We have cruised a fair bit, predominantly with Celebrity and booked this cruise to celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Our honeymoon had been spent in France at a “chateau” overlooking a chemical plant, where we spent 4 glorious days holed up in bed with the flu. I was setting my sights higher this time! After the unusually harsh winter we have had in Maryland this year, and after one last removal of 2 feet of snow, it was a pleasure to head for the warmth and sunshine of Florida and the Caribbean, if only for a week. I hope you enjoy my tongue in cheek review of it!
We were flying to Florida from Reagan National and decided at the last minute to spend the night before, Valentines night, near the airport at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, as we had another 5 inches of snow forecast that night. The hotel was very nice and they offered me a hypo-allergenic room with air purifier when all I asked for was non-feather pillows. As it was Valentine’s Day, they only had a special 4 course dinner, which was $45 a person or $70 a couple, with a (dead) red rose for the lady, which this lady declined. I think if I had been male and dining alone, I would have been a little miffed. The cuisine was “Southern” (groan), which meant lots of grits, sweetbreads (ewwww) and corn. Not necessarily what I would chosen, but the meal was very nice, and the staff were very pleasant. All in all our stay was excellent.
The “jetting” to FLL with JetBlue wasn’t as excellent. We were delayed by a late incoming plane, which was understandable because of the storms up the East Coast, but then further delayed when de-icing chemicals made their way into the ventilation system, creating a foul-smelling dry-ice effect in the cabin and causing them to get a mechanic on board to check it out. We eventually took off, found the cabin crew to be pleasant, the flight not too bumpy, and arrived in FLL 2 hours late.
Our pre-cruise night was spent at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina. The hotel was decent, (but the Hyatt Regency had spoilt us), and had a spectacular view of the marina and the Port Everglades. Unfortunately in the morning the lobby was filled to bursting point with pre-cruise people wanting to check out and post-cruise people wanting early check-in. It was a zoo, the coffee line was humungous, so we decided to just leave. We planned to take a taxi but the hotel shuttle was about to leave for Silhouette, so we took that instead for $6 a person.
Baggage drop off at Port Everglades was easy, and we were soon in the terminal in the Priority line, not sure whether it was Aqua Class or Elite that did that for us, but we walked straight up to a check-in agent and then sent upstairs to a waiting area for Concierge, Aqua and Elite people. The Suite and Zenith waiting area was empty, so I imagine those passengers were whisked on board as soon as they arrived. After a 10 minute wait we had our photo taken and walked onto Silhouette.
We are quiet people, pretty much amuse ourselves and just occasionally dip into the activities the ship has to offer. I am a closet foodie, and like to take food porn photos, write my trip blog and read, and “Agathasdad” wanted to work on the photos he took on our Turkey, Greek Isles and Black Sea cruise last Fall. Our plan the entire cruise was to avoid the crowds and chill, so our first stop was not the “suggested” Oceanview Cafe, but Cafe Al Bacio, where we christened our drink package with a latte and perrier, after quaffing our welcome aboard fizz in one gulp! Next was a quiet “avoid the mob” lunch in Bistro On Five, which was well worth the $5 per head charge. After that a trip to the spa to secure reservations for couples massages on two of the sea days, a quick check on our reservation at Tuscan Grill, then off to the cabin.
We had Cabin 1642, an A2, and our steward was Peter. Before cruising I had filled out a “Special Needs” form, ridiculous I know, but the Captains Club agent I spoke to said it was the only way to ensure I would not get feather pillows in the cabin (along with flowers and other smelly things that trigger my allergies). Of course I opened the door and immediately started sneezing as the cabin had feathers and flowers galore in it and I had to ask Peter if he could possibly remove and regift them respectively. I sincerely hope “Special Needs” are more successful with requests from people whose issues are a little more life and death than mine. We have stayed in Aqua Class before and for us the benefits are dining in Blu and the fabulous shower. I did also find the drawstring bag with the slippers, lip balm and smelly face spray useful for holding all the chargers and cables we had brought with us!
