Part I - Precruise
We are avid Caribbean cruisers. Last year, we spent Christmas and New Year's in the Caribbean on the Celebrity Mercury (which, sadly, sailed for the last time under that name in February 2011) and we wanted to do it again. We looked at all cruise lines, but settled again on either Royal Caribbean or Celebrity (the only lines we have cruised on) because of their itineraries and schedules.
We prefer to drive to the East Coast for our cruises (last year's holiday cruise left from Baltimore), but that just wasn't an option this year.
B. Cruise Critic
We use the community chat boards on Cruisecritic.com extensively for cruise port hints and information. This review is my way of sharing. Thank you to everyone who shared in their reviews and roll calls.
C. Choice of Route
Our route was out of Fort Lauderdale to Aruba, Curacao, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua, St. Maarten and St. Thomas. This is our first time to Grenada and Barbados and we are excited to be headed there.
D. Choice of Cruiseline and Ship
We selected Celebrity as it is affiliated with Royal Caribbean. We are __ members in the Celebrity club.
Galaxy is a 91,000 ton ship with has 11 decks. Capacity is 2,034 passengers plus a crew of 999. They are very proud of the 2:1 passenger to crew ratio. It was launched in 2002, is registered in Malta and has a CDC score of 98.
E. Choice of Airline
This was pretty easy. We picked the cheapest, most direct flight from Milwaukee to Fort Lauderdale. We could have also flown into Miami. Air Tran was reasonable and was a non-stop flight. Flying hints: 1. Don't fly if you have a choice. I suggest driving if you can. 2. Go non-stop if you fly. Each connection increases the possibility of lost luggage and additional flight delays. 3. Consider flying in to your departure port one day early. This can be a major stress reducer! (For this cruise, because our son would have had to miss another day of school if we had left a day early, we left the day of the cruise. Yes, I was very, very nervous until we landed in Fort Lauderdale!) 4. Don't select your airline seats without first visiting SeatGuru.com. They have detailed airplane seating plans and hints about each seat for almost every plane flown by major airlines.
F. Choice of cabin
Generally, the lower your cabin and the more central its location, the less you will feel the movements of the ship. We love rocking and so did not mind being closer to the front of the ship. We always stay in inside cabins (unless something strange happens) because it is nice to be able to sleep in without worrying about the sun shining in the window. A recommendation to anyone in an inside cabin is to bring a clock. It can be very disconcerting to wake up and have absolutely no idea what time it is. We were in cabins 7067 & 7063. My husband and I were in one and our 16-year-old son and his uncle (a first-time cruiser) was in the other.
We went to a local Travel Agent who specializes in cruises (as we always do for cruises). The cost, because it was over the holidays, was high at just over $1500 per person. The flights were just under $2000 for all four of us including an added charge of $24.00 to choose our seats early. As I wanted us to sit relatively together, it was worth it as we all got rows with no middle seats.
My husband, son and I all have passports and encountered no problems. My brother-in-law has a passport card and he had no trouble either.
We also purchased travel insurance because we never know when our son might wind up in a cast or one of our aging parents might have a health crisis.
J. Prebooking Excursions
We booked all of our excursions on our own. I am an avid planner and researcher and enjoy this sort of thing. I booked a lobster lunch cruise on Antigua for myself (my guys did not want to go) and a deep sea fishing excursion for my guys (husband, son and brother-in-law) and three others who we met on the Cruise Critic roll call in St. Maarten. More on those later.
We packed for 3 formal nights (rented tuxedos for the guys and I brought nice outfits), and the rest at various levels of casual (non-jean pants and nice shirts for all of us). Additionally, we brought enough clothing to cover us during the day for 14 days. This is less than you think because clothing rarely gets really dirty and we tend to re-wear clothes a few times before it goes in the "to be washed at home" luggage.
Among the most helpful "extra items" we packed were: power strips for each room (usually, there are only 2 outlets in the room and we have lots to charge), alarm clock, shoe rack, bug lotion, sunscreen ranging from 100 to 15 spf, highlighters, beach bag, and water shoes. We also brought Christmas decorations for each room, as well as Cruise Critic door signs printed off of the roll call lists.
