This was our third cruise with Celebrity, and have also cruised around 8 times with RCL. We particularly enjoy the high number of sea days on TA cruises and have crossed the Atlantic on may occasions with both cruise lines.
I am very pleased to report that the overall cruise experience more than matched our expectations. The ship appeared to be in great condition, and without exception the staff we encountered and engaged with were very happy, friendly, and most hospitable at all times. The culinary delights in the various restaurants more than matched our personal requirements in terms of quality and quantity. If not quite 5 star in standard it was in the main, a good 4 star quality. As Elite members, the issue of drink tickets more than matched our minimal alcohol consumption although due to the poor / slow service in the members lounge, we only attended on a couple of occasions.
We booked the cruise directly with RCL and made our own personal travel arrangements, giving us the flexibility to extend our time in both the departure and arrival ports.
The embarkation we experienced was swift and flawless, we arrived at the cruise terminal around 11:30 and were onboard by 11:50 and settled into comfortable chairs awaiting the announcement about stateroom readiness. If I recall this came around 12:45 and we were sipping a cool bottle of champagne by a 13:00 and relaxing into our vacation in stateroom No. 1255.
A light lunch, a walk around the decks was followed by the emergency drill.
As an ex mariner I am having increasing concerns and reservations about the apparent scant regard being given to this vitally important requirement by both the cruise lines and some passengers. SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) requires such drills to be carried to familiarise passengers with the actions they must take in emergency situations. Over the last 10-15 years, the physical size and the passenger capacity of cruise ships has grown at an alarming rate. The emergency drills I have experienced over this period have deteriorated in standard and are now reduced to the showing of a video on a TV monitor and a PA announcement. In a real emergency situation with the elevators will be taken out of service, the mass movement of up to 3,000-4,000 persons on the internal stairways would be something I would personally try avoid at all costs. The mass movement around the vessel in good conditions is already difficult at times. In possible adverse conditions of, poor lighting, ship rolling, flustered crew and passengers this would in my opinion be a potential nightmare scenario. (Do cruise lines effectively prepare for such emergency situations or are they simply paying minimal lip service and complying with the basic regulation to carry out the drill and hoping the worst case scenario never arrives)
As early dinners, we met our table companions in the Moonlight Sonata restaurant on the 1st evening. A table for eight located centrally in the dinning room, with two American couples and two couples from the UK, this proved to be an ideal balance and added significantly to our enjoyment of the cruise. The table waiters were both very experienced and our food arrived punctually, hot and exactly as requested with all special dietary request being easily fully complied with.
A slight revelation came at the evening show when the cruise director the magnificent Sue Denning informed us that the balance of numbers onboard was in favour of the UK, something she had never experienced before on a TA voyage.
A further surprise was that grass needs to rest for such a long periods, the “keep of the grass signs” were on the lawn for much of the cruise. In my opinion 50% of the lawn area would be better off utilised as additional deck area for sun beds. The current area available for sun beds is too restricted and the beds are rather close for personal comfort.
The eight seas days were well catered for with numerous organised activities to pass the time away. I particularly enjoyed the afternoon Beyond the Podium lectures given by Robyn Scott, these were well presented and very informative.
The theatre was very well attended on most evenings, the Celebrity cast full productions numbers Ovations, Eclipse and Edge were excellent, the so called headline acts were a bit hit or a miss. The Chinese magician Fey was brilliant and has a great future ahead of him. Perry Grant was entertaining nightly in Michael’s club but as we had seen his show on the Constellation, we passed up on the opportunity to repeat the pleasure!
Bar service was a bit of a hit or miss, at times it was rather difficult to get served due to an apparent lack of staff. This situation will reduce cash going into the tills for those who pay for their drinks onboard and slow down those who have pre-paid for drinks.
The first port of call St Thomas was badly blemished by an unnecessary delay in the processing of the compulsory US Immigration requirements. The ship’s Master and the Cruise Director laid the blame for this 3-4 hour delay fully with the immigration service stating that their late arrival combined with an inability to electronically process visa’s was the reason for this.
While the lack of sufficient immigration staff members and the need to do a manual check was an issue, in my opinion, the indirect cause of the unexpected delay was a failure by the Master to adequately communicate with both passengers and port authorities prior to arrival in St Thomas. If the master had made normal seaman like enquiries prior to arrival via the ships agent, he should have been made fully aware of the procedures going to occur on the morning of arrival. This cannot possibly be the first time a vessel has called at St Thomas as a 1st port of call in the US. The ship should have been more prepared for what occurred blaming the immigration authorities was an easy option for the ship. Leaving passengers standing in line, some who were struggling to do so for more than 3 hours was shocking and very poor customer care.
Thankfully the port calls at St Maartan and Nassau were without incident, having previously visited both, we took the opportunity to wonder around the shops and pick up some Christmas presents to take back to the UK. In Nassau we pre-booked a day pass at the Hilton hotel, this gave us use of the beach area and pool, lunch and a good number of drinks, the hotel is only a 5 minute walk from the port gates.
Disembarkation was a somewhat slow process, this time apparently caused by a lack of staff to move the luggage from the ship to the holding / pick up area. Having picked up our bags we were through immigration very quickly on our way to Orlando for 2 weeks with MM.
As mentioned before it was a great cruise which we thoroughly enjoyed and we have already booked our next TA for Spring 2014...... and are currently researching for the return leg in the Autumn.