Soon, it may get a little easier to check off the Galapagos Islands from your bucket list.
Miami-based Celebrity Cruises announced Thursday morning that it’s building a 100-passenger ship specifically to sail to the famed archipelago off Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. Called Celebrity Flora, the ship will debut in May 2019 with a bevy of design details with the Galapagos in mind, and become the first ship custom-built for voyages in the region.
Celebrity, part of parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises, began sailing to the islands in 2004, becoming the first major line to have a presence in the region with the 100-passenger Celebrity Xpedition (the line has since added two more ships in the region). The Celebrity Flora is an expansion of that vision, said the line’s president and CEO, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, in an interview.
“It was a natural thing for us to think about how we ensure that the experience and hardware and new ship philosophy of what we are doing now at Celebrity could expand to the Galapagos,” Lutoff-Perlo said.
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The all-suite ship will incorporate features of Celebrity’s new Edge class, which fosters a closer connection to the ocean by offering unobstructed sea views from staterooms. Cabins range in size from 325-square-foot suites to two 1,288-square-foot Penthouse suites.
That outward-facing design aesthetic has been incorporated into Flora, which will feature outdoor lounges and a stargazing platform on the eighth deck. On the pool deck, guests can rent out a cabana and sleep under the stars, Lutoff-Perlo said. Renderings of the ship show entire decks outfitted in floor-to-ceiling glass, helping blur the line between indoors and out.
“A lot of things [in the Galapagos] that you get to see are from the ship because nature and the animals are happening all around you,” Lutoff-Perlo said.
Flora will have six zodiacs — inflatable boats often used in expedition travel to explore a destination. Two inflatables can be in use at once, minimizing the time guests spend waiting to disembark.
Celebrity is packing Flora with amenities rarely found on small expedition vessels. Among those are two dining venues, instead of the typical one: a full service dining room and Ocean Grill, an outdoor, casual space. The ship will also have three public areas where guests can learn about the history of the Galapagos or Celebrity’s environmental efforts in the region, and get briefings from naturalists on activities and exploration options.
“It’s a perfect design for the Galapagos because of all of the open lounges, the outward facing aspects. Having a vessel that has a lot of glass and outer decks would be very advantageous there,” said Anne Kalosh, U.S. editor of Seatrade Cruise Review and Seatrade Cruise News. “This is a really education-oriented type of itinerary, so you are always wanting to meet with a guide and talk about [the region]. There are ample facilities to do that.”
But most central to Flora’s design is a commitment to the environment — and to preserving what makes the pristine nature of the Galapagos a bucket-list destination to begin with.
The ship will be 15 percent more fuel efficient than Xpedition, thanks in part to an advanced propulsion system and specially designed diesel engines. Flora will also operate on a Dynamic Positioning System, which allows the ship to dock without the use of anchors. A new waste management system aims to recycle, repurpose and donate as much as possible on the vessel to minimize its impact on the region. Sustainable, natural materials sourced in Ecuador and other regions will be used for the decor and furniture.
The line aims to continue diminishing its footprint — quite literally — by also limiting the sizes of tour groups from 16 people to 12.
The announcement falls in line with a booming trend in the cruise line industry.
Expedition and adventure cruising have grown in popularity considerably in recent years, as travelers seek more authentic, nature-focused activities, Kalosh said. From 2018 to 2021, more than 20 expedition ships are being built.
“To have that percentage of upscale expedition vessels being built, I’ve never seen that before,” she said. “The fact that [Celebrity is] making that commitment [to the Galapagos] is impressive. It says a lot about the strength of the market for them.”
Flora will sail year round from Baltra Island in the Galapagos beginning May 26, 2019.
Prices start at $10,949 for a 10-night, all-inclusive package, including flights from Quito, Ecuador, to Baltra and accommodations in both cities.