Hotel/Flight - We did not book our flights or hotel through Celebrity. Virgin America SFO-FLL and back. VA is our new favorite airline.
About Us - The infamous Party of Eleven (henceforth referred to as the PoE). We are late-40's to mid-50's, all healthy and active. Four married couples and two gal-pals in 5 CC2 cabins on Deck 9 and our solo man down in an inside Deck 2 cabin. All had previous cruise experience but me. Mostly we would do our own thing during the day and get together for cocktails and dinner.
Embarkation - My wife and I got on our hotel-to-dock shuttle at 9:50 am and by 11:20 we were enjoying lunch at Bistro on Five. Thanks to CC for that tip, we were the only people there. The process was as smooth as smooth could be, and I would estimate we were among the first 100 people to get on the ship.
Stateroom - CC2 #9054. We loved it. No complaints at all. Our stateroom attendant Lourdes and her assistant Rodino (?) kept everything spotless. Ice in the ice bucket twice a day without asking for it. Good fresh fruit every day. I didn't mind the dreaded overhang one bit, it kept our cabin nice and cool. The only thing I didn't like about the overhang was that it got into all the pictures I took from the balcony...so I would walk up two decks to Deck 11 for photos. No noise from the Lido deck, except for some faint rumblings now and then. No balcony smokers. On the second day, we had the canapes changed to the cheese plate...the canapes were not good, the cheese and crackers were much better. They did NOT take away the binoculars and umbrellas on the last night. We didn't use room service for any meal.
Overall Ship Condition - Very very nice. If you went looking for it you could find some rust here and there. There were always lots of staff cleaning, polishing, painting, and washing windows everywhere. There were some stains on the carpet in the Lido buffet area...not surprising considering the traffic and the amount of food handled.
Cruise Critic Stuff - Meet 'n Mingle on the first sea day in the Reflections lounge on Deck 11. Capt. Pagonis, CD Sue Denning and some other marketing officer were there. I was light-headed from not eating yet that day and had to leave early, but it was a very nice affair. Thanks Terry/Theresa/Terpla for the Roll Call. On the second sea day my wife and I attended a bridge tour courtesy of CC, it was fascinating. Again, thanks to CC, being on the Roll Call really paid off there.
Dining and the Dining Venues/Experience - Yeah, let's get right down to it!
MDR - Select Dining for all of the PoE. We had some teething problems with our Select maitre d, who we nicknamed Simon Bar Sinister. We had thought we had arranged for a 7 pm reservation for the PoE, but we experienced the mainland/ship disconnect there. On the first night, we were split between two tables. OK, it was the first night. I thought dinner was fine, but some fish entrees were returned. On the second night, we were all seated at a big round 12-top table, but were informed we couldn't do that again. Again, some fish entrees were returned. After some haggling, we reached a compromise where two 4-tops and a 2-top were put together for us, and we had a 7 pm reservation every night. Apparently Simon Bar Sinister thought we were demanding a 12-top...but we weren't...we just wanted to be seated together. On the third night, it all turned around and all for the better. We had the same servers every night and the food was very good to great in my opinion. Only two entrees were returned for the rest of the cruise. Waiter Dewa, assistant waiter Abdullah, wine guy Anthony Fernandes and drinks guy Vladko kept all the plates and the glasses full and kept us laughing. The ladies' orders were always taken first, and the ladies were always served first...very classy. All the courses came together at the right time, we never had any long waits. Our wait staff made us all look forward to dinner every night. We all dressed appropriately and to be honest, I thought everyone else I saw did too. MDR coffee was very good indeed.
Bistro on Five - We had our embarkation lunch there, and one other lunch. I had the sweet and sour steak crepe twice and my wife had the beef pannini twice, they were so good. The Italian crepe was killer, it's the one with nutella and bananas. Server Robert was great. Nobody was ever there, it seemed...too bad, the food is really good.
Lido Buffet - My wife and I had breakfast there every morning, it was OK, not great. I refused to wait for the omlette guy, so tray western scrambled eggs, sausage and fruit were good with me. I was amazed at the huge variety. The coffee...it is best not to drink the Lido coffee. Starbucks Via is the way to go. We didn't have many lunches there. I had pasta and meatballs once, and it was very good. I didn't try the waffles, but they were there. I even had good reports about the pizza from a few of the PoE.
Cafe al Bacio - Olga and Natalie fixed our Americanos every morning, very good coffee and fun girls. The pastries in the morning and the afternoon sandwiches are delicious.
Sea Day Brunch - Ohmigod. I missed the first one but was able to take some pictures. I was ready for the second one, and had my eating game face on. It's hard to describe, you've just got to go. So much wonderful food...I overate for the only time on the cruise. Belgian waffles AND crepes suzettes after two plates of food...shouldn't have done that but couldn't resist.
