About Us: We are in our mid-60's, both retired. This was our 5th cruise, 3rd time on Celebrity. We live in northeast Ohio. On this cruise, we traveled with our daughter (DD) and her boyfriend (BF), (collectively referred to as J&J), who live near Washington, D.C., and, as it turned out, were both on furlough from the National Institiutes of Health for much of this cruise. We booked back in January through their TA using the matching gift card credit, plus Celebrity threw in $300 OBC per cabin.
We usually pick cruises based on the itinerary and Canada/New England was a long-time dream of mine. DH prefers round trips cruises, but we found this one was a bit too long.
Pre-cruise: On Thursday we drove to MD to spend the night with J&J. On Friday we loaded everything into and on top of our SUV and drove to Elizabeth, NJ. We spent the night at the Courtyard by Marriott We chose to pay the extra $10 for breakfast, and got $30 worth of breakfast for that price. This sort of made up for part of the $35+ in taxes added to the base rate of the room.
We arranged to meet some Cruise Critic friends who were staying in nearby hotels for dinner at Ruby Tuesday's, right across the parking lot. It was fun meeting all of them.
Embarkation: Because of norovirus on the previous 2 cruises, our boarding was delayed, then delayed again, until 5 pm. I must say Celebrity did a great job of notifying us of the changes, with multiple emails and phone calls. So we decided to go across the street to the Jersey Garden Mall to see a movie.
When we arrived at the port around 5, they had already started letting people board (we heard at 3:30) so BF dropped us and our luggage off, parked the car, and we made it through embarkation very quickly. The rooms were not yet ready, and there was nowhere to sit. We did finally manage to grab a couple chairs at last.
Once the rooms were opened, luggage arrived soon, our steward Sandrick and his assistant George introduced themselves, and we had everything unpacked and stowed by muster drill. I have allergies and can't have feather pillows. I told George that I realized how hard they had worked already that day, but could he please replace all the feather pillows in the cabiin? When we got back from dinner, he had done so. This is just one example of the excellent service they provided all during the cruise.
Cabin: Since we were going to a cooler climate, we opted to forgo the balcony and save some money on an oceanview cabin. Ours was located 4 doors down from the Atrium. It was supposed to sleep 3 with a pull-out sofa, but I don't know how you could use the desk or see out the window if the sofa were pulled out.
Still, for 2 people, it was certainly adequate.
Ammenities kept appearing over the course of the cruise. Tote bags arrived before the first port day, a laundry bag appeared when I asked for one, robes showed up halfway through the cruise. The ice bucket never appeared, although the ice tongs sat on the tray on the desk the entire time. As I said before, Sandrick and George provided excellent service.
Dining: We chose Select Dining in the Cosmopolitan Restaurant. After a few nights of showing up and waiting, we settled on eating at 7:30. If we wanted to see the show, we would go to the 7 pm show and eat afterwards. We rarely sat in the same area more than 2 nights in a row, so we got to know many of the waiters. It amazed me how many would remember us and greet us personally in the buttet or dining room at breakfast or lunch, especially since DH & I ate those meals at different times from J&J.
There were a few glitches in service the first two nights, but on the third night Assistant Maitre d' Shah and his assistant Ana both went around asking people about their experience. We voiced our concerns. Service certainly picked up after that. Headwaiters were excellent, and when the assistant waiters were less than stellar, their superiors picked up the slack and provided valuable training for the assistants.
We all agreed that dinners in the main dining room were uniformly excellent. I'm not big on exotic fare but there was always something appealing to suit my tastes. DD has dietary restrictions due to allergies. She was able to pre-order every night for the following dinner. Sometimes, when she could eat none of the desserts offered, the chef would prepare something special for her. Sometimes they even brought her two desserts.
I think my only complaint about the dinners was that often the portions were too big. I hate to waste food, but I simply couldn't finish the entire entree and still have room for one of the scrumptious desserts.
We ate breakfast in the dining room when our schedule allowed. This was sort of hit-and-miss. Quality was inconsistant, so one day, you'd get really great scrambled eggs, and the next day, they'd be really greasy. Once I ordered Eggs Benedict and the eggs were more hard-boiled than poached.
We also ate lunch in the dining room a few times, and had good meals. I'd like to see them offer more main dish salads though.
Buffet: There was the typical selection of salads, sandwiches, soups, hot entrees, and pizza. For the first week, the buffet was wrapped in plastic wrap and everything, even the beverages, was served by the waiters. People were happy that the restrictions were removed, but I didn't notice anything running more smoothly except the beverage stations. The pizza crust was often burnt around the edges. The selection got monotonous since it was such a long cruise.
We also ate lunch at the Mast Grill, great hamburgers; Bisto on Five, excellent crepes; and in the AquaSpa cafe, same healthy selections as in the Oceanview Buffet.
The buffet presents a good breakfast menu. I like hot oatmeal on cold mornings, and they had the best oatmeal on the ship. It looks like glop, but if you have them add hot milk, and you doctor it with your choice of brown sugar, raisins, and nuts, it's quite tasty. The oatmeal in both the AquaSpa cafe and the main dining room was like soup.
Public areas: Pleasant, very clean, very crowded, probably because it was too cold for people to spend any time outside.
