Have you ever envisioned yourself amongst the Giant Tortoises of the Galapagos Islands? Learn how you can set sail with Celebrity Cruises in the MASTers of Travel Interview by John Werner, President and COO of MAST Travel Network and Susana Romero, Director of Galapagos Sales & Communication for Celebrity Cruises. John and Susana detail the enchanting world of setting sail to the Galapagos with details on adventure, sustainability,
and preservation. 

Key Points Mentioned In The Podcast

#1    Celebrity will restart sailing this July

“We just announced our return to service, we are back July 4 is our first date.” 

#2 –  Celebrity is sailing safe

“We are not only following all of the protocols that our brand has established. But we’re also following all of the local regulations and protocols that not only Ecuador for the Galapagos National Park mandates…”

#3 –  This cruise is for active travelers

 “This is a very active vacation. This is a vacation where you’re going to be exploring in the morning. Then in the afternoon, we’re off the ship very early in the morning, we’re back on lunch, maybe a briefing, a quick midday activity. And then an afternoon going ashore, there is a briefing every evening.” 

#4 The various itineraries still offer the same essence

“But the truth is that it is minimal difference. Other than geography. One may visit more of the Northern islands, the other one may go more on the southern islands. But all the itineraries have islands”

#5 –   Conservation efforts are taken care of down to the pain on the ships

“Celebrity Flora, our latest vessel, has the latest most advanced water treatment plant and recycling system, probably hard to find around the world with a bigger shift our emissions is almost zero.”

Full Podcast Transcript

John W.  0:05  

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the MASTers of Travel advisor series. My name is john Werner. I’m the President of MAST Travel Network. We have a network of 1000 travel advisors that specialize in travel to all parts of the world and all different styles of travel. I’m very pleased to have Susana Romero, from Celebrity Cruises with us. Susanna, why don’t you introduce yourself, tell us what you do for Celebrity Cruises and we’ll get into it.

Susana R  0:43  

Thank you, John. So great to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me. It is fantastic when I get to join someone like you and talk about my passion, my love, which is the Galapagos Islands. I have been blessed to be with Celebrity Cruises for 18 years now. And I have been fully dedicated to our Galapagos project. I was part of the team that purchased our first company in Ecuador introduced our first vessel. Fast Forward eight years, we now have three vessels and enjoy amazing reviews and experiences in Galapagos. So great to be here. Thank you.

John W.  1:24  

That’s great, because I think we’re going to have a great conversation with your experience in the Galapagos and your passion for it as well. I know we’re going to start with a video that you would like to share with us. 

Susana R  1:41  

Yes, they call me little Charles Darwin, down in the Galapagos, but I’m not a scientist and I would love to bring you some of the real science that it is what we deliver onwards. I’ll give you one second and I’ll share that

John W.  1:55  

Okay, great. {video plays} 

Susana R  4:41  

The ocean provides the fuel that supports life. Isn’t that amazing?

John W.  5:01  

Yeah, it’s so incredible. I know that the Galapagos has a very rich biodiversity area, very fragile ecosystem as well. And we’re going to get into that in a little bit. I thought I would just ask you maybe some of the real basic type questions that any traveler, that has not been to the Galapagos yet, but they have always wanted to go. And now they think the time is to go. I know Celebrity Cruises has three different vessels that are going to be going to the Galapagos. You have the Flora, the Exploration, the Expedition. Let’s just start with telling us what, what’s different about the three vessels? Is there anything different about the three vessels?

Susana R  5:57  

There are so many differences, John, great question. And as a matter of fact, we just announced our return to service, we are back July 4 is our first date. And we’re going back with celebrity Flora. Lets talk a little bit about the vessels and what makes them unique and distinctive, and, and truly different depending on what our travelers want to do. Let’s start with our smallest 16 guests. This is a catamaran that features, four suites and four outside tables. It is an incredibly beautiful space for 16 people that truly love this see, and why be as close as they can to the water. Now they can book it on their own, or they can book it with 14 of their favorite friends or family. But this is a true see going traveler type of mentality, then you move to Expedition. Expedition was the one that started it all she was originally set for 100 passengers with 50 state rooms. And recently with some change to 48. Think about this incredible yacht, beautiful mini cruiser, right? Now only holding 48 guests are very, very interesting type of travel with offering both suites, regular state rooms, indoor outdoor dining, just amazing. When we commissioned Celebrity Flora, celebrity Flora is our 100 guests 50 suite, mega yacht state of the art, every room is a suite with balconies. It is truly dedicated to be as close as you can be to the destination, all enclosed in glass full upper deck design for experiencing the outdoors and being as close as you can to this destination.

