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The Galapagos Islands are teeming with wildlife and history, but Lisa Lutoff-Perlo thought something was missing: A high-end, purpose-built ship from which to see all those finches, tortoises, and sea lions.
The Celebrity Cruises president and CEO announced Thursday that her cruise line is filling that void. Celebrity, part of Royal Caribbean Cruises, is building a new 100-passenger vessel to be based permanently in the volcanic archipelago. Celebrity Flora is set to start sailing in late May of 2019; the company did not reveal how much it will cost to build.
“Tourism is very limited and so as we think about Celebrity’s portfolio of offerings around the world, the Galapagos — while it’s small — is really strategically important to us,” Lutoff-Perlo told Skit in an interview. “It is a place that’s highly desirable and it is a place that we believed we had an opportunity to elevate the hardware that is seving our brand.”
Celebrity has three ships in the destination now, all of them older vessels that the company updated. The Celebrity Flora will sail from Baltra, one of the small islands in the archipelago. Competitors including Silversea and Lindblad Expeditions also sail older refurbished ships in the area.
“We are very pleased with the announcement of Celebrity Cruises decision to build a cruise vessel with cutting-edge technology, designed specifically to operate around our wonderful islands,” Enrique Ponce de León, Ecuador’s minister of tourism, said in a statement. “Celebrity Flora will undoubtedly mark a very important milestone in the tourism development of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, offering high quality and sustainable tourism.”
Lutoff-Perlo said the only way for cruise lines to increase their presence in the tightly controlled region is to replace existing capacity or acquire someone else’s. That’s what Celebrity did last year when the line bought tour operator Ocean Adventures and its two small ships.
Those updated vessels, Xploration and Xperience, will likely leave the fleet in 2019, Lutoff-Perlo said. The larger Xpedition, which has been sailing in the Galapagos since 2004, will replace their itinerary, and the new Flora will take over the Xpedition itineraries.
“Because the Galapagos is such a strategic place for Celebrity to be, it made sense to have hardware more representative of the brand,” Lutoff-Perlo said. “It shows confidence in the brand, it shows confidence in how we want the brand represented, no matter where we sail. It gives guests an opportunity to come back and sail on a new and different ship.”
Celebrity Flora will take some design cues from Celebrity Edge, which is expected to debut in late 2018. Like Edge, the smaller ship will emphasize the outdoors and will include what the cruise line calls “infinite verandas,” or balconies that can become part of the living area.
Beds on the all-suite ship will face the water, and decorative materials will be natural and organic. The line is working to source as much furniture as possible from Ecuador.
Outdoor spaces include The Marina, where smaller exploration boats called Zodiacs will launch, an open-air lounge area called The Vista, and the Ocean Grill for casual meals. There will also be dedicated space for presentations from naturalists who lead tours.
Lutoff-Perlo said the ship will be more fuel-efficient than the brand’s other vessels in Galapagos and will use a dynamic positioning system to avoid having to drop anchor. It will also convert sea water and condensation from air conditioning into fresh water.
“We’re able to do a lot of these things with a new build that you can’t do with existing ships,” she said.
The company will also be able to charge more. Rates for a seven-night cruise on Flora will start at $9,499 per person; for a 10-night package that includes land accommodations before and after the trip and air from Quito to Baltra, the price starts at $10,949. By comparison, a seven-night sailing on Xpedition in January starts at $4,449 for an ocean-view room.
“The demand situation is really strong,” Lutoff-Perlo said. “The rates the Galapagos gets, the per diems, are really the highest of anywhere we go by far. The demand is only increasing.”