27 April 2012, San Juan
Friends Glenn and Carol invited us to join them on a repositioning cruise from San Juan to Bayonne NJ, which started from San Juan. The ports included St. Maartin, St. Thomas, Tortola, a day at sea, two days in Bermuda, and a day at sea.
After booking our one-way flight to San Juan, we decided to book a couple of rooms at a hotel near the Baltimore airport. Our flight was at 6am.
Not wanting a late night before our flight, we had an early dinner with our friend Mark at the Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia Maryland (http://www.victoriagastropub.com/). This is a popular place with lots of beers to choose from. The food was very good too. We all shared the duck fat fries, which was served in a bucket with roasted garlic aioli and truffle sea salt. This is not a place for a diet; but we were starting our vacation.
I had the warm breeze and baby spinach salad, smoked duck confit, bacon, blue cheese, poached egg, and Dijon vinaigrette. The portion of the duck was small but that was fine, as I started with the grand marnier chicken liver pate, served with Challah toast, apricot & ginger chutney -- it was very good, but as Mark said, it didn't have a heavy liver taste. It was smooth, creamy, and mild.
We woke up about 3:50am. It was a quick ride to the airport and a quick flight to Philadelphia. From there it was a 3.5 hour flight to San Juan. I had checked prices to fly directly from Philadelphia but the tickets were more expensive for the non-stop flight! How crazy is that?
In San Juan, it didn't take long at all to get our luggage. We took a taxi to the hotel. Tony discovered while we were waiting at the check-in desk that his cell phone somehow slipped out of his holder that was on his belt...in the taxi. I called his cell phone hoping the taxi driver would answer the phone and drive back to the hotel. No such luck. Tony later called Verizon and canceled the service while we were on vacation. Later after the cruise and back to work I had received a voice message from the taxi driver, so we made arrangements for him to mail it back to us.
Glenn's room was ready. He shared his Sheraton points with us while I paid for his room in Baltimore. My friend Lee told us that the hotel was overbooked and that customers were being moved to a different Sheraton hotel. Fortunately with Glenn's points, we were not bumped. Tony and I stored our luggage in Glenn's room for the afternoon.
It wasn't overly hot but without the tropical breeze it would have been uncomfortable. Time for lunch, so we made reservations at Racines, a place I read about that serves authentic Puerto Rican food made by "Caguas boys." My father (and his family) was born in Caguas. We had a 20 minute wait so we just walked around the area.
The waiters/waitresses were dressed in local costume. It's a touristy looking place but the food was good. I had a chicken dish with rice and red beans, really tasty. Tony ordered a fish and thought it was supposed to be battered and fried. It was served baked or sauteed.
After lunch, we took the free trolley to fort San Cristobal. I had not read the sign on the trolley where it stated "No standing." I did stand up for a few seconds to take a photo. Instead of the driver making an announcement to me via a speaker, he slammed on the breaks. My lower back was sore for two days. What an ass hole. He did that to one other person, an older gentleman. The driver was only going about 10-12 miles/hour. He could have simply stopped and told us to sit down. I wonder how many other people had back injuries.
On the main grounds of the fort was the 7th annual reenactment of the battle of 1797, where we saw many people dressed in military uniforms and clothing of the period. It seemed more of a dress rehearsal, as the men with the guns took their time to set things up. There were several tents, canons, etc. Around the grounds there were people flying kites. It was a pleasant day to be outdoors.
We headed back to the center of town, taking lots of streets, zigzagging all around so I could take photos of the colorful buildings.
I didn't want to go back to the hotel to only have to turn around again, so we decided to go to Nono's (100 Calle San San Sebastin) early. I made plans for a pre-cruise get together with fellow passengers. We arrived at 5pm and sat at the bar. The bar had two-for-one Peroni beer specials. I asked the bartender if he had any other specials since I rarely drink beer. He offered Sky vodka 2/1 specials. I had him make me drinks mixed with orange and cranberry juice, a nice tropical flavor, and a perfect choice to sip on while in San Juan. I had 6 drinks (they were in small plastic cups), Tony had 4 and our total bar bill was $20!!! We tipped well.
