The journey out went without a hitch apart from the Celebrity cruises Meet and Greet service at Miami airport, that wasted an hour whilst they tried to locate the transfer coach, not what you want after a long flight for the UK. Celebrity really let themselves down in this area and on reflection next time we would take a cab. Mind you the return transfer was even longer because of extra drop offs at Miami port.
Celebrity booked our flights with US Airways, although next time we would fly direct to Miami instead of a 2 -3 hour stopover in Charlotte, it just dragged the whole day out. When when did get to the Sheraton on Seabreeze Blvd in Fort Lauder dale, it turned out to be rather nice and our room was large and right on the beach. Nothing like the negative reviews on Trip advisor.
Just a shame that we only had just a few hours next morning to go for a stroll and walk around the beach area. But I did find a nice Diner, Bahia Cabana over the road from the hotel for breakfast. Just time to buy some wine to take on board and then a swift 15 - 20 minute coach ride and a very smooth transfer onto the ship. Very impressed with the whole process, although I think it helped that we had paid quite a bit extra to have a Concierge class cabin with priority boarding.
What a ship, nothing like a P&O ferry we normally use to cross the English Channel for our continental holidays, really classy and beautifully fitted out inside, just like a four to five star floating hotel. The ships theatre, bars and public areas were very impressive. Our midships Deck 9 Concierge class cabin was bright, big enough for two, with a dressing table, two seat-er sofa, comfortable queen sized bed, plenty of draw and hanging space. Small en-suite with a shower, balcony with two chairs and table - what more could you want? It did have a large overhang from the deck above, but in the heat of the Caribbean this proved to be be a benefit, as it kept the cabin cool in the afternoon. It did however manage to encroach in some of my photo's. A special mention for our cabin stewards Kaldy and Mustafa who looked after us both very well.
The food on-board the whole ship was first class and as good if not better than some of the expensive restaurants I have eaten in on business over the years. The dining staff were excellent, customer focused and really made you feel special, my waist line has expanded as a result and reckon I have put on at least half a stone in the two weeks. We pre-booked the Captains wine package and found 9 bottles of wine was sufficient for us two throughout the cruise in the main dining room. We are not big soft drink users or into specialist coffee. However I am very fussy about my coffee and will never drink instant coffee, always grinding my own beans at home, so to find the regular coffee served on the ship was a pleasant surprise after some of the adverse comments on this web site. I found the cold iced water served in the bars and dining room on the ship to be perfectly drinkable.
All the islands we visited were different in character, but if I had to pick a favorite or favorites I would say Grenada came first, closely followed by St Lucia and Antigua. Grenada just summed up the Caribbean for us, it was unspoilt, very green, a bit run down, manic, hot and sunny, very original with lovely people and nice beaches. For us the most disappointing was;
St Maarten - we saw both sides of the island from a ship excursion, the one and only time we used an organised tour, but not again. 3 hours on a jam packed beach with a poor value for money lunch thrown in with sun loungers that you had to pay $3 extra for the brolly. What we saw of the island was not very pretty and would not go back and to top it all the coach tour guide used the opportunity to give us a sales pitch on her new business venture on the island, twice!! Not what I want to hear on holiday thanks.
St Thomas - just a duty free shopping island it would seem and spoilt by having five cruise ship in port on the same day, something like 15,000 tourist hit the island in one day!!
I am sure there were good bits on those islands we didn't see, but for me first impressions count and would not hurry back to those again.
The best beach overall for us was Eagle Beach on Aruba, but there is little else of interest on the island as its geared up to sun and beach holiday's. We hired a friendly local taxi driver at the port for a half day tour who we felt struggled at times to show us anything really interesting on the island, and resulted in pointing out Dutch style old people's bungalows and Aloe Vera and cactus plants on the roadside, finally ending up on a quiet part of Eagle beach away from the crowd's. The sand was pure white and just like talcum powder, azure blue sea - wonderful and could have stayed there much longer.
Next onto Curacao where it rained as we arrived - we had nothing arranged and just walked around the town of Willemstad complete with KFC's, Subway's, Foot Locker stores and diamond shops galore. Loads of tourists walking around as there was another cruise ship in port, lots of tourist tat on offer and no real character, could have been anywhere really. Getting cynical now and only just started our trip around the islands. But thankfully it was to prove much better when we hit Grenada.
