Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Destination: Galapagos via Celebrity Xpedition - Part IV

Land IquanaSaturday, our last full day, was giant land tortoise day on Santa Cruz Island. There were two main activities for the day and you had your choice about when to do each, morning or afternoon. In the morning, we went to the Charles Darwin Research Station and toured it and the grounds and saw the giant tortoises there. It was enlightening, and frankly for many would have been better to have been at the beginning of the cruise. We saw George there of course. There was good shopping at the Darwin Center store and at the National Park store. Then we were in town (a short walk) at Puerto Ayora for more shopping. There are a number of good stores there. In the afternoon we took a half hour bus ride to a private farm where they allow the animals to roam free. We saw more than 50 giant tortoises in the wild there, and lots of egrets. It was amazing. We even got to see a rarity; two giant tortoises mating. The male was really into it, thrusting periodically and braying so loudly we could hear him from hundreds of yards away. After we returned to town, there was time for last minute shopping.

Giant Galapagos TortoiseThat night we had a great send-off cocktail party during which they showed a slide show presentation of the photos the Naturalists had taken during the week of the animals and us, accompanyied by music. The show, and the outtakes were put on a CD and given to each of us after the presentation to take home. After a going away meal, a local Folkloric Show was held in the lounge.

Sunday morning we got our bags out the door by 7:00am. We got them back at the hotel in Quito. At 8:30am, after breakfast we were off to the dock at Baltra near where we had docked overnight, by zodiac, then the 5 minute bus ride to the airport. I should add here that it was Sunday night that the virtue of choosing a 90 passenger boat over a 50 passenger boat came full to the fore. While anchored that night off Baltra, there was a strong breeze which kept our boats orientation steady with the bow pointing directly to shore. Unfortunately, there was a cross current 90 degrees off the wind which severely rocked the boat all night. Most everyone admitted they got little if any sleep that night and a couple said they fell out of bed. More than a few were queezy. At the airport, speaking to the Lindblad group we found they had a much tougher time in there smaller boat that night. There we checked in en-mass, got our Official Galapagos stamp in our passports and went to the VIP lounge to await our flight to Quito by Tame. The plane was again great, with a light lunch served. We were met by our Quito guides that afternoon in the airport and bussed to the Marriott. After getting our rooms which had been preassigned, our luggage was brought up and we were off for an afteroon of shopping at the big market and galleria via Celebrity bus. The market was fun where there were all sorts of things to purchase and bargaining with the merchants (cash only here). That evening dinner at the hotel was included at the Marriott's top restaurant. We were free to eat there at a time of our discretion.

Monday morning, Celebrity provided bus service to the airport for our return to our homes starting at 5:00am. Most everyone was off then, or at 6:00am, or like us and most of the group, at 7:00am. More than 50 of the 90 on the cruise were off to Miami on American's flight at 9:55am. We said our goodbyes again in the customs area of Miami International as we dispersed throughout the US.

This was one fabulous trip. I could have easily enjoyed another week there. I'd go back very soon if I had the chance, though I do have other places I very much want to visit and see. The Galapagos are an incredible setting; the animals, both land and marine, the plant life, the scenery, were all unbelievable, like no where else on Earth.

Celebrity didn't miss a trick in organizing and running the trip, on the pre/post cruise and the cruise itself, from the carefully run fabulously guided excursions to the little touches like the wonderful snacks after a long morning or afternoon excursion, waiting for us at the grill. The crew was incredible and got a well deserved standing ovation at the end slide presentation Saturday evening, from the Naturalist with whom we spent so much time, to the waiters, the bar tenders, the stateroom attendants, the officers, the chefs, everyone.

The tour guides in Quito were wonderful too.

The Xpedition is a very classy 90 passenger yacht, with good room sizes and all the necessary amenities one looks for from a luxury cruise.

Of course it didn't hurt that the 90 passengers were a sensational group, all very motivated about this incredible journey.

I can't say enough good about the Xpedition, Celebrity, and this Galapagos journey. We got much more than our money's worth, if you want to put it that way too.

It's a trip and journey of a lifetime, which anyone who can afford it should take.

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