Room #1544 AQ
HOTEL: We did a 2 day precruise at the Hilton, Penn Station. We booked a 1 bedroom Junior Suite. The concierge lounge was not open on the weekend, but we were told that we would be allowed to eat at the breakfast buffet since there was no breakfast service in the concierge lounge. We were given a coupon at check in, that allowed us to dine in the hotel's restaurant for breakfast. We enjoyed their buffet (normally priced at $17 per person) and found the service to be friendly and efficient.
***AVOID ONBOARD TOURS AT ALL COSTS WHILE IN NYC!!*** We were booked for their 'See It All Tour' and 'See The Lights (Holiday Lights) Tours'. Our booking specialist, Christa, assured us that OnBoard Tours has a special arrangement with the Hilton hotel at Penn Station in New Jersey, for pick up of their passengers. We were told to be downstairs, outside if possible (weather permitting) at 10:45 AM - 11:15 AM. At 11:20 AM, I knew something wasn't right. I called OnBoard Tours and was told that the driver was running late, but that they were on their way to pick us up. After numerous calls and endless run arounds from OnBoard Tours' representatives, we finally figured out that Christa had lied to us and in fact, there was NO hotel pick up service offered for the Hilton at Penn Station in New Jersey (and yes, we do have a printed email from OnBoard Tours, stating the name of our hotel with the pick up date and time, so we were clearly not the ones that were confused!).
Per the recommendation of the bell captain at Hilton Penn Station, we used a town car service (booked at the bell captain's desk -- super easy!, to get from the hotel to Cape Liberty for boarding. The fare was approximately $47, including tip, for two of us with 9 pieces of luggage. The drive took about 25 minutes and was so easy!
The reps at Bayonne that represent Celebrity, did a GREAT job of getting us checked in. We love the new process of getting your photo taken at check in instead of with the security guys. This speeds things up and is more pleasant.
We were on board around 11:30 AM (did not really like having to take the busses from the terminal to the ship, but it wasn't a huge 'deal breaker', just annoying). We went straight to Bistro on Five. This is the best way to spend a leisurely afternoon, when you board early. You can easily spend 90 minutes enjoying lunch and GREAT service, for $5.00 per person cover charge! A bargain!!
Cabin: We booked AQ 100% because of Blu. We had dined in Blu on our Solstice cruise, and even though we prefer a SkySuite or Celebrity Suite, we don't want to take the chance of having to go back to the MDR due to lack of space in Blu (Suite guests are on a 'space available basis' plus $5 surcharge to dine in Blu). That being said, we were semi pleased with our AQ standard balcony cabin. We are a mom/daughter traveling duo that do NOT travel lightly! Between us, we had 5 medium to LARGE size suit cases, plus cosmetics, plus all of our hair care stuff, etc...etc... You get the picture! The layout of the cabin was OK for us....The cabin is smaller than was expected and the storage is LIMITED, like all of the reviewers before me have stated, but you don't really appreciate how limited the storage is, until you and all of your luggage show up and the unpacking begins. Three drawers?! Celebrity, are you kidding?! The bathroom drawers are so small, that literally, you cannot even put your toothbrush in any of them, since it won't fit! Shower is nice (small, but nice). The showers in Aqua Spa are very nice, so if you find the cabin bathroom shower to be too tiny to deal with, then grab your robe and head up to the Aqua Spa. Showers are free and very nice/spacious.
Linens in the cabin: FABULOUS!! Loved the down comforter, the crispy sheets, the squishy pillows (never did find the pillow menu!) and the great big bath towels.
Service: Our cabin steward and his assistant were OK. I know that they are worked to the bone and I try hard to be respectful of that. Most days, our cabin was not cleaned until at least Noon. One day, we came back at 2 PM and our steward asked us to please give him just 15 minutes more, to get our beds made. Yes, it's not the end of the world...not even close, but it's a shame that Celebrity seems to have cut back on staffing so the current staff members are worked so hard. I do have to give a 'shout out' to Celebrity. We mentioned to our steward's assistant, Ping, that our zipper on a piece of luggage had been broken by the airlines. He said that he would take it to the ship's upholstery shop and would see if they could fix/repair/replace the broken zipper. Well -- two days later, the suitcase showed up and was in GREAT shape with its' brand new zipper! Thanks Celebrity -- that was a very nice thing for you to do (and for not charging me for it!).
