Group: We were traveling with a group of 13, 9 family and 4 friends...in our group were two minors, 17 and 14, the rest ranged from the thirty somethings and my Dad.
Embarkation: We arrived at the pier (Pan American) in SJ at about 11 a.m. We were told that we'd be able to board the ship around noon so we wanted to be among the first to board. When we got to the pier, there was a line of people already...the porters started taking luggage at noon and then we were corralled into the waiting area, which consisted of rows of chairs. The shore staff said embarkation would be delayed a while because there were some disembarkation issues from the departing guests due to a large group from South America. So we had to wait....and wait....and wait. Celebrity had water and fruit punch available for refreshments while we waited. Around 1 p.m., we noticed that the waiting room was full and guests were lined up outside. There was mass confusion from the shore staff as they were not given the go ahead to let passengers check in yet...people were getting restless. We heard one of the shore staff say they were going to let the people outside check in first to get them out of the heat, and that caused an uproar from all of the passengers waiting in the inside for 2 hours...finally the shore staff in charge said no, that the inside people would go first...by now, everyone was out of their seats rushing toward the 4 foot wide entrance to the check in area....people were pushing and shoving like crazy. It was an accident waiting to happen...everyone was so rude... Finally, after managing to get through the crowd, we got in line to check in. Check in went fast, and we were given our boarding cards in a really nice folder that has the ship map folding out from it. Through security and up the escalator to the photo opportunity. We took a group embarkation shot and were on our way to board. As we walked onto the ship, we were greeted by waiters with comp champagne and white gloved porters to escort us to our cabins. A fine touch that I'm glad to see Celebrity still does!!! My wife and I went to Guest Relations right away to make them aware of the situation in the embarkation lounge so they could better protect the rest of the passengers through check in...it was scary!
Cabin: We had a balcony cabin...very nicely appointed. Plenty of closet and shelf space for your clothes. The couch is located next to the balcony windows, which is always nice (too bad it spent most of the cruise covered in my clothes). The balcony was nicely sized with two chairs and table. Bathroom was plenty big...lots of storage area above and below the counter.
Ports: San Juan - we arrived a day early and stayed in Old San Juan..it gave us time to journey out and experience the forts and charm of Old San Juan. We ate dinner that night at Lupi's just behind the Sheraton (formerly Wyndham). Good meal at reasonable prices...
Caso De Campo (Dom Rep) - wasted port in my opinion. We took the shuttles to the two shopping areas near the port. La Marina was the first one, and there was really not much there. Don't expect to find any bargains or local artwork, etc. that the Dom Republic was once known for... So we then took the shuttle to the other shopping area...really nice place, nice gardens, a view of the country side...looks like a former fort. Not much for shopping there either, but it did have some character and beauty. Back on board by 5 p.m....ship stayed until 11 p.m. There was a show on land that night we did not go to, but did hear it was quite good.
Sea day - always love the sea days....a chance to explore the ship, get some rays, have a few Pina Colada's.... We played the "name that TV show tune" game poolside with our group...what a great time!! We laughed so much...we were on the upper pool deck and had all those below laughing at us and having a good time...they must have thought we were drunk (we weren't).... Afternoon pool games were good, the old pole across the pool with people hitting each other with balloons...didn't get to play unfortunately...cause if we did, I would have kicked my brother's butt!! hahaha... Sea day was also the first Formal Night...not the typical "captain's party" on board, only a short "meet and greet" prior to the show that night.
Barbados - we took the shuttle into town, then walked to the beach, we went to the Boatyard. $12 entrance fee, but you get $5 back in tokens to use toward drinks, food... Nice beach...they had 2 trampolines in the water and an iceberg. Chairs and umbrellas were provided also...nice beach. We had lunch there...service was terrible, but the food was good. The highlight was the Banks Beer...very tasty!! Ship stayed in port until 9 p.m. so that one of the Cirque performers could do her act without the motion from the ocean.
Dominica - highlight of the trip...beautiful island. Substitute from Grenada...well worth it!! We got our own tour from one of the independent taxi drivers...he gave us an amazing tour of the island...went to Emerald Pools and Trafalgar Falls...6 hour tour for $20 each...so much to say about this island...people were very nice... The ship staff says the island is one of the poorest in the Caribbean, but I'll tell you what, to me and our group, it was one of the richest because of what they have to offer in beauty and natural resources.
Antigua - we went on the Kayak and Snorkel trip with Paddles...great operation. Absolutely beautiful water...Kayaking was a little rough, winds were high...but it was still fun. My family did the stingray tour and were extremely disappointed. The stingrays are not wild like in Grand Cayman, they are kept in a pen surrounded by what looks like snow fencing....it was not a natural experience that you would expect... When we got back to town, we were approached by quite a few homeless people and panhandlers...not good!! We found the people around the port to be rude...which was a shock from the last time I was in Antigua.
St. Thomas - prices are higher than before, not much room for negotiating with shop owners either...things have changed. They just erected a 10ft cyclone fence down the entire length of the pier with only 3 openings for passengers to leave from to get to Havensight Mall...we were the only ship in port that Friday. We took the mini boat tour where we captained our own inflatable boats...this was a great adventure...the water, again, beautiful. Did some snorkeling over a reef in Christmas Cove...then took the boats back to the dock...great excursion!!!
Entertainment: Comedians and magicians were good.... I sat through part of the first Broadway show (not a big fan), my Dad says it was great, so I take his word. I missed the "Around the World" show, but everyone else from our group said it was amazing. They had a vocalist on board too one night....which I also heard was good. Around the ship, Onxy the party band was excellent!!! They played by the pool during the days and during the pool parties (4 total - 3 regular and one Captain's Club only party). We sat in on the pianist in Michael's Club one night...what an entertainer!!! Although he played music I didn't know, he was a hoot and we all had a great time listening to him. The other musical entertainment on board was excellent too....
Food: What can I say...buffets were good to great, for breakfast they even had the waffle bar...yum!! Sushi at night (didn't get to try it) too!! So much food to eat in the buffet area....so little time. Nice to have scoops in the afternoon of homemade ice creams... Dining room - food was excellent!! Love the formal nights with the intermezzo between salad and main course...great touch!! Our waiter was the best, Nicholous from South Africa.
Disembarkation: Went pretty smoothly....a little delayed, but still good. Luggage pick up was easy and customs/immigration was a breeze!!
Cirque de Soleil - Bar at the Edge of the Earth -- As a bar experience, it was amazing...touched all the senses...always something to look at or going on... characters got more interactive with guests throughout the voyage...drinks a little overpriced, but it's worth the experience. Masquerade Ball - needs much improvement. As of now, not worth the price of admission as it was exactly the same as the nightly experiences...Celebrity received our feedback and we were part of the Focus Groups performed by Celebrity Marketing onboard for the voyage. They listened to our feedback and immediately started to implement changes to the experience. In a couple of months, the Masquerade Ball will be something not to miss on the cruise.
Summary: Excellent cruise, great time had by all...would hate to see them drop Dominica from the itinerary...they should drop Caso de Campo and keep Dominica. Bar staff and waiters were great....I don't remember the last time I have handed out as many additional tips to bar staff as I did this cruise. The ship looks great, remarkable!!!