Updated: Aug 11
When you think of the Galapagos Islands, what first comes to mind? For most, it's the rare and exotic wildlife, much of it found nowhere else on the planet; or the near constant stream of animal migrations on and around the archipelago. Scenic volcanic landscapes and an opportunity to tie in an extension to coveted destinations of South America doesn't hurt either!
Expedition ships visiting or stationed at the islands themselves have been a sort of new normal during the last decade or so, while one of our favourite cruise lines has quietly set a new standard for the destination with their take on modern luxury and in what is realistically more of a mega-yacht than cruise ship: The purpose built Celebrity Flora.
First, what makes Celebrity Cruises special?
Ask almost anyone who’s sailed with Celebrity, even if they weren’t quite aware of it they likely quickly became firm fans of the brand. It starts out with the service and special touches, then continues through the revolutionary design and execution which have become recognizably Celebrity.
Just look at their Celebrity Edge ship, you’ll get a feel for the smaller, yet no less luxurious little sister in Flora in their shared attributes, from simple curves through Infinite Verandas and all the way through the crew and shipboard service.
What makes Celebrity Flora so special?
The ship is not simply new, welcoming her first guests in only June of 2019, but purpose built for enhancing the whole experience in discovering your own version of the Galapagos Islands.
Think about that for a moment, the ship was designed and commissioned exclusively for use in a single destination famous for its wildlife and rugged landscapes. Can any other ship or even cruise line state the same elsewhere?
The ship is pretty much an inclusive deal. Dining, drinks, gratuities, even internet access and shore excursions are included in one simple cruise fare. Guests will struggle to find a place to even spend their money as the only spots to make additional purchases might be the shop or the massage room.
The Flora is a small ship big on features
The Flora is a bit bigger than many of her compatriots among the islands, but don’t let that comparison fool you. There are only 50 suites on board, all of which feature some variation of a balcony / veranda, most feature the same Infinite Veranda found on the 2019 Best New Ship winner Celebrity Edge (TravelAge West), or larger private outdoor areas in any of the Penthouse or Royal Suites.
In-cabin dining is complimentary and available 24-hours a day throughout the regular itinerary, although there is a token surcharge of US$3.95 for late-night orders between 11pm and 6am.
You can avoid that embarrassing phone call asking for more of that delicious dessert you enjoyed at dinner by using the in-room entertainment to browse and order to your cabin. Just remember they're all suites, meaning a personal attendant can also help you find that added something to relax after a thrilling on-shore expedition.
Other small touches we’ve come to expect of the Celebrity brand, you’ll find binoculars and snorkel equipment alongside beach towels and access to ship-wide WiFi.
Why is the Flora the best ship for the Galapagos?
Even if you’ve yet to enjoy your first cruise with Celebrity, some very distinct advantages bring Celebrity head and shoulders above other cruise lines and the Flora above even ships of Celebrity’s own fleet. Remember, the Flora is a first of its kind. A purpose-built ship designed exclusively for sailing the waters of the Galapagos Islands.
We’re not talking about re-purposed boats which were originally intended for fishing, charting, research, etc., as is seen pretty much unanimously among competing businesses serving the Galapagos as a destination by boat.
We’re talking world class design in which goes beyond smooth curves and in-suite views. So much of the ship was re-imagined exclusively for those great itineraries. For example, expedited disembarkation via specially designed tender slots at the rear of the ship.
Most of us dream of the sights and nature when we think of the Galapagos, here’s where the Flora really shines through. There are naturalists on board and at your disposal while they lead shore excursions on specially designed rib boats which minimize disruption to the local ecology.
In terms of classic cruise amenities, there is a plunge pool and a hot tub, alongside a small fitness center. One of the very, very few upgrade options or additional expenses you can experience on board is the single massage room.
The lounge and bar spaces of Deck 7 give way to a quiet observatory, while presentation spaces, specialty coffees, and a smaller outdoor lounge space can be found on Deck 4.
That presentation space hosts learning sessions and lectures on local environmental trends, bird identification, or you might audit a bit of your own research session with one of those naturalists. Need a tip on taking the best photo of your new four-legged or flying friends? Just ask a guide!
