Where do I start? Celebrity is everything it advertises! Trust me - getting reacclimated to the real world will be difficult!
We booked transfers to/from the airport, but we never used them. This would be one of the few areas that could use improvement. When we got to baggage claim, we were told to collect our bags and then meet back where the greeter was. We did that and when we started to head to where the greeter was, the line seemed a mile long. We stood there for 5 or 10 minutes before someone finally told us that it would be another 10-15 minutes before the bus got back to the airport. Based on the number of people ahead of us (and the fact that I was hungry), we decided to skip the transfer and get a cab. We were on the ship enjoying our champagne before the bus got to the pier! We also decided to forego the return trip because we would have had to sit in the airport for 7 hours before our flight. We took a cab to the airport and rented a car and did our own sightseeing.
Embarkation was a breeze. We arrived about noon and there was no waiting. We checked in, got our cruise cards and got onboard. The only delay was when you get to the ship, they scan your card and take your picture so that as you come and go on the ship during the trip, every time your card is scanned your picture shows up and they make sure you are you! It was an extra security measure that made me feel secure. There is a duty free shop right by check in. We checked in and then went and bought some rum and coke to take on board. Be warned - the cruise line will take your alcohol if they know you have it. Your carry on bags are screened before you get on the ship. There were some of our Cruise Critic buddies that brought their own wine on the ship. They were charged a $15 corkage fee for each bottle they had opened by the staff. This is probably a good deal if you like a specific wine - bring your own wine from home that didn't cost an arm and a leg and only have them open it for $15! We put the rum in one of our bags and didn't have a problem. Once you get through security, they will take your embarkation picture then it's up the escalators to the main door. After they take your security picture, you will be offered a glass of champagne or orange juice. We saw some people waiting to go to their rooms, but we went straight to our room (no one told us we couldn't).
If you are debating over whether or not to spend an extra $30/person to eat at OceanLiners restaurant, I'm here to tell you it is worth that and so much more. This could have easily cost $200+ on land!! The dinner was exceptional! I felt like I would have to be rolled back to my room I ate so much. The goat cheese souffle is to die for!! The chef also made a filet mignon with black truffle sauce as a special item the night we were there. If it's available - order it!! The Grand Marnier souffle for dessert was wonderful. Make your reservations early though - the maitre d' told us that by Monday afternoon they are usually booked solid!
The Saturday night Mojito party was a blast! Onyx is a great band. Yes, you will hear the same music most of the time, but at least it's not like on a previous Princess cruise we were on where it was a steel drum band every day and the Love Boat theme song every day!! Onyx played music for all generations. Our cruise even had a couple of guests get up and play with the band - one on harmonica and one on sax. Boy were they great and they had a blast playing for fellow guests with Onyx!
Sunday we were in the Dominican Republic. Our sunset cruise excursion was cancelled so we decided to stay on the ship. This was the first night of our nightly "towel animals". Every night our cabin steward, Adnynana, made a towel animal to greet us after dinner and a night of dancing!! It was so much fun coming back to the room and seeing what Adnyana had created! He's so imaginative!
Monday we were at sea. This was also the first formal night. About 30%- 40% of the men were wearing tuxes. It was really great seeing all the tuxes - I personally love men in tuxes!! You are able to take formal portraits in 3 or 4 different areas of the ship. Many couples had pictures taken at every location.
Tuesday we were in Barbados. We took the Beautiful Barbados tour. Our tour guide was really great. He told us about the local government, the taxes and other trivial facts such as where Tiger Woods got married and the fact that Barbados has no snakes! After the tour, he let some of us out in town so we could shop and get lunch. I highly recommend the flying fish at the Bagel and Beer (or something like that). It was the first time I'd ever had flying fish and it was delicious. The local beer is also very good.
Wednesday we were in Grenada. DO NOT book a tour through the cruise line. If you are interested in the history of the island, the local politics and the spices and local scenery - you need to book a tour through Grenada Tours (www.grenadatours.com). Mandoo will probably be your guide and he is fantastic!! Mandoo is a native of Grenada and other than a stint in the British Merchant Marine has lived there all his life. He is very active in the local schools teaching the kids about how tourism is good for the economy and about conservation. The island was devastated by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, but is green again. The canopies of trees that obscured the view of some of the valleys are gone, but the island is still beautiful. I'm sure the cruise tours of the same things are very good, Mandoo is so personable and knowledgeable that I can't imagine a cruise line tour being better.
Thursday we were in Antigua. Again, the cruise line cancelled our shore excursion (Historic Forts of Antigua). We had late seating and we did not receive notification of this until after we got back to the room around 1:30AM - way too late to book another excursion. So we went shopping. We didn't really find anything that knocked our socks off. We ate a Hemingways, where I again had flying fish. Not as good as in Barbados, but still very tasty.
Friday we were in St Thomas - a shoppers dream. We had been to St Thomas before so we didn't book any excursions. We just shopped and got some great deals on jewelry and a digital camera.
