Celebrity Silhouette 12-night Eastern Caribbean: Celebrity Silhouette Cruise Review by David

Celebrity Silhouette 5
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Celebrity Silhouette 12-night Eastern Caribbean

Sail Date: December 2011
Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Embarkation: Other
My wife and I recently returned from a 12-night cruise aboard Celebrity Silhouette. This was our 31st cruise overall, and we have now sailed on at least one of each of all the Celebrity classes of ships dating back to Zenith. This was our 8th sailing of more than 10 nights, although it was our first experience embarking and disembarking in New Jersey (more on that later). We selected this sailing in order to experience the unique Solstice Class Celebrity ships, because Bayonne is a convenient 4-hour drive from our Maryland home, and because having gone on a highly intensive 14-night, 8-port Mediterranean cruise on Independence of the Seas this past summer, we were very ready for a relaxing and rejuvenating cruise experience. With visits to 6 Caribbean ports to which we've sailed many times before, and with every night and half the days spent actually at sea, this was an ideal opportunity to do just that.

Overall this was an excellent cruise vacation by any standard. We More were very fortunate to enjoy wonderful weather, given the mid-December cruising timeframe. In particular, our sea days were mainly bright and sunny, and our times in port were virtually rain-free -- always a bonus when visiting the Caribbean. Other than a few stretches of moderately rough seas in predictable locations (off Cape Hatteras and at the conjunction of the Gulfstream and the easterly flow of weather in the Atlantic just north of Hispaniola), the seas remained fairly calm, making for a very comfortable cruise. I actually prefer feeling a little motion on the ship; it contributes to the unique aspect of cruising, and actually improves my sleep on board.

Having sailed on Celebrity multiple times, we have come to expect a nicely refined cruise experience on a modern, beautiful ship with extensive amenities and a high level of service and food quality. In this respect our cruise on Silhouette not only met, but largely exceeded, our already high expectations. My few criticisms of the cruise really amount to minor issues, and are far outweighed by the overwhelming number of positives that we have taken away with us. Let me take each aspect of the cruise -- the ship; accommodations; dining; entertainment and activities; the staff; fellow passengers; and embarkation/disembarkation one by one. Be forewarned, however, that I am trying to cover a lot of ground in some depth, and so this review will not be brief!

The Ship: Celebrity Silhouette is the fourth of five Solstice Class ships (the first three, Solstice, Equinox, and Eclipse, were launched each year since 2008; the fifth and final ship, Celebrity Reflection, is due out in November 2012). Launched in July 2011, Silhouette is virtually identical in size and overall design to its three older sisters. The largest Celebrity class of vessels thus far, the Solstice class ships incorporate the most modern technology, both from an engineering and venues perspective, have larger standard staterooms than ever before, and are the most beautiful class of ship in a Celebrity fleet that already boasts very nice ships. I especially loved the layout of the ship and the uniqueness of the public spaces, all of which are a departure and step up from other Celebrity ships. I also like the openness of this class of ship, with more glass overlooking both the sea and interior areas. Although I have read some complaints about the 11-deck high Atrium lobby (due to noise interfering with nearby public venues), I found this feature very attractive, enhancing the spaciousness of the vessel, and the amount of light and even sea vistas. I love ships that have an open, light, and airy atmosphere and that are designed to allow the greatest visual exposure to the sea. In this respect, I found Silhouette more to my liking than any class of ship I've sailed on except the Royal Caribbean Radiance Class ships.

