This was our first TA and our first real cruise. We weren't even home yet when we started about taking another one - cruise and TA.
Embarkation was amazingly smooth!
We checked out of our hotel around 11am, got a taxi to the port, handed our luggage off to the porters, got in a quick moving line for the security check (don't wear boots...), got in a very short line (without any status and without being in a suite) for check-in and went right onto the ship! Rooms weren't ready and as it wasn't raining we sat on the pool deck until they opened the cabins. Everything else (bars, lounges, bistro) looked packed already.
We booked a Concierge guarantee cabin and ended up with a lovely C2 on deck 10 (off the hump) for a great price. I don't think we would ever do a TA without a balcony again. I spent even more time outside than I had thought I would... when the weather got nicer that is.
Our cabin was a nice size (not that we have much to compare it to), very quiet, and was always kept very clean, towels would be changed twice a day if we used them between the morning service and turn down service in the evening. Due to the location (close to forward elevators) we felt quite a bit of rolling during the first few days and the last sea day, when the weather was rough (5m/15ft waves).
Weather-wise we had a bit of bad luck. The first sea days, until after we had passed the Azores, were not too great. Weather started slowly turning on day 5 if I remember correctly. Day 8 was picture-perfect with sun and wonderful temperatures (28°C/82F). After that "partly cloudy" usually meant that you might be able to see a few puffy white clouds on the blue skies. Unfortunately, the cruise ended as it had started with quite a bit of wind and rain on the last sea day and in Miami (at least it was warm rain, unlike in Southampton).
Because of the seas, the first big show couldn't take place on the first formal night - we didn't go to any of the shows and didn't mind but that's how much it rocked and rolled in the theater. However, there was so much to do on the sea days!
Unfortunately, many things didn't much appeal to us (trivia, comedians, dancing) and whenever we liked things we could be sure that they were happening at the same time as something else we would have liked to do.
We LOVED the culinary life activity (cooking show) which ended up being cooking introduced through comedy (and should have been known as the "Celtic Cooking Comedy"). It was hilarious and we were so sad that we had missed the first show. You had to show up early, if you weren't there 15 minutes before it started, it was standing room only.
Unfortunately, the cooking overlapped with the morning Hot Glass Show which was a-ma-zing! We only caught the very last show and wished we could have seen a few more. The artists are brilliant and the shows are just amazingly entertaining. Cooking also overlapped with the egg drop (which looked like fun) and quite a few other things.
We quite enjoyed the Café al Bacio, their coffee is much (!) nicer than what is served in the restaurants (which you can drink if you have to but not more). However, there isn't really much sitting room for a ship that size and people sitting there reading (especially when the weather was bad) didn't help much. We never got to try all the bars but especially the Martini bar seemed to be extremely popular. The Molecular bar was great and Barbara was one of the greatest people we met on board. The pool bar made the best raspberry fizz (if they had raspberries) and shakes though.
Bar service is really the only thing that we felt was a bit lacking.
It was often difficult to impossible to get drinks during meals. For breakfast some people were obviously getting (fresh squeezed) orange juice in the Oceanview Café while people at neighboring tables were ignored by the staff. You could of course get your own drinks at the bar but if you like to eat together that's already difficult enough if you have to take turns to get food (no trays). During dinner in the Moonlight Sonata you could always get ice water or coffee with dessert and of course wine but we never really figured out who to order other drinks (coke, ice tea etc.) from. If it was the waiter, he never offered it and never really left room to ask when taking orders or serving food.
Bar service was much better in the specialty restaurants where we were always asked if we wanted anything from the bar. Neither was it a problem to get drinks in the Oceanview Café during dinner or the Moonlight Sonata during breakfast...
We thought we would love sit-down breakfast in Moonlight Sonata... we didn't! We went once and that was it. So many more choices in Oceanview! Many different styles of Eggs Benedict (six or seven?), omelets, fresh fruit, breads, cheeses, muesli, cereal... just perfect for us! We had breakfast on the balcony quite a bit and that was lovely.
We had select dining and enjoyed the freedom to go if and when we liked. We would have gone with late seating, had we had to pick one, which would have been completely wrong for us. While we usually eat late at home, we loved having dinner at 6pm on the ship. Also, we were free not to have dinner and could explore the many other options - we went to the Oceanview buffet, had room service, tried all three specialty restaurants and Bistro on Five. I don't think we had more than four dinners in the main dining room.
When we strolled through the ship on embarkation day, looking for a quiet spot to sit down, we ended up in Murano where we could look around and where we were told about the 3-dinner package ($99). While we had only planned to visit Murano and Qsine we thought we would try Tuscan for another $9... best decision ever! Tuscan might have been the nicest dining experience we had on board.