Part II - Embarkation
A. The Port
We flew into Fort Lauderdale and arrived at 1:00pm in plenty of time to catch our 4:30 pm departure. You have a choice of buying transfers from Celebrity, catching a taxi or hiring a car. After exploring these options we decided to hire a car to the Port Lauderdale pier. The car we hired was from GO Airport Connections. He decided to hire a car rather than risk a taxi because we had 4 people and 6 pieces of luggage. I was afraid we wouldn't find a taxi willing to take all of us and would have to split up. It was a short, 5-minute drive from the airport to the port. The cost was approximately $50 with tip, but it was worth it.
B. Security Processing and Boarding
We arrived at the pier at 2:15pm and there was no wait for security screening. Once through, there were separate lines for Captain's Club (CC) and non-CC passengers by deck. All lines were basically empty and fed into a table of folks processing your boarding documents. Assuming you had already completed all the documents requested online, signing in and getting room keys (which is also your cruise ID, and ship credit card) took no more than 5 minutes. There was a quick wait for the initial cruise photo (which can be skipped). Up an escalator and our cruise cards were quickly data encrypted with our images at one of two stations. Once they handed us our cards we found ourselves on the 3rd floor main lobby of the ship. It took a total of 20 minutes from the time we arrived at the pier to our arrival in our cabins.
I later spoke with people who had arrived earlier and they told me it was a cattle call with massive groups of people waiting at each phase of the embarkation process. I was glad that we missed that.
C. Explore The Cabins
We were in cabins 7067 & 7063, side-by-side, inside category 9 cabins in the middle. The cabins are 170 square feet and were set up for my husband and I to sleep in one big bed and my son and brother-in-law to each have their own.
The bathroom has enough room, and the shower was very nice. Our bathroom had a reasonably large shower (no bath), hair dryer, large mirror, sink, toilet, and some pretty decent storage. Something new since the last time we were on a ship: a nightlight we could use in the bathroom or main cabin. We used it in the bathroom so we wouldn't have to turn the lights on at night.
Hangers and robes were provided in the cabin, as was a welcome gift: a canvas shopping bag. The room safe is located in the closet, along with several more drawers for organizing your stuff. The desk featured a number of informational brochures including that day's event newsletter "Celebrity Today". The cabins also have a TV, thermostat, phone (but no clock, although you can set your phone for an automated wake-up call), and a mini-bar (small refrigerator).
Our mini-bar was locked upon arrival, but we asked that it be unlocked and emptied so that we could keep water in it. Having signed up for the Connections party, we received invites to the following day's gathering. Being members of the Captain's Club, we were also given invitations to a number of different events during the cruise. Our stateroom attendant, Doris from Honduras, and her assistant, Elvis from India, did a wonderful job throughout our cruise.
D. Tour of Ship and Search For Food
We found sustenance in the Seaside Buffet on the deck 10 for a 3pm buffet lunch. We were hungry, having not eaten much that day because we had left the house so early. The ship is well laid out with ample sets of stairwells and elevators. I tried to take the stairs as much as possible (and pretended that this was sufficient exercise to cover my food intake).
E. Lifeboat Drill/Sailaway
About one hour prior to leaving port, we participated in the mandatory lifeboat drill. The drill went smoothly and lasted 20 minutes. We are very happy at the changes that have been made in the muster drill as we no longer have to get our lifejackets and wear them to the muster and we no longer have to stand outside waiting for everyone to show up. Instead, we sat comfortably in the theater and watched a demonstration of how to use the lifejacket and an explanation of the safety procedures.
F. Dinner -- 8:30pm Late Seating
We selected the late seating. We were seated at table 525 with seating for 8 at a circular table on the upper floor (5) of the San Marcos Restaurant, next to the balcony overlooking the 4th floor. With the exception of the first evening, our server, Tale from Macedonia (great-great-great-nephew of Alexander the Great!) and his assistant, Gulshot from Russia, did a very good job throughout our cruise.
On the first evening, Tale's assistant was Aleksandra, who was not fast enough or organized enough for the work. The meal was paced so slowly that the evening dragged on and we left the dining room after 11pm. We did not complain because we decided we would let them have one more night. The next night, Aleksandra was gone, replaced by Gulshot. Tale explained that Aleksandra was new and although she had much experience in restaurants at home, she wasn't prepared for this type of work. She had been reassigned to a smaller set of tables so she could get up to speed in an easier area.