As for the layout, Silhouette and its sisters are wonderfully designed ships that are easy to navigate around from venue to venue, and they have many very nice -- and even cool -- places on board. With the internal public areas occupying all of decks 4 and 5, half of deck 3, and the Atrium areas from decks 6-10, the ship has a multitude of public venues, some unique to this class of ship. In particular, I liked how the space around the Atrium is used, beginning on deck 3 with the Guest Relations and Shore Excursions desk -- along with the Passport Bar. On deck 4 starboard side you have the Cellar Masters wine bar and on port side the amazing Martini bar with its frozen counter. This was by far the most popular drinking venue on the ship. On Deck 5 the Atrium area has informal eating and conversation venues: the Bacio Cafe and Geletaria on the starboard side and the Bistro on 5 (specializing in crepes for a $5 service fee) on the port side, with plenty of seating throughout the area. One can sit by a window, read a book or do a puzzle, sipping a coffee and watch the sea. On each of the passenger decks (6-11), the Atrium has a special public venue: the internet connection on 6; a cool, quiet reading area called the hideaway on decks 7 and 8; the card room on deck 9; and the Library on decks 10 and 11. I also liked the layout of the aft public areas on deck 5, where 4 of the specialty restaurants are located -- along with a large bar and entertainment area called the Ensemble Lounge, where we had trivia contests by day and musicians performing by night.

Michael's Club is also located in this area, and here is one example of where Silhouette has departed from its older sisters. On Silhouette Michael's Club is more of an upscale beer pub, with a couple of TV screens that featured sporting events. Gone are the single malt scotches and piano bar for which this lounge has become known throughout the fleet. I rather missed the piano bar on Silhouette, as I do like to end my day with a quiet drink and some good piano music to sing along to. On our sailing, my sense was that Michael's Club was underutilized -- mainly because people wanted to listen to music -- and there were so many options to do that elsewhere on board late into the night (but, alas, not piano bar music).

Another much discussed new area on the Solstice Class ships is the Lawn Club, located on deck 15 high atop the aft portion of the ships. For Silhouette, Celebrity made a couple of modifications to this area from the older 3 sisters. Instead of the Corning Glass blowing exhibition, there is now an art studio -- or perhaps, more accurately, arts and crafts studio. The staff offered daily enrichment activities in this venue, which were well attended, and I thought this modification worked quite well. Celebrity also added an informal restaurant, called the Porch, for outside dining at a $5 service fee, to go along with its specialty Lawn Club steak restaurant. As for the remainder of the Lawn Club, the grass was indeed real and quite nice. But, as other reviewers have reported, the 6 alcoves (wooden cabanas) available for daily rental at a pretty steep price, were hardly used at all. My personal favorite area up here -- and one of my favorites on the ship -- was located at the far aft, where there was a bar and several padded wicker chairs facing aft. I tried to spend some time every few days sitting up there and reading and watching the very impressive wake of Silhouette as the ship sailed the Caribbean and Atlantic.

I found three other public areas on the ship noteworthy for their design and layout. Both the outdoor and indoor pool areas have a couple of hammocks that can be used by two people together. The solarium pool area, by the way, is powered by solar cells located on the ceiling. The area also has oversized cushioned lounges that can be used by two people as well; in fact these lounges are also located on the Solstice deck (16) high atop the forward portion of the ship. On sea days it could be a bit windy up there, but some of the lounges could be positioned to shield you from the wind. Finally, I was very impressed with the layout of the mid-ship area on decks 4 and 5, home to several quite different venues that actually fit in harmony together: the casino; the Molecular Bar; two levels of shops -- logo and general items across from the casino on deck 4 with a two-deck ceiling along the boulevard separating them, and boutique shops on deck 5 above the casino and across from the Molecular Bar and a lecture/exhibit area behind it; and an entertainment court on deck 4, sided on the port by the Quasar Disco and on the Starboard by Celebrity Central -- a multipurpose room used for game shows and enrichment lectures. All of this worked beautifully.

Accommodations: We booked a Concierge Class balcony stateroom on deck 9 located aft of the atrium on the starboard side, mainly because we had not done that category stateroom before and the price was very attractive. It offered a number of little perks that the standard staterooms don't, which I thought were well worth the very modestly higher price than a standard balcony. The stateroom itself, as I understand it, was identical to the standard balcony -- but it was anything but standard, based on my fairly extensive cruising experience. Yes -- these staterooms have pretty much all the amenities one expects, including flat screen interactive TV, vanity, sitting area, mini-bar, room safe, hair dryer, and several electrical outlets. But they are probably about 15% larger, on the inside and on the balcony, and this allowed for two adjustable chairs and ottomans, along with a slightly larger table on the balcony. With 5 full sea days and not much interest in spending full days in port, there was plenty of time to sit on the balcony and read -- or sunbathe -- without having to struggle to find a lounge chair on the pool deck. Silhouette also has among the largest bathrooms I have seen in non-suite staterooms (except, perhaps, on Holland America ships), and this meant having a large enough shower to be able to bend over and move around in it. There was also fairly extensive shelving space in the bathroom. The sitting area and vanity was longer than average, as well, with a full-size -- and very hard -- couch rather than a loveseat.

