Arrival at the Galapagos Islands and Boarding our Ship the Xpedition
01.02.2015 - 02.02.2015 26 °C
We were up bright and early (6:00 am) again on Sunday for a quick buffet breakfast at the hotel and boarded our charter buses for the 45 minute ride down the mountain to the 5000 foot level and the new and very modern Quito airport. After the usual airport checks we boarded our charter Airbus 319 for the two hour flight to the tiny island of Baltra. Baltra is one of the Galapagos Islands and is located 1000 km off the Pacific coast of Ecuador.
During our two hour flight we were even given a small meal complete with full Celebrity linen, china and silverware. We disembarked right on the tarmac and walked into the small airport. It was a lovely warm and humid day with a steady breeze blowing in off the Pacific Ocean.
Our charter plane on the tarmac in Baltra
Main airport building in Baltra. The airport was originally a US Air Base
Small "VIP lounge" at the airport where they gathered all of us Celebrity folks together before ushering us into two busses for the short trip down to the small loading wharf in the local harbour
After gathering all 96 of us in the airport “VIP” lounge, we boarded several rather tired busses and drove a few minutes down a very bumpy rural road to a small shore side landing spot where we were given life jackets and loaded in groups of 14 into Zodiac rubber boats which would transport us the short distance out to our ship which was anchored in the local harbor. Even though our ship is smaller than any traditional cruise ship there is no facility large enough in Baltra to handle a ship of this size. In fact at no time during the entire voyage did the ship tie up in a port. The Xpedition is roughly 300 feet long and weighs in at about 2800 tons but she draws 25 feet of water which in an undeveloped area like this limits her ability to find a suitable port.
Sue and Roy getting ready to board the Zodiac
Passengers boarding the Zodiac one by one - note they do not tie the Zodiac to the wharf, the operator just puts the nose up against the wharf and keeps the power on - simple but very effective
Our home for the next week - The Xpedition at anchor
Our ship, called the Xpedition, is operated by a division of Celebrity Cruise lines. But make no mistake, this trip bears little resemblance to your typical cruise ship journey. This is more like a safari or an Adventure Tour that happens to be based on a small ship. I have seen private mega yachts that are bigger than the Xpedition.
Once on board we collected our room keys and found our cabin on deck 5.
Our cabin #506 on the Xpedition which is classified as a suite!
Hazel on the verandah - the verandah was a very nice feature on this trip as we spent much of our day light hours at anchor and close to shore
The ship is very well appointed but aside from the passenger's cabins it really only has a dining area and one main central lounge. There are a couple of outside sitting areas and a hot tub on the top deck – never did see anyone using it. This trip is not about onboard shopping, entertainment or casinos and bars. It is about long hiking tours exploring sensitive geographic areas and daily snorkeling adventures in very interesting waters.
As soon as we boarded there was a buffet lunch available for any of those people who still had room for food followed by a short briefing in the Discovery Lounge on the activities on days to come.
Briefing in the main lounge
Our next task was to get ourselves set up with the snorkeling equipment that we would be using for the following week. So off to Deck 6 where we were given a large mesh gear bag with our room number on it. For the next week we would store and carry all of our snorkeling gear in this mesh bag. We then went around a variety of snorkeling equipment stations set up on Deck 6 selecting the appropriate gear to fit each of us – a mask and snorkel, swim fins, and a shorty style wet suit for each of us – the water temperature varies between 18 & 24 at this time of year but for long snorkeling trips the wet suits are nice in the cooler water spots plus they provide a bit of floatation assistance which is nice especially in some of the areas where the water would be fairly rough.
Once we had selected all of our gear it was stuffed into our assigned mesh bag. All of the bags and their contents were then taken down and hung on our assigned hook (same as our room number) on an open air section of Deck 2. Whenever we left the ship for a snorkeling expedition we just grabbed our bag and gear and boarded the Zodiacs which loaded from Deck 1 a few steps below the storage area. When we returned to the ship after an outing we would rinse off the bag and the gear in a big tub of water and hang the bag filled with our gear up on our assigned hook to dry. This way we did not have dripping sandy gear bags being lugged through the living areas of the ship.
Roy & Sue trying on their wet suits
Hazel trying not to laugh as she watches us all try to squeeze into our wet suits
After our snorkel gear selection we returned to our cabins to find our luggage outside our door and ready for unpacking and getting put away in our cabin. After about twenty minutes of unpacking we got the signal to go on deck to practice the mandatory lifeboat drill.
We all gather up on Deck 5 for the mandatory lifeboat Drill
Shortly after the lifeboat drill the ship set sail for a short narrated circumnavigation around 2 nearby islands. We were enchanted by the weather, the scenery, and the always present frigate birds accompanying us.
Frigate bird perched atop our mast
Around 7:00 pm there was the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail party in the main lounge on Deck 4 after which we got a detailed briefing about the following day’s activities from the Cruise Director. Once all of the business was out of the way we all walked down to have dinner at the Darwin Restaurant down on Deck 3 which is the main dining area for all meals on the ship. Dinners are the closest thing we will see to a traditional cruise ship all week. The dining area is relatively small but they can sit all 96 of us at the same time. The evening meal every day is a very nicely presented three course meal with complementary wine or beer if desired. The menu always had a good variety of choices for every course and while we did not find the quality quite up to Celebrity big ship gourmet standards it was always very nice. Breakfasts and lunches are buffet style service with lots of choices. As well there is a light lunch fare served on deck 4 many days including a bar-b-q one sunny day.
Ship’s Main Dining Area
Our first day at sea has been hectic and we look forward to a good night of sleep. Unfortunately, we are 1000 km out in the Pacific Ocean and there is a fair ocean swell hitting us on our starboard beam so the ship is rolling from side to side probably close to 20 degrees total swing. Many people find it hard to navigate the corridors and at breakfast in the morning there are complaints from sleeping partners about mid bed collisions during the night. This is something that you will never experience on a large cruise ship, however, we have spent many nights on friend's sailboats so we have learned to cope with a rocking cabin even when it is rolling as much as this. In the morning lots of folks were a bit green and many had donned their Transderm-V motion sickness stick on patches. Fortunately none of our group of four seemed to suffer any ill effects from the motion. Motion sickness is very individual and different types of motion affect various people differently. David has had a tendency towards motion sickness but only in smaller boats and it has to be very rough. Hazel seems to be almost immune to motion sickness except for one time when we were motoring in a mid size motor yacht off Halifax in fairly rough seas and she decided to go below and read! Anyone who has ever had a tendency towards motion sickness knows that reading is a sure way to take you over the edge.
Part of the reason for much of the rocking was that for a good part of the night we were at anchor as we only had a relatively short distance to cover during the night to get to our next days objective, the islands of Santiago & Rabida.