* Background Information: Only cruised once before on Celebrity Millennium solo. This time, went with partner. His first cruise.
* Hotel: Pricelined my way into The Benjamin in NYC near 30 Rock. This chain of hotels (Affinia) is peerless in service and value. Rooms are massive by NY standards. They tend to buy apartment buildings and remodel them to suite-style hotels. They saw that I have history with them, so they upgraded us to a one bedroom corner suite: full granite kitchen, great views. We're both foodies so I asked the concierge if there was any chance of getting a table at Hill Country, which got a restaurant of the year by NY mag. She made a quick call, and not only did we get a table, we got to cut the line and our fist drink was paid for by the Benjamin. Highly recommend.
* Stateroom: We had a 12th floor balcony steps from the covered pool. Very tasteful, subdued. Saw the room attendant once during cruise. Whenever I called, he answered immediately, and my request was dealt with asap. Room was always immaculate and they figured out our rhythms, so they cleaned and turned down whenever we were out.
* Activities. We were warned to stay away from art auctions, and judging from the art, that's a good thing. Damn was that crap tacky. Watched folks play pub trivia—looked like fun, but we were too busy woofing down our food. Planetarium was fun. Went to a lecture on terrorism: interesting. Avoided the "balls." Even though the ship is gay friendly, the dominant culture made dancing w/partner more of a courageous act rather than easy fun.
* Shore Excursions: Did the Indian village tour in Cristobal. The boat ride down the Chagres was lovely, serene and full of exotic flora and fauna. The village itself is an oddity. While beautiful and more than welcoming, there was something uncomfortably staged about the location. I got a whiff of mutual exploitation, and felt funny being there. That said, the other tourists seemed enchanted joining the tribal dances and posing for fotos w/the extremely outgoing toddlers. Did the zipline tour in St. Lucia. Really fun, safe and extremely memorable. Grabbed a cheap van tour of Curacao from the dock: worth it. Curacao is a walking city, probably the prettiest. Bonnaire is a small somewhat mystically natural location, that would probably be the best choice for us for another visit: it's less overexposed to tourism and the nature is amazing. Just walked around. Aruba is rough around the edges. The massive market (for tourists) funky and colorful—but it's also really aggressive and sketchy. Some hawkers will yell at you if you don't engage in their game. Do not take the water shuttle to the shopping district they recommend; it's a prefab tourist rap. Grabbed a cab in St. Thomas to a beach that happened to be frequented by the other cruise ships—and it really put the tone of our ship in contrast with others. Extremely loud vulgarians from Carnival were playing, "name the worst meal we've had on the ship." Oy.
* Dining: We were in the Britannia Club. As mentioned before, we are total foodies w/gourmet palates. We were not disappointed. The food was always superb, and I've never had the level of service like this before. I wish I could contrast it to the main dining room, but perhaps next time—there didn't seem to be any complaints from fellow passengers. The only downside was we were seated at a six top with two other couples. It's as you wish in terms of time, so we'd sit with them while two were eating dessert and the others were just getting their entree. It was awkward. Often they'd wait us out or we them, since the meals are really formal but this approach wasn't. Went to Todd English TWICE. You must try the love pillows app., the lobster and the chocolate dessert.
* Children's Clubs: There were maybe ten children on the cruise (hoorah!). * Entertainment: I guess I'm just the wrong audience for this stuff, but I found virtually all of the staged entertainment tacky and laughable. Yes, they're hard-working, but multiple costume changes and warbling "Rock Me Amadeus" got giggles out of us and a quick exit. When the band itself played alone, it was great.
* Bars: Commodore Club was bar far our favorite après dinner spot. It's extremely discrete and chill. * Disembarkation. Fine, unremarkable.
* Summary: We loved this cruise. The longer itinerary seemed to cater to the retired crowd, but hey, that made us the buffest guys at the Jacuzzi. Also, the vibe was generally low key, mellow. Given that the ship is so massive, one can't help that you are part of a massive mob, no matter how tasteful the service is. That said, we would do Cunard again, but would like to contrast the experience to purported comparable cruiselines like Crystal and Regent. I found my experience on par with Celebrity, perhaps a notch above. Go if you like to dress up, eat well, and mellow out.