This was our 24th cruise, but only the second one with Celebrity, previously sailing with Holland America (8), Cunard (4), Disney (4), Princess (4), Royal Caribbean (2) and Celebrity (1). We have not sailed with Celebrity in a while and this was our first time on a Solstice Class ship, in a Concierge Class balcony room, 9270, travelling without our teens. Nice big balcony because of its location, but otherwise the layout within the stateroom is similar to others with verandas.
Perhaps it's because we haven't experienced Celebrity in a while but my wife and I would say that this was one of our most memorable cruises, ranks up there at the top when we cruised as a family with Disney, on the Queen Mary 2 to the Caribbean or our 20 day (two 10-day B2B) cruise on Eastern and Western Mediterranean itineraries on HAL's Noordam.
We arrived in Miami the day before. We rented a car from Thrifty and they have a free shuttle from the Rental Car Centre at 3900 NW 25th St., near the airport. Although there is a Miami port location for pick up or drop off, in reality they shuttle you to and from the airport location. We stayed in a new Starwood property called "Element by Westin" at 3525 NW 25th St, near the airport and down the street from the Car Rental Centre, but easy to get lost due to construction in the area with multiple detours. The Element room had a small kitchen, essentially a studio apartment, beautiful bathroom, and best of all, free breakfast with a variety of wraps, oatmeal, fruits, cappuccino, espresso, juices, etc. I think the free breakfast for all guests paying the standard rate, regardless of Starwood programme status, is the first for a Starwood property.
We were at the terminal by 11 am and onboard by 12 noon. Sparkling wine was a welcome sight as we boarded. There is no dining room to eat lunch in for ordinary guests, can't speak for Select or Elite as we have not reached that level on this or any other cruiseline. I sometimes wish we had stayed loyal to one line as I am sure we would be Elite, Platinum or whatever the highest level is by now, but we would have missed out on all the enjoyable and different experiences on the many cruiselines we have managed to sail with. We ate in the Oceanview Cafe buffet. Nice layout with different areas for Mexican, Asian, Indian, sandwiches, salads, pizza and pasta, carvery and dessert. Didn't eat much here throughout the week, but when we did, we enjoyed the variety.
We have been to most of the islands already many times and so I won't discuss any particular excursions. We just walked in each port this time and then relaxed onboard a mostly empty ship when passengers disembarked.
We did not use the casino, bingo or spa so can't comment on those. This was a major school spring break week for some areas and there were 300 children on board, according to one of the staff, but you could never tell it was busy. We used the Solarium pool for those aged 16 or older. Rarely crowded.
If it is not for the destination, which this cruise wasn't, we cruise mainly to relax, and to enjoy the food and entertainment. Celebrity certainly excels in these two areas.
Food: We ate once at Murano on the first night. Fantastic -- we had the chateaubriand for one (carved at your table) and the lobster tail (cooked table side). There was a 20% reduction in the service charge for the first night as there were empty tables, so check as soon as you get on board. The regular cost is now $45 which is certainly higher than specialty restaurants for dinner on most other lines. For example, I believe that HAL's Pinnacle Grill is still $25, Cunard's Todd English is $30 and Princess Sabatini is $25. I hear the comment that you could never eat a meal like this for $45 on land, but the point is you have already paid for your dinner so it's not like they give you a rebate for what you don't eat in the MDR.
The rest of the nights were in Opus Restaurant, deck 3 (fixed) and deck 4 (Select Dining). Food in Opus was really excellent, with little sodium/salt and lots of flavour using herbs. There was the odd off-night with the chewy ribeye one night, but overall we were very happy. We never waited long for a table for two for dinner most nights. Enjoyed free pastries at Cafe al Bacio. On future cruises, we will try Qsine ($45) or Tuscan Grill ($35) or Lawn Club Grill ($45). We never made it to the Bistro on Five for crepes ($5) or the Porch ($5) for sandwiches. For future cruises!
Entertainment: We tremendously enjoyed all the shows, which included a welcome and farewell show, three Broadway-style productions including (1) Centre Stage, a bit of the best of musicals from Les Miserables, Nine, Phantom of the Opera, Jersey Boys, Footloose, Saturday Fever, Moving Out and Wizard of Oz (2) Momentum which combines music, dance and aerial moves (3) Reflection -- The Show, very much like a Cirque du Soleil show with acrobats, aerial artists and contortionists, combined with live music. Other shows included violinist Greg Scott and illusionist Landon Swank which we also liked. We thoroughly enjoyed the group D'Revelations which played almost every night in the Grand Foyer until about 11 pm -- what a talented group. Most of us wished they could play well into the morning hours but the layout of the Grand Foyer means that sound travels all the way up to the 14th deck to staterooms close by the foyer on every deck. We also enjoyed the a capella group "These Guys" throughout the week. There was Sin City Comedy from Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. We did not read carefully in the Celebrity Today program that there would be encore/repeat performances to follow later in the week and it was too packed when we went the first night.
Disembarkation was hectic for many as there is a limited airport-style carousel for baggage in the cruise terminal and you must wait for your color tags to be called. Lots of crowding around the exit doors but there is no point trying to get off any earlier because my sense is that your luggage will not be there. We always choose self-disembarkation and I would recommend this if you can manage to carry off all your own luggage. Even if you don't want to disembark at 7:15 am (recommended disembarkation time for those walking off with their own luggage), if you are in no rush, you can have a leisurely breakfast and then walk off at any time with your luggage in hand. We were through Customs and Border Protection in about 20 minutes and on our way.
Nice touches that made this cruise even better:
Complimentary sparkling wine or mimosas at the start of the complimentary kitchen galley tour.
Cheese plates brought out for everyone during the jazz concert with the Vivian Clement Trio (jazz) on the Lawn Club, deck 15, even though we did not buy any drinks.
Brunch in Opus Restaurant (10 am to 1 pm) with ice sculptures, etc. on the second sea day to replace the traditional midnight/late-night chocolate/dessert buffet found on other lines. Nothing special about the food, but we liked this concept, as we only went to those late night events to have a look, but never to eat, because we had just had dinner or it was just too late.
Friendly staff throughout the cruise in every department.
During the farewell show, cruise director Paul and production vocalist Marita sang their version of the song "The Prayer", made famous by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion.
In summary, a great cruise and we will be returning to Celebrity soon!!