Andean Highlands and Galapagos Islands Adventures By Disney August 2012 Ordinarily, I write a very comprehensive review of my trips, but I'm torn about this one. One of the very special things about an ABD journey are all the special surprises and unexpected touches. I want to provide information for people who are planning an upcoming journey, but don't want to spoil all the fun either. So I am going to review my ABD here in DIS with photos and lots of planning tips included, but I'll put in a disclaimer if I'm going to reveal the surprises.. For this review I will post the day by day travelogue review in black and include "TIPS" in bold italic blue. I do intersperse these in the travelogue so that the reader can see exactly why I make the suggestion, but if you are just looking for planning tips...you can just look for the bold italic sections and the photos, and skip the travelogue. A disclaimer: ! I am pretty honest, I enjoy traveling, but tell it like it is. I know this board tends to be pretty Disney positive, but if something isn't quite right I'll say so. Of course this is my opinion, someone else on the same trip could have a completely different experience. It will be very long! Already I have 17 pages of narrative with 10-25 photos per page. Also, some people may not enjoy my reviews, I ramble, I digress, I speak parenthetically and lots of people probably find it very annoying. If you are one of those folks, there have to be better reviews out there for you! But if you like to come along for the ride, hear some humble opinions about what worked ( and what didn't), maybe laugh a little, then maybe this is for you! In either case: you've been warned! Photos: Almost all of the photos are by my DH, who is extremely patient with my art direction (me: "Take that picture, I need it for my review" DH: " yes, dear" ) For those interested he shoots Nikon D 4 for most everything. He also carried the D 800 in the Galapagos and used it in DX mode for the long telephoto shots. I also carried the Nikon AW 100 for video, and DH shot all the underwater shots with it. Additionally, he carried a small Nikon V1 to shoot in the city of Quito, as it is unobtrusive, but still has much of the functionality he wanted. So there are the details about the photos for those of you interested, I actually have no earthly idea what ANY of that means, but will gladly pass along any photo specific questions to the expert;-) Also, if its a bad photo- ( and if you are like me and 95% of the people who see DH's photos, you will not be able to tell its a "bad" photo, but if you are in that 5% and see a bad one, its either one of mine or because I insisted it must be used to illustrate my review over his objections. A little back ground first: Our traveling party is my DH and I ( late 40's) our teen daughters, 17 and 15, and we brought my parents ( early 70s) along to celebrate their 50 th wedding anniversary. We have been to WDW more times than is convenient to calculate, done a Disney Cruise, been to Disney Paris, and took a previous ABD to Costa Rica in 2007. We've taken plenty of other trips and cruises too, both with tour groups and independently, DH travels internationally for business frequently, but for this trip chose ABD for a combination of reasons. First, traveling with elders who rarely travel outside the US, I knew they and we could trust the Disney brand to help everyone feel safe and well taken cared for. Secondly, having seen how ABD handles multi generational groups, I knew they would pace the adventure with different options for everyone, and make sure that anyone opting out had a comfortable experience as opposed to being pushed beyond their limits. And lastly, for this particular itinerary, I was very impressed with the wonderful mixture of wildlife viewing balanced with a chance to meet local people, explore local culture and food and see more than one area of the country. Very few Galapagos trips I researched offer this level of cultural exploration. Not to digress ( ok, I digress) but when we traveled to Africa for a safari, we included a few days to explore some of the local culture in one area where we stayed. What I had originally thought of as an add on, turned out to be a highlight. And I learned something very important about myself; I don't want to explore beautiful natural and wildlife settings without also getting to know the people and the culture of the place. It's important to me to have that context, and connection. Travel to me is not simply a parade of sites or animals, that can happen in a zoo or on TV. Meeting and interacting with real people, being exposed to their culture, foods and lives is the best way to know a place and enrich any natural setting. Given that the Galapagos were settled very recently in human history and only in a very limited number of places- you won't see many local folks (outside of your guide) in the Galapagos, and thus, the ABD with its Andean highlands visit was the perfect set up for us! Now we are really ready to start! August 12: The Night Before Everything is packed. My folks got here from Maine with a dog and a cat to join our dog for 2 weeks. The house and pet sitter was briefed and everyone is ready to go. All was good till my DM wanted a shower before our early flight only to discover that all our plants are in the shower in her bathroom! ( this is a little trick I do to make plant watering easier for our house sitter- who is excellent with animals, but not so great with plants!) I thought we were doing well to have the guest bed made! TIPS Advance planning and packing tips : To plan this adventure, I read the anything I could find on the DIS boards ABD section. There was not too much! I am very thankful to Tufbuf for her recent review and to several others who were kind enough to answer questions that