BACKGROUND, PLANNING AND PRELIMINARIES: This was out third cruise on Celebrity, and seventh overall (the others being on Royal Caribbean and Holland America). It was originally scheduled for the week of February 15th, but we elected to move up to the January 18th sailing to be away from our Washington, DC area home during inauguration week.
Instead of flying to Fort Lauderdale, we drove down, taking two days each way. On the way down and back we used Choice Hotel points to defray these cost. The night before the cruise we stayed at the Embassy Suites in Boca Raton. Boca Raton is about 30 minutes from Port Everglades, but cost us less than half compared to the Embassy Suites in Fort Lauderdale.
Rather than parking at the port operated parking garage, we used Park 'n Go. With an Internet booking coupon, and a free day, it came to $76 for the week. The service was great, the loaded our bags in the van for us. The whole process, from arrival at the parking lot to arrival at the pier took less than 30 minutes.
EMBARKATION: By the far the easiest we have ever had. We arrived at the pier shortly after noon, and we checked in and on the ship in about twenty minutes.
CABIN: We had a veranda cabin on deck 7, port side, midships. The cabin itself was quite nice, and large enough for two. There was adequate storage under the bed for two large suitcases, and the basket holding the life jackets. The flat screen TV was on a wall mount which could be adjusted. However, the TV channel selection was only fair at best.
The bathroom was quite large. The curved shower doors were a nice touch. We did not care for the vessel sink, or for the fact the no clothesline was available for drying bathing suits, etc. There were pegs, which could be used to dry things, though. Bathrobes were available in the cabin.
Our cabin steward, Lourdes (from the Philippines), and her assistant did a fine job in making up and cleaning the cabin.
FOOD: Food in the Grand Epernay dining room varied from very good to downright excellent. The beef Wellington, lobster and prime rib were the best. Hot soups arrived very hot. We did not eat dinner in the specialty restaurants, which were booked up early. From all we heard, the food and service is worth the extra cost. Make reservations as soon as possible, if you want to eat in a specialty. We failed to do this and ate by ourselves two nights as all our table-mates were dining elsewhere. We did eat lunch in the Bistro on FIVE, which was quite good.
The buffet was good, with eggs to order in the morning, and stir fry and fresh pasta at lunch. And, ice cream available almost all day.
The wait staff was excellent. Joseph (from the Philippines) and Manseur (from Indonesia) were outstanding throughout the voyage. Manseur was especially entertaining, doing magic tricks several nights.
SHIP LAYOUT AND DESIGN: Excellent in our opinion. Mostly understated modern design. The ship has so much artwork that Celebrity provides an art catalog in the cabin. Ship was fully booked, but never really felt crowded, although seating in the buffet could be a challenge on sea days. Plenty of quiet places to read or just get away. Ship has sufficient width (beam) to allow for walkways on either side of the casino. Casino (and almost all of the ship, for that matter) is smoke free.
ITINERARY: We booked this cruise more for ship than the itinerary. We did do a city and Bacardi tour in San Juan, and the America's cup racing in St. Martin, which was the highlight of the cruise, and we strongly recommend it. We took some Bonine before leaving, and it seemed to pay off. Two of our shipmates did get seasick, unfortunately.
Due to early arrival in Tortola, we just got off the ship and walked around a bit. We were not able to take the ships's excursion to Virgin Gorda as it was sold out. Hopefully, the itinerary can be adjusted for longer docking in Road Town. We were late in arriving at Labadee due to a Coast Guard evacuation of a sick passenger. The late arrival combined with rainy weather led to cancellation of the island lunch and shore excursions, so we limited ourselves to checking all the new construction for Oasis of the Seas, and a quick tour of the local market.
DEBARKATION: By far the easiest ever in our experience. It took us less than thirty-five minutes to debark, claim bags, clear customs, and take the shuttle to parking lot and load the bags in the car.
SUMMARY: Excellent cruise, probably the best of all we have taken. Would not hesitate to book a ship of this class again.