Pre Cruise: We flew from Dublin via Madrid to Santiago, the first leg was with Iberia, their service was bad and we had a three hour delay, the second leg was with LAN who were fantastic, I'd definitely fly with them again. We stayed one night in the Radisson Plaza Santiago which was a lovely hotel with very friendly staff. To get to the ship we took a tour/transfer with AboutChile, which we shared with another couple in a very comfortable air conditioned van, both our guide and driver were outstanding and the trip was very reasonable.
Embarkation: We arrived at the port in the final hour of embarkation, and we were on the ship within 10 minutes, the fastest embarkation we have experienced.
The ship: We were a bit apprehensive about the ship being shabby, but we thought it was beautiful. There were small areas (rust around doors in the bathroom) if you looked closely you would find, but all in all we were pleased with the ships overall appearance.
Stateroom: This was the first time we had a balcony stateroom as we normally go for an outside. Our balcony was angled so we had one and a half times the area which was nice, but unfortunately we didn't get sun on the balcony until around 3.30pm, so we didn't use it as much as we thought we would. The room was spacious and the shower was larger than other cruises we had been on. We enjoyed having the jug of water and ice renewed twice daily in the room.
Food: We thought the buffet at breakfast and lunch was far superior to other ships we had been on as there was so much choice, although at dinner if you wanted to avoid the MDR the dinner buffet was poor compared to other ships which usually have the same food in the buffet as is served in the MDR. We enjoyed our meals every night with the beef Wellington being a high point for me. Being a desert lover I was a bit disappointed with the calibre of desserts, but always managed to find something lol! We enjoyed the Cova Cafe with its speciality coffees and cookies, and it was also nice to have free flavoured ice cream which a lot of ships don't do.
Entertainment: This was the only part of the ship that we were disappointed in. We love the shows with the singers and dancers, and there were only three of these in the two week itinerary. These were spectacular and really enjoyable, I know they are hard work for the performers, but we would like to have seen more. The aerial act was also amazing but was used a lot. I know it's very hard to please everyone but the rest of the acts seemed to be geared towards a much older audience. These included a pianist(the crowd seemed to love him, but just not our thing), a ventriloquist(good but just a bit too long to keep people entertained), a guitarist(he played the lounges where he was good, but not really a main theatre act), a comedian(geared towards more of an American audience over sixty). Music around the ship was good with the Acapella group in the Cova Cafe very entertaining and the resident group, Fusion Wave; keeping people dancing both day and night (we particularly enjoyed the disco).
Cruise Director Allan and assistant Cruise Director Alejandro, they seemed to be in all places at all times and very friendly and approachable. Allan also impressed us being able to do his introductions in a few different languages. On the final day when they have the crew show, there was a young guy from the Philippines who got up and sang a Barry Manilow song, he works in the storeroom, but had the audience in tears he was so good, surely he should be snapped up by the entertainment staff?
Staff: I think they were the friendliest staff I have ever encountered on a cruise, they were very eager to please and always wanted to stop for a friendly chat and nothing seemed to be too much trouble. In particular Wayan and Sanyo in the Select dining room gave us great service and we also enjoyed some good banter. I also thought it was nice that the captain and senior officers attended most of the shows and also the disco on some nights, and seemed to enjoy themselves.
Ports of Call
La Serena: Annette, who we met via the cruise critic forums, had organised a tour with a local company turismo cochiguaz. There was approx 14 of us on a small bus, there is not a lot to see in La Serena and this was a much cheaper option than a cruise tour. Highlights were Parque Santa Lucia which is an army base which looks like a castle and has great views, and Cruz del Tercer Milenio, which is an imposing 83 metre high cross built for the Millennium with a statue of Pope John Paul II at the base. You get magnificent views over La Serena and beyond from the bottom of the cross, but you can also pay to take the elevator into the arms of the cross. The journey up to the cross is very poor and shanty town like, this made a few people uncomfortable but was a true representation of the area.
