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Should You Book the Celebrity Cruise Lines Pre-Cruise Quito Land Tour Extension?

by Suzanne Fluhr on July 9, 2018 · 16 comments

Equator line at Museum outside Quito, Ecuador

When I booked our bucket list Galapagos Islands cruise, I was knee deep in the thicket of planning our independent travel to Cuenca, Ecuador; and Colombia. So, I admit I took the lazy easy way out and also booked the Celebrity Cruise Lines pre-cruise Quito land tour extension.

Map of South America highlighting Ecuador

Map of South America. Ecuador is in red. (Public Domain)

map of ecuador

Map of Ecuador

We were quite satisfied with our my choice. The Celebrity Cruise Lines pre-cruise Quito land tour extension included 2 nights before the cruise and one night after the cruise, at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in the La Pradera section of Quito. It is about 20 minutes by car northeast of the historic colonial “Old Town”. La Pradera is a modern neighborhood with restaurants and parks.

The J.W. Marriott in Quito is consistent with the international brand, a large, conference style hotel with an outdoor pool, gym, and several restaurants. We had a comfortable room. Our stay included an extensive buffet breakfast and good, free wifi. Had we been traveling independently, I probably would have looked for a smaller, boutique style hotel.

On this particular occasion, as long suffering Philadelphia Eagles fans, most important for us was the bar off the lobby in the Marriott where we watched the Eagles beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Now I know how to say “fourth down” in Spanish (cuarta oportunidad). 😊

For the Celebrity Cruise Lines pre-cruise Quito land tour extension, all transfers, meals, tours, and tips were also included, as were charter flights to and from the Galapagos Islands, and a pre-printed Transit Control Card necessary to enter the Galapagos Islands. It turned out that our particular transit cards provided by Celebrity were pre-printed with incorrect passport numbers. This was noticed by a transit control officer in the Galapagos Airport, but he didn’t seem overly concerned about the discrepancy.

It seemed that virtually all our fellow cruise passengers, probably some 90 or so people, opted for the pre-cruise Quito land tour extension as well. Some also were using Celebrity for a post cruise extension to Peru, including Machu Picchu.

Volcano Alley flying from Cuenca to Quito

We had a great view of “Volcano Alley” flying from Cuenca to Quito.

I could have arranged the components of the Celebrity Cruise Lines pre-cruise land tour extension to Quito for less than we paid Celebrity, but booking with Celebrity made the experience seamless, and removed any concern about missing the boat in the Galapagos — literally.

With the usual caveat, “depending on traffic”, it is approximately a 40 minute taxi ride from Quito’s relatively new, highly ranked Mariscal Sucre Airport to the J.W. Marriott. The only glitch for us with the otherwise very well organized Celebrity Cruise Lines Quito land tour extension was that no one met us at the Quito Airport for the promised transfer.

I anticipated this might be a problem. When registering on the Celebrity Cruises website after booking the cruise tour through the CruiseWeb, I had to select the airport from which we would be arriving in Quito from a drop down menu. That drop down menu did not include Cuenca, Ecuador from where we were flying into Quito. I spent several hours trying to remedy this by calling Celebrity from the United States and was assured they would notify their Quito office. Our CruiseWeb agent also told me this would happen — except, it didn’t.

Celebrity had a dedicated desk in the Quito Marriott Hotel lobby. All their staff members were pleasant, helpful, and spoke excellent English. When we arrived at the Marriott and told the Celebrity representative about the AWOL transfer from the airport, he was extremely apologetic, instantly reimbursed the cost of our taxi ride, and gave us two $30 coupons for use at two of the hotel’s restaurants. We were very satisfied with this resolution. We found every other aspect of the Quito cruise tour extension to be superbly organized.

(Factoid: Ecuador uses U.S. currency as its legal tender and most stores we used accepted our Visa Sapphire Reserve credit card.)

City of Quito from El Panecillo

Overlooking the capital city of Quito, Ecuador from El Panecillo.

With a population of over 2,600,000, Quito is located in an Andean valley at an altitude of 9,350 feet (2,850 meters), making it the second highest official capital city after La Paz, Bolivia. It is also the capital city closest to the equator. Despite being virtually on the equator, the high altitude keeps Quito from being unbearably hot. However, at that altitude, the sun is deceptively strong so wearing high SPF sunblock is important.

We had no problems with the altitude except for feeling short of breath walking up hill. However, others in our group were more affected, including one woman who fainted.

Our one very full day of sightseeing in Quito with Celebrity was a good introduction to the city.

