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Seas of Wonder in Galapagos

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Big boat cruising is just one way to vacation at sea. For a journey between one of the most unique set of islands on the planet, the Galapagos, think small. 

CELEBRITY CRUISES has delivered award-winning intimate adventures in this unique corner of the world for more than a dozen years. Onboard three different ships, carrying 16, 48 or 100 passengers, Celebrity offers guests the option to select what works best for them — voyages marked by relaxed options, personal attention and familiar faces. Combining its insider knowledge with the ultimate in all-inclusive comfort, Celebrity delivers comprehensive exploration along with environmental stewardship. The Galapagos, an archipelago of 19 islands, many smaller islets and untold number of lava peaks and fields, is a double World Heritage site, as both land and sea are protected.

Since all explorers aren’t created equal, your Galapagos memories can unspool on one of these three different size ships, a week’s voyage between islands and 35 ports of call organized into six striking itineraries. With inclusive perks like entrance fees to the national park and all gear, excursions, food, beverage and gratuity, Celebrity offers a seamless holiday experience with all the bases covered. Opt for 10-, 11-, 13-, 15-, or 16-night all-inclusive itineraries, the longest two with the addition of a few days on land touring Peru and Machu Picchu. All you have to do is jump in and get ready for the time of your life.  

The Galapagos will rock your world. If you feel connected to nature, if you are passionate about flora and fauna, this adventure is transformative. The islands, which surfaced above the Pacific less than five million years ago — a mere nanosecond in geologic time — are a volcanic laboratory, a hotbed of biological diversity unparalleled anywhere on the planet. Charles Darwin visited in 1835, spending five weeks in the archipelago as part of his five-year expedition aboard the Beagle. What he found in this secluded group of still active volcanic islands that take up some 3,000 square miles of land surrounded by the blue ocean, helped him develop the theory of evolution, a treatise published some 24 years after his encounter.    

To ensure that the islands stay pristine and the critters are protected, the National Park Service is in charge of monitoring the routes, size of the groups and number of tourists visiting an island at any given time. This careful eco-management pays dividends in the form of uncrowded beaches and authentic experiences. Depending on which of Celebrity’s six unique itineraries you select, you’ll cruise the northern, southern, inner or outer loop of islands, always out of Baltra, zigzagging between ports with names like Punta Moreno, Cormorant Point and Gardner Bay. Each island boasts its own breathtaking landscape, from barren black, volcanic rocks to white or black sand beaches melting into azure waters.

The sense of anticipation and excitement over what amazing sights lay in store for you gives every day a sheen of wonder. From the first morning, when you may be rewarded with a sighting of a giant tortoise lumbering into the brush where more tortoises are camped out, it just keeps getting better. On Fernandina, where cold waters provide ample fish for food, you’ll see scores of Galapagos penguins, the only penguins to make their home as far north as the equator.

You’ll spend each day in the company of naturalist guides, who lead small groups on two excursions daily, with options for more and less rugged itineraries, your choice.  Each day’s adventures are discussed the evening before, as you relax before dinner, with options to mull.  Groups of 10 or so passengers pile into rubber Zodiacs motoring onto the next island of discovery. One day, you may climb up to an island ridge to see the emerald green of Darwin Lake below. Against a backdrop of volcanic rock, scaly black marine iguanas, dozens and dozens of them, soak up the sun. At Urbina Bay, you’re likely to see the golden land iguana, looking like a dashing extra from a Godzilla movie. Whale and dolphin sightings are also common. The islands teem with life, and since the animals are naturally unafraid, you’ll literally be stepping over sea lions, marine iguanas and nesting boobies as the group treks along the roughly hewn lava paths.

On the Galapagos cuteness scale, sea lion pups are off the chart. On the sandy beach of Gardner Bay on Espanola, you may be greeted with dozens of sea lions and newborn pups. Like all Galapagos species, these animals are unafraid of humans. It's possible to get quite close to them although patrolling bulls make sure visitors know who's really the boss. 

On Punta Suarez on Espanola, you’ll come face to face with flocks of masked and blue-footed boobies and waved albatross. Seeing these birds from just a few feet away, as they strut and dance for each other, is pure magic.

Motoring past the rocky shoreline, hundreds of brilliantly colored Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttle along the boulders. Each morning and afternoon is filled with the feeling that it can’t get better than this, and yet it does. A few hours of down time — to enjoy a sunset cocktail on deck or a nap in the cabin —  precedes a gourmet dinner and an early bedtime, visions of the day’s wonders and the gentle rocking of the boat inviting slumber. 

Galapagos offers rugged adventure and unparalleled wildlife viewing. Celebrity gives you the option of how you want to style at sea in between all that exploration. 

For guests hankering for pampering luxury, there is the 100-passenger Xpedition, an oasis of comfort from which to savor the exotica of an adventurous voyage along with the high level of service and cuisine for which Celebrity is known. Filled with indulgences, from room service and in-suite dining to plush robes and live music in the Discovery Lounge, this is the way to experience the Galapagos Islands in high style. All of the cabins are outside cabins that offer ocean views or verandahs, ideal for soaking up the vistas. Ample space on deck, open seating fine dining and touches of modern luxury throughout the ship provide VIP cruising for all guests. For the ultimate in wows, add on a land package to Peru to check Machu Picchu off your bucket list. 

The Xperience, a 210-foot cruising yacht, is awash in sleek, airy spaces and ocean view rooms. Extremely spacious, with plenty of elbow room for 48 passengers, the Xperience has a high staff to guest ratio, including an English-speaking naturalist for every 12 passengers. On-board amenities include a Jacuzzi, an observation deck, al fresco dining, library and lounge. Cabins are spacious, all with ocean view windows or portholes. Multi-gen families will want to book rooms with interconnecting doors to accommodate visiting.

Imagine celebrating a milestone birthday or anniversary with a small group of loved ones in the Galapagos. That’s an option aboard Xploration, a 16-passenger luxury catamaran built for comfort, stability and intimate adventure travel. The catamaran is designed with ample common areas, a Jacuzzi on deck, eight well appointed staterooms, each with ocean views or verandahs, and the kind of personal service that is a Celebrity hallmark. 

No matter how you cruise, the Galapagos provides a transforming experience, the chance to see the world through a child’s eyes as you journey through a landscape unmarred by time. Best of all, there is plenty of time to revel in the unexpected.   

Check the Galapagos off your bucket list this year. Call 800-750-5386 or visit your local AAA office to speak with a AAA Travel Agent about planning your cruise of a lifetime. 

(Nov/Dec 2017 issue of Traveler)

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