Pre-departure: Background My very first cruise was onboard Imperial Majesty's Regal Empress back in 2003. Since than I have been on 8 additional cruises with Carnival and Royal Caribbean. For my 10th cruise, and the first cruise of the new decade, I decided to book myself on Celebration Cruise Line since the crew are still the same. Booking I booked the reservation online directly from the cruise line website. I spent a total of $205 for an outside stateroom on deck 8. Considering I was a solo cruiser this time around, $205 for an outside cabin on the top deck is a real good deal. After all, taxes and port charges itself was over $50. Timeshare Presentation Most of the reviews I've read speak about timeshare presentation, I just want to say that there wasn't any! There was no hint of timeshare related events going on onboard the ship or in port. I was never offered or told to go to a presentation. Why? It was because book the cruise directly from the cruise line and was not approached by any marketing company posing as the cruise line or because I've magically won a cruise.
Getting to Port I was able to hop onboard Virgin America's new nonstop service from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale. The flight was early arriving into Fort Lauderdale, which is a huge plus. Unlike other domestic carriers, Virgin America offers all the basic offerings plus live tv from Dish Network, MP3 library to make your own playlist, on demand Movies, and high speed internet service via Go Go Inflight Wifi network. Since this was simply transportation to a cruise, what better way to kick off the trip than with Virgin America's On Demand Food Ordering where you can order fresh food, snacks, and drinks directly from the seat back TV screens. Upon arrival into Fort Lauderdale, I called the hotel for shuttle pick up and they arrived within a reasonable time. The van was deck out with pink flamingos on top. This was for the Hampton Inn North Cruise Port. The hotel also offer shuttle service to Port Everglades and areas surrounding the hotels. In fact, the hotel have a whole system set up for cruise passengers. Upon check in, they ask if you need a ride to the airport or the port. If your going to a cruise ship, they ask what ship and what time you want to leave. They write it all down and in the morning they have multiple vans waiting going to various ports. It is by far the most organized hotel to port operation from an hotel. The van I was in was going to visit 3 ships at 3 different docks. So they loaded all the bags to the last stop first, second stop second, and first stop last. They also boarded the van the same way. When we got to the port, (5 minute ride) there was no shuffling of bags or people climbing over each other to get off the van. They have it down to a science.
Day 1: Embarkation The embarkation process was smooth and normal. When you arrive, like at most ports, there was a long line. The first line, although long, moved really fast. Once you clear the security check point, you follow everyone pass a booth where they hand out paper work that you need to fill out prior to check in. There was 3 things you need to fill out, a sheet with passenger information, a form for the onboard charge account, and a slip on swine flu. You can print the first two form directly from the website and the H1N1 / Swine Flu form have to be fill out in port. It wasn't a big deal since the last form only ask for your name and 2 simple yes/no questions. After you grab the form from the person at the booth, you continue on to an open area where it was filled with people filling out forms. Since I had printed the forms from the website and had it all filled out, I spent 2 seconds filling out the H1N1 form and proceeded directly to check in. The check in line was also somewhat long but also moved pretty quick. After checking in, you take a couple pictures than you proceed to another set of table. At the last set of tables, you make your dinner reservations which was easy enough. Than you board the ship. Upon boarding the ship, you have several room stewards welcoming you onboard. They would help you with your bags and walk you to your room. Unlike most cruise ships, the rooms were ready at boarding (12 noon). I was drop off in front at 12:30PM and was in my room at around 12:45PM. Cabin I was in an "economy outside upper/lower" stateroom. I wasn't expecting much, but was pretty surprised by the features. There was a sofa that converted into a bed, with another bed attached to the wall. In addition, there was a decent size desk and a flat screen LCD tv. The window was nice and the bathroom size was average. The huge plus is the shower. They had sliding shower doors! So if your into the whole car wash experience, this isn't the ship for you. I love it! Mandatory Lifeboat Drill I don't know what to say about this one as it is the most unique of them all. When I got to my room, the first thing I realize was there was no life jacket! I asked the room steward when he came by and he told me that their all on deck 3. I thought it was kind of odd. The muster