I admit to some consternation that we would feel like herded cats cattle as we were loaded onto tour buses at 9:30 a.m. at the hotel for our Quito tour, but we were then further divided into groups of about 10, each with a tour guide. This made for a much more personal experience with plenty of opportunity to ask questions. The Celebrity guides were uniformly pleasant and knowledgeable. They spoke excellent English.

Note: As with any large city in the world, staying safe in Quito requires keeping situational awareness and knowing where not to go. Some areas should be avoided after dark, and some should just be avoided altogether. Guards were assigned to our group. I suspect they were there to keep an eye out for opportunistic pick-pockets and to help with keeping the group together.

What we Did on Our Celebrity Cruise Lines Pre-Cruise Quito Land Tour Extension

The Virgen of Quito on El Panecillo

Our first stop afforded us a view over the entire city of Quito. We visited the 135 feet (41 meters) high landmark statue of the Virgin of Quito (a/k/a the Virgin of the Apocalypse). The statue overlooks the city from a hill known as “El Panecillo” because it resembles a small loaf of bread. At an altitude of 9,895 feet (3,016 meters), El Panecillo rises over the already high city. The statue was constructed between 1971 and 1975, and dedicated in 1976. As is so often the case in South America, the Virgin is said to stand in the spot formerly occupied by an Incan temple dedicated to the Sun.

Virgin of Quito, Virgen of the Apocalypse Overlooking Quito, Ecuador

The statue of the Virgin of Quito, a/k/a the Virgin of the Apocalypse, standing guard over Quito.

Historic Old Town Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Our second stop was in the cobble stone streets of the historic Spanish colonial Quito “Old Town”, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As in much of the world, in old town Quito, some of the best art and architecture is ecclesiastical, and the wealth of the Catholic Church is on conspicuous display. The Presidential Palace is also in Old Town Quito.

We visited two churches and a cloistered monastery near the main plaza of the historic district in Quito:

La Iglesia de San Francisco (The Church of San Francisco) and Monastery

Church of San Francisco (Iglesia de San Francisco) Quito, Ecuador

The main altar in the Church of San Francisco viewed from the choir.

This church was founded by Franciscan order monks in 1536, soon after the Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire. Constructed over 150 years, the ornate church and an adjacent cloistered monastery complex are among the largest in colonial Latin America. As with most Latin American churches, the Church of San Francisco is actively used by the populace. Photos are not permitted inside, but our guide took us to the choir balcony area and intimated we could take some photos if no guards were around but you didn’t hear this from me.

Church of San Francisco (Iglesia de San Francisco) Quito, Ecuador

The cloistered courtyard of the Monastery (Convento) of San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador.

La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús (The Church of the Society of Jesus)

The Church of the Society of Jesus, popularly known in Quito as La Compañía, was constructed between 1605 and 1765 across several architectural styles, including most prominently, the “more is more” sensibility of the Baroque.

Reflecting the great wealth of the Jesuit Order of the time, the interior of the church is covered with 23 carat gold leaf. Very soon after the church’s completion, the Jesuit Order was expelled from the Spanish colonies in Latin America until the 19th century. This expulsion of the Jesuits was prompted at least in part by conflicts with other religious orders and with the civil authorities who were suspicious of the Jesuits’ power.  

Again, interior photography was prohibited, but somehow I found this photo of the interior of the church on Mr. Excitement’s smart phone — miracle?

Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, Quito, Ecuador

The main altar clad in 23 carat gold leaf in the Church of the Society of Jesus (Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus) in Old Town, Quito, Ecuador.

Presidential Palace (Palacio de Carondelet) on the Old Town Quito Plaza Grande (a/k/a Independence Square)

The Plaza Grande, the main square of Old Town Quito, is a short walk from the Plaza de San Francisco. One side of the Plaza Grande is dominated by the Presidential Palace (el Palacio de Carondelet). Our stop here was mostly a photo op, a chance to snap a pic of a loved one with a stern Presidential Palace guard. Apparently, there is a small museum there open to the public which we did not have time to visit. Were one not on a tour, this Plaza would be a good place to sit, have a drink and people watch.

Presidential Palace guard in Old Town, Quito, Ecuador

A stern faced guard in front of the Presidential Palace in Old Town, Quito, Ecuador. I suspect others with AK 47s were close at hand. To see the spectacle of the Changing of the Guard, complete with a marching band, show up on a Monday at 11:00 a.m.

Lunch at the Theatrum Restaurant

We were transported by bus to the Theatrum Restaurant located on the second floor of el Teatro Nacional (National Theater) Sucre, a 19th century Italian style opera house. The building is located on a plaza that housed the main slaughterhouse and meat market of colonial Spanish Quito. Later it was a location for bullfights.

