Background & General Impressions - First time sailing on Celebrity. My family consists of myself, DH (both early 40s) and DD who is 6. This was my 6th cruise, DH's 7th cruise and DD's 4th. Prior to celebrity, we had been on four other lines -- princess, carnival, NCL and RCI. We booked this cruise last minute (about a week out) but so happy we did. Loved Celebrity and it has definitely moved up our list. Overall, it was a great trip -- beautiful ship, good food, good kids club and nice ports. Would definitely recommend Celebrity!
Pre-cruise & Embarkation - Flew into FLL night before. Because we booked last minute and it was Spring Break time, we didn't have a lot of options for hotels so ended up at the Sleep Inn. It was ok for a short stay, but I wouldn't choose this one for more than an overnight. Hotel shuttle and shuttle to port were both convenient and free. Also convenient was the 24-hour Walgreens and publix grocery store next door. Seemed clean enough, but was definitely showing the wear and tear that comes with these places.
Took the 1 p.m. shuttle over because I didn't want to wait around too long with a little one. Really glad we did that as they started boarding late (because of Norovirus precautions after last cruise) and there was a bit of a line. Probably the longest I've ever had to wait to board a cruise, but it was comfortable and folks were behaving themselves so it was all good. Staff involved in the boarding process were extremely nice. Walked on board and was greeted with a glass of bubbly -- yeah!!! Daughter received bracelet for kids club before we even boarded -- very organized. Boarded and attended muster drill -- very organized and nicely produced video that played informing us of what to do. Were out at the pool shortly thereafter and on our way!
Cabin - We had cabin 9159 for the week. Overall a great cabin. Location was awesome. Close to stairs / elevator but around the corner so we didn't hear the activity at all. The cabin was extremely quiet. I've had ones in the past that were really loud -- lots of creaking, rattling, etc. but not the case with this one. Also felt very little movement in the cabin. Liked the more subtle, contemporary decor of the cabin. At first, I thought there wasn't enough storage space, but once we unpacked, there was room left over. I think the biggest design flaw in the room was the location of the TV. The TV was a nice size, etc. but it was mounted across from the sofa and did not tilt so if you wanted to watch something while lying in bed, it was difficult. Wouldn't have been a big deal, but since my daughter was using the sofa as her bed, we couldn't really sit on the sofa to watch. Also, the TV had music channels, room service, your photos, account info and even on demand movies. The balcony was a nice size and included 2 chairs that reclined. Bathroom was laid very nicely and the bed was comfy.
Public Spaces - I liked the understated, contemporary elegance of this ship. Loved the solarium and usually spent our time (when DD was in the kids club) there. Gym had everything we needed, main dining room was very nice and the variety of bars was nice as well. Liked the pool deck and the family pool, which was only 3', was great for the kids. Yes, it was hard at times ( but not impossible) to find a chair by the pool. I love when people complain about this because it has been a problem on EVERY beach vacation I have taken whether a cruise, an all-inclusive, etc.
Kids Club - One reason that we hadn't gone on Celebrity before was that the perception is that it isn't "kid friendly" line. When we decided to book a cruise last minute, Celebrity had one of the best deals so I did some research and from reviews learned that although not as extensive as other lines, they did have a decent kids club. Well, as usual my DD didn't want to leave. We would go to pick her up and she would just pout up a storm -- she even participated in the talent show at the end. They had the regular activities -- face painting, crafts, themed hours, scavenger hunts, games like bingo and visits to the main show and the hot glass show. The staff members were great with the kids. Another thing that I liked was that there weren't TOO many kids on the ship. I love my kid, but I don't necessarily want 1,500 other kids on my vacation. That's another reason we chose Celebrity during spring break time -- we knew that we wouldn't have 1,000+ kids on the ship. Sure enough there were about 200. The kids were all really well behaved and my DD quickly made some buddies and we would spend some time at the pool with them.
Entertainment & Other Activities - We had late dinner so we didn't get to hit all the shows. The main "Solstice" show was just ok. I guess when you live in Vegas and frequent New York, this version of Cirque Du Soleil just doesn't cut it. We did enjoy the smaller acts such as the guitarist Owen, the strings trio and the jazz ensemble - they were all very good. We really enjoyed the hot glass show / museum. What a unique thing to have on a cruise.
