Quito to the Galapagos and Back by Avianca Charter

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a sign from a window
Avianca Quito to Baltra Gate Signage

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Introduction: Sailing Celebrity Cruises’ Flora in the Galapagos

What to Pack for a Galapagos Cruise

Getting to Quito, Ecuador in Delta First Class

JW Marriott Hotel Quito Review

Exploring Quito, Ecuador on a Celebrity Cruises Excursion

Quito to the Galapagos and Back by Avianca Charter

Ship Review – Celebrity Flora

Cabin Review – Penthouse Suite 5125 on Celebrity Flora 2024

Celebrity Flora – Dining Review

Exciting and Unique Activities on a Galapagos Cruise

Revolting Copa Airlines Business Class – Delayed, Dirty Windows and Mold!

The Santa Maria, a Luxury Collection Hotel & Golf Resort, Panama City Review

Who Should Take a Galapagos Cruise?

As previously covered in our Introduction: Sailing Celebrity Cruises’ Flora in the Galapagos, because we booked the 10-day version of the 7-day Celebrity Cruises Galapagos itinerary that included pre and post cruise hotel stays it also included our transportation from Quito to the Galapagos and back by Avianca Charter.  This meant that after two nights’ stay at the JW Marriott Hotel in Quito, Ecuador we were bussed back to Mariscal Sucre International Airport airport in Quito for a Celebrity Flora charter flight for passengers, a few Flora crew members coming on for their contract, and a dedicated Celebrity Cruises representative that flies on every Celebrity Cruises flight to and from the Galapagos to assist passengers both in the air and at both airports.

Background

Celebrity Cruises doesn’t tell you that much about the air transfers online and I think that’s to their advantage, let me explain why.  We had originally booked the 7-day cruise as a stand-alone thinking that it would be relatively simple for us, as experienced travelers, to book the same hotel and flight accommodations using points, miles, and if all else failed cash at a significant discount to the difference in price between the 7-day and 10-day options.  WELL after a number of hours of poking around on the internet for detail, trying to ascertain which flights we would need to book from Quito to Baltra/Galapagos Airport, I finally conceded defeat.  There simply wasn’t enough available information and the available flight schedule for the necessary route would have meant having to stay at least one additional night in the Galapagos in order to make sure we didn’t miss embarkation.

Now those who have been following along with our trip reports and tips posts on Frequent Floaters, you’ll already understand that we’re big advocates for getting to your embarkation port AT LEAST one day ahead, and ideally two.  But for those new to cruising or new to the site, I’ll keep it short.  A lot can go wrong with weather, flights, connections, etc.  The last thing you want to do is book your flight so that you arrive within a handful of hours of your embarkation window, you’re just tempting the fates.

So why were we opposed to flying to the Galapagos a day or two early and staying in a hotel?  The primary reason was simply our schedule for this trip, taken over Thanksgiving week in the US, meant that we were incredibly busy at work just before leaving and really needed to get back as soon as possible after this adventure.  The secondary reason was that we would have actually seen less, as it the timing of flights would have meant that we would have gotten to Quito very late at night, stayed by the airport, and taken a flight to the Galapagos the next afternoon where we would have gotten in in the evening, needed to take a ferry to a hotel, and basically had time for dinner before going to bed.  Then the next day we would have had to reverse the journey to get back to the airport to meet up with our fellow Celebrity Cruises passengers.  This would have meant missing the full-day tour of Quito and not really gaining any additional time to explore in Quito or in the Galapagos.

Quito to Baltra/Galapagos

After dropping off our checked bags at the hotel the night before we woke up got ready, enjoyed the included buffet breakfast, and boarded a bus to the Quito airport with only our hand luggage.  Because this was a domestic flight within Ecuador we were free to have liquids of any size in our hand luggage (important to many of the ladies and a few gents on our trip).  The 45 minute ride to the airport was straightforward with about half of the time being utilized to explain what we would be doing at the airport, the flights, and upon arrival in the Galapagos islands.  We arrived on the first bus and made our way to a baggage check area where we were re-united with our checked baggage and handed our pre-printed boarding passes.

This was when we realized that we were getting another unadvertised perk of our Penthouse MoveUp.  We were provided our boarding passes for seats 1C and 1D.  We weren’t sure if this meant that we were in business class seats or if, given this was a charter flight, we would be on a single-class aircraft.

