Celebrity are part of the same group as Royal Caribbean and Azamara Cruises, although all seem to operate separately. Celebrity ships are supposed to better than Royal Caribbean and Azamara the best. I think if you have status with one line, you can match the benefits with another. This was our first cruise and so the only status I had was an MGM Platinum MLife, which I’d heard gave some benefits in the ship’s casino.
We booked Aqua Class, mainly because we wanted a room with a balcony and we wanted to eat in Blu – the fine dining restaurant reserved for Aqua Class guests. There is also a Concierge Class, that sounds like it might be better, but I think the Blu Restaurant really makes Aqua Class the best choice. Included in our booking were the unlimited drinks up to $8, drinks package and the gratuities package, plus $100 on-board spend – these were part of a Celebrity/Crucon special offer.
Celebrity offer to post your luggage tags prior to your cruise, but only if you live in the USA. So we printed the page they sent with the booking.
On arrival at the port (around 11;30am), there were plenty of porters to take our bags. They used our paper to create luggage tags and said we could expect to see our bags outside our room in a few hours.
We walked into the large boarding hall. The hall resembled a warehouse, with some desks and roped lines. Luckily there was a dedicated Aqua Class line and we were on board in no time. Each person has a SeaPass card and that is the card for your cabin, drinks and also to re-board the ship when in port.
I must say I was slightly disappointed; I was expecting a large luxurious atrium, but instead it felt like a small crowded area with waitresses offering sparkling wine. We quickly escaped to our cabin.
Having just come from a junior suite in the , the cabin seemed small, although it did have a full double bed, desk, coffee table and sofa. There was a bottle of sparkling wine on ice and a nice small terrace with two chairs and table. The safe was ridiculously small and wouldn’t fit a laptop – luckily all we had was an iPad mini. There was no reason for the size as there was plenty of space above. I can’t imagine travelling in a smaller cabin, or one that didn’t have a terrace.
We went to the Ocean Grill for a drink and some buffet food. It was pretty busy. A number of waiters came around while we were eating, offering us beverage packages. When I explained that we already had the $8 package, they then tried to upsell this to the higher package so we could order cocktails etc. When I declined they moved on to the next customer without asking if we wanted a drink – obviously they are on commission but this meant that we had to go to the bar for drinks.
We went up on deck and were shocked to see the pool area already crowded and disco music playing. This wasn’t how we imagined our cruise to be – this was more like one of those party boats that go out on day trips to the Bahamas.
At 4pm there was a muster drill – compulsory safety briefing for all passengers. We attended our muster station. An obviously drunk group ridiculed the staff as they attempted to perform the safety demonstration. The staff did nothing and it was left to us and other passengers to tell them to be quiet. Can you imagine what airline cabin crew would do in the same situation? It would involve federal officers and some latex gloves!
We went back up on deck to watch the ship depart. It was like Club 18-30 but for the over 50s. The DJ tried to whoop-whoop everyone into the excitement of our departure. We wondered if we had made some terrible mistake.
Back in our cabin it was a novelty to watch land drift away while sipping the sparkling wine on our terrace. We tried to order some snacks via room service, but they advised that this wasn’t available on departure day.
That evening we went to the Blu Restaurant. This was a nice, small, rose-themed restaurant. A really friendly maître d’ showed us to a table – plenty of tables for two. We were offered breads and water. The sommelier offered us the wine list, but it wasn’t a problem when we said we were happy with ‘by the glass on our $8 package’. The Merlot that he brought was exceptional and more than we expected. As the evenings passed, he got to know our habits and just left the bottle on the table, which was great. The menu looked good, with a mixture of daily specials and staple favourites. Each course was delicious. All the staff were friendly and helpful. We were enjoying our cruise again.
The evening entertainment was in a large theatre in the fwd part of the ship. The entertainment director was pretty funny, almost a stand-up comic. He introduced the various regular artistes; a Russian acrobatic couple, some singers, they were okay, but not really a Broadway show.
Next day was ‘at Sea’. We went to Blu for breakfast. The staff couldn’t have been more friendly and helpful. A selection of fresh juices were available and you could also order a smoothie. A muesli trolley meant that the waiter could create whatever mix you preferred. The bread basket and croissants were delicious. Any hot breakfast of our choice could be ordered. I spent most of the week having eggs Benedict, each day with a great Hollandaise sauce and perfectly poached egg.
Up on deck, the pool was still too busy for us to want to go near. It was disappointing that the deck felt so crowded. In the Celebrity brochure, we’d seen a grass-covered deck and also something for Aqua Class guests called ‘Persian Garden’. Sadly, there was no grass-covered deck and whereas the brochure showed the Persian Garden as a quiet area, with comfortable beds and views out to sea, the reality was three beds in a windowless room, next to the sauna.
We went to an art auction, run by Park West. This company seems to have a deal with most cruise lines and runs on-board auctions. The art was a mixture of contemporary and modern, plus some memorabilia. Prices seemed high and I didn’t except them to sell anything. But I was amazed when some artworks sold for several thousand dollars each.