There was lots of “mail” on the bed advertising various sales in the shops. I am not a shopper so they went straight in the bin. I remember in years gone by they used to have a separate recycling bin that clipped onto the cabin trash can, but not any more, must be part of the cutbacks ;) There was a 50% off coupon for dinner in a specialty restaurant the first night, which also went the way of the shopping ads. (I remember from previous cruises how good the first night menu in Blu is!). We also had a “suggested but not compulsory” time for arriving at Blu for dinner the first night, but we went later and had no trouble getting a table. There was a sheet of Elite coupons, from which we used the laundry and internet ones, and a list of events that had been put together by the Captains Club Host, afternoon tea, wine tasting, galley tour, backstage tour etc, but as we have done those before and as Agathasdad doesn’t like what he calls “corporate-style” things and because neither of us are good at small talk (he always ends up being talked at about World War 2 and I have to explain why I don’t sound like an american), we didn’t really participate much. We did make the occasional late foray into the Elite Cocktail party, held in the sky lounge, which was very pleasant, and low key. We never made it to the Elite Breakfast in the Tuscan Grill.
So enough of what this unsociable pair of miseries like us don’t do, here’s what we actually do like to do!
Food! We love to eat, but quality will always over-rule quantity. No buffet for us, (too many people picking up food from the displays with their fingers, popping it in their mouths with their fingers, licking their fingers, (yum!), then doing it all over again, (yuk!)), so our routine was lattes, perriers and a pain au chocolat in Cafe al Bacio for breakfast, lunch in the dining room when it was open on sea days or in Bistro on Five when it wasn’t and dinner in Blu and once in Tuscan Grill.
I have to say that previously I’ve found Blu to be a so-so experience, (and we only booked it again this cruise as it was the same price as Concierge), but this time round it was fantastic! Portion sizes were a little smaller, proteins were of a higher quality and vegetables were more a part of the meal than an afterthought. Standout dishes for me were frogs legs (as always), and the chilled seafoody salad type appetisers with crab or lobster, and the smoked trout. Agathasdad loved the soups and I found the salads to be great, although, (note to chef!) there is no way on earth that a few squares of tofu are a substitute or improvement on an anchovy in a Caesar salad, they just have no business being in there! For mains the filet mignon the first night was hard to beat, the lobster was good, as was the halibut. Even though they are not publicised, there are “always available” appetisers, shrimp cocktail (excellent) and escargots, onion soup, Caesar salad, plus salmon, New York strip steak and chicken breast mains. The latter I tried twice, the first time it was out of this world, the second it was embarassingly bad, shrivelled up and dry. That was the only disappointing dish I had all week, which I think is a pretty good record overall. Desserts are greatly improved, and there is also a cheese plate available, if you ask. All in all this cruise it was 3rd time lucky for us in Blu, the food surpassed expectations and we had a very good sommelier who kept our glasses filled, and a well organised team of waiters who managed to provide excellent service despite the restaurant being packed at certain times some nights.
Our food and service for lunch in the Main Dining Room was also excellent. There were a fair few ethnic options on the menu for lunch which made a pleasant change.
Bistro On Five became quite a favourite this cruise. It’s not a place to pop into for a quick bite as service is very slow, but the food is worth the wait. My favourites were the chicken noodle soup (more an asian consomme than the heavy american style soup), and the steak salad. They had nice desserts too, a very respectable chocolate mousse and an “English Triffle”, which made me laugh. Er the dish is a “Trifle” not a “Triffle”, Celebrity! The trifle was nice but was crying out for a good pour of sherry in the jelly (jello) layer to make it authentic. I find the crepes here very heavy, but did indulge one day in the “french” dessert crepe, a sort of unflambeed crepe suzette, and it was well worth the splurge.