There’s even an option for glamping on the deck and under the stars, where guests can arrange an evening on a double bed / cabana, and enjoying what might be the most fantastic al fresco meal experiences you'll encounter on a ship.
Did I mention there’s something of a butler service in the Flora's personal attendants? Having 50 staterooms means only 100 guests means an incredible crew ratio for more regular cruisers seeking attention and amenities while comfortably bridging the gap between ocean and expedition cruising.
When is the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands? Is there a season?
The islands are not without their own seasons, however you can cruise year-round on the Flora. There’s something unique to be seen during almost every month of the year.
Dry season is generally accepted as June through December, expect the sea to be a bit cooler than during the warm season. Some spots on the islands dry out a little while you might see a bit more green the further you climb in elevation. Blue skies, sure, but also a brief daily rain at about noon.
Expect daytime temps on land anywhere from about 20°C / 70°F through 24°C / 75°F, with room for a few peaks under that sun. The water might be a similar temperature at this time or slightly cooler thanks to the Humboldt currents.
Warm season is generally accepted as December through May. While the waters surrounding the islands can be a bit warmer, great for snorkelling. You might also get a little more cloud and maybe even a bit more precipitation. What does fall won't ruin your trip, don't worry.
Daytime temperatures during the warm season might be a more holiday-like 26°C / 80°F with the sea again almost matching those figures.
Some interesting highlights include a bit of morning fog through October or a perpetual parade of animals stopping by the oasis of land on a desert of blue seas to mate or eat or do whatever it is they’re doing!
June might see the migration of whales, February for marine iguana nesting, December for the start of the giant tortoise hatching season, August for flamingo mating… get the idea?
Where does the Flora sail during a Galapagos itinerary?
At present there are two itineraries for the Flora, an inner loop and an outer loop. The reasons behind which are simply to improve habitat preservation for those wonderful creatures you’re going to see when you get to the islands.
You can expect a few beach landings on specialized tenders in most spots rather than a dedicated pier, but having alternate weekly visits to those select spots helps to minimize the impact of visitor footfall.
These locales on various islands have been separated into two separate itineraries identified simply as an Inner Loop and an Outer Loop, although both have a somewhat similar start and finish;
Your embarkation and disembarkation will occur on the northern part of the central island region, from Baltra, not far from the airport complex and what used to be an air force base for support to the conflict in Panama of years passed.
Day two will also be similar on either itinerary, featuring a stop at Daphne Island, the cone of an historic volcano - think Greece's Santorini but much, much smaller and covered in cool creatures. You'll view the cliff edges where sea birds come to nest, while sea lions grace the shores. This is where you might see your first blue-footed booby!
The penultimate day of your itinerary is also mirrored between the itineraries, with a somewhat more traditional call to port in Puerto Ayora, home to the Charles Darwin Research Station and the National Park Service tortoise breeding center. I think the tortoise breeding center is pretty self-explanatory in terms of what you can expect to see.
What is the Inner Loop Itinerary on Celebrity Flora?
Egas Port, Santiago Island
Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island
Tagus Cove, Isabela Island
Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island
Las Bachas, Santa Cruz Island
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Island
Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island
Finish in Baltra
What is the Outer Loop itinerary on Celebrity Flora?
Gardner Bay, Espanola Island
Suarez Point, Espanola Island
Cormorant Point, Floreana Island
Post Office Bay, Floreana Island
Baroness Overlook, Floreana Island
Moreno Point, Isabela Island
Urvina Bay, Isabela Island
Espinoza Point, Ferdinanda Island
Vicente Roca Point, Isabela Island
South Plaza, Santa Cruz Island
Dragon Hill, Santa Cruz Island
Finish in Baltra
What is the main difference between the Inner Loop and Outer Loop itinerary on the Flora?
Arguably the largest difference in comparing the two itineraries is the plant and animal life you’ll encounter, the flora and fauna of the Galapagos – I’m sure there’s a dad joke in there somewhere for the ship’s namesake…
Darwin himself noted such distinctions among local wildlife in the Galapagos as to help fashion his Theory of Evolution, identifying unique characteristics among individuals from a population differing from one island to another and positing their specialization helped them navigate their slightly unique needs.