The two-story restaurant has a seating capacity of over 1,300 passengers at each seating. Of note: jeans, t-shirts, tank tops, swimsuits, robes, and bare feet are prohibited in the San Marcos Restaurant at all times. Shorts are permitted at lunch only. On the first evening, I did notice one long-legged woman arrive for dinner in short-shorts. She was escorted out and asked to return when she was dressed appropriately.
Part III - Food!
Celebrity has a good reputation for their cuisine. The meals met our expectations. There was good variety.
There are 3 specialty restaurants on the ship--Ocean Liners (French/Mediterranean) for $40 per person, the Tuscan Grille (Italian Steakhouse) for $30 per person) and the Bistro on 5 (creperie) for $5 per person). The Bistro was also open for breakfast and lunch.
We did not feel the need to eat at any of the specialty restaurants for dinner because the food in the main dining room was sufficient.
A. Always Available
We were informed the first night, that the following items are available every night at dinner and could be found on the left side of the dinner menu: Appetizers: Shrimp Cocktail, Escargots, Antipasti; Salads & Soups: French Onion Soup, Lobster Bisque, Caprese Salad, Caesar Salad; Entrees: Salmon, Chicken Breast, Sirloin Steak; Desserts: Cheesecake, Apple Pie a la Mode, CrÃ¨me Brulee.
B. Our Favorite Breakfast Items
The Constellation has added a "poached egg" station where you can get a variety of different poached egg passed breakfasts, including eggs Benedict and eggs Florentine. I got a variety which was an English muffin covered in caramelized onions and cream cheese with a poached egg. It was amazingly delicious.
C. Our Favorite Lunch Items
The turkey burger at the Seaside grill was yummy. The French fries are always tasty and are double fried.
D. Our Favorite Appetizer
The avocado and crab appetizer the first night (although lump crab would have put it over the top). My husband loved the Duo of Smoked and Pickled Salmon.
E. Our Favorite Soups
French Onion soup was outstanding! All of the chilled fruit soups were yummy. We also liked the baked potato soup.
F. Our Favorite Salads
They were all good. What are great are the salad dressings. The Celebrity signature dressing was very tasty and definitely had anchovies in it.
G. Our Favorite EntrÃ©es
I was partial to the lamb the first two nights. I truly believe Americans do not eat enough of this delicious meat. The steaks were delicious and very flavorful. The fish dishes were delightful. I really enjoyed the mushroom pasta (it had a much fancier name--Pappardelle con Funghi). I heard that the turkey and all the fixins that was offered on Christmas was wonderful. I enjoyed the chicken kiev on another evening.
H. Our Favorite Desserts
A "sandwich" made of chocolate macaroons and chocolate sauce was to die for. My husband loved a panna cotta flavored with Pernod and Absenthe. I liked the Grand Marnier soufflÃ© and my husband loved the After Eight mint cake.
There is an excellent sushi bar in the Seaside Buffet on late afternoons (starting at 5:30pm). The Indian food is particularly wonderful. The pasta bar was very busy and I liked what I got there. Also, there are little sandwiches offered in a late lunch/early dinner timeframe that was very tasty.
J. Room Service
Room service took a little while (15-20 minutes on average), but was the food was very, very good. I particularly enjoyed the Celebrity Club Sandwich so much I began to crave it. This made going home especially difficult.
Part IV - Entertainment
All the movies were shown in the Cinema. They were mostly releases from about a year ago. We did not watch any movies in the Cinema.
The Celebrity Theatre is gorgeous, with comfortable seating and good sight lines. We did not see any shows in the theater.
Large casino filled with the usual. We did not use the casino.
I booked a deep tissue massage during the port day in St. Maarten. It was very nice; I had a masseuse who was on her third day on the ship (she had spent time in training beforehand). Now, for someone who wants to relax, it would have been a great massage, but for me, I want someone to work on the knots in my muscles (which can and should be painful). I didn't really get that, but it was very relaxing. After the massage, the masseuse tried to sell me packages of products which I declined. She was not pushy at all and took my "no, thank you" in stride.
