Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Celebrity Xperience In The Galapagos- Part III (More Than You Expect)

My second day on the Celebrity Xperience not only gave me a chance to better know the ship, but to do what most people come to the Galapagos Islands to do:  Be amazed and awed by the wildlife.

Celebrity Xperience anchored off James Island
 As explained in the Daily Briefing the night before it would be breakfast at 7:00 a.m. (coffee available 24/7) then a choice of two morning options:  A Long walk and optional snorkeling or a zodiac ride and optional snorkeling.  Late morning kayaking was also available.  After lunch and a siesta, while the Celebrity Xperience relocates, it would be a long walk and optional snorkeling or a short walk and optional snorkeling.  There is no need to sign up for either option; only kayaking.


Galapagos sunrise - Rabida Island
So with my day loosely set, I awoke to a dramatic fiery red sunrise, which was a good omen.  After a breakfast (I will discuss the cuisine, service, etc. in another article) it was time to embark on our first real adventure; a walk on Rabida Island followed by snorkeling.  We boarded the zodiacs (pangas) for a short ride to a brilliantly red lava sand/stone beach for a “wet landing”.  (A wet landing is your slide off the side of the zodiac into knee deep or less water and then walk to the shore.  Bring water shoes or, better, amphibious shoes that drain the water but have hiking soles.)

We were, surprisingly, met by a group from another operator; something this is not supposed to happen but I guess some don’t follow the rules.  However we were quickly distracted by some marine iguanas and blue-footed boobies diving for breakfast and a striated heron.

Striated (Lava) Heron
Blue Footed Booby diving for a fish breakfast
We then disembarked, carrying our snorkel gear in stateroom specific bags (assigned during our safety briefing earlier in the morning), which we offloaded in a pile away from the shore (so as to assure that any arriving sea lions did not commandeer them).  In order to create some space between groups, we started down a side path that led us to a single flamingo feeding in a shallow brackish water pool.


 We also encountered a white cheeked pintail.

White Cheek Pintail
As we wandered the path we saw what would soon become commonplace, but which was new and exciting at the time:  Lava lizards.

 
Female Lava Lizard
Having created enough space between us and the other group we were off on our walk, which only had a brief area of somewhat steep incline.  The landscape was an interesting mix of cactus and brush highlighted by the red soil with mockingbirds and Darwin’s finches close by and unafraid.

You are required to stay on the well marked paths
with visiting the Galapagos. Here:  Rabida Island

One of Darwin's Finches
This one developed a thick beak to break open hard seeds

Galapagos Dove
Overlooking a cliff, the view was beautiful and the water so clear that a king angelfish and a school of surgeonfish could be clearly seen from a 50 foot cliff.


And then it was time to snorkel…which was pretty awesome with a tremendous diversity of fish and plenty of them.

Large Banded Blenny
Upon arriving back at the beach a baby sea lion was sleeping on the rocks…bringing the morning to a pretty exciting close.

A sleepy baby sea lion waiting for its mother
to return from the sea.
During lunch and a well-earned siesta the Celebrity Xperience cruises to James Island for our afternoon long walk.  Let me start out by saying there was so much to see that there just wasn’t enough time to snorkel.  (With cloudy skies I am not sure it would have been that great anyway.)

Unlike Rabida Island, James Island (which was previously inhabited) is far more volcanic and the seascape was incredibly beautiful even without the wildlife.

This was our first real encounter with a significant number of marine iguanas,

Marine Iguana - The first of many.
The ones on James Island were significantly smaller and not
as impressive as one see later in our Xperience.
but more impressively sea lions.  While we saw a few, this mother and pup were, for me, a highlight.

Baby Sea Lion
Sea Lion Mother and Pup
With yet other species of bird, but not a Darwin’s finch, is the beautiful yellow warbler.

Yellow Warbler
In contrast a great blue heron landed nearby and began looking for a meal

Great Blue Heron
while a pair of oystercatchers slept guarding their fledgling.

Oystercatcher
A short walk down the beach, past a water hole aptly named Darwin’s Toilet, we saw our first fur seals (which are actually a species of sea lion) lazing on high rocks about waiting for the tide to come in

Fur Seal
…until one took a 20 foot dive into the water below.

To cap off our afternoon, as I wandered a bit, I came across a yellow crowned night heron.

Yellow Crowned Night Heron
With it getting late and storm clouds upon us, I skipped snorkeling and headed back to the ship. 

It was a great day…but nothing, and I mean nothing, compared to what happened the next day.  Oh, you have to wait for that article!

By the way, as you can tell, this trip is far more about the destination than the ship and, to be sure, this is not a Celebrity cruise; though very much a Celebrity product.  And as the boxes are unpacked and the Celebrity systems are put in place, I am watching a pretty special product - a more intimate yet polished one - unfold right before my eyes.

One thing is very certain, Celebrity is elevating not only the ship, but the experience being delivered by the staff and naturalists.  While provisioning in the Galapagos is extremely challenging (more on that later) the staff is incredibly friendly and eager to do their best...not only with genuine smiles, but with a softness and eagerness that just makes you feel good.