Part I - Precruise
A. Cruise Critic
I admit it. I over-research every port and possible tour excursion. The good news is that our excursions at each port have almost always been worthwhile. We always start our search at Cruisecritic.com which is helpful in securing key information for all of our ports of call and getting to know some of our fellow travelers before the cruise.
B. Choice of Route
The cruise left from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and traveled to George Town, Grand Cayman; Cartagena, Colombia; Colon, Panama; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; Belize City, Belize and Cozumel, Mexico. This was our first trip to Cartagena, Colon, and Puerto Limon and a return visit to the others. We love forts and looked forward to exploring a couple on this cruise.
C. Choice of Ship
We chose the route first, but were also happy to be cruising on a Celebrity ship we had not yet cruised on. The Equinox is the largest ship we've ever been on. Equinox, built in 2009, is one of Celebrity's five Solstice class ships. Equinox weighs in at 122,000 tons and has an occupancy of 2850 passengers, although it never really felt crowded.
D. Choice of cabin
My wife lives on the balcony when we book them so a cabin with a veranda is our first choice. However, this 11-day cruise was not inexpensive. The cost difference between an inside cabin and a balcony cabin was being able to afford the cruise at all, so we found ourselves with an inside cabin midship on Deck 3. An advantage of an inside cabin (besides a much lower cost) is how easy it is to sleep in them, since there is no sunlight. Inside cabins are reasonably spacious, with between 183 to 200 square feet --- no smaller than the outside cabins.
Even though we were boarding in Florida, we were visiting 6 foreign countries, so we felt it would be a good idea to bring passports. This trip we used passport cards. They were accepted without a problem and were so much easier to carry around than the standard passport book. We did bring the passport book with us in case it was needed but was able to leave it locked in the cabin safe the entire trip.
I insured the trip through Travelex, which I concluded was a good choice due to: relative cost comparisons, ease of access and booking, good disclosures, excellent coverage for what I needed, and especially because their insurance is "primary", meaning that I do not have to involve any other insurance in the claims process.
I had no interest in proprietary insurance offered by a travel agency or cruise companies because if either goes under your insurance is worthless and defeats the purpose. We bought the insurance within 14 days of our booking to assure their would be no questions about "pre-existing medical conditions", although I am not aware we have any. Thankfully we never had a need for the insurance.
G. Prebooking Excursions
Based upon the recommendations we got off the Ports of Call threads, we decided to prebook four excursions in Belize, Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico --- which we arranged privately via email. In Cartagena and Grand Cayman we simply took local transportation to a particular destination we wanted to experience. More details later.
We have found that researching excursions ahead of time and making arrangements directly with the tour operator has always resulted in a more enjoyable, and less expensive, tour than can be arranged through the ship. Tour group size typically runs about 8 to 24 passengers versus the hordes typical of a ship's tour.
We packed for 2 Semi-Formal nights (suit and tie / dinner dress), and 9 Casual nights (polo's/aloha shirts and Dockers, blouses and skirts), in addition to enough clothing to cover us for 6 days. Although it was an 11-day cruise, we packed for 6 and gave the ship our laundry on days 4 and 8 using a Captain's Club coupon. Among the most helpful "extra items" we packed was a battery powered alarm clock, roll-up shoe rack (we use the pockets to store useful things), sunscreen, highlighters, collapsible dirty clothes bag, wide-brim hats, a backpack, magnets (to keep announcements and invites handy --- since the walls are metal) and a water camera.
Solstice ships all have storage above the beds but it's tough to do much with it. We saw a recommendation on Cruise Critic to use ClosetMaid Fabric Drawers. These lightweight collapsible $6 square drawers are 10.5 x 10.5 x 11 inches, fit nicely in the above-bed storage, and make it easy to store everything from socks to miscellaneous cruise things. They fold flat for easy packing.
We also made eleven 8x10 posters for our cabin door (one for each day, "If this is Wednesday, it must be Grand Cayman!" and the like). The cabin doors are metal. We held up our signs with little magnets. Not only did they help us keep track of the day and our cabin location, we struck up a few conversations with our neighbors who appreciated the signage.
I. Water Camera
Speaking of the water camera, I highly recommend you get a rugged water camera for your cruise. They are so much more versatile than an ordinary camera and you'll enjoy taking them places regular camera can't go (like the beach, waterfalls, and underwater). Just as I over-research ports, I spent hours researching water cameras. We wanted a camera we could indeed take everywhere, that took good pictures in and out of the water, and had a good optical zoom.
We recently purchased the rugged Olympus Stylus TG-830 for under $200. Wow! that's a great camera for the money. It has lots of easy-to-use picture modes and the panoramic mode just takes your breath away. Here's why it's rugged: it's waterproof to 10m/33ft, shockproof to 2.1m/6.9ft, crushproof to 100kgf/220lbf, freezeproof to -10C/14F, and dustproof (which also means it keeps sand out). It also has built-in GPS and e.Compass, 5x optical zoom, 10x enhanced (not fuzzy) digital zoom, and full 1080P Full HD Video. All of the pictures in this review were taken with our Olympus TG-830. If you don't have one, a cruise is a great excuse to buy one.
J. Marriott BeachPlace Towers in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
We flew into Fort Lauderdale one day early to help avoid the stress of travel delays that might occur on cruise day. We took a taxi from the airport to the Marriott BeachPlace Towers for $25 plus tip. Taxi dropoff is on the first floor. Check-in is on the 5th floor. The four elevators are notoriously slow. We checked-in early. The front desk was very friendly and accommodating. We were in studio lock-off room #1511 which featured a king bed, kitchenette, couch, table, chairs, and a shaded lanai overlooking Ft Lauderdale Beach, with a table and 2 chairs.
There is a CVS (no pharmacy) in the mall fronting the beach. They have beer, wine, water, and just about any sundry or beach item you could want. A 15-minute stroll took us to Coconuts at 11:45 am. Place was busy. After a 30-minute wait we were offered Sunday brunch and lunch menus. The Lobster Benedict ($16) was simply incredible! A culinary highlight I would return for. Following lunch we walked the beach. Also busy with lots of people watching opportunities. We caught the tail-end of Spring Break. We watched ships depart Port Everglades from our lanai starting around 4:00 pm. We then ate dinner at Quarterdeck, a couple of blocks away. Marriott's concierge gave us a couple of free draft beer coupons. We had the grouper and baby back ribs. Not very memorable but the value was very good.
Part II - Embarkation
A. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
We flew into Fort Lauderdale one day early and stayed at Marriott BeachPlace Towers. See details above. We ate breakfast at H20 - a nice but pricey restaurant next door fronting the beach. We then checked-out of the hotel and took a taxi ($14 plus tip) to Port Everglades.