Without going too far down the road of speciation and the shell shapes of giant tortoises or beak curve among finches, there are some truly special creatures living on the islands and you’ll want to see as many of them as possible!
The largest notable difference between the inner and outer loops is the likelihood of seeing the red-footed booby on the inner loop, while the outer loop may give you opportunity to view the waved albatross during their breeding season.
Where do I see the red-footed booby? How can I see the waved albatross nesting?
Unless you’re an incredibly avid birdwatcher, you may not be altogether bothered by the presence or absence of a particular bird, even if some of them do have fun names!
The red-footed booby might be considered a bit strange among birds in that it has webbed feet (they’re red of course!) yet can often be seen clinging to a branch or hanging about in a tree when they’re in the Galapagos.
The largest colony lies on Genovesa Island, but you might also see them on San Cristobal or at Punta Pitt – birds do fly, however. You may see them around Floreana on the outer loop too, but it isn't as likely.
Those who most anticipate viewing the waved albatross during their nesting might have to put the most thought into selecting the specific dates of their sailing; the waved albatross is most likely viewed on Espanola Island as part of the outer loop itinerary – their breeding and nesting seasons are prime viewing time.
Egg laying starts as early as April and as late as June. Following a two month incubation, the eggs hatch and the fun starts. Small nurseries hold the young as the parents disappear over the seas in search of food, returning periodically to feed their young. Expect the little ones to look less gangly and more adult like by December, and for the whole colony to head to the skies by the end of January.
What kinds of animals will I see cruising the Galapagos with Celebrity?
As you can imagine based on some of the above descriptions of boobies and the albatross, the number and variety of sea birds and other feathered friends is impressive.
Flightless cormorants, pelicans, and a variety of finches and other small birds can be seen spotted around various islands, remembering that there are special characteristics to many of the local populations.
You'll also spend at least an expedition or two on the lookout for flamingos or penguins!
Sea lions are a highlight for many visitors and they can be seen under varying circumstances through much of the island archipelago. There's a bachelor colony on Santa Cruz Island, if I'm not mistaken.
Marine iguanas are quite unique in that they're pretty much the only lizard which inhabits a marine ecosystem, diving to incredible depths to munch on algaes of the underwater rock and sea floor. You'll have a profound appreciation for their way of life once you've spotted them in the wild, enduring the crush of the surf while trying to sun themselves after a meal.
Sea turtles might be seen on or near the shores, depending on the time of year. You will have opportunity to enjoy some snorkeling and I can't think of a more rewarding underwater experience than seeing a sea turtle in action under the surface.
Various sharks and rays can be spotted again during snorkeling (this will be conducted safely, don't worry) while you may have opportunity to spot the less common and very strangely shaped ocean sunfish from your Zodiac vessel during expedition sessions.
Reptiles, including the giant tortoise!
For me, perhaps the top highlight would be the world famous tortoises. Large and seemingly somewhat clumsy, recent studies show they may hide an incredible memory and community social charms we've yet to recognize. They vary from island to island but have been exploited by seafarers in centuries passed while being affected by habitat loss, invasive species, and other environmental pressures which to me mean seeing them up close and investing in their preservation through visitation is a must.
I mentioned the marine iguana already, but there are several other species inhabiting various niches of specific islands. Look out for some small differences in shape but big differences in colours and behaviours, there's one that's said to munch on cactus!
New species are popping up as recently as this autumn, with a few new gecko varieties identified by researchers studying extremes of the different islands.
Who might most enjoy the Celebrity Flora?
In a nutshell and if you’re asking who you might meet on board, expect an English-speaking majority of affluent American, Canadian, and British passengers. Average age over 50, with plenty of couples and small groups of friends traveling together.
People who enjoy wildlife, nature, and maybe even a few birdwatching fanatics. Those who take pleasure in snorkeling and hiking in truly one-of-a-kind environments.
Above all, those who've come to learn something while enjoying the added pleasures of an industry-leading cruise ship delivered through the capable hands of a world-class modern luxury cruise brand.