During my massage, there was also a crew muster practice which meant that there were announcements and sirens during about the first third of my massage. I wasn't angered, but I wished someone would have rescheduled my appointment around it. I received a happy surprise when I got to the front desk afterward when they offered me another massage for free later in the cruise to make up for this one (which I had already paid for). The second one was wonderful and very relaxing.
E. Outdoor Pools and Hot tubs.
They were busy all day when we were at sea. One pool had a few basketballs and a hoop on it so that you could practice dunking like Michael Jordan. The pools are chlorinated salt water. The hot tubs are fresh water. There are fresh water showers near each pool and hot tub.
F. Indoor Pools and Hot Tubs
The thalassotherapy pool was the indoor pool. It is only for guests 16 years of age and older. It was quite warm and felt great. On each of the longer sides, it had places where you would sit on bars that were arranged to be in the shape of lounge chairs (I am not doing it justice, but it was very comfortable) and bubbles of cooler water bubbled all around you. I wasn't sure what its use was at first, but it turned out to be incredibly relaxing.
On the shorter sides were showers of water like faucets where water fell out at varying degrees of speed (depending on which you were under). I stood under one and it was like a water massage on my neck and upper back. Very nice.
There are fresh water showers near the pool. These showers are incredibly hot.
G. In-room TV
There were a number of closed-circuit ship channels and satellite stations (Global CNN, ESPN, Eye on CBS, Sky News, and a few others) available on the TV in the cabin. Pay-per-view movies were also available. You can also order room service and check your current account on the TV as well.
Part V - Cruise Critic Get-Togethers
A. Sailaway Party
As a group, the Cruise Critic folks had arranged (on the boards) to get together at sailaway at the Mast Bar on Deck 11. About 20 showed up and we had a great time. I think that if I were to do it again, I would recommend the Sunset bar instead because it has a more closed-in space. Some cruise critics I met later in the cruise said they hadn't been able to locate us at the Mast bar.
B. Connections Party
We signed up for the Cruise Critic Connections gathering on the Celebrity web site. We received an email confirmation that a party would take place. Upon our arrival in our cabin we received an envelope containing an invitation to the party, set for 10:00 am on Sunday (our first day at sea). At the appointed time we arrived at Michael's Club. In total, about 40 folks attended. We had a great time meeting and greeting our fellow cruise critics. Light refreshments were provided. The Captain, Cruise Director and the Captain's Club Manager were in attendance.
The Captain said he disliked the moniker Cruise CRITIC and instead said we are Cruise FEEDBACK people. He said he appreciated anything we had to say and hoped it would be DURING the cruise and not AFTER.
C. Slot Pull
We had also arranged a slot pull (which I had to miss because I was ill). The idea behind the slot pull is that the group meets in the casino and everyone puts in a set amount of money and then gets a certain number of pulls on the slot machine. The entire group shares in the winnings. They arranged additional slot pulls each sea day (except Christmas Day) at 2pm. I encourage everyone to have these on their cruises. They were a lot of fun!
D. Cabin/Poker Crawl
We also arranged a cabin crawl on the third sea day (after Curacao but before Grenada). We started in the 9th floor library and had 19 people participating in the poker crawl and a few others walking with us. We visited both inside and outside (side veranda, rear veranda and port hole) rooms. The coolest room was the Presidential Suite where our hosts let us look at everything in their 1,100 square foot cabin.
Part VI - Health Concerns
Smoking was permitted only in the Reflections Lounge (Deck 11, Port), Mast Bar (Deck 11, Port & Starboard), Pool Deck and Sundecks (Deck 10, Port), Open Deck (Deck 4, Port) and Seaside CafÃ© Bar (Deck 10, Port where pipes and cigars were also allowed). Although we are very sensitive to smoke, we could not detect any smoke smell in our cabin. We did not observe anyone abusing the smoking privilege. They had every right to smoke in various areas of the ship, and unfortunately they did.
B. General Cleanliness of the Ship
In a word: impeccable. You could not take a stroll without witnessing some type of cleaning going on at all hours. The ship was constantly being cleaned: floors, walls, fixtures, everything!
I found myself incredibly sick our second day at sea. I remained in my cabin all day and was tended to by my husband and our wonderful stateroom attendant, Doris. She brought me toast, tea and apple juice. She instructed my husband to purchase a Gatorade for me to replenish my electrolytes. She stopped in occasionally to see if I needed anything. She was very kind.