B. Security Processing and Boarding at Port Everglades
We arrived at the pier about 10:00 am, gave our luggage and a $5 tip to a luggage handler, and almost immediately entered the terminal. At 10:15 we were permitted to line up for the security screening and then headed to Celebrity Check-in 5 minutes later. The left side of the terminal was processing Concierge Class plus passengers on Decks 8, 9, and 10. The right side of the terminal processed passengers in Suites, Aqua Class, and those with cabins on decks 3, 6, and 7.
Separate lines were set up for Suites and Aqua Class, Elites and Select members, and a line for all others. Once in line, you waited until being directed to one of over a dozen Celebrity check-in agents. Priority was generally given to folks in the line order sequenced above. The agent checked our passport cards, credit card, and embarkation form. Within 10 minutes we had our Sea Pass (which is used as your ship ID, ship credit card, and door key).
Boarding began at 11:00 am. Two or three more security checks later, we were on the Equinox. An attendant greeted us with a choice of champagne or orange juice. Cabins were not yet ready, so we set out to explore the ship.
C. Tour of Ship and Search For Food
The ship is gorgeous, and really well laid out with ample sets of stairwells and elevators. 8 elevators can be found midship with 3 additional elevators fore and aft. We found sustenance in the Oceanview Cafe on the Deck 14 for a buffet lunch. For most of the week, we tried to take the stairs whenever possible but also found the elevators to be efficient.
D. Explore The Cabin
We were in cabin 3148, a category 12 cabin with about 190 square feet of space in the lowest passenger level of the ship --- Deck 3. We were located slightly forward of midships, starboard side, just off the Grand Foyer. The location was great. Since there is no window or veranda, we instead watched fish through our glass-bottom floor. (Smile).
The lack of sunlight does make it easy to sleep and get good rest at any time of day or night (as if you can tell the difference). Hint: we used our flat-screen TV as a porthole by simply tuning in the ship's webcam channel. It also gives you a good view of the ports as you dock.
The cabin was well laid out. Lots of drawers and enough room in the closets and over the bed for our clothes. The bathroom had a toilet, sink, and a spacious glass-enclosed shower. Hangers and robes were provided. The room safe can easily hold a 14-inch laptop --- maybe even bigger, and still have room for wallets and phones. The desk featured a number of informational brochures including Monday's event newsletter "Celebrity Today".
Being Cruise Critic members, we received an invite to the gathering scheduled for the next day. We asked our cabin attendant for a dozen wire hangers, and asked that our mini-fridge be locked. All of these items were taken care of promptly by our efficient and friendly cabin attendant, Joanna DeGuzman.
E. Dinner in the Main Dining Room - 6:00 pm "First Seating"
Silhouette Restaurant is the main dining room (MDR), located on Decks 3 and 4. Passengers with assigned dining times (Early or Late) ate on 3 while passengers with anytime dining at upstairs on 4. The dining room is beautiful.
F. Lifeboat Drill
At 3:30 pm (about an hour prior to leaving port), we participated in the mandatory lifeboat drill. The drill seemed overly long and our assigned muster station in the Entertainment Court was so uncomfortably warm that one elderly passenger fainted. (He was quickly attended to and escorted outside for air). We were not required to wear lifejackets. We simply had to get to our muster station, watch a lifejacket demonstration, and listen to announcements from Captain Michael Karatzas and then from our muster crew.
Part III - Food!
Celebrity has a good reputation for their cuisine. The meals met our expectations. Not only was it good, it was downright outstanding on many nights. There was good variety. Nice presentations at dinner. We never needed to send back an undercooked or overcooked item. Meats were cooked to order. Our Waiter (Metin), our Assistant Waiter (Manansala), and our Sommelier (Yan) were all very friendly, efficient, and offered good guidance.
A. Always Available
The following items are available every night: shrimp cocktail, escargot, seasonal fruit, French onion soup, Caesar salad, chicken, salmon, NY sirloin steak, NY Cheesecake, creme brulee, apple pie, and chocolate cake.
B. The Best Breakfast Items
Mango smoothie, Strawberry smoothie, mixed fresh berries, smoked salmon, grits, made-to-order eggs benedict, bangers (English sausage) and the nice crispy bacon.
C. The Best Dinner Appetizers
Anything with goat cheese. There were at least 3 appetizers each night. All appetizers were well presented. You can't go wrong.
D. The Best Soup
Butternut squash (at Bistro on Five), French onion, and Mushroom.
E. The Best Entrées in the Main Dining Room
Tenderloin, Prime rib, Portabella mushroom with spinach and goat cheese, Lamb chops, Veal, Roasted Trout, Australian Sea Bass (the best fish I've ever eaten on a cruise), Lamb shank, Braised beef ribs, and the Cajun Drum (fish).
F. The Best Desserts
Crème Brule, Baked Alaska, Apple pie, and the ice creams.
G. Room Service
Room service was available 24/7. We didn't order anything from room service.
H. Grand Buffet Brunch
There is normally (or used to be) one grand brunch buffet, held in the Main Dining Room on a sea day. This grand buffet was complete with ice sculptures, carved pumpkins and creative food animals, made-to-order omelet and bananas foster stations, jumbo shrimp, sushi, breakfast items and carved meats, vegetables and sides, and a huge dessert bar. We either missed it or it's no longer offered. It used to be a highlight.
I. Sushi Bar
A section of about a dozen beautifully prepared (very fresh and chilled) sushi was available each nights from 6:00 pm to 9:30 pm in the Oceanview Cafe on the Deck 14. It is a winner.
J. Classic Drink Package
We did not have a drink package on this trip. Bars are plentiful however. If you have a package (or not) you won't go thirsty.
K. Specialty Restaurants
Equinox has three specialty dinner restaurants. Silk Harvest Restaurant is "an exotic fusion of traditional and creative cuisines with inspiration from Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, China and India". Murano is very fancy and serves a "blend of Classic and modern continental cuisine, freshly prepared in multi-course meals, as exquisite European-style service attends to your every need". Tuscan Grille is an italian-themed steakhouse that serves pastas, seafood, steaks and salads. Since we enjoyed the Main Dining Room we did not visit any of these. Our tablemates did and liked all 3, ranking them in order of favorite: Murano, Tuscan Grill, and Silk Harvest. There is a $25 to $40 cover charge.
L. Cafe al Bacio and Gelateria
Hit up Cafe al Bacio on Deck 5 for a variety of espresso, cappuccino, latte, mocha and macchiatos; as well as a dozen premium hot teas and iced teas. My wife fell in love with the Cafe Mocha Caramel Machiatta on a prior cruise. It was a great place to stop in the morning on the way to breakfast. If you want a quick bite to eat, they offer free croissants, pain au chocolate, brioche, fresh blueberry muffins and apple turnovers in the morning; light lunch items; and desserts at night. The baristas at this cafe are very friendly and efficient.
