I've been on more than 10 cruises, but didn't bother to count back when I started cruising 20 years ago. In that 2 decades, I've grown out of the party-party-party mood of the Carnival line, and enjoy the little things much more fully.
The spa experience is amazing. Aqua class gives the cruisers access to a special dining room where the cuisine is so good, I can't figure out why anyone would bother to pay to go to the other specialty restaurants. Of course, it LOOKS cool to go to Qsine and get some molecular gastronomic delights, but not on a day when they're serving carpaccio in Blu... or lamb... or steak... or... well, just about anything. I'd not miss the Blu experience!
We also took advantage of the 1-2-3 Go offer to have a drink package and upgraded to premium, which means we could drink nearly anything we wanted, including specialty coffees, fresh squeezed juice, bottled water, and premium cocktails cooked up by the experimental bartenders or martini bartenders... we had the good wine with dinner, and the sommallier remembered our favorites, which feels amazingly luxurious... no thinking twice about ordering a drink, no fussing about the fact that this coffee was not what I had hoped for or that glass of wine was under-poured. No worrying about calculating the tip or collecting receipts and adding them all up on the last night when they give your final bill to you... Even if we did not drink enough to justify the price of the package, the peace of mind involved in not having to even think about it, was worth it.
And then there is the spa. Aqua class guests get access to their thermal suite, which is an amazing experience. We've been in these suites before back when they just started to become popular, in Holland, and I was not aware that other ships were following suit. The idea is that they've got this quiet room where there are heated lounge chairs... all in ceramic tile... it's comfortable, I PROMISE... you grab a bunch of towels and use a roll to prop behind your neck, you put another under you, and these days, with everyone bringing in their Nooks, it's easy to fall asleep. If you get too hot, there are showers, steam rooms, a dry sauna, and an icy cold room to spend a few moments in. And then back to your lounge chair. Oh yeah, and the aromatherapy room. With all of this at your fingertips for free, it's almost a shame to go up to the pool, but you really can't go on a cruise and come back without a tan, can you?
In addition to the wonderful people in Blu, were the amazing waitstaff in the coffee shop, the molecular bar and the Martini bar. All three were attentive when appropriate, and gave us our privacy when appropriate. They were willing to be experimental and give us a few options that were off the menu, and they provided the service that I expect from a high end venue.
The accomodations, seats, lounges, tables, etc... were all as I would expect from a nicer class of ship, with just a few exceptions.
There were some weird issues with booking. To start, they never sent the luggage tags that had been promised, and they made several mistakes with upgrading our drink package. At one point, they upgraded 4 packages for the two of us. WE had to have them delete it all and start from scratch, and I got an e-mail confirming that it was done. And the luggage tags arrived the week after I called to ask about them. The girl was SURE they had been sent out, but then she was also sure that our drink package was handled correctly. I had to make several calls about these issues, and had spent so much time on hold with them that I was actually hitting my limit of minutes on my phone that month (a RARE circumstance). Eventually, it looked like everything was resolved. We had luggage tags, were able to print out our boarding information, and we were told there would be a person at the airport in Miami with our transfers to the pier.
BUT on the day of our arrival, it did not work as smoothly as this. We had booked our flights through the cruiseline. Or some partner... I don't know, it was the same phone number, but somehow the cruiseline said it was some "partner", and not them. Anyways, we arrived in Miami and were told to look for the person from Celebrity at baggage claim. We did, and there was no one there. I wandered up & down, leaving my husband to snag the bags off the carousel. NO one had a celebrity sign. After I had taken 2 walks through all the baggage claim areas, my husband called me, he had found a woman who had a sign with Celebrity on it. We caught up with each other. She had not been holding the sign up when I walked by her twice before, and had been chatting with people who had signs from other cruise lines. I remember looking right at her and thinking she must be from the other cruise line since they were all together. NO, she was with Celebrity, and she just "forgot" to come check our baggage claim at the appropriate time. We waited while she checked in all the people on the flight near the carousel where she WAS standing, and when she got to us, all she did was tell us to go to the end of the terminal. We could have done that from the start. Oh well.
Once we were on the bus from the airport, all went smoothly with embarkation... well, except for that upgraded drink package. Even after all I'd gone through to make sure I didn't have to THINK once we got on board, (honestly, all I wanted to think about was how to find the spa and which drink with an umbrella in it did I want for the sailaway party that several people at the roll call were meeting at)... Celebrity had not properly upgraded it to premium, and no one on shore was apparently authorized to fix it. (Their policy... they don't make changes within XX days of the start of the cruise... well, I GET that... but that doesn't explain why all my phone calls the MONTH before did not resolve the issue). Apparently they had this problem all the time, people who had upgraded to the premium drink package and who had to go through this, because they have a whole process for explaining it, and they were not ruffled at all by the fact that they had taken an order from me over the phone ordering system, and it had not been properly credited to us. So we spent the first half hour on board looking for the drink table to get them to upgrade us. Ultimately, it was a relatively easy thing to resolve, but since this was my first experience with Celebrity and they messed up both this AND the luggage tags AND greeter at the airport who was supposed to have our airport to port transfers with her... i was worried.