To compensate for these extras, the stateroom's closet was somewhat smaller than average, with no shelving (although they had double hanging bars through most of the space). With only three relatively small shelves adjacent to the mini-fridge and safe, the only other shelf space available was located in two large cabinets mounted on the wall above the headboard of the bed. Anyone shorter than 5'10" has to climb up on the bed to reach the portions of the shelf toward the middle of the bed. Although a bit inconvenient, especially for anyone with height issues or physical difficulties, I think most folks are able to manage with the stateroom storage reasonably well. I know that we did -- although we had been forewarned about this issue and were prepared -- and the more comfortable shower and extra space in the bathroom, in my opinion, more than made up for this minor inconvenience.

Dining: The quality, selection, and presentation of food at sea have been something upon which Celebrity has built a superior reputation over the years. Although I am no gourmet, we have certainly come to expect a high level of dining from Celebrity. Recent developments among many of the cruise lines -- cost cutting measures that have resulted in a narrowing of choices and decrease in quality of food on several of the mainstream cruise lines, including Celebrity's parent company, Royal Caribbean (such as charging $14.95 for a daily alternate menu selection of steak), and a change in the Executive creator of the Celebrity food department, all left me somewhat concerned that the dining on Silhouette would fail to meet my normally high expectations.

As it turned out, however, my pre-cruise fears were completely unfounded. The quality and selection of meals in the Main Dining Room (Grand Cuvee) were superior. On each of the 10 evenings we dined there, I found several menu options that appealed to me, and I was uniformly pleased with the selection. Besides, the daily changing menu selections, there was a fairly extensive list of alternative choices for each course -- without a fee. Had we not pre-arranged two dinners in specialty restaurants, I would have been just fine having all my dinners in the Grand Cuvee.

As mentioned, we did pre-arrange (and pay for) dinner at two of the specialty restaurants: Tuscan Grille and Murano. After making the reservations based on the menu selections on the Celebrity website, I read a number of less than glowing reviews of the dinner at Tuscan Grille, and so we were curious to see how that would turn out. To our great relief, it was a wonderful meal. The items we ordered were absolutely delicious. My wife, who is particularly selective about her eating choices, had the most delicious mushroom ravioli; the Caesar Salad prepared at the table was quite good; even my ribeye steak was really delicioius. Above all, the service and atmosphere were wonderful, and we were very pleased to have dined there. As for the Murano, during the cruise several people had lauded their dining experience at Qsine -- a new specialty restaurant on Silhouette that replaced Silk Harvest on the older sister ships. We were able to switch our reservation and had our second specialty dinner in Qsine. What a unique dining experience! From the minute you walk in, almost everything (except the quality of the food) is different: the quirky cutlery and china; the ordering of selections from an Ipad; items served family style for sharing; the very unique presentation and "unordinary" entrees and desserts; and drink options. My wife and I shared a half-carafe of peach sangria that was delicious and a bargain at $13. Be prepared to 1) eat more than you expect to; 2) go with the flow; 3) spend a full evening on your meal. Our dinner lasted three hours -- but the time passed easily, and in the end it was a unique experience well worth the price of admission.