I ventured out the next morning to have breakfast (a banana and muesli and more apple juice). I avoided being near others or touching anything. By the afternoon, I was feeling much better.
Unfortunately, my husband came down with the same illness late on the third day (after our stop in Aruba). It laid him up in the cabin for the full day in Curacao, but he was better during the at sea day between Curacao and Grenada.
I also heard from others on the Cruise Critic list who had endured the "24-hour bug," too.
We had rough seas on our way from Fort Lauderdale to Aruba (the second day when we were in fairly open water). It did not bother me, but there were seasickness bags out all around the ship just in case some of my fellow cruisers were not as lucky. We did have rough seas on other days, as well.
Part VII - Ship Notes
A. Ship and Crew
We were very impressed with the ship and crew and they were all very friendly and competent. The ship and furnishings were in very good shape. She was very clean.
B. The Shops
There was something on sale each day. Realize that if you forget something, you can buy it on the ship, but necessities are expensive. Deodorant, mints, dental floss, M&Ms are all available, but not at a price you might want to pay. My advice: remember to bring the essentials, even if that includes M&Ms!
C. Internet Service
The good news: there are plenty of computer terminals with internet access on the ship. The bad news: it costs about 53 cents per minute. You can get your cost down to around 35 cents a minute if you buy a bulk of minutes. I continue to hope that Celebrity will rethink the pricing to find the price point at which the computers will be 75%-to-85% utilized. Passengers will be happier, and Celebrity will end up with more net income, rather than having a wasting asset on board.
Our ship had 150 children on board, 70 being teenagers. They behaved very well.
Part VIII - The Ports
We visited seven great ports. We set up excursions ahead of time with highly-recommended tour operators at 2 of these ports and did our own thing at 5 ports.
A. Oranjestad, Aruba
Aruba is a part of the Netherland Antilles. It is an island of stunningly beautiful beaches. Located only 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is only 75 square miles in size. The official language is Dutch, but almost everyone also speaks English and Spanish.
We had planned to spend the day at either Palm or Eagle Beach (both come highly recommended), but it was raining quite hard all morning and so this scuttled our plans. My husband and brother-in-law did spend time in Oranjestad and found a nice little "hole in the wall" place which served cold beer and tasty schwarma. They were there with a local named Armando and the owner. They also picked up some Caribbean/Hawaiian shirts as well as some t-shirts.
I stayed on the ship and enjoyed the ability to nab a chair in the sun (when the sun came out in the afternoon).
B. Willemstad, Curacao
Also a part of the Netherland Antilles, Curacao is not as famous for its beaches as Aruba. However, Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one look at it tells you why. This is exactly what you expect a Caribbean city to look like with its bright, Easter-egg colored buildings.
In the morning, we walked through Curacao, visiting the floating market and walking the packed and small streets. The fort is well-developed now (it wasn't the last time we were here) with lots of high-end retail shops and some bars and eating establishments. The floating bridge was great to walk over, even though it was moving at the time (it made our sea legs seem all too real).
In the afternoon, we went to Cabana Beach near the Seaquarium. It was a nice, little beach. The prices for food were steep since it is part of the Kontiki Resort, but we just enjoyed the sun. It cost $20 for the taxi each way to the beach (for 3 people) and $3 per person to use the beach. A chair cost $5 to rent, but no one ever asked me for money for that.
It rained for part of our stay on the beach, so we just enjoyed a few hours of sun and sand. It was enough to whet our appetites for what was to come.
Be warned. The ship will leave without you. Rumor has it (I heard it from several sources) that we left a family of 6 waving and yelling at us on the floating bridge as we left Curacao. If you think you might be late, take your passports and credit cards without and be willing to pay and arm and a leg to get to the next port.
C. St. Georges, Grenada
This was our first visit to Grenada. Grenada, known as the "spice island," is part of the Lesser Antilles' Grenadines and is part of the British Realm. My husband and son visited Great Anse Beach all day. After mailing my Christmas cards (I had 51 cards and mailed them for $39 with beautiful stamps I obtained just inside of the pier at a wonderful little post office stall), my brother-in-law and I went in search of spices.
