Overall, the cruise was wonderful and we found Celebrity to be a great fit for us so we purchased an open booking while on board. We enjoyed the activities, the music, the smoking policy and the focus on adults (only 15 children on this cruise -- we like children, but enjoy adult-oriented vacations at this stage of our lives) compared to our experiences with RCI,though have had many wonderful cruises with them. The staff was very friendly and we also liked the people on board and found many people of all ages who we enjoyed talking to -- we even found some new friends that we did things with throughout the cruise. I think every cruise has a certain feel and I felt that there was an overall good feeling on board this cruise -- most people seemed happy and pretty relaxed (I know we were!).
Here are the highlights of the cruise:
Pre-cruise: Drove down from VT -- loved not having to fly, and stayed at Country Inn and Suites as recommended by CC people. Very nice hotel (on the boarder of not so nice neighborhoods, but we felt safe there), with Ruby Tuesday a few steps away for dinner (and a place to practice drinking before getting on the ship). The free breakfast there was quite good. We drove to the port the next morning at 10:30 and parked there (port is about 20 minutes away). You can get good deals for safe parking at the hotel, but we wanted to be able to just jump into our car upon return and head home (and not deal with shuttles each way to/from the port -- would definitely do this again if they were keeping the ship in Bayonne next year). It wasn't too crazy at ~ 11:00 -- we were able to park easily at the terminal and unload our luggage -- we got a very nice porter who joked around with us and put our bags gently on a cart (not the usual from what I've heard). He told us where to go to park so we circled around to the parking area across the road (very close to the terminal). The parking fee is paid upon entry (they take cash or credit cards -- $228 for 12 days). A free shuttle showed up immediately and a friendly driver took us and our carry-on luggage back across the road to the terminal.
Embarkation: Though not a well-appointed terminal, it was well-marked -- we saw the "Suites and AquaClass check-in" sign and walked into that separate room. We were checked in within a couple of minutes and had a glass of champagne in our hands in no time (on at 11:30). We had time to explore and grab some food at the OVC. We usually avoid RCI's equivalent venue, but I must say that we did find some tasty things in the OVC. If you want to skip the heavy stuff, they have a nice sandwich bar with different rolls and breads with delicious chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad and cold cuts, cheese and veggies -- there is someone who will grill it for you if you wish. We had purchased the premium drink package so we had to try that out immediately and soon had yummy drinks in hand (and no paper receipts).
Cabin: We had 1503 AquaClass. Loved that area of the ship -- it was close to the Relaxation Room, which was usually just that -- it had a beautiful forward view of the ocean, was usually quiet, had soft music playing and smelled wonderful. Being 1 door down, we could open our door and peek in to see if it was busy or not. There were nice teas in there and big coolers of water with oranges or limes/lemons. It was a great place to read on rainy or cool days (luckily we had few of those). Occasionally there were some loud people in there who probably didn't realize it was a relaxation room -- the spa people came in once and very nicely asked some people to keep their voices down (to the relief of those of us who were reading).
Our hallway was very quiet and we had nice, quiet people in our neighborhood. The cabin attendant, Jonathon and his assistant Rogelio were wonderful -- they were attentive, while respecting our privacy. Our cabin was under the aerobics part of the gym so we did hear some noise above us occasionally -- it wasn't that troublesome. Our neighbors in 1501 loved their cabin -- they had booked it on a previous cruise and requested it again. They were probably under the spa veranda so didn't get the gym noise. The balcony received a lot of sun, mornings on the way down and afternoons on the way back -- we enjoyed lots of sun out there on sea day afternoons when the pool decks were crazy.
We loved the shower, the huge towels and the bed was amazing -- my husband's back issues cleared up in the 12 nights. That bed was so big and comfy, with soft, good-smelling sheets and lots of great pillows to choose from -- I miss it! As others have discussed, the storage in the cabin was not optimal. I took the drawers and my husband the above the bed storage -- it worked out okay, but was glad that I had been fore-warned so I took fewer clothes. We used the free laundry coupons for Elite (had Diamond Status on RCI so had Elite status) and got 2 huge bags of laundry done for free (up to 30 items each time)- if the bag of laundry was given to Jonathon in the morning, the clean clothes were delivered the following afternoon.