John W.  7:55  

Well, that just sounds so great. It sounds like with all three vessels, all three are a little bit different in sizes but overall, the experiences are designed so you can be close to the experience close to the islands and all the scenery and so forth. What you mentioned just a moment ago that the resumption of service begins in July. And so just briefly tell us about the health and safety protocols that allow you to get back into service and start taking passengers back to the Galapagos.

Susana R  8:39  

So exciting. So incredibly exciting for us to be having this conversation, right with a real date. We’re back July 4. And as a matter of fact, I am going to be on that sailing because I want to make sure that I see what happens. And I can come back and share with you and our guests how amazing it is. So we are not only following all of the protocols that our brand has established. But we’re also following all of the local regulations and protocols that not only Ecuador for the Galapagos National Park mandates that we will I’ll give you an example in order to get into Ecuador today. Rules for today may not be tomorrow, but as of today, guests must either show proof of vaccination or a 72-hour PCR test result that’s negative. We will require that all our guests have their certificate of vaccination. That is the brand requirement. All guests must be vaccinated again 16 years or older. Also, our crew, I am happy to announce has already been fully vaccinated in Galapagos so we are ready to go now. All those islands, the Galapagos National Park requires a test that is 96 hours. Our guests can bring one from the US and have it ready. Or they can have one in Ecuador because they are going to be going to Ecuador a couple of days prior to their stay. Our protocols on board will be in line with what the government requires. Remember, we are in Galapagos waters, and that’s Ecuadorian territory. Locally, they do not require masks when you are going ashore. If you are in uninhabited island, and more than 90%, of what we do is uninhabited. You will be free to roam our groups ashore is only eight per naturally. So very small groups, we are on our own. And when we are in populated areas, we will request that our guests wear a mask. That’s only two locations. We’re fully ready to go.

John W.  11:00  

Oh, that’s wonderful. Being in the in the great outdoors, obviously. Why don’t we talk about the difference between some of the islands, such as the wildlife viewing, or the wildlife habitats are both on land and at sea? What would people expect to see?

Susana R  11:24  

Now, unlike choosing a cruise, to go to Europe, or to go to the Caribbean, when you specifically want to book a cruise, because you want to be in a specific country, you may want to visit Spain, or Italy or France or the Greek islands or go to Russia, going to the Galapagos Islands is about going to the Galapagos Islands, right visiting that archipelago. The flora and fauna is consistent throughout the islands. And it’s important that I share with you that all of our itineraries are actually set and regulated by the Galapagos National Park, we can’t really go to the park and say, “Well, on Tuesday, we would prefer to go here”. It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work that way for very, very good reasons. And most of them are preservation and conservation. They have a very well-regulated itinerary for us, they give us a 14-day rotation. And in that rotation, we get to see the best that there is to see in the eyes, right? While there is maybe one migrating bird, which is the magnificent albatross that comes to Hispaniola Island between March and November. All the other itineraries offer everything there is to see in Galapagos. I guarantee you; the experience will be just as amazing whether you will do northern to Southern low Eastern Western Look, it is just absolutely remarkable.

John W.  12:50  

Yeah, and also that was great to hear about the naturalist that accompanies the groups ashore. I’m sure they’re also pointing out, not only the wildlife and habitats, but plant life and what is in the sea, ythe sea life around the islands, which was talked a little bit about in the video.

Susana R  13:22  

Absolutely John because it’s very triangular, right? You have the flora, the fauna, you also have the sea. And those currents like Dr. Prager mentioned, they’re probably even more important than anything else. Because without that, there is no food, there is no fuel to really feed the light. There is this incredible correlation between the plants and the animals and the terrain. There is this process of adaptation that happens in the labs where these animals have fully adapted to not only their geology, at their geography, but also to their food source. You begin to see that correlation between animals, terrain, the water, the water temperatures, the linear millennia, climate change, how it all kind of works together and creates this incredible ecosystem.

