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The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
This was our first cruise on Celebrity and was much anticipated. We began planning over six months prior to sailing and off the bat, let me say that getting hooked up with fellow passengers via the CC message boards was the best and smartest thing we've ever done with regard to cruising. This was our first time to "meet & mingle" pre-cruise and we HIGHLY recommend it to everyone, especially novice cruisers, although we found out invaluable, and we are far from novice at this.
Overall, I'd say that Celebrity was not all I expected, given the price. On the "good" side, we had an good experience with the air through RC's Choice Air - good fare price and no issues with airport-to-ship transfers, even though our flight was over 2 hours late. Everything on that end was very smooth and we were satisfied. The ship itself is a bit older & more worn than I expected, since her praises had been sung here and she apparently underwent a renovation recently. I did like the many More
"private" areas where you could sit and gather and the layout in general was very easy to maneuver - the decor was easy on the eyes, etc. I guess I was just expecting a bit more "glitz & glamour" and that wasn't there in my opinion.
Also on the "better than good" side was the service by the wait staff, including the cabin stewards. We had some of the most attentive and individualized service we've experienced anywhere and we were most appreciative of that. Celebrity does train its staff well in the customer service department. Also on the "very good" side, our cabin (6016) was better than expected - we had an extra-large balcony that was somewhat more private than others due to its location. Being forward starboard meant we got to see many of the ports as we arrived, but did have the morning sun issue, so I recommend keeping the heavy curtains closed if you're a late sleeper. The cabins have very adequate storage in our opinion and the mirrored wall makes it seem larger in general - very airy and spacious appearing.
Finally, on the "good" side was the live music on board. This cruise had a salsa band that was awesome, a classical acoustic guitarist who was amazing and a "disco" type band that was extremely good to dance to. There was also an acapella group, which is not our cup of tea, but they were good musically.
On the "bad" side - can someone on that ship PLEASE learn to make a decent cup of coffee??? We had NO decent coffee at any time except dinner in the Metropolitan dining room and even that was borderline. One of our dinner companions actually complained to the maitre'd and was promised a response, but never got one. I never tried the "specialty" coffees (too expensive), so perhaps they make bad coffee deliberately to up their sales of the pricey stuff. Anyway - if you're a coffee drinker - be forewarned. Also on the "bad" side, speaking of prices, was the cost of the specialty drinks and alcoholic beverages. The cheapest cocktail I ever saw was $9, so by the time they added the mandatory gratuity, all drinks were $10+. I will say they were decent (I had two great mojitoes and one awesome chocolate martini), and they did not skimp on the alcohol, but the price was just way too high. Finally, in the "bad" category was a good portion of the food. Most of our meals in the Metropolitan were at best average. The wonderful service made it tolerable, but I'd probably think long & hard about doing another Celebrity just based on the mediocre food alone. I think Carnival does a better job, even on their "old" ships like the Ecstasy. The pluses on the food scene were the grill - you could get a fresh grilled chicken breast and a wonderful minted fruit salad every day that was delightful. Also, for breakfast there was a huge variety on the 10th deck buffet, so as long as you weren't expecting consistency with the offerings, you could usually find something that would meet your needs.
Now for the "ugly" part. We booked three shore tours through the cruise line and we booked three tours separately via the internet (on recommendations from fellow travelers met on the message boards). Two of our three ship tours were cancelled at the last minute for no good reason and without much explanation. While our costs were reimbursed, the ship did a poor job of offering alternatives, other than to say "please see our shore tour desk to book another one." You were basically on your own to figure out what you wanted to do. We heard of MANY shore tours cancelled in the same way, so that leads me to believe that either the tour operators don't care for Celebrity and this is their way of sending their message or else Celebrity just doesn't take much care in making sure that their tour operators are reliable. The one tour we did take was mediocre, although the cost was decent.
So overall, this cruise was a mixed bag for us - we loved most of the ports (see the reviews below), but probably would NOT do Celebrity again, just because of the food and the shore tour issues. As always, each cruise is a learning experience and this was definitely one for us. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Unfortunately, our much-awaited tour on the Mi Dushi was cancelled at the last minute, so we were stuck trying to entertain ourselves in Oranjested for the day. Since our 2nd choice in Barbados had been less than thrilling, we opted to just walk off ship and see what we could find on our own in town. We were sadly underwhelmed. There is some pretty architecture and interesting sites near the ship terminal and actually, the best shopping we found was immediately inside the terminal stores with those vendors, although when we returned to the ship later in the day, we did come across a small group of vendors who had set up just outside the gate and did locate a few small treasures there at very good prices. In general, the people were polite and friendly in the city, but there just did not seem to be much for mid-range shopping folks like us. There is a big high-end mall near the ship terminal if you're into Gucci, Lauren, etc. and are willing to pay those prices. They did have a Starbucks in there so I FINALLY got a decent cup of coffee!! We did hear from table companions at dinner that the beaches in Aruba were stunning, so next time (if we were to go again), we'd probably opt for a beach day, rather than shopping.
This was our one & only ship tour - we took the "Taste of Barbados" tour as a 2nd choice after our 1st choice (the Aerial Trek ziplining) was cancelled. This tour stopped at the Reggie Medford mahogany factory (decent), the Sunbury Plantation (interesting) and the Four Square rum distillery (ho hum). Our tour guide was fairly sour-faced most of the day. The Medford stop was probably the best, and the plantation was nice to see - they had an awesome rum punch, the recipe for which they were happy to share. At the distillery, the tour was very quick - their main goal was to get you into the store to buy liquor. We did buy a bottle, then found it $2 cheaper in a duty-free store at the dock, so be forewarned about that. The liquor stores in Barbados at the ship terminal had the best liquor prices we saw anywhere, FYI, if you're into buying liquor. All in all, it was a so-so day. I wish we'd been able to zipline instead.