Food - Overall the food was good. As is usual with cruises, there was some very good food and some that wasn't quite as good. We did plan to go a speciality restaurants, but never made it. I think because 1) food was good enough in main dining room and 2) we were just full all the time so the thought of buying more food just seemed silly.
Ports -- really enjoyed all the ports. First time at all of them for us.
Puerto Rico - I found a walking tour online before leaving home and just printed that out. Took a walk down the Paseo La Princesa, along the wall, through the San Juan gate, up to the cathedral, past the "totem pole" and ended up at El Morro fort. Then made our way over to the Cristobal fort. Every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. there is a cultural performance. It was really fun to see some local dance / song. It was free with price of admission to the fort. My DD even went up at the end and danced with them. Walked around a bit more and ended up at Toro Salao. Food (tapas) was good enough, but the sangria was sooo good.
St. Thomas - I had done my research and knew that there would be 6 -- 7 ships in at one time -- yikes! So I wanted to avoid the main beaches like Coki as I knew they would be packed. Basically when looking for a beach I am looking for one that is good for my 6-year-old so calm and not too much partying, and simple amenities like chairs, umbrellas and of course a bucket of beer. After doing research, Sapphire beach seemed to meet our needs. Docked at Crown Bay and went to the taxi stand and was shuffled into one of the open air taxis with a bunch of other folks. This is a shared ride service that stopped at a couple of other locations. Traffic wasn't as bad as I expected, but the ride did take about a half hour. Dropped off at the beach. Not a huge beach, but fit the bill for us. There were folks there, but it wasn't too crowded. There is a shack with rentals, drinks, etc. We got a couple of chairs and a bucket of beer and we were good to go. Our original driver did come back for us, but we were a little late so we missed him, but it worked out for the best because we got another guy who was much nicer and pointed out things on the ride back. He even stopped at a lookout point over Charlotte Amalie and let us all get out for pictures. Once again, the traffic wasn't as bad as expected so we made it back to the ship with more than enough time. Both times it seemed like there was more traffic going the other way. All in all, a very good day at the beach.
St. Martin - Decided to go to Le Galion beach as I knew that there were quite a few ships in port that day so Orient would be packed. After getting in port, we went to the taxi stand. We were first put in a taxi van with other folks, but none of them were going to Le Galion- they were all going to Orient. But right before we left, they pulled us out as another large group showed up and wanted to go to Galion. So we got out an joined another van -- all of which were going to Le Gallion. This was good because it brought the per person charge down to $6 and my daughter met some other kids who would be going to the same beach. The ride was fine -- no real traffic to speak of. We arrived pretty early so the beach was fairly empty, which was fine with us. There were several sets of chairs and umbrellas out so we grabbed a couple. The chairs were $5 each and the umbrella was $5. Eventually an attendant came by and we started a tab. There isn't much to speak of at this beach. There is a restaurant / bar that offers the chairs, umbrellas and has some water toys to rent -- e.g. kayaks. There was a decent breeze that day but still the water was really calm. It really was great for small kids. It wasn't really crowded at all and there were a few other kids there so my daughter had someone to play with. Regarding the restaurant, we only got fries and a bucket of beer.
Disembarkation - We usually do self disembark, but it was really early and we just didn't want to rush so much on our last morning, so we requested luggage tags. The tags we got were a little late and we were concerned that we might miss our flight, so we simply went to guest relations and asked for an early time and they happily provided us with different tags. We ate some breakfast in the buffet (said one last good bye from our great wait staff) and then went down at the specific time. No real problems getting off. Line to go through authorities didn't take too long and grabbed a taxi and made it to the airport with more than enough time to meet our flight.
Service - Service was great, with a few little exceptions. Our room stewards were fantastic as were our waiters. They really did provide top-notch service. Two places were employees seemed a little less than enthusiastic were the buffet and some of the bars. Not that I can blame the ones in the buffet -- seems like a thankless job! Loved the little extras on the ship like cool towels being passed out on deck, a cool drink waiting for you after excursions or a complimentary drink on the formal night at the show.