We didn't really know what to expect. My husband had taken a cruise with a similar itinerary over 20 years ago and he had a few ideas but he was pleasantly surprised at the exceptional service and experience that Celebrity offered. It started at check in. Lots of staff and a smooth experience, we were on the boat within just a few minutes of arriving at the port. I do have to say that the port is quite close to the airport; had I known how close it was (and had I known that I would have to wait over an hour in the airport for the transport bus to get there), I would have taken a cab. I doubt it would have cost much more than the $30 each way it cost the two of us for transfers.
We whisked our way through the check in and then we were on the boat--after a short stop for embarkation pictures and ID pictures. We were immediately greeted by staff holding trays of champagne and mimosas. Lunch was also being served in the buffet restaurant, so we headed up top and grabbed some food.The food was fresh and tasty, and we had our first (and not our last) martinis while sitting on the aft deck of the Oceanview Cafe. Heaven. We ate our lunch, basked in the sun and waited for the staff to clear the rooms for occupancy. They actually sail the same day they arrive, so they turn the rooms--and the entire ship--in a matter of a couple of hours. Wow.
We got into our cabin. We booked a Deluxe Ocean View Stateroom with Veranda. Very nice. The bed was quite large, and the bathroom was surprisingly spacious with an enclosed shower. There was plenty of storage, the veranda was lovely and large with two comfy chairs and a table. There was a flat screen TV that was mounted and able to move for viewing from any angle in the room. The room also had a couch and a drop-down bunk, so up to 4 people COULD stay in the room...but it would be very cramped. As it was, it was fine for two.
We quickly unpacked and started to explore the ship. The entire ship is flawless. There's never any trash laying around. The upper decks with the pool, lounge chairs, lawn and hot glass studio as well as the upper Solstice deck were spectacular. The Sky Deck observation room was incredible...a 180 degree view of the sea from the front of the ship. Wow. The ship was beautiful and tastefully decorated and comfortable on every level. I loved it. It far exceeded my expectations.We set sail and slowly moved out of Ft. Lauderdale harbor. It was exciting to set sail and start our adventure. As we roamed around the ship, we came upon the specialty dining restaurants. We walked into each of them, were greeted warmly and handed sample menus and invited to tour each of them. We were drawn to the menu at Silk Harvest and decided to dine there that night.
The Silk Harvest is an Asian fusion restaurant. No one Asian cuisine is prominent--there are Chinese, Japanese, Vietnam, Thailand and more. We got there right at opening and were surprised to find the restaurant completely empty. It was almost a singular dining experience--only two other couples dined there with us. We were heartily encouraged to order a LOT, so we did. The sushi--especially the specialty rolls--was exceptionally delicious. As was the Mochi ice cream (look it up)...one of my favorite desserts. Ice cream and Caramel cookies became a theme of our cruise. We had them at least twice a day. Hence the 4 pounds...
We also dined there on Friday night--the 2nd formal night. I wish we had chosen a different night (we missed Lobster in the main dining room), but the meal there again was worth the cover charge.
I could go into minute detail on everything we did, but here are the highlights:
- Hot Glass Show: The Corning Museum of Glass built specialty equipment so they could demonstrate artisans creating blown glass masterpieces on each of the Celebrity Solstice-class ships. These demos are mesmerizing. They don't sell any of the work, but if you stick around long enough, you might get to participate in a raffle for a piece or two...
- Scrapbooking Class: Yay! Four classes complete with free kits. The class was pretty pedestrian and focused on the beginner, but the kits were nice. There's also a specialty Scrapbook and Kit you can buy in the photo shop that's tailored to the cruise. Nice!
- Shows: We liked the Cirque du Soleil-like show. The production shows (singing and dancing) were fine but not our taste. The comedy magician was cute--and I actually was picked as the audience "assistant." Fun! We hated the musical impressionist. We walked out of that show.
- Live Music: Every evening, there are a number of musicians in different areas of the ship. It's lovely. String quartet. A capella group. Jazz pianist. Jazz group. Party band. Guitarist. It was wonderful having these musicians around and making you want to stop and just listen.
- Enrichment: There were lectures, classes, etc. catering to a variety of interests. I liked the Food thread--went to a cooking demo and an "Iron Chef" like contest. If you want to be a participant, make sure you talk to the "Foodie" person with the line. She'll hook you up.
- Port Shopping Show: Okay, it was hokey. Tana was obnoxious. The $25 shopping book was hoke. But I got great freebies to take home as little gifts. It was worth the $25, but not the excruiating hour listening to Tana. Buy the book and leave.
- Galley Tour: Sign up! Don't just show up and think you're special and try to weasel your way in! Why don't you people just do ask the line asks instead of thinking you're the only people that matter? We called, got in and got the tour promptly. It was lovely.
- Bridge Tour: This is something you have to request. Do so via your Butler if you have a suite or at Guest Relations. We did. Got to meet and chat with the captain. I sat in the Captain's chair. Wooo hooo!
- Ice Cream: Fresh every day. New flavors every day. OH BOY.
- Martini Bar: Wow. Loved this. 100 different vodkas. Iced bar. Flipping glasses and shakers. My favorite: The Lychee Martini. YUM!
- Luggage Valet Service: You can check into your flight and check your bags right from your stateroom. NO lines at the airport. NO hassles in customs. Heaven.
Okay, now a few minuses:
- No advanced notice of menus in the dining room. I would have planned my time better had I known what was being served when rather than just a daily menu.
- Robotic service in the main dining room. I know they have lots of tables to serve and clear, but it would've been nice to NOT be served like we were at a banquet. Trays of food, serving tables in groups...NOT a great dining experience.
- Better casual dining options. Not everyone wants to go to formal night. We didn't. The dinner at the Oceanview Cafe was pretty mediocre. The sushi there was horrible. The breakfasts and lunches were actually BETTER in the buffet than in the main dining room.
- People. People are people everywhere, but I was really annoyed at the end of the cruise. Please be aware that there are a lot of people around and that you are not the center of the universe. Do you know the road boulders that drive 55 in the fast lane? They all take cruises. Seriously.
It was hot, kind of dirty, but at least there were a FEW shops that weren't jewelry stores. We actually dined in San Juan instead of on board the ship. If you want a real taste of San Juan, go to Barrachina and try the Mofongo. Heaven. They also claim to be the originators of the Pina Colada. Very good regardless of if it's true. The paella being served at the next table looked great, but Mofongo...I love you.
We took the Lord Sheffield Tall Ship Sail excursion. A small 2-masted sailing ship that takes you for a snorkel and a sail. Only a max of 25 people allowed. $89 per person was a bit steep for a 2.5 hour tour, but we booked it.
The snorkel was horrible. They motored to the cove next to the dock. There was NO reef, only a few fish and some smarmy tourist attractions (someone placed a cannon on the floor so you could look at it). I feel worse for the poor people who booked the Snuba tour and walked on a walkway under us...they got shafted even more than we did.
After 20 minutes of poor snorkeling, we headed back to the ship. I floated in the water all the while sipping a rum punch. Better.
The sail and BBQ lunch after was much nicer. They are very generous with drinks (included in excursion cost). At those prices, they should be.
All in all, if I had to do it over again, I think I'd just take a water taxi to the beach, pay my $15 for a two beach chairs, and umbrella and 5 beers and settle in.
Shopping...well, if you want to buy jewelry, this is the place. You get an extra $$ duty free if you buy in St. Thomas. We took advantage of that. :-)