To start - it can be easy to idealize a trip, especially after we had such an amazing time. I can't begin to say just how wonderful this trip was from the moment we stepped on the ship until we (sadly) disembarked 12 days later. Nonetheless I will do my best here to give my personal views on the good, the great and not so great moments of our trip.
Ironically the worst part of the trip was the beginning of it. Everything up to check-in was, for lack of a better word, crappy. When we got to the pier at Bayonne, it was a somewhat disorganized scene. We arrived at around 12:30pm and were told that there were two lines getting into security. But the line we were on was slow, full of people unaware of all the hidden metal they had on, and the security personnel did little to encourage folks on line about security etiquette before passing through the security machines. Long story short, the experience was tedious. Slow lines coupled with some random line cutters, people who ran over our feet with their luggage created an unsavory atmosphere.
Fortunately things improved once we checked in. The woman at the check in counter was fast, efficient and had us on our way with our sea passes in hand in no time. The bus then whisked us from the terminal to the ship. It was a sight to see. After months of seeing her on magazines, websites and youtube videos - it was wonderful to finally see the Silhouette in all her brand-new glory. I will never forget how happy we were when we stepped on the gangway into the ship.
From there things were great. We were situated on the 11th deck, on the corner aft Sky Suite (1665). Our luggage had not yet arrived but we did get to see our lovely room wonderfully prepared for us. As expected, fresh flowers, fruit and a bottle of (somewhat mediocre) sparking wine greeted us.
From this point on it was smooth sailing for pretty much 99% of the trip (figuratively speaking). For ease of reading - I will separate it into logical categories.
THE SUITE: Our room was fantastic. I wanted to splurge for our honeymoon so I opted for the corner aft suite. It was the best decision I ever made. Why? Because the huge balcony in the back was worth the price of admission. It was spacious, easily accommodated 2 deck chairs and a big table, had an amazing view from various angles (which allowed me to take lots of great pictures and was wonderful during sailaways), and allowed me the wonderful feeling of enjoying the ship's wake on a daily basis. Not once did we feel the need to look for chairs on the pool deck for sunbathing. The aft balcony deck was more than enough to satisfy that need.
The bed was surprisingly comfortable. I am not a huge fan of soft mattresses, but I also don't like sleeping on a concrete slab (if you do, try buying a mattress in Asia). The bed in the suite was just right. Not too firm, but not too soft either. Coupled with the small tempur-pedic pillow I brought on board (I have neck issues), the bed gave me plenty of nights of great sleep.
The bathroom was very nicely appointed. It was a bit unusual for us since we have the same German-made shower head and sink basin in our apartment, so this bathroom really felt like home. Some folks might not be used to the washbins, but I had little issue with it. The shower heads were very nice and the water pressure and temperature was always consistent. Unlike the suite on the NCL Jewel, I actually had hot water when I needed it (and plenty of it).
Now here's a point of contention with some. I heard folks say the storage space was tight - so we made a point of packing on the lighter side. When I encountered the storage space, I found we had plenty of hangers and shelf space for the two of us. We even had room to put both of our suitcases in the closet after we unpacked. So from my POV, the storage and shelf space was ample for 2. But to each their own. Rule of thumb, just don't bring your entire house on this cruise!
Some final notes - our room attendants kept the place very clean at all times. Also the in-ship entertainment system is excellent. I like how you can book shore excursions, dinner reservations, shop and even get on-demand movies (some free, some not) along with plenty of channels to watch. It was also cool that they showed the Sunday and Monday day/night football games on the "special events" channel. That was very cool. The on board cruise director's channel was also fun to watch. We watched it so much and Paul the cruise director knew about our obsession with it so he gave us several shoutouts on the channel on a couple of his shows lol. That was hilarious.
FOOD: We thoroughly enjoyed our meals on the ship. So much so I took a photo of every single dish we ate (literally) on the Silhouette. I'm not going to turn this into a food thread/blog/blabberthon, but I will simply say we truly enjoyed our dining experiences. We had three formal nights, and the menu on those formal nights were decent. As expected we had turkey on Thanksgiving formal night (where we had the luck of dining on the Captain's table that evening), and we also had lobster on the final formal night. Overall I was pleased with all of our meals, with the exception of the meat ball dish at the MDR. That was just too much food and made me feel gross (more accurately, more gross than usual when stuffing myself daily on a cruise ship). Otherwise, all the food was well prepared and quite tasty The service at the MDR for the most part was solid, at least in the first half of our trip. In a couple of instances we did run into cases where the service was SLOOOOOOW (we nearly missed a show in one case), but for the most part it was decent.