First, we tried walking to the Market Square and got hopelessly lost, so we decided to take the local "buses" to Guyanve to see the Dougaldston Estate which is famous for its spices. For US$2.00, we hopped a #5 bus (really just a large passenger van that, at times, held up to 19 people) for the 30-40 minute ride to the Estate. They dropped us off on the main road near the estate (and a beautiful stream where some Grenadians were doing their wash). We walked into the jungle on a path and a small boy (maybe 6 or 7), sent by the ladies washing their clothes, came to show us the way.
I tipped the small boy US$1.00 for being our guide. He seemed surprised, but grateful. He led us to a run-down building with large trays of a spice drying in the sun. Had I been less surprised about my surroundings (I had expected something much more commercial and touristy), I would have smelled the cocoa drying in the sun.
We were the only tourists there, and we went into the building where one of the ladies did her demonstration of the various types of spices they process--bay leaves, all spice, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, cocoa, vanilla, cloves--and then we could buy some. Each packet (a good-sized amount) was US$1-2.00. We loaded ourselves with spices and then bought some water, grapefruit soda (called "Ting") and ginger beer. All of the spices were sealed and as long as we don't open them before we go into the US, we are good with US agriculture.
After getting directions to the nearest bus stop, we started walking again through the cocoa-scented jungle to the road. We were followed by some friendly stray dogs and a saw a few not-very happy goats tied up near the road. Right after we got to the main road, we caught a bus. About 5 minutes into the ride, I realized we were going the wrong way. I mentioned this to my brother-in-law, but we decided to go with the flow.
The flow took almost 2 hours to the end of the route and back to St. George's. It was a great, though sometimes harrowing, experience and we saw a lot of the coast and the people of Grenada--all for US$2.00 per person. It was probably the least expensive tour of the island that anyone from our ship had all day.
Upon our return to St. George's, we stopped at a local supermarket and bought some local rum. It was less expensive than at liquor stores and was just as good--two small bottles for US$7.00. I also stopped in the Duty Free store and bought some Nutmeg Syrup for US$5.00. There was free (but slow) WiFi at the pier.
My husband and son went to Grand Anse Beach via water taxi (directly from the pier, US$4.00 each way per person).
Grenada was the only location where we had to go through a magnetometer and put our bags through an x-ray machine just to get onto the pier. This was in addition to the same thing once we got back on the ship. I am not sure why this was.
D. Bridgetown, Barbados
This was also our first visit to Barbados, which is also a British Leeward Island. The pier is a combination cruise pier and working cargo pier. We were docked pretty far down the pier and the cruise line offered free shuttle buses for us so that we did not have to walk down the pier.
We walked through the pier shops and took a taxi to the Hilton Beach (US$7.50 per person). All of the beaches are publicly accessible in Barbados, but at first the Hilton wanted to charge us US$80 for each person to use their chairs, an umbrella, and the pool, as well as have lunch. After some discussion with the man who handled the chairs and umbrellas in the area, we got two chairs under a palm tree for nothing. He helped us out; I tried to find him later to tip him, but he had disappeared.
The beach at the Hilton was under a red flag which meant that there should have been no swimming, but with the waves so strong, it was irresistible. There were many people out in the water, and the lifeguard was very attentive.
After a couple long rounds of bodysurfing by the three guys in our group, we were ready to return to the ship. We used the freshwater showers, dried off, and went through the hotel lobby and got a taxi back to the pier (US$4 each person). Again, there was free (but slow) WiFi at the pier. We bought some aged Mount Gay Rum (made on the island), Banks Beer (also made on the island) and rum cake (a local version made, you guessed it, on the island).
E. St. John's, Antigua
I had booked an outing in Antigua with Creole cruises--a lobster lunch and snorkeling outing. I had given them my credit card number to hold the opening, but I decided to pay in cash because I got a 10% discount, so instead of US$130, I paid US$117 for myself.
We were picked up on time (9:45am) by Captain Glen on the dock outside of the Exotic Antigua store just off the pier. There were already about 16 people on the ship from local resorts and I and two fellow cruise passengers joined them. We took a 10 minute speed away into the Caribbean Sea and then were served non-alcoholic drinks, then had another 25 minute speed into the Atlantic Ocean and to Bird Island, part of the nature preserve which has between 22 and 24 smaller islands around Antigua (the numbers kept changing).