Dining: The main reason I booked AquaClass was because of Blu -- I am not a big fan of the MDR experience anymore -- on RCI it was often crowded, noisy and under-staffed. Although Blu was definitely a step up, our experience there was a bit inconsistent. My husband's main course was undercooked one night, over-cooked the next and then a seafood dish had little flavor -- though I enjoyed most of the dishes I had, he was less enamored of Blu. The waiter came over to check on things the night the seafood was tasteless (hadn't come over in time the other times to make a switch) and immediately wanted to make it right -- he insisted on getting him something else -- he got him the rib eye, which was excellent. The matre d' came to the table to see how things were and my usually quiet husband let him know what he thought (he remained polite and said it was his opinion only). The matre d' was very apologetic and said others had complained that the seafood was not great that night and he would take it up with the kitchen. Their desire to make things right was impressive. We then had several specialty restaurant experiences and didn't go back to Blu much for dinner, but did have another good meal there on a formal night (the baked goat cheese was superb and the lobster delicious). We heard from others that they loved Blu and some who had been somewhat disappointed with Blu, but all in all it was still great to have a smaller, quieter venue as our main dining area. The breakfasts in Blu were quite good -- seats by the ocean on nice, sunny days made it a great place to be (and they had real Vermont maple syrup for the pancakes) and delicious fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juice. We liked the seating in Blu -- very few "bad" tables. We had a table for 2 each night- some were by themselves (we liked the one near the pole on the far side -- that side of the room tended to be quieter) and others were fairly close to another couple. We felt that we could either strike up a conversation or just keep to ourselves, depending on our moods. We met some nice people there and it was a good place to exchange ship gossip. We vowed to relax on this cruise and really liked that we could just show up for dinner when we felt like it. We often went at peak times, but never had to wait -- we didn't get the same table or waiter each time, though enjoyed Jesus when we got him (just couldn't warm up to Yuni). I would definitely do AquaClass again -- we may have had a few issues with Blu, but overall would rather have it as our dining room. We liked Vereinia (not sure about spelling) as our sommelier in Blu -- she was very knowledgeable and encouraged us to try new wines.
Mast Grill was surprisingly good. The burgers were juicy and the fries hot. Once we had one burger, we ended up going back a few more times. The hot dogs with sauerkraut looked good too.
AquaSpa Cafe was good for a quick bite of healthy stuff at breakfast (didn't go there for lunch). Yogurts and yogurt parfaits, oatmeal, Museli, fruits and omelets made to order at breakfast. It was a handy for us to run up for a frozen yogurt cone since we were just below the cafe.
Room Service: Excellent and always hot. The cabin attendants delivered the food (never saw that on RCI) - we were about as far away from the galley as possible and somehow the food arrived hot. The choices were better than RCI, IMO. My husband laughed one night when he asked what I had done for lunch that day and I said that in the end I just wanted to stay on the balcony in the sun so had room service deliver shrimp cocktail, a cheeseburger and crÃ¨me brulee. It was so delicious and it felt good to be pampered.
The specialty restaurants were all amazing. We went twice each to the Tuscan Grille, Murano and Qsine and the Lawn Club Grill once. We had excellent food and more importantly, a memorable experience, in each venue. We booked one each ahead of time at full price so we could have our choice of times (specialty restaurants were often all booked except for 5:30 and 9:00 when we were on Allure and Oasis). We found that they seemed to have openings for good times on board (we were often there at prime times, often with plenty of empty tables) so waiting to get the cheaper package on board (or converting to a dinner package) makes sense. They often offered a venue at 20% off in the dailies for certain times or had people bringing around coupons. On the last night we decided to go to Murano and asked if they were offering 20% off as some other venues were that night and the matre d' said they weren't offering it, but he would give us 20% off anyway.
Qsine was a great place to try new things. We loved M's favorites, which was a big collection of Mediterranean foods, which we tend to have avoided in the past -- we tried a little of everything (12 items), with the marinated lamb chops our favorite. The Painter's Mignon was one of the best steaks we'd ever had and the lava crab, disco shrimp, make your own guacamole and baby back spring roll with white truffle BBQ sauce were also amazing. We only got part way through our choices the first time so of course we had to go back to have our favorites and work our way through other choices (you order all that you want ahead of time, but just wave the white flag when you can't eat another bite). The waiters there are excellent and make it a really fun experience. It was fun to watch the surprise on the faces of "Qsine virgins" around us -- I knew a bit about the dishes because of reading CC, but tried to read as little as possible ahead of time in order to be somewhat surprised. One downside was that they had $13 special cocktails which were not covered by the premium drink package (all other places on the ship that the premium drink package is honored we just paid difference between $12 and price of the drink, if greater). Luckily I had heard about it on CC so ordered wine instead, after verifying with the waiter that it was indeed true.