John W.  14:15  

Yeah, that’s just so wonderful. What activities when someone does go ashore, I would imagine that you let everyone know what the strenuous level is for different activities. Do you design things around a person’s ability to something very strenuous versus not so strenuous? Everything is designed around the different levels like that.

Susana R  14:47  

There are there options and I am so glad you asked that because that’s really important that people understand. This is a very active vacation. This is a vacation where you’re going to be exploring in the morning. Then in the afternoon, we’re off the ship very early in the morning, we’re back on lunch, maybe a briefing, a quick midday activity. And then an afternoon going ashore, there is a briefing every evening. And that briefing allows our guests to really get to know what the next activities are going to look like. We show videos, we show a presentation where our naturalists actually share what the experience is going to look like. People get to truly pick their day based on what the activities are, they may take a long hike in the morning, and then an afternoon kayak experience, or they may choose to do coastal exploration from one of the water zodiacs. They’re able to truly customize what they want to do on a daily basis. If they change their mind, and they want to do something else, when they wake up in the morning, it’s all good.

John W.  15:53  

Right. Yeah. Explain the differences. I noticed, looking at some of your itineraries that one says the outer loop another itinerary says the northern loop. Another one says the southern loop. Can you explain what is different about those?

Susana R  16:17  

I know, it is so hard to explain, because we’re all talking to those itinerary titles, right? What am I going to see that’s different than the northern, the south or the western or the Eastern? Again, because these itineraries are set by the Galapagos National Park, they give us these itineraries and we follow the routes. And not only do we have to follow the route, but we have to follow the amount of time that they allow us in each location. We had to identify it right? We had to name them something. But the truth is that it is minimal difference. Other than geography. One may visit more of the Northern islands, the other one may go more on the southern islands. But all the itineraries have islands. There’re main places we visit those in every one of our cruises for example, Puerto Ayora which is where the Charles Darwin center is, and when we go to a private ranch, where there are roving three giant turtles is for our guests to see, and an experience, we have that on every one of our cruises. So again, the amount of enrichment that is provided on the itinerary is not based on the itinerary. It’s based on the location.

John W.  17:46  

I think it’s a great thing that the Galapagos National Park, organization regulates visitors, and it makes the experience so much better for everybody. And it preserves the environment there and so that everybody that visits can have a wonderful experience on the islands. You mentioned the Zodiac boats. Is there any other way that people do go ashore or visit from island to island? You’re anchoring the ships offshore there and it’s not like you can dock right so you that’s why you need the Zodiac boats.

Susana R  18:29  

That is correct. Matter of fact, there is no docks, all ships are required to be offshore and come into supporting small groups in watercraft, whether there is Zodiac or yacht tenders to use on Flora which are state of the art. We are tenders with their small water vehicles that allow us to come from the ship to shore. Some of those landings are on beaches, some of the landings are on rocks, some of the landings are on a little Pier, like when we go to the to the populated island to work, but it is the only way to actually come to ship to shore.

John W.  19:10  

That’s all part of the experience to get from the ship to shore like that. Describe the job of the naturalists, how special is it that they are with the guests. What more they lend to the whole experience?

Susana R  19:36  

When we first started thinking about going to Galapagos and this is in the year 2003. The reason that we did it was because Galapagos up to the point had been perceived and seen a little bit as a backpacking type of experience. They got there, they caught some fish, they ate it. It’s whatever cook decided to throw in a skillet and they had to do their own dishes. We saw an opportunity to bring cruising, especially luxury cruises, which is what we do. That merger of agenda, Galapagos experience will be highest level of service and dedication to our guests that Celebrity is known for. And we have been able to truly merge that. We bring the Celebrity training, the service, the cuisine, culinary, all of those amazing pillars that we have. And then we hire the absolute best guides. In Galapagos in Ecuador. We have the services of Dr. Prager that allows us to continuously do training that’s appropriate for this naturalist, the role of the naturalist number one and more important than anything else is there, Park Rangers, they have been trained by the Galapagos National Park, and their first affiliation is to make sure that the rules are being kept as rules. This is what you do, this is what you’re allowed to do. And you cannot do it any other way. What is important, it’s to bring to life, what Galapagos is all about, to spend that time ashore, truly interacting with our guests, and putting the whole story together for them. That, by the way, doesn’t end on land, right? They come ashore, and they continue the journey with a guest. They sit with our guests and have dinner with our guests. They spark conversations and foot processes that allow for a lot of learning and interaction. because keep in mind, our crew and the naturalist are from mainland Ecuador, most are from the Galapagos. They get to truly share their passion for their country. And this incredible archipelago with our guests.