Located next to Cafe al Bacio, the Gelateria offers 10 or 12 flavors of Italian gelato. I do not recall the charge. We enjoyed a refreshing gelato after our Belize snorkel excursion. The mint chocolate chip is a winner.
N. Bistro on Five
Located across the foyer from Cafe al Bacio, Bistro on Five offers all-you-can-eat soups, salads, panini, crepes, and deserts. The food is good. Butternut squash soup is great. It's not normally very busy, and there was only about a dozen folks eating there when we dined for lunch. The $5 cover charge seems to keep people away which makes it a nice and quiet alternative to the Oceanview Cafe primetime madhouse. The service we received here was not good. Slow and inattentive would be two good adjectives as it took over 20 minutes to flag down a waiter to take our order and our water was not refilled until we were almost finished with lunch.
O. Oceanview Cafe
Found on Deck 14 aft, Oceanview has several hot and cold buffet stations. The food was generally good. It's generally difficult to find a table during prime dining times. Notable items included: made-to-order eggs benedict and omelettes, the Indian cuisine, and the nightly sushi bar. Thin crust pizza is available daily from noon to 10:00 pm.
P. Mast Grill
Located midship on Deck 14, Mast Grill offers limited bar service, hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries --- along with favorite toppings like sauerkraut, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, American cheese, bacon, lettuce, and tomato. Yes, you can ask for just a BLT.
Q. Aqua Spa Cafe
The Aqua Spa Cafe is open for lunch and is located midship in the Solarium on Deck 13. They only have about 7 tables which is usually plenty since most folks either don't know it's here or think it's only for Aqua Class passengers. Hint: It's free and it's a hidden gem! (There is only a surcharge for smoothies and parfaits). They offer soups, grains, fruit plates, and salads. The food is very good. The mushroom soup and chicken salad were especially good.
R. Room Service
You can order from morning to late night. We didn't order anything from room service this trip. From past experience, they are generally punctual and they don't just drop the order off at your door --- they come in and set it up for you. Be sure to tip!
Part IV - Entertainment
Movies are available on your TV and occassionally in Celebrity Central on Deck 4. Some of the movies shown in Celebrity Central included "Wolverine", "Parkland", "2 Guns", and "Captain Phillips". Your TV includes both pay-per-view and free on-demand movies. The free movies included: "Red 2", "Jobs", "Fast and Furious 6", "The Great Gatsby" (2013), "The Family", "Despicable Me" 1 and 2, "Star Trek Into Darkness", "The Pirates! Band of Misfits", "The Tale of Despereaux", and "Wreck-it Ralph".
B. Celebrity Shows in the Equinox Theater
Equinox Theater is located on forward on Decks 3, 4, and 5. The theater itself is beautiful and the viewing is excellent downstairs and with few exceptions the second floor as well. Almost all of the third floor seating is partially obstructed by high glass safety walls, safety rails, or the occasional pylon. Sound and lighting is excellent. The Stars of Equinox Production Cast (aka Celebrity Singers and Dancers) took part in 4 shows: "Limelight" (a celebration of mostly forgettable broadway acts), "Remix" (a very energetic show), "Equinox - The Show" (a Cirque du Soleil style show) and "A Voyage to Remember" (reprise of acts from the entire cruise).
C. Guest Appearances in the Equinox Theater
Our guest artists included: Analiza Ching (virtuoso violinist), Laura Broad (vocalist), Band Artistique (comedy, song, and juggling), Steve Caouette (comedian), Travis Turpin (singer, impressionist, musician), Tenors of Rock (primarily hard rock vocal group), and Farrell Dillon (magic, illusion, and comedy).
D. Shows in the Celebrity Central
Celebrity Central is an all-purpose venue. They offered movies, trivia, guest speakers, and Sin City Comedy here.
The Fortunes Casino (amidship Deck 4) is filled with slot machines, one Craps table, a roulette table, a bar and a few blackjack tables. The casino was open while at sea and closed while in ports. The Casino is a fresh-air, non-smoking, environment. Kudos to Celebrity for their non-smoking policy.
Did not utilize the spa or the Persian Garden steam rooms but did tour them. The steam rooms and sauna feature an exterior wall window view! They are located on Deck 12.
G. Outdoor Pools and Hot Tubs
There are several hot tubs and two outdoor pools along with an indoor pool (Solarium) on Deck 13. We did not use the pool facilities at all.
H. Celebrity Orchestra and Other Ship Bands
The Celebrity Orchestra was excellent and performed at most of the shows in the Celebrity Theater. Among the other entertainment we enjoyed was Stereo Girls (pop duo guitarist and vocalist), String Harmony Trio, Martin Andales (guitarist), The Exclusive (jazz), DJ Gio Cool by the Pool, and Front Page (house band). Most played at various venues on the ship.
I. In-room TV
There were a several closed-circuit ship channels and satellite stations available on the TV in the cabin. You can also order room service and check your current account balance on the TV as well. Additionally, both pay-per-view and free movies were available on your cabin TV. The free movies included: "Red 2", "Jobs", "Fast and Furious 6", "The Great Gatsby" (2013), "The Family", "Despicable Me" 1 and 2, "Star Trek Into Darkness", "The Pirates! Band of Misfits", "The Tale of Despereaux", and "Wreck-it Ralph".) were available. The TV channels were limited but included ESPN, ESPN 2, TNT, CNN, BBC, and Sky News among a few others.
J. The Lawn Club
Located on open-air Deck 15 aft, The Lawn Club features real grass to enjoy under foot along with lawn games like Bocce (Lawn Bowling) and croquet. It's also home to the Hot Glass Show.
K. Hot Glass Show (free)
Located next to The Lawn Club, we enjoyed watching the art of glassblowing brought to 3 Celebrity ships (Solstice, Equinox, and Eclipse) by The Corning Museum of Glass. This is truly outstanding and worthy of your time. Lots of really interesting information is shared while the artists (Everett Hirche and Tom Ryder) create beautiful glass bowls, vases and other pieces of art. They sometimes keep you guessing and 80% through the piece they take you in a direction you didn't see coming. The show has a pair of super hot furnaces which they keep heated 24/7. Towards the end of the cruise they auction off 7 signed pieces for charity (education and breast cancer). Note: The two newest Celebrity ships have replaced the Hot Glass Show with an eatery. Too bad. If you are deciding between which Solstice class ship to take, the Hot Glass Show should make your decision easier.
L. Sin City Comedy
This adults-only show repeated several times in Celebrity Central after 10:00 pm. It features a warm-up comedian, a burlesque act, and a headliner (Cathleen Dunbar). Cathleen's content slightly changes nightly based upon the person in the audience she picks on. It's good-natured fun with "tastefully-presented adult-oriented content" and worth a visit.
