We had been trying to make this trip for two years: first in 2020, then 2021, but both attempts were foiled by COVID-19. The trip was to be a combination of a cruise in the Galapagos Islands with travel in Ecuador and Peru and a visit to sites in the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. The entire package was offered by Celebrity Cruises and provided all necessary arrangements, tickets, guides, transportation (including 5 flights), and practically all meals. We knew that Celebrity generally offered good quality travel and we were not disappointed.
As with our other cruises, I made the arrangements through Vacations-To-Go and “Master Cruise Counselor and Luxury Specialist”, James Bingley. As usual, James promptly answered every question I had and helped us through two reschedules, use of “Future Cruise Credits”, and navigating the rapidly changing world of COVID restrictions in other countries.
As we approached the departure date, we were not really sure if this trip would be a “GO” or not: conditions around the world were still changing and I spent quite a bit of time keeping up to date on the requirements to visit and travel in Ecuador and Peru. We held our breath until about a week before departure when it finally appeared that everything would come together this time. There would be some significant restrictions, like masking requirements, but we were going.
Departure ticket counter: ATL - UIO
I made the air reservations and, as usual, we traveled via Delta Air Lines… we do live in the Atlanta area, after all. Our reservations would be from Atlanta to Quito, Equador, then we return from Lima to Atlanta. We had some Delta credits from a previous flight and the first class fares were relatively reasonable, so we went that way. The flight to Quito was just normal first/business class seating and was comfortable with good service. The return flight from Lima was in “Delta 1” seats, with full lay-flat capability and very nice comfort. The Cabin service on both flights was good with decent meals, although the meal on the return flight did get messed up.
A quick note about the photos in this report, and there are a LOT of them. All of the photos have been resized to about two megapixels in size to save storage space and to download to your browser faster. But, I have all the photos in full size (usually about 24 megapixels) so if you want a photo or two in the full size, just let me know.
The flight from ATL to UIO did not depart until 3:00 PM so there was not the usual rush of a morning departure: we could relax and take it easy. Since we had first class on an international flight, we got to the airport plenty early and made use of the Delta Sky Club lounge to pass the time and have a slightly unusual lunch. The flight left and arrived about on time and the dinner was good, as was the accompanying wine. I was a bit glad that I would not have to drive after arriving in Quito.
Sunset and a tiny moon from 34,000 feet
On arrival in Quito, we quickly located the Celebrity Cruise representative and he organized us into two groups. I believe the difference was whether we were on the full Galapagos + Machu Picchu trip, or only the Galapagos cruise. There were six of us in our little group, so the Celebrity guy took us outside to catch the bus into Quito. There were six of us, but we were broken up so that there were only two of us per vehicle. I assume this was something to do with COVID restrictions. It was very silly, however, as Susan and I were allocated to the first vehicle, which was a small tour bus, easily capable of transporting 12 people, much less the six of us. We suggested we could all go in the bus, but that was not acceptable, so just Susan and I rode in the spacious bus for the 45 minute trip to the JW Marriott in Quito. This was the first example of Celebrity always putting us into true luxury hotels. There was another pattern to the hotels that I’ll point out later: see if you can detect it
In writing this report I have unfortunately encountered an apparent “bug” that has been introduced into Microsoft Word. This bug prevents me from putting more than about 15 photos into a single file. Since both the cruise and tour sections of our trip resulted in more than 100 photos (each), this created a challenge. Although I am still trying to convince Microsoft of the problem, I have implemented a circumvention: I have made each day of the trip into a separate file/document which are linked separately below. In a couple of cases there are two days in one file and in other cases, I had to break one day into two documents. Going through the report should be reasonably easy, it just requires a few more clinking on links this way. After you finish each individual document, just click on your browser’s back-button to return to this page and then click to the next page/link. If you are only interested in the cruise, or only interested in the land tour, you can, of course, only click on those appropriate links.
Susan has referred to this trip as “The trip of a lifetime”. That might be a little overboard, but it was excellent. Both the “subject matter” (Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, etc.) and the quality of the tour were exceptional. All aspects of the tour were definitely first-class. The ship (Flora) was comfortable, the food was great, the activities memorable, and the staff friendly but very professional. The land tour was all done using top level hotels, amazing restaurants, visits to the most interesting places, and all the guides were knowledgeable and helpful.
As far as I know, this is the only small ship cruise and associated tour that Celebrity offers, but if I find another one, I would not hesitate to book it.
One thing that seemed strange was the selection of some hotels/resorts, especially the long bus ride to and from the Westin Hotel in Lima rather than using the Wyndham hotel at the Lima airport. A little investigation revealed that all the hotels were part of the Marriott/Bonvoy family of hotels. I suspect there is some kind of tie-in between Celebrity and Marriott.
I have to mention our guides. All of our guides were wonderful, including our guide in Quito, the Naturalists/guides on the Flora, and our Peru guides, Rocio and Edgar. All were fluent in English but were obviously passionate about their native country and really wanted us to learn about it. They really made the trip the success that it was. If any of our guides are reading this, I really want to express our heartfelt thanks for your wonderful services.