This was our 8th cruise on Celebrity and our first on the new larger ships. We are a British couple in our late 50s/early 60s who enjoy a bit of R&R in the sun after Xmas. We were less interested in the itinerary and more concerned about the weather.
We booked our own flight to Miami (we prefer to fly direct) but took advantage of Celebrity's well priced pre-cruise hotel offer at the Epic Hotel downtown. We took a taxi to the port, rather than the included transfer, as we prefer to board later in the afternoon when there are less people. We were in our stateroom within 30 minutes of leaving the hotel.
First impressions of the ship were positive, the dÃ©cor is more contemporary than other Celebrity ships, the public areas seemed very spacious and, as you would expect in a fairly new ship, it looked well cared for.
Our outside stateroom on deck 8 was fine -- but a point to remember is that the room layouts alternate (for space saving reasons) and half the rooms have the bed by the window and the couch internal -- not ideal. The bathrooms are much improved and very generous compared with the older ships. Storage was generous and this now includes additional high-level cupboards over the bed.
We thought the entertainment programme excellent but we were less keen on the cruise director. His jokes were dire and it appears that it is now a requirement for all cruise directors to be able to sing, no matter how good their voice. There was a good range of quizzes and it was great to see that the traditional 'men versus women' event was still running -- and the men won!
We attended the specialty lectures but they had no relevance to the itinerary (surely a Caribbean cruise would have something on the history and/or geography of the islands) and some problems over IT. The real disappointment was the limited music for dancing -- there was a good band but they were located in the atrium at the base of the main stair and the space was just too small. We could see why they were there - to provide a focus at the centre of the ship (there was also a show there one evening) -- but this merely confirmed the main problem with the ship -- there were too many disparate public areas but none, with the exception of the Sky Lounge above the bridge, of any size -- none of the bars were very busy and it was very quiet walking around during the late evening.
There is a generous range of shops which did not appear to be very busy and, despite Celebrity's luxury branding, we saw our old favourite cheapie, the 'inch of gold'.
We are Captain's Club members and the host was one of the best we have had. The programme was also pretty good and included a visit to the bridge and a good selection of pre-dinner drinks in the Sky Lounge.
We chose 'Select Dining', initially at 7:30 but changed to 6:30 to integrate better with the evening entertainment programme. We were able to have a table for two every time and found both the service and the food excellent -- we would have liked more steak but appreciate that rising costs and competitive fares mean that something has to be cut back. The wine sommelier was particularly good and there was an acceptable range of cheaper bottles.
We ate once at the Tuscan Grille, which again was fine, and pretty busy. It seems that rising premiums (Tuscan is 30$, others 40$) have not affected take up. Coming from a European city full of excellent restaurants we were not so impressed with the menus at Qsine or Murano and gave them a miss. The Bistro on Five was hardly used at all -- why pay extra for a crepe?
The Ocean View buffet was a revelation with attractive dÃ©cor, plenty of queuing and milling space, and a fantastic range of different ethnic foods including Italian, Mexican, Chinese and Indian. There were also several fruit juices available here 24 hours. The buffet is not normally our favourite place on other ships but this is a considerable improvement.
The itinerary was not very exciting but we knew that. In San Juan, where we arrived late in the afternoon, we just walked around the town. St Thomas is sold for its shopping but it is an attractive island and we bought an island tour on the dock. On St Maarten we took a ship's tour, mainly because it was so cheap - prices for ship's tours seemed far more reasonable than they used to be and the basic island tours that we like are pretty much the same price as the local ones.
We enjoyed the cruise very much and found the staff generally helpful and customer focussed -- and the officers were also very friendly and happy to talk to you at the cocktail parties. However, we remain unconvinced over the bigger ship concept and didn't meet anyone who thought that they were really the way to go. The lawn seems a waste of good deck space (and is very maintenance intensive as it was constantly being worked on) and the glass blowing is interesting once (but for two hours?), you would not want to see it again.
Disembarkation was let down by confusion with luggage collection and customs on shore -- long queues and the lack of organisation were a surprise as, surely, the ship is in Miami every week.