I posted. I also researched the Celebrity Expedition boards on Cruise Critic pretty extensively for planning and Galapagos cruising information. And I trolled Trip Advisor to find information about things to do during the pre and post days I planned in Quito. I also read two guide books; Frommers Ecuador (2nd Edition 2009) and Insight Guides Ecuador and Galapagos (2010). These were woefully out of date and had a lot of misinformation in them. Ecuador, as we learned form our local guides, has been changing rapidly in the last few years, and I found several instances where information was flat out wrong. ( for example - most of the shops and O2 bar at the top of the Teleferico are now closed, it opens earlier than listed, and the names of several museums have changed recently- making it very difficult to communicate with local guides about what we wanted to visit) My best advice is to go ahead and read them; much of the historical and cultural information was very good, and we found the maps helpful, but get the latest details on pricing, open hours and even museum names from the websites or Trip Advisor destination experts. My best source of help with planning was my TA. We have an excellent TA who put together our African safari and since then I have booked this trip, our upcoming trip to French Polynesia, and a trip to WDW, because I've been so happy with their service. After all that research; I put together a packing list (an adaptation of one I use for all our trips) and pre departure check list of things to be done before the trip. I almost always start my packing list 6 months in advance. Especially when traveling to places that have a different " season" than the one I will be in a few weeks before departure. Here in NE it can be tough to find shorts in December, so if I have a January departure to a warm place, I like to have my packing list together so I can pick up items in the season they are available and put them aside. About 4-6 weeks in advance I start pulling together the things that I won't be needing to wear and my dedicated " travel" items and lay things out to see how they will fit in my bag, and make sure everything is in good repair ( and fits!). I know this probably sounds like and excessive amount of planning, but I am actually a very light packer, so this allows me to really pack only exactly what I need, rather than throwing everything in at the last minute and having to sit on the suitcase to make it close;-) I curb my anxiety about whether I have "it all " by remembering there are really only 3 things you MUST bring- your documents, any prescription medications, and lastly the one thing that covers you for anything else- your cash and/or credit cards. Everything else can be improvised, purchased at your destination, or you can live without. This mantra frees me from the craziness that usually characterizes the frenzy before departure. For this trip we have each packed a roll aboard carryon and a back pack. We checked one large roller duffle to accommodate the extra bathing suits, and sunscreen we need. This larger bag will also make it easier to consolidate dirty laundry as we go, freeing up space in our roll aboards to pack souvenirs we are sure to bring back. I'll put the complete packing list at the end of my review. (photo of packing) (photo of packing list) (photo of pre departure to do list) Aug 13: Departure Day Left the house at 6- we were pretty happy to get 6 of us the door on time. TIPS Not forgetting the important things: we have a family tradition of checking 3 things. As we drive out the driveway, we stop at the end and I lay my actual hands on all the passports, and other documents we MUST have to be admitted, the prescription medication and at least one credit card. After that- I let it all go, what's remembered, what we've forgotten, from here on out we are on an adventure and will figure it out. Its always tricky negotiating airports with a large group. Even more difficult with my mom and dad who rarely fly on airplanes and haven't traveled internationally in decades. Due to DH 's frequent business travel along with a pretty hearty serving of vacation travel we are lucky to have " Priority" with American Airlines. So check in goes quickly but after getting in the priority security line, TSA agent eyes my mons carry on and decided moms bag was not carry on size. We went back to check the offending bag, luckily, being able to once again use the Priority line again, but first had to remove the pills that mom was carrying in her offensively obese carry on. Like dating a tree by counting rings, you can tell a persons age by how many pills they take. I think the ratio goes something like this....1-2 pills for every 10 years of life. So by 70, you've amassed a really lovely, colorful collection of pills and supplements that must be taken every day. My parents are no exception, and as dad says " getting old sure beats the alternative!) Of course the removed pills (cases and cases of them) didn't cooperate by going gently into the back packs- oh no! They pretty much started popping open and rolling around in the bag. Of course this would only be the first time the pills try to make a break for it, but that's a story for later. (photo of pill cases) After the contested carry on and pill debacle, we head back to the Priority security line, which luckily is even shorter now, and we zip through security. No thats a complete lie- we hold up security and dozens of irritated and busy business people while hollering at my deaf and incredulous dad that he has to take off his belt..."my belt? Do I have to take off my clothes too?" Did I mention dad hasn't flown in a decade? My mom has a replacement knee that sets of alarms and must be wanded. But is more fun to think we "zipped"! After security we make our way without incident