We have sailed Disney, RCL, Carnival, Norwegian, and Princess and we felt that given the ship, the itinerary and the length of the voyage, this was our best cruise ever!
this embarkation process was a breeze. We were on board in record time, having arrived at the dock at 10:15 and on board by 10:45 with essentially no lines. It was also refreshing that we were allowed to bypass the photographer and just get on the ship! We were pleasantly surprised to be greeted upon boarding with a choice of champagne, mimosa or orange juice.
The ships public spaces were beautiful and comfortable. The staff was exceptionally friendly and helpful. I don't believe we passed a single employee who didn't make eye contact and say "good morning" or "good evening" with a smile. We used guest relations on a couple of occasions (a problem with our travel agency failing to post our on-board credit and a TV that didn't work because the plug was knocked out) and they were "Johnny on the spot". The mean age of the passengers was notably older than other cruises we had been on, but we're notably older too (?, being 63 and 61). We understand that the age of the passengers might be dictated somewhat by the length of the cruise and the time of year. Retirees and Europeans (who get more vacation than many Americans) made up the majority of the passengers we encountered, although there was a young honeymooning couple or two. We didn't feel that the age of the passengers was significant.
The cabin was ample. We were in 6063 (2B) on the Penthouse deck and the location was great. We weren't too high up, too far fore or aft, and being on deck 6, it was an easy walk to 4 for dinner or entertainment and 10 for breakfast, lunch, or the pool. A few helpful pieces of information: They provide shampoo, conditioner and bar soap. They have a hair dryer that blows a gale and I (thankfully) had taken my own. Drawers and cabinets seemed sparse but once we finished unpacking, we realized we had ample room. I took an extra 20 metal hangers or so and used them, although there were probably enough hangers to get by with if I had doubled up on some outfits. And I took enough clothes to wear something different each night, probably unnecessary. We were able to put our suitcases under the bed, but husband had to lift them so I could get them under... the frames were about the same height as our big suitcases. Husband thought the beds were comfortable, and I'm not so sure, but I'm not complaining. Sleeping on a rocking ship is just my idea of paradise, comfortable mattress or not. The only disturbing factor related to the room was that the life boats were immediately below us and instead of being recessed as they are on many other cruise lines, they protruded, partially obscuring the view if we wanted to look straight down, but we quickly got used to that and it wasn't bothersome.
The seaside cafe offered a nice variety of food. The breakfast selections were extensive ranging from the traditional bacon, eggs, sausage, fruit, cereal, yogurt and an omelet bar to various smoked fish, amazing waffles, a poached egg bar serving eggs Benedict and other poached egg selections, cheese blintzes, "English selections", and others. I thought the coffee here and in the San Marco dining room was WAY too strong and diluted it ½ and ½ with hot water. Interestingly, I saw several others doing the same and commenting on it.
Lunch options in the seaside cafe included a wonderful sandwich bar, pasta bar, pizza, stir fry and the traditional hot offerings. The spa lunch in the Thalissotherapy pool area was good when we sampled it and we especially enjoyed the decadent hamburgers at the poolside grill when we returned to the ship mid-afternoon following a port day.
Sushi is available every night at 5:30. One poster commented that the sushi was too fishy, but I dislike (and don't eat) fish and have never been a sushi fan. However, I ate it on this cruise and enjoyed it for the first time. I had the shrimp and crab rolls and they were great. My husband said the sushi was delicious.
We ate only one night in the Seaside cafe for dinner and unfortunately arrived about 9:00... At that time, the offerings were limited to stir-fry, pasta bar, sushi, and salad. That was the only meal with which we were disappointed.
Twelve of 14 nights, we ate at a 12 top table (449) in the San Marco restaurant, 2nd seating and thoroughly enjoyed every meal. We (Americans) were seated with 3 couples from England and enjoyed the cultural exchange. Later in the cruise, two Dutch couples joined us and we enjoyed them as well. Our waiter, Hasan, was the best we've ever had, and his assistant, Roberto, was extremely efficient! The menu choices were extensive and the quality and presentation of the food was exceptional. We had read reviews criticizing the food on this ship, but we agree with others that if you can't find something you enjoy with all these dining options, you're too picky! The wait staff was also, of course, more than accommodating if we wanted more than one appetizer or were served something which was not to our liking. The sommelier (wine steward) was gracious, remembering our first names, and having our bottles of wine on the table awaiting us every night.
One night, we ate dinner in the Tuscan Grille, and it was out of this world and we felt, well worth the $30 per person (plus 15% gratuity). If you go there, be sure to arrive hungry! The portions were huge and the food was extraordinarily good! We both had filet mignon and the cut of meat and its preparation were as good as almost any steak we've had in some of the finer steakhouses in the States. The service was so fabulous (Nevena was our waitress) that we left her an extra gratuity and she was so gracious, she chased us to the elevators to thank us and give me a hug!
Unfortunately, we didn't attend the Cruise Critic get-together the first morning of the cruise because as I recall, it was scheduled for 10am, and due to a shift in time zones, that was just too early to get up the first morning of my vacation. ? That was certainly a missed opportunity for us! But we did have an opportunity to tour the bridge later with other Cruise Critics, and we enjoyed that immensely.
In general, there seemed to be less scheduled activities on this ship than others, but for us, that wasn't a bad thing. We were after R&R (rest and relaxation, not run and rush), and we got plenty of that with lectures, movies, wine tastings, art auctions, and other activities available if we wanted to "do" something. We had 5 "at sea" days, and I LOVE being lazy and having nowhere to go.