We did not dine at Murano or experience the Lawn Club Grill, and the other specialty restaurant -- Blu, which focuses especially on healthy fare -- caters only to those who have booked suites or Aqua Class staterooms. But we did hear good things about the first two specialty restaurants. Although I very much wanted to try the crepes at Bistro on 5, somehow the days got away from us and we did not have an opportunity to do that. Mostly we ate our breakfasts and lunches in the Oceanview Cafe. Here, too, there was more than enough selection so that you didn't have to eat the same thing each day (although I actually did that out of choice more often than not). Compared with the Lido Restaurant on Holland America and the Windjammer on Royal Caribbean, I thought the quality and selection of food items in the Oceanview Cafe was generally superior. I also sampled lunch at the Aqua Spa Cafe located in the Solarium -- a limited, but excellent and healthy dining option with very limited table seating. The same is true for the Mast Grill port side above the outdoor pool, which served up pretty good burgers, fries, and self-serve ice cream cones.

In the end, of course, dining is so personal that I realize my comments should be taken with a grain of salt (unless you are on a salt-free diet, of course).

Entertainment and Activities: After having sailed several times on Celebrity, I have a pretty good sense of what to expect of the cruise experience. Celebrity does many things really well, but my experience with Celebrity going into this cruise was that the live entertainment -- particularly the main stage shows in the theater -- is not one of Celebrities strong suits. To my surprise and great satisfaction, I thought the live entertainment on this sailing of Silhouette was quite good. It certainly far exceeded my relatively low expectations.

Beginning with the least impressive performances, there were actually four main stage production shows rather than three, since the final night the in-house cast of singers, dancers, and circus-style variety acts put on a holiday extravaganza to complement the primary shows: Broadway; Velocity (mostly pop-music); and Silhouette, The Show (a Cirque du Soleil style of performance). I thought the specialty performers in the in-house cast were quite good (although I got bored with the mime after a couple of shows). Of the 4 singers and 10 dancers, only one singer (the soprano and vocal captain) was better than run of the mill, and she displayed a truly wonderful voice.

The first-week headliners on the main stage were exceptional. Tenor Jack Walker thrilled the audiences with his vocal range, both technically and in the variety of songs presented. Stand-up comic Phil Tag gave an uproarious main stage performance and returned for a late night adult stint that was equally hilarious. Musician, comic, and singer John Bresler presented a very entertaining show -- and then he teamed up with Jack Walker and Cruise Director Paul Baya (more about him below) for a fun performance of music and comedy. I was less impressed with the female singer impressionist and the stand-up comic who headlined during the second week -- but those shows were also above average for the main stage entertainment I'm accustomed to on Celebrity cruises. An indication of the relatively impressive level of the main stage performances is that I attended all but one during the 12-night cruise, and that was because my 3-hour dinner at Qsine conflicted with the shows.

I was also pretty impressed with the quality of the live music presented by the assortment of performers in the lounges throughout the cruise. In particular, the acapella group Aquaudio was a true standout. These four young men from Michigan presented 15-minute sets several times most evenings on board. They were engaging, fun, and extraordinarily talented -- and for most of the cruise had a pretty significant following as they moved from venue to venue giving their brief performances. The pop-band Sipra presented outstanding vocals -- mostly at the base of the Atrium on deck 3. You could hear their music virtually anywhere around the Atrium all the way up to deck 15. A third standout group was the Les DeMerle band, who presented exceptional jazz, Latin, and big-band numbers each night. The other live entertainment -- including a solo guitarist, solo Motown singer, and a Caribbean duo, were also fine. Combined, these performers really enlivened the evenings around the ship.

As I mentioned earlier, what I missed in the realm of live entertainment was the piano bar. For Silhouette, Celebrity changed the traditional Michael's Club from a sophisticated piano bar serving single malts and other nightcap spirits on most of its previous ships to an upscale beer/sports pub. Although I didn't check it out every night, my sense is that Michael's pub was generally underutilized. There were several nights where live NFL games were shown in the pub on the two screens, but it wasn't all that crowded or lively in there. The piano bars on cruise ships are often the busiest places, with folks singing along and having a fine time; even in the more sophisticated atmosphere of Celebrity's Michael's Club on other ships, the piano bar works well -- and I was admittedly a bit disappointed that this was taken out of the Silhouette live entertainment package.