At 6:30pm Tina and Paul showed up. Linda walked up too -- she had been sitting at the bar too around the corner. Barbara was the last to arrive. We had a great time together. There are three open doors to the restaurant/bar and at one point we saw a parade walk by. They were the re-enactors from earlier in the day. Several men were on horses.
There was a small restaurant next door (El Patio de Sam), but after looking at the menu and seeing only typical bar food I asked the group if they wanted to go to El Jibarito (280 Calle Sol, 787-725-8375, http://www.eljibaritopr.com/), a place that serves local food. Just down one block and over about four blocks, we went inside a large room with tall ceilings, lots of ceiling fans and colorful walls. The food was fabulous!! A few of us ordered the mofongo-filled steak with peppers and tomatoes in a tasty creole sauce, which was excellent! There was plenty of chunks of the steak and was filling. A small salad came with the dinner too.
Back at the hotel Carol and I went to the casino - I watched while she lost her money. In the meantime the Tony moved our luggage to our room.
28 April 2012, Boarding the ship in San Juan
I wanted to have breakfast at Bombonera, a place that's been open for 110 years and unfortunately, closing permanently at the end of April. The place was packed, so we found a small coffee place that serves sandwiches and other goodies. It's located next to the Plaza de Armes. Just next door is a nice gift shop that we had gone into the day before. I wanted to go back and purchase something. We had egg sandwiches for breakfast and I was able to use their wifi with my itouch.
A little more photos ops and then back to the hotel to check out. It was a quick taxi ride (the driver drove really, really fast!) to the Pan Am pier. We arrived to the port at 12:20pm. It took only 15 minutes from getting out of the taxi to walking onboard the ship to receiving a glass of sparkling wine. We had gone through Captain's Club member elite line and only stood there for a couple of minutes.
Our room wasn't ready and this was the first cruise that we couldn't drop off our carry-ons in our cabin, so we headed to the cafe for lunch. I was not impressed with most of the food in the buffet. The Indian food was very good, along with the pizza, although I wished for a crustier bottom. I didn't like the fact that the areas were so spread out. On this first day, I missed one area, but from that point on I would scan everything before deciding what to choose. I know for health reasons you can't get your own salad fixings but I would have preferred to serve myself.
Glenn and I headed to the future cruises booking office and jotted our names down in the binder. We had an appointment for later in the afternoon. We had a particular cruise in mind for 2013.
Around 1:30pm or so, there was an announcement on the speaker that all rooms were ready. Our room, 9127, was very nice, and in fact it seemed to have a better layout and felt more spacious than the other cabins we've been in. They could add cabinets above the bed, but we were fine with the amount of drawers. The desk area was wide and the lighting was much better. I liked that the sleeper sofa was covered in a cloth than a vinyl material. We loved the shower head and hydro panel that had 3-4 extra 'sprays'. I need one installed in my bathroom! There was a safe in the closet.
We missed having foot rests on the balcony, but we were told there were none due to the size of the balcony. I wish the partitions could open, as we enjoyed having them open on our last cruise on the Eclipse. We were five cabins in a row and had all partitions open throughout the cruise. It was great being able to walk back and forth while having our afternoon snacks and drinks.
The location of our cabin was excellent, only four cabins away from the mid stair case and elevators, and one deck down from the cafe and aft sunset bar. It made for a longer walk to the spa area, but we didn't mind at all. Four decks down and we were in Blu. Our room was very quiet -- no noise from above or our neighbors.
We walked around the ship to check out the various areas, including Blu. I've been on the Millennium and Constellation but it's been several years so I really don't remember how it looked and therefore, cannot comment on any differences. She's in great shape and I enjoyed the size of this ship compared to the S-class ships (although they're my favorite). The various areas of the ship did not feel crowded at all.
The afternoon sail away get together with fellow cruise critics at the sunset bar was fun. It was great to put names with faces.
All passengers were required to be on the ship by 4:30pm, even though the ship sailed at 8:30pm. At 5pm was the lifeboat drill. Our station was in the rendezvous lounge.
