We arrived in San Juan the day before our cruise. We did the "Priceline" bid deal for a hotel which does yield a significant savings over published hotel prices. The Priceline receipt said it included all taxes but there was a 14% "resort" fee to pay upon check-in. Not a huge deal but an annoying "gotcha". Also we thought the breakfast was included and when we asked, they said no, so print out all of the agreement before you leave home.
Taxis are expensive in San Juan with fixed rates We stayed in Isla Verde on the beautiful beach, which it is not even one mile from the airport exit. Taxi fair with two pieces of luggage after 10:00 PM was $14 although another $10 could have gotten us near the port. If you arrive early the day before the cruise, consider using their bus system for 75 cents to get to Old San Juan if you are not staying in that area. On the internet however the English language version of the San Juan mass transit schedules always seems to be down.
Embarkation went very smoothly. Arrived at 12:00 and was on in fifteen minutes. We could not use our rooms until 1:30 so we wished we would have brought our swim suits to use the hot tubs. We had our luggage by 4:00 PM which is the earliest we have ever received our luggage. This was our 5th cruise. Our 1st was on the Millennium and we always felt it was better than the others. The Millennium again was a great experience. It is showing some very minor rusting if you look for it, but the maintenance in general was excellent. They were always painting, cleaning and fixing. We could not walk all the way around the ship on deck four during the cruise because it was closed for crew members only doing maintenance of some sort.
The reception (meet & mingle) for the cruise critic members was very nice and much appreciated. It was a chance to meet the senior officers while enjoying champagne and light snacks. It is also a chance to pick up tips from your fellow cruise critic members!
My wife and I thought the meals in the Metropolitan were good, but not as good as the cruise in 2004, although it seemed like the staff were stretched more than our first cruise several years ago on the Millennium. We tried the Olympic room for the $35 up charge, the level of service and quality of the food was very good. Unfortunately there was a table of eight next to us that disrupted the whole dining room with their loud talk and laughing, not elegant. They were disruptive during our whole meal and others gave them dirty looks but they were so drunk they did not care. Finally at the end the Maitre d asked them to leave. We mentioned our meal was very good but they could have curtailed the boisterous group and when we mentioned it to them they just shrugged it off. We also tried the Ocean Cafe one night just for the stir-fry-made-to-order and it was quite good.
The entertainment had its highs and lows which is to be expected when you are trying to come up with acts to please everybody. The pianist, comedian and magician were great, the stage shows were good, but the impressionist and others were just OK. The onboard lecture series covering cruise ships, pirate history, island history, etc was quite good on this cruise. The acapella group, although good was not what we enjoy so we did not bother to go to their performances. The Latin band was good, but after eleven days it was feeling like the movie "Ground Hog Day" they played the same set over and over. The other band was very good and they played a variety but they did not play in the lounge every night. We enjoyed the music trivia games in the Cosmos and the Cruise director was very talented and did a good job at the trivia games.
This cruise has a full itinerary, so have plans on what you want to do on the islands; the ship will also give you advice on what to do on each island. On Saint Croix we did the Cane Bay Snorkel trip through Cane Bay Dive Shop. On paper the price is fair, but be warned than the water at the cruise ship pier can be smooth with a nice breeze and over on Cane Bay it results may be at least four foot waves. It was not a great experience and if I did it over I would just go to the beaches near the ship. The changing room at Cane Bay doubles as the unisex restroom with a door that does not latch, more like an outhouse with a flush toilet.
On Saint Kitts we enjoyed a $20/person excursion with a local operator, it is a beautiful island. This tour did not stop at Brimstone but hit most of the same locations other busses were stopping at. On several of these islands there is a small fee ($5 typically) to see some of the parks/sites so bring so extra cash. Dominica is very natural and undeveloped island. Take the umbrella that Celebrity provides in the cabin because it rains quite often in the rain forest. The paths can get a bit muddy and difficult to climb so pack some shoes that you do not care too much about and can climb over rocks especially at Trafalgar falls. Wear your swim suit and you can bath in the pools, they are supposed to rejuvenate you.
On Saint Lucia and Barbados we skipped the island tours since we had been there before. We went for a walk in Castries and did a little shopping, as well as in Bridgetown. The walk from the pier to downtown Bridgetown is not that far and stopping by the fish market on the way was interesting. In Grenada we went for another island tour, a beautiful island. This ship docked here on Sunday, so the majority of the shops outside the pier were closed. Buy spices from the Spice Ladies at the falls.
The port of Willemstad on Curacao is simply the prettiest and cleanest city in the Caribbean. Take some time to explore the city or do some shopping. I marvel at how many people here spoke English, Dutch, Spanish and the local language. Some cruise mates hopped on the $15 (includes refreshments) "party bus" by the pier and had a great afternoon and went to a very nice beach. Ladies (this is the wife talking) wear your swimsuit under a sun dress and you will be fine, or pull a one piece on under the dress, at the beach restrooms are few and far between. On Aruba we went to Eagle Beach after trying the $20 "party bus" tour, they spoke some English during the tour. Save your money and just take the city bus around the island or to the beach, it is outside the taxi area. They take US dollars, give transfers and stop at all the beaches and tourist sights.
When returned to San Juan our flight left late in the day, so decided to take the Rainforest Tour through the ship. It was fantastic and a bargain. This tour allowed us to disembark the ship first thing in the morning and have our luggage transported to the airport. The driver talked the whole way to the park telling about the Puerto Rice and was very knowledgeable. El Yunque National Forest is as beautiful, cool temperatures and lush, do not miss this adventure if you like nature. This park is part of the US National Park system; it has a wonderful open air interpretive center and paths that are much better than those on the other islands. The only drawback was the limited time to walk through the forest.
We felt this was a great cruise and value considering the number of islands on the itinerary, food and entertainment. If Celebrity was to do anything to improve it, it would be to police the smokers, who seem to disregard the regulations on the ship. It was difficult to find a non smoking area in the deck areas or Cosmos lounge, and when we found a spot it was difficult to find a place to sit that we did not have to breathe wafting smoke. Please add more lounge chairs in the shady areas, people tended to reserve them early with their stuff and then there were non available midday. Service was great and all the staff was happy and willing to serve us in any way. A special thanks to all the happy, smiling staff members who made our trip enjoyable.