Nevertheless, I think it's fair to say that the overall live entertainment on Silhouette far exceeded our expectations, and added immeasurably to our overall enjoyment of the cruise.
As for activities during the cruise, again Celebrity clearly exceeded expectations. Like its sister ships in the Solstice Class, Silhouette is designed for long cruises with multiple sea days. The roughly 200-seat venue on deck 4 called Celebrity Central served as the cornerstone for a wide range of enrichment, cultural, and recreational activities. For example, during several of the sea days on this sailing, Celebrity Central hosted at least two enrichment lectures, bingo, Chanukah services, and game shows. With respect to enrichment activities, Celebrity invited two specialists on board, a psychologist who discussed personal well-being, and a historian from the Smithsonian Institution (at the National Air and Space Museum), Roger Launius, who gave a series of 5 presentations on the U.S. space program. These lectures, in particular, were not only informative, but entertaining; Roger was especially engaging during the question and answer times in each session. Additional enrichment activities were held in the Art Studio high atop the ship, as well as crafts workshops. There were presentations made on a variety of other topics ranging from seafaring knots, to mixology, to cooking, to music in the big band era, to the Faberge Egg -- all presented by experts who work and perform on board the ship. Even Captain Nicholas Pagonis got in the act with an enrichment lecture. In other words, Celebrity strove to provide far more than lessons in napkin folding on this sailing.

With respect to other activities, the engaging and ever-present cruise staff offered a wide range of amusements that all seemed to draw crowds (except, perhaps, for the Kareoke -- at least until late in the cruise). On sea days, there were no fewer than 5 different trivia contests, pool and deck games (including bocce on the lawn), fitness and spa options galore (we loved using the Persian Gardens thermal suite and the cardio equipment in the gym), and when the ship was not in port, there were plenty of shops to attract potential sales -- from logo and general items to high end boutique products. The cruise staff also organized a passenger show choir, which rehearsed each of the sea days and performed to close out the "Crew and You" show on the final afternoon of the cruise. Those who participated had a blast, and it was a wonderful way to get to know fellow passengers and especially the two members of the cruise staff -- Jessica and Mickey -- who worked so hard to ensure the number came off so well.

Finally, a word about the loyalty program on Silhouette: Captain's Club Elite members, in particular, were promised a number of perks and special programs and, for the most part, Celebrity delivered. In addition to the rather limited number of discount coupons (compared to what Royal Caribbean provides to its Diamond and Diamond Plus members) made available at the beginning of the sailing, Celebrity hosted both evening and afternoon receptions in its primary group activity venue -- the beautiful Sky Lounge high atop the forward end of the ship. Elite members were also offered tours of the galley and the backstage are of the theater, as well as a High Tea in the Grand Cuvee dining room on the final afternoon of the cruise. Daily evening cocktails and passed hors d'euvres were served in the Sky Lounge, as well. This somewhat cavernous room, which also served as the venue for karaoke and theme night activities was, I thought, a bit too impersonal for the Elite evening cocktails, compared with the more personal Concierge Club or Diamond Lounge on Royal Caribbean ships. It may be that there were too many Elite members to hold the gathering in a smaller venue such as Michael's Club, and it was certainly pleasant enough up there, except for one thing: Sky Lounge was the only indoor venue where smoking was permitted, albeit on the port side of the vast lounge. The problem is that this did not prevent the smoke odor from permeating all areas of the lounge. It was especially bothersome for people engaged in Kareoke singing. Nonetheless, I thought Celebrity did a reasonably good job catering to their most loyal guests, and kudos to the staff and crew for being so accessible and friendly at the loyalty activities and throughout the cruise!
The Staff and Crew: My last comment is a perfect segue into my thoughts regarding the staff and crew. In virtually every respect, the staff and crew onboard Silhouette excelled not only in their specific responsibilities, but made every effort to ensure that guests got the most out of their cruise experience. It all starts at the top, and I must say that in my more than 30 cruises, I have never seen a more engaging or accessible master of the vessel than Captain Nicholas Pagonis. He not only appeared at the major functions and activities throughout the cruise, but also provided extensive commentary about the ports in his noon or afternoon announcements, gave an enrichment lecture, and just sort of hung out with the guests to a far greater extent than I have observed in previous cruises. Many fellow passengers joked that he was out and about so much they wondered who was running the ship!