We had a nice anniversary meal in Tuscan Grill. We were a little worried that the food might be too heavy for us, but chose wisely. We had a nice basket of bread and made a meagre choice from the vast antipasto plate selection, an olive and a marinated mushroom each! Then we shared the crabcake appetiser, followed by a minestrone soup for him, and a Caesar Salad made tableside for me. The waitress showed me the ingredients, and I thought she was just going to use a little of each, but she used everything before I could yell “Nooooo!”, so it was a little salad and a lot of dressing, but I did get it topped with real anchovies. I ordered grilled Mediterranean sea bass with a vinaigrette as a main and the husband a filet mignon with grilled vegetables and parmesan crusted steak fries. All was good, but the steak fries were dusted not crusted with parmesan and could easily have been served without, which I think I would have preferred. We drank the last of our Captain’s Club bottle of champagne, ordered a couple of capuccinos and an exquisite tiramisu to share. Then there was a big fuss made of us and an anniversary cake was produced, oohed and aahed over and dispatched to the cabin for later consumption. I should add here that when we did get back to the cabin there were towel swans and rose petals on the bed along with vase of red roses and another bottle of champagne courtesy of the Captains Club Host, as well as the cake. We hastily relocated the flowers onto the verandah and sealed the petals in a ziploc bag! It was a very nice gesture, but the steward was very worried about the flowers the next day saying that he had to deliver them even though he knew he shouldn’t. Poor man, damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.
We tried room service once and once it tried us, neither successfully. The first sea day there was hammering on our cabin door for a while at some godawful hour. I don’t even think it was light. We ignored it thinking it was some drunk who had the wrong cabin. Then the phone rang and a perky voice said, “Good morning Madame, we have your morning coffee for you”. Deadly silence. Mr Chirpy again, “I said good morning Madame, we have your morning coffee for you”. Confused in Cabin 1642 responded sleepily “I. Didn’t. Order. Coffee”. “Oh, so sorry, Madame. Goodbye”. It was 6:30 am! Ugh! The other time we ordered breakfast we had an 8:15 meeting for a shore excursion, and ordered a nice selection of foods to enjoy on the verandah. We selected the 7:30 to 8am time slot, knowing that on other cruises it has always arrived on the dot of the earlier time. This time it came at 7:59. We were pushed for time but could have wolfed down the food, if only they had remembered to bring cups for the tea…. As we didn’t have time to go and track down cups ourselves or wait for someone else to find some for us, we ended up leaving a “Sorry about the food but…” note and dashing down to Cage Al Bacio for a latte and pain au chocolate to go. So room service got nul points from us this trip.
My final comment on the food is that somehow I lost 2lbs this trip!
Shall we talk about entertainment? We tried 3 shows in the theatre, and really shouldn’t have. The only show we stayed till the end of was the magician, and as magicians go he was pretty good, but more magical was the sheer number of quick clothing changes his assistant managed in such a short time!. There were 3 shows with the Celebrity Singers and Dancers, we tried the Broadway Show but left after the second number. One of the guest entertainers “Almost Elton John” (“almost” only if you are blind and deaf!) performed 2 songs before we fled the theatre.
They were debuting the concept of “A show that becomes a party”. Basically the singers, dancers and party band put on a show in the grand foyer, then invite the audience to get up and dance along with them, then the singers and dancers discretely slip away, leaving the passengers to it. The first one we went to was the Venetian inspired “Mask”. We quite enjoyed it especially seeing unsuspecting passengers getting into the scenic elevators to find bewigged masked dancers gyrating away in there with them! We didn’t get to the other Show/parties, but they were the latin themed “Sizzle” and a “Rock” themed one.
I confess we typically prefer the lounge acts to the staged performances and particularly enjoyed the jazz ensemble fronted by a female vocalist. The Celebrity Orchestra appeared a couple of times in the Grand Foyer also performing jazz. The guitarist/singer on this cruise, Canaan Cox, was a little too country, (OK too morose and miserable) for me, but did seem to have a fan club. The Mandrigole Trio, three young women from Italy who sang more upbeat songs, think REM, Patti Smith, Fleetwood Mac, performed frequently in the Ensemble Lounge. My favourites though, even though other people whinged about them, were The Smart Casuals, the party band from England, with a brilliant Buzzcockian guitar sound. They were excellent and had a vast repertoire including (yawn) “Old Time Rock and Roll”, to a version of “A Little Respect” that was more Wheatus than Erasure, to modern day songs from Stereophonics, Adele and Gotye, to my absolute all time favourite, The Undertones “Teenage Kicks”. I have never heard that on a cruise ship before, and probably never will again, but it made my night!
There was Sin City Comedy on board that with shows billed as “Comedy with a hint of burlesque”. I would have loved to see them but they were typically on very late.