The Lawn Club Grill had excellent food, but you need to pace yourself if you actually want to eat the wonderful grilled seafood, steak, lamb, chicken, kabobs, etc. that you get to choose from in the big glass case when you arrive (the steaks were huge and high quality). We had had cocktails before dinner so lost enough self-respect to go up and put on aprons and toss pizza dough around -- it was a lot of fun and we have great pictures they took with our camera. The flatbreads we made were surprisingly good (of course we placed all our favorite items in good quantities on them) and the salad bar quite good, though we tried to save ourselves for the main event. My husband went up and donned a chef's hat and another apron and helped cook the meat -- he thoroughly enjoyed the experience -- very few people participated in our particular group of people, but those who did were laughing and having a wonderful time. The grilled meat was excellent (we had filet mignon, shrimp, scallops, marinated lamb chops and red snapper), as well as the sides, such as lobster mac and cheese. As a bonus, there are often musicians with a wine and cheese event under the stars on the lawn in the evening so you may also have some nice entertainment during dinner.
Murano was an elegant experience and we took full advantage of the wonderful food there: arugula salad with quail, diver scallop Wellington, lobster flambeed table side, a rolling cheese table, warm chocolate souffle, etc. They also had caviar for those who like it. They bring you a dish of six unique dessert bites, whether you order dessert or not -- very tasty. The dessert sampler was really good -- it was beautifully displayed with 6 different small containers of things including cotton candy and sorbet -- my advice is to somehow save room for dessert! The sommelier there was great at helping us pair the wine to our food and they used Riedel glasses, which really do make a difference IMO.
Tuscan Grille: I assumed this would be more of a mediocre experience since it was the least expensive specialty restaurant, but I actually liked this one the best. The first night we ate there was for the Wine Tasting Dinner ($95/per person). We had some dishes not on the menu (the most amazing rack of lamb and a creamy seafood soup to die for), paired with wonderful wines. It was a great experience (only 40 people so book early at Cellar Masters if you are interested-they turned several people away). We had been booked for the next night previously and thought we might cancel since we opted for the wine tasting dinner there, but enjoyed it so much we went back. I would highly recommend the cioppino, the lobster linguine, the shrimp and scallop scampi and tiramisu.
Casual Pay Venues:
The Porch: At $5 per person, this was very good -- we went there for lunch about half the time. The soups were so good (1 hot and 1 cold each day) and we had favorite paninis, which came with chips. Dessert is also included -- they have several choices. Most of the time it was not crowded and the staff were friendly. There was a good view of the ocean, as well as the track that was also a path for people on deck 14. I hate to say it, but it was interesting to watch the interactions of the people who went round and round on the track and those who just wanted to get from point A to point B. IMO, Celebrity messed up when planning the track -- I watched unsuspecting people get nailed by runners on a daily basis. Tried the breakfast paninis one morning -- they were pretty good and come with pastries, fruit salad and juices, coffee, tea -- no one else was up there at that time.
Cafe al Bacio: We loved going there every morning after breakfast for mocha expresso or tea (have the brand Tea Forte, which is excellent). These were covered under the premium drink package so we liked trying new things. The girls there were always trying to tempt us with sweets -- the chocolate croissants and eclairs were good and no extra cost. The gelateria had amazing ice creams that varied each day ($3 for 2 scoops and ~$5 for 4 scoops -- included lovely freshly-made waffle cones). The last full day we had lost some of our appetites and just had ice cream for lunch -- yummy! The free OVC ice cream was pretty good too, but this was really good.
Bistro on Five: Was not impressed with breakfast crepe -- maybe the lunch crepes were better. They had fresh squeezed OJ and coffee and teas. They also offered us dessert after our breakfast -- their desserts looked like some of the best on the ship, but we just couldn't handle them at 9:30 AM.