John W.  21:56  

It just sounds wonderful. And they have a big job to do. They’re responsible in many different ways. I like the fact that you also mentioned their interaction with the park rangers to which is so important. But just what they do for the guests, I’m sure that there’s a lot of friendships and…

Susana R  22:21  

Life long connections, John, are created on these vessels. Without a doubt.

John W.  22:27  

I’m sure of it. Let’s just go back to the ships themselves for a moment as far as life on the ships. Could you talk about what the cuisine is, like on the ships and the local cuisine, local recipes, also incorporated in the menus? 

Susana R  22:48  

We are the foodie brand. If we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be doing justice to what we’re all about. All of our menus, all of our cuisine, crafted by our Michelin star chefs. We start with the best. And then we add local right fresh from scratch, local seafood, local produce, the Galapagos National Park has a very strict list of provisioning, that they allow onboard the ship. They do not allow any seeds, vegetables, or fruit, or even meat with bones that doesn’t belong to the lab. They don’t want to introduce anything because seeds tend to go into the ground and new trees come up. And next thing you know, the vegetation under which feeds the giant turtles dies and the ecosystem gets completely changed. So within those regulations, we do our best to provision from the Galapagos Islands as much as we can, which is fresh, organic, locally sourced, and if not, we sourced from mainland Ecuador. Our menus are very well balanced. They have Celebrity favorites, which are guests. More than 50% of our guests are already Celebrity Cruisers, so they know our brand. And they’re expecting that high level of culinary excellence, but they’re also wanting to taste the local flavors. We do this during our pre and post days in Quito. And we do it on our vessels too.

John W.  24:20  

What happens at night on the ships back on board after that afternoon, walk ashore and then dinner and then what happens?

Susana R  24:31  

Back onboard, people have a lot of time to take a shower and they come to an afternoon cocktail party, of course, because we are Celebrity Cruises and then comes the briefing. After the briefing everyone signs up for their excursions, and then we go to dinner. Then after dinner, there is an activity, it could be music, there could be live music. It could be a show put together by the naturalist and the staff because there is a lot of talent on board. It could be anything. It could be an evening of karaoke; we have someone on board that happens to be a piano player. Remember, this is very organic, because it’s a very small vessel where people get to know each other very, very quickly. What I do tell you is that while we keep our lounges and our bars open until the last person goes to bed, because we want to make sure that everyone enjoys their time on board, this is the type of experience where people do require downtime, the emotions that you feel, in addition to the activity level, really requires that downtime, I’m going to go to sleep, I’m going to go journal, I’m going to go look at my pictures. I’m going to go kind of like ponder on what’s happened today. Because tomorrow I have that number two or three, or five. We do have people that stay out late, late is a little different on board. 

John W.  25:58  

That makes perfect sense. I mean, people are obviously looking forward to the next day. And they want to be ready for it. The trip out obviously, to begin, you have to fly into Quito, Ecuador. And so how much time is spent in Quito? And do you have time to go elsewhere in the country, pre or post and before you fly over to the Galapagos.

Susana R  26:34  

I’m so glad you brought that up. Because it’s important that our guests understand that you cannot get to the Galapagos Islands on the same day, you can’t leave the U.S. today and get to Galapagos today. So mandatory you have a one night overnight in mainland Ecuador. We offer in our 10-night packages, which are, like you mentioned John, all-inclusive. A two-night free staying Quito allows us to bring all of our guests in, allow us to show them a glimpse of this colonial city, which is actually a World Heritage Site. It’s truly remarkable. It also allows us for one day, 24 hour period for any flight disruptions and in our business, you know that it is common to have those so it gives us not only a great day to show off this incredible capital also gives us that little cushion. And then we include an exclusive nonstop flight which is only dedicated to Celebrity guests from Quito into Baltra back after the cruise. We do have extensions, some for more time in Quito and one that continues on to Peru, including Lima, Cusco Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.