Back at the booking office I booked two cruises for 2013. Celebrity had a great offer through 18 May 2012 for captain's club members: $200 Onboard Credit (OBC) when booking an 11-13 night cruise along with $100pp deposit (rather than $450pp deposit). The OBC varied with the number of cruise nights. When I booked the two cruises I was not given $200 OBC but $400 OBC for each cruise!! I also received a three-room category upgrade, paying the 2A cabin price for a 1A cabin. I also purchased a $100 Open Passages for a future cruise. Sweet deals!!
Dinner in Blu was great! Blu is a specialty restaurant for aqua class guests (and for suite guests if there's availability along with a $5 surcharge). It was interesting to see how Blu was incorporated by using a portion of the MDR, which was part of the "solsticizing" of the Summit. The room is quite elegant with white table clothes, cobalt blue stem-less water glasses, white plates with a streak of blue; blue/clear crystal chandeliers, and the wall opposite the windows was curved with cushioned seats. Tables were usually set for two but if you were more than two, the tables would be pushed together.
The music was sometimes quirky. Since this was open seating, we would just show up whenever we were ready to eat. We never had to wait more than a few minutes. Sometimes someone was standing waiting to seat guests.
The food: Oh my!! We loved dining in Blu!! Celebrity calls the food "clean cuisine". We enjoyed a very nice variety of foods that were well prepared, nicely presented, and not heavy in fats or heavy sauces. The portions were smaller but we always walked away comfortable without feeling stuffed. Everything was made to order, which makes Blu extra special and worth the additional expense of paying for an aqua class cabin, rather than massed produced foods for the main dining room (although I have to say I've always enjoyed the food in the main dining room -- Celebrity does a great job).
For my first dinner in Blu I had the lobster salad with caviar; romaine soup (different but good), short ribs (fall off the bone tender and flavorful); crÃ¨me brulee; bottle of white wine.
I'll say now that the service in Blu was exceptional the entire cruise. Nicolus, the Matre D', waiters Mustafa, Eugene, and Catalin, and Olga the bartender, were wonderful. They were attentive, professional, and friendly. Nicolus was constantly running around and checking to make sure customers were happy and that quality service was being provided. The sommelier was pretty attentive until one night we brought a bottle of sparkling wine to the table (received as a gift from concierge).
29 April 2012, St. Maartin (8am to 5pm)
For breakfast, the menu in Blu is the same every day, but there's a good variety to choose from. I ordered eggs benedict one day, which is not on the menu. You can order an omelet and choose from a dozen or so toppings. I enjoyed the smoothies and fresh squeezed orange juice. My friend Carol ordered the muesli a couple of times, which is prepared tableside. The men complained about the very small coffee cups but the waiters kept coming back filling them to the rim.
Breakfast this morning: Asparagus frittata (topped with caviar), fresh squeezed orange juice, and a pastry.
Out in town, we took a taxi to Marigot. The taxi driver was the first we've encountered in the Caribbean that was NOT friendly. Usually, a driver will try to negotiate a day trip around the island and would always be chatty and friendly. Not this one. She even dropped us off at a location other than the official taxi stand. We didn't realize this at first, and it was just a couple of block from the main area so it wasn't a big deal. However, we figured she did this to avoid having to wait in the taxi line for customers.
Most of Marigot was closed down since it was a Sunday. We walked around the area and stopped at Sandy's Restaurant for drinks. There were a few restaurants/bars open. In the same area was a small outdoor market with vendors selling local handmade products. Both Carol and I bought pretty shell necklaces for $10.
We took another taxi to Maho beach to have lunch and also watch the planes come in. The end of the runway sits behind a fence and is about 30 feet from the beach. There's a small 2-lane road in between, which traffic is stopped when a plane lands. We saw the KLM (a 747) take off. Too bad we missed the landing, which would have been more spectacular to see.
Lunch was good. I had the 8-oz cheeseburger. I ended up skipping the bread on the second half of the sandwich since it was so big. Drinks were yummy. While eating we watched all sorts of planes land. I kept looking at the idiots near the fence line, as well as those on the beach who were being sprayed by the sand. I bet that didn't feel too good.
