This was our second TA. The first was on the first TA for Solstice back in 2009 to Rome and that was fantastic. This one was the reverse back to Ft. Lauderdale on Eclipse. We had a fantastic time overall and look forward to our next TA.
Embarkation: This was the smoothest embarkation I've ever had. We didn't try to get to the port too early and arrived about 1pm. Just a handful of people there at that time, Walked right on the ship, rooms were ready so we went straight to our stateroom and dropped off our carry on bags and headed for lunch.
Activities: There was so much to do on this cruise that several days there were multiple things happening at the same time and I had to choose one over the other. Usually I try to do the trivia - didn't even get to one the entire 13 days and didn't miss it. I like to knit and there was a small group of knitters who found each other about half way through the cruise and we set up a time and place to meet. Was typical of what happens with knitters - we all got to know a bit about each other and it was great to see each other in other venues - at meals, at shows, at the bar etc. It made it seem as if you were sailing with friends.
Hot Glass Show: If you have never seen this you are missing one of the best things about the three ships that have the Corning Museum of Glass Hot Glass Show. These artists are amazing and to blow glass in the conditions encountered on a TA is really a challenge that they made look easy. Their shows are always packed and it is due not only to the unique nature of the show, but the personalities of the artists. This was not to be missed.
Bars/Cafes: We found one bar that was fantastic, great bartenders and a group of guests who kind of became regulars. It was like your "local" and quite fun. Cafe Bacci was very good. All of the coffees were well prepared and the iced tea was incredible.
Oceanview/Moonlight Sonata: The Oceanview Cafe was the same as it was on Solstice - your usual buffet. We had a large number of guests who were from the UK (over 1600) compared to from the US (a little over 600), so I noticed that there were several items that are typical of an English Cooked Breakfast. I don't recall that from my first TA the opposite direction, but perhaps I just wasn't paying attention. All the food was well cooked, lots of choices and I had no complaints. We had early seating in Moonlight Sonata and that worked well with nice tablemates, but next time we are doing select dining because we would have enjoyed meeting many new people at dinner and some days 6pm seemed too early to eat. Our waiter and assistant waiter were great, very accommodating to our requests. The wine steward was okay - not great.
Cabin: Our last TA we spend next to no time in our balcony cabin so this trip we chose an inside cabin to get a lower rate. In retrospect, we would have preferred at least an outside cabin if not a balcony. It was just strange to wake up and have no clue whether it was day or night unless you looked at your watch or the view from the bridge on the tv. The size of the cabin was fine. It was always kept very clean, bathroom was a typical size, as was the closet. We were mid ship and it was very quiet and we didn't roll too much when the weather was a bit rough.
Ports and Shore Excursions: St Maarten was great. We did the America's Cup sailing excursion where your group is split between the Stars and Stipes and True North 12 metre racing sail boats that were actually competitors in the America's Cup. The wind was blowing and the seas were about 4-6 ft and it was wild but a very good time. We went downtown shopping and it was crazy in terms of the sheer number of jewelery stores. I have no clue how they all manage to stay in business. Next stop was St. Thomas and we took an excursion over to St. John to go snorkel at Trunk Bay. I had thought that we would have a bit more sightseeing on the way to Trunk Bay, but I think that the driver of our 'taxi' (which is basically a truck with the cab being for the driver and the bed having a structure on top that had about six rows of bench seats) basically wanted to get us to Trunk Bay, drop us off, tell us when he'd be back and then get us back to the ferry. However, the snorkeling at Trunk Bay was fabulous. The water was really clear, it is a beautiful beach and there were lots of fish and fan coral. Someone in our group said they saw a ray, but we did not. Nassau. What can you say? Its Nassau. Crowded. There were five large ships in port so there was a minimum of 10,000 people who could be off the ships if they chose so. Once again, tons of shops all selling basically the same thing. The Straw Market is very dark and it was hard to see what was there, but basically there were a few categories of items, t-shirts, canvas totes, straw hats/totes/fans, and some local type souvenirs and if you couldn't see something in one stall, it was repeated a few stalls later. Very repetitious. Next time I'm in Nassau, I'm going snorkeling and skipping the shopping.
Theater Shows: All of the shows we went to were excellent. There were three production numbers and they were all well staged and enjoyable to watch: Edge, Eclipse and Ovations. Eclipse was similar to Cirque de Soliel. The musicians/jugglers/comedians/singers were all very entertaining.
Immigration: Sorry, have to say a few words about immigration in St. Thomas. Because that was technically the first stop in US territory, the entire ship, including the crew, had to go through immigration. There were some issues with the people from immigration - arriving later than expected, not having the right computer technology to call up all the electronic files for the Brits who had completed them online prior to sailing. We were fortunate to have gotten in line a bit earlier than our assigned time and we got through pretty fast and made our excursion. Others, especially the Brits were not so fortunate. The lines were not well managed and there were many who missed their excursions and were not happy at all. Some people talked about being in line for 3 or more hours. The line management issue and how to deal with people who had booked excursions vs those who had not was the responsibility of Celebrity and they didn't manage it well. It was hard to understand as I'm sure this isn't the first time they have had to go through immigration at a Caribbean port where there are excursions involved. They tried to place all the blame on immigration but Celebrity surely had their share as well.
Disembarkation: Here was another fail. I'm sure things worked fine for those who had later times, had their luggage handled by the crew the night before etc. We had chosen self disembarkation as we needed to rent a car and try to be home by noon. That meant we had to handle our own luggage - which we had been doing the entire time prior to boarding the ship - so we didn't think it would be an issue. First: They shut down four elevators to reserve them for us to use to go down one floor after the authorities cleared the ship so we could leave. If I had know I would be fighting for space on one of four elevators that were also being used by people going to an from breakfast, I would have used the forward elevators. It took me 10 minutes to get an elevator to get down to deck 3 where we were told to meet. Then there was a huge line that snaked around Grand Foyer and we waited almost 45 minutes past our assigned time to have the authorities clear the ship so we could disembark. After we made it off the ship, we walked forever to get to the terminal building and then the typical back and forth line to go through passport control. By the end of the process, I needed a shower - I was exhausted. That really isn't a good way to end a very enjoyable cruise and I won't do that again unless I only have one very light piece of luggage!!
Summary: Overall we had a great time, met some very nice people, participated in some very enjoyable activities onboard that made the 8 sea days go by quickly. The shows after dinner were great, the food was very good, the staff were helpful, cheerful and made the cruise go smoothly. We will definitely do another Celebrity cruise and most likely another TA.