BUT as I already said... the rest of the cruise was a joy... I could spend my life going from Blu to the spa to the coffee shop and then the pool/whirlpool, and back again... ahhh...
Oh yeah, and the room. Comfortable, quiet, compact (as most ship rooms are)... but the balcony was unexpectedly spacious. Big enough for 2 chairs, 2 footrests, a little table, and even a little room to maneuver between them. With all this comfort on the balcony, I had no interest in sitting on the little sofa in our stateroom. Ice, fruit, and flavored icewater showed up in the room every day. And as compact as it was, there was plenty of space for us to unpack all our stuff (I always pack twice as much as I need when I'm going on a cruise, I can't help it... something about needing a bathing suit and a formal outfit in the same day seems to make me feel the need for extra options)... and the bathroom had more than enough cubbyholes to keep all our toiletries in easy access. There is plenty of place beneath the bed to store even large suitcases. One caveat: we're tall people, so this was not a problem for us, but a significant amount of the storage is in a cabinet over the head of the bed. Even as tall as we are, it was sometimes a stretch to get at the shorts or t-shirts that had migrated towards the center of this cabinet over the center of the bed. Shorter people might find themselves standing on the bed to get at items stored up there. It's worth thinking through ahead of time so you don't store your everyday stuff in that particular cabinet.
But I should probably mention a few things. These particular things did not alter MY feeling about the cruise one bit. I was not there for the shows, though the two shows I saw were pretty darned good.
The venues where the shows are held, however, left something to be desired. The seating in the main theater is SMALL. There is not much leg room between rows, and the seats sit low to the ground. There are bar-height seats at the very back of the back row, and after checking a few different locations and finding all the seats to be relatively similar as far as size, my husband and I happily settled into the bar seats. Not everyone wants to sit at the far back row, and there were some people who were having trouble climbing over each other into their rows and folding/unfolding themselves from their seats. Worse was the lack of any place to put a drink. Except those of us who were seated at the bar in the back, no one had a place to set down a drink that they had brought into the auditorium with them. The same is true of the smaller venue where the late night comedy show was held.
I suppose the wait staff in both venues were laboring under the deficit of maneuvering space. The couldn't walk between rows to serve the customers, and were passing things up & down the rows. When we sat down at the comedy club venue, in the back row at the bar, the bar was sticky. Someone had obviously spilled a drink and no one had wiped it up after the last show before we got there. So I asked several staff members if they had a wet towel to wipe it up with. I asked one staff person and he said it was not his area, but he would get someone to take care of it (he did not, he kept standing in the same location and talking to the same other staff member he had been talking to). I asked a second person and they nodded and walked away... to be fair, he had asked me if I wanted a drink and I said, "not yet, I need a wet towel or something to wipe this table off with", and his job was to take drink orders before the show, so my request for a towel was not part of that job. The third person I asked, nodded and disappeared, then returned with a stack of about 20 napkins, put it down on the table next to me, and walked away. Whoops... if I wanted to order a drink, I guess I needed to go outside to the nearest bar, because it really wasn't going to happen here.. . the staff were just not very ... hmmm... they weren't used to a lot of drink orders, I guess. It makes sense, because there isn't a lot of space for people to hold their drinks, and so it's either your lap or put it on the floor next to you (except of course, at the bar at the back of the room, as I said)... I suspect that when the location is as poorly planned as that, it's harder to achieve efficient service.
In other ships I've been on, there has been a variety of seating at the show venues... booths in a semi-circle around a low table... benches with little tables in front of them and plenty of leg room for wait staff to maneuver between the rows... chairs with cup holders, and of course, the bars in the back of the room. It never occurred to me that a newer, high end ship would configure it's theater to feel so much like an old fashioned, low end movie house. I'd rather have to arrive earlier and work harder to find a good seat, but have a chance at getting a GOOD seat and be comfortable, than to be packing myself into a small-ish, old fashioned theater seat. But that's me. Luckily, we weren't there for the shows.
One other thing I was surprised about, that was an odd, "miss"... the wait staff in the pool area is sparse. It starts with the issue of people saving lounges for friends who aren't scheduled to show up for hours (and in those hours, why can't someone else use the lounges?... why doesn't everyone get it that if everyone wants 2 hours in the sun, and if no one monopolized all the lounges when they were not IN them, that no one would have a problem finding a lounge chair? The problem arises JUST because of the people who are so worried about the problem that they monopolize the chairs and create the problems). Apparently, this problem is for the pool butlers to solve. I never saw one of them step in to remove someone's stuff from a chair that had been unoccupied for an hour... or more... but then again, there's just not a whole lot of pool butlers or wait staff.