And, for all 6 of you folks out there (if I'm lucky) who are wondering - we did choose the Select Dining option. That means, we eat when we want, how we want. What we did was we just showed up and asked for a table for 2. I told them our cabin number = voila we get our table. I never waited more than 5 minutes for a table and in 90% of the case (meaning 9 out of 10 times for us) we were whisked to our window table (our personal preference), no questions asked. And yes, being somewhat neurotic I did make 6 pm reservations anyway for our MDR dinners, but given I'm a flake as well I was late about a third of the time. Didn't matter. Nobody ever asked me about my reservations etc. So yes, it's that easy.
As for speciality dining - we hit up Qsine, Murano and the Lawn Club Grill TWICE. Yes you heard me, TWICE! The reason? Well, to me it was really worth the money you pay. The quality of the meat was excellent, the service there was phenomenal (both times), it was fun making your own flat breads (aka ugly pizzas) and grilling your meat with the chef. I would like to extend a shoutout to Pete Evans, who is one of the grill masters at LCG. He was awesome and he was even so kind to personally prepare his own special secret jerk sauce marinade for my steaks upon request. Seriously, if you go on this ship and eat there make sure you ask for Pete and ask him to hook you up. The super spicy but flavorful sauce made the steaks taste GRRREAT!
Qsine - we totally loved it. But fair warning. If you go as a couple, and you get greedy (which most people inevitably do), you will likely die or put your colon through severe trauma. So I urge you to either go with a completely empty stomach or go with a big group. As for what we liked - the Lava Crab was the BEST!! We also loved the sushi lollipops, popcorn fish, and the filet mignon.
Murano - I know there were mixed feelings about this place from the folks I spoke to on the ship, but I personally enjoyed it. Not just the food, but the lovely ambience, the above-and-beyond service (Tudor - the head maitre'd was amazing), and the excellent quality food you get there. I have to say my wife's lobster dish here was truly excellent. The bisque was also sensational.
As for the rest - the buffet was great and we repeatedly went back to the tasty Indian sections and the excellent stir-fry (that was a nice surprise). The carving stations were okay, but they did have some decent meat entrees at times as well (I enjoyed the Moroccan lamb).
WHAT TO DO: Well, we tried to do EVERYTHING we could, but after a certain point I put the kibosh on that. My wife never cruised so she was as giddy as can be. We did manage to hit up all the bingo games (which were well produced, albeit I did wish there were less repetitive cheesy jokes and faster number draws, but that's splitting hairs), and we caught all the shows as well. Here's my pros and cons:
Silhouette Dancers (they did shows like Velocity and Broadway Nights) - were decent. Don't expect to see a broadway cast here, but they did perform admirably. It was unfortunate that one of the dancers actually wiped out during a Riverdance segement, and the singing was spotty at times, but otherwise it was fine.
Lindsay Hamilton - an old Celebrity favorite came back to sing a few good showtunes. She had the vocal chops and was very enjoyable. Anyone who sings "Memory" perfectly gets an A in my book.
David Meyer - a crazy guy who works hard for his money. He sweated his butt off playing classics like Carmen, Flight of the Bumblebees, The Nutcracker Suite (twice, jeez!), etc on his awesome xylo-synth. Very entertaining. My wife even bought the CD (don't ask me why).
Jason Hewlett - hilarious singer/impersonator. I really laughed hard at this one. His impression of Jim Carrey almost made me soil my pants in the theater (which would have been um, unpleasant).
The rest - some entertaining bits from comedian Tony Dero and another lousy magician/comedian from Canada that I didn't bother to remember b/c he was kind of bad (the only blemish on a decent entertainment lineup). Blame Canada!
As for other things - we did check out Spira, the Les Demerle jazz band (crazy fact - I saw these guys 20 years ago playing in a bar in Singapore, no joke!), a wonderful string trio - the music options on the ship were excellent.
We also did our share of gambling. We loved playing in the free poker tournaments - (so much so we both ended up on the final table - hurrah!). We also played plenty of blackjack, roulette and some slots. We made out with some cash although the picture below was of everyone playing on the electronic poker tables. I am still bitter however that despite all my efforts, I got hosed in bingo. I am just not destined to win in that game. The bingo games were nice because the electronic board was easy to read and the production value of the event was entertaining. My only suggestion would be next time, please speed up the pace of the number calling!
Oh and here's something funny. Even though I'm a smoker, I was very happy that the casino was smoke-free. And speaking of smoking ...
The smoking sections were few and far-between, but I managed to find my spots on the 12th deck and the 5th deck. Forget about smoking in the indoor area of the Sky Observation deck. I found that annoying. It was just too smoky at times. I don't know how the non-smokers put up with us jerks sometimes lol. But in the end, I smoked mainly on 12. I even told some folks who thought about smoking on their balconies to forget it. Never underestimate my powers of guilting other smokers into submission lol!