Who it’s not for
I’m absolutely not suggesting you shouldn’t bring your kids or that the Flora isn’t child-friendly. Families with kids aged 10 and up might actually get the most from the experience in that the proximity to such unique wildlife is truly formative. I've heard nearly unbelievable stories of magical interactions with children and animals on the islands.
That said, there aren’t any dedicated facilities for children and suites are limited to double occupancy. There are no family rooms on board and only a few connecting suites.
Celebrity doesn’t look to be prepared to offer a solo travel promotion anytime soon either.
So, that's not to say that children are unwelcome or that solo travellers should shy away, it's just to set the expectation that while other ships might be moving toward such inclusions or considerations, the Flora's focus is all about exploring nature in a mature, well-appointed fashion.
Do I need a permit or visa to visit the Galapagos?
At the time of writing, guests holding a US or Canadian passport can stay in Ecuador and the Galapagos for up to 90 days. As always, I suggest at least 6 months of validity beyond the date you intend to leave the country in order to avoid issues with your airfare or other onward travel.
You’ll also need a permit for the islands of the Galapagos themselves, your cruise fare and documentation supplied at the time of booking will mean Celebrity takes care of this detail on your behalf.
What categories of Suites are available on the Flora?
By far the most impressive suite categories is the Penthouse Suite. There are two of them and they're almost 1,300 square feet before you even add in the 320 square feet+ of veranda space - almost as large as the Sky Suites themselves!
Royal Suites come in a close second with a almost 560 square feet in the room and 130 on the veranda. There are only two of these on board as well, both the Penthouse and Royal Suites tend to book early for holiday periods at home.
A variety of Sky Suites with different combinations of Ultimate, Premium, and standard Sky Suites. I put that last one in italics as there's no real way to describe these as standard I just don't have another moniker to deliver - they're all pretty special. As mentioned earlier, expect an Infinite Veranda on almost all of these categories aside from the entry-category.
Sizes of the Sky Suites vary from 365 down to 330 square feet, with veranda spaces 86 down to 75 square feet - remembering that all suites have a veranda on this all-suite small ship experience!
What does a cruise of the Galapagos on Celebrity Flora cost?
As with almost all travel and certainly among cruise bookings, the earlier you book the better. You’ll have the most choice of available suites when securing those travel dreams early but you'll also enjoy the best chance of finding an available promotion if that's a valuable feature of your vacation planning.
All itineraries planned into 2021 and beyond are, at present, a 7-night sailing from Sunday to Sunday on each and every Sunday unless sold out.
You'll have a hard time finding ways to spend more on board.
Remember that the Flora is a rather inclusively designed cruise fare. Not only dining and drinks, alongside taxes, fees, and gratuities; all your naturalist-guided small group expeditions are too, let's not forget ship-wide WiFi, a personal suite attendant, and more.
For those seeking the ultimate in exclusivity for a Galapagos-only dedicated ship and service, the Penthouse Suites or even Royal Suites represent by far the best views and highest value; expect a per person rate which really reflects what you'll enjoy at about US$29,500 or roughly US$21,500 respectively.
Sky Suite categories featuring an Infinite Veranda might go for mid-high US$16,000s and down to maybe the high US$12,000s region, depending on if you've secured an Ultimate, Premium, or other category.
If you're OK with a standard veranda in your suite rather than one of Celebrity's cool new Infinite Verandas, the Sky Suite might be the most basic yet still inclusive suite value on the ship. Expect around US$9,500 per person.
*These rates are for your information purposes only and are in no way a quote or intended to deliver an expected total vacation cost.
Cruise fares are pretty steady in pricing during the year outside of promotions, while airfare is a whole different story. As with all my recommendations for planning travel, the earlier you start in planning the more options you'll have and the best opportunity to find something comfortable and which fits the value you'd like to set aside for achieving those travel dreams of yours to the Galapagos and beyond!
Some fares being quite competitive from cities with major connections to Latin America and South America, such as Miami. Or from hubs for the major airlines such as Dallas or even Toronto or Chicago can represent the best routes.
