Premium Line Heads for Adventure

Celebrity’s new brand explores the wildlife-rich Galapagos Islands

By: Janice Mucalov

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 company.

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 too.


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.

Naturalist-Guided Tours

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 island visits.

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 shore.

“Our target market is the savvy traveler,” Hancock said. That includes young and old, as long as they have a basic level of fitness.

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 views.

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 said.

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.