station was also an odd one but made a lot of sense. It's basically the area walk way surrounding the atrium of each deck. So if your on deck 8, your muster station is the atrium on deck 8. If your on deck 3, than your muster station is the level 3 atrium area. I think this is really straight forward and easy to remember. This was also the first cruise I've taken where we weren't require to bring or wear our life jacket since there were none in our cabin. They called out room numbers and we reply by shouting how many is in the room. Also they demo the life vest which was basically a rain coat attached to a life vest thats velcro so there is no straps to play around with. They explain in detail what would happen and where we would go. In this case, we would all proceed to deck 3 to get our life vest and make our way to the Marine Evacuation System or MES to board the life rafts. This is one example as to why you should always go to the Mandatory Lifeboat Drill. Despite being on 9 prior cruises, everything is different on this ship. Once I think about it, it all make sense, if something happen, do we really need to make 1 extra stop to our room to pick up our life vest before heading over to the muster station? At first I thinking this was the dumbest system ever, but after a while I kind of realize that although the plan seems crazy, it actually make sense. The interesting thing about the MES is that the logo or icon for it looks like a slide going onto a life raft. Lunch Buffet There was a lunch buffet set up poolside featuring salad, mashed potatoes, fries, burgers, hot dogs, mashed potatoes, pizza, fried chicken, fish, and a carving station with what appears to be roast beef. Although selection was small, it was decent/tasty. Dinner - Crystal Dining Room (Main Dining Room) The dining room had a casual feel to it with interesting decor, mostly in the ceiling. The menu selection was your typical cruise dinner menu. The service is only good if you order everything you want at the same time. If you don't and start ordering seconds, good luck getting your food. The waiter wasn't really attentive, their rude if you ask for seconds, and overall just seems unprofessional and burnt out. As for the food, it was decent but nothing special and nothing to write home about. Overall I was completely unsatisfied with the dining experience. Dinner - The Cove Dining Room (Specialty Formal Dining Room) Since I wasn't satisfied with the dining experience at the Crystal Dining Room, I went next door to the Cove Dining Room and paid the $25. I first check if there was any room and since I was traveling by myself, they were able to seat me at a small table for two right away with out a reservation. As soon as I was seated, they unfolded the napkin and place it on my lap and handed me the menu... I was impressed... but why? yes, they generally do this in the main dining room on all the other ships, even the Regal Empress. However, this wasn't done in the Crystal Dining room. As I was reading the menu, the wine steward came over and told me about the wine and what he recommends for dinner. After I placed my drink order, he came back and offered several water selection. After he was done, the waiter came over and took my dinner order. Dinner was amazing and was really worth the money. I had the lobster and the lobster tail that they used was bigger than most and the sauce was to die for. Late Night Dinning - Various Locations At around midnight, they have a late night snack service in the main lounge and casino where they walk around with a tray of appetizers and offer it to who ever that wants them. Similar to what you generally find on Royal Caribbean. In addition, they had pizza and pasta bar open at Trattoria Di Gerry till 3AM. The pasta was really good and everyone else seem to enjoy the pizza. Entertainment The entertainment in the main lounge on the first night consist of a singer with prior Vegas show room experience and a comedian with prior experience performing for Costa Cruises. They were decent and generally what you would expect in smaller lounges on larger ships. There is no stage production since the show room is basically the night club. There was also a piano bar in the pub and a duet in the smaller "Ocean View" lounge.
Day 2: Breakfast Buffet at the Rio Dining Room There was no line for breakfast and this morning I opt for the breakfast at the Rio Dining Room. If you want, you can also have breakfast by the pool at the buffet on the top deck or have a quick breakfast at Trattoria Di Gerry which is located next to the Rio. When I checked in with the hostess, she sat me right away at an table for 8 by the window. Breakfast was served buffet style with an egg station with cook to order omelets. In addition, the waiters would go around offering coffee. The service, surprising, was attentive. They would check up on the table frequently asking if we would like anything. I was seated with 2 different small families and neither of them complained about the food. It was just your typical breakfast buffet with the basic breakfast offering.