I don't expect someone to dance around with a tray of drinks on their head, but they they DO bring the drink of the day around, ask if I would like one, and when I ask, "no, I'd like a mimosa please", they tell me to wait and they'll send someone... and after an hour, no one comes... well... I start to get the feeling that they really don't want to serve drinks around the pool area. No big deal. I can go into the bar in the cafe and order a bottle of water or an adult beverage if I choose, but that requires standing up, putting on a coverup over the bathing suit, and shoes... yeah... shoes.
Awful... if this were my biggest problem in life, I'd be a very happy woman. And I don't go on cruises to find something to whine about, so I learn to work with their staffing issues. I organize myself to pick up a drink for sipping on my pool lounge chair before I go out to the pool... or I grab a coffee or martini from one of the other venues before I go into the show and I know to sit in the back row where there is a comfortably tall chair as well as a table to set my drink on...
BUT... if I were there to spend 4 hours in the sun every afternoon,, burn myself to a crisp, and have someone bring mimosas to me rather than me have to get up to go get them... if my vision of the perfect cruise were 7 evenings filled with a comfortable lounge to watch Vegas-style shows in... I might have been disappointed. There was a time in my life when those were my goals on a cruise... but that's not my thing any more.
As it is, these things are not my reason for cruising, and the things I am there for are SO filled with perfection... I'll go on Celebrity again & again and again... because for what I want, it's wonderful!
Oh yeah, the shore excursions. We took one that was supposed to be a catamaran around St. Martin to Phillipsburg, and the boat's engines had a problem that morning, so we were offered the opportunity to go by bus to the same location... a tour bus with a fun guide, yadda, yadda... and they'd refund a part of the ticket price. WE took them up on the offer. I'd not have done it if I were purchasing it from the start... but it was nice to be able to shop in the market on that side of the island. I picked up some handcrafts that were perfect for gifts to everyone when we got back from our vacation, so that was good. And even better to see the refund at the end of the cruise, making the excursion an appropriate price for it's value.
We did the bacardi factory tour. That was fun. As many times as I'd been to San Juan, I'd never been to Bacardi, so it was nice to hear about it's history. And I really didn't feel the need to take another city tour or see a dance show in the evening. It was good to have a few minutes to shop in the stores near the port and get back on the ship a little early.
In St. Thomas, in honor of my father, whose health prevents him from joining us on our cruises these days, we went on the Kon Tiki excursion. It has been more than a decade since I had done Kon Tiki... my Dad's favorite. And it's changed since he had so much fun snorkeling and dancing in the conga line with the college frat-boy types who semi-adopted him as their mascot... he and my mother really were troopers to even venture onto the Kon Tiki in their 70s, and they really did like the high energy, but the energy level of this excursion did not match what it used to be... for one, the drinks are not included as part of the excursion any more, which is probably a good thing. And there are no snacks (a bad thing). They take you to a cove where there is a snack bar and a pretty nice beach, but it's clear that some people were running back to the boat to get more drinks... by the end of our ride back to port there were two men on our excursion who got so intoxicated, it was scary (one of those men was from another ship in the port). But some of Reflection's entertainment crew were also on our Kon Tiki excursion, and they made the post-beach activities more fun (you've not lived till you've seen a contortionist dance the limbo on a small boat). They also helped with the gentleman from our cruise ship who had gotten himself scary-drunk. I believe they are the ones who ran ahead and got some of the medical staff to come out to collect the man with a wheelchair. It was nice to know that the ship was prepared to handle such emergencies, and nicer to realize that on a Celebrity (unlike Carnival), such emergencies were rare.
If you're looking for jewelry or china or liquor to bring back to the States under your duty-free limit, St. Thomas is paradise. And we took advantage of this. I generally like St. Thomas much better, but I think the Kon Tiki is no longer the kind of fun i want. Probably snorkeling in St. John or ... well, it's not too tough to find a taxi to take you over the mountains to the beaches on the other side fo the island, then come back through town on the way back to the ship... Maybe next time.
In short (can I BE short?) I will go on this ship again, but I've gotten to a point in my cruising life when I prefer the spa, the amenities, and the smaller venues like the martini bar & Blu restaurant... And I will also go on Celebrity again... coincidentally, in just 2 months. My in-laws decided to book a cruise after hearing our experience, and they asked if we'd go with them. When the 75 year old crowd decides to go on a vacation and asks you along, you don't say "no"... because all too soon, they'll lose that ability, and youll find yourself on a Kon Tiki wishing Dad were there... remembering the good times you had when he was... you don't say "no" to the opportunity to make those good memories. ESPECIALLY not when the opportunity means another cruise on a Celebrity Solstice class ship!