he Galapagos is sexy. Well, sort of.
The setting was North Seymour Island. This four-day trip was the
first peek Celebrity Cruises was giving into its new seven- to
11-day Xpeditions program in the Galapagos Islands.
We had exited our panga -- the local vernacular for the
Zodiac boats we used for island-hopping -- on foot a few minutes
earlier, giving a cranky sea lion the right of way as we gingerly
maneuvered up a rocky incline and onto the sandy plateau of North
the group, meticulously following a trail marked with white stakes,
stopped 10 yards from a male blue-footed booby looking for a date.
The bird whistled at a female of the species flying overhead but
soon caught the attention of another female booby who was playing
it coy a couple of paces away.
And the group of been-there-done-that scribes and pic-takers
watched in amusement and awe as the two birds went through their
First, the male puffed out his chest like an Army private,
whistled, pointed to the sky and stomped around, like guys tend to
do. Then, the female turned her back on the male, prompting our
naturalist/tour guide to interject: "She's probably saying to him,
'Is that all you got?' "
Well, after several minutes of this feathery fandango, the
female was won over and the two Galapagos natives did their thing,
which they finished faster than you can say "blue-footed
The imagery on the five islands our group visited on an
abbreviated version of Celebrity Cruises' seven-day Galapagos
Islands cruise was unforgettable.
Red-throated frigate birds zipped overhead; sea lion moms nursed
their pups on the beaches; land and marine iguanas polished their
tans; and flamingos worked lagoons for feed like vacuum cleaners
methodically consuming a carpet.
Like the flamingos in the ponds, Celebrity Cruises has staked
out this new market and likes the landscape. The cruise line, which
will begin the operations of its new Xpedition brand with a
Galapagos cruise June 11, assessed the concept of launching a
luxury brand that features an adventure-travel twist -- and decided
the idea would make a bold statement about the line's vibrancy.
To sail the Xpedition in the Galapagos region, which is tightly
controlled through permits, Celebrity bought a local tour operator
and replaced the operator's cruise vessel, the aging Ambasador I,
with the Xpedition.
Compared with other Celebrity ventures, the seven-day Galapagos
cruises -- clients also can tack on two pre- and one or two
post-cruise nights in Quito, Ecuador -- likely won't be a huge
moneymaker. After all, the 2,842-ton Celebrity Xpedition (which is
still sailing as the Sun Bay I, its former name, until the June 11
voyage) accommodates a mere 100 passengers per trip.
The Xpedition accounts for less than 1% of Celebrity's total
And in another twist for Celebrity, the cruises, priced from
$3,000 for the 10-day option, are pretty much all-inclusive. That
includes the seven-day cruise, meals, liquor, tours and tips; air
from Quito to the islands; and three nights in Quito.
But Celebrity's vice president of sales, Dondra Ritzenthaler,
said the Xpeditions product line will raise Celebrity's overall
"Here's what we believe Xpeditions will do: Increase brand
awareness," she said. "It will go beyond the Galapagos."
Celebrity's fleet of nine ships, all carrying more than 1,300
passengers and hosting amenities like showrooms, casinos and
multiple restaurants, is in stark contrast with the tiny Xpedition
in the exotic waters of the Galapagos.
But if our recent preview trip onboard the Xpedition reflects
the upcoming experience, then free-spirited clients who love the
outdoors will find the Galapagos a natural selection, as the
original survivor, Charles Darwin, did during a five-week stay in
Consider our typical outings. We boarded the pangas to San
Cristobal Island or Santa Cruz Island, for example, hiked the
trails for an hour or two in the heat, donned snorkel gear for some
beneath-the-surface surveying, and then returned to the Xpedition,
where Capt. William (Bill to the casual crowd onboard) Wright and
the attentive crew awaited -- the crew with cool hand towels and
fresh fruit juices.
Further unwinding took place in the ship's Sun Bay Lounge and
the top-deck whirlpool, which provided spectacular views of
Galapagos landmarks like Kicker Rock and various avian
With heavy shades, subdued lighting and a libation or two, the
lounge was a wonderful welcome back to civilization after the
morning or afternoon's island trek.
It was also a great setting for a naturalist's briefings on the
next day's island tours and Ecuadoran cultural performances that
framed dinners in the main dining room and the on-deck Sea Gull
The Xpedition's midtier cabins were compact but well-appointed.
The room accommodated twin- or double-bed configurations, a small
settee and a triangular desk.
A TV/VCR facilitated in-room viewing of one's latest digital
photos or the movies available through the concierge.
The bathroom featured sparkling tile, silver accents and clear
glass, without an inch of wasted space.
But as nice as the accommodations were, the real show was
outdoors after sometimes-wet and sometimes-dry landings in the
Celebrity provides three choices of intensity levels for each
island stop, and it took pains to make the morning and afternoon
sojourns suitable for all passengers.
Opting for the highest level excursion meant the longest hike --
perhaps 1.5 to 2 miles -- on that particular island, with the
footing varying from sandy to muddy to rocky. Although the
temperatures in March seemed to be in the mid-80s to low-90s, these
treks were not taxing for those in fairly decent shape.
The middle intensity level -- Celebrity was toying with names
for each category -- generally meant a slightly shorter walk. The
lowest level called for a panga ride around the island instead of a
Still, by its general design, Celebrity's Galapagos cruises are
not for everyone.
Adventurous souls may have the cruise of a lifetime; travelers
looking for a singles cruise, family-oriented services or time to
laze around should look elsewhere.
The waves surrounding some of the islands were a lot rougher
than I had expected; in fact, a panga I was riding in with
about a dozen other passengers almost capsized one morning when it
got caught in a swell as we navigated a cove for a closer look.
I wouldn't recommend the cruise for kids younger than 14 or 15
unless they have an extraordinary love of nature and wildlife. The
Xpedition has a few board games and DVDs, but there are no
youth-oriented facilities and services.
And the workout room and the spa were tiny.
Luckily, the daily hikes and communing with tortoises and
surfing sea lions bested any treadmill experience.
To contact TravelWeekly.com Managing Editor Dennis Schaal,
send e-mail to [email protected].
Packages feature Quito stays
QUITO, Ecuador -- Celebrity Cruises' Galapagos packages include
overnight stays at the JW Marriott Hotel Quito and city tours of
this mountainous capital.
Cruise guests can add two pre- and one or two post-night stays
to their Galapagos adventure.
Ecuador is known for is its production of roses, and the JW
Marriott's public spaces feature spectacular displays of the flower
in huge urns packed with 100 red roses each. Managers said they
change the flowers every four days.
The property, with its marble floors, marble-accented railings
and glass pyramid-shaped atrium is five miles from the airport and
a short tour bus ride from a handicrafts market and religious and
Our group enjoyed a magnificent dinner and performance by a
national dance troupe inside the monastery of the Iglesia de San
Francisco in a historic section of the city. --