We were served a tasty buffet of “typical” Ecuadoran cuisine although I don’t think cuy (guinea pig) was included, at least I hope not. I have a strict rule about not eating any animal I once had as a pet. However, if you feel you must eat cuy to try authentic indigenous cuisine, it is included on the a la carte menu for the restaurant which is open to the public for lunch and dinner on weekdays, and for dinner on weekends.

Visit to the Museo de Sitio Intiñan (Equatorial Museum)

After lunch we reboarded our buses for the approximately one hour drive to the Intiñan Museum. This outdoor museum is located very close to the “official” Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) Monument and is said to be actually closer to the real equator. 

Again, we were broken up into small groups to tour the grounds with English speaking museum guides. The museum has constructions of the homes of indigenous tribes who live on the equator, complete with dioramas of daily life. We were also shown a bona fide (I think) shrunken head. Head shrinking of killed enemies was practiced by warlike indigenous people, the Shuar, who still live in the Amazon regions in Ecuador and Peru.

The tour also included an interesting exhibit and explanation of Ecuadoran cacao cultivation and chocolate making. This included the opportunity to buy local chocolate. We bought some as gifts which somehow never made it home.

Equator line at Museum outside Quito, Ecuador

Of course, Mr. and Mrs. Excitement need a photo to memorialize the time they stood next to each other in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

Finally, our guide did a series of demonstrations of equatorial phenomena. One of these is the Coriolanus effect where water goes down a drain in a different direction on either side of the equator. It’s likely possible that some trickery was involved, but I was happy to suspend disbelief. Of course, Mr. and Mrs. Excitement had to pose standing next to each other, simultaneously in the northern and southern hemisphere. This is a companion photo to one of me straddling the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, England. Apparently, there is a strong human drive to be in two places at the same time.

Dinner at La Gloria Restaurant

After a brief rest back at the Marriott, at 6:00 p.m., we again boarded buses for transport to the La Gloria Restaurant, about a 15 minute drive from the hotel, for an early dinner. On TripAdvisor, La Gloria restaurant earns a “very good” rating as the 65th best out of 1,436 Quito restaurants and is rated “expensive”.

Given the early hour, we were pretty much the only people in the white table cloth restaurant when we arrived. We ordered 3 courses off a special menu. My recollection is that Mr. Excitement enjoyed a veal shank. I suspect I had chicken as along with not eating former pets, I also don’t eat baby animals. Yes, I know I am a hypocrite. I uncharacteristically failed in my duty as a travel blogger and took no food photos, possibly because I didn’t want to annoy our future shipmates yet.

We couldn’t just collapse back at the hotel because our luggage had to be delivered to the lobby for an early morning agriculture inspection before it could be transported to the carefully controlled Galapagos Islands.

After our two nights in Quito, we were bused back to the airport at 8:15 a.m. in order to board our charter flight to Baltra in the Galapagos.

At the end of our cruise on the Celebrity Xpedition, we again had a comfortable charter flight back to Quito. Supposedly this flight is not available to those not on the Quito land tour extension. From the Quito Airport, we were bused back to the Marriott for one night with an optional afternoon artisan market tour. The following morning, anyone flying out of the Quito airport was transported back there at the appropriate time.

Value of the Celebrity Cruise Lines Pre-Cruise Land Tour Extension to Quito, Ecuador (Is it Worth It?)

Calculating the cost of the individual components of the Celebrity Cruise Lines pre-cruise land tour extension to Quito, I think we perhaps could have saved about $1,000 ($500 apiece). However, we concluded that the additional cost was probably worth it for us.

Doing the pre-cruise Quito land tour extension with Celebrity removed any anxiety about missing the start of our Galapagos cruise. In order to be sure of not arriving late for the start of the cruise, I suspect we would have had the added expense of 2 nights in the Galapagos on our own which would have further reduced the cost differential between the Celebrity product and visiting Quito on our own.

Obviously, every traveler must do their own cost benefit analysis considering their unique circumstances. There was certainly a time in our lives when both the Galapagos cruise and the cruise tour Quito extension would not have been in our budget. However, Mr./Dr. Excitement still has a day job and our children are launched. Thus, at this point, we have more money than time. On the Celebrity Cruise Lines pre-cruise land tour extension in Quito, we were able to make the most of our limited time in that city.

Have you been to Quito, Ecuador? Have you ever done any land tour cruise extension(s)? If so, were you satisfied with your experience?