I got off here with about 10 of my fellow passengers. We decided to explore this lonely, lovely beach instead of snorkel. I am really quite bad at snorkeling and was glad for this option. The beach was wonderfully deserted. I walked up and down the beach, talked with many of the other passengers, and watched the young mate, Mario, clean up and get ready to cook our lunch.
We were able to drink freely of the water, juice, rum punch, and beer that they had brought, all served with a smile by Travis, another mate on the boat. No alcoholic beverages before snorkeling, but since we weren't snorkeling, we were fine. A few other boats stopped by and disgorged their passengers, but it was still a beautiful and peaceful beach.
After lunch of four different salads, wood-fire grilled spiny lobsters, a bottle of white wine for each of the four tables, and a perfect macaroon to top it all off, most of us embarked on a short nature walk. Warning: Wear sneakers or hiking shoes. There is a difficult climb up a rocky path with few footholds. I and many of my fellow passengers made it wearing crocs and flip flops, but it was not easy.
The walk was worth it because the view from the top of the island was unbelievably beautiful. The opposite side of the island is rocky and craggy, not like the side we had been on. It was a perfect ending to our day on this island.
After we were all aboard and everything was cleaned up on the island, we stopped at Maiden island where some people went in to see an amazing array of starfish. I did not go, but I hear they were many colors and sizes. We arrived back at the dock at 4:10pm, a little later than the promised 3:45pm, but in time to reboard our ship by 4:30pm.
F. Philipsburg, St. Maarten
St. Maarten/St. Martin is an island owned by two different countries: the first section by the Netherlands and the second by the French. My husband, son and brother-n-law joined 3 others recruited from the Cruise Critic boards in a private deep-sea fishing excursion with TaylorMade cruises. I had contacted them through the internet, and had paid a $100 deposit to hold the date and time. The cost was US$117 per person.
I hear the trip was fun, although not fruitful. The waters were very choppy, so the ride was bumpy and the only fish caught was a large barracuda by my son.
G. Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas
There were 4 ships in port (that I saw) on the day we were at this US Virgin Island. Everywhere we looked was packed. We docked at the Havensight Mall. Remember to take a photo ID with you on shore because you need it to get back on to the pier. We walked to the taxi stands at the outside of the mall and got a taxi (SUV) for the 8 of us (we had friends with us) for $8 each to Magen's Bay Beach. The entrance fee to Magen's Bay is another $4.
The beach is beautiful and it was packed with people, but we did find a place to sit. With chairs at $5 each with a $5 refundable deposit when you return them, we parked them near some overgrown shrubbery and enjoyed our day. This is truly the most beautiful beach I have ever been on (okay, it is a tie between this beach and Waimanalo Beach in Oahu, Hawaii) and we had a great time. The taxis were $8 to get back to the ship after our wonderful day
I. Days At Sea
Between ports, we had six at sea days. Our first at sea day (just out of Fort Lauderdale) had us following the northeastern coast of Cuba all day. It is a bigger island than I thought. Toward the end of the day, we swung a hard turn south and passed between Cuba and Haiti (the island of Hispanola) and then past Jamaica and into the Caribbean Sea. The second at sea day put us directly into the Caribbean Sea all day on our way to Aruba.
The day at sea between Curacao and Grenada was very windy and the seas were rough. Because we were going directly into the waves, the stabilizers did not work. They only work when the waves are coming from the side. We learned this because we were invited to tour the Bridge on our second sea day. This was our first time and it went really fast--only 20 minutes and we asked a lot of questions.
A few interesting notes from the Bridge tour: a) There is a person on watch at all times. When we asked what he was watching for, the answer was small boats and cargo containers that had fallen off of container ships during rough weather. b) The captain is in charge during all docking and undocking activities. Even if a pilot is brought on board to advise and "takes the con," the captain can override any decision that the pilot makes. c) The ship can pull into areas where the clearance under the ship is only 1-2 meters. It has to move very slowly, but it can and does manage.
d) The ship's propellers move independently and can turn 360 degrees. The ship can move sideways, if necessary. Each propeller also has its own engine directly within the propeller case and there is room for 2 people, if needed, in each propeller case. e) 60% of the energy created on board is used to run hotel systems like computers, vacuum cleaners, lights. Only 40% is used to propel the ship forward. Additionally, 30% of the overall energy is used to run the vacuum system used for the toilets.