Grenada, what a pretty place St George's is - more or less left as it was when they gained independence, but the Chinese are moving in building new hospitals - the new colonists!
Again we engaged a local taxi driver / character, nicknamed "soup" who it seemed knew just about everybody we passed on the 5 hour $20 pp tour. Really interesting tour around the island, bought some spices from a small producer and we ended up on a lovely quiet beach with a bar in Westerhall bay away from the general throng for 3 hours. The whole place just summed the whole Caribbean for us - totally unspoilt.
Next onto Bridgetown, Barbados - its quite commercialised. The taxi driver we hired wanted to take us on an island tour at $40 each, even though we just told him we wanted a simple beach trip, so he quickly lost interest when he saw he wasn't going to make any money and dumped us on a less then perfect beach north of the Sandy Lane resort. We did see a bit of the island and a few big houses and large golf courses on our way back to the ship, but it could have been anywhere to be honest.
St Lucia - this was the island I was looking forward to seeing the most and was not disappointed, only trouble was, it was Sunday so most of the island was mostly closed. We shared a comfortable taxi and had a 3 hour tour taking in the selected pre-arranged tourist stopping off spots. We were not interested in buying beads, T-Shirts or wood carvings but overall we did get a good look at half of the island whilst it was quiet. Very pretty, green and a bit like Grenada and worth another longer visit.
Antigua - very similar to Grenada except it has the restored Nelson's Dockyard which was really interesting and historic. No Pirates, but could just imagine all those naval ships of the 1700's in the sea around the coast. It must have been so exciting to see Nelson's fleet in those days. We took a tour in a taxi with no little or no suspension and loads of pot holes in the roads; they must have imported ours from the UK? The driver knew his stuff as I had researched and read a lot about all the islands before we left. A very pretty place with some wonderful beaches.
On the ship there was so much to do we just didn't have time to take everything in and do all the activities that had been arranged. Maybe if you had cruised before as many had on the ship you would learn to pick and choose better, but because it was all new to us, it took us a few days to just find our way around the ship. Even on our last day we discovered another lounge area we hadn't visited. We didn't have any rough weather or long periods of rain, just couple of showers - lots of hot sun with temperatures ranging from mid 70's to high 80's, it was so smooth you could almost believe you were in a floating hotel.
The stand out area's for us were the quality, range and presentation of the food in all the restaurants, be it in the self service seaside grill, poolside burger / hot dog bar or in the select Dining section of the San Marco main dining room in the evening. At times it was difficult to choose which dish to have on the evening menu, because they were all so good and wished we could have sampled a bit of each dish as they were not repeated.
We chose the Select Dining option and a felt this was a very good choice, allowing us to see the early evening 19:00hrs theatre show and them go for dinner at around 20:15hrs. We never had to wait more than a few minutes for a table even without a reservation on the three formal nights. The staff in that section of the San Marco were all outstanding with a special mention for Toto Kassan our genial wine sommelier for keeping my wine in perfect condition. They all worked so very hard and I can not praise them enough, they made our evenings really enjoyable.
We dined in the Tuscan Grill one evening and whilst the food was excellent, for us we didn't feel it was worth paying the extra money for food, that in our opinion was just as good in the main dining room. We also had a wine waiter on our night that became a little too over familiar with us and spoilt my evening.
Without exception all the ships staff were outstanding and a lesson in excellent customer service, always greeting you with a smile and acknowledgement. The evening entertainment organised by a dedicated entertainments team headed up by Sue Denning was so professional, with flown in well known American entertainers to bolster the shows, it was all high quality professional productions, ranging from classical music concerts, comedians, musical /dance shows, barber shop trio's, local American & Caribbean bands etc. It was at times overwhelming; ten out of ten for the whole team.
Then there were the on board shops!!! enough said.
We noticed a raised cleaning regime in place on-board the ship and heard one or two people had been struck down with illnesses, but it didn't really affect us at all.
Thanks Celebrity for one of our best holidays ever, we will be back.