May 25, 2006
by Ivy - May 25, 2006 Our cruise on the Celebration was chosen because of proximity to home and overall price/value. We were very excited to go on our first cruise, but a little hesitant because of some of the reviews we had read about this vessel.
Fortunately, everything we read that was negative we did not experience, and by the time the cruise was over we decided that the reviewers had either a) picked the wrong cruise for their tastes, b) were 'lifetime' cruises and belonged on a larger, more luxurious ship, or c) were just plain picky and/or negative.
The embarking process was easy since we left from Jacksonville, which has only one ship departing - the Celebration. We were able to bring on four bottles of wine spread throughout our baggage and two 12 packs of soda to offset the cost of drinking Coke and Diet Coke (this is HIGHLY recommended and such as savings as you can use the drinks as mixers if you are drinking liquor drinks.) Although Jacksonville doesn't attract the brightest crew for embarkation, they were pleasant, had a good sense of humor, and kept the traffic moving above a snail's pace.
Once onboard, I was pleasantly surprised with a room decorated with flowers, happy birthday garb, and a bottle of champagne (not chilled, but cool and FREE.) Apparently, family and friends can buy you things for the cruise without your knowledge, so if you are taking a cruise for a special occasion, LET EVERYONE KNOW YOUR CABIN NUMBER AND SHIP NAME.
Soon after boarding, we were greeted by our Steward, who was the only disappointing part of the cruise. He was friendly enough, but immediately stated the hours he WASN'T available. Strange. Oh well, we were happy our room would be cleaned twice a day and we wouldn't be involved in the cleaning.
The room was small, but clean, and the perfect place to rest our heads at night (the only time we planned on being in the cabin aside from showers.) The TV had a Carnival channel that looped the entertainment, cruise director's advice, and excursion info.
The life jacket drill was hot and long and something we could have followed along with in the air-conditioned room.
As we were turning around in the St. Johns river, we had to re-dock and we watched with curiosity (and horror) as ambulances and fire trucks pulled up to the side of the ship. Apparently, the life vest drill had overheated several passengers (it WAS that hot, and MANDATORY) and they had to be taken off the ship. Too bad. The drill could have been indoors.
Our first taste of the food was a mid-day buffet, which was above-average for a buffet and had a wide variety of food and salad. When I learned the buffet was almost 24 hours I realized I was in heaven. The pizza was really good as well, and it was open 24 hours a day (great for late night post-disco munchies.)
The party started right away on the main outdoor deck as folks were already tipsy and dancing in the middle of a magnificent thunderstorm as we passed Ft. Caroline, St. Johns Bluff, and the Mayport Naval Station. The party in the electrical storm lasted until it was time for everyone to get ready for our first dinner.
My biggest regret is not requesting main dinner seating, which is around 5:30. We had 8:30 seating, which was great but we missed bingo and some fun activities planned during the second dinner shift.
Nevertheless, the food was awesome (AWESOME), the service was great, and it was a lot of fun meeting other folks sitting at your table. Carnival does a good job matching groups for dinner based on demographics and the interests in your profile, and we had a ball with our group. Again, the food was incredible and I ordered two main dishes two of the four nights on board simply because I couldn't decide.
I was serenaded by our server and crew and had a memorable birthday dinner with strangers.
The disco was a lot of fun at night, especially because this is where the crew goes when off-duty, and they are one wild bunch. The musicians were great, and the comedians were fantastic as well.
We took one shore excursion on Freeport, which was a good choice because Freeport is undeveloped and decimated by recent hurricanes so there isn't much to do on foot. Our jeep excursion arranged through Carnival was a five hour incredible adventure through hardwood forests, mangroves, beaches, and we even went to a fresh and saltwater cave. It was pricey, but well-worth the money. Our guide was great, and even took us off the regular path to see 'The Flying Dutchman' ship from Pirates of the Caribbean (2), which was filed in Freeport. We saw this incredible Hollywood set in a cove close-up and learned a lot about how they filed the movie. We also had a full two hours off-roading, which was a blast.
Our only disappointment that day was that our room was not cleaned when we returned to change for dinner, and our Stewart didn't answer the call button for the 90 minutes we were in our room. It was clean when we got back from dinner that night, but he didn't take the empty glasses or plates from room service (you actually have to call someone different for that.)
Nassau and Atlantis were fascinating and beautiful, and we wish we had more than one day on the island. The water taxi and cab rides were adventurous, to say the least, and Senor Frogs was worth the visit just for the experience. The only annoyance was the locals as everyone wants to braid your hair or sell you a flute. Regardless, the setting was beautiful.
The day at sea was a great was to 'decompress' as you headed back home. We felt bad for folks who had to travel long distances the next day to get home as we only had a ten minute drive (this is KEY if you live in Jax.)
Overall, four out of five stars, the star lost because of our steward. I can see why cruise enthusiasts may not like this ship, but it's always what you make of it, and it is a fantastic deal.