After a terrific cruise to Bermuda in 2013, four of us (and a few more) decided that we'd do the same trip in 2014 (and 2015 but more on that later).
Embarkation Day... It's not what you know but who you know. In our group there was someone who knew someone who knew one of the port managers in Cape Liberty. The result of this was that when we arrived, we were spirited to a check-in line reserved for VIPs even though we only booked a standard balcony cabin. With no one else on line in that area, check-in took less than 5 minutes. The lines however for normal check-in were quite long.
With check-in complete and our cabins NOT ready, we bypassed the sardine-packed elevators and the presumably crowded buffet on deck 10 and opted for Bistro on 5 for a leisurely lunch accompanied with drinks, beer, and wine. Bistro on 5 was practically empty and there's of course table-service. All in all, a great way to wait for our rooms to be ready.
Prior to getting to our rooms, we also decided to book our reservation for the Normandie right away. We had a special request for our group and we wanted to square that up right away. The gentleman taking specialty restaurant reservations was extremely helpful and assured us our special request would be no problem whatsoever. And yes, the request was honored when we finally got there.
Shortly thereafter, the muster station drill announcement was made along with the announcement that all cabins were ready. With full bellies and slightly light-heads from our lunch drinks, we made our way to the cabin to drop off our carry-ons and we proceeded to our muster station.
Cabin... Although our 2013 cruise was in a Concierge Class cabin, for our 2014 cruise we decided to do a standard balcony cabin instead. At the time, we felt the extra charge for Concierge Class wasn't really worth it because we rarely stay in the cabin anyway. In short - we were mistaken. There's a definite difference in the quality of service between standard and Concierge class cabins. Not that our cabin steward was a slouch in any way, but part of the allure of cruising is the overall experience and many times it's the little things that make such a big difference.
In short, the things we missed by going standard cabin were the pillow menu (our pillows were too hard although one mention of this to our cabin steward got us a couple of nice soft pillows), expanded room service menu (we almost always miss breakfast and have to rush out of the room to make "late breakfast" at the buffet), and that extra 20 or so Sq. Ft. makes a huge difference. This is especially noticeable when the entire group piled into our room for a little champagne toast when the ship left Bayonne, and the impromptu gathering we had when we left Bermuda to finally drink up the wine we all brought on board.
Specialty Dining... I already mentioned Bistro on 5 so I'll only add to what I already wrote by saying that this a fantastic place for lunch and the $5 additional charge is well worth it even if only to get the marvelous dessert crepes.
The Normandie... it didn't disappoint last cruise and it didn't disappoint this cruise either. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed it so much on this cruise that I insisted we go back. I tasted someone's lobster dinner and went back on the last night of the cruise other night specifically for that dish, and to have a memorable "hey we're going home tomorrow" farewell dinner.
Qsine... aside from the food, this restaurant is just plain fun. Hermie, (we called him Hairpin due to his thick accent and over-accentuated rolling of his r's) is a character and is definitely part of the vibe and experience. The "sharing is caring" tag-line got a little old after a while, but you can't fault anyone there for their enthusiasm and good nature. They warn you not to order too much food but I say poo-poo to that. If you want it order it. One of our group was picky about what they ate (no fish or anything too weird). I like fish and weird stuff so I ate more of that and less of the stuff that my picky friend would like. All was good.
Cafe al Bacchio... one of my favorite places. Cappuccinos are an additional $5 per drink (included with a bevo package), and they're wonderful. The gelato served on the other side is the closest I've had to to the gelato I had in Italy... yes it's that good. TIP... don't wait in line at the coffee bar with all the other lemmings. Sit down at a table and a nice server will come along and take your coffee/gelato/pastry order and bring it to you even if you want it to-go.
Drink package, yes or no???... There's a lot of discussion about whether a drink package is actually worth it or not. Here's the skinny... we all got the free Classic bevo package w/alcohol with Celebrity's 1-2-3-GO promo. Almost all of us upgraded from the the standard package to the premium package for an additional $8 per day. At $54 per day normal charge you may be saying, "I can't drink $54 worth of "INSERT YOUR DRINK HERE" per day. The way I look at it is this... bottled water, soda, cappuccino, frozen coffee drinks, beer, martinis, wine, and other cocktails all cost $$$. If I wasn't drinking alcohol I was drinking something non-alcoholic that I would have had to pay for. Trust me... it's worth it.
MDR... You can get early, late, or freestyle seating. If you do freestyle, make a reservation in the AM the day you want to in the MDR. Every day we ate in the MDR we breezed past all the poor schlubs that didn't bother to make a ressie.
MDR Food... The MDR food is really very good. The left, unchanging side of the menu has stuff on it like steak, escargot, and other non-weird food just in case you don't want what's on the right side of the menu. Of the nights we ate in the MDR... the food selection, quality and attentive service were outstanding.
Martini Bar... Love that bar. 'nuf said.
Casino... not AC, but pretty good for a cruise. I like to play craps and whenever I was itching there was a lively game going. NOTE: There's a lot going on on a craps table so watch your bets folks... when it got busy and I was against the shooter, more than once I had to remind the dealer to "pay the don'ts" when he rolled "seven-out".
Next year... While you're on the ship, do pay attention to the newsletters and schedules. If I hadn't I would have missed Celebrity's offer for Bermuda 2015 (which we all booked by the way). It was called "Bermuda All In" and if you booked a trip for 2015 you got ALL the perk choices given in the 1-2-3-Go promotion. So for 2015, we got the classic drink package, gratuities, and a $250 room credit included in our fare, instead of a choice of just one. Not only did we all book ourselves, but each of us booked an extra cabin for our friends/family.
Concierge or Standard cabin for 2015???... Neither. We're doing a Sky Suite.