Part V - Parties
A. Cruise Critic Rollcall Gathering
Our rollcall group met for sailaway drinks shortly after muster drill at the Sunset Bar, Deck 15 aft.
B. Cruise Critic Connections Party
We signed up for the Cruise Critic party on the Celebrity web site. We received an email confirmation that a party would take place. On day 1 we received an envelope containing an invitation to the party, set for day 2 in Cellar Masters lounge on Deck 4 at 10:30 am. In total, about 50 folks attended. We had a great time meeting and greeting other addicted cruise critics. The Cruise Director Paul Bana was in attendance. He was very approachable, visible, and active with guests throughout the cruise.
C. Captain's Gala Toast
Held Tuesday (day 2) at 8:30 pm and 10:45 pm prior to the show in the Equinox Theater. There were several free drinks to choose from as you entered the theater. Captain Michael Karatzas welcomed passengers to the Equinox and introduced his staff.
D. Sail Away's From Ports
Celebrity featured a sail away party on Deck 13 each night that we left a port. Note that you need to be back on board at least 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time. If you're not back on time it's up to you to find alternate transportation to the next port to rejoin the ship. The ship waits on no one except for passengers on ship excursions (booked directly through Celebrity) that are running late.
E. Theme Parties
Due to being late at night, we missed all 3 theme parties: Masque Interactive Theme Party, Sizzle Interactive Theme Party, and 70's Night Fever Dance Party.
Part VI - Health Concerns
Celebrity does this right! There was no smoking in the restaurants, casino, lounges, Equinox Theater, cabins or verandas. Smoking was permitted outside on the port side and rear of the ship only. We are very sensitive to smoke and applaud Celebrity on it's smoking policy. The ship's environment was very enjoyable. We did not observe anyone abusing the smoking privilege, but on several occassions we saw folks smoking at the Mast Bar (Starboard) and could often inexplicably smell cigarette smoke in the foyer between the shops and the casino.
B. Pools and Hot Tubs
We did not witness any babies in the pools or tubs.
C. General Cleanliness of the Ship
You could not take a stroll without witnessing some type of cleaning going on at all hours. The ship was constantly being cleaned: floors, walls, fixtures, everything! The ship appears to be in really good shape.
To the best of our knowledge, there was no outbreak on our ship. Kudos to our fellow passengers and Celebrity personnel for their personal diligence. We did have a few passengers quarantined in their cabins for a day or two due to their personal illnesses.
We had some heavy roughness (18-foot waves) at sea when heading to Cartagena. Until last year, I always alternated half of a patch behind my ears for the duration of the voyage. This trip I again tried going unmedicated. It generally went well as I never got seasick. On the roughest day I did need to get a Bonine tablet (free) at the front desk. I also sought out ginger ale and wore Sea Bands with limited success.
F. Drinking Water
All Celebrity ships have their own desalination and purification process. The drinking water on Equinox was the clearest and tastiest water we've ever experienced on a cruise ship.
Part VII - Ship Notes
A. Ship and Crew
We were very impressed with the ship and crew. Very friendly and competent. The ship and furnishings were in very good shape. She was very clean.
B. Our Cabin Steward
Our room steward (Joanna DeGuzman) and her assistant did a great job with our cabin (no complaints). They kept the room clean, bed made, and ice pitcher filled.
C. The Shops
We're not shoppers. You'll find jewelry, watches, clothes, sundries, liquor, and souvenirs. Merchandise did not rotate very much. There was something on sale each day.
D. Internet Service
There are about 18 computers available in the Online@Celebrity Cafe located midship on Deck 6, and while busy at times there always seemed to be an available laptop to use (except when there was an ipad/ipod seminar being conducted). All had internet service and free printing capability. It was nice to be able to use our Elite coupon good for 90 free minutes to secure our airline boarding passes. The internet was slow, but better than what we experienced on Summit last fall. Wi-fi was also available and there is a keyboard to access the internet in your cabin too (though we didn't test it as we didn't discover the keyboard --- siting on top of the safe --- until we were packing to depart).
We saw a few kids and a couple of babies on board. All were well behaved.
F. Dress Code
We had 2 formal nights and 9 smart casual nights. Most men were well dressed (with jackets and ties) on formal nights, and all the women dressed up. We saw a few tuxes.
G. Time Changes
The ship stayed on "local/port time" so we set our clocks back twice during the trip. It was great to be on the same time as the ports we visited since this helps alleviate any confusion between "ship time" and "local/port time".
H. Upon Returning to the Ship
When you return to the queue to re-board the ship after a day in port, you are greeted with ice cold hand towels, water and fruit punch. This is a really nice Celebrity touch.
We went through customs upon Disembarkation in Fort Lauderdale. Basically we just got in a long 55-minute line to show our passports and customs declaration cards to Customs Officials. An express lane was available for handicapped passengers.
Part VIII - Tipping
The service personnel on Celebrity receive meager wages and rely on your tips for income. While Celebrity says it is customary to offer gratuities to the ship's personnel who service you on the voyage, it really is expected, and it's something you should figure into your cruise budget. I say it's expected, but the ship's personnel work long hours to service you and the other passengers. They genuinely do everything they can to service your needs. Celebrity suggests $253 for a party of 2 on an 11 day cruise which breaks out as follows: Waiter $80.30, Assistant Waiter $46.20, Stateroom Attendant $77, Dining Room Management $22, Other Service Personnel $27.50, and additional tips for room service, bartenders (even though a 15% gratuity is already included in all bar drinks), the Sommelier, and any other personnel who you wish to tip. And feel free to tip above these guidelines. Here's a really handy Cruise Tip Calculator covering all major cruise lines. If you have purchased a drink package, a 15% gratuity is already included.
Part IX - Captain's Club
If you have taken a previous voyage and are not a member of the Captain's Club, sign up. It's free. Benefits include a Captain's Club express line at Embarkation, priority Disembarkation, some small cabin welcome gifts (my wife likes the Celebrity travel tote), casino and spa discounts, free entrance into the wine-tasting seminar, and a one cabin upgrade. Some exclusions apply. Elite members also receive coupons for 90 free minutes of internet, one item drycleaned for free, and an opportunity to have a bag full of laundry (about 30 items) cleaned free, as part of their sheet of coupons. Elite members also have access to the Sky Lounge for free drinks between the hours of 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm.
Here's a review of the Elite Benefits
A. Priority embarkation while boarding the ship
Upon arrival in the Fort Lauderdale cruise terminal, we found separate lines were set up for Suites, Aqua Class, Concierge Class, Elites and Select members, and a line for all others. Once in a priority line, you waited until being directed to one of over a dozen Celebrity check-in agents. Priority was generally given to folks in the line order sequenced above. Once called, the agent checked our passport cards, credit card, and embarkation form. Within 10 minutes we had our Sea Pass (which is used as your ship ID, ship credit card, and door key). SUCCESS.