Another taxi ride and we were back in Phillipsburg. Originally we told the taxi driver that brought us to Maho beach that we would need a ride back at a certain time. However, once we were done with lunch we didn't want to wait over an hour, so we found another taxi driver with a van that seats about 14 people. We got in and there were 4 already in the van. She stated we would leave in a minute but then disappeared for a while. We thought we were leaving immediately. She came back with two more passengers. Then she left again!! By that time, we got out of the van and went to find another taxi driver.
In town, we walked along the main street checking out the jewelry on display in the windows. In the center of town was a parade of locals, mostly young children, in colorful costumes.
Back on the ship, Tony and Glenn went to the spa to enjoy the saunas and I hung out with Carol on the balcony.
At the Captain's Club social hour (5-7pm in the Revelations lounge) I was surprised it was so sparse with people. Even though there were only about 60-70 people, service was very slow in getting a drink. Tony and I snacked very lightly on the canapes since we were having dinner soon after. It really wasn't an exciting social hour.
This evening was the first of two formal nights. We didn't bring suits and cocktail dresses but still brought nice evening wear. I noticed later in the cruise that photographers had taken pictures of people while dining in Blu. Somehow we missed them or they missed us. I don't know if they show up to Blu at certain times, but it would have been nice to have a photo or two at dinner.
Dinner: Macadamia nut crusted scallops, crab bisque, rack of lamb (two small ribs -- will ask for double on the next cruise), and a pear tart.
Evening entertainment: Captain's gala toast followed by the Celebrity Showtime: "Stars in their Eyes, a tribute to legendary stars and their unforgettable music."
30 April 2012, St. Thomas (8am to 5pm)
After our breakfast, I stopped by the concierge desk asking about the tote bag that was supposed to be in our room. He called the cabin attendant and told him to deliver it.
We headed out and grabbed one of the open air vans to Sapphire beach to do some snorkeling. We were disappointed with the number of fish we saw after researching which beach was the best to snorkel. The beach area was beautiful and we were able to find a spot in the shade. I haven't been a "sun worshiper" in years.
I picked up a fun, cheap mint-colored necklace for $10. It's made with magnets and is one long string. You can wrap around your wrist to make into a bracelet or wrap around your neck and 'design' the ends, allowing the magnets to hook together randomly.
In Charlotte Amalie, at the flea market, I picked up a necklace but should have picked up earrings too.
We had lunch at Glady's Cafe. The food was very good: Curry goat with rice, beans, and sweet plantains; Tony had the jerk chicken; and we all shared the conch fritters. Carol and I each had a couple of rum drinks; the guys had beers. The place seemed to be quite popular -- lots of hungry diners filled the room. (About $28pp with drinks and tip). Our waitress, an older woman, provided good service with a smile.
I had seen a beautiful yellow emerald and diamond ring on the ship and priced it but decided to do some comparison shopping. I didn't see a single yellow emerald (never heard of it before -- quality emeralds should be green!). I looked through several stores and ended up with a beautiful chocolate and white diamond ring set in 18k rose gold. The design is unique and stunning.
Later on the ship at the social hour, we met a couple from Gaithersburg, which is just 20 minutes from where we live.
Dinner: I decided to have a cocktail and ordered a pear-martini. It's one of my favorites (besides the chocolate and 'flirtini). Seafood carpaccio, spinach salad, filet mignon.
1 May 2012, Tortola (7am to 2pm)
This was our fourth day on the ship and we've been having bad service from our cabin attendant (the same with our friends). I had already talked to the concierge. Today when I picked up the beach towels from the couch, I discovered they were wet!! Yesterday we placed our wet/used beach towels on the floor in the corner so our attendant could remove them and provide clean, DRY towels. We were furious! If he folded wet towels, did he re-hang the used towels we placed on the bathroom floor that we wanted replaced!? I saw him in the hallway and asked for new towels. I was not going to argue the issue with him but talk to the concierge again later in the day.
For breakfast, we ate in the cafe. We booked a ship's snorkeling tour so we didn't want a long sit down breakfast.