Dining: Well -- this is so subjective, that I truly hesitate to even comment. What I will say is that if you have simple tastes and don't like hoity toity / uppity menus, you will struggle in Blu (or the MDR). We were so discouraged, every night, with the menus. Not sure why Celebrity feels it's necessary to have menus that nearly require a dictionary or Thesaurus to interpret! I don't eat red meat/pork or much seafood, so it was a bit tough on me. I ended up doing some version of shrimp cocktails, chicken and veggies, along with French Onion Soup and Blue Cheese Wedge salads or Caesar Salads, CrÃ¨me Brulee, most nights.
On the very last day of the cruise, I learned from a fellow passenger, that Celebrity will deliver the menus from the MDR and BLU to your cabin, the night before, so you can determine what the best choices will be for you, if you are a picky eater. This is something that I would have appreciated knowing on Day 1, not on Day 13! Oh well... live and learn.
Room Service: Very good (not the apple pie! That is the worst pie, ever!!! Avoid it all costs!). Service was fast (about 20-30 minutes and food, including French fries, arrived hot).
Pastries/Sweets: OK... Am I the only living soul that detests Celebrity's pastries? These must be the worst, on any ship! Not sure if X just doesn't put enough sugar in them, or if the executive chefs just want us to avoid them all together, but they are truly awful... The cookies have the taste of cardboard and are simply horrible. On a happier and more positive note, the ice cream on X is so yummy! Princess has horrible 'bug spray tasting' ice cream, so I am appreciative that X gives us high quality frozen yogurt and hand scooped ice cream.
Also, there is self service soft serve frozen yogurt (various flavors) available at the Mast Grill, Aqua Spa Cafe and the Ice Cream bar in the Ocean View Cafe. Speaking of the Mast Grill, if the not so friendly cooks tell you that they do not have turkey or chicken burgers, DO NOT BELIEVE THEM! I was told that it was hot dogs or hamburgers ONLY. Well, on day 12, I chatted with the head chef and politely asked him why X doesn't have turkey or chicken at the Mast Grill... he looked at me w/ this puzzled look and said that is absolutely not the case. The French fries at the Mast Grill are GREAT! A great snack when coming back on board after a long day of shore excursions!!
Entertainment: Well... like dining, the opinion someone has re: the entertainment, is very subjective. I found the entertainment to be between a 'B' and 'A-' . The dancers/singers were new to the ship, and even though they didn't miss their notes, or the words to the songs, it just seemed like the performances were strained. The Cirque show was interesting. The theater fills up at least 30 minutes before the show starts, so DON'T BE LATE IN GETTING THERE TO GET YOUR SEATS, or you will be sorry (and standing!).
Shore Excursions: We did the Swim with Stingray and Kayak adventure in Antigua. Excellent!! I do wish we had been told to bring our credit card or some $$$, since they had our photos for sale, but none of us had our money or credit cards with us, to pay for them. Bummer! The tour was great and Sting Ray City in Antigua is NOT to be missed, if you enjoy seeing these gentle giants in their natural habitat (aka the ocean!).
