fish entrées, fish salads that I could not pass them up. And all (except the salmon on the right hand side of the menu) were done in an Ecuadorian style. That was it for me.

This style is also a lot lighter and healthier than our usual cruise fare. We leave the table feeling full but not stuffed. The food is healthier and more fish and vegetable based. This is how I try and cook at home and the tastes were fabulous. Ecuadorian sauces rock.

And the desserts (especially with Ecuadorian chocolate) are not to be missed. WOW!

One other very special thing happened last night (Day 6). On the afternoon before Kathleen and I were outside the dining room looking at the menu for that night. I was kind of sad because nothing looked totally Ecuadorian and/or interesting (I ended up having an amazing scorpion fish) when the Maitre d’ walked up and heard me complaining that there was no Ecuadorian options. He said if I really wanted to try some Ecuadorian food, he could make it happen. We thought nothing of it and I enjoyed dinner that night. The next night we were with our friends Jamie and Katherine and the waiter said he had a special surprise for me.

The chef had put an Ecuadorian appetizer on the menu for that night. But when we ordered I told our waiter how much I loved octopus (as did our dining companions) so all of a sudden we had a big octopus salad full of avocado and the amazing tomatoes we have been having all week. It was awesome.

But then when we ordered our entrées, he brought them (octopus and spaghetti with a beer-achiote sauce)…but then also brought…Sango! This is a dish we were told that is cooked in every Ecuadorian home. It is a fish stew with a base of plantains and rice. I cannot begin to tell you how awesome it was. It had shrimp, scallops, squid, cod and octopus (I have had octopus six times on this ship so I am VERY happy). Kathleen was not thrilled because it has shellfish so she couldn’t eat it but Jamie (our dining companion from Devon, UK—who loves beer, F-1 and futbol) and I loved it and between us we devoured two big serving plates. We were so much in a hurry to eat it I forgot to take a pic. But I did get the octopus salad.

Do I have any criticisms of the food? Just one. In the morning some of the items on the buffet that are meant to be hot, aren’t. At least by the time they got to the table. That’s why I have an omelet every morning because I can be sure it will get there hot. The potatoes, mushrooms, etc. that should be hot are often not. Other than that it was my kind of food. Lighter, healthier but delicious.

And I almost forgot one of our favorite food things on board. When you come back (twice a day) from your off ship hike, walk, Zodiac ride, when you get off the Zodiac and take off your life jacket, check in, get your cold towel to cool off and go up some stairs there are nibbles. Lots of nibbles. Usually little sandwiches but sometimes desserts too. One day there was even a bread snack with three kinds of bread (an incredible vegetable-topped focaccia) with almost perfect Spanish olive oil and Italian balsamic. I ate all of mine and Kathleen’s too. I included some pics of what you get when you walk back on. So much more than the lemonade or hot chocolate on most Celebrity ships.

Below are some pics from our meals. Check out the paella. Those prawns were bigger than my forearm! And delicious. Yum!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.