First a brief overview:
- Highest regard for health and safety
- Gorgeous, well maintained ships
- Great value for the base price
- Generous frequent guest program
- Reasonably robust Internet at reasonable prices
- Good TV programming and on-demand movies
- Happy crew -- it's obvious they are well treated
- Lots of recreation/entertainment -- but it's not Broadway or Hollywood
- Right tempo -- a minimum of blaring, obtrusive noise
- Fairly priced shore excursions
- Mostly very good to great alternative dining venues
- Good logistical design for buffet
- Good liquor and coffee bars
- Very good indoor pool -- albeit missing thaslotherapy
- Multiple sanctuaries on-board to get away from the masses
- Lack of food consistency in Blu
- Minimum in-cabin storage
- Presently overpriced alternative dining
- Persian Garden has lost the spa feel with spa rooms set at 50 C
- No true More
mid-ship elevator bank
- Ice cream quality and variety diminished
- Limited options at pool grille
- Pool butlers provide limited servicesThe #1 issue is food quality and consistency. We did not experience the MDR, but since Blu has evolved into just another MDR extension (in a much more intimate setting) from a food perspective, it's likely that our experiences are similar to MDR diners. Once upon a time Celebrity tried to make every dining experience memorable - no more. It seems that their objective for included dining has moved from "please" to "satisfy". The on-board chefs are no longer chefs but simply cooks following the rigid dictates of Miami (corporate)(this applies to every aspect of the on-board operations). JVS seems to like to try complex, edgy dishes with unusual spices. With a more limited food budget than in the past it just doesn't work -- the highs are high and the lows very low, and the inconsistency can be maddening to a guest.
Alternative dining venues suffer less from the JVS edginess and sometimes benefit from his creativity with their better cooks and higher food budget. Murano is simply the best -- as good as any at sea IMHO. We are Tuscan Grill enthusiasts, but maybe we just ordered the right dishes and got a great server -- others have been negative on Tuscan Grill. Qsine is something to experience once with a group and then maybe never go back or go back with clear food preferences. The menu is confusing, the volume of food overwhelming, and the waiters trying to be "captains for the food journey" somewhat distracting. For us Lawn Club Grille is a confused concept; we have no desire to be interactive and cook on vacation and find pizza and a "no better than buffet" salad a strange setup for a great steak. The space would be much better utilized for a southern style, semi-outdoor BBQ restaurant focused around the grills.
In general although Celebrity claims this is not true, we found that the only places we could get very good steaks and seafood were in the alternative dining venues; some of the Blu steaks and fish were a disaster.
Kudos to Celebrity for expanding and upgrading Cova to Cafe Al Bacio -- it became a central part of our on-board experience linked with our premium non-alcoholic beverage package. Karen Sawking in Al Bacio was the greatest -- can't wait to meet up with her again on Reflection! BTW -- Secondo Al Bacio on 14 is a very poor impostor -- it is manned by bartenders rather than Baristas and they don't have the ingredients or knowledge to make many of the coffee drinks (a poor, misleading choice of name). Cabin design is overall a mixed bag. It's unique and visually attractive and the bathroom layout is terrific in every regard. From a drawer/closet perspective it's hard to believe that a group of leading women were engaged as design consultants. Eventually a place is found for everything, but not conveniently or without undue wrinkles. The sofa has limited, if any utility, and could be replaced by a smaller sofa with a chest of drawers beside. The veranda is completely functional and meets every reasonable expectation, except that there is no veranda lighting for night use.
Sailing from Bayonne is chancey with three days at sea on each side. We encountered rough seas and a minimum of temperate climate, so we would not do it again. We learned we are not good candidates for a crossing.
Why is it your choice whether you have a Premium Plus or Premium Minus Experience??? If you stay within the budget of the base price you will get an uneven dining experience (probably entirely satisfactory to those happy with the food on NCL/RCL/Carnival), terrible coffee, and an otherwise middle of the road experience on a somewhat better ship than the direct competition and will be served by a very happy crew. If on the other hand you choose to take a beverage package among the non-alcoholic to alcoholic choices, eat in alternative dining venues on nights when the MDR/Blu menu doesn't line up to your food preferences, and seek out the many on-board sanctuaries, you will have a premium plus experience (albeit, not a luxury experience) at a total cost still far below the per diems of the next step up (e.g. Oceania, Regent etc.). For us, when Celebrity has the right deal it's a no-brainer because the base price and base value is so great. Next adventure is to "step-down" to Solsticized Millenium class ships, as we think that a step down in size may, in fact, be a step-up in experience.
Nice island, although roads are a little rough. Interesting history the first time around. A second time may reveal some more history, such as Clay Villas. Probably a stay-on-board or short walk out after two or three times.
The unexpected gem of the trip. We did a 7 hour plus combined tour that was by land going south, 2 hour beach break, and speedboat going back. Interesting culture and history. Good touristy things to do e.g. drive-up volcano, view World Heritage sites, and exclusive bays etc. Enough locally to do interesting tours 2-3x.
Very pleasant island. We went to St. Maarten by taxi for shopping and French pizza lunch - successful on all counts. We sometimes go to the beaches. Lots of choices to spend a day in St. Martin/St. Maarten. Liquor prices around the new pier are not good - either go downtown around the old pier, buy in St. Thomas, or better yet have the ship match St. Thomas prices.
Shopping not as good as previously. Deteriorating atmosphere. Nothing terribly exciting or new to do on the third time around. Good for buying liquor and catching up on e-mail and family on your smartphone - it's the US!