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Celebrity Flora – Dining Review
Celebrity Flora – Activities Review
Flight/Lounge Review – Copa Airlines Business Class Review
The Santa Maria, a Luxury Collection Hotel & Golf Resort, Panama City Review
Galapagos Expedition Cruise Final Thoughts
This is the first part of a multi-part trip report covering our 11 day trip to the Galapagos as well as stays in Quito, Ecuador and Panama City, Panama. When you book a cruise more than two years ahead it can sneak up on you; at least that’s been our experience Sailing Crystal Cruises’ Flora in the Galapagos Islands. I looked back and confirmed that we put down our deposit on this cruise in October of 2021. With all that time to pass I didn’t go into planning mode and book flights and hotels because I really couldn’t. So I set-up a calendar reminder for when flight schedules would open up and then moved on to planning trips that were much closer in.
Then came the time to book flights and boy was I disappointed for two main reasons:
Service – Getting from Atlanta to Quito is a simple exercise with Delta offering direct service and a number of carriers including Copa Airlines, American Airlines, and LATAM getting you there with a single stop at a hub airport. Unfortunately, like many destinations in the northern part of South America, the aircraft and service are at best equivalent to what you find on US first class as opposed to what you get on true international service. For us, positioning for cruises is an opportunity to also enjoy the flight experience and our options were very limited.
Schedule – Flights from the US to Quito generally leave in the afternoon and arrive in the evening. This is fine, but essentially means that if you want to experience Quito before a Galapagos cruise you need to spend at least two nights in the city as you will essentially get to your hotel on the first night just in time to crawl into bed. Flights from Quito to the US are all over the place in terms of timing. Delta’s return flight is timed to leave Quito at 11:55pm and arrive in Atlanta at 5:26am. At 5 hours and 31 minutes at best you will get a couple of hours of sleep on the flight. I understand the timing as the inbound aircraft from Atlanta lands at 8:20pm making for an efficient turn-around; but what a terrible redeye.
In upcoming posts we’ll be reviewing ATL to UIO in Delta First Class as well as UIO to PTY to ATL in Copa Airlines featuring two different Business Class products, with the latter involving a quick overnight in Panama City in order to avoid the aforementioned redeye. I’ll also explain why and how we booked flights in both directions using points.
One of the unique things about an expedition cruise like this one and our “normal” cruises is how little planning is required of the cruiser. It’s all mapped out for you IF you choose the pre/post Quito stays with the cruise line, in this case Celebrity Cruises.
We had initially booked the “cruise only” option and planned on booking our own hotels and flights as we normally do. However, after doing some research, this wasn’t going to be easy to accomplish because most of the flights to and from Baltra/Galapagos and Quito are charters operated by the cruise lines. Celebrity Cruises also does not provide detailed scheduling information regarding the timing of these flights. Ultimately, we elected to turn our 7-night cruise into a 10-night journey through Celebrity Cruises. This added in two nights at the JW Marriott Hotel Quito on the front and one on the back, hotel transfers to and from UIO, the flights to and from Quito to Baltra/Galapagos, as well as the transfers within the Galapagos. It also included meals in Quito and a full day tour on your second day in Quito before the cruise.
Once the decision was made to let Celebrity Cruises handle everything BUT our flights to/from Quito, everything else is taken care of. There are no excursions to research or pre-book. There are no restaurant reservations or theater shows to reserve.
Leading Up to the Sailing
I’ve previously shared our experience with Celebrity Cruises MoveUp approximately 70 days prior to embarkation. The Celebrity Cruises pre-registration is fairly simple. Approximately 30 days before the cruise we were emailed our Guest Ticket Booklet that covered:
Health Acknowledgement – this is a COVID relic and the Celebrity links were no longer active
Cruise Summary – description of the cruise booking info, stateroom, etc.
Travel Summary – a schedule from first hotel arrival, all of the stops along the way, through to your trip back to UIO to head home
Air Arrangements – A brief description/warning for those brave enough to make their own flight arrangements to Baltra
Tour Information – This is the “meat” with all the relevant details you’ll need for your trip, including a detailed section specific to the Galapagos including packing suggestions
Charge Account & Cruise Ticket – Not entirely sure why they included a “fill in the blank” registration when they want you to do online check-in on www.celebritycruises.com
Park Entry Voucher – These are pre-filled and the fees are taken care of by Celebrity Cruises
Luggage Tag Instructions – These are to be printed and attached to your luggage once you’re at the hotel in Quito. Print page per bag, with two bags per cruiser for this itinerary.
As we prepared to leave, I felt a bit unprepared given how unlike any previous cruise this all was. But we were excited to visit a new country, try a new cruise line, experience the differences of an expedition cruise and cruise ship, and of course see amazing wildlife in exotic surroundings.
A trip to the Galapagos is all about the wildlife and so with this trip report I’m going to include a “bonus” wildlife photo at the end of each post. This sea lion greeted us at the dock before our first of many Zodiac rides. I hope you enjoy! – Michael
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