Outside the OVC right after boarding we met Ferhad, one of the 24 sommeliers on board. I felt that RCI was quite weak in this area -- it was hard to get help in the dining rooms when choosing wine so I was thrilled to hear about all the sommeliers on this ship and all the wine tasting opportunities.
We signed up for Wine Appreciation 101 ($10 and the same as the Captain's Club wine tasting though with 6 wines instead of 4 at the Captain's Club free tasting), Walk Around the World Wine Tour ($20 with 6 whites and 6 reds from all over the world -- some tasty hors d'oeuvres were included), Connoisseur's Wine Dinner ($95 each at Tuscan Grille with champagne at Michael's followed by 5 courses with 5 paired wines- well worth it!), Riedel Comparative Crystal Glass Workshop ($87 each -- that includes a set of 4 beautiful Riedel glasses - $15 extra to ship within US, but we just carried ours off the ship -- as others have said on CC, this is pretty amazing. I went in with healthy skepticism, but was a convert to Riedel glasses by the end) and the Art of Food and Wine Pairing ($15 each -- very well done and great handout for future reference was given out). The only ones we missed were "Champagne Tasting" which was $15 each and Premium Wine Tasting which was $40 each.
With the premium drink package, we stuck with wine by the glass with meals. There were many excellent wines available -- many of them we had tasted at the wine tastings so knew what we liked. We had many nice wines under $12, but also had some greater than $12/glass and paid the difference. The sommeliers often encouraged us to try new things (knew us from the tastings) so we had a good time exploring outside our comfort zone, knowing we could get something else if we didn't like it, with the premium drink package. They had recently changed the wine lists in some of the restaurants so some sommeliers were willing to open some bottles and have us try the new wines (not sure if they were to be sold by the glass since they weren't on the menus yet).
The Enomatic Wine Machines were pretty cool -- we had used them on Oasis and Allure and liked having small tastes of different wines. As previously discussed, a separate card needs to be purchased to use them on Celebrity ships. We bought a card the first day and got a bonus amount on our card ($60 for $50) -- I didn't use it that much so on the last day I had a $37 balance. We took a couple of new friends to Cellar Masters and tried small pours of several wines (~ $1.50-4.50 each) -- it was a lot of fun. Bonny, the sommelier there, is very helpful and fun to be around.
We had a lot of fun at the Molecular Bar with Sergei. We loved the 20 year martini and most of the other cool drinks there -- it was worth going there just to see Sergei make the drinks and see peoples' faces when their drink arrived with mist coming off from it, beautiful tasty foam on top or rose petals suspended in it. It was a good gathering place -- low key and fun.
My husband likes good beer so enjoyed going to Michael's. They had a fun beer tasting in there one night. He found an IPA that he really liked (unusual for him on a cruise to find a beer that he likes). At his request the male bartender (my husband can't remember names), put some glasses in the freezer for him as he does at home so he had nice frosty glasses waiting for him. The female bartender was not as friendly -- he wandered into a couple of private events in there and she was not very pleasant when asking him to leave -- he felt she could have smiled and said "sorry, we're doing a private event tonight" instead of acting perturbed (like I do when he is clueless about something). Anyway, the guy in there received a nice tip at the end of the cruise for his great service.
All in all, I found the bartenders to be friendly and good at what they do. We never felt that having the premium alcohol package impacted our service (since we didn't have slips to sign, we didn't add an extra dollar or two as we usually do) -- we did tip those who went the extra mile at the end.
The Ensemble Lounge was a great place to meet up with friends and listen to music. There were many comfortable seats and attentive bar staff. There was sometimes a lot of traffic through there on the way to Blu and the specialty restaurants at night, but it made for some good people watching.
We didn't go to many of the shows - we were spoiled with the last 2 cruises on Oasis and Allure with Broadway musicals, diving and skating shows, superb comedians, etc. We were actually glad that we didn't have to rush to evening shows on this ship since they seemed to be the usual cruise ship productions (I'm sure the performers are excellent, but that just isn't our cup of tea). We did enjoy the comedians and would have liked more opportunities for late night comedy.
