We are seniors, Alan and Allyn; this was our 16th cruise (19th if you count b2bs as 2). We are Elite on Celebrity (as a result of Diamond status on RCI) and have sailed on HAL, Princess, and Crystal, as well. We flew in late two nights before the cruise and stayed at The Embassy Suites, just a few blocks from the pier. Their full breakfast and evening cocktail party helped us smooth over the 3-hour jet lag. We had dinner the night before the cruise with a couple we met on Cruise Critic.
Allyn had injured her foot and was unable to walk very far. So, at the last minute, we arranged for a rental wheel chair, (delivered to the hotel and picked up from the cabin on the ship by Care Vacations, one of two companies recommended by Celebrity). The hotel arranged for a van for us and another couple ($4 per person, including luggage and the wheel chair).
Embarkation was relatively quick. The only problem was that I apparently missed the place that would get me help and I ended up pushing the wheel chair up the long steep ramp to the ship. (Several staff promised to get help, but it never arrived.)
We were on board a little after noon and went directly to the Aqua Spa Cafe. It was only half full and we had some delicious grilled to order tuna and salmon. Cabins were not ready until about 2PM, due to extra cleaning from illness on the previous cruise.
Our Cabin (C1) was located just forward of the center elevators on deck 9. It was a little smaller than many, but nicely arranged with plenty of storage (even for more than enough clothes for 15 days). The folded wheel chair fit very nicely between the bed and the wall. We had a rose in the and a rose and other flowers in the cabin, all changed as soon as they wilted. The balcony was small, but had a table and two chairs - perfect for room service dining.
The ship is in excellent condition. I am sure there were some flaws, but we didn't pay attention to them. The only thing that seemed worn were some of the bath towels. After mentioning to our cabin steward that we preferred some of the fluffy towels, that is what we got.
The Master was Captain Nikolas Christodoulakis. I had more contact with him than all of the Captains on our other 15 cruises combined. All of the senior officers were visible throughout the cruise, often lined up at the foot of the ramp in port for a time after the ship docked.
The weather was perfect throughout the cruise, sunny with temperatures reaching the mid to upper 70's every day, even those in Hawaii. There were 8 - 10 foot swells several days, causing the ship to roll a little. There was very little wave action, with almost no white caps.
We had early seating (which they moved to 5:30, earlier than we would have liked) at a table for 10 (as requested) on the upper level of the dining room. We met some very nice people, all of whom ate there almost every night. We keep kosher, and thus eat only finned fish and vegetarian. They have a new vegetarian menu, in addition to the vegetarian selections on the main menu. (For details, see my post at
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1748958.) We were very pleased with the food. It nearly always arrived at the right temperature (except occasionally the soup was too hot). The service was excellent.
We ate lunch most days in the main dining room. Service was excellent. Since we had 10 sea days, the MDR was open most of the time. We also had good things at Aqua Spa Cafe and at the sandwich bar on the pool deck. I ate most breakfasts in the Elite breakfast (fresh squeezed orange juice, cappuccino, bagel and nova). We had room service a couple of mornings before tours.
We had a large roll call (98). The Meet & Mingle was held on the second sea day on one side of the Rendezvous Lounge. The Captain, Cruise Director John Grantham, Hotel Director Jamie Petts and other senior officers all attended. We planned a sail away, a slot pull, a cabin crawl, a gift exchange, a photo scavenger hunt and a lunch was scheduled for us in a private section of the dining room on the last day. Our chief organizer was Connie (VegasCrossfire), with help form Celebrity Event Coordinator, Nelle Pasicolan. The group (Hula Birds - Hawaiian Thanksgiving motif) had t-shirts and buttons, thanks to Connie. A few days after the Meet & Mingle, the Captain asked me, "When is Cruise Critic going to tell me when I am leaving the ship?" At the final luncheon, he told us that he was leaving in Fort Lauderdale, after the next cruise (Panama Canal).
