Our group of 8 Canadians from Manitoba & Saskatchewan arrived in Fort Lauderdale a few days prior to our cruise and stayed at the Hampton Inn on Stirling. We had stayed here for a previous sailing last year and can recommend it as a decent and clean hotel for a few nights. Breakfast is included and it is a short walk away to a Kmart, a decent diner for dinner and a few other shops. Kmart has a small selection of wine if you haven't picked up any for your Celebrity cruise. The Hampton also offers a shuttle service which will take you to the water taxi, or out to a restaurant for a small fee. If you're looking for something inexpensive to do for a day in Fort Lauderdale, the water taxi is a great option. We rode it all day and well into the evening.
The shuttle to the cruise terminal is included in your hotel fee. We arrived at the terminal early (approx. 10:45am) on Feb 24th. Embarkation was extremely easy and shortly after, we were onboard, greeted with a beverage (nice touch) and made our way up to the 14th floor. The smell of the Mast Grill was overwhelming tempting and although I couldn't believe we came 3500 km (2200 miles) for a hamburger, it was very tasty. After further exploration we found some wonderful wicker loungers and furniture on the Solstice deck and lounged there comfortably until our rooms were ready.
This was our first time with a veranda cabin and I think I've created a problem for future cruises. While we have always been happy with an indoor cabin, my husband LOVED the veranda and has declared he will require one from here on. Our attendant opened up the veranda barrier between us and our relatives next door and it was great being able to flit back and forth. Our cabin was 9182, starboard side, bed by the cupboard and had one of the nicest bathrooms we have ever had on a cruise. I did notice that with the veranda, we spent a lot less time lounging around upstairs around the pool. We were right around the corner from the elevators/stairs and did not hear any substantial noise from that area. It was an ideal location for a cabin.
The ship is lovely. The Silhouette dining room is very pretty and we were lucky enough to get a window view which we rotated among the couples each night. We are not picky eaters and found the food decent and pleasantly presented. Although we were a considerable distance from the kitchen, our food arrived at the table hot for the most part and the bread basket was delicious. One of our group received his French onion soup a little cool one night but the situation was quickly remedied by our assistant waiter. I think he ran to the kitchen and when he returned, the soup was still steaming. One small request -- the classic menu needs a good chocolate dessert in case there is not one on the daily menu. I suggest the chocolate marquis cake which was very good! One small point -- if you are at the first sitting, I suggest your order your coffee/tea ahead of time or you will feel a little rushed at the end of dinner when the staff will be trying to prepare for the 2nd sitting.
We love attending the nightly entertainment in the theatre and were not let down on this cruise. Vocalist Victor Michael was awesome and we really enjoyed Singer/Pianist Claire Maiden and Comedian Tony Daro. Our only (small) disappointment was that there was not more trivia events in the evening after the theatre -- something we really enjoyed last year on the Princess. "Equinox - The Show" was amazing - more so by the fact that they were doing it on a moving ship.
One thing we found impressive was the interaction between the officers and the passengers. On some previous sailings, you rarely saw the officers. On this cruise, it seemed like you were meeting them everywhere and they were very friendly and informative. If you've never been, go on the galley tour and check out the kitchens. Champagne at the entrance and free samples at the end!
St Thomas -- we've been before, explored the island, and done the gondola rides so this time we elected to just hit the stores and wander around. It is very easy to pick up a shuttle to and from the ship to the downtown shopping area. (The free shuttle you see when you first get off the ship takes you only to the Havensight Mall stores. You can grab a shuttle from there into town.) If you've never been, do the gondola ride and get some breathtaking pictures. You can actually walk to it from Havensight.
St Kitts -- We did a private island and beach tour with Liz Pereira Tours. The Batik factory was interesting and provided a chance to bring home some souvenirs. We really enjoyed the black sand beach (I think it was called South Friars beach?), the Shipwreck bar (try a chunky monkey) and for those that are interested, there are some wonderful massages offered on the beach. Monkeys and mongooses can be viewed on the cliffs at the back of the beach.
Barbados -- We did a private tour on the Good Times Catamaran, (www dot goodtimesbarbados.com) swam with the turtles and snorkeled over an underwater shipwreck. We didn't do the full day tour as it was our first time to Barbados, & we wanted to spend a little time walking around. We recommend going with a private catamaran as you will have a chance to swim with the turtles quietly before the cruise ship catamarans come by with 80+ passengers on them. Our catamaran held only 16 passengers -- 2 of them were folks that lived part time on the island and have done the cruise several times with their visiting guests.
Dominica -- Again, we booked privately with Levi Bumping Tours which offer several different types of excursions. Since we brought my 84 year old mother in law, we wanted something tame and not too difficult to navigate. We asked them to take us to the aerial tram ride, including a suspension bridge walk which was not difficult to traverse. For those more adventurous -- there is a zip line from the top. This is a marvelous experience, the vegetation is lush and gorgeous but if you go - take one of those cheap $ store poncho's as it is the rain forest after all. We followed this with a tour of the island -- be prepared to see some very poor districts. The driver pointed out areas where they filmed one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
St Maarten -- We've been to this island before so decided to go to the Maho beach and watch the aircraft come in. Our cab driver (Captain Steve) was very informative and it was entertaining to ride with him. He waited next door (at his friend's restaurant) and told us to come and get him when we wanted to return. After a few hours on the beach and in the bar, some of us decided to be let off downtown to do some last minute shopping and the others headed back to the ship.
After our excursions each day we headed up to the Ocean view buffet for an ice cream (did you know they actually make it on the ship?), both soft and hard varieties.
We also enjoyed breakfast in the buffet most days, lots of fresh fruits, omelets, waffles, pancakes, croissants and bacon (which we tried very hard to avoid!) Although the food is similar most days, I found there was still enough variety to have different stuff everyday if that is your choice.
The brunch offered in the Silhouette dining room on a sea day is not to be missed.
The passenger demographic on our sailing was mostly a 65 and older age group so take that into account when picking this ship. We only saw about 20 children (most under 5). While our party enjoyed our trip, I know our adult children (in their early 20's) might not have been quite as enamoured of it. For them, the RC, Carnival or Princess line might be more to their liking.
There was a good representation of Canadian passengers -- about 800 -- we do like to get out of the cold and snow!
Wi-Fi -- we did not use it on the ship -- too expensive. When you are in the ports, follow the crew -- they know where the free Wi-Fi spots are. You can also Google these before you go.
All in all, a very enjoyable cruise and I would not hesitate to sail on this ship again although I may wait until I'm a little older ?.