The on board musicians were top notch: Martin Andales, singer/guitarist, Les DeMerle Jazz Band (and we don't generally like jazz), Big Vibe Caribbean duo and Sipra, the party band were all good. It really helped make it an outstanding cruise that we had so many excellent musicians on board.
We met a couple who loved to dance (including ballroom) and they said that they had found that there were many more opportunities to dance on this ship than on the RCI cruises they had done.
We stayed on the ship in St Thomas, Antigua and St Maarten (except for short trips on shore to use free wireless). We love having a quiet ship on port days and took full advantage of sunbathing in the comfy padded lounge chairs (harder to get on sea days obviously - everyone seemed to take one for themselves and one for their totes, etc., but you could find an open chair somehwere).
We took a Celebrity shore excursion on St Kitts called Essential St Kitts. It was an ok excursion -- was not my favorite island.
On advice of CC, I booked a non-Celebrity tour with Cosol Tours in St Lucia. He did not disappoint. We had the most amazing day -- we fell in love with beautiful St Lucia and had 7 fun hours with the charismatic Cosol for $65 each. The local foods that he provided were absolutely wonderful (a breakfast buffet of multiple goodies and a lunch of freshly baked warm bread with local cheese -- it was all so good) and the mobile bar in the back of the van was a big hit with us and with the 7 "crazy" Canadians in our van. Highlights included visiting a banana plantation and tasting fresh bananas, visiting an active volcano and spending time on the beautiful Jalousie Beach between the Pitons. Some advice: bring a few $1's for bathroom stops along the way and a few dollars to tip the volcano guide, if desired. One other suggestion: go easy on the spiced rum that is offered late in the tour -- some of the guys had 2 shots of that high test moonshine, including my husband and they were a bit obnoxious, but so funny -- it was a hilarious ride back to the ship after that -- we have never had so much fun on a tour!! Cosol promises to get people back to the ship on time, though says that if he doesn't, not to worry, all the ladies can stay with him -- seriously, he has done this for many years and has back-up vans ready if needed to get us back on time if something happens.
- Going under the Verrazano Bridge during the Welcome Aboard party in the Sky Lounge -- very cool
- 10 straight days of sunshine
- Martin Andales singer/guitar player -- my husband was his biggest groupie so he was greeted warmly by Martin each time that he was at one of his sets and eventually I was greeted as well. He is an amazing artist and a lovely person -- we enjoyed many hours listening to his wonderful music. He took requests and played some of our favorites.
- For the first time, I was sea sick on the 1st full day -- the seas were quite rough and many people were sick -- may have been worse because our cabin was high and forward. I was fine the next day with no problems after that. I will bring ginger next time.
- Signing up for wireless minutes was a bit tiresome -- they had a deal for extra free time if purchased the 1st day -- there was a long line with 1 person signing people up -- she very nicely helped set up accounts in people's laptops, Kindles, iphones, etc. and some people had all 3 (and some people were technology challenged so it took a while). I got to the head of the line after waiting 30 minutes and then had to go to muster -- someone in line suggested we all get a number so we could come back in the same line after muster. I came back with my number 1 and finally got set up, but I would suggest getting there early if you go the first day to get the extra minutes - I suggested on my evaluation that they have more than 1 person available when offering a special deal. I ended up with 120 minutes for $49.95 after my Captain's Club discount -- I budgeted 10 minutes/day to check my email and it worked out well (had free wireless in ports). Just don't forget to log off each time or you will use up your minutes very quickly!
- Tight slots in the casino (though I did have so much fun losing my money)
Always sad, but less stressful with no flights to catch and pat downs to be subjected to, etc., etc. We had a nice relaxing breakfast at Blu at 07:30 and the cabin attendants said to take our time when we returned to the cabin a little after 0800 and promised to hurry. We were number 12 for departure -- not sure how we lucked out with a low number when we didn't have a flight to catch or anyone waiting for us, but didn't question it. We were scheduled to meet in the Theatre at 08:25 -- there was a big crowd there and lots of confusion at first, but once they started calling numbers it went pretty fast -- we were off the ship by 08:45.The worst part was the shuttle bus -- we were packed in like sardines with all our carry-ons and sat for about 10 minutes waiting for the bus ahead of us to unload. Other than that, it was pretty smooth and we were able to get on the road by 09:00. We drove away thinking about all the lucky people who were getting ready to take our places for 12 wonderful days...