B. Access to the Captain's Club Lounge for daily coffee house style breakfast
This lounge is located in the beautiful Tuscan Grille, located on Deck 5 aft. It's open daily from 8:00 am to 10:00 am. This is a fast continental style breakfast with Mango Smoothies, Strawberry Smoothies, pastries, fresh fruit, smoked salmon, sliced deli meats, fresh orange juice, tea, coffee, cappuccino, espresso, and mimosas. SUCCESS.
C. Evening Cocktail hour (excludes embarkation and evening of Senior Officers' Party)
This lounge is located in the Sky Lounge on Deck 14 forward and is open from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Available drinks included wine, well drinks, soda, juices, Heineken, Bud light, and O'Douls. They also served appetizers. SUCCESS.
D. Complimentary 90-minute Internet package
The Online@Celebrity Internet Cafe is located amidship on Deck 6. They have about 18 laptop computers (not all operational) and 1 printer. It's open 24 hours with limited staffing during daylight hours. I used it to check the internet and print our boarding passes. SUCCESS.
E. Complimentary access to Persian Garden (on one port day of your choice while ship is in port)
Persian Gardens is part of the Aqua Spa on Deck 12 forward. They have 3 different types of steam rooms were "you will instantly drift away as different grottos release a variety of dry heat, steam and mists into the air with aromatherapy-filled vapors". Really nice venue with a full wall window view. We did not find time to use the Persian Gardens.
F. One complimentary bag of laundry (wash, dry, fold)
This is one of the most appreciated benefits as it allowed us to pack lighter. They will wash and fold up to 30 pieces. On day 4 we gave them a bag a laundry and again on day 7. SUCCESS.
G. A private shipboard departure lounge, serving continental breakfast
We had the option to sit in the Elite departure lounge located in Tuscan Grille. Our number was called just as we finished breakfast in the Main Dining Room so we didn't need to wait in a departure lounge.
H. Priority Tender Service in Tender Ports of Call
We tendered in two ports: Grand Cayman and Belize. Tender priority is first given to passengers on Celebrity's tours (which is as good a reason as any to book a ship's tour in a tender port, especially if it's an ocean-related tour), then to Suites, Elite, Elite Plus and Zenith. We received 2 Priority Tender Tickets in our cabin the night before the tender ports. On both days we arrived at the appointed lounge about 15 - 30 minutes before we were officially scheduled to start tenders. Both times we were sent to catch a tender almost immediately. SUCCESS.
I. Priority wait list in Main Dining Room
We requested the 6:00 pm "Early" seating in the Main Dining Room and we got it. SUCCESS.
J. Elegant tea invitation
We received an invitation for tea on day 8. It was held in Blu Restaurant. Due to competing events, we did not attend the tea.
K. Other coupons and benefits that may also be applicable to Classic and Select club members
Complimentary wine seminar event: We received an invitation for wine tasting in the Silhouette Restaurant at 2:30 pm on Day 2.
Exclusive Senior Officers' Cocktail Party: We received an invitation for this cocktail party on day 7. It was held in Sky Lounge.
Gift: My wife received a rose and a nice note on day 2.
Other useful coupons: Double payout on any 1-to-1 Roulette or Blackjack wager, free dry cleaning of 1 item, and discounts on various spa services.
Part X - The Ports
A. Georgetown, Grand Cayman
This was our third trip to Grand Cayman. The first two trips we went to Stingray City with NativeWay tours. This trip we were looking to check out 7-mile beach, the Turtle Farm, and go to Hell. We tendered into shore on local charters which took about 15 minutes. The ship started tendering at about 8:00 am.
Georgetown has a great "public bus" system that is pretty easy to find from Royal Watler Terminal by walking about two blocks inland on Fort Street to the corner of Edward St and Fort Street. (From North Cruise Terminal, follow Cardinall Street two blocks and turn left on Edward Street and walk two more blocks). The buses (little minivans that hold up 10 - 16 passengers) leave every 15 minutes or so (between 6:00 am to 9:00 pm) from a small lot near the public library across the street from Heroes Square. They go pretty much all over the island to the major attractions.
The bus drivers (who speak English) will drop you off anywhere along a route that you want to go. The fare is usually $2.50 U.S. and you pay when you leave the "bus." To catch one going back, you stand on the opposite side of the street from where you're dropped off (or locate a covered bus stop), keeping in mind that locals drive on the left side of the road. If you see a minivan coming, wave at it and it will stop. If it honks at you when approaching, it is because the driver is asking if you want to get on the bus.
The difference between the bus and the taxi (other than price): Taxis license plates are red numbers on a white background; the bus has white numbers on a blue background. Logos located on the front and rear of buses identify routes: Route 1 (yellow) and Route 2 (lime green) cover George Town to WestBay (which includes Seven Mile Beach, Turtle Farm, and Hell) and that's all we needed to know. Here's a look at all of the bus routes.
Hell is only worthy of a 15-20 minute stop --- about enough time to view and take photos and mail a couple of post cards. Hell has jagged rock formations made of ironshore, a type of limestone with a black coloration due to algae. This bleak landscape is how some folks might imagine Hell on Earth would look like. If you look carefully you'll notice Iguanas dotting the rocks. There are two main buildings in Hell: a tourist trap and a Post Office with a fence separating the two. You can view the formations from either location. I recommend asking your driver to drop you off at the Hell Post Office. There are 3 little souvenir shops next to the Post Office which offer what we thought were better post cards than the tourist trap next door. Post cards are 50 cents and stamps to the USA are 25 cents. It was fun to go just so we can say we "went to Hell and back".
Although Hell and the Turtle Farm are only 1.5 miles apart, there are no sidewalks between the two. Riding a bus is recommended. Seven Mile Beach is a definite bus ride from either.
The Turtle Farm, home to 16,000 turtles, is a government-run operation which raises the endangered green sea turtles to increase their population in the wild. Established in 1968, it's the world's only commercial green-sea-turtle farm. "This eco-sensitive turtle farm exists to provide the local market with edible turtle meat (preventing the need to hunt them in the wild) and to replenish the waters with hatcheling and yearling turtles. Visitors can observe turtles in every stage of development in 100 circular concrete tanks. Turtles here range in size from 6 ounces to 600 pounds. At a snack bar and restaurant, you can sample farm-raised-turtle dishes". Not entirely true. The restaurant no longer serves turtle dishes.
