If you don’t think cruising is for you, you may soften your stance when you see the groundbreaking ship that Celebrity Cruises debuted in the wildlife-filled archipelago.
Christened last month by environmentalist Yolanda Kakabadse, the 100-passenger Celebrity Flora is now in a class of its own in the Galápagos, where many of the most-alluring sites are only reachable by sea.
Billed as the first cruise vessel custom-built for the destination, Celebrity Flora boasts by far the most luxurious accommodations in the Galápagos–on land or sea. Two penthouse suites spanning the width of the ship measure nearly 1,300 square feet each and feature such luxuries as king-size beds topped with plush cashmere mattresses. All the other accommodations are suites, too, with even the smallest among them dwarfing the typical cabin on a Galápagos vessel.
Other onboard features include two restaurants with menus crafted by a Michelin-starred chef, a lounge with wall-to-wall windows to maximize wildlife viewing, and a laboratory for hands-on science lessons. The open decks of Celebrity Flora are far more spacious than those found on any other Galápagos vessel, and they include multiple lounge areas, a plunge pool, and a stargazing platform.
There is also a dedicated area for glamping—two sets of cabanas on the top deck are available for sleeping under the stars. For $299 a night, you can book an experience that starts with dinner and ends with sleeping in a cabana.
Such a range of amenities is unusual in the Galápagos, where many of the 80-plus cruise vessels that account for a majority of tourism to the archipelago are relatively old and cramped. Two of the best-known ships in the islands, luxury line Silversea’s 100-passenger Silver Explorer and Lindblad Expeditions’ 48-passenger National Geographic Islander, date to the 1990s and offer significantly less space per passenger.
In part, that’s because strict regulations designed to protect the area’s unique environment make it difficult to bring a new vessel into the destination. For every tourist berth that is added, one must be removed. Miami-based Celebrity Cruises, the company behind Celebrity Flora, has taken one of its older Galápagos vessels out of circulation to make room for it.
In building Celebrity Flora, Celebrity rethought everything about what a Galápagos vessel should be. The ship boasts a stunning fold-down marina at its back that makes coming and going by boat a breeze. This is a big deal, given that daily landings by boat–often two a day–at various islands to ogle land iguanas, tortoises, blue-footed boobies, and other iconic wildlife are at the core of any Galápagos cruise. On other expedition ships, the boarding process for the inflatable landing craft that take you to shore can be quite clunky. You typically board through a small door that opens from the side of the vessel (often located at the end of a narrow corridor, where passengers get bunched up waiting to board) and climb down onto a boat that is bobbing in the waves. The marina makes the whole process considerably more comfortable.
In a nod to the destination’s fragile ecosystem, the line also outfitted the ship with a state-of-the-art dynamic positioning system that lets it hover near landing sites without dropping an anchor that might mar underwater habitat–a first for the Galápagos. In addition, the vessel’s propulsion system was specially designed to reduce underwater noise that could disturb marine life. Designers also incorporated sustainable materials, such as super lightweight veneers that make the ship more fuel efficient and reduce its carbon footprint, that are in keeping with the destination’s leave-no-trace ethic (97 percent of the Galápagos is preserved as a national park, with extensive restrictions on human impact).
Still, perhaps the most-noticeable triumph of Celebrity Flora is its outward-facing design. In every category of accommodation, you’ll find spectacular views of passing scenery thanks to wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows. You don’t even have to emerge from your down comforter to experience it because every bed faces outward. Wake up to a glorious, white-sand beach dotted with sea lions on the uninhabited island of Espanola on one morning, and the next day, you might find yourself with a view of the archipelago’s main town, Puerto Ayora, on the island of Santa Cruz.
As anyone who has been to these islands knows, finding top-quality cuisine can be a challenge. Due to environmental regulations designed to protect native species, numerous everyday food items–from fresh berries and oranges to certain cuts of meat and even romaine lettuce–can’t be imported into the islands. Michelin-starred chef Cornelius Gallagher, formerly of New York’s Oceana and now overseeing Celebrity’s culinary program, is making the most of what’s available. Highlights of Celebrity Flora’s main Seaside Restaurant include Ecuadorian influenced dishes with locally caught grouper, snapper, and lobster. The top-deck Ocean Grill offers everything from burgers to grilled seafood in a more casual setting.
As is always the case with Galápagos cruises, daily landings from Celebrity Flora are led by Galápagos National Park–certified naturalists and focus on seeing the unique creatures that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. The vessel alternates between two seven-night itineraries that can be combined to create a 14-night trip, with each one bringing landings at five to seven of the archipelago’s 19 main islands. They can be purchased alone or as part of a package that includes pre- and post-cruise stays in Quito, Ecuador, and charter flights between Quito and the Galápagos.
Cruise-only fares start at $6,374 per person, including all drinks, daily excursions with GNP-certified naturalists, complimentary Wi-Fi access, and gratuities. Packages start at $7,925.
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