Staff: Outstanding. These are people who love their work and enjoy interacting with the public. The senior officers were very visible and approachable. Some of the people working in the shops were a bit snooty, but one evening we got into a conversation with the director of the boutique area, and he had us in stitches for almost half an hour with his anecdotes. Even those who do not normally interact with the public, such as the maintenance people, were always polite and smiling when you passed them in the halls.
Spa & Fitness: DH and I both used the gym on sea days. He did the weight machines, and I used one of the recumbant cross-trainers. He reported that some of the machines were in need of repair.
I never used the spa itself, but had a manicure, pedicure, and re-polish for my nails in the Salon and found the technician very friendly and professional. The Fire and Ice pedicure was heavenly.
Entertainment: We saw very few of the evening shows, but the ones we saw were almost all very good.
Best was La Compagnie De Danse Migrations, a group from Quebec who performed a variety of local folk dances.
We also enjoyed Mark Preston, formerly of the Lettermen, and comedian Louis Johnson. Tom Wopat was the 54 Below performer on this trip. Unfortunately he had a cold and did not sing well or make a good impression with his stage presence. If he felt that bad, maybe they should have just cancelled the show.
As far as the ship's entertainers, we didn't much care for the dance quartet Smooth Sounds, or singer-guitartist Jefferson Ang. We enjoyed party band Flava, although they could get too loud sometimes. We also enjoyed pianist-vocalist Jim Long, guitarist-vocalist Brandi Page, and the a capella group, 4 Sail.
Ports: Except for Bar Harbor, we booked all our excursions through Celebrity. We are willing to pay extra for a worry-free excursion. We generally pick some sort of overview in the morning, and allow time in the afternoon to explore on our own.
1. Portland: Lighthouses of Maine, a bus trip to see three lighthouses. Since it was very foggy, we didn't see as much as we hoped, but two of the lighthouses were in operation, and we could see the light going around and hear the foghorn. The third is strictly historical. It was raining by the time we finished lunch, so we opted to remain on the ship in the afternoon.
2. Bar Harbor: Unfortunately, Acadia National Park was closed thanks to the givernment shut-down, so many ship excursions were cancelled. I was thankful we had booked independently with Oli's Trolley. They were able to adapt their tour so we could ride around the park with a few photo stops. I'm sure it's better when the park is open, but they did their best and the guide was very informative. Since this was a tender port, we had lunch in town at Stewman's Lobster Pound--YUM!
3. Halifax, Nova Scotia: We did the Essential Halifax tour, a hop-on, hop-off bus ride with admission to the Citadel and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic included. It's essentially three different bus loops and took us all day.
4. Sydney, Nova Scotia: Our tour was The Heart of the Island, which took us to Bras d'Or Lake and the Iona Highland Village, a reporduction of the way the early settlers would have lived, going from their home in Scotland to the 1920's in Canada. There are costumed interpreters and it was very interesting. My only complaint was it was too short.
5. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island: Here we took two separate tours. I'm an Anneophile, so I took the Anne of Green Gables and Island Drive excursion. DH, never having been a tween-age girl, chose to visit the Confederation Bridge along with J&J. Both of us enjoyed ourselves. It's an easy walk from the pier to downtown Charlottetown, so we walked to town after lunch to shop and explore.
6. Quebec City, Quebec, Canada: This was an overnight stop. Because there were several other ships in town, we were docked west of town, just below the Plains of Abraham. Celebrity provided free shuttles to and from the downtown area.
The first morning, we took the ship's Old and New Quebec tour, a bus ride with photo stops that provided an overview of the area and enough of a look at the Citadel and Battlefields Park that we felt no need to revisit them later. In the afternoon, we took the shuttle into town, caught the Funnicular to the Upper Town, and visited several spots for a closer look.
The second morning, it was cool and misty, but we took the shuttle so we could explore the Lower Town. This was Canadian Thanksgiving Day, but the shops were open, and we saw some areas we had missed previously. In the afternoon, we, along with J&J, took the tour to Montmoremcy Falls and Ste. Anne de Beaupre shrine. Both were awe-inspiring.
7. Gaspe, Quebec Province, Canada: Since we both enjoy old churches, we took the Spiritual and Sanctuary tour. We visited a small Anglican church, a large, modern Catholic cathedral, and a small Cahtolic shrine. We had time to walk into town before lunch. It took us about an hour to walk across the bridge from the tender port, walk up and down Main Street, and get back to the tender port. It's a quaint little village, but most of the excursions were all day ones to Perce Rock and Forillon National Park.
Debarkation: This is one area where the crowds were noticable. Everyone had to be out of their cabins by 8 am, and there really wasn't anywhere to go. It was sort of reminiscent of embarkation day, everyone wandering around with their luggage, trying to find a place to sit. We were to meet in the Rendez Vous Lounge. Once the shore excursion was called, we found seats and waited. Disembarkation actually went very smoothly, and we were through customs and on the road by 11.
Summary: My dream itinerary lived up to my expectations. Leaf colors were good, not great. On the lower portion of the trip, everyone kept telling us the leaves would peak the following week, and by the time we'd reach Quebec and Gaspe, they were starting to fall. It makes me wonder if this cruise shouldn't be done in reverse order--start with the northern leg and move gradually south on the way back.
But when your biggest complaint is the weather in two ports, and the US politicians trying to make a point instead of work together to run a country, it's a great cruise!