There also seemed to be more pay-as-you-go venues than we usually encounter, with the wine bar, the coffee bar, the crepere, and the gelato shop all being available but for a fee. However, we never had any trouble finding plenty to eat and drink and would have gladly paid $5 for the crepes or $4 for coffee or gelato if our stomachs had ever had sufficient space for one more bite of anything.
Just FYI, we had 3 formal nights. I had to have a polish change, and they did a beautiful job for $23 (including tip). The gym was nice and my husband used the weights and cycled but was disturbed that they removed the seats from the bikes when they weren't having spinning class. I used the treadmill and enjoyed looking out over the ocean. The Thalassotherapy pool was salt water, warm, and delightful. It was much like a huge hot-tub and we spent time there several days.
The entertainment was terrific. We've read other reviews that were critical of the entertainment, but we're at a loss to understand why. The Celebrity singers and dancers were exceptionally talented, with two of the singers also being accomplished dancers... The blonde in particular. Watch for her and be sure to not miss the last night production show "Celebrate the World". There is a segment of River Dance type clogging that was surprisingly good.
Other entertainment consisted of comedians, musicians, a ventriloquist, a couple of acrobats, and we felt they were all excellent quality. We especially enjoyed the acapella group, Full Tilt, 4 young men (3 from Rochester and one from England) who were fabulous. We asked Sue, the cruise director to give them a better venue (they had been stuck in out-of-the-way locations without a microphone where it was difficult to see or hear them). She cleverly put them in Reflections, the night club, because evidently it wasn't "making it", and the popularity of Full Tilt brought the crowds to Reflections where, after 30 minutes, they left and the party band took over. Our favorite entertainment, however, was Perry Grant. He holds court nightly in Michaels and all I can say is you gotta see this guy! My husband couldn't get enough of him. I was delighted to win a prize playing Name That Tune twice on this cruise. Actually, I think he has a cult following, but that's just my opinion. He's more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
As advised in travel guides we had read, we rented a car and drove the island. If you do the same, be sure to get some good directions because the map we had wasn't helpful and didn't have street names on it. Additionally, many of the streets didn't have street signs, so we were lost for what seemed like the first hour... adding spice to our "excursion". We docked on the Dutch side and drove to the French side, having lunch at a creperie in Grand Case. As soon as we ordered, we noted a couple of restaurants directly across the street on a beautiful beach and wished we had opted to eat there instead. Then we drove to Orient Beach, beautiful and worth the drive, but it was so crowded, I was glad we hadn't chosen to spend the entire day there. We drove back to Phillipsburg where we shopped for linen, finding the best deal on a tablecloth but not buying it, waiting for that "better deal" in Curacao. Before we returned to the ship, we had a wonderful Guavaberry colada at a bar on the beach, a tradition for us in St. Maartin.
Didn't take an excursion on this island. My husband just shopped and I found an internet cafe' to send an email home. Later in the cruise, we wondered why we didn't visit the island.
We took a cab ($5 or $6 each) to Pigeon Bay, a national park with controlled entrance. We paid $5 entry fee each which gave us access to chairs... no umbrellas, but there was shade. It consisted of 2 or 3 small coves, the second of which had some decent snorkeling. We also enjoyed a beer at the park restaurant.
We took a cab ($5 or $6 each, I think) to a beach just short of Nelson's Ship Yard at a place called the Live Lobster, where we rented 2 chairs and an umbrella for $15 with complimentary rum punch provided as part of the package. And it was delicious, not to be missed!
We had visited this port before and taken the Spice tour but were dismayed by our experience downtown so this time we opted to stay on the ship. My husband ventured out and said that he felt uncomfortable when he was walking on a side-street downtown. There were several men loitering, and he just didn't feel safe, so he returned to the ship and we enjoyed essentially another "at sea" day (my personal favorites!)
We shared a cab to Eagle Beach with another couple, a little cheaper than the other islands. Here, we arrived too late to procure an umbrella, but we did get chairs for $5 each. The beach was beautiful but with no shade, it was a long day. There was one small bar on the beach where we paid $6 for a beer and we didn't see any food. But the beach was beautiful and worth the trip.
This was an interesting port. We went to town and shopped for linen with the intention of snorkeling later in the afternoon, but husband wasn't feeling well, so we returned to the ship and hung out there. One unique feature of this town, worth seeing, is a pontoon bridge (similar in concept to a draw bridge) which "opens" several times daily to allow passage of boats. I got "stuck" on each side of the bridge and got to watch the process. It was a little disturbing at times because there is evidently little or no warning before the ends of the bridge are closed. On one occasion, the bridge was closed for some time with several people (some of them elderly couples) "trapped" in the heat with no place to sit and no shade. There is a ferry that takes passengers from one side of the bay to the other when the bridge is closed.
This was our only ship's excursion. We took a boat to Klein-Bonaire, where we snorkeled. The fish and coral were beautiful and we had a terrific time. There were no facilities on this island, so we put our towels on the sand and basked in the sun when we weren't in the water. We were provided with a weak rum punch that just hit the spot.
We were pleased that we were not forced to sit indefinitely in a public area waiting for our zone to be called. We were permitted to stay in our room until 9:20, going to a public lounge where we waited for about 30 minutes before we were released. The only snag was in retrieving our luggage... Some of the pieces were misplaced so it was difficult to locate all 3 suitcases... and it was a bit of a madhouse. However, after we got out of there, we caught a cab to the airport and were home free.
What an amazing experience! We're now Celebrity fans and have vowed that 14 days is the only way to go!