There were about 20 people on the boat and we spent our time snorkeling in two different locations. The water was very comfortable once you got in. The snorkeling was great! Lots of fish and colorful coral. I had an underwater camera with me and took many photos, as I wasn't really familiar with the functions of the camera. Happily, several dozen came out very well. I'm ready to go snorkeling again!!
On the boat the guys served rum punch. And the drinks certainly had a punch to them! I was surprised they were serving the drinks in the middle of our trip and not waiting till after we were done swimming in the water.
Back at the port, we shared a taxi to the center of town with another couple and walked around a bit. It's a very small town and not much going on. Close to the port were several market stands. I bought earrings to go with the necklace I bought the day before.
At 2pm was the cruise critic connections party in the Revelations lounge. This was sort of disappointing because everyone sat in chairs rather than mingling together.
Six of us had a great time in Qsine (our second time -- first time was on the Eclipse). This was the only specialty restaurant we went to on this cruise -- we enjoyed dining in Blu that there was no point in spending the extra bucks when we already spent more for our cabin. There's a lot to choose (via an ipad) from so I recommend "Go Hungry!" Also, make reservations for around 6:30pm, as it can be a 2-1/2 to 3 hour event. Some of my favorites that we ordered: M's Favorites, lava crab, lamb chops, treceviche, disco shrimp. Other items we ordered: Kobe burgers, lobster escargot (they used mushrooms), and filet mignon (overcooked so I ordered a new one). Service was good. The room could have used better lighting. I ended up borrowing the blue flashing cubes that were in the disco shrimp for added light (turn off the flash first).
Time change this evening -- clocks one hour forward.
2 May 2012, Day at Sea
We slept in and enjoyed breakfast at 10am in the cafe: Eggs benedict!
At 1:30pm we went to the Captains Club Celebration. Drinks were served and there were a few food stations: Sushi, roast beef carving station (always overcooked for my taste), crepes, fresh fruit, etc.
From 3pm to 4:45pm, Lee hosted a wine tasting party in Michael's. Not too many showed up, as other cruise critic members were participating in the slot pull. We were nine of us enjoying a nice variety of red, white, and dessert wines. The staff brought two large platters of cheese, crackers, bread sticks, dried fruits, etc. I really liked this smaller size group.
Dinner: Frog legs, blackened tuna salad, halibut.
Evening entertainment was Karen Grainger, a singing impressionist. She was great! She started out singing as Cher. She also did Tina Turner, Lady Gaga, and others.
3 May 2012, Bermuda (1pm)
Blu serves some scrumptious smoothies. I had the mango flavor, along with eggs benedict on top of toasted rye bread. I actually enjoyed it more than on plain English muffins. Nicolus provided a round of complimentary mimosas to our table.
Carol and I headed to the 10am "Global Flavors" cooking demonstration. We watched a few chefs make various dishes and small samples were passed out to everyone in the audience. Everyone was also given the recipes. It was a lot of fun to watch and sample the foods.
Late arrival in Bermuda! We were supposed to dock at 1pm but we docked at 2pm, as a ship that was in our berth had not left, so the captain moved the Summit slowly to our destination at the Dockyards. We didn't get off the ship until around 2:30pm. Everyone was trying to get off the ship at the same time.
It was an overcast and humid day. We were able to buy our ferry tickets and grab the 3pm ferry to Hamilton (good timing) and spent the afternoon walking around town with a self-guided map and information. Walked up to the fortress and got there at 5pm. Sign read, "Closes at 5pm" but we were not ushered out. Great views of the town and port, although somewhat hazy.
My plans were to have dinner on the ship and then go to Frog and Onion for drinks but the rest wanted to stay in town for dinner. I always carry a list of recommended restaurants when traveling so we headed to Hog Penney. It's a nice British pub. I had the lamb stew, which was excellent. Tony had the fish and chips.
More good timing and we caught the 7pm ferry back to the ship.
Evening entertainment: Fred Keltt, a stand-up comedian (very good) and Sue Denning: One Woman Show (also very good).
We finally hit the martini bar and had a couple of drinks. We made new friends too.