LABADEE: We rented a private OVER THE WATER BUNGALOW. Matt (concierge on board) told us that our $200 fee would include a butler that would bring us our lunches, drinks and our swim mats. Well...that was sort of true. There was a butler. He did show up and told us where the cooler was that had bottled water in it. When lunch time rolled around, we asked him how we were supposed to place our order with him. He gave us the deer in the headlights look and said that we needed to go and get our own lunch. Not the end of the world, obviously, BUT, since our expectations had been set that we were paying for some seriously nice treatment, we expected a different experience. If you do rent an over the water bungalow/cabana, make sure that you reserve #4 or #3, or you will most likely NOT be over the water. Also, you need to reserve it immediately on embarkation, or you will not get one. They only have 4 of them, so they go quickly. Also, if you have an Ipod with music on it, BRING IT! There is electricity in the cabana/bungalow and having some music would have been great!! Also, the buffet was truly awful, the worst chicken shish kabobs ever, so you may want to bring some fruit and snacks from your cabin. I did hear from some fellow ship mates, that the hamburgers were some of the very best, however.
There are NO blended drinks on Labadee, so if you have your heart set on a Pina Colada, it's not going to happen.
ST. CROIX: The ship docks on the opposite side of the island from all of the major shopping, so you are forced to take a $16 per person taxi cab ride, if you want to shop. There are lots of 'flea market' type of open air shopping (tshirts/tote bags/inexpensive jewelry) at the dock/pier area.
We did the Buck Island Snorkel tour/excursion in St. Croix. Ick! The worst snorkeling EVER! We snorkeled in waves that were approximately 4-6 feet high! We all asked the boat captain what was up with bringing us to this truly awful and unpleasant snorkeling place and he simply responded that this was normal and just basically 'get over it'. There was not one morsel of food, only rum punch. Well, after boating for an hour each way, a 30 minute bus ride, 60 minutes of terrifying snorkeling in huge waves, you do get hungry! Wouldn't it have been considerate of Celebrity to tell us to take some fruit or a snack with us, on our excursion? Yes, I know that lunch was not included, but a gentle reminder to bring a snack, would just be nice. Needless to say, after a boatload of us consumed too much rum on the way back to the pier, it made for an interesting bus ride back to the ship.
On Board Shopping: Wow! I was (pleasantly) a bit shocked! We actually found the jewelry to not only be a fabulous selection, but the majority of the prices, were fair to very good. We are BIG shoppers of nice jewelry in St. Thomas and St. Marteen and know our pricing for gem stones/gold/etc... Well - the ship's jewelry shop did not disappoint. There was a very nice Effy brand diamond ring that they had priced for about $1800. The exact same ring at the Effy store in St. Marteen was nearly $2500! This was after negotiating with the sales rep at the St. Marteen Effy store. When I told him that the same ring was in the ship's jewelry store, for $700 less, he told me that it must be 'old' and they are just trying to get rid of it. Hello?! It's not milk or eggs... it's gold and diamonds... I don't think it really has an expiration date!
Casino: Played the slots and went up and down. All in all, I probably either broke even or made about $20. We had fun and enjoyed our time in the casino, but like all casinos, it can drain you quickly, if you're not careful. I also participated in the Slot Tournament and that was fun. I did not win, but it was a fun way to spend an hour for $25.00
Bringing Wine/Alcohol On Board: I packed two boxes of 'Black Box' wine (Cab & Merlot), plus, three small to medium size rum runners with Baileys and Cherry Vodka. Fortunately, Cape Liberty isn't as 'nosey' as the port in Ft. Lauderdale and/or Miami... (have had to go to the naughty room on Deck 2 on our last Solstice cruise!) and the cocktails and wine made it on board w/o a hitch. Whew! I had already planned to buy the Beverage Package (nearly $800 for this cruise! Yikes!) if my rum runners had not made it on board, and boy oh boy, after the rough seas on our first 2-3 days where all I could stomach, was peppermint tea, I am so happy that I didn't buy the beverage package! Talk about a bummer... feeling sea sick and knowing the drink timer is running at nearly $60 per day and not being able to consume a cocktail. That being said, I would highly recommend to anyone going on a cruise where the seas might be a bit rocky, to NOT buy a beverage package until you are underway and see how it's going to go.
I have been on a LOT of cruises and have never, ever been sea sick. For some reason, this cruise was very tough on me (waves were 9-15 feet on any given open sea day while in the Atlantic). Thank goodness X gave free sea sick tablets out at Guest Relations. Whew!