Arica: Again Annette very kindly organised a tour, this time with Sertours. Our tour guide Ivan was great. We were first given a walking tour of the town and then we joined the bus (again approx 14 people) for the drive up to El Morro. From here, there are spectacular views and great photo opportunities of the ship and Christ Peace statue. From here we went through the Azapa Valley to see La Tropilla geoglyphs and stopped at a panoramic point for a picnic with local produce. We then went on to the Archaeological Museum of San Miguel Azapa which houses the world's oldest mummies. After the tour we had time for shopping in the Market which was across the road from the cruise terminal. This was full of locally made goods such as jewelry, woolen goods, paintings, ornaments etc.
Lima (Callao): I think this was our favourite port; we booked a fantastic tour for just the two of us with Monica Tours Peru. Monica was our driver and we also had a guide Vanessa, they took very good care of us as the driving is crazy in Lima and told us some great stories about the history of Lima. We were able to tailor make our tour as there was just the two of us. We started off at the Pachacamac ruins which are outside the city but well worth a visit. We then had a tour of the Miraflores area, went to the Indian Market, and then went to a lovely Peruvian restaurant that Monica recommended. To finish off we had a city tour with visits to the Plaza de Armas and San Francisco Church. Our tour was very reasonable and would definitely recommend it.
Manta: We decided not to take a tour in Manta, and felt there wasn't much to do. We walked off the ship at about 9am and walked to our right. This is the beach area and was full of Ecuadorian families enjoying the sun and sea on a Sunday morning. We spent a while here paddling and walking on the beach, then we walked in the opposite direction about 10 minutes into town. There was a great market here selling tapestries, jewelry, paintings and Panama hats. The quality of the silver jewelry was really good. We wandered for a while then headed back to the ship.
The Panama Canal: I think the canal takes everyone by surprise; I wasn't too excited by the prospect, but the day before, we watched a documentary in the cinema which was really interesting. So up at 5.30am we got so we wouldn't miss a moment. The canal is amazing and mesmerising to watch. We spent the first part of the morning at the back of the ship, then they opened the helicopter pad at the front and we went there for a while. A couple we had met through CC (Thanks John & Annette) had a FV balcony and invited us and a few others over for a couple of hours. If you ever go through the canal this is the place to be, they have a fantastic view of the side and the wake of the ship. A great afternoon was had by all.
Cartagena: What a beautiful city Cartagena is! We shared a taxi with another couple to the clock tower, once there it is easy to walk about. I would have loved to have spent more time here as I loved its Spanish colonial feel. The humidity was unbearable at times and made it hard to walk about without constantly drinking water. The hawkers here were also a bit of a nuisance which put people off. We then got another taxi (scary!!!) to San Felipe de Barajas Fortress; don't miss this as it's an amazing sight.
Fort Lauderdale & Disembarkation: For the first time we booked a tour through the ship as our flight from Miami wasn't until 5pm we didn't want to hang about the airport all day. I thought when we booked the tour our luggage would be taken off onto the bus, but we had to disembark as normal, collect our luggage, and then get on the bus. The Everglades were about a 30 minute drive away. We arrived there, and then got on the airboat for a 30 minute ride, we saw a couple of alligators, but unless you manage to grab an end seat on the boat it is impossible to take pictures past people's heads. We were then dropped off at Miami around 1pm to discover our flight was delayed a further 3 hours, good old Iberia! I'll definitely be avoiding them in future as their planes are all ready for the scrap yard.
Summary: This was one of the best cruises we have done, we enjoyed Celebrity but will still cruise with other lines (Princess is still our favourite, love MUTS). We enjoyed the itinerary but what really made the cruise for us was the fantastic people we met onboard, we had select dining and we met people from the UK, the USA, Canada, Germany and Chile, they were all such good company and meal times flew past. I'd just like to say a big thank you to our mates/buddies onboard Sharon & Joe, Allyson & Kathleen, Jim & Barbara and Susan & Peter, you really helped us to have a great time and we hope to meet on another cruise someday soon!