Sunday, May 14, 2017

Celebrity Xperience In The Galapagos- Part VI (Incredible Birding, Baby Sea Lions and So Much More)

Day 6 on the Celebrity Xperience was and extraordinary birding day visiting Genovesa Island.  This island has no reptiles of any sort, but hundreds of nesting frigate birds, Nazcar boobies and red footed boobies, as well as visiting blue footed boobies. By the way, this is one island that the smaller Celebrity Xperience can visit, but the larger Celebrity Xpedition cannot – though it visits other good birding islands.  

Great Frigatebird 

Celebrity Xperience
at Genovesa Island, Galapagos
This is also one of the more challenging dry landings with the very steep and irregular Prince Phillip’s Steps which bring you up the sheer cliff face of the caldera to it flat, low tree covered, surface.

Prince Phillip's Steps - Genovesa Island, Galapagos
Even staying on the paths, you have to be careful not to step on nesting birds, who have absolutely no fear of humans.  In fact, the birds pretty much simply ignore your existence.  All I can say is, “WOW!”

Nazcar Booby with chick

Nazcar Boobies setting up their nest

Great Frigatebirds
One in full display, the other just hanging out

Red footed Booby

Red footed Booby - some have a beautiful green lower bill

Naxcar booby chick
The landscape was, of course, rugged, beautiful and actually very easy to traverse.




Afterwards we enjoyed a short zodiac ride where we saw a few fur seals and lava gulls.

Swallow-tailed Gull

Fur Seal

Fur Seal
and then a snorkel where a fur seal shot past me (ho hum).


We stayed anchored in the Genovesa caldera for the afternoon.  In the late afternoon there was an option for a very short walk and a snorkel or swim.  As the tide was high, I skipped the snorkeling, but that little walk was filled with boobies, frigate birds and lava gulls…and five young sea lions playing in a tidal pool.  Watching one rambunctious one chasing a ray, picking up an tossing rocks, and bothering others to come play was just precious.





Lava Gull

Galapagos Mockingbird
(It actually doesn't mock the sounds of other birds!)

Red footed Booby
This evening there was a Galapagos Trivia Challenge.  It was interesting to see how enthusiastic so many of the guests were…and how little of the information the naturalists gave sunk in!  Oh, yeah, I won!

There is no question that the three naturalists that were on the Celebrity Xperience were highly qualified and incredibly knowledgeable with over a decade of experience (one with over three decades).  However the content and manner of delivery matters.  Celebrity is working hard to assure that the right amount of information is delivered in the best possible manner.  And, if they could rotate the naturalists among their ships it would be much easier, but the Ecuadoran government essentially forbids it.  It makes no sense, but it is what it is.

That said, it was very obvious that the guests on the Celebrity Xperience were having a great experience and each found a different naturalist to be their favorite...so, as they say, "Different strokes for different folks!"  And, I guess, for some the experience is hearing lots of information even though it clearly is not retained was enjoyable; something I notices as they well-engaged travelers would ask questions that had been answered many times.

The next morning, as the sun rose, reality hit:  Our last day onboard the Celebrity Xperience was upon us.  And I’m not happy about it!


Our morning was at Bartholome Island.  Our options were a long walk to the top of the island and an optional snorkel or a zodiac ride and an optional snorkel.  I, of course, went for the long walk.  It was 380 steps up the mountain and the beauty of it and the views were well worth it.







It was then time for another snorkel; this time from a beautiful beach. Once again the number of fish was fine, but the variety was pretty much as found elsewhere.  But there are always exceptions!

Tiger Snake Eel
(Yes, it has spots!)

An amazing number of fish to snorkel through
even with less then optimum water clarity


The ship relocated to Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz Island for the afternoon, where we took a long leisurely walk in an unsuccessful search for flamingos, though finding huge land iguanas, marine iguanas and other birds was very easy.  The differences between this part of Santa Cruz and the other parts of the island is remarkable.

Ruddy Turnstone

Marine Iguana

Another of Darwin's Finches

Land Iguana

Great Blue Heron
As we boarded the zodiac to return to the ship, our naturalist saw something in the water:  A school of golden rays.  It seems there is always something to surprise you!

Golden Rays
Upon returning to the ship there was a Margarita Party that awaited us, followed by a Farewell Toast and then another barbecue featuring lobster tails, octopus and tuna.





On our last morning, I was up early to begrudgingly pack before the last expedition:  An early morning beach walk on Las Bachas beach on Santa Cruz Island. 


Only two of us went...I mean I understand that many are focused on travel, but I want to soak in absolutely every opportunity.  We were rewarded with numerous turtle nests created only hours earlier, a beautiful view of a single flamingo, lava gulls, blue footed boobies diving for breakfast and a lone marine iguana basking on the beach as the sun rose through a partly cloudy sky.

Blue footed Booby diving for breakfast
with Noddy terns in the background

Tracks left by a turtle who just laid her eggs in the sand

Flamingo
Black-necked Stilt



It was a beautifully serene final act.



Upon returning to the ship at 8:00 a.m. I had a light breakfast before showering and getting into "travel mode".  We had to be out of our rooms by 9:00 a.m. (and our luggage placed outside of our room – no need to do it the night before) but my room had already been converted to twin beds and the message was clear:  My time on the Celebrity Xperience and this slice of biological paradise was quickly coming to an unwanted end. 

The Celebrity Xperience has all of the guests place their carryons in the main lounge where it played the first two parts of David Attenborough’s series on the Galapagos…which now was even more fascinating…prior to our last zodiac ride to the port in Baltra and the very short ride to the airport.

I have to mention that despite Celebrity doing everything it could, as with some of the chaos with my arrival, the Ecuadoran approach created a good bit of chaos.  So, while we were able to be easily pre-checked hours before our flight to the Galapagos (and our luggage accepted en masse) Avianca decided that we would have to wait over an hour to check-in for our departure from the Galapagos.

Additionally, two guests that booked through Abercombie & Kent prior to Celebrity purchasing the Celebrity Xperience were never given their flight information (nor was Celebrity!).  Eventually it was determined that the prior owner of the ship somehow checked them in for an earlier flight along with some ridiculous connections.  Celebrity worked hard to assist and a solution was, I believe, found.  But it underscores:  USE A TRAVEL AGENT!  I would have checked to be sure all of the flight information was in hand before they left for the trip and that Celebrity had the information. 

Eventually we all got checked in and we headed to the VIP lounge; again a nice Celebrity touch.

Upon arriving in Quito, a porter with a Celebrity sign met us at baggage claim and took our luggage, then a Celebrity representative met those of us heading back to the JW Marriott and another one for a couple heading to Peru.  Once we got to the hotel the check-in was seamless. Because of my Marriott status I was upgraded to the Executive Floor, but could not use the benefits since I only had time for the Celebrity arranged dinner, a quick shower and my private transfer to the airport and my 12:35 AM flight back to the United States…all of which, again, was flawless.

Check-in literally took seconds and I was sitting in the VIP lounge (this time only due to my status with United) after passing through immigration and customs in less than 10 minutes.  Hopefully the Ecuadorians can make the arrival as flawless when I visit again...and I will visit again.


Next up:  Reflections and a tour of the Celebrity Xperience.