Adult cost is $18 for the "Turtle Farm Exploration Tour" which includes just the Turtle Farm (where you can pickup and hold baby turtles) or $45 for the "Turtle Adventure Tour" which includes the entire park. Children 5 to 12 are $9 and $25 respectively (and under 5 are free). You might be able to take advantage of a couple of discounts. The Turtle Farm offers a 20% discount when tickets are bought in advance, and Explore Cayman says you can get a discount of 10% at the Turtle Farm if you walk up to the ticket booth and mention "EXPLORE". This not-so-secret word will also get you 10% off at the Schooner's Bar & Grill and Splash Gift Shop.
We bought tickets online in advance and traded our vouchers for wristbands. Upon entering the farm, the first tank you see is loaded with HUGE 6-foot sea turtles. Several other tanks hold turtles of varying sizes. Loose chickens and iguanas also roam the property. There are a dozen tanks holding baby (1-foot sized) sea turtles. It's fun to catch them for a photo opportunity.
Skip the restaurant. While the view along the rail is good and the shade is comfortable, a jerk chicken sandwich, conch chowder, and a root beer will set you back $28 US. The food wasn't bad but at this price it should be tastier. They also no longer serve turtle here. Two locals suggested Myrtles at Queen's Court next to the 7-mile shops (reasonable close to the pier by bus or taxi) as the "go to" place for great turtle dishes. "They do it right". That's a definate stop for us next time we're here. The Turtle Farm is worth a visit.
If you choose to take a taxi to or from Seven Mile Beach, the cab fare is $4 - $6 pp depending upon how far up the beach you are. Rates are fixed and posted, but be sure to confirm the fare before the driver takes off.
Seven Mile Beach (really 5 miles of nice sand, but who's counting?) is located just north of George Town between the pier and places like the Turtle Farm and Hell. All the beaches on the Cayman Islands are free public beaches. Like everywhere, some of the hotels will charge you to use their chairs and facilities. Since Seven Mile is a sand beach, don't expect much snorkeling, although I understand you can swim about 100 - 200 yards offshore at Cemetary beach and snorkel the reef. The southern part of the Seven Mile is the most heavily developed and closest to the pier.
We asked to be dropped off at Cemetary Beach which is further away from the pier than popular beaches like Sea Grape and Public Beach in an attempt to avoid the crowds from the 5 ships in port that day. It has a public beach access path and shade trees. Our plan was to get dropped off at the far end and walk along the beach back towards the ship. We ended up walking about 1.6 miles to Tiki Beach. It was fun and the beaches were beautiful. We got back on the main road and caught another bus for US$2.50 that dropped us off near the tender and then got in line to board the tenders and headed back to the ship.
We also considered going to the Caybrew Brewery which is about a 10 to 15 minute bus ride in the opposite direction. (Take bus #3, 4, 5, 8 or 9). The Brewery Tour are US$6 and are available Monday through Friday on the hour from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
B. Cartagena, Columbia
Another fine day for an excursion on our own as we wanted to spend a few hours exploring Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, an UNESCO World Heritage site, and the largest fortification structure in the Southern Caribbean which kept foreign ships and pirates at bay for centuries.
Upon exiting the ship, you'll walk through a bird park (more later) to locate a taxi. This is where the mass confusion begins and advanced planning would be good. They will try to stuff you into the first available taxi. What to know: 1. you can hire a taxi for a 1-way ride. You'll recognize the official taxi drivers by their blue uniforms. The taxis are not metered, so you must agree on a price before entering the vehicle. The asking price for a 1-way ride to the old city from the pier is $20 per taxi (not per person). 2. You can hire a day guide. These taxi drivers wear a white uniform. Again, the guided taxis are not metered, so you must agree on a price before entering the vehicle. The asking price is about $20/hour (per taxi, not per person). 3. Ask for a guide that speaks good English. Test them. You'll find most speak just enough to get you into their cab. DO NOT get in until you have settled on a price and are happy with their english proficiency. 4. Most of the taxi's have no air conditioning. If it's important to you, ask for a new car with cold a/c. Otherwise you'll get a late model car that blows hot air through the vent (like we got). They will accept US dollars.
We negotiated with the dispatcher for a guide for 4 hours for $60. We wanted to go to explore San Felipe Fortress for an hour, visit the walled city, and explore San Pedro Claver Church. We had no interest in shopping. We reiterated this with our driver after we asked him if he spoke English. "Yes, Welcome to Cartagena. Please get in the taxi."
Me: "We'd like to go to San Felipe Fortress to explore it for an hour or so".
Driver: "See up there? (Points to La Popa Monestary up on a hill, which is actually a cool place to visit). That's the monestary. I take you there."
Me: "No. Take us to San Felipe Fortress."
(We arrive at the Fortress.)
Driver: "Ok, get out, take pictures. 15 minutes."
Me: "No. You park and we're going in. We'll be gone about an hour".
(Frankly at this point, I didn't care if he did leave as I hadn't paid him yet).
Admission was US$10 per person. Ask the cashier for a map (even though it's only written in Spanish) as it will help orient you. This is a pretty cool fort. Lots of walking. It has very steep ramps and inclines. Some stairs. Expect to sweat profusely. The heat is oppressive. I recommend going first thing in the morning. They open at 8:00 am. Wear sunscreen, a hat, good walking shoes, and bring water. Also take a flashlight so you can more easily explore the dark tunnels to the left, and center, of the fort. The tunnels to the left are not too steep and have numerous off-shoots. The tunnels in the center have a very steep incline and go down deep.
A local in period uniform plays trumpet with unwaivering allegence to whomever he sees. "You from Canada?" He plays "O Canada". "You from USA?" He plays "God Bless America" or, in homage to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, plays "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head". He plays for tips. Since my wife tipped him $2, we also took his picture with her.
A souvenier shop with light beverages will greet you at the top of the fort. Cold water is resonably priced at US$2 a bottle. Souverniers are also reasonably priced. We explored for about an hour and returned to the taxi.
Me: "Lets go to the old city".
Driver: "Do you want to shop".
Driver: "I'll stop here (open marketplace)"
(We walked the marketplace and got back into the taxi).
We went into the old walled city where the driver parked his car and lead us on a tour. Our first stop was the Gold Museum, which was inexplicably closed for the day. Then on to Plaza de Santo Domingo, Plaza de los Coches, and finally Plaza San Pesdro Claver where we had an opporuntity to explore the 400 year old church named after Saint Peter Claver, a Jesuit Priest, who dedicated his life to helping African slaves passing through Cartagena. This church has an old forest growing in its courtyard providing cool shade. It also has a religious relic --- the visible robed skeletal remains of Saint Peter Claver interned behind glass at the bottom of the alter. Admission was US$5.
