We booked this cruise 18 months in advance and tried to do our homework to get the most out of it. We travelled from the UK the day before the cruise from Heathrow through Miami to San Juan. It's a long journey and the second half was delayed by an hour and a half. We were met by our Celebrity transfer who swiftly took us to our overnight hotel Caribe Hilton about 10-15 mins away. We were checked in to the noise of a very loud disco which was open to the reception area which was a bit off putting as you had a job to hear the staff talking to you but when we did arrive in our room in the tower block you could not hear it thank goodness.We were given instructions by the reception staff about our embarkation details from Celebrity for the next day. The room was ok - they had a large air conditioning unit free standing in the room going full blast which was so loud we had to turn it off in order to sleep. Thankfully the room was not too bad without it but you had to be careful not to fall over it! The room was a little tired but did the job for one night. The hotel itself seemed very nice - we walked around in the morning whilst waiting for our pick up. They did a buffet breakfast (full for $20 or continental for $12). We had the continental and it was very nice.
Our luggage had to be placed down by the bell porter by 11am to be picked up ahead of ourselves at 1pm. The coach arrived a bit early at about 12.45pm and we were checked in and on the ship sipping our welcome drink and heading for lunch by 1.15pm.
We had a nice lunch - it was busy in the Oceanview buffet but not unreasonably so considering it was embarkation day. After that we wandered back to see if our stateroom was ready and it was but our luggage did not arrive until 5pm which I was a bit disappointed in as we were in a sky suite and Celebrity said we would have priority baggage delivery. It didn't matter that much though as we toured the ship and then met our Butler Elmerio and steward Norma. They were extremely friendly and helpful and could not do enough to make your holiday enjoyable.
The first day was a sea day and we ordered a light early breakfast to have on the balcony by filling in the form in the back of the Celebrity information book on the counter and hanging it on the outside of our cabin door overnight. Elmerio duly brought our breakfast and informed us that we could ring him any time directly to order anything like tea coffee or food. We then went to the sea day Brunch in the main dining room around midday which was amazing - every food you can imagine.
As we were in a suite we were offered a free meal in the Normandie restaurant and so the first evening we ate there and it was lovely - really good service and environment.
The first port day was Barbados and we had booked a catamaran trip swimming and snorkelling with the turtles through Celebrity. We booked all our tours with them as we felt as first time cruisers it was safer as we had no idea how things worked but we were pleased with the organisation and the trips we picked. The trip was really enjoyable and the people friendly. We travelled along the coast line of Barbados on the catamaran after being transported on a bus a few minutes from the port. Everyone was given snorkelling equipment and lifejackets which were mandatory and given instructions if they needed it and the crew helped everyone in and out of the water. Some people chose not to go in the water and just watched - you could do as you please. Drinks were complementary.
The second day was St. Lucia and we had booked a trip to the volcano and see the Pitons. The trip itself was ok but we were disappointed with the island as we were shocked at the poverty and the people trying to scrap a living by selling you anything possible. A different world to the showy holiday resorts by the beach.
Third day port was Antigua on which we had booked a tour called "Highlights of Antigua" a tour of the island going to Nelsons Dockyard and Shirley Heights. The views were absolutely amazing and we had plenty of opportunity to take photographs.
Fourth day was St Martin. We had booked a trip including a voyage on a semi submersible to see the coral and fish but that part of the trip had to be cancelled due to windy weather making it unsafe. The road tour of the Dutch and French side still took place with an hour in Marigot. You were given the chance to cancel or go ahead and get a 50% refund. We took the tour and it gave us a flavour of the island which was ok. The refund was duly on our sea pass by the next morning!
Fifth day visited St Thomas and did an island drive with a 2 1/2 hour beach stop on Sapphire beach. This was just as we had always thought of when thinking of a Caribbean beach. We had loungers and there was plenty of trees for shade. You could have free snorkelling equipment if you wanted it and a complimentary drink. The only thing against it was the temperature of the water - it was cold! We really enjoyed just lounging and walking on the beach - idyllic.
The ship had something for everyone. We aren't people to join in much and just enjoyed wandering around and watching sail away from the aft of the ship. The best place we found was the bar behind the Oceanview cafe where they would have live music each day for sail away. We would get an ice cream on the way and just enjoy the views. The ice cream is free at the entrance to the Oceanview and was delicious and the flavours changed each day - soft either vanilla or chocolate on alternate days and hard with about 10 choices. We did try the ice cream at the Gelato at the Cafe Bacio but honestly couldn't tell much difference. At this cafe (not at the counter with the cup cakes with prices on) but on the other side of the ship at the cafe counter you can get free cakes, biscuits and pastries which you can have there or to go and only have to pay for the speciality drinks. We would have them packed to go and get our free tea and coffee from the Oceanview (available all the time) and take them to our balcony and enjoy. Although I must say we were spoilt as having the suite Elmerio would bring round the afternoon tea trolley for us to pick out our treats.
The entertainment was ok if you like that sort of thing - we did go to a few things - the comedian was good but felt the singers were a bit under par - not Broadway!!
The food overall we thought amazing considering the numbers they have to cater for. It was well laid out in the buffet and a huge choice and always hot. If you go right down the back (it looks like it's finished) and then you find a hidden station which in the morning was the waffle and pancakes and in the evening became the grill which cooked to order chicken, fish, chops, steaks etc. The main dining room food was very good and the service exemplary. We had select dining and only had to wait a few minutes except one night (the second formal) and we went back after 30 minutes and was seated immediately.
Overall we had no complaints - enjoyed our first cruise and will certainly be cruising again and after being spoilt by Celebrity will have no qualms about booking with them again.