Dinner Brazilian Buffet at the Rio Dining Room For dinner on my second night, I was assigned to the Rio Dining Room. The dining room was basically a larger buffet. It was also an Brazilian BBQ which means servers go around to each table with a metal rod with meat and carve it in front of you. This is a unique dining experience for a cruise ship and the food was actually really good, although there was a short wait between servers coming around with various meat. The head waiter in the dining room also came around to check on each table which was not done in the Crystal Dining Room. I was overall satisfied with the service in the Rio dining room. Shore Excursion: Discover Atlantis I signed up for the Discover Atlantis tour for $47 which was a really good deal. In reality, if you did the trip yourself, you would of had to pay for transportation to/from Atlantis ($6 round trip on the water taxi and $10 round trip by cab) and purchase a day pass at the resort for $35. Given the weather condition and strong waves, there was no way I'm taking the water taxi. In the end had I done the trip myself, I would of end up paying $45 so I just let the shore excursion desk handle everything. The tour started with a shuttle bus ride across the bridge to Paradise Island. There were several shuttles running from the port to Atlantis. Once everyone arrived, we were divided into groups of 50 and the tour guides took us on a tour around Atlantis, The Dig, and the Predator Tunnel. The tour guide I got was really informative and was able to name off every single living thing around Atlantis. Even though the tour left at one time, we had the option to come back to the ship at one of 3 time slots. I opt for the 3:30PM shuttle so I can wonder around Nassau prior to leaving the port.
Day 3: Arrival into Port When I booked the reservation, I had called and asked when the ship will return to port. The answer was 10AM. With that said, everyone was told to vacate their cabin at 8AM, at 7:55AM, we were still in open water. I called and asked if I can stay in my cabin till at least when we get closer to Fort Lauderdale and the purser desk said no. At about 8:30AM, the captain came on the intercom system and informed everyone that due to "technical difficulty", we won't be arriving into port till 10AM... funny, because that was what I was told the original arrival time into port was several days earlier. Anyways, the everyone was suppose to wait in the main lounge, however, those staying on deck 8 had to wait int he main dining room. We eventually arrived into port at 10AM, the first group didn't disembark till 11AM. Debarkation Aside from the chaos in the morning, the disembarkation process was normal and inline with other cruise lines. However, instead of calling zones or colors, they disembark by deck number which made sense since the ship was a lot smaller. Once off the ship, it took about 30 minutes to clear immigration. The only delays I've noticed during the process is caused by other passengers not following instructions and holding up the line such as not having the boarding card ready for leaving the ship and not having proof of citizenship and customs forms ready. Overall, the debarkation process was the same as most other ship in the industry.
Celebration Cruise Line's Bahamas Celebration vs. Imperial Majesty's Regal Empress My first cruise was actually onboard the Regal Empress and some had ask me to compare the two, especially those living in Florida. I'm please to say that aside from the dining room service in the Crystal Dining Room, the service and amenities are on par or better than what was offered on the Regal Empress. The Bahamas Celebration is a significant upgrade to the 2 night cruise between Fort Lauderdale and Nassau. In addition, it seem that there are a few people also use the cruise as a ferry service between Fort Lauderdale and Nassau as I've met a few that are simply only going one way. I would view the Bahamas Celebration as an old Vegas resort that just got a significant upgrade, however, in the end, it's nothing compare to the new mega floating resort. Although the ship doesn't have the amenities of larger ships, it does have it's unique features such as a Brazilian BBQ. Although you may no longer have the experience of sailing on an old ocean liner between Fort Lauderdale and Nassau, you will get the chance to experience the days of cruising before rock climbing walls, ice skating rinks, and zip lines on ships. In a way, the experience is similar to that of an Carnival Fantasy Class ships when they first started sailing, before all the upgrades and renovation.