My DH (50) and I (47) sailed this great cruise with an awesome group of Cruise Critic friends. We had quite an active board with over 8,000 posts before we left, 200+ signed up for Connections Party and over 100 at our farewell dinner. We were excited to try this new Celebrity ship since we had never sailed anything other than RCCL. We booked on advanced booking 563 days prior to sailing so had lots of time to build excitement for our journey. Overall we had a fantastic cruise; however, there were a few pros and cons from our comparison point, the Voyager Class ships on RCCL. Clearly, Celebrity is marketing a different product than RCCL - I'll try to point out some of the differences we noticed.
On-boarding was very smooth. We arrived at the port about 11:30. Porters immediately took our baggage, we waited a short while to go through security and were on-board within less than 30 minutes. We were able to utilize the Elite check-in which sped things a bit but overall it was a well organized operation.
Our Stateroom - We chose Stateroom #9219 a balcony on the hump. We were very pleased with our room and our steward, Josef. At first we were a little concerned being so close to the elevator but there is a hallway between the elevators and staterooms so the noise was minimal. As the cruise progressed we found more people played bridge (and other games) in the card room day and night and that might have been a bigger problem but never caused an issue. Prior to sailing we were concerned with the closet space in the room but found it adequate for our needs (we packed 4 suitcases and a golf bag so had quite a bit with us). The closet is a bit smaller than the RCCL ships we've been on and the couch comes right up a few inches of the closet which makes getting in the back of the closet a bit difficult but we put our formal clothes and cool weather clothes back there so it worked fine for us. We are both tall so able to utilize the overhead cabinets above the bed without a problem but can understand if you were short that could limit their use and really compress the useable storage space. There are only 3 deep drawers , tiny open little night stands and a couple of tiny shelves above the dresser. We brought some storage cubes to stick on the floor to collect shoes and bags and on the counter for small stuff like sunglasses and chargers - we had plenty of storage. The bathroom closets are incredible. I ended up putting undies in the bathroom since there was so much space there. The beds were unbelievably comfortable, probably partly because the ship is so new. Electric plugs are an issue, especially if you are a CPAP user like DH. There are 4 plugs available on the vanity near the bathroom in the cabinet. Celebrity will supply distilled water and an extension cord if you contact Guest Services prior to cruising, but the fact that a long extension cord is required is a major flaw in cabin design. The balcony was adequate with 2 nice reclining mesh chairs and a tall table. Our friends had a cabin that transitioned from hump and had a balcony 3 times the size of ours.
Common Areas - The ship is just beautiful with so many unique features like the atrium style library, hideaways, grand atrium, and many great bars. The Martini Bar is a must-see with the ice bar and always was a hopping place on the ship. The Sky Lounge on Deck 14 is very large with a big dance floor and conversation seating throughout and was the venue for the Elite Happy Hour each night. The Elite happy hour was very nice with some hors d' oeuvres but some nights very limited staff so you had to really track someone down for a cocktail. We always tip our bar staff very well but found the bar staff less friendly and less accommodating than RCCL. We had trouble many times around the pool trying to get a drink or waited for wine at dinner, etc. The Ensemble bar was pretty quiet - the ship could really use a piano bar to liven things up. I'm sure once our favorite bartender, Roland, goes home on break this week it will be very quiet down there. The theater was nice but you need to watch for the columns that obstructed the view of many seats on the sides. The casino is pretty large so they can suck out your cash on the craps, roulette, slots or other games. Dealers weren't as friendly as those we found on RCCL ships. The shops were on 2 floors and nothing to write home about - we missed hustle and bustle of people watching on the Promenade of RCCL.
Dining: We ate dinner in the Grand Cuvee, main dining room, all nights except one. We had an excellent waiter, Inocent, and assistant waiter, Vinika. Food and service were very good in the dining room but we are not picky eaters and don't focus on food too much so most anything works for us. We enjoyed the standard menu better than RCCL - the escargot, antipasto and baked onion soup were our favorite appetizers. The daily menu had lots of beef which wasn't too appealing for us as we are not big red meat eaters but....there were several good entrees we tried of braised short ribs, filet, etc. The desserts were a bit disappointing to me - many nights we just had crÃ¨me brulee, ice cream or cheesecake from the standard menu. We had breakfast and some lunches in the Oceanview Grille, buffet. The buffet was sufficient but had a few layout issues impacting the traffic flow for passengers. On both the salad bar and the sandwich bar the items were placed in small bowls 4 rows deep which made it impossible to get to the items in the back. At the drink stations there was typically a pile up of people going in various directions since it is a half moon layout with ice on one end, condiments for coffee in the center and coffee & juice on the other end. I think it would be worthwhile to staff the drink stations with servers like RCCL does during "rush hour" of breakfast and lunch. The CafÃ© (in the Oceanview) where you get fresh squeezed orange juice and specialty coffee is way too slow. They have one guy working it waiting for each cappuccino or fresh orange juice to complete. The Mast Grill at the pool was our favorite for lunch. They were by far the best burger and fries we've ever had on a cruise or even at many hamburger places at home.