Following our tour the driver asked if we wanted to go to an Emerald Museum in the new city. We agreed. The air conditioned Emerald Museum features a free escourted tour. We learned about Emeralds, mining techniques, saw stones being cut and polished, and were eventually led into the main showroom where we could buy Emeralds. There was no hard sell. We looked at a few pretty stones and left to find our taxi and head back to the ship.
Upon arrival at the pier, we gave the driver $60 and a tip. He looked unhappy.
Me: "Is there a problem?"
Driver: "This is only for 3 hours."
Me: "This is the $60 we agreed with the dispatcher to pay for 4 hours, plus tip."
Driver (shaking his head): "Okay..."
Hint: Given rates we were charged for admission, you'll do better if you have Colombian Pesos. At this writing, the conversion rate was about 2000 pesos to 1 USD.
When we returned we visited the bird park, known as the "Parrot Experience", located at the duty-free shop at the entrance of the pier. It features uncaged rabbits, monkeys, tucans, flamingos, peacocks, lots of colorful parrots, and a few other birds. They were loose, tame, and unafraid of humans. It was easy to take close-up pictures. We spent about 45 minutes looking at the critters, and it was free.
C. Colon, Panama
Our cruise didn't go through the Panama Canal, but we did stop at Colon. There's nothing at the port itself, so you really need to get out and explore. One thing we really wanted to do was to see the Panama Canal, though we didn't feel a need to have to ride through it at great expense. We prearranged the "Rainforest (Watching Birds and Monkeys) + San Lorenzo Fort + Gatun Locks" private tour through Almiza Tours for US$60 per adult. The tour ran from 8:40am to 3:30pm (ship time). The tour included: Transfer from and to the Colon dock, touring in air conditioned minibus, an English/Spanish speaking guide, beverages (bottled Cokes, water, and local beer), a stop for fruit, and entrance fees to both Gatun locks (a set of locks on the Panama Canal) and San Lorenzo National park (which includes another fort to explore).
Our bus had seats for about 30 people, but only fits about 16 comfortably as each pair of seats really only fit 1.5 people. We had 26 passengers plus a driver, our guide, and a spotter (who was genuinely proficient at spotting wildlife). Let's just say we got to know each other really well.
The Gutan Locks are located 30 minutes from the pier. We got there in time to watch a huge cargo ship, with barely a few inches on either side of it, enter and exit the Gutan locks guided by mules (powerful little electric-powered train-like locomotive). Each lock is 1050 feet long, 110 feet wide, and 42 feet deep. As ships go through the 3 locks, they are raised or lowered a total of 85-feet. Each of the 3 chambers requires almost 27 Million gallons of water to lift a ship to the required hight before moving into the next lock. Interestingly, the Panama Canal was celebrating it's Centenial in 2014.
We then drove through the rain forest and took a short narrated walk. We saw Howler Monkeys, 2 or 3 sloths, and lots of flora and fauna. Panama has some 2300 spieces of trees.
Following the hike we stopped at Fort San Lorenzo, a late 1500's fort located near Ft. Sherman, an old US military base. Buccaneer Henry Morgan attacked the fort in 1670, leaving it in ruins, and then sacked the city of Panama a year later. It's a cool fort, in need of repair, with lots of cannons and good picture opportunities. We stopped for cold local pineapple and watermellon on the way back to the ship.
D. Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
In Puerto Limon, we prearranged for the "Limon Highlights: 6 in 1 Combo Tour | Puerto Limon Tours" with Greenway Tours at $95 per person. The tour included: 1) A very short City Tour. 2) Visit to the Rain Forest. "La Jungla Trail offers a 1 km trek through a secondary forest offering beautiful landscapes, various flora and fauna, and including many opportunities to see the remarkably fascinating different frog species of Costa Rica". We saw a couple diffirent-colored poisonous tree frogs: one red, one teal and black; spiders: a large tarantula and banana spiders; and saw a toucan fly overhead. 3) Visit a Banana Plantation and Packing House where we learned about the banana crop, harvesting, processing, packing and exportation. "Costa Rica is the second largest banana producer in the world and 80% of the plantations are located in Limon province, becoming one of the most important economical activities in the region". 4) Coastal Drive where we saw caught a view of the ship from the Puerto Limon coastline. 5) The Tortuguero Canals, which we thought was a highlight of the tour. We traveled through the jungle canals in a covered boat for about an hour while our guide explained the rain forest eco-system and pointed out sights of interest. We saw Howler Monkeys, sloths, toucans, aquatic birds, lizards, iguanas, and exotic flora. We'd like to take a longer canal tour next time we're here. And 6) the tour ends near the port terminal where there is a local flea market where you can buy souvenirs.
Hint: a Cruise Critic member suggested we try to purchase bottles of vanilla here as these proved to be very popular gifts and recommended "Vainol" which comes in a brown bell-shaped bottle. Rather than buy them at the flea market, we ventured 5 blocks into town and bought them at a local supermarket. at a wonderful price. The supermarket also has 1820-brand coffee at a great price. Simply exit the flea market, go through the very small cruise port building and gate, cross the street, walk 1 block along a park to a colorful pedestrian-only street, turn left and follow the pedestrian street 4 blocks. The market will be on your right.
This was our second tender port. It could also prove to be one of your favorite ports IF you book an excursion. You'll hate the place if you do not. The two most popular land excursions are the Cave Tubing and the Lamanai Ruins / Jungle River Cruise. We took the Lamanai tour last time (arranged through the ship since it was an all-day / long-distance tour) and it was awesome.
This trip we opted for a snorkel excursion. Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world, after Australia. We considered a ship excursion here due to the use of tenders and the fact that the Belize ocean-based tours booked through the ship will pick you up and drop you back off at the ship with no need to tender to shore. That's worth something, but since we're not big fans of the huge cattle call crowds common with ship tours, we opted to save $60 and privately arranged a snorkeling trip through EcoTours called the "Goff's Caye Island Getaway" for $45 pp.
It was a 4-hour tour that started at the pier at 10:30 am. Goff's Caye, a small 1.25 acre natural coral sand island, is about 40 minutes away from Belize City/Cruise Port by speedboat. Our boat ride took us past mangrove islands (natural habitats for Brown Boobies, Cormorants, Terns and Frigate birds). There are no beach chairs, so bring your beach towels. BBQ chicken kabobs and chicken quarters, grilled lobster tails (in season), cold bottled beers, "real" bottled Cokes (made with sugar, not corn syrup), assorted snacks, and coconuts are available for sale on the island. The tour price included snorkeling equipment (mask, snorkel, fins and vest), bagged water and rum punch.
Goff's Caye is a pretty island, wrapped in a beach, wrapped in a reef. The water was nice. The snorkel tour, just a couple minutes from shore, was guided. Stay close to your guide to make the most of this tour. There are lots of interesting reef formations but few fish. We did see 3 squid and a sea star.
