The 48-passenger Celebrity Xperience is one of three tiny ships currently operated by Celebrity Cruises in the Galapagos. It was acquired by the cruise line in 2016, refitted with new decor and bedding and started service for Celebrity in 2017.
Celebrity Xperience Overview
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In terms of size, the ship sits between Celebrity Xpedition, the line's first vessel in the Galapagos, which carries 98, and Celebrity Xploration, a catamaran carrying 16. In 2019, a new, all-suites vessel, Celebrity Flora, will replace both the small ships.
Xperience operates two seven-night itineraries out of Baltra, the northern loop and the southern loop, which can be combined to create a 14-night itinerary. Baltra is the location of one of two airports serving the islands. Ship capacity in the Galapagos is strictly controlled by the National Park Service; how many you can carry, where you can go and when is all pre-arranged but either of these itineraries give a really comprehensive view of the different islands and the astonishing wildlife.
The ship always carries four qualified guides (again, following Park Service rules) who escort every foray ashore in small groups. All landings are done by Zodiac inflatable, known locally as pangas, and what you do ashore is strictly controlled; you can't get too close to the wildlife (which is difficult when you're practically tripping over basking sea lions) and you mustn't stray from the path. The way Ecuador protects these unique islands is highly impressive.
Although the ship will have familiar touches to Celebrity regulars, not least the X on the funnel, it's not a Celebrity ship in microcosm. A voyage around the Galapagos on Xperience is a proper expedition cruise, so there's no entertainment beyond wildlife lectures and documentaries and no extras like a spa or alternative dining; the sea is your swimming pool and all meals are taken together.
The ship is undeniably old, built in 1982, and this does show in places like the clanking engine and some slightly tired-looking woodwork, but it has plenty of comfortable touches, like Celebrity's trademark luxurious beds, all-inclusive drinks, an absolutely superb crew and decent food. At the beginning of the week, the head guide told us that the destination was the star and the ship was merely a means of transport and a place to sleep, but it was more than that; by the end of the trip, we were all very fond of this slightly quirky old ship.
Top Celebrity Xperience Itineraries
Passengers come mainly from the U.S.A., Canada, Australia and the U.K., with ages ranging from early 30s to octogenarians. The Galapagos is a real bucket-list destination and an expensive place to visit, so a lot of people come for a reason like a special celebration, rather than a spur-of-the-moment decision. Xperience is not necessarily a ship where everybody is a couple; a quarter of our shipmates were traveling as groups of friends. Celebrity is known as being one of the most socially inclusive lines and the Galapagos vessels are no exception; our cruise included several gay couples. Because of the open-seating dining, and the fact that you do all the activities together, friendships form quickly and the ship has a wonderful house party atmosphere, helped by the friendly, attentive crew.
Families do travel in the school holidays and children are welcome, but to get the most out of the destination and the activities, 10 to 12 is probably the minimum recommended age. This is not a place for babies and toddlers.
The language onboard is English.
Celebrity Xperience Dress Code
There is no dress code, although Celebrity sends out a suggested packing list. Neutral colors are best, as they don't tend to attract insects. Good walking shoes are essential, as is something to cover up shoulders if you're hiking in the heat of the day. A good hat that won't blow away, sunglasses and a strong sunblock go without saying. A small backpack is useful for going ashore as on some hikes you need both hands to scramble over rocks. In the evenings, the dress code is very much casual, with men in long pants and summer shirts and women in sundresses or casual pants and tops. There's a surprisingly well-stocked boutique onboard selling expedition shirts and branded T-shirts. There is no need to bring snorkel gear or a wet suit, as the equipment provided is top quality, mainly ScubaPro.
Celebrity Xperience Inclusions
The cruise fare includes pretty well everything: All meals and all drinks, including alcoholic beverages; crew tips (although there's a box in reception if you want to add more); mini-bar; snorkel gear; activities and tours; park fees; the Galapagos Tourist Card fee; and Wi-Fi, such as it is -- do not expect a signal strong enough for anything more than the occasional text. The only extra cost is laundry.
Most people book Celebrity's full 10-night package from Quito, which includes, on top of the above, two nights' accommodation pre-cruise and one post-cruise at the JW Marriott; breakfast at the hotel; tours on the two pre-cruise days; dinner on all three days; all airport transfers; and flights from Quito to Baltra on Avianca.
The onboard currency, and the currency of Ecuador, is the U.S. dollar.
Celebrity Xperience Ship Stats
- Crew: 42
- Launched: 1982
- Decks: 4
- Passengers: 48
- Registry: Ecuador