We got a call from a consultant while in LA saying that our name had been drawn randomly, and we had won a cruise for two. It started out as a longer cruise, maybe 4 nights to Bahamas, including a hotel stay, hire car, airfares, food, etc. But because I didn't want to spend so much I got the package reduced to a 2 night cruise with 2 nights in a hotel in Ft Lauderdale, hire car for 7 days, and one airfare for $436. I was told on the phone that 1 airfare was included and I would need to book and pay for the second flight myself, and I would also have to pay for parking at dock ($15 per day), fuel surcharge ($9 per day), and gratuities on cruise ($12 per day). The salesman said that he was looking at the cost of flights from LAX to Ft Lauderdale on his screen and they cost around $200 return at that time. Because I'm a foreigner, I didn't really have a good idea of the cost of internal flights so thought that it didn't sound too bad. I said ok to the deal and then logged onto the website to find out what I had booked - you can't get onto the website until 72 hrs after making the booking. The website gives very minimal information with no detail of what I had ordered.
I called the help line - be prepared to wait - to ask what I had ordered and make sure it was done properly. Then I found out that the cabin I was given is internal with BUNK BEDS!! So much for a romantic getaway with my wife! I asked for an upgrade to double bed and window cabin, plus I upgraded the hotel to the Doubletree Hilton at Deerfield Beach, and added another day to the hire car. This all cost an extra $137.
When I tried to book the flights I found out that Celebration send you a two for one voucher. The vouchers are restrictive with busy days of the year blocked out. We wanted to go in December which was blocked from 23 to Jan 4. Was finally able to book 2 return flights LA to Ft Lauderdale for $650 between 14 and 22 December. Reasonable, but not nearly as cheap as I had been led to believe. You have to do this separately from everything else. It is not connected to Celebration. They give you the voucher and you must fend for yourself.
I called Celebration again and asked them to send me confirmation because I'd received nothing by email. The said they don't do that...I'll receive confirmation 3 weeks prior to departure. I was not satisfied with that and insisted that something be sent to me. I had to really push for this happen, push VERY HARD. Was finally put on to a supervisor who offered to FAX me a copy of confirmation. SO I had to organise a fax number and call them back. It took forever to organize. The fax never came. I called back a few weeks later and had to go through the whole process again. This time the fax arrived with full detail included. I felt much better after that. However, the experience soured the whole process for me.
After reading reviews I began to feel a bit nervous about the trip. However, the detail arrived in my mailbox 3 weeks before departure date as promised.
Make sure that you call and confirm everything a few days before you leave. Let them know when your flights are arriving, and make sure that people will be there at the hire car desk and Arrival Center. We arrived at Ft Lauderdale and went to the hire car desk. Was shocked to find that taxes are not included in the holiday package. They amounted to $75 for 8 days hire. We had to go to the Welcome Center to pick up our vouchers before we went to the Hilton. The hotel where it is located is about 30 min from the airport. If we hadn't called before arriving our vouchers wouldn't have been ready. As it was, they wanted us to return in the morning to sort things out. We refused. They found our vouchers and we were on our way. BTW, the people at the Welcome Center will try to get you to go to a sales pitch for a timeshare or something. It is between 9.30 and 11am on the morning of the cruise. He said we would receive an onboard credit and lanyard that would give us express entry onto the ship. Unless you really want the onboard credit, refuse this presentation. You don't need it.
We were very happy with the Hilton hotel and glad that we upgraded. It was a lovely big room, great pool, only one restaurant. You will have to pay a $15 per day resort fee up front. We never found out the purpose of this “fee.” It appears to be a convenient way for the hotel to gather some revenue. They have a free shuttle service that will take you anywhere within 5 miles of the hotel and pick you up when you're ready. We didn't use the hire car while at the hotel. We were unhappy to find out that the "free food" we were promised at the hotel was actually a book of vouchers. Two vouchers for each meal, breakfast ($7), lunch ($10), and dinner ($15) each. If you order anything over that amount then you must pay yourself. You cannot save your vouchers and use 2 at one meal time. And, as you can imagine, there isn't much on the menu that fits into that budget!
We arrived at the port at around 11am and our car was valet parked without any hassle. You need to pay cash for the valet parking so make sure you have enough with you. It was $10 per day. We had absolutely no problem getting through the immigration check. Make sure you have identification, passport. If you are a foreigner in the USA on a special visa (like us) then you must bring your I-20 or any other supplementary paperwork that accompanies your visa. We were told that if we didn't have ours we would not be allowed to board the ship. The whole process only took about 15 minutes. Arriving one hour early at 11am helped a lot. You'll be given a plastic card that you use as key to your cabin and for shipboard purchases. They link the card to your credit card. DON'T LOSE THIS CARD. The ship doesn't board until 12 noon. There is seating in a waiting area with free coffee, soft drinks and cookies. The cookies all disappeared quick. Attendants will offer you drink packages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, which we didn't avail because we're not big drinkers. You need to book your evening meals at the restaurants also. We ate at the Rio restaurant on first night and formal Crystal restaurant on second night. Both meals were great. You can ask for a second main course or any other course if you want.