I tried the roulette in the casino. It was a friendly, relaxed, table with double-zero, $5 minimum, outside and total inside bets. I enjoyed whiling away a few hours there, but I was starting to realise that there wasn’t much else to do other than eat, drink and gamble! I showed my MLife card in the casino and the manager came and personally welcomed me – but after that there wasn’t anything and I suppose I didn’t really play enough for anyone to comp me anything.
I signed up for the paid wi-fi, which is charged by the minute rather than by amount of data. You need to remember to sign out after each use, otherwise it will just count down all your minutes until they run out. I’m sure plenty of people are caught out by this. The wi-fi also doesn’t support VPN, so you probably won’t be able to pick up your corporate emails – but that’s probably a good thing.
Restaurant Blu was exceptional every night. We watched an excellent, professional, magic show in the theatre. We sat in one of the bars and had drinks watching some pretty good live bands. I think the bar atmosphere was pretty good.
We decided that our room was over air-conditioned and we were getting dry throats when sleeping. There was no way to adjust this or turn it off. So we left our cabin terrace door open each night. That’s one of the best things about being at sea – NO BUGS!
Our first port of call was Cozumel. We’d booked an excursion to an aquatic park, snorkelling, seal show and Mayan nature walk. Disembarking was easy and we found our friendly local guide. He arranged a couple of minibuses to take us to the park. We were hoping to just take our own snorkels and jump in the water, but we were organised as a group to lockers, then life jackets, then a talk about where we would swim. Halfway through the talk, we gave up and swam away on our own. The snorkelling was good and the water quite deep – I’m not sure it would suit first-time divers. The seal show was cheesy. The Mayan nature walk was lovely, although we realised after a while that all the ‘relics’ were just fibre glass.
We were dropped back at some shops, some way away from the embarkation point. This seems like a deliberate tactic to make everyone walk past a load of shops. I don’t really mind, expect there is never anything I want from these places. I don’t want beads, a carpet, a donkey, a hat. I also wouldn’t risk making a large purchase, such as a TAG watch. Boarding was easy, although everyone has to pass through security person and luggage scanners.
The weird part was leaving everything on the ship, including our passports. The only form of ID required to get on and off the ship was the SeaPass card and a driving licence.
Another Groundhog day at Sea. We received a note to say that there would be a full US immigration inspection on arrival at Key West the next morning and 7:45am had been set for our customs interview. On a positive side, it meant that we could clear immigration at Key West and then just be able to walk off the ship on arrival at Port Everglades. On the negative side, it meant having to get up early and be somewhere for 7:45am – hardly a holiday time.
It was also ‘formal night’ – where formal dress, including tuxedos (black tie) is expected. I did actually pack my dinner suit, but then decided that it wasn’t worth carrying around for two weeks just for one night. I did have a two-piece suit and tie with me and wore that. There were hardly any passengers in anything more formal than I was wearing, so I made the right choice.
It was nice to wake up the next morning at Key West – a really attractive port. Our immigration interview was really quick and we were in Blu just after 8am.Our SeaPass cards were clipped to show we’d passed immigration.
We spent most of the day walking around Key West – no need for a tour here unless you really don’t like walking. Our friendly waiter had already advised us that the best wi-fi was at Starbucks although we found that it was actually the hotel behind Starbucks that was providing the wi-fi. So get the password from Starbucks and then sit in the hotel lobby for a better signal.
We received the daily newsletter and found that we were expected to be out of our cabin by 8:30am the following morning (departure day). So that’s two days where we had to be up much earlier than I would normally when on holiday. We also had to leave our large luggage outside our stateroom for collection that night.
The following morning was chaos. Everyone had to go to the theatre and wait for their group number to be called. US immigration had decided to do another full check – so the previous day’s check was a waste of time – plus we’d also just been to Key West and so were already in the US. It was obvious that the whole process was in ruins and so we ignored the group number calls and just headed down to the disembarkation point. There was a line but we probably only waited 30 minutes.
We had a Hertz rental booked (one-way to Miami Airport) and waited quite a while for a Hertz shuttle to appear. Then the shuttle did the rounds of several other cruise ships until it was full. Unless you need a car, then I’d probably recommend just taking a taxi.
We enjoyed our cruise; the novelty of waking up in a new place, the fantastic Blu restaurant. But there were also negatives; pool deck too crowded and raucous, early wake-up times, amenities not matching the Celebrity website. There is also a slight trapped feeling when at Sea, with not really that much to do. There is also the price – it cost the same for five nights cruise as it did for our previous five nights in the Barceló Bávaro Palace Deluxe Hotel and I’d much prefer to spend five nights there than on board. This cruise was a taster so we could decide whether to take a Norwegian Fjords cruise in June – but we’ve decided not to do that now and head to a beach somewhere instead.