Gelateria - It was very good but I felt so sorry for the girl there. NOBODY went there, she just stood smiling at everyone walking by all day... It's hard to put over for-pay gelato when there are six flavors of free ice cream up on the Lido deck, I guess. There was always a line for the free stuff.
Ocean Liners - Very classy, just a wonderful experience and well worth the extra money. The maitre d' had an impossible name (Srdjan?), but was great. They were excited to have the entire PoE and we were seated at a huge table and had five-six waiters hovering around all the time. They'd put the plates down all at once and then lift the big silver covers all at once, choreographed service that really impressed us. Go there.
And now there's the worst experience of the cruise. Our waiter was serving dessert, something with six tall shooters of all different goodies. The cherry one fell off the tray and went all over my blindingly white pants, my new (but not blue) suede shoes, and my wife's brand new dress. We weren't happy at all, but we put game faces on. The maitre d freaked out, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He apologized until we got tired of it, and gave us dry cleaning coupons and said he would do whatever it took to make it right. The next day our clothes/shoes were returned and you couldn't tell it had happened. Classy.
Tuscan Grill - Every time members of the PoE would see Mustafa on board he would tell us how much he was looking forward to the appearance of the PoE. How he knew about us or who we were, I don't know. Once again, a wonderful dinner and much more relaxed than Ocean Liners. Mustafa and his crew kept us laughing the whole time. The filet mignon (sp?) was fabulous, and everyone loved whatever was ordered. So much wonderful food! Don't pass on the Limoncello digestif! The Tuscan Grill experience was well worth the money.
That's it for the food section, let's move on to...
I had the Premium Alcohol Package and so did many of the PoE. I never experienced anything but great service.
Sunset Bar - Favorite venue for sailaway/morning/after-dinner drinks. Sonjay and Katut took good care of us.
Martini Bar - Gilario and Igede put on a show every night. After the first night, my wife and I and another couple from the PoE would gather here at 6 pm without fail. Gilario stopped taking our cards after the third night, he knew our numbers. My wife had a different martini from the menu every night, and on the last night Gilario invented a cocktail for her. It was quite the sight to see Gilario pour twelve martinis at a time and never spill a drop. Lots of fun in a swank atmosphere.
Cellar Masters - Very lightly used, but that was fine with us. After the Martini Bar, we would head here and Memet would set us up with a glass of wine to take into the MDR. One of the ladies is a beer drinker, and after the first night Memet had her brands stocked. Very nice experience.
Mast Bar - My favorite afternoon hangout. Rosemarie makes a mean Bloody Caesar! Her cohorts Kevin and Colin were no slouches either. A fun place to watch the shennanigans down on the Lido Deck.
Reflections - I didn't spend much time there.
Rendezvous - I just walked through it on the way to other places. It seemed awfully dark in there.
Also a special shout out to somellier Sheldon. I and others of the PoE did the Riedel wine tasting with Sheldon, and he really knows his stuff. We would run into him around the ship, he always remembered our names and wanted to know if we were enjoying ourselves.
CD Sue Denning literally seemed to be all over the place, I would bump into her or see her at least two-three times a day. A real fun, high-energy person.
Celebrity Theater - My wife and I never went to a show, not once...just not our thing, I guess. Many of the PoE did go. I heard good reports about the comedy shows and the juggler got very good reviews.
String Quartet - Four lovely young ladies that could really play too. You would see them at various times around the ship, and they played at the sea day MDR brunches. Very classy.
A Capella - These guys were very good. Again, they just seemed to appear randomly...but if I had bothered to read the dailies I'm sure they were scheduled. We did go up to Reflections for their 50's show, but were disappointed they only did four songs and turned it over to...
Full Tilt - I've played guitar and bass in a lot of cover bands and, while technically competent, these guys (and gal) just churned it out without much enthusiasm. Pretty ho-hum.
Perry Grant - I'd read a lot, I thought I'd try it. I lasted ninety seconds. Fart noises? Enough said.
Overall Impressions - I thought, with the possible exception of Simon Bar Sinister, every single crew/staff member worked very hard to provide a first-class experience. I can't say as much for my fellow passengers (PoE excepted, of course!). I'll just say that 25-35% of my fellow passengers didn't deserve the respect and service that they received...and leave it at that.
My wife and I would get up most mornings and do sixteen laps around the Deck 11 track. This gave us ample opportunity to observe the cunning habits and strategies of the Lido Deck Chair Hogs. We are not lie-in-the-sun people, so it didn't bother us a bit, but it was very interesting to watch. Every day we would see people lay out their belongings, even to the point of putting upturned drinks tables on the lounges to snag those too. Invariably, we would then see them in the buffet lounging over breakfast. To Celebrity's credit, I did hear reports from members of the PoE that the pool butlers would make regular sweeps of the Lido and remove belongings.
