Links to photos, daily schedules, and menus can be found at:
This was our fifth cruise to the Caribbean from the north, having taken three on Celebrity from Baltimore and one on Princess from Brooklyn. I'm almost able to tell where we are on the route from the sequence of potholes in the ocean. So you understand our perspective, we're in our 60's and half-retired (DW is, I'm not). We like traveling, listening to classical music (and the occasional folk singer), and chatting with friends.
Our embarkation and disembarkation at Bayonne on our sailing to Bermuda in June was one of the smoothest we'd ever had -- and we expected a similar experience this time. I'm not sure if it was the additional 1,000 passengers, but this was a completely different experience. Everything was crowded. If we had parked any further from the terminal, we'd have been on a different pier. Luckily, there was a shuttle bus to help us. After navigating the scanners and lines in the terminal, we finally made it to the ship. (Note that the deck plan they provided on request at check-in doesn't include any specific locations, including cabin numbers, but just notes what public spaces are on each deck -- print deck plans from the website if you want that.) Disembarkation was no better, getting off the ship about an hour after our scheduled time, which helped us locate our luggage and get through customs faster as we were almost the last group to disembark. But then we had to contend with the crowds of arriving passengers to get our car to the terminal building and get our luggage. Overall, I think this was one of our worst experiences with this part of the cruise.
We were in 8160, which was very close to the forward elevators and one of the cabins on the angle of the forward hump -- with a large balcony. As mentioned by others, storage is very limited -- three drawers next to the refrigerator (which made them fairly warm), a closet with no shelves, and storage over the bed. You need to be 6' tall to use that -- or stand on the bed. Our cabin had the bed near the window, which made it a bit easier to get dressed near the closet. The bathroom was roomy, as was the shower (which has sliding doors (no more floor floods!). However, counter space is limited because they put a tray out covering about half the available space, which is then used for the tissue box because the tray is a bit too narrow. The shelves in the bathroom have doors, which prevent air circulation. The bed was comfortable, as were the chairs and chaise on the verandah. Our major complaint was the lack of storage.
This was the largest ship we've been on (although the Caribbean Princess carries about 10% more passengers) and everything seemed further away than on other cruises. The extra decks of cabins meant that going to the dining room or buffet was a deck or two further up or down than on our other Celebrity sailings -- and the mid-ship elevator was a trek from our cabin as well. One thing I noticed was that there were only two pairs of restrooms on the main public space decks whereas the C- and M-class ships had three pairs, resulting in more lines than we remember from other sailings. I really appreciated the solarium on the rainy cold last day -- the pool & hot tub felt great! And it was nice to be on a brand new ship and see the interesting artwork (some of which came from the Mercury collection). It is definitely a pretty ship and a credit to the Celebrity fleet.
On the downside, and others have made similar comments, Celebrity seems to have decided that we must have very loud pop music everywhere. Even the Hideaway, promoted as a peaceful place, is not good place to relax since it (and the library) open to the atrium, which is now a major entertainment venue, with amplified music going for hours every day. One evening, we went to hear the string / piano duo in Cellarmasters and it was impossible to appreciate their performance because of the noise level from the atrium. We used to sit in Cova Cafe on the Mercury and Summit, enjoying a quiet conversation over coffee and tea, with an occasional performance by the string group. We tried this one evening in Cafe al Bacio and the loud music from the atrium blocked all attempts at conversation.
Celebrity does a great job at training its staff to be friendly to the guests. Every member of the staff, including the person cleaning the stairs (they even vacuum the carpeted underside of the stairs) stopped to greet me when I walked by. Everyone was very friendly.
Food, MDR, and buffet:
What would a cruise be without food? We ate dinner in the MDR every night and had breakfast and lunch in the buffet. Although Celebrity seems to be eliminating the more expensive meals (no more chateaubriand, for example), what food we ate was tasty and in portions large enough that we frequently didn't finish the serving (and I'm a big eater). Our only complaints were about the temperature. Some foods in the buffet were not as hot as they should have been, and some of the chilled foods (such as the shrimp cocktail) in the MDR were tepid.
The buffet arrangement was interesting. There were rarely lines for any of the food areas. I think the beverage areas could have been designed better as they're concave arcs, which forces everyone into a small space. A straight line or convex arc would have been better -- and easier to maintain. That was the one place in the buffet that always seemed to need attention (clean-up, napkins, teaspoons, etc.).
Although the Celebrity site said there would be three formal nights, the second formal night became "Cocktail (formal optional)." We did see some men in tuxes (I wore mine), but many chose to be more casual. The dress code was not well enforced. One man at a table near us wore his usual dinner attire of jeans with a T-shirt on formal night and was allowed in probably because he was wearing a jacket (which he removed before sitting down).
We docked in all six ports, which made getting off and back on fairly easy. There were no major lines in either direction. The only organized activity we used was the ship excursion to St. John from St. Thomas and that was very well organized. We had booked that tour on an earlier sailing and it was canceled so we were definitely looking forward to it. I enjoyed the underwater park (snorkel gear was included, although I used my own). The only warning is that the water on the ride to and from St. John can be choppy. Also, they warn you of the need to be a good swimmer as the underwater park is in water too deep to stand in.
The beach in Labadee was quiet and relaxing, as was the beach at Sand Castle on the Beach in St. Croix, both of which were return trips. We hiked up the hill to see San Cristobal fort in San Juan and had a brief foray into town on Antigua. On St. Martin, we grabbed a taxi for a ride to Marigot, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch and seeing the local craft market.
Despite my negative comments, we did enjoy the cruise. We enjoyed relaxing on our veranda almost every day and having a nice meal in the MDR every night. The ports were a good mix of beach and other activities. We'd probably take the same cruise again if Celebrity offered it in the future.