Up front, I should say that our rating of a late-November 2010 sailing on the Bahamas Celebration is B+ to A-. We found that several issues raised in earlier posts on Cruise Critic had been addressed and that in key respects the offering was comparable to those of mainline cruise companies -- especially if one takes into account the inherent limitations of a two-day, one port-of-call itinerary.
In this review, we'll first address the few complaints we have, then identify some kudos -- and, finally, provide some potentially useful general advice. But first, we should mention that we have cruised to the Caribbean with both Carnival and Celebrity. (So, we have some basis for comparison.)
1. During the mid-afternoon 2nd day drink-and-lounge gathering on the top deck, kids of secondary and primary school age were allowed to splash around in the "adult" pool, effectively chasing out any adults who might have wanted to use it. (Note that there is an area aft reserved for use by teens and younger.)
2. The beds in our basic, interior cabin had fold-down bunk beds that were locked in their upright positions (which is fine). However, the single beds beneath the bunks were attached to the walls and could not be moved to the center. The stowed bunks a couple of feet above the two usable mattresses were so close that turning over during the night risked banging elbows or knees on the bottoms of the bunks. And, the clearance didn't facilitate creative activities between couples that might be expected of those favoring the "love boat" tradition.
3. The shower controls were an innovative, modern configuration that was difficult at first to discern -- an important point, since (as warned by a sign in the lavatory) the hot water is indeed quite hot. An explanatory notice for shower dummies would be useful.
4. As reported elsewhere on Cruise Critic, the embarkation cards available online didn't precisely fit what is needed when one arrives at the terminal. The content of the forms is fine, but the web page does not indicate that duplicate information is needed on both forms in the online page; a couple traveling together needs four forms total, not two. This results in minor delays as the forms are hand-copied to additional blank forms, at check-in.
5. Too many passengers were allowed to carry their luggage on board rather than having it checked by staff for delivery to the cabins. This resulted in some awkwardness at the pre-sailing lunch on the top deck. Bags were left in the way and people with plates had to dodge others barreling across the deck to find a place for their bags before they themselves navigated the serving lines. The check-and-delivery service was prompt and flawless, so it should not have been necessary for some to drag their own luggage on board.
6. The protocol in the casual dining room (the Rio) was confusing. There, passengers are served their main course but must go to a cafeteria line to get their appetizers and deserts. While that arrangement is fine in theory, in practice the wait staff were retrieving the main courses themselves from the same serving line where passengers were getting appetizers. There was a sign indicating that beyond a certain point only wait staff were welcome, but the protocol still was confusing. (We did, however, like the staff who carried meet skewers from table-to-table, offering to slice-and-serve sausages, pork and beef.) At another dinner in the semi-formal Crystal restaurant (full service), a tablemate remarked that the organization there was much better; we agreed.
7. The wine steward in the Rio presumed we wanted a full bottle (without asking), when we named the wine to be had with our dinner. Although this may have been a true misunderstanding in the controlled chaos of a dining room on board, we had an uneasy feeling that instead it might have been a means to sell more wine to guests who might feel it awkward to protest.
The foregoing may sound quite negative, but it's not really. It's meant just to be thorough and to provide information for others to know what to expect.
8. Despite the note above about embarkation card confusion, embarkation actually was smooth and staff were polite. If the pre-boarding forms are completed properly, embarkation is simply a matter of showing passports and allowing an imprint of the credit card to be used for on board charges. Also, contrary to other reports on Cruise Critic, we didn't detect undue pressure to sign-up for excursions in the Bahamas as we boarded. There were tables where staff made these available and mentioned them, but it was by no means high pressure. (We also didn't experience the undue sales pressure for bottled water -- for onshore excursions -- that others noted on Cruise Critic.)
9. Throughout the cruise, every staff person we encountered -- from dining room wait staff to cocktail waitresses to our cabin steward -- was unfailingly polite (even deferential). We feel this is an extraordinary feat, given the long hours these people must work -- with a new crop of strangers on board every two days. (We felt that the wine steward in the Crystal restaurant was especially charming.)
10. The food was plentiful (as usual on cruises), but also average-to-above-average in quality. The prime rib in the Rio was cooked as ordered and tender. There was a wide selection at breakfasts and dinners. Two notes, however: First, if you like specially made waffles for breakfast, partake on the first morning aboard; on the second morning, when the staff maybe have other things to occupy them, the manned waffle station was nowhere to be found. Also, adjacent to the pizza area there is a glass case of sinfully rich-looking cheesecakes (several varieties). One of our few disappointments during the cruise was lack of a reasonable opportunity to sample those cheesecakes ($4 per slice); we also didn't have space in our food schedule to sample the pizza. So much good food, so little time.
11. The shows were entertaining, even if they weren't top notch Las Vegas quality. They were competently produced and interesting.
12. As reported elsewhere in Cruise Critic, the boat was clean and well-maintained. Except for the several layers of paint on the railings and cables, one might not suspect that Celebration is nearly 30 years old.
13. The mix of activity areas and restaurants was quite comparable with similar facilities on much larger boats (Carnival, Celebrity). In all cases, they were somewhat scaled back due to the size of the boat -- but nevertheless well done and functionally complete.
We felt that Celebration was good value for money, but not in a denigrating kind of way. It was fun, satisfying and complete in terms of our other cruise experiences. We noted that there was no water overflow problem in the bathrooms (from the showers), as reported elsewhere on Cruise Critic.
We'd advise those who enjoy early morning beauty to make an effort to get up at 6 a.m. both days, to watch from the Deck 9 bow as Celebration makes dock. (The boat stands to off the coast both at Freeport and West Palm Beach, until dawn -- when the final approach is made.)
We highly recommend Billy Joe's on the corner of the Our Lucaya Resort property for lunch. It's an independently operated "shack" that's was in place before the resort was built and has been serving locals for 40 years. Great cracked conch.
Finally, though any of the taxi drivers certainly would be fine for trips to Our Lucaya (presuming one does not take the excursion version), we met one that provided an excellent explanatory tour of the island outside the Lucaya resort on our way back to Celebration. He was Marvin Clarke of Reliable Taxis Service (242/533-7441).
As said at the outset, we felt that Celebration provided a B+ to A- experience. We recommend it to others, even if they've cruised before. (Yes, we'd do it again even though we've seen some (though not all) of the port of call.)