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Lois Alter Mark July 16, 2018 at 1:16 am

I’m with you – I think convenience and removing stress is worth the money. We also tend to do pre and post tours when cruising. This looks like a fantastic itinerary and trip.

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Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields July 16, 2018 at 4:46 am

Hubby would love to visit Quito – he is a fan of colonial architecture. We have talked about going there many times in the last few years but never quite got to the point of booking. Maybe your post will tip us over the edge. Thanks.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr July 17, 2018 at 2:12 am

If you ever go to the Galapagos, Quito is a good jumping off point. It’s also an inexpensive flight from Bogota, Colombia—and for some reason, business class was cheaper than economy for our flight from Quito to Bogota. Go figure.

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Jeff & Crystal Bryant July 16, 2018 at 7:47 am

It looks like your decision to book the Celebrity Cruise Line Quito land tour paid off for you. When we cruised, we booked everything through our cruise line and ended up being completely satisfied. Thanks for adding all of the wonderful pictures, so we could experience it right along with you.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr July 17, 2018 at 4:08 am

When we are booked on a cruise, my biggest travel concern is missing the boat. I think this fear generally adds to the cruise line’s bottom line.

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Cheryl and Lisa July 16, 2018 at 1:22 pm

It looks like you had a great time on your pre-cruise trip to Quito, even with a few bumps in the road! Like you, we research the cruise line excursion and compare what we can do on our own. It sounds like you found the perfect arrangement for your trip! The town looks stunning and we will certainly need to make it a point to visit during our next trip to Ecuador!

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Debbra Dunning Brouillette July 18, 2018 at 11:00 am

When I did a Galapagos cruise with Ecoventura, we had a pre- and post-cruise stay in Guayaquil, Ecuador, instead of Quito. It was lovely and a great way to start and end this amazing trip. I’ve done it both ways — independently and with the cruise line — but sometimes eliminating the stress is the best decision.

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Irene S. Levine July 19, 2018 at 12:37 am

Thanks for such a thorough, thoughtful and candid review of your pre-cruise extension. In the best of all worlds, it would be nice to nice to choose your own boutique hotel in the center of the city and figure out all the things you would like to do. But when time is at a premium, it looks like you made a good choice. You were able to see an amazing number of attractions in a couple of days!

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Anita July 19, 2018 at 4:06 am

I’m with you on booking with the cruise line. The lack of stress over logistics far outweighs the frightful possibility of “missing the boat”. The only concern I would have had would have been group size for touring, and it sounds as though that was well taken care of. Your pre-cruise visit to Quito sounds quite wonderful!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr July 21, 2018 at 2:12 am

We’ve been on a few group tours lately and have found them fine, as long as the group is small enough although we quite enjoyed a recent one in Italy with a group of 26.

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Doreen Pendgracs July 19, 2018 at 1:10 pm

Hi Suzanne. Yes, I’ve been to Quito. and we, too, were warned about pickpockets, and I therefore kept a very tight hold of my purse when we were on the bus or out walking the streets. We were on an independent tour for that visit, and so had to be very careful of everything around us in this vibrant and somewhat crazy city. I have, though, taken numerous land excursions in association with cruise travel, and do enjoy the carefree planning of those.

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Karen Warren July 20, 2018 at 9:41 am

It’s always a trade off between being herded around and running the risk of things not going to plan if you organise things for yourself. Sounds as if you made the right choice on this occasion. Quito does sound like a great place to visit.

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michele July 20, 2018 at 10:18 am

It’s encouraging to hear how Celebrity resolved the airport transfer glitch at the Quito Airport for the promised transfer. That would have been quite stressful for less experienced travellers. It sounds as though you saw a lot on your pre cruise tour and it was well worth it. Good to know!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr July 21, 2018 at 1:30 pm

It did cross my mind that less experienced travelers who don’t speak Spanish might have been a little freaked out by the missing transfer from the Quito Airport. Fortunately, that’s not us. 🙂

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Tom Bartel July 20, 2018 at 11:22 am

Quito has lots of cultural beauty to visit, and since I lived there for nine months, I saw most of it. However, Quito is overshadowed, at least in my mind, by the preponderance of street crime. Pickpocketing is the national pastime, as far as I can tell. Armed robbery not far behind. It’s too bad the police are so corrupt, and they have so little regard for their tourist income that they allow it to flourish unchecked. So, to answer your question, by all means tour Quito, but keep both hands on your wallet, camera, and cell phone. Wait, that’s three hands.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr July 21, 2018 at 2:14 am

Well, that explains the private guards who accompanied us when we were out and about in Quito.

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