Cruise Tour Packages
You will likely find the best rates and value in booking a cruise tour package, not simply a stress free experience, those Celebrity touches will welcome you into Quito and follow you as far as Machu Picchu if you opt for one of these amazing packages.
What cruise tour packages are available for the Flora?
Celebrity offers pre-arranged cruise tours of 10, 11, and even 16 nights which more than anything really help keep the experience smooth and stress free during your time exploring more of South America.
Explore more of Ecuador in a Quito extension or even add the 16-night cruise tour package featuring Peru and a comfortable ascent to Machu Picchu by train from Cuzco!
For each cruise tour extension you should expect inclusive transfers and an excellent standard of accommodations, even the 10-night cruise tour enjoys a stay at the JW Marriott in Quito on your post-cruise night.
During pre-cruise extensions of the 10 or 11-night experience you can expect guided tours to visit the equatorial line and monasteries of San Francisco and Santo Domingo. Expect concierge-like service from you guide.
If you're looking to really explore South America during your cruise vacation, the most extensive package offered featuring Celebrity's signature touch lies in the 16-night package. Similar to the 10 and 11-night packages you'll enjoy some great features of a vacation at a Celebrity standard through Quito although your post-cruise extension will whisk you away to Lima right after you return to the mainland from the islands.
Highlights of the 16-night cruise tour package include overnights in Lima, Cuzco, and The Sacred Valley. While there are a few hours dotted through the itinerary for free time to explore on your own, you'll enjoy hosted gourmet meals, workshop visits, an equestrian show, and of course, an exploration of the temples at Machu Picchu.
Let me say that one part in there again though. Stress. Free.
Whichever cruise tour package you select, Celebrity charters an aircraft for same-day embarkation from Quito. If you're contemplating your own journey, unless you've got your own private jet charter you're going to have to get onto Baltra at least a day before your cruise. Flight schedules onto the Galapagos Islands are not flexible. While you should always travel with travel insurance, there are no points along the Flora's itinerary which would permit a catch up onto the islands and to join your cruise.
Cruise tour packages from Celebrity may feature a promotional rate for airfare when available, but don't expect your flights to be included in a standard cruise fare for either of cruise-only or cruise tour packages.
How does the Flora help protect the environment of the Galapagos?
Sustainability is more a hot topic than ever in cruising, rightly so. As the largest vessel now dedicated to the ecological marvel of the Galapagos, you're wondering how Celebrity does its part to keep things safe.
Aspects of the design were inspired by natural and regionally inspired materials, sustainability for the islands among which the Flora calls home had to be an integral part of the ship’s future legacy.
Celebrity touts 15% efficiency savings of fuel, owing to a combination of hull shape and a modernized propulsion system – the ship also enjoys a high tech anchorless system for maintaining position while not inadvertently dredging the sea floor and damaging sensitive sea floor ecosystems. The ship might reposition several times a day during the course of your itinerary, this is significant.
They’ve also employed a series of water reclamation facets, such as a condensate collector. Expect an in-room filtration system so you can fill a water bottle for the day’s use.
If you're a regular cruise enthusiast, you'll know just how much a rarity it is to have access to free flowing drinking water among mainstream cruise ships.
As mentioned, sporadic landfall points spread out over bi-weekly periods really helps minimize the physical impact of visitor loads, typically limited to only 12 guests anyway.
It's the biggest cruise ship in the Galapagos, isn't that disruptive?
I enjoyed a great discussion with Celebrity on this facet when the Flora was first announced and long before she even hit the water. Celebrity's been planning this aspect for a long time and they've worked with the Ecuadorian officials and even other operators to conserve or redistribute permits for visitor numbers intended.
That meant acquiring numbers from other suppliers which weren't enjoying as much success nor sustainability, while Celebrity even retired one of its ships out of the region to help maintain the same number of permits for the islands as a whole!
I've got more questions about the Celebrity Flora or cruising the Galapagos Islands in general, where can I find out more?
You can ask a question in the comments below or view our cruise forum's active Galapagos posts here (click here), you can also get in touch directly if you'd prefer a bit more discretion or personalized attention (click here).
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