4 May 2012, Bermuda (departed 5pm)
I hired Colin Jennings, who was highly recommended on the Cruise Critic boards, for a private tour of the island. We made many stops around Bermuda including Somerset Bridge (the smallest in the world -- the opening is just big enough for a sails mast to go through), the fortress nearby, Gibbs light house, scenic stops to see the gorgeous blue water and beaches. Flatts is a very pretty town and has an aquarium. Outside of the building is a large pool with about six green sea turtles!
In St. George we visited St. Peters Church and Fort St. Catherine. There were a few VIP cars in the parking lot. The minister of public works was on a tour of the fort, as it had been recently renovated.
Our last stop was to the sea glass beach near the dockyards. Wow, there's a lot of glass but certainly not old glass. The man that sells his sea glass art work told Tony he's always tossing glass into the water. Carol and I brought large zip lock bags and took a bunch of glass. It was overwhelming. Do I collect one color? What size? What can I do with them? We spent about 20 minutes and finally left.
We had a late lunch on the ship and then spent time in the saunas and T-pool.
At 7:45pm the Senior Officer's cocktail party was held in the revelations lounge. What a friendly group of officers, who spent time mingled with the guests. A couple of officers talked to us for about 15 minutes. On some nights Captain Mantzavinos would walk through Blu and stop by our table (and others) to ask how our day went. He was a very friendly man.
Dinner: A delicious chicken and foie gras appetizer, lobster tails, fruit zabaglione.
We ended the evening on our balcony enjoying the fresh air and our wine.
Time change this evening, clocks set back one hour.
5 May 2012, Day at Sea
At breakfast, I asked for eggs benedict. The waiter told us that it was not available since there was a brunch later in the morning. I decided to eat lightly (blue berry parfait with yogurt and granola) so I could enjoy the food at brunch.
Glenn, Carol and I went to the morning "Beyond the Podium" with Gene Ehmann, who lectured on the Mob, specifically about Joseph Bonanno. Gene's lecture was quite interesting. Tony went to a different lecture, ship's navigation or something like that.
Brunch: Ah, we finally learned to get around the chaotic atmosphere like we encountered on our last two cruises. Go late! It seems that most passengers hit the brunch when it first opens. We arrived around 12:30pm. The food selections were good: Pastries and breads, fruits, cheese and meats, salmon, carved beef, omelets made to order, stir fry made to order, soups, baked fish, chicken cutlets, pasta, chocolate fountain, and lots of desserts. I had some of the beef stroganoff, lobster bisque, sushi, caesar salad, and a crepe for dessert.
Carol and I went to watch the 'Star Chefs' cooking challenge in the theatre. It's always a lot of fun, as the chefs typically goof off, steal ingredients from their competitor, pour themselves some wine, or try to get a head start of the clock.
I did some packing and later enjoyed our time in the saunas and T-pool. This was a very nice aqua class perk.
Tony and I went to the elite social hour and sat with fellow cruise critics Larry and Nancy.
Dinner: Wild salmon, salad with mushroom, pheasant, side of fettuccini, chocolate praline cake for dessert.
6 May, Sunday
The ship arrived early in Bayonne NJ. We didn't have a flight to take (Glenn rented a large vehicle for us to get back to Baltimore), so our scheduled departure time was set for 8:50am. It was nice not having to get up before the crack of dawn.
We enjoyed the last breakfast in Blu, although this was the only time we actually had to wait for a table. I had the smoked salmon and asparagus frittata, a side of sauteed mushrooms; mango smoothie, and orange juice.
We went to the Normandie restaurant along with the other Captain's Club elite members. In the Normandie was a table with pastries, coffee, and tea. We arrived about 8:35am and within 15 minutes the entire elite group was called. We took the stairs since we knew some of the crowd would take the elevators. We were off the ship in another minute and found our luggage once inside the main area. This was one of the fastest disembarkations on any ship I've been on.
We enjoyed our cruise, although we felt it wasn't on par with the other Celebrity cruises we've been on. Also, the situation with our attendant was terrible (not all issues were stated in in this journal). In the end and after a long letter to Celebrity, they still have us as loyal customers.
It was nice meeting people from cruise critic, as well as others on the ship.
We enjoyed our time on the ship and while on the islands.
I'm looking forward to my next cruise in the fall and future cruises as well.