Snorkeling with sea lions and photographing blue-footed boobies in
the Galapagos Islands heat is an extraordinary adventure. Being
handed a cold facecloth and frosty mango juice when reboarding your
ship makes the experience sublime.
More than 100 boats most small vessels accommodating six to 12
passengers sail these Darwinian islands. But virtually no major
cruise line has operated here.
Until Celebrity Cruises. It has acquired a coveted Galapagos
National Park permit to cruise year-round with a beautiful,
100-guest, environmentally sensitive ship. Celebrity bought the
2001-built vessel, formerly known as Sun Bay, from a European
Come June 11, clients can cruise the rugged Galapagos Islands on
the new Celebrity Xpedition and be pampered with the line’s premium
brand of service too.
After taking a preview cruise to sample the new ship and
itinerary, it’s fair to say that the Celebrity Xpedition is likely
to be the most deluxe ship in the Galapagos.
Ideal for the Galapagos
Feeling more like a yacht, the Celebrity Xpedition features many
of the amenities found on Celebrity’s larger ships. Conditions can
be taxing in these equatorial islands hot humid weather, no shade
or visitor facilities on most islands, rocky and dusty or muddy
trails, etc. so comfort is particularly welcome.
It’s nice to kick off your hiking boots in an attractive cabin
(most outside staterooms measure 160 square feet; eight suites have
verandas), to lather up in a spacious shower with a proper glass
door, use separate his-and-hers maple cupboards, watch satellite TV
and to relax while attendants tidy up your backpacks, sandy beach
towels and European-style duvet on a thrice-daily basis (64 crew
serve 100 guests).
And, at the end of the day, it’s great to enjoy a civilized
dinner with white tablecloths and a four-course menu.
After searching out giant tortoises in the bush, it’s nice to
relax on the sun deck in an ergonomically designed lounge chair, or
to soak in the outdoor hot tub (there’s no pool, but the hot tub
water is lukewarm), or to read Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the
Beagle in the library.
And it’s reassuring to know there’s a doctor onboard. Plans are
in the works for offering massage in the mini exercise room
On our early March cruise, meals could have benefited from some
tweaking but this was a preview cruise operating three months
before paying guests come on board; training is ongoing.
Breakfasts are excellent, with an egg/omelette station and a
buffet of fresh fruits, cereals, herring and the like. For lunch,
there’s a choice of hamburgers, hot dogs and salad on deck, or
soup, salads and a fish or meat dish in the main dining room.
Dinner is open seating, served after the naturalist talk in the
cocktail lounge. One evening, clients can look forward to an al
fresco barbecue of grilled lamb and chicken, followed by star
gazing with the captain.
Dress is casual but men should wear long pants in the dining
room at night, while a skirt or capris suffices for women.
Celebrity has hired some of the best of 300 naturalists licensed
by the Galapagos National Park, says Steve Hancock, senior vice
president for sales and marketing. Certainly, each of our onboard
guides was extremely knowledgeable and pleasant. Celebrity is
aiming for a maximum group size of 12 for the guide-accompanied
Visits ashore are via motorized Zodiac rafts involving both wet
and “dryish” landings. Tours are likely to be organized for early
morning and late afternoon when the sun is less intense.
Clients can choose from three levels of intensity. “High”
intensity tours typically include a one- to two-mile walk to view
the bird and wildlife, followed by swimming and snorkeling. A “low”
intensity tour could be a 30-minute Zodiac ride to spot sea
turtles, rays and white-tipped sharks in the waters close to
“Our target market is the savvy traveler,” Hancock said. That
includes young and old, as long as they have a basic level of
Each of the 13 main islands and visitor sites is unique. The
wildlife is astonishing in its abundance and variety. On North
Seymour Island, clients will have to be careful not to step on all
the sea lions basking on the sand. And they’ll be awe-struck by the
blue-footed booby birds performing their charming mating dances and
male frigate birds puffing out their red “gular” throat pouches.
Lush Santa Cruz Island is home to the Charles Darwin Research
Station, wild giant tortoises in the highlands, and three-foot-long
land iguanas. Bartolome is known for penguins and scenic volcanic
Unique ‘Xpeditions’ Coming on All Ships
The Galapagos is just the start. Celebrity is forging ahead with
its new adventurous streak by chartering a 112-passenger Russian
icebreaker, Quark Expeditions’ Kapitan Khlebnikov, for Arctic and
Antarctic cruises starting later this year.
Plus, the line also is expanding its Celebrity Xpeditions into a
series of “over-the-top” excursions available fleetwide.
Excursions in the works include a 16-hour KGB tour on Northern
Baltic cruises (where guests fly from St. Petersburg to Moscow for
their tour), racing at 160 mph at a NASCAR driving school in
Florida, joining a Humvee safari in the woodlands on Alaska
cruises, stepping backstage with the Cirque du Soleil, and lunching
with a Cardinal in Rome’s Vatican City.
Selling the Galapagos
1. Pitch a recognizable brand in an off-the-beaten-path locale,
especially to clients shy about trying a lesser-known company. “I
like the idea of a big player like Celebrity Cruises expanding into
the Galapagos, and they have the sheer market strength to probably
be successful,” said Jay Johnson, president of Coastline Travel
Advisors in Garden Grove, Calif., whose Celebrity sales will total
about $300,000 this year.
2. Sell the wildlife. “The Galapagos is one of the last places
on the planet where you get to see nature up close,” Johnson
3. Package the cruise with a land tour. “I usually tie it in
with a South American extension, like a trip to Machu Picchu in
Peru,” he said.
4. Highlight the all-inclusive aspect. Steve Hancock,
Celebrity’s senior vice president for sales and marketing, points
out that the Xpedition land-cruise package includes more than a
typical cruise, such as three hotel nights, wine and bar drinks
onboard and tips.