There were a wide variety of lectures, Hawaiian arts and crafts demos, hula and ukulele lessons, and other activities. We didn't partake of too many of them. (The wheel chair slowed us down and we were on the cruise to relax.)
The entertainment in the theater was fair. The singers and dancers had just come on board with us; we have seen better. There was a comic juggler, a piano player, a magician and a comedian (who we enjoyed). We very much enjoyed the a cappella group, Trocadero, from Sweden. They spoke perfect almost unaccented English. This was their first cruise. Three of them had just graduated from a high school that specialized in choirs and had a class in barbershop singing. The fourth was two years older. They also performed in the opening and closing show, backed up by the band. (I told John Grantham that he created the perfect oxymoron, an a cappella group with a band.) In addition to Trocadero, there was a string trio, a pianist, a guitar player, as well as a band with music around the ship each evening and during the afternoon on sea days.
We had planned three excursions with independent operators in Hawaii. Since we had not planned on a wheel chair, I emailed each of them to see if they could handle it; each said that would not be a problem. We would highly recommend each of these operators.
In Honolulu, we took a 3-hour tour around the east end of Oahu with E Noa Tours. There were 14 of us on a small bus. We saw Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay,Halona "Blow Hole" Lookout, Halona "From Here to Eternity" Beach, and, since the Pali Lookout was blocked off by the police, we went to the Iolani Palace. The guide was great, and it was perfect for our needs.
In Lahaina, Maui, we tendered. The staff assisted Allyn on and off the tender (in rather choppy waters). The only hitch was that on the way back, we got off the tender first, but they would not bring the wheel chair up the stairs to the ship until everyone got off. A crew member finally found her a chair. We had arranged a private tour with Jay Franey (mauiadventurespecialist dot com). He switched cars so that he could fit the wheel chair in the trunk. and brought along fruit that he had picked that morning from his home and squeezed orange juice and cracked open a coconut. We let him plan the day: some beaches, two waterfalls, away from the normal tourist routes, the 'Iao Valley and the Needle, a Buddhist temple, and drove by the fancy hotels at Kaanapali. At each stop, Jay gladly took out the wheel chair and pushed Allyn around, even when the terrain was bumpy.
The third port was Kailua Kona, on the west side of the big island. That was also a tender port. I had developed a bad cold and Allyn wasn't anxious to tackle another tender. So, we stayed on the ship. We don't find this a hardship; having the ship to ourselves is a quiet pleasure.
Our final stop in Hawaii was Hilo. We had booked a Volcano National Park tour with Mary Lou tours (a husband and wife operation). We had 13 Hula Birds on the tour. Seven of us rode with Ken in his minivan, the others with Mary Lou. We had several views of the volcano, walked through the lava tunnel. Ken took Allyn and her wheel chair everywhere but the lava tunnel. We then stopped at Mauna Loa macadamia nut farm, where we did all our shopping (nuts and Hershey kisses with macadamia nuts, sold only in Hawaii). Our stop at Rainbow Falls was hardly worth it, since there was very little water flowing. Finally we saw a group of sea turtles resting on the rocks.
The ship stopped in Ensenada, Mexico on the last night from 7PM to midnight to satisfy the Passenger Vessel Service Act that requires round trip cruises to stop in at least one foreign port. No one we knew got off.
Disembarkation went very smoothly, after a little frustration in getting wheel chair information. Two people at Guest Services gave me conflicting information, one saying that they no longer provide wheel chair assistance. On a third try, I got lucky, talking to Aelred Almeida, the Documentation Officer. He told us just to go down to deck 3 at the appointed time and there would be wheel chairs. If not, he gave me is phone number and said he would come himself. As it turned out, we were in Hemisphere with the Elite disembarkation group where the Captain's Club Hostess arranged for a wheel chair to pick us up there.
In summary, we had a wonderful cruise and booked on board another on the Equinox for next December.