We then took this to the baggage check to drop off our bags.  From here we were taken through a special security line and entry into the domestic terminal.  There were a handful of small shops featuring Ecuadorian foods (best to avoid before heading to the Galapagos due to the restrictions on nuts, seeds, etc) and handicrafts.

people walking in a store
Mariscal Sucre International Airport Domestic Terminal Shopping

We had about an hour before boarding to spend at our leisure.  There was a Priority Pass the Sala VIP Domestica lounge adjacent to our gate that popped into for a cappuccino.

people standing in front of a counter
Sala VIP Internacional UIO Check-in Desk

I would have spent a bit more time in the lounge, because it was nearly empty and a nice step up from the boarding area; however, all of our fellow passengers were in the gate area.  On a small ship we were anxious to meet as many of our fellow passengers as we could before embarkation.

a plane at an airport
Avianca A321 at the Gate in Quito

Soon we were boarding our A321 and confirmed that we were in fact in domestic first class, when they boarded just eight passengers seated in the front four rows.

a row of black leather seats on an airplane
Avianca Quito to Baltra A321 First Class Seats
a close up of an outlet
Avianca Quito to Baltra A321 First Class Power Outlets
a grey rectangular object with a white background
Avianca Quito to Baltra A321 First Class Fold Out Table

Our fellow passengers on this 2 hour and 15 minute flight in coach had it pretty good as well as there were no passengers assigned middle seats.  This being a flight full of cruise passengers Celebrity Cruises planned ahead and were serving meals to all passengers on this short flight.

the inside of an airplane
Avianca Quito to Baltra A321 Cabin

This is another example of how Celebrity Cruises really controlled the experience off the ship to ensure a seamless experience.  We literally had front row seats to the Celebrity Cruises influence in action when the flight attendants pulled a Celebrity Cruises cover over the cart with special catering, then pulled out a photo-chart on exactly how to lay out the trays.

a blue towel next to a curtain
Avianca Quito to Baltra A321 Food Cart

We inquired with our excellent flight attendant if there were gluten free meals boarded.  We had let Celebrity Cruises know ahead of time that we were both GF.  As this was our first time sailing Celebrity and also on an expedition cruise we weren’t sure what to expect.  The flight attendant seemed a bit confused by our question and so she consulted with the Celebrity ambassador.  The two spoke in Spanish for a bit and let us know that no, there were unfortunately no GF meals loaded; however, there were three choices on the flight including a vegetarian option.  After he described all three options we elected to go with the vegetarian option as it had the most items that we would be able to eat.

The food was served on a single tray covered in plastic wrap.  It was overall fresh and ample, if a bit bland.  We had already had breakfast just a few short hours so we weren’t starving.  We had already been advised that we would be served a welcome lunch aboard Celebrity Flora, so we picked around a bit while we checked out the IFE.

a tray with food on it
Avianca Quito to Baltra A321 Crystal Cruises Vegetarian Meal Uncovered

Again the Celebrity Ambassador approached and apologized for the lack of content on the IFE.  I told him I was really just checking out the flight map and didn’t need to watch a movie during the short flight.  Before we new it we were on approach and able to see our first glimpse of the Galapagos Islands out the window.

a screen with a red screen
Avianca Quito to Baltra A321 First Class IFE Screen
a seat belt on a seat
Avianca Quito to Baltra A321 First Class IFE Controller

We were provided a single-page Galapagos custom’s form where we were to disclose if we were bringing any agricultural products into the country.  The only edible item in our possession were TicTacs.  My lovely bride loves to follow ALL the rules so we once again asked our Celebrity Ambassador if we needed to disclose our TicTacs.  He laughed, like really LAUGHED, and said “no, don’t worry about it.”