John W.  27:51  

Well, that would be an amazing journey to combine Peru with the Galapagos. I know that your Celebrity Cruises and your Galapagos itineraries, you have community efforts, environmental stewardship, everything is about sustainability. This is a part of the world that needs to have a careful approach. It’s got to be sustained for not only environment there and the animals that live there, but for everybody for the future. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about those community efforts and your environmental stewardship?

Susana R  28:47  

John, the Galapagos National Park currently does one of the best jobs in the world and making sure that sailing in this part of the world is done the right way. And we are so glad to be part of that. The way that we build our ships not only for Galapagos, but as a fleet, now think about taking all of the knowledge that we have with our big vessels, all of the engineering and bringing it down to the right size. I’ll give you some examples. Celebrity Flora, our latest vessel, has the latest most advanced water treatment plant and recycling system, probably hard to find around the world with a bigger shift our emissions is almost zero. We were at a point where even using air conditioning recycled water for doing our laundry. We have water filtration systems in every one of our suites so people can actually refill their bottles which we provide. We have a zero single use plastic policy on board all of our vessels, our dynamic positioning system where we’re able to stay at location stable without having to drop anchor. This allows us to not disrupt the seabed. Everything that we do on what we start from an environmental standpoint, the paint that we use to paint our home allows us to glide through the water, use conserve energy, use less fuel. Everything that we do we do it from that conservation, preservation environmental standpoint, from a community standpoint, our President Lisa Lutoff is adamant that we are part of the communities that we visit, that we become part of those communities because those communities are as important to us as we are to them. Our guests are now involved in what is the Galapagos fund, they get to make donations that are 100%, dedicated to the betterment of their communities, from creating soccer fields, which are really important in South America to creating special spaces for children with special needs to showcase their artwork, to a reforestation project. We have now replanted 50,000 trees. And when I say we are guests, they get to actually physically take a tree go into the mountains in the highlands of Santa Cruz, in the one and only reforestation program with the Galapagos National Park. This Galicia is an amazing tree that is require as a bed to keep the areas for the giant tortoises. It is truly an amazing program.

John W.  31:43  

Oh, yeah, it is amazing. Wow. And I know you have a video to show us about that. A very short one. Let me share that with you. {Video Plays} 

I love that video. Yeah, that’s so great. I’m sure the guests have aboard. I just love that to be a part of the efforts that you’re making and feel like they are also contributing to the preservation of the islands and the habitats there. I have no doubt that everybody loves that part of the trip. I learned a lot today by talking to you and listening to you describe the experience. And it truly is remarkable. And I think it’s one of those life changing trips, as they call it. A lot of people have it on their bucket list. What’s great about it is the fact that you’re going to be going there again in July and starting the resumption of cruises to the Galapagos. It’s a wonderful thing.

Susana R  33:59  

Absolutely, we are actually very excited. Our reservations are open, we’re open through 2023. So, whether people are ready to go with me July 4, or they want to look into next year or thereafter, I strongly recommend that they reach out to their advisor. Your organization does an amazing job in in truly educating people about the destinations that they visit. And we thank you for doing that because that’s truly important. And we thank you for that partnership. And we’re truly looking forward to welcoming you and your guests on board our vessels very soon.

John W.  34:37  

Yeah, thank you for that. I and our organization, the travel advisors in our network, they have been sending people to the Galapagos for years and some of them of course have been there themselves and they love selling the product and getting their customers to have an amazing cruise. Well Susana, thank you so much for the time you spent with us this afternoon and I enjoyed the conversation a great deal. I look forward to the restart of cruises to the Galapagos.

Susana R  35:18

Thank you so much, John, thank you for the invite up. I really appreciate the time today. Thank you. 

Amber Zakem

Amber Zakem has worked in the travel industry since 2014. Although, her love of travel began far before that. Amber grew up visiting cousins stationed throughout Europe and worked as an Au Pair in Germany for a year between High School and College. She started working at a local travel agency in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, after graduating from Central Michigan University. Amber began working for MAST Travel Network in 2016 and is the Social Media Specialist. She runs the MAST Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat and she teaches twice monthly webinars to travel agents on using social media to promote travel. Amber has continued her passion for travel and social media by also teaching a course at Moraine Valley Community College in their Hospitality program.