The embarkation process was extremely smooth. The miami seaport is well designed and easily managed by the cruise staff. The tickets said to arrive no earlier than 2pm. This is a loose restriction. Our friends arrived around noon and had no trouble boarding the ship.
Right away we met some new friends on the ship and ended up spending the entire trip with about 8 different people that we enjoyed. This part of the cruise cannot be underemphasized. Your time spent aboard becomes memorable and exciting if you get to spend it with new and dynamic friends.
Our first night on the ship we decided to try to sit with 4 of the people we had met. The maitre d' was very accommodating and found us a table for 8 that had another couple already sitting down. We never thought of skipping the Grand Dining Room after this. We all got along famously and never shied away from order two entree's or desserts. Roy, our waiter, was delightful and attentive. His signature lines were, "Would you like something else?" and "I will bring it to you." The food itself was not as impressive as we had anticipated, but we enjoyed discovering new tastes.
We used the fitness center in the AquaSpa daily. The morning was busy, but any other time of day was easy to find machines to use. The only downside was the greenhouse effect of the windows. These floor to ceiling windows did not open and would trap the heat - making the room rise to stifling temperatures in the middle of the day.
The Spa Cafe was a favorite for breakfast. Not only were their great fruit, yogurt and oatmeal selections, but you could order egg-white omelets and protein shakes here as well. Perfect for after workout or light fare to nibble on poolside.
Speaking of poolside: we had a lot of fun. The absence of water slides and typical raucous party boat fare at the pool resulted in a fantastically relaxing way to sunbathe. Scope out deck chairs early to get prime spots. The highlight of our pool experience was jumping in with our whole gang to battle it out with the senior members of the crew in a pool volleyball match. Watch our for the financial officer, Fannie, she has a big smile and an even bigger serve! Our team, the Playas, did not succeed, but we had a great time.
The hot tubs on the pool deck were always in use, but were inconsistent in temperature. The worst service on the ship was by the pool. There were two few pool bartenders and waiting for drinks could take 20 minutes or more. It was easier to leave the pool get drinks elsewhere and return to the deck. My recommendation for value-conscious alcohol is the hard to beat half bottle (375 ml) of wine for $9.95 - only served on the aft deck patio.
After sunning ourselves and enjoying the days at sea, we would all congregate for 6pm sushi in the islands cafe. The sushi was not the best in the world, but great for a cruise ship. Watch out for the wasabi - this was wasabi napalm - a little went a long way.
Before and after dinner we spent time in the comfortable and happening Martini Bar. This interstitial lounge between all the busy areas of the ship become a meeting place for many cruisers. The pomegranate martinis were tasty and the service was very attentive.
Casino seemed a little dated, but we had a great time playing some slots and winning at roulette. The pit boss knew when to switch our dealers though - stop playing after this - the luck will dry out!
Late nights a Hemispheres dance club were great people watching, but more importantly - the only place to go on the ship later in the evening.
Ports of Call - Ports from Hell: Our first Port was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. The cruise staff should have done a better job of preparing the guests for the tsunami of cab drivers and "tour guides" that would bum rush you once you walked out of the port gates. If Jamaica is on your port list, book a ship excursion or don't get off the boat. We walked as a group through the sea of drivers who accosted our every step. Their sales pitches are predictable, but frightening. "I will take you to a secret beach." "I can drive you all over the island." "Let me take you to the falls." Eventually, we began to speak german to them as if we did not understand. When that didn't shrug off the vultures, we began to sing selections from the sound of music ("DO a dear, a female dear..."). We ended up finding a beach at the end of a parking lot that we could enter for $2.50US. This beach was protected by a high fence and barb wire. This was not completely isolated from the insanity beyond the gates, but it was what we wanted - just a little beach time. There was a hotel called "Rooms" attached to the beach that had Red Stripe beer for 2.50 - so we passed the time with those. On our was back to the boat we wanted to eat on the island. We couldn't find anything that didn't look too touristy until we saw this small hotel called "Castles" which had a restaurant on the second floor. The menu included some jamaican specialties (jerk chicken, "festival" johnnie cakes, fried bammie and plantains). The drinks were strong and service great. Each of us spent about 12 bucks. We got back to the port and spent $25 on some blue mountain coffee before enjoying the evening on the boat. As I stated above, we booked this cruise due to its port of call in Grand Cayman. When we woke up the next morning - intending on being in Grand Cayman already, I could not see land. Apparently, swells in the port made it dangerous to tender in the harbor. So we, along with 2 other ships, were turned away. Instead, we spent the day at sea and made other arrangements to port at Key West. After hearing this, there was a universal sigh of distress. Most of the cruisers on the ship had been to Key West and didn't really find it as an appealing alternative to Grand Cayman. We were to arrive in Key west at 11:30am and be back on the boat by 4:30pm. The day was gray and overcast. The disembarkation was a nightmare (we docked at a naval yard and all shuffled through the bowels of the ship then were shuttled to town on the conch tram). After walking past the "southernmost" everything we came to the "southernmost cafe and bar (20 blocks from our tram station). After eating like the wind - in order to get back to the boat in time, it began to rain. Not a tropical light misting either - it was a 20 minute downpour that we ran through to get to the transport back to the ship. Not fun in t-shirts, white pants, or flip-flops.
The ports were the downside of the whole cruise, but the entertainment needed a little pep talk as well. The shows on the ship "World of Dance" and "Touch of Broadway" were ambitious. They pleased a lot of people on the ship, I am sure. Unfortunately, we have a slightly more discerning eye. The dancers were very good at smiling and each had their respective strengths. The failure came in understanding how to be on time and keep together. They have been performing these shows for 5 months - we expected some more cohesion. In terms of other performers, James Stephen III - the comedian - was pretty good. His piano routine was a riot. Franklin, acoustic guitar, was enjoyable. The Voice Males needed professional voice training. By far, the most incredible voice on the ship was the cruise director Lisa Richard. Her smoky jazzzy sound was smooth and impressive. Her tern as Dean in Vegas' Mama Mia before this cruise was well-deserved. Her handling of all the mishaps on board were professional and swift (mainly the injured performers and port of call changes).
Would I cruise Celebrity again? For the right price and different ports of call - yes. Would I recommend it to my friends - it depends what they would want out of a cruise.