We also did our share of shopping on the ship. I hit up the shops frequently, but didn't find myself buying much. Some of the deals are okay but I didn't think the luxury shops on deck 5 provided that many awesome deals versus what I could find online or in NYC. I also found that the souvenir shop was not as big as I thought it would be versus other ships. At least the stuff they sell was okay in quality and I made off with a t-shirt. I also suggest you don't buy cameras on the ship. You can get much better cameras for better prices on land! I also took a closer look at the luxury watches at the high-end stores on deck 5. Based on what I saw, yes it's great you can save on duty-free items, but I still found that you can find cheaper Tag Heuer watches and others online than on the ship. Just an fyi if you're on the fence about buying stuff on the ship. The Apple store/area was alright. I think the offer good classes for people who are not familiar with Apple products or how to use iOS etc, but I wasn't too excited about it personally. I think it's cool you have a mini-Apple store on the ship, but I don't think it's that important to the experience.
Other than that we did a bunch of other things such as attending some game shows, played ping pong, went to the late night Chocolate fest, and also managed to do several wine tasting sessions.
We found them informative and helpful. The sommelier (sp?) Mike was very nice and did give us lots of personal information and recommendations. I learned a lot, even though we took only the lower-cost (and very reasonably priced) $10 and $15 classes. However, it was a well organized, educational and fun way to pass the time at sea.
We also managed to visit the library, card room, the alcoves, and a host of other places on the ship. All of them were very pleasantly maintained and saw plenty of human traffic for the majority of the cruise. TIP: The library is a really nice relaxing place to just unwind and curl up with a book. The card room was surprisingly busy at times, full of people looking for bridge players and others to join in a game of Scrabble or other board games. Again, a very nice relaxing spot for those long sea days. I thought the lawn area was very nice too on deck 15. Too bad I saw almost nobody rent out those expensive alcoves. I think it's a nice idea, but it's just a tad too expensive relative to what you get.
PORTS/SHORE EXCURSIONS: For ease of reading I will simply list them and say what I liked and didn't like about each (along with any tours we did).
LABADEE - What a beautiful little place. The beach was excellent (at least in the private area - yes they let the snooty suite guests hang at Barefoot Beach), though the public area was also nothing to sneeze at when I checked it out. The water was nice. The bungalows looked decent, but that is if you want to cough up the big bucks to rent one. My only gripe is the food area was far away from the beach area (as in, not really walking, but more like TRAM distance).
SAN JUAN - The ship arrived in port in a great place (right in front of the Sheraton) and was walking distance from pretty much all the great sights. We did the "Old San Juan Walking Tour" which took us to places like El Morro and other nice local sights. My only beef is that our old tour guide wouldn't shut up and felt the need to give me a 30 min history lecture at EACH place we stopped (dude, we have like only 8 hours in port!). I'm sure he wasn't too pleased that I branched off at times to take my own photos, but hey, life is short, right? Otherwise, the port was decent. We also stopped by this great little place called Cafe Puerto Rico near the port for some good local grup. Tip: Avoid La Perla at all costs unless you want to die and also it does get kinda dark in the "shopping" street at night, fyi.
ST MARTIN - Our favorite port. They are spending a lot of $$ trying to upgrade this port, and you can tell by all the construction and hustle and bustle at the port. It was crazy that 6 ships ported there on the same day (including the Oasis of the Seas), and there were tons of people. But thankfully the water taxi was easy to get to and Philipsburg is a fine little place to shop (the best on our trip, IMO). We took the Island Tour excursion and made our way to Marigot on the French side. That was the best decision! Marigot was quiant, had some good shopping and I had one of my favorite meals on the trip at Chez Coco near the ferry pier a Marigot (you gotta try their awesome creole shrimp). The tour was also great b/c not only do you get a bus ride, but you also get a relaxing boat tour in the lagoon, along with an open bar (score!).
ST CROIX - I really wanted to like this port. I really really did. Yes the beaches were okay, but Frederikstad (where we ported) is a sorry little town with simply a renovated front street to trap tourists. I ended up taking a cab on my own to Christianstad and checked out the town. It's worth visiting there since there are some decent historical sights including an old Danish fort . Tip to Celebrity - the next time you guys want port on Thanksgiving - do NOT go to a U.S. island that celebrates Thanksgiving and closes a ton of shops! Otherwise, this island was meh. It's no surprise they get nearly no business from cruise ships. The towns are somewhat drab, a bit creepy in places and the roads suck.
ST JOHNS/ANTIGUA - Nice place, if you don't end up like an idiot like me and walk off the beaten path into a local area that isn't very friendly to tourists. Good thing I had eyes on the back of my head. Otherwise, the downtown area was fun (we walked into a local parade), and the port has a somewhat festive feel to it. Even the shopping area near the pier was far more impressive than everything in St. Croix combined. We wisely took the bus tour and enjoyed a LOT of great sights on the island. I strongly recommend it! Nelson's Dockyard is definitely worth checking out.