Yes, Murano is elegant and special and table-side preparation is great but... for us it lacked something. Out of the three specialty restaurants this was where we received the worst service (I guess we were too young and the two couples on neighboring tables looked as if they would leave a bigger tip?). Qsine was interesting, it is an experience and we really like many things we tried (the Sangria was lovely). But Tuscan... the view is great, the service is excellent, everybody is so friendly and the atmosphere is so cozy and relaxed and the food was great! After our third dinner we changed to a 5-dinner package ($149) just to go to Tuscan again (and to try a few dished we didn't manage to try in Qsine). The steak tartar is to die for, as are the Tonno Crudo, the risotto, the Filet Mignon and the scallop & shrimp skewer. And don't even let me start on the Crème brûlée!
Our first port was St Maarten.
We had breakfast on the balcony and went off board quite early, got the water taxi to downtown... and were back on board after 1 1/2 hours. Philipsburg is just not for us. One jewelry store next to the other. We bought two $5 souvenir t-shirts and were happy that we had booked a shore excursion in the afternoon. Which was amazing! We had tried to book something privately but got told "sorry, we can't accept payment for oversea bookings" two days (!) before we left for the cruise... two months (!) after we had first gotten in touch with them. We went on the afternoon snorkeling excursion on the catamaran Mirabella and it was perfect. There were only 12 people on board (8 from Eclipse, 2 from Epic) and while I was a bit stunned when the snorkeling spot was only in the next bay... it was a perfect spot! Due to the winds we then sailed all the way to a beach, along the Dutch side of the island. It was great.
The next day we got to St Thomas and it's really difficult to say anything without mentioning immigration... which was a zoo. I don't think I have seen anything this badly organized in the last decade or so. We had about 2.000 non-US/Canada pax on board and they send... five (?) immigration officers? Well, not more than six. It was the first US stop and pax and crew had to go through full immigration.
As out tour was supposed to leave at 8am we got a note to be there at 7.15am with passports and ESTA print outs... immigration officials weren't even on board yet. They walked past us quite a while after 7.30am, nothing moved until 8am at least... and just when the line started moving we were pulled out of it by a Celebrity crew member to be taken to a shorter line for people with excursions. A line which ended up not moving at all while other people walked into the theater. They made us wait in front of the forward elevator bank... which people used to get down to immigration for later assigned times. It was a mess. And this was before they started passing out old-fashioned, paper I-94s because they couldn't set up the computer system and ESTA print-outs weren't sufficient. Of course, people didn't have pens because they didn't know they would have to fill out forms. It took another 5 minutes to organize pens. In the theater two rows were sat down... while the rest of the line just moved on towards the immigration officers in the front and walked past people that had been waiting longer. It was a joke!
While the problem with immigration (officers coming on board late and in such a small number, computer system not working) was not Celebrity's fault, the line management and the lack of information and organization was and we were less than happy.
Fortunately, our tour (Caribbean Sail to Christmas and Honeymoon Cove) had been booked through the ship and had waited... it's my understanding that even some ship tours left people behind and didn't wait. Supposedly some people waited for more than 3 hours and as deck 3 was full of people (the end of the "short" tour line and the "regular" line standing back to back in-front of the shops) I can believe it. Luckily we had a quick small breakfast at 6 (bagel and coffee) as the first food available was lunch after the first snorkeling. Our tour was cut short (supposed to be from 8am to 4pm, we left at 10am and were back by 3pm) without a compensation or even a sorry. Embarkation had been moved back by an hour but nobody ever told us.
tl;dr - St. Thomas is not a good choice for full immigration after a TA, tour was nice.
Nassau... well, we can now say we have been there. We should have gone on another snorkeling tour.
Disembarkation in Fort Lauderdale was a breeze!
Information on immigration was a bit... funny. The letter sent to the stateroom gave different information from what the cruise director said on tv or the international hostess mentioned. We were given new I-94s which then just ended up on a large pile at immigration as those from St. Thomas were sufficient...
Also, no breakfast as room service is not available and everybody tried to have breakfast in Oceanview when it started.
Anyways, we had luggage tag #16 and were supposed to be in the theater by 8am. We went, waited maybe 20 minutes, our number got called, we walked to the glass elevators, took an elevator down, walked off, got in a short line, got out luggage, got into a quick moving immigration line... and were waiting for out rental car shuttle by 9am.
What I especially enjoyed was that people whose number hadn't been called yet were made to wait before getting their luggage! A small group of four or five was held back by the nice lady at the end of the line, obviously until their number got called. Celebrity should have implemented this system for their immigration in St. Thomas! That might have worked better.
Summary: We had a wonderful time and experience!
Nice staff, nice ship, nice food, nice cabin, nice excursions. Some rude people (especially those who didn't know when they should stop drinking... or shut up when they are drunk; some people had obviously not been taught that some topics don't belong on the breakfast/dinner table... such as religion and politics), some hick-ups at immigration but other then that...
We really hope that we will be able to do it again soon as we have never had a vacation this relaxing before!