As for the cruise staff, Cruise Director Paul Baya and Activities Manager Peter Baker did an outstanding job of organizing a wealth of activities and programs each day. The two worked especially well together, as evidenced both on stage and in their daily Celebrity Today TV show -- which highlighted the next day's activities and could be seen at bedtime the night before. Paul sort of played it straight most of the time, but did perform on three occasions -- and he is a highly talented singer! Among the cruise staff, besides the aforementioned Jess and Mickey who organized and directed the passenger show choir, David and Chris handled most of the trivia contests -- which were relatively low-keyed compared with some of those we have experienced on Royal Caribbean cruises, where the Cruise Director handles some of the trivia and things can get kind of crazy. For the most part, however, Celebrity is not a "kind of crazy" type of cruise experience, and so the trivia was just fine the way it was handled on Silhouette.

We were also very impressed with the outstanding level of service from the entire staff and crew. Our room attendant, Corazon and her assistant, Marvin were always at the ready to assist with our needs, and never failed to say hi or ask about our day. The same is true for our dining room waiter, Desidario, assistant waiter, Sheena, and head waiter Slobodan. We also had two wonderful specialty dining experiences in the Tuscan Grill and Qsine, thanks to outstanding service from the restaurant staff. Wherever you were on board, if you passed by a Celebrity employee, whether a room attendant or an officer, you were greeted with a smile and hello. Friendly, efficient, and competent service is a hallmark of Celebrity Cruises, exemplified by the staff and crew of Silhouette!

Fellow Passengers: There have been a number of comments on this website regarding the rude and inappropriate behavior of some of the guests on our sailing -- and earlier sailings -- of Silhouette out of Bayonne. I observed many passengers pushing and shoving to get on and off of elevators, cutting into food lines in the Oceanview Cafe (buffet), and even arguing over the saving of seats in the theater or pushing fellow passengers in their rush to exit a full theater so as to get back up to the Oceanview Cafe to eat again. Several fellow passengers complained about this behavior -- or even sought assistance -- in vain -- from the staff. It seemed to be more prevalent earlier in the cruise than toward the end and it certainly wasn't pervasive. While inexcusable, this bad behavior didn't seem important enough to be distract from an overall outstanding cruise experience. For the most part, the passengers we encountered were friendly, engaging, and a pleasure to be around. Combining this with the outstanding staff and crew, by the end of the 12-night cruise, I thought everyone sort of felt a bit like family, and my own concerns about isolated incidents of bad behavior pretty much disappeared.

Embarkation and Debarkation: From the sublime to the ridiculous; that is how I can best characterize this section of the review. It is hard to comprehend how, in this day and age with modern ships transporting thousands of passengers and cruise lines providing ever more efficient embarkation and debarkation processes, in a port just across the harbor from New York City -- perhaps the world's premier city -- such a wonderful cruise as this one on Silhouette could be sandwiched by absolutely the worst embarkation and debarkation experiences in all my more than 30 cruises. The port of Cape Liberty should be condemned; it is, at best, third worldly and at worst, an unmitigated disaster! How could that be?

Let's begin with embarkation. Even if you arrive before noon, you are backed up in a half-mile lineup of vehicles waiting to disgorge their cruise passengers at the "terminal" building (read warehouse). After creeping along for at least a half-hour, you then must struggle to have your vehicle pull up to an angled spot along the outside of the "terminal" -- trying desperately to avoid other vehicles backing out of spots, porters yelling at people and yanking bags out of vehicles before they've come to a halt, and general chaos. If you're lucky, the porter will place your "checked" bags in a bin to be transported to the ship; if not, they will sit between the ever changing vehicles and the bins for who knows how long. Wondering whether your bags will make it onboard, you reluctantly get on one of two security lines and then you wait -- and wait -- and wait -- until you pass through security and your carry-on bags are screened. Then you enter a larger hall with three lines cordoned off. There are signs for Captain's Club Elite members, and suite or Concierge Class guests, but no dedicated lines for them. So you get on one of the three lines and wait -- and wait -- and wait while perhaps a total of only 15-20 agents check several thousand guests in. Sometimes a single agent is checking in a group of 10-20 people, and so the wait goes on. After another 45-60 minutes, you finally check in, receive your sea pass card, and leave the "terminal" to board the ship. But wait -- where's the ship? It's about 200 yards away, so they bring along shuttle buses and you wait -- and wait -- and wait on line to board the shuttle bus that takes you to the ship, where you finally board on deck 2. You then must take one of 8 available elevators to get up to your stateroom's deck (or the Oceanview Cafe to have lunch). And so once again you wait -- and wait -- and wait until you can finally get on an elevator with your carry-on bags. Total time from arrival at Cape Liberty to get to the stateroom of Oceanview Cafe: nearly 2 hours.