We had been to Curacao last fall on a HAL cruise (the Westerdam) and fell in love with Willemsted, the beautiful architecture & color, the people, the shopping, just the overall ambiance of the city and island itself. We were not disappointed in coming back. We repeated our walking tour of last fall, starting out by taking the ferry across the channel to the floating market, then visiting the indoor craft market at the end of that, then making our way through the Punda area, finding many treasurers and bargains. We loved this port last year and we loved it again this year. Our only complaint is that the day went too quickly - we'd go again in a heartbeat.
Dominica was BY FAR our favorite stop of the whole cruise. This port alone redeemed the cruise for us. We had booked a tour with Levi Barron of Bumpiing Tours online after a recommendation from another CC board member - we HIGHLY recommend Levi!! We had a scenic hike up to Middleham Falls, then swam Titou Gorge (made famous in the Pirates of the Caribbean II movie), then hiked up to Trafalgar Falls and hot springs, then finished up our day snorkeling at Champagne Reef. It was a totally amazing and exhilarating day. For those who are not up to the rigors of all-day hiking/swimming, Levi offers a less strenuous itinerary. One of our table mates took that tour and had a similar very positive experience. Dominica is ranked the 4th most unspoiled island in the world and it truly is one of the most exotic and pristine places we've ever seen. The people are very friendly and laid back and this stop alone was again the redemption day for this whole cruise as far as we were concerned. We would definitely go back to Dominica in a heartbeat.
In this port, we book what was supposed to be a half-day tour through Mandoo tours (online). We were pleasantly surprised to find that the tour was actually nearly 6 hours and well worth the $45 we paid in advance. Mr. Mandoo is extremely well spoken and well versed on his island, which is beautiful and aptly named "the spice island." This was definitely our second favorite stop of the cruise and we'd definitely visit Grenada again and in fact, we hope to do so in order to explore what we were not able to see this time. We highly recommend Viv's Station - a restored nutmeg processing station which has been converted into a textile factory and gift shop - they had wonderful gifts and the prices were not bad. The ladies who were there were knowledgeable and extremely gracious and friendly. We then saw the Douglaston spice estate, which is still in operation today and processing spices and cocoa the way they did it nearly 200 years ago - extremely informative and interesting. We made a quick stop at Grande Etang - the most interesting thing there was the monkeys and the reggae band, plus the "spice ladies" selling their wares - for CHEAP prices! Finally, we made a stop at Annandale Falls, a beautiful stop, although we did get hit on to see the "jumpers," young men who hawk for money for you to watch them jump from the cliff into the waters - I found the families who were swimming & bathing in the river below more interesting, frankly. All in all, Grenada and their people are lovely and we'd definitely do this port again - and we highly recommend Mandoo!
Our 4th stop on this cruise was supposed to have been St. Lucia, but thanks to Tomas, we got re-routed to Martinique. By the way, our heartfelt prayers are with the folks in St. Lucia, who apparently did get hit pretty hard by that hurricane. So, Martinique was less than enchanting for us. We found the people there (French) to be rude and unfriendly for the most part and while we had money to spend, they often refused to take the dollar, insisting that we use euros instead. That said, there was a wonderful fruit & vegetable market that we did locate, thanks to a nice young lady at the dock when we exited (so there are a few friendly folks in Martinique!). It's definitely worth seeing and the prices are great - lots of wonderful fresh spices, sauces, etc. The only thing is most vendors only accept euros, so be prepared. We also did a bit of shopping and found some deals (knock offs) in the shops nearby, so the day was not a total loss.
In St. Croix, we rented a van with a group of fellow passengers who all met on the CC message boards. We drove to Cane Bay for the morning, then into Christiansted to have lunch and shop, then stopped at the Whim Plantation on our way back to the ship. Cane Bay was beautiful and there are a couple of small beach front bars/restaurants there to get drinks, food, etc. The beach is full of wonderful coral, sponges, etc. We thoroughly enjoyed it. Christiansted was interesting - they were in the middle of a big election the day we were there (Tuesday), so traffic was a bear, but we ate lunch at Angry Nates on the wharf and had the BEST lobster roll I've ever had anywhere! They were literally catching the lobster and cooking it as we watched. The Whim Plantation is a nice stop - the self guided tour is interesting and you get a good feel of what it was really like on a sugar cane plantation in the 1800's.
In St. Kitts, we again rented a van with a small group of fellow passengers and this time, we started out at Romney Manor/Caribelle Batik - a stop I highly recommend. The demos are great and the shopping is decent, plus the grounds are gorgeous. A must-see. We then went on to the Brimstone Fort. We could have spent a lot more time there, but it was very hot that day. It is an amazing site, though - another we highly recommend. There's a self-guided tour you can take there as well for a mere $8. We then drove to the other side of the island and had lunch at a wonderful beachfront restaurant called Spice Mill - the food seemed a little pricey, but it was abundant, fresh and the atmosphere is completely island - you really "feel" like you're living the island life there. We then negotiated some beach chairs with the restaurant owner and had a wonderful time splashing around and lounging before heading back to the ship. The only minor annoyance were the number of women on the beach who tried (very aggressively) to talk us into beach "massages" - they almost wouldn't take "no" for an answer. But aside from that, it was a lovely place.