Background Information- We are a couple in our 40's. We do not have children of our own, but we did sail with my parents, brother, sister-in-law and 5 year old niece. We are from South Carolina. We broke our trip into several short segments for arrival to the port. We drove to Brunswick, Georgia on the evening of April 16th and met with my parents for the rest of the drive down. On the morning of the 17th, we drove to Jacksonville, Florida and left our car at the airport in the economy parking lot. We booked a flight back from Fort Lauderdale to Jacksonville with Southwest Air for a $59 one way rate. We had hoped to save time not and not be so worn out from driving, but the flight was a much more arduous procedure. Well, you get what you pay for. That's all I will say about it. But enough about that, on to the cruise. It was one of the best we have ever had.
Hotel Info- I have no advice on hotels in Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. We stopped in West Palm Beach on the 17th. We stayed in the Hampton Inn off South Australian Avenue. It was supposed to be near an airport or in a flight path, but we never saw or heard any airline traffic. It was a great value and a beautiful hotel. I highly recommend Il Bellagio restaurant in City Center. We had a fabulous family meal there the night before the cruise.
Ship Info The ship was absolutely breathtaking. A mix of modern and contemporary mixed with classic elements of dark wood and classic patterns. Our stateroom was on Deck 7. We were just beside the "Team Earth" set up. The focus of Team Earth is on conservation activities and making our Earth a cleaner and better place to live- from what I was able to gather. The library on the ship spans two levels and is really comprehensive. I took a look around but did not make use of the library as I had brought several books to read. I didn't have time to read them all. There was so much to do and see. The specialty restaurants are tucked into a lovely area of the ship on Deck 5. My favorite was Murano- located just off the Ensemble Lounge. Murano is not to be missed. If you can choose only one specialty restaurant, make this the one you choose. The Ensemble Lounge was a dark wood, classic lounge. They had either a string quartet or jazz/easy listening trio playing each night. Most of the entertainment on the ship was second to none.
Activities- there is something for everyone. From relaxing by the pool, to learning Italian with Rosetta Stone training, to the Corning Museum glass blowing exhibition and exhibit, to bocce ball and putting- you can do as little or as much as you want. Cruise Director John Grantham was fond of letting everyone know that there were at least 40 hours worth of activities every day if you could do every one. Of course, you can't but if you are bored- it could be that you are just not willing to look for ways to have fun. It is certainly not because the ship lacks activities.
Service- Fabulous. Everyone from the dining room attendants to the stateroom attendants was incredibly attentive. Our every need was anticipated and met. It was heads and shoulders above our last couple of cruises on RCCL.
Port & Shore Excursions - We only did one excursion- the Old and New San Juan tour. Our tour guides Pedro and Steven were wonderful. They had a fabulous running commentary with us. We had two stops- one near the beach and some of the high end shops in New San Juan. We got to see Ricky Martin's restaurant- Ajili Mojili. We were told it was rather high end on the pricing, but there was a Chili's next door if you wanted to go more affordable. It was sort of funny. The rains came after our stop at the San Cristobal fort. We were let off to shop if we wanted to do so. It was just a terrible rainstorm which caused even the traffic pilons to float down the streets.
We did not do any planned excursions in St. Thomas or St. Martin. We did have a fantastic lunch in St. Thomas at Cafe' Amalie. It offers spanish styled cuisine at very reasonable prices. There is a small bar in the through street fronting the restaurant. The bartender was a young man who was most engaging. He was super fun and kept us busy until time for us to be seated.
In St. Martin, we just took it easy and laid out by the beach. We did a bit of wandering around but didn't buy anything. I had my photo taken in front of the Blue Bitch Bar. Hey, it was funny at least. We also had ice cream at a cute place called Vanille and Chocolat. The ice cream was pretty good too.
Stateroom - We had a Deluxe Veranda stateroom. After having been on the Mariner of the Seas and having been spoiled by a Junior Suite, the room seemed a bit small but it was certainly more than adequate for two people and we didn't use ALL of the available storage. I would certainly take extra hangers if you want ALL of your clothes hung up. There is more than adequate space to keep clothes in the over bed storage. There is also more than ample room for storage under the bed. Dining - The Grand Epernay Dining Room featured delicious food every night. We tried all of the specialty restaurants. We LOVED Murano. We were also quite impressed with Silk Harvest. Tuscan Grille was nice and the setting was beautiful at the aft of the ship. We are not picky eaters, and not expecting a wonderful gourmet meal. We found Tuscan Grille to be comparable to than a Macaroni Grille or Carabba's. As I said before, if you have only one Specialty Dining experience- put your time and money into Murano. We had a party of six and were seated in the front room where the wines are located. It was a nice intimate setting for our family. The food was divine. The service was incredible and the night was unforgettable.
Children's Clubs- My brother and sister in law utilized the children's program for my niece. They bought the VIP pass for her, which allowed her to do some extra things like meet the captain. I think it was probably worth it. She had a wonderful time, and elected to stay in the children's program as much as she could. Entertainment -We took time each evening to listen to the trio, headlined by a very talented young singer/piano player named Will Foraker. If you sail on the ship while Will and his trio entertain, please take time to listen for awhile. I have heard that they will possibly be moving Will back to a solo piano player act. If you hear wonderful piano playing with a fabulous singer, keep looking for the source. Likely it is NOT a loud CD, but rather the very talented Mr. Foraker. -Sipra- the party band- is from the Phillipines. The female vocalists are very versatile and they are amazingly entertaining. I thank them again for engaging my niece in the welcome aboard party on the 18th. -Cruise Director John Grantham... He was okay but seemed a bit aloof. -Impressionist Ron Tanner- good impressionist singer. -Solstice "The Show" was incredible with the amount of space they have. What talented entertainers!! -Late Night Comedian Jim David. He was funny. A bit screechy I thought, but funny.
Disembarkation- Celebrity and Fort Lauderdale really have their act together. Disembarkation was a breeze. The luggage was well organized. The disembarkation process was well organized. The customs lines flowed quickly. We were out in no more than 20 minutes from the time we were told we could leave the ship until we cleared customs. Taxis and shuttles were everywhere. We took my brother up on his offer to drop us at the airport, so we saved a little money but we could have easily gotten a cab or shuttle.
We would definitely sail with Celebrity again. I felt like a Celebrity during the cruise. We met some great people and had lots of fun.