I have never spent much time on the speakers on past cruises--their topics never really interested me. However, during this trip, Dr. Jim Rowe was presenting on each sea day about Caribbean culture and nature. The timing of the presentations wasn't great (10am) because other things interrupted us (the Cruise Critic meeting one day, the Bridge tour the other); however, they were replayed on the internal television stations often and we were able to watch all of them. He was a very interesting speaker and both my husband and I enjoyed his informative speeches.
We also enjoyed the song stylings of the 4-man a cappella singing group 545 Express. They were fun and their takes on traditional Christmas sons, including their rendition of "The 12 Days of Christmas" which somehow morphed into "(I bless the rains down in) Africa" by Toto were well-done and creative. We also enjoyed an evening listening to the folk singing of Jefferson Ang, a talented young man.
Part IX - Tipping
The service personnel on Celebrity receive meager wages and rely on your tips for income. While Celebrity says it is customary to offer gratuities to the ships personnel who service you on the voyage, it really is expected, and it's something you should figure into your cruise budget. Our tips were paid on our cruise charge at US$11.50 per person per day. During our last cruise, we had asked our server and stateroom attendant if they received all of the gratuities from the cruise charges and they said yes (we were worried that a portion would be withheld by the cruise line, but that is apparently not the case).
We did tip extra to everyone for their good work. On our evaluation, we also included the names of people who had gone that extra mile for us. We have heard in past cruises that this is a great way to recognize people and it can result in a monetary bonus for people whose names are written down often.
Part X - Captain's Club
On this cruise, we were select members and so we received a "Welcome Letter" which invited us to a cocktail party, a "double jackpot" time in the casino, and a future cruise presentation.If you have taken a previous voyage and are not a member of the Captain's Club, sign up. It's free. Benefits include a CC express line at Embarkation, priority disembarkation, some small cabin welcome gifts, very minor casino, wine and spa discounts, a $20 "all you can fit in a cleaning bag" coupon to launder your clothes, two complimentary pressed items, a cocktail party, a "behind the scenes" tour, and a one cabin upgrade, whenever possible. Some exclusions apply.
Part XI - Disembarkation and Customs
Disembarkation ("exiting of the ship at the end of your cruise"). Breakfast was served in cabins, on the buffet, and in the restaurant. Disembarkation went smoothly. Earlier in the week, everyone completed surveys which were used to prioritize passengers. Clearly those folks needing to catch plane and train connections or who were on escorted tours in Fort Lauderdale had highest priority. Captain's Club members had priority within their color group. Color-coded Disembarkation luggage tags were issued to all cabins, and passengers were instructed to place the tags on their luggage and put it outside their cabins prior to 11:00pm Friday night.
We were self-disembarking which meant we carried all of our own luggage (not easy with 4 backpacks, 4 carry-ons and 2 checked bags (larger bags) and only 4 people. But we made it. We met on the 3rd floor at 7:45am after breakfast and were off the ship, through customs and immigration and outside the pier by 8:30am.
US citizens are permitted 1 liter of alcohol and $800 worth of Duty Free goods per person. If under the limit, all you needed to do was to declare the total value. Anything greater had to be itemized (declared) and a duty paid, if requested.
C. Transportation Options to Airport
There were transfers available through the cruise line which would take you on bus to either of the local airports--Miami or Fort Lauderdale, taxis were available, and hotel shuttles. We chose to hire a car to meet us. I called them early in the morning with our approximate pick up time and he was there waiting for us when we left the ship. We stowed the luggage and ourselves for the quick trip back to the Fort Lauderdale airport. It was an effortless way to get there.
D. Fort Lauderdale Airport
Upon arrival at the airport, we proceeded to the AirTran check-in. It took us less than 15 minutes to turn in our bags and less than 10 minutes to clear security. AirTran charges $20 per checked bag (of less than 50 lbs) for the first checked bag per person; $25 for the second. We checked 2 bags on the way home, one each for my husband and myself, for a total of $40.