More options to explore Darwin’s open-air nature lab

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It is a strange, gorgeous and wondrous place, home to a blood-sucking finch, a rather awkward bird with blue feet, the world’s only tropical penguin and a huge hard-shelled creature – the Galápagos tortoise – from which the place got its name.

The Galápagos Islands are extraordinary, because many of the unique species that live there set naturalist Charles Darwin to wondering just how they got their unusual characteristics. And in time, after his first visit in 1835, they served as the evidence for his theory of evolution.

Now Celebrity Cruises is embarking on the latest phase of its own evolution as the premier provider of luxury expeditions to the pristine Ecuadorian archipelago after announcing its planned acquisition of award-winning Galápagos tour operator Ocean Adventures.

Celebrity has operated the 100-guest Celebrity Xpedition there for more than a decade, catering to eco-tourists who want to see and experience Darwin’s natural laboratory for themselves. When completed, the purchase of Ocean Adventures and its two tour vessels will increase Celebrity’s guest capacity in the archipelago by 65 percent.

The new vessels will provide opportunities for particularly intimate explorations of the Galápagos. The M/V Eclipse carries just 48 guests and the catamaran M/C Athala II accommodates 16.

The options for smaller tours will allow Celebrity guests to visit an expanded itinerary including Darwin Bay, Black Turtle Cove, Puerto Villamil, Chinese Hat Islet and the Wall of Tears – named either for the thousands of prisoners who perished during the wall’s construction, or for the blood-chilling cries that have been heard coming from the structure.

Celebrity’s Galápagos guests will continue to have choices of several immersive experiences with the local culture, and the expansion will allow for new tour packages to Ecuador and Peru, home to mystical Machu Picchu.

“After 16 years of establishing Ocean Adventures into one of the leading operators in the Galápagos Islands, we are proud to have caught the attention of a world-class cruise company like Celebrity and are proud to be part of their ambitious plans to expand in the region,” said Ocean Adventures President Ben Dod.

Pending completion of the acquisition, those two vessels will join Celebrity Cruises for the spring 2016 season before going into drydock for revitalization in January 2017.

In announcing the acquisition plans, Celebrity President and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo said the newly expanded Galápagos fleet “will offer an up-close look at the region’s breathtaking natural beauty, paired with Celebrity’s highly intuitive service and award-winning cuisine.

“We are thrilled to expand our Galápagos program with these two ships, to create more lifetime memories for our most discerning and adventurous guests.”

Noting that the archipelago is one of the world’s most important environmental treasures and permits to sail its waters are carefully allotted, Lutoff-Perlo said “we are committed to doing our part to protect these islands for future generations.”

That commitment builds on Celebrity’s longtime environmental projects in the Galápagos.