We tendered into port using local charters which were so much nicer than the claustrophobic fire traps we rode several years ago. The tender took just 15 minutes into port and about 20 minutes back to the ship at the end of our day. While at the port, I took the opportunity to find the water taxi. For anyone concerned about this, don't be. It's too easy! Directions to the water taxi: upon arrival at the pier, walk as far left as you can and enter the building. You'll find numerous tour operators main desks to the left of the hall and souvenir shops to the right. There is also a restroom. Walk to the end of the hall and out the doors. Cross a very small parking lot to a pair of little pink shacks that say "Exit". The shack on the left is the exit. The shack on the right is the security entrance back into the parking lot.
Open the exit door, say "buenos dias" to the guard and exit the shack thought a second door immediately in front of you. You are now on the street in front of the terminal and will have a dozen folks ask you if you want their goods or services. Ignore them and turn left. Walk about 100 feet and turn left again into the ferry terminal. (You'll see a large sign above the pink wall advertising "San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi").
Walk to the end. You'll pass a few shops and bars. A water taxi ticket counter can be found in the last building on the right. The water taxis are on the pier jut past the ticket counter. To get back to the cruise terminal, reverse the process, enter the little pink shack on the left, show your credentials to the guard, walk across the parking lot, back through the terminal building, and you'll find yourself back on the pier. The water taxi is actually located just on the other side of a wall at the end of the cruise pier. You just have to totally exit the secured area to get there!
F. Cozumel, Mexico
The last time we were here we took a horseback tour "through the jungle and visited Mayan ruins". Translation: we rode two emaciated horses through the woods and visited a small pile of rocks. This time we were hoping for better and settled on an all-inclusive resort to chillax. But which resort? A very helpful Cruise Critic member summed up the choices this way: Relaxing beach day = Nachi-Cocom. Party atmosphere = Mr. Sanchos. Kid friendly = Playa Mia or Paradise Beach. If you want snorkeling, Chankanaab or Money Bar is your spot.
Since 5 cruise ships were in port (about 10,000 passengers and crew), we booked this one early; and we chose Nachi-Cocom because we wanted to relax and they limit their resort to only 100 visitors per day. The US$55 per person charge includes lounge chairs under a Palapa (natural umbrella), hammocks, all you can drink (open bar including: beer, liquors, cocktails, water, wine, sodas, juices and bottled water), and a 4 course lunch served a la carte at your leisure. Bring towels from ship. Taxi is $16 each way for up to 4 passengers. A 5th passenger is $5 more. (Then it gets ridiculous if you have 6 passengers. 6 - 8 passengers is $32). Nachi Cocom is a nice facility with a beautiful beach. Service was good. Drinks and food were excellent. I also enjoyed a 45 minute massage for $50 plus tip. They have a pool with a swim-up bar, hot tub, and a pier. My wife said she'd like to come back here the next time we're in Cozumel.
G. Days At Sea
We had four days at sea. There was no lack of things to do on the ship. Sea Days actually provided nice rest spites and allowed us to get reenergized. Eat, play games, port shopping briefings (basically a way to kill time watching a talking advertisement), attend shows, eat, nap, midday snack, cards, pools, bars, eat, lots of trivia contests, read, chat with fellow passengers, eat, board games, rum tastings, gambling, watch artisans blow glass, exercise (no, not really, but there is an exercise room), eat, book your next cruise (and get two stackable bonus deals), live entertainment... the list goes on!
H. Ships in Port
Four of our six destinations had either no ships (Cartagena, Puerto Limon) or one ship (Colon: RCI Vision Of The Seas; Belize City: Carnival Dream) in port with us, but we also had two crowded ports with 4 additional ships in port (Grand Cayman: HAL Nieuw Amsterdam, Celebrity Silhouette, Carnival Breeze, and Oceania Riviera; and Cozumel: Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Glory, Celebrity Constellation, and Disney Fantasy). Visit CruiseTimeTables.com to see which ships are likely to be in port during your cruise. It's a really good idea to either book tours way ahead of time, or have a good plan, for any ports that are due to be crowded.
Part XI - Disembarkation and Customs
Breakfast was served in the Oceanview Cafe from 6:30 am to 8:30 am, and in the Main Dining Room from 6:00 am to 8:00 am. Disembarkation went smoothly. Earlier in the week everyone completed surveys which were used to prioritize passengers. Clearly those folks needing to catch early plane connections or who were on escorted tours in Fort Lauderdale had highest priority. Captain's Club members had priority within their color group. Color-coded disembarkation luggage tags were issued to all cabins, and passengers were instructed to place the tags on their luggage, and tear off the stubs for bag retrieval.
Disembarkation began around 7:30 am. All passengers were instructed to sit in public areas, or lounges, until their group color was called. Our color was called around 8:15 am. We retrieved our luggage in the passenger terminal and waited in a 55-minute line to clear Customs.
B. Customs Allowance
According to Celebrity, US citizens traveling to the Caribbean are permitted $800 worth of Duty Free goods including 1 liter of alcohol per person. All you needed to do was to declare the total value. Anything greater had to be itemized (declared) and a duty paid.
C. Luggage Valet
If you sign up for Luggage Valet ($20 total fee for up to 3 bags per person), you'll receive debarkation instructions, airline boarding passes, luggage tags and baggage claim checks on the final night of your cruise. Celebrity will handle the baggage from the ship to your airline. You simply set it outside your cabin door and pick it up when you get to your home airport. This service is only available in select departure ports only (Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Seattle, San Diego, and Seward) with only with select airlines that depart between 11:30 am and 11:59 pm. The following airlines participated in the program: From Ft. Lauderdale = American Airlines, Jet Blue, Air Tran, Delta Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways; and from Miami = American Airlines, Air Tran, Delta Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways. Bags are screened by customs and normal airline baggage fees apply. We used this program and found it to be a good value.
Part XII - Praises, Gripes and Your Questions
Equinox's personnel are very attentive, friendly and helpful. Officers made themselves very accessible. Food was very good to outstanding, and the drinking water was excellent. The ship is clean, beautiful, in very good shape, and built with a lot attention to detail with a layout that makes sense. It's nice to see Celebrity still believes in live music for the production shows as the Celebrity Orchestra was outstanding. The perks for repeat cruisers are worthy. And we really appreciated Celebrity's smoking policy.
We certainly didn't have much to gripe about. The guava sorbet was sickly sweet. The internet is slow. There is no sports bar and American sports rarely air on the ship. We would like to see a better selection of songs and plays performed in the Equinox Theater. (Celebrity tends to perform a lot of obscure songs and broadway selections). The Silhouette Dining Room and Equinox Theater were uncomfortably warm on formal nights.
Feel free to ask any questions. I, or one of my fellow passengers, will be happy to respond.