Entertainment: This is where we saw the biggest differences to RCCL. The entertainment caters to an older, more sophisticated crowd. The entertainment was good but just not our "cup of tea". There is very faintly played easy listening music at the pool and we really missed the Caribbean steel drum bands serenading us while we sunbathe. In the atrium several evenings there was ballroom dancing to jazz bands while our taste prefers a late night in the disco dancing the night away. I was very disappointed with the DJ in Quasar. Each night there was a theme for part of the night where he couldn't "go off script" and play anything other than Tom Jones or Bob Marley or whatever the theme was. We were the ONLY ones in the disco and just left because it didn't appeal to us. The last few nights of the cruise we finally enjoyed some dancing in Quasar when the schedule allowed for guest requests and the place was hopping till the wee hours of morning. The shows were OK but I didn't think the singers and dancers were as good as those we'd seen on other ships. Judy Kolbe was the best act they had - she's hilarious and really had us laughing and smiling when we left the theater. Lindsay Hamilton was a great singer but her singing was like a lullaby putting hubby to sleep. Tony Dara was a good comedian but they had another comedian / magician who we didn't enjoy at all. The Velocity and Broadway Nights shows were OK with lots of acrobatics added to their acts.
Service: Service overall was great with the exception of 2 areas - the bar staff not being as attentive as we expected and an issue I had with a gift I purchased for my hubby prior to sailing. I ordered a candy package just as a surprise, cute little gift for sail-away and had lots of trouble identifying the status of it. Asked the room steward twice to follow-up, went to guest relations for inquiry #3 and was told it would be delivered that evening then had 3 phone calls from guest relations prior to being told it wasn't available and my account would be credited. I still haven't seen the credit and it seems like a whole lot of hassle for the $15 I paid. Celebrity is quick to charge your credit card but I've heard from other slow to credit any cancellations. The follow-up aggravated me - I just wanted someone to resolve the issue as I was on vacation!
Labadee - Wow has Labadee changed since we were there a few years ago. RCCL has made huge improvements in concrete walking paths and development of the peninsula. We ventured through the walking paths to the side where the zip line and roller coaster run. We found a nice quiet spot on the rocky coast but later in the day went down to the beach area also facing the zip lines. It was a bit rough on the feet getting into the water but the water was gorgeous and the bar was serving ice cold beers so our vacation was off to a good start. We inquired about the zip line but thought $85 was a bit steep to zip the dollars from your wallet in a matter of just a few minutes for your ride. There's a private area for Celebrity suite guests but a friend told us that is available for RCCL diamonds. The area nearest the ship has some water trampolines, etc. for the kids.
San Juan - This is not our favorite port but always a good place to pick up a few things if you forget something in the Walgreen's. We noticed a CVS closer to the port which looked new but also found a Marshall's which was helpful since I left my jogging sneakers at home. Lots of crew were in the Marshall's picking up a few bargains while others were combing the Coach and Polo outlets. We always need to have a few yards of Margarita in Senor Frogs. The new location of Senor Frogs across the street from the end of the pier makes it a place you can't miss now. I left with an outrageous balloon hat but left it on the pier cause I don't think it would have fit in the elevator!
St. Maarten - There were 6 ships in port so we were a bit concerned about the crowds and decided to venture off to Maho Beach, the one where the planes land overhead, thinking it was further from port and might be less crowded. This was a mistake. The beach was so crowded that we didn't even try to sit on the beach but rather used our $40 cab ride to have a few cocktails and some lunch at the little bar there. They had free wi-fi so we learned to take our Ipad off the ship when we went to a beach and enjoy a quick update to home more inexpensively. Traffic was so bad it took us about 45 minutes to get there so live and learn - we won't do that again.
St. Croix - we spent Thanksgiving Day on St. Croix. We took a taxi over to Christiansted, it was a $16 roundtrip taxi for 15-20 minute ride each way. We booked a tour over the internet to go snorkeling at Buck Island with Big Beard. What awesome snorkeling over a great coral reef - probably the best we've ever done. The boat held about 35-40 passengers and there was only one other boat when we first arrived at the reef but they were leaving as we arrived so it was not too crowded.
Antigua - We golfed at Cedar Valley Golf Club at Antigua. We used the ship arranged package ($99 per round) since the pricing wasn't much different than going on our own and it is always safer to use a ship package for golf so you're never left behind when the ship sails. The course isn't the greatest but it's a pretty open, easy course without much trouble - good for a beginner golfer like me. I actually scored well and was able to keep an official score for the first time while there. We had a little rain but sat under the trees for a few minutes while the shower passed before finishing our round. Gotta watch out for the kids stealing your golf balls right out in the middle of the fairway then coming to the parking lot and selling used balls back!
St. Thomas - My husband is a good golfer so he golfed Mahogany Run. It is an breathtaking course but very tough and quite expensive ($200 a round). We've golfed there several times trying to make it through Devil's Triangle without a penalty to get the famed certificate. Hubby nearly made it this time but the last of 3 holes gobbled up his ball on his tee shot. I headed to Emerald Beach with some friends for a relaxing beach day.
Sea Days - Leaving NJ in November is gambling on those first and last sea days. We were very lucky. The first sea day was cool - we actually walked on the deck with long sleeves on but spent the rest of the day indoors enjoying the new ship. Sea Day #2 & #3 on the way down were perfect by the pool. Sea Day #1 & #2 returning were also warm enough to enjoy the pool; however, we learned from the staff the week before it was too cool to be out at the pool on return day #2. We just hit a warm spell so were able to capitalize on our tans (or red in my case!).
Disembarkment was uneventful. It ran a little late (about 15 minutes or so) but we were off the ship and home by 9:45 so who can complain. We had an early disembarkment I guess because we are Elite. Not sure why they just don't announce numbers over the PA - seemed a bit chaotic with the cruise staff running around yelling numbers. We found our luggage quickly but there weren't many porters around so we ended up dragging our bags (all 5 of them) to the car on our own. We breezed right through customs and actually hit some rush hour traffic because we disembarked so quickly.