We ate at the San Marco restaurant every night. Walter and Arlen (I think that was his name) attended to our every need. We had a "rowdy" table and they just played along with us. The food was delicious and there is quite a variety to choose from. For some reason I was a beef eater most of this cruise - usually I try to stick to fish. The beef was so tender you could almost cut it with a fork - a butter knife at the very least. Don't be intimidated by all the forks, knives, and spoons that are arranged around your plate. The waiters will be glad to help you out or just remember - work from the outside in. Our last night at the San Marco, I ordered a pastry stuffed with a raspberry mousse and I asked Walter if he could add a couple of extra raspberries to my plate. He did better than that - he brought me an entire bowl of raspberries!! One night my husband accidently got decaf coffee (I don't think he can really tell the difference but...) and Arlen took the cup away and brought him a fresh cup with fully leaded coffee. We had that kind of service every night. If there is something you want that is not on the menu, just ask your waiter - they will try and get you whatever you want. Our last night, none of us like the appetizers so we all asked if we could get the shrimp cocktail from the night before - same with our Caesar salads - Walter was able to get all of that for us even though it wasn't offered on the menu. The Grand Buffet on the last formal night is not to be missed - you can get a glimpse of the chocolate sculptures in Cova Cafe during the week.
One night they had a "Watermelon Parade" up by the pool. The chefs had carved watermelons and they paraded them around the pool decks!! The sculptures were amazing!! I didn't really take part in any of the midnight buffets because I was still too full from dinner. What little I did have was delicious.
We splurged and booked a suite. Our butler, Theo, was a wealth of information. He told us about the islands (Barbados is his personal favorite) and was very personable. Every morning he would bring us our coffee and breakfast and set it up on the table for us. He was also very helpful when my husband realized that he left his suit pants at home and had to rent a tux for the formal nights. Theo spent at least 45 minutes looking through the limited inventory to find a 40L suit coat and was upset when he couldn't find it. He really cares about all the guests he takes care of. If you do get a suite, the afternoon tea is really delightful. Theo made some great recommendations on the food/snacks.
We also had sushi a couple of nights. I still couldn't bring myself to try the eel. Many of the other passengers said that the eel would have been better if there had been eel sauce. The sushi I had was very good - my favorite was the tuna with cream cheese. It wasn't very exotic, but it appealed to most people and was good.
We only ate breakfast once at the Seaside Cafe buffet. The eggs were watery and unappealing. Unfortunately, they fix them the same way for room service. We also ate lunch there on Embarkation day. There was a wide variety of food and it was good.
The drink waiters by the pool could use a little more training. Many times we had to flag them down to get some service. Too many times in fact - they would just walk right by you and not ask if you would like something to drink. They don't have set areas that they work - you could have 3 or 4 different people take your orders throughout the day. I think this is why it's so hard to get good service up there - too many people assuming that someone else has taken your order when no one has! There is a 15% service charge added to all bar sales. I liked that - it was 2 less people we had to tip in the restaurant and a real timesaver when you are signing your life away every time you order a drink!
The White Knight Ball at the Bar at the Edge of the Earth is an experience. DO NOT go in expecting to see a Cirque de Soleil show. If you do you'll be disappointed. You must have a mask to get in and they recommend you dress all in white. The masks on board are expensive so if you are going to go, bring materials to make your own or buy it at home (or onshore) and bring it with you. The characters interact with the crowd as you are entering. There is then a juggling act that is amazing (9 balls all in bouncing at the same time and same angle - truely amazing). After that, you will see some of the typical Cirque style acts wandering around doing their thing. I was standing by one of the "Harem Beds" waiting to get a complimentary massage and someone tapped me on the calf of my leg. I looked down at this guy in a backbend position who was walking that way around the bar - then he stopped and did some poses that only someone without any bones could possibly do!! It was a fun night.
The only other complaints I had were that the water temperature in my cabin shower was never consistent. It would fluctuate between hot and cold - frustrating and painful at times if you have a sunburn!!
Disembarkation was pretty easy. The only thing that would make it a little easier is to have clearly marked color coded areas where you go to reclaim your luggage. As I said earlier, we did not use our return transfer. We were told by an employee of San Juan tourism that we could rent a car in Old San Juan. While this is true, you have to wait for the car to come from the airport so it is easier to just go to the airport and rent the car.
Someone once told us that nothing tops your first cruise - well we found something that did. Our first cruise was on Princess and while it was very good and we had wonderful service, it doesn't even come close to Celebrity. Tip night was a real telling point. Our room steward on Princess was not seen (other than to introduce himself on embarkation day) until tip night. People that we had little interaction with on Princess, such as the sommelier, suddenly were very attentive to us. We met Adnyana, our cabin steward, on embarkation day and we saw him a couple of times in the hallway, but we never saw him on tip night. We left his tip in the room and he picked it up. I wanted to thank him personally, but we never got the chance. Our butler never altered his routine in any way and our wait staff was just as attentive. We joked with Walter and Arlen that they weren't going to get their tips until after the meal so we could still adjust it if we deemed it necessary. Everyone on Celebrity went out of their way to treat you famously and on tip night nothing changed. It almost seemed as if they were embarrassed to be getting all that money handed to them.
We did not have our kids with us on this trip. Some of our cruise critic buddies had their 4 1/2 year old. Every time we saw them off the ship they didn't have their son with them - he was in the Fun Factory. They told us that he passed up beach time because he would rather be in the Fun Factory. If a 4 1/2 year old from New Jersey would pass up beach time to stay indoors and play, it must be an awesome place. Next time we cruise we'll have to bring our kids with us.
Would I go on another Celebrity cruise? In the blink of an eye!!