There was lots of trivia on board but I will say Billboard Music Trivia isn’t a patch on the old-fashioned “name that tune”. Other activities included a guest speaker lecturing on social media, i-classes, zumba, bingo, spa and wellness lectures, fitness classes and cooking demonstrations. One thing that is back, and not for the better is the Art Auction. Auctions were held daily in the grand foyer on 3 which meant that people also trying to have a nice drink in Cafe Al Bacio or eat in Bistro on 5 were bombarded with Art Auction sales pitch duelling with muzak. While it may be nice for the sound of musicians to drift up through 3 decks, the Art Auction doing the same thing is very intrusive, and it is a stretch to imagine how it can conceivably fit in with the concept of “modern luxury”!
Although we were Aquaclass, we only ventured into the spa for our massages, two 50 minute couples massages. We had the same masseuses both times, and despite me mentioning on the form that I wasn’t interested in buying any products, they still did the sales pitch at the end, but luckily not over-agressively. They didn’t bother us with it after the second massage. I asked about the change in spa provider and they said that the new company was taking over in mid-April and that Steiner was relocating the current staff to french ships.
Much has been said about the lawn, on our cruise part of it was resting as it was “eXhausted” and other bits were being resodded. They looked pretty brown and shrivelled. We didn’t spend much time up there at the Sunset bar as it was windy, had techno music playing and the drinks were served in plastic glasses that you had to hold onto or they would blow over! I think I prefer the Sunset Bars on the Millennium Class ships.
We had 3 ports on this cruise, San Juan, PR, St Kitts and St Maarten.
In San Juan we did our own thing, walking from the ship, to Fort San Cristobal, then up and along the coast road, past the cemetery to El Morro and back down the winding roads to the sea front. San Juan is one of our favourite DIY ports, and the weather was perfect for walking.
I read about Carambola Beach Club on cruise critic, and having been underwhelmed by previous visits to St Kitts, we decided to make reservations here for 2 loungers and an umbrella for a quiet beach day. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! When we arrived we discovered that the beach Carambola was on, was the beach that taxi drivers took everyone who got off the ship without plans and said “Take us to a beach” to. It was packed. They only had umbrellas and beds for people with reservations. The umbrella we were given was broken and they were pretty uninterested in fixing it, so we switched it ourselves for one from further down the beach. We ended up surrounded by a group of loud, foul-mouthed smokers from the RCCL ship that was also in port, who complained when we moved our umbrella, that we had paid for, because it took the shade away from them! I am sure Carambola Beach Club is lovely when there are no ships in, otherwise it is a zoo.
We booked a private island tour through Bernards Tours, which we shared with another couple from our roll call. We had a fabulous time. Augustine, our driver, (with hair as red as her scarlet top), was a great host and took us around the island. She dropped us at the beautifully peaceful, almost deserted, Le Galion beach for a couple of hours of quality beach, photography and reading time. After a delicious lunch in Marigot at a restaurant Augustine recommended, we headed out to Maho Beach for a bit of plane spotting. All in all a lovely day.
On the boards there are always hot topics. I can report back on a few of them. We never saw or smelt anyone smoking on balcony’s or outside the designated smoking areas. We saw one man with a child doing cannonballs in the solarium pool, who was very rude to a lady, swimming laps, who told him it was an adults only pool. Within a few minutes security had come and spoken to him and the man and child had left. It was nice to see rules enforced courteously by security. As for the dress code, I don’t know how people were dressed in the dining room, but casual smart and above was adhered to in Blu, and everyone looked really nice, even those in (gasp!), jeans!
Anyone heard of Luggage Valet? It is the most fantastic thing ever! I was a bit reticent about the tagline “put your luggage outside the cabin on the last night, and don’t see it again until your destination airport”, but I was intrigued. We had a disembarkation day tour and an evening flight so at $20 a person we gave it a go.
We booked the Celebrity Tour “Fort Lauderdale By Land And Sea” to pass some time on disembarkation day. It turned out to be really good, and our guide Lori was a hoot! Basically there was a bit of a bus tour, a bit of a walking tour and a paddle steamer ride around the canals and Intercoastal Waterway of Fort Lauderdale. All in all a good way to kill time.
We had a fantastic cruise on Silhouette, and when we finally arrived at DCA, not only did our bags arrive too, but they were the first bags on the carousel. Luggage Valet you are brilliant!