to Miami...there weren't anymore incidents till it was it was time to deplane in Miami. Then my mother singe handedly held up the plan by forgetting her purse on the seat and having to swim back upstream to get it. And if that wasn't disruptive enough, she also caused my daughter to forget her roller bag. Now, I have trained my girls to be good little travelers; they move through the airport at their fathers pace ( which is quite quick with his height at 66) and they have always pulled their own little wheelie bags, ( we trained them on the kind where you can strap the baby doll to the front, now they've graduated to full size!) So missing her roller bag- DD1 gets up and immediately says to her grandmother " I have to get my roller bag" to which Grandmother says " oh not to worry, I saw your dad take them all down". So we start off and get into the terminal and just as we are about to get on the first escalator DD1 says " where's my roller bag?" Umm...it would still been the plane in the overhead. So now dd1 and DH are swimming upstream to get back on the plane to reclaim the bag. Bag saved, lunch at the food court and it's time to sit and wait for our Mia- Quito flight. Which was uneventful- except for another pill incident. This time DF and DM must take some of those pills they packed since its lunch time. Unfortunately, pills end up on the floor of the plane, DF is very upset that a pill might be lost ( except that in fact they packed two extra weeks worth of pills - just in case. Just in case what, I'm not exactly sure, but if Armageddon happens and we need to stay on this trip an extra fortnight, my parents are prepared!) )I come back from the lavatory to find my mom on her hands and knees on the floor where she is sure she sees a pill she missed. In fact, she rescues... a cocktail peanut, that just looks like a pill! The rest of the flight was unremarkable- except for the part where the flight attendant asked if all 6 of us were together and when we told her it was to celebrate my folks 50 th anniversary, she proceeded to slip me a big bottle of champagne to celebrate. Except, did I mention my DF is a recovering alcoholic? Well, it was very thoughtful! After landing in Quito at about 6:30 PM, we proceeded downstairs to a queue where we filled out a customs form. We had already filled out the immigration form onboard the aircraft, one per passport. The customs form is one per family. They are particularly looking for people bringing boxed electronics back for the US to sell ( we saw at least two boxes of brand new electronic items go into the overhead on this flight) . We had plenty of electronics, but everything was coming back with us in 2 weeks! The line was a bit slow, but because of our large flight, a couple of extra immigration agents were added and things moved pretty well, about 15-30 minute wait. Then we picked up our luggage, which you can actually see on the carousel from the immigration line ( there's our bag...there's our bag again, there's our bag...well, you get the idea! ) We collected the bags and queued up again, this times for customs. They looked at the customers form and were scanning every single bag coming into the country, with one single scanner. This queue was about 30-40 minutes long, but the ABD guides told us some have been held up as much as an hour or more if more than one flight comes in at a time. We could see our ABD guide holding the sign outside the secure area every time the door opened. Later he told us that the customs agents have been checking everything because of this tax on new electronics coming in, and not wanting people smuggling electronics ("nope, officer, no electronics to declare, we are just here to see ****ies!") Our ABD transfer guide then led us through the airport, which was pretty chaotic with families greeting arrivals, little children selling candy, and plenty of porters and cabbies. It was busy, but no one bothered us, or appeared to be overly aggressive about approaching people. My 70 YO parents were each pulling a fairly large bag, my father carrying a 3rd, plus small back packs (at that elevation and tired form flying all day) and they were finding it hard to keep up with the transfer guide. He was parked easily a 1/4 mile from the terminal and I felt he should have at least offered to assist the elders with a bag. He dashed ahead with his sign, while my folks were huffing to keep up. I was disappointed because I had specifically booked ABD because I could assure my parents that they would not need to touch their bags once we were being handled by ABD. As the host of this adventure for my parents, I was disappointed that this was their first contact. Not cool, and definitely not very ABD like, since we had no problem the rest of the trip; with our guide Laura even joking with the group on our last day at the Quito airport when folks went to pick up bags... "step away from the bags!". So this was unusual IMO. The transfer guide was otherwise informative and helpful on the bus, and it took about 20 minutes to get to the Marriott in fairly heavy traffic for 8:15 PM on a Monday night. Upon arriving at the JW Marriott, we were greeted by a hotel staffer in traditional dress and offered a local juice and hot towels. Very nice! (photo of JW Marriott) The ABD transfer guide gave us our room keys, and said his goodbyes. We did go to the desk to get the room keys changed over to reflect my DH Gold Elite Marriott status so we would have access to the Elite lounge on level 9, and to have a credit card on file for incidentals. We did head to the lounge to get the teenagers some desserts ( served 8-10PM) and stock up on water bottles for the next mornings tour. There was a lovely deck overlooking the city, and this was our first night time view of Quito. After getting to our rooms and cleaning up