SEE IT ALL TOUR ($150 PER PERSON)
After doing this on HAL, we had high hopes for this 'behind the scenes tour'. We were met by Matt, the very friendly concierge, on the last sea day, at the Sky Bar at 10:20 AM. We were told that we would not be allowed to see the engine room due to security reasons. Ok...not the end of the world. Then, we were told that we wouldn't get to go to the mooring area due to high seas... OK, also not the end of the world. When we asked our tour guide, Sergio (hotel manager) if we would receive anything special (HAL and Princess both give lovely gift bags and presents!) at the end of our tour, he informed us that we would be treated to lunch in the MDR. Hello! It's a cruise! Isn't lunch already included?! No worries -- we were still happy to be on the tour, just a bit surprised that X did not research what the other lines are doing and follow suit.
The 'See It All Tour' consisted of about 30 minutes in the bridge with the Captain and some of his officers. Then, backstage at the theater with the lead singer, Dante, for about 15 minutes, to tour their costume changing area, dressing rooms, etc. After that, it was down to the deck zero area that the crew calls 'I-95' (this references the long hallway that the crew uses to move all of our food and supplies from one end of the ship to the other). We were allowed to see the crew's library and internet room, as well as the crew bar and crew gym. We did not get to see any crew sleeping quarters for all of the obvious reasons.
The tour also took us to one of the galleys, the liquor storage areas, a couple of different coolers and some type of engineering control room. It lasted about 3 hours including lunch in the MDR (Celebrity did include red or white wine by the glass at lunch). Are we glad we did it? Yes... Do we feel like we were over charged for this tour with NO gifts at the end? YES... $75 would have been much more reasonable for a price.
Disembarkation: ICK! Bayonne and those busses are simply awful on disembarkation day! Also, not only do these awful busses add at least 30-40 minutes to the entire process, but there are basically no porters to help you with your luggage. We desperately needed a porter and honestly, there was not one to be found. We ended up schlepping our own bags (all nine of them!!) and vowed to avoid Bayonne at all costs, in the future, until they get rid of those silly busses and allow us to walk to the ship. Once we got through Customs, and boarded a shuttle to Newark Airport, things smoothed out. It takes approximately 15 minutes (without traffic) to get from the pier to the Newark airport. Also, the Newark airport is so friendly! If you need anything, just ask anyone wearing the red coats. The work for the airport and are truly nice people. Also, they will NOT accept any tips. Incredible... They helped us with our baggage when we flew into Newark, helped us with the Airtrain and with finding our hotel's shuttle service. Each time we offered a gratuity to our 'Red Coat Angel' they always politely declined. Wow...
Overall, this was a nice trip. This was one of the FRIENDLIEST CRUISES I have ever been on. My fellow passengers were so sweet and nice & there was never a dull dinner conversation. People in the buffet and the theater were always quick to say hello and strike up a friendly conversation. Maybe it was the fact that we were on the ship together for nearly 2 weeks, so that made people more 'willing' to bond with you....or maybe it's just the large East Coast fellow travelers that are just nice to begin with, or a combination of both... Whatever the reason, I was so happy to see that the ship was filled with friendly, enthusiastic fellow passengers.
Will I sail with X again? Yes... But, I am probably going to cancel my Reflection Cruise for 12/2012... Celebrity is a wonderful product, but we are going to try Allure of the Seas and see if we find the food to be better and more 'normal'. I know this makes us 'odd', that we don't get super excited about this high brow food / dining experience, but that just isn't our thing. We are sailing in the Grand Suite on Sapphire Princess to Alaska in Sept. 2012 and even though I know the food (and ice cream!) won't be as good as Celebrity, we are paying nearly what a decent balcony or Sky Suite on Celebrity would have cost. When you consider that Princess gives their suite guests such amazing benefits, the price is very fair. Wish Celebrity would spoil their suite guests a bit more like the other main line cruise lines do.