We should all be cognizant of the growing concerns about overtourism. How do we travel to the planet’s sacred places in a safe way and not leave behind more than footprints? Tourism can be seen as not being eco-friendly; while on the other hand, without it, wildlife in Africa, for example, would have probably been desimated long ago.
As travel advisors, we’re also aware of some of the more recent criticisms of cruising as being environmentally unsound, and the penalties paid by some cruise lines for being caught polluting our oceans.
In a decade that is experiencing a never-seen-before growth of new cruise ships, we now have yet another new ship in the Galapagos from Celebrity Cruises. And while it’s important for us to appreciate how our clients will experience this vessel, it is, in the light of the above, just as important to understand some of the less noticeable aspects of what makes Celebrity Flora a game changer.
As regards overtourism, what makes the balance between tourism and preservation of nature in the Galapagos unique, perhaps, is that tourism to this national park is highly regulated and well managed. Only four of 19 islands are inhabited, and there are some hundred rules governing visits to the islands. The bigger problem isn’t from luxury travelers who will be cruising on Flora, but from the growing number of hotels and hostels and land-based visitors that are swarming the islands and taking day boats to nearby islands for their sightseeing.
Cruise ships in the Galapagos can carry no more than 100 guests, which is the case with Flora. Beyond that limitation, Flora adds new technology making it the most environmentally friendly ship in these waters. No anchors are used to moor the ship; Flora uses a GPS system that keeps the ship stable in any one spot without the use of anchors. Likewise, the ship makes minimal underwater noise so as not to disrupt underwater life. Flora also is supporting science with its Oceanscope program by constantly measuring the ocean for chlorophyl content and how climate change is affecting the oceans. Flora is nearly plastics free, and all guests are provided aluminum refillable water bottles, and each stateroom has a separate refined water tap for this purpose. The lab onboard also serves to help educate guests in ways land-based guests probably never will be.
Flora is, without a doubt, the most luxurious cruise ship in the Galapagos, (at least till Silversea Origin launches next year), and the price point supports that. Let’s start with the staterooms. Other than a few larger suites, lead-in staterooms have outdoor balconies, while others feature infinite verandas (as on Celebrity Edge). I was on Deck 5, and the balcony had a settee large enough for two to share as well as a table and additional chair.
Beds are either king size or twins, facing the ocean, and there is plenty of storage space and shelving. The large screen monitor is suspended in the corner and easy to swing around, making it easy to view programs from bed at one side of the room or from the sofa from the other side. Curtains are electronically controlled as is the lighting. An in-room fridge provides easy access to cold beverages. Wi-fi throughout the ship was exceptional and very fast. The only observations I had here was it would be good to have sheer curtains just to screen out the sun, instead of just black-out curtains for use at night. Done! They will be installed, I’m told. Also, the door handle to the balcony is especially stiff and hard to operate; hopefully with use this will improve.
When it comes to the staterooms, however, the piece de resistance are the bathrooms. Spacious, luxurious and so well designed. The shower is large with an attractive pebble finish. There is an extra long single sink, with separate faucets on either side. There is a full-length mirror, a cosmetic mirror and a large oval bathroom mirror. As mentioned above, there’s also a separate water tap and small sink for refilling water bottles. The bathroom storage was also incredible, with under the sink drawers as well as shelving – plenty of space. I loved the frosted glass door separating the bathroom area from the main stateroom – it swung open in either direction! The bathroom is built behind the bed with a large glass wall that’s frosted part of the way, allowing light from the outside into the bathroom, as well as to view the outdoors.
One of the optionals available onboard is an overnight glamping experience (sold for $299), which includes dinner and breakfast service served in one “cabana,” and an overnight under the stars in an adjacent “cabana.” There are two pairs of these available. Flora also has a plunge pool and a whirlpool a fitness room with adequate equipment and one massage table.
Flora is twice the tonnage of Celebrity Xpedition, and the difference is not only in the stateroom size but also in the public rooms. The dining room is a beautiful, tastefully-designed room. Somehow the décor seems to encourage socializing. Lunch and dinner here are buffets, and dinners are table service. Alternatively, the Ocean Grille, on Deck 7, offers outdoor dining options as well. As is the case with all Galapagos vessels, food is mostly locally sourced. Menus offered a variety of delicious fresh seafood and meats with Ecuadorian-inspired flavors. (The Galapagos burger served in Ocean Grille had a dense patty made of beef and chorizo.) Salads and vegetables were plentiful. Beef was plentiful. Special kudos to the French pastry chef, whose breads, pastries and croissants were reason enough to get up in the morning!
I was on the shakedown cruise, and while the staff was eager and willing, service was quite slow for dinner in the dining room, and for lunch at the outdoor Grille. One needs a bit of patience, perhaps, while things gel, and the staff is experimenting with ways to move things along. Most of our dinners were family style, large servings to share with your tablemates. This way, too, you can try a bit of everything!
Other than dining, there are two bars, one also a coffee bar, the Discovery Lounge for presentations and entertainment, a smaller lounge for use by naturalists, a small gift shop area, and plenty of plush shaded seating areas out on decks, or in the sun if preferred.
Of course, the focus of a Galapagos cruise are the shoreside excursions with the onboard naturalists. I last cruised on Celebrity Expedition 15 years ago, and like then, the naturalists are the hallmark of the experience here. What makes Celebrity Flora’s program compelling is that there are between 9 to 12 naturalists onboard for up to 100 guests, and all excursions are operated for groups of no more than 12 guests. In other words, the shoreside experience is for small groups and quite personal.
Our snorkeling excursion included wetsuits along with our snorkel gear and fins. At the aft marina deck area, there are body and foot showers for washing off the sand and salt.
What makes visiting the Galapagos Islands so incredible is that the "wildlife" has no fear of humans. You can walk up to most birds, mammals, and reptiles and they don't even flinch at your presence. Some of what you'll see include sea lions, giant tortoises that weigh several hundred pounds, albatross, blue- and red-footed boobies, hawks, penguins, crabs, and marine iguanas that swim and eat algae off the ocean rocks. Underwater you may see white tipped sharks, sting rays, and a myriad of fish from small to large in size.
The zodiacs – or pangas – that Celebrity has are incredible. They have a hydraulic ramp in the front that lowers and raises for beach landings, enabling guests to walk off the vessel rather than swing your legs over the side and into the water. They are state of the art.
For those unfamiliar with Galapagos, one flies in to Baltra from Quito or Guayaquil. All Celebrity guests have use of the VIP Lounge in Baltra, pre and post, before being transported to or from the ship, a five-minute coach ride from the pier, where guests get on zodiacs and transported to the ship.
Celebrity Cruises is one of our many cruise line partners, and if Galapagos is on your bucket list and you want to experience it in the most comfort, as well as in the most environmentally sound manner, contact our travel experts.