a bit, we hit the hay! We had a guide from Ecuadorian Tours that had been set by our TA for 10 AM the next day. We had a note in our room from our Adventure Guides, Laura and Robby, that they would be in the lobby at 9:30, and (again in the evening), so we would have a chance to " check in" before our day tour. TIPS Arrival Day and Travel Tips: We decided to book our pre and post nights and air through ABD. The air cost not one penny more, we were able to choose our preferred flights, my DH was able to use his FF# to access his favorite exit row seats. He also has status at Marriott, booking through ABD cost us no more per night, and we had breakfast and transfers included, even 2 days AFTER our adventure was over. It was a completely seamless vacation and cost no extra. My DH was also able to get "credit" for the nights in Quito with Marriott. There was no reason not to book it all directly through ABD ( via my wonderful TA) Also, we planned to arrive one day ahead, which in retrospect was a very smart thing to do. While we may not have had a big "jet lag" to deal with (only 1 hour time difference in the summer because of DLST here in the Eastern US), some people had flights arriving into the late evening the night before our journey to the Otavalo valley area started. Others were arriving from the West or Midwest, so Jet lag would have more of an effect. The first day on the ABD bus is a long one, starting early, so I really recommend trying to get in the night before, (pay for a pre night)so you have the "first" day of the adventure to relax at the hotel, meet the guides and other adventurers or explore a little of Quito. JW Marriott is a very high end Marriott and one of the best accommodations in Quito. It is very much designed to cater to the international business person, so you will find that most of the amenities and design is similar to what you find in other parts of the industrialized world. A gleaming lobby filled with roses, a very efficient front desk, a well stocked Elite lounge on the 9th level. Several excellent (and expensive by Ecuadorian standards) restaurants and shops. (photos of lobby) The rooms were very large and well appointed, with plenty of outlets for charging and a clock radio with and ipod dock. The beds are huge, comfortable and have loads of pillows. Service and housekeeping was excellent, and prompt. (photo of the room) The bath was large with a single sink, soaking tub, separate shower and toilet enclosures. Free bottled water was provided in both the bath and bedroom, for teeth brushing, however my DF and I each accidently brushed with tap and had no ill effects. Also, JW Marriott has a more up to date plumbing system and items such as TP can be tossed into the toilet. Here is a good place for potty talk... TIPS Potty Talk Tips: (I work with pre schoolers so am quite comfortable with potty talk, if you are not, just skip past this section) -OK, here it is...the water: As Americans were are told not to drink the water in South America, as the sanitation of water is different and can upset US travelers tummies. This is known as Tourista, Montezuma's revenge and other fun names. But bottom line (no pun intended) is its best to drink bottled or purified water. In the hotel rooms, this includes not brushing teeth with tap water. In all our ABD hotels, we were provided with bottled water for this purpose. Any water served at hotels and restaurants on the ABD tour and in the Marriott were assured to be using purified water for their juices and foods. No one in our family suffered with this problem, so they obviously do a good job. -I always eat yogurt when traveling, without getting to graphic the probiotics in yogurt are very protective from getting bouts of so called "tourista" . Both DH and I have had very good luck since eating yogurt, or in his case taking a daily probiotic. One difference is the yogurt here is very thin, no difference in taste, just the consistency, I actually drank it like a smoothie a couple of days. -The toilets: In most of Ecuador, the plumbing is designed in such a way that nothing, including TP, can be tossed into the toilets. Most public bathrooms in non tourist or low budget areas do not offer TP at all. In some places there is a small charge (10-25 cents)that you pay the woman attending the restroom (and I must say its usually a family affair, she will be there with her mother and several young children who wander in and out of the bathrooms) at the entrance. For this, you will get a little wad of paper. This paper and anything else that you might think about tossing into a US toilet should be thrown instead into the basket in the stall. In nicer places, it is a covered foot pedal can, in lesser spots, an open basket. Attended "banos" will also have soap, others may not. In the case of your ABD, your guides will always have TP and hand sanitizer for every bath stop. If there is an attendant, the guides will pay them after the group has finished, so no need during the tour to worry about these things. If you are moving around on your own during your pre or post nights, I recommend that you carry a packet or two of kleenex, some hand sanitizer, and a few coins (US coins are legal tender in Ecuador)for this purpose. Hand sanitizer is worth using even after washing with soap and water. We washed often and avoided being sick! In the end (ok, I planned that one!)its a good idea to have your doctor give you a prescription for antibiotics in case you do end up with a protracted problem. A bout or two is just your bodies way of getting rid of what it sees as a threat, but more than that and you might find relief with the antibiotic. We get them whenever we travel to places where we are concerned about health care access and never use them, but better safe than sorry! Up Next: Our first day in Quito!