Once we were on the ground we taxied close to the terminal and they brought over rolling stairs.  We were excited to get going; however, there was another plane about to take off and given how compact the airport was we had to wait on board until that aircraft took off.

a man walking out of an airplane
Crystal Cruises Flight Ambassador at Baltra Airport

After about ten minutes we were able to walk down the stairs, picked up our luggage, and followed along a covered walkway into the open air baggage inspection area.  We provided the government official our disclosure form, passed our bags through a scanner and we were free to go.  My lovely bride explored the Baltra airport restroom and then we went to the exit of the airport where we were greeted by another Celebrity Cruises team member that directed us to a bus that would take us on a short ride to a dock that would take us to a Zodiac that would finally take us to Celebrity Flora.

a group of people on a bus
Celebrity Airport to Dock Bus

Baltra/Galapagos to Quito

Skipping ahead to the end of our cruise we’ll now cover the return flight experience.  After breakfast in the dining room we began the disembarkation of Celebrity Flora.  We reversed our embarkation journey by boarding a Zodiac from ship to shore.  Suite passengers were provided access to the first Zodiac for the short ride back to Baltra.  We made it back to the dock then boarded the bus for the short ride back to the Baltra airport.  Again we received our paper boarding passes and were directed to the Avianca check-in counter.

a group of people standing in front of a wall with signs
Baltra Airport Check In area

We checked our bags and were cleared to go through security.  Security was similar to a US process with a single lane.  Once through security there were a handful of small shops, an open air terminal, and a Priority Pass lounge.  Because we would be waiting at the airport for a bit more than an hour, Celebrity Cruises provided all passengers access to the lounge.

a group of people sitting in chairs in a large building
Baltra Aeropuertos Departure Terminal and VipClub Entrance

Here are the other passengers with access to the VIPClub lounge.

a sign with signs on it
Baltra Aeropuertos VipClub Access

The lounge provided a very basic complimentary breakfast spread including coffee and juice.  Alcoholic beverages were available for additional charges.

a group of metal containers with food in them
Baltra Aeropuertos VipClub Buffet
a bar with a sign and drinks on it
Baltra Aeropuertos VipClub Cash Bar

The lounge was fairly basic, but provided a decent place to wait for our flight to arrive.  One nice feature of the lounge is that it provided direct boarding access.  After a glass of room temperature white wine it was time to board our flight.  Again they boarded by zone with first class boarding first.

a sign with a turtle on it

We had to wait before making our way across the apron to our Avianca A320 because another Avianca plane was landing to take commercial passengers back to Quito.

an airplane flying over a runway
Avianca A320 Landing in Baltra
a plane on a runway
Avianca A320 On the Ground in Baltra

We made our way out the A320, up the rolling stairs, and found our seats.  This was a different plane than our arrival aircraft with a different configuration and fewer overall seats.  Unfortunately this meant that some passengers were going to need to sit in middle seats.  There was some grumbling about this amongst our fellow passengers.

a row of seats in an airplane
Avianca A320 First Class Seats
a white rectangular object with a lid
Avianca A320 First Class Seat Tray Table

Again we were provided meals for the flight.  Word must have gotten to Avianca from Celebrity Cruises about our Gluten Free restrictions as we were provided GF meals which were chicken salads with a small mozzarella salad on the side.  The lunch was OK served on one tray covered in plastic wrap.  We had just had breakfast a few short hours before and would be provided an included dinner that evening back at our hotels, so we didn’t feel the need to eat too much.

a plate of food on a table
Avianca Baltra to Quito A320 Crystal Cruises GF Meal

There was no IFE available on this Avianca A320 aircraft, but the views after lunch as we made our way back over mainland Ecuador was enough entertainment.  Before we knew it we were on final approach to Quito’s airport.  After a quick taxi to the gate we were back in the terminal and making our way to baggage claim.  As this was a domestic arrival there was no customs or immigration checks required.

It was at this point that our group of passengers headed in three different directions – 1) we were headed back to the JW Marriott Quito where we would spend the night before our flight the following evening, 2) those with flights that evening or early the next morning were taken to a hotel near the airport, and 3) those that were continuing on to Peru as part of a land tour to Machu Pichu went on to re-check their bags ahead of a flight to Lima, Peru.

We were escorted out to a bus for the now familiar ride back to the hotel where we would check-in and rest a bit before dinner.

a group of people walking on a sidewalk next to a bus
Celebrity Cruises Provided a Bus from Quito Airport to JW Marriott Quito

For details on our second stay at the JW Marriott you can read the second part of this review.

This concludes our Quito to the Galapagos and Back by Avianca Charter review.  This is a bit of a hybrid review as it covers both the Avianca hard-product and the Celebrity Cruises soft product.  Hope you found this review interesting or useful.

For those of you that have made it to the end, here’s the bonus wildlife photo of a sealion who has decided to be the official greeter at the Baltra Airport dock. – Michael

a seal on a bench
Sealion Hanging Out at Baltra Dock
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