Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Celebrity Xperience In The Galapagos- Part I

Thursday I depart, on very short notice, to join the new Celebrity Xperience in the Galapagos to experience its 7 day Northern Route itinerary plus time in Quito, Ecuador.

Celebrity Xperience
With my first love being biology, even doing a stint as a biological aid for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, I have always found adaptive radiation and evolution (a/k/a misnamed “survival of the fittest”) fascinating.  I am, however, going to do my best to compartmentalize the Xploration of my Xperience into two areas of investigation:  The Ship and The Xpedition.

In a way, I look at my Celebrity Xperience as being similar to observing “Darwin’s finches” – the same species making dramatic changes to exploit the environment they live in (such as changing beak shape to better eat the seeds and other foods on the island they are located on).  Does the same thing happen with these special cruise ships and the experiences they provide to a similar, but different, set of guest requirements?




There are approximately 225,000 tourist visitors to the Galapagos Islands every year; about 150,000 of which are foreigners (26% of which are Americans, the largest nationality by far, followed by British, Canadian and Australians at 4-6% each).  While the number of tourists has pretty much skyrocketed from 40,000 in 1990 and 149,000 in 2009, the fact is there are quite a number of Galapagos cruises vying for a very small, but lucrative, market.  (Note:  The Celebrity Galapagos site incorrectly states there are 60,000 visitors a year.)

Complicating this situation is the fact that both ships and crew must be Ecuadoran and, further, there are some unique regulations (not worth getting into now) that makes operating a high quality cruise ship in the Galapagos a challenge.

That said, Celebrity Cruises has a long history in the Galapagos, having successfully operated the 100 guest Celebrity Xpedition for over 12 years.  

Celebrity Xpedition
With this success…and the increasing market… Celebrity recently decided to expand its operations with the acquisition and significant refurbishment of two already existing Ecuadoran-approved ships:  the 48 guest Celebrity Xperience (formerly MV Eclipse) and the 16 guest catamaran Celebrity Xploration (formerly Athala II).  

Celebrity Xploration
These new entrants into the Celebrity experience are essentially brand new to the fleet with their first sailings just this past March/April.

Obviously with three different ships, with three significantly different passenger loads (and possible requirements), and knowing that Celebrity is fanatical about delivering a consistent product across its ships, my initial query is whether there is a difference.  That said, across all three ships there is an open bar policy, no gratuities, complimentary wi-fi, stocked refrigerators in your accommodations, room service for all meals, and more.  Dress is resort casual with pants (not shorts) requested in the evenings.

Celebrity Xperience Al Fresco Dining
Early Riser Breakfast, Lunch and Dining Under the Stars
Clearly there are physical differences between the ships beyond their size, facilities, variety of accommodations and number of guests.  I am interested in finding out how they affect the expedition experience…and to what extent.  Sometimes there are distinctions without a difference, but other times those distinctions can make a big difference.  For example, the longer and wider Celebrity Xpedition has a 25 foot draft (meaning it requires deeper water), while the Celebrity Xperience has only an 11 foot draft and the even smaller Celebrity Xploration has but a 4.5 foot draft.  Since the ships anchor everywhere, I wonder if the ships use the same anchorages or not.

Celebrity Xperience Elite Oceanview Stateroom
My accommodations 
Differences in staterooms are obvious, but for me that is the least of the differences I am wondering about.  I mean this is an experiential trip to see the extraordinary wildlife, isn’t it?  But, to be fair, the Xpedition offers suite accommodations and a number of verandas; something that the Xperience does not and the Xploration offers only four veranda “suites” but at 200 square feet they are stateroom.  Thus, for those needing a bit more personal luxury space or a private veranda, you know which ship you will need to select.

Obviously, in a later article I will be discussing the Celebrity Xperience (my home for a week) and, to the extent I am able, compare it to the other Celebrity ships…and possibly those of some of its competitors (and why some may not be competing for the same market!).

My seven day cruise is what is called the Northern Loop, and for me, I believe it is the better option.  I love birds, including the Galapagos penguins, and I understand this is the better itinerary for this.  The basic outline, which seems to be fairly consistent among most offerings, is a morning and afternoon excursions in different locations with a snorkel, beach and/or hiking option after some and an al fresco lunch/rest period in between.  The evenings start with a lecture and briefing about the next day before dinner.

So very shortly I am off for what Xpect to be an Xcellent adventure on the Celebrity Xperience.  But, of course, you know I will always been candid!  (And don't worry, I won't overdo the "X" thing...which, by the way, is actually the Greek letter Chi honoring Celebrity's original owner, Chandris.)