Was the situation any better leaving the ship? Not really. It begins when you take your carry-on bags from your stateroom and wait for your number to be called in one of several public venues; for us it was the theater. But the schedule means little and you wait -- and wait -- and wait for your number to be called. We waited about a half hour beyond our designated departure time. Then you exit the ship and get back on the shuttle bus that takes you the 200 yards to the "terminal" (read warehouse) building. But only one shuttle bus can be alighted at a time and so you sit or stand on the bus and wait -- and wait -- and wait until it's time for your shuttle bus to pull up to the terminal and let you off to claim your checked bags and go through immigration and customs. Finally -- after perhaps 20 more minutes -- you get off the shuttle but not before a Celebrity representative informs you that there are long lines because it is Christmas Eve and both the immigration officials and porters are short-staffed. You then enter the "terminal" and look for your number where your checked bags are supposed to be. Our number was 12. The first number we saw upon entering was 10 -- but it turns out that 12 is actually located in the second of two cavernous halls in the "terminal" building, nowhere near number 10. We find number 12, but our three checked bags are not there. We are told more bags are still being unloaded, and so we wait -- and wait -- and wait for more bags to be delivered. And when they are, the bags are still not there. Now it feels like panic time. I go back to the first hall and find area 10 and there, all by themselves are our 3 bags and our friend's missing bag. And so we find a porter and get on the immigration line and, guess what? We wait -- and wait -- and wait to go through immigration and customs. Then we line our bags up at the "terminal" entrance while our hired car tries to negotiate the mass of traffic snarled around the "terminal". We wait -- and wait -- and wait until our van emerges through the maze of traffic. We load up and finally we exit the port of Cape Liberty. Total time from departure lounge on the ship to exiting the port: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Never Again!

One has to wonder how the same embarkation and debarkation process for the largest ship in the world, Oasis of the Seas, with more than twice as many passengers as Silhouette, and located in a port where no less than 8 ships are departing on the same day in Ft. Lauderdale, can take less than 15 minutes total each way, while embarkation and debarkation in the port of Cape Liberty is such a mess that it cannot efficiently handle a single cruise ship in one day. And ours was not an isolated incident; I have read similar reports for other sailings out of Cape Liberty port. The port infrastructure clearly is inadequate; fixes appear to be makeshift; and while I don't think the problem lies with the staff and crew of Silhouette, parent company Royal Caribbean needs to step up and address the inadequacies of Cape Liberty or move their ships out of Bayonne -- perhaps to the new and more modern terminal in Brooklyn. Guests should not need to have to take a day to de-stress from embarkation once they are on board -- or depart the terminal after an idyllic cruise with a sour taste left in their mouth because they had to go through the ringer to get out of Bayonne.

Final Thoughts: Embarkation and debarkation notwithstanding, our cruise on Celebrity's new Silhouette was one of my favorites. We selected this ship and itinerary, among other reasons, to maximize our relaxation. With port stops in Labadee (a beach day), San Juan, St. Croix, St. Thomas, Antigua, and St. Maarten -- all ports we've visited before -- we were able to get the most out of the many wonderful facilities and activities Silhouette had to offer, and really enjoyed the friendly, efficient staff and our fellow passengers and our time on board what has become one of my favorite ships. Less

Published 12/28/11
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