We were taken onto the ship at 12 noon as promised. A really nice buffet lunch was served immediately in the Rio restaurant. Our luggage was delivered directly to the cabin later in the day. Cabins were ready for us at 1.30 pm. We were really happy with our cabin. It was nicely presented, enough space for us, compact and cosy, a small bathroom attached with shower and toilet. We slid our bags under the bed. Our cabin had a double bed and porthole window. Also another single bed that was folded up against the wall at the end of our bed. So the cabin could sleep three people. It was small, but we didn't expect anything else on a ship. There were 2 bottles of water in the cabin. We thought they were complimentary (didn't read the tag attached) and found out later that we were charged $3.75 for each bottle. So don't drink the water unless you're happy with that charge.
No need to tip on the ship because you will automatically be charged $12 gratuities fee per day.
There's free icecream on deck 9 in DJ's restaurant as long as you ask for it in a cup.
You can get a power adapter, hair dryer and curling iron for free from the info desk. These must be returned or you will be charged for them. We picked them up as soon as we boarded. The power plugs in cabins are European so you cannot use your own appliances unless they are variable voltage.
If you like good coffee, you won't find any on the ship. Trattoria restaurant (where you can get free food any time) sells “specialty” coffees that are overpriced Nestle machine variety. There is free filter coffee which I didn't like at all. The poolside area also has free filter coffee, but it was lukewarm both times I tried it.
We told the maitre'd both nights that it was our anniversary cruise. They gave us a nice table for two and presented us with a small cake both nights, and the waiters sang us a song. Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. The staff are more than willing to comply if they can.
The pool on the ship is not very nice. Very small and cold water. However, there are two jacuzzis that are very nice. We went to the entertainment both nights and really enjoyed both shows. Arrive early to get a seat otherwise you'll be standing. We skipped the late night comedy which is an adults only version of the earlier performance. Listening to people use profanity and sexual innuendo doesn't excite us.
You will be told that you must attend a “compulsory” briefing soon after you get on the ship – I think at about 4.30 on the first day. It is not compulsory, but it is informative. You'll be told all about the various tours and packages offered for a Freeport visit. Also about the facilities onboard ship. The tours are overpriced. We were interested in the Grand Lukayan resort tour that includes taxi to the resort, use of the resort facilities including towel and seat hire, and buffet lunch for $51 per person. We were going to take someone's advice and do it ourselves ($10 pp taxi + $20 pp resort fee = $30 pp) but the taxi driver told us to save the $20 entry fee to the resort (which does not include lunch). She showed us where to find the beach for free. The taxi trip is $10 return (very reasonable). You pay before boarding the taxi, and when you arrive they give you a card that you must keep and present when you want to return to the ship. Our taxi took us to the town center tourist shopping area. There's lots of shops for browsing, restaurants, bars, all in one area. The beach is only about 10 min walk from there. Its a beautiful beach. The last taxi returns to the ship at 4pm so be sure to be there on time at the same place you were dropped off. All passengers must be back on board ship by 5.30 pm. There is a tourist shopping village on the port where the ship docks and the prices there are the same as in town. You can find just about everything there that is available in town.
The ship returns overnight and docks at around 8am. All passengers must disembark by 10.30 am. The disembarkation process was also painless. Check your bill before you leave the ship. We found that we'd been charged for an extra bottle of water in our cabin. Don't forget to return any appliances and the adapter you borrowed.
The entire trip cost us around $1500 (hotel, cruise, airfares and hire car), which is a lot more than the starting price of $437. Petrol costs were on top of that. Admittedly, some of the added cost was self inflicted, by upgrading, however if we had known the total cost at the beginning of the entire process, it is likely that we would have chosen to spend our money in some other way. Just the extra fees and taxes alone added up to over $200. The salespeople at Caribbean Cruise Line pitch their product using very carefully chosen language that (we feel) deliberately misleads people to think that they're getting a fantastic deal. The truth is, you can probably do better by researching other cruise lines and seeing what's available. Even so, we were happy with the quality of the cruise.
Things that we didn't like :
misleading information about the air tickets
exorbitant taxes on the hire car
meal vouchers in the hotel
resort fee at the hotel
Things we liked :
the Doubletree Hilton at Deerfield beach was lovely
the embarkation process was much easier than we were led to believe
the ship staff are lovely
the cabin was better than we expected