I learned not to bother with trying to use the Deck 9 forward elevators when trying to get down to the Martini Bar at 6 pm. They were full of drunken Elites coming from their drinks party on Deck 11. Once was enough for that.
Disembarkation - We had an eight pm flight so we booked the Everglades airboat tour to kill time. We gathered in the Gamma Room on Deck 3 at 8 am and we were on the bus leaving the dock at 9 am. Smooth as smooth can be.
So, It was my first cruise ever. Would I go again? We had a wonderful time and ate and drank to our heart's content. The weather was fabulous, the ship was slick and clean, the service was almost perfect. But, with all that said...maybe not. I just don't think my wife and I are cruise people. Maybe a barefoot cruise or Azamara. We're already planning our next big trip, but it will be a week in Paris and a week in Rome. We may consider another cruise after that. The PoE (minus us) go an a cruise every other year and they're talking Tahiti. That does sound good.
St. Martin - We walked around the area of Phillipsburg nearest the cruise terminal in the morning. It was interesting to see/smell the shopkeepers preparing for the day by smoking a little ganja first.
In the afternoon, we went on the Celebrity-sponsored Golden Eagle Sailaway. Clean boat, great crew, beautiful day on the water. Then they anchored for snorkeling...over white sand. Any snorkeler knows the fish are at the reef. We saw no fish. Big disappointment. Not recommended for snorkeling.
Antigua - We went with Creole Cruises to a small island for a lobster barbeque and snorkeling. Capt. Glenn has a big clean speedboat with 2 300-hp engines and he wasn't afraid to use them! A wonderful day out on the water and a truly delicious meal. Highly recommended.
St. Lucia - Another Celebrity-sponsored excursion, the Coastal Cruise to the Pitons. We felt this was a total mess. We got packed aboard the catamaran Carnival II like sardines. The boat was dirty and beat. The crew couldn't care less. They ground the port stern into the concrete pier as we were leaving, you could see and hear the fiberglass splintering. Four gas gauges, none of them worked. One of the two tachometers didn't work. When they stopped for a swim break, they didn't count the numbers leaving the boat...someone could have easily been left behind. On the way back some of my fellow passengers (all from the Constellation) got hammered on the rum punch. That's OK, but there was no place to go to get away from them. Stay away from this excursion. Others of the PoE took a private tour and loved it. Really too bad, that Carnival II ride was a total waste, and we were told St. Lucia is beautiful. We didn't get a good impression.
Barbados - We went snorkeling on the catamaran Calabaza. A clean, wonderful boat, they limit the passengers to twelve. Capt. Danny and crew took good care of us and the snorkeling was great, lots of fish and turtles. Highly recommended.
Grenada - All of the PoE except for me and our solo man went on the Celebrity-sponsored Adventure Tubing and they all enjoyed it very much. We had made arrangements to eat lunch at Boot's Cuisine up in the hills. We walked out of the cruise terminal and were immediately besieged by derelict locals who wanted to be our friends. It got a little scary. Finally I asked a policeman where the car park was, and the derelicts scattered. We found our ride and had a fabulous lunch at Boots. Boots and Ruby are local people who converted their house verandah into restaurant seating and serve local food. Watch out for the rum punch, they make it from the rum from the distillery around the corner and it is 138 proof!!! Highly Recommended.
Aruba - All of the PoE rented three jeeps and we spent the day touring Aruba. We got lost several times...be sure to get a GOOD map, ours were very poor. We had lots of fun, swam, etc. When we were hungry, the only place open (because of the Carnivale holiday) was Senor Frog's. All the way to Aruba to wind up at Senor Frog's? We had to laugh about that. But, the lunch was pretty darn good.
Curacao - One other couple and my wife and I walked into Willemstad and spent the day walking, shopping, and appreciating the amazing colors of the city. The Floating Market was a lot of fun. We took a cab to the Curacao distillery...kind of a non-event. We ate lunch on the water at a place called The Grillings. Looking right over the rail we could see eels and lots of fish. A very nice place. Try the Amstel Bright beer, very good.
Bonaire - Saving the best for last. Most of the PoE went with us aboard the catamaran Woodwind for a two-hour drift snorkel. It was flat-out amazing, the best snorkeling we have ever experienced. Cannot recommend the Woodwind highly enough, a great crew and the snorkel of a lifetime.
Fort Lauderdale - We went on the Everglades Airboat tour. Lots of fun but LOUD!! Two V-8's with open pipes on each boat. We did see alligators. After the boat ride, we saw the alligator wrestler. I was having doubts, but the guy was an absolute crack-up, so funny...and he actually did wrestle a HUGE alligator.
I remain - Dragline