ST THOMAS - I liked this island very much too. Great beaches. Okay shopping area. Maybe it's just me, but there were just too many jewelry shops in Charlotte Amalie or maybe I was just worn out from too many port days in a row and too many jewelry/crappy trinket shops in a row. TIP - try out Cuzzin's a great local joint on the road right off the main drag of the downtown area. The conch there is to die for! The sour sop drink is also great. We did an island bus tour here as well and it was also nice. Mountain Top is a really wonderful place to visit, though the botanic gardens were boring. We also took the cable car up the hill (it's right by the pier) and it was great. Aside from the lousy overpriced drinks on the hill, it was great thanks to the awesome views from above.
- The crew interaction with passengers was truly wonderful. We got to meet many of the officers and really got to know them by the end of the ship. Paul, the cruise director was good. I even suggested he has a future in TV! The guy can also sing, which is a nice plus. We also met with the hotel director Sue (who is very nice), the restaurant director, and also hung out/played cards with the casino manager and head of guest relations. They were all great and really made the cruise so much more fun. My only slight complaint was the fact our butler was rarely seen and pretty much AWOL barring my requests on the phone or stopping by for the daily afternoon tea/hours d'vours service. Nonetheless I did give him an extra tip at the end of the trip for being around sometimes. The room attendant was terrific. I also loved how he carefully put our stuffed monkey on the pillows every night during turn down service. He got a nice tip too just for that (and keeping our rooms absolutely pristine each night).
- Was it worth paying extra for a suite? IMO, yes! Only if you like to have extra room, and also a big balcony out back. But again, our butler wasn't nearly as pampering as our butler on the NCL Jewel. However, as I just mentioned, the balcony is AWESOME! Yes, it does get somewhat bumpy at times in the aft cabin, but it is TOTALLY worth it for the amazing aft balcony. One of the things I miss so much each day is that amazing feeling of sitting on the balcony, looking at the ship's wake, enjoying the warm sun, the sound of the calm seas, with not a single worry on my mind. If only life could be like that every day ... but I digress!
- I really enjoyed the company on the ship. Admittedly we were on the young side compared to everyone else but we truly had a great time with everyone we met on board. The folks on this ship for the most part were friendly classy people and the whole experience was just so fun and relaxing!
Overall the ship was fantastic. The experience was wonderful. The people were great and last but not least ..
The disembarkation was excellent! Not only was it organized, but it seems most folks (like us) got off the boat in a timely fashion. Getting our luggage and going through customs was a snap. Now that was a perfect way to end an amazing trip!
FINAL THOUGHTS (Cliff's Notes Summary)
1. She is truly a beautiful ship.
2. Overall the crew was very helpful, kind, and professional. Top notch.
3. The big balcony in the corner aft suite is AWESOME. No really, it's AWESOME!
4. I ate too much, but it was worth it. 10 meals in the MDR = pretty happy.
5. Lawn Club Grill - if you like meat, this is a NO brainer. Just do it.
6. Silhouette Theater is LOVELY. Silhouette dancers are good but singing = meh.
7. The ship never felt that crowded, aside from the pool deck at times.
8. The buffet is great for breakfast or lunch, but dinner is limited
9. Try the $14.95 a glass sparking Belgian beer at Michael's Club. It's good.
10.Relatively comfortable beds, not too firm or soft.
11.If you like to smoke, you'll have more space to do it on deck 5 than 12.
12.Plenty of elevators, but plenty of lazy folks who go up/down 1 floor. Really?
13.Casino was never too crowded which is great. $6 Blackjack = fun.
14.If you go to Qsine, you must get the Lava Crab. It's that good.
15.If you go to Qsine, don't be a moron and try all 19 menu items. You may die.
16.Shows can fill up quick so try to get there at least 15 min early.
17.The ice cream line at the buffet gets VERY long at times. FYI.
18.You can't hook up your own crap to the TV, so don't bother bringing cables.
19.The solarium is real nice, and there's a nice healthy place to eat there.
20.We did select dining, which means you eat when you want @ MDR. Literally.
21.Embarkation = YUCK (security is slow/annoying), Disembarkation = Awesome
This was about as good as it gets and I was glad it happened to be our Honeymoon and 6 month anniversary as well. I will never forget this trip and all the wonderful memories associated with it. For those of you thinking about sailing on this lovely ship, I definitely recommend it. It may or may not surpass your previous cruise experiences, but I really do think for what it's worth they really did a fabulous job overall and you will likely not be disappointed.
Let's put it this way, if I could, I'd go back tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day ...