We booked our airfare separately from Celebrity since we had a nice coupon from American for a free companion ticket--so we splurged and bought one business class ticket and got one free! That was a very nice way to start our vacation. Our flight left from Baltimore at 7:30 am on Saturday and we arrived in San Juan a little bit ahead of schedule! We hailed a cab from the airport to the Pan-American terminal to board the Galaxy. Being the control freak that I am, it was nice to know where our bags were at all times! This terminal is across the bay from old town San Juan--in other words, you can't walk there! Our first view of the Galaxy was a big WOW!
Boarding was completely uneventful--no lines at 1:15 pm at all. We got our docs and our little Galaxy card (room key, charge card) and hit the duty free shop in the terminal before boarding. Our bags were carried to our cabin at the same time as we walked there, which was nice. Since we were staying another night in San Juan at the end of the trip we decided to unpack and explore the boat today and hit the lunch buffet in the Oasis Cafe. We had a Cat 2 cabin with the outside veranda which was midship/port side on the Penthouse deck, deck 10. It was nicely decorated and good enough size. Good storage with 2 closets and lots of drawers. The bathroom was small but well engineered with good storage space. The shower was large. Reminded me of a sleek bathroom in a well designed European hotel. The veranda made all the difference in the world--I don't know that I'd sail without one now! Extremely relaxing place to hang out, read a book, and have a drink. The people next door to us on the left were very nice and we enjoyed talking to them all week. My parents had sent us a bon voyage gift of a bottle of wine which was in an ice bucket all ready to go when we opened the cabin door--that was nice! We're not big drinkers so it took us days to drink the whole thing!
The buffet in the Oasis Cafe was nice enough--nothing too spectacular but not too ordinary either. We often ate on shore or ordered room service salads for lunch. I must say the room service menu (except for in the suites, where you can have full meals) was kind of skimpy and that's something I would improve if I were Celebrity, but for coffee and danish in the morning or pizza during the pizza hours it was more than tasty and adequate. The interactive TV room service ordering was easy enough to use and they brought things pretty quickly.
The meals in the beautiful Orion restaurant ranged from merely good to outstanding. I can't imagine how they do such a good job feeding so many people. There were some wonderful cold soups like rhubarb and apple and some great appetizers like a roasted vegetable terrine (kind of a veggie pate) that were out of this world. Other things were just ok. I like fancy food and am somewhat of a food snob at heart and found that the Chef's Selections on the menu were often the best things going on that particular night so give that a try if you sail on Galaxy! Our tablemates at table 516 were two other couples who we had a great time with! We have each other's e-mail addresses and are going to stay in touch! They made dining a pleasure and fun every night! One of we couples bought wine for the whole table nearly every night--such a pleasant way to share! Our table was on the lower floor towards the back windows of the boat, right next to the Captain's Table (an overrated experience if there ever was one....) The breakfasts and lunches in Orion were very good and wish we had motivated more to go there for them--but hey, you get lazy on vacation!
We rented tuxes for the formal nights and were glad we did. I ordinarily am loathe to dress up outside of work but we had fun with it. Go gamble at the roulette table with a tux on and you'll feel like James Bond! Shaken not stirred please! It was quite something to see everyone looking so nice--we were our better selves for 2 nights! Speaking of roulette--I won $210 one night on a $20 investment in chips! And I came out ahead for the cruise itself, although I would say the slots seemed rather stingy to me compared to Vegas!
The main pool area was sometimes crowded but I found a secret spot that I will share with you kind readers--go to the very back of the ship on penthouse deck 10 and there is a narrow deck there with lounge chairs. You will virtually be alone there! Depending on what way the ship is pointing in relation to the sun it can be shady or sunny--read there on the shady times and sun there on the sunny times. I found it a most peaceful place with classical music softly piping out the speakers there. If you get sick of the busy-ness of the main pool you can get away there! The small ocean pool is one deck up if you need to get wet and cool off and there are drinks available, and a grill there in the afternoon.
The gym and workout areas of the ship were nice and well equipped. Didn't take any of the aerobic classes so can't tell you about that. The thassalotherapy pool is a must for $10 a day! Go try it out. It's like having a massage with power jets of water! Just the ticket if you're lazing around the boat some afternoon when everyone's on shore. Good if you're sore from too much working out or walking around the islands! Totally relaxing.
The shows--only went to see Cirque du Galaxy which we thought was very good. All sorts of Chinese acrobats and pretty good production values. I tend to think these things are pretty cheesy so sometimes its fun to go to the shows just to laugh at how tacky they are, but this show was actually pretty good. Now the king of cheese was the cruise director Don Fluke himself. He was a scream. But hey, we're 30-something cynics so what can I say?? Speaking of ages onboard--there seemed to be a very good diversity of age ranges from young or not so young families, couples of all ages, and people just there to have a good time. Not too much of any one thing--it was nice.
We are basically lazy! :) But we did get off the boat every day we were in port if nothing else to look around a bit.
St. Croix--For one time only Galaxy went to St. Croix for the first day. It was basically nice and fairly unspoiled. Fredericksted, the port, was a small town in decent shape with nice looking colonial era buildings but not really much to do. There is a beach right at the dock. The people were nice there and in Christiansted, where we took a taxi to. Roundtrip on the taxi was $10. Christiansted had a quaint quality to it and some decent shops. The Cruzan rum was extremely cheap there! Buy several bottles! There was a nice beach in the harbor on what is called 'Hotel on Cay'. We didn't take a boat over there but it looked like a nice relaxing place. One of the big attractions of St. Croix is the Whim Plantation but we didn't go there or hear of anyone who did!
At Sea--The next day was our 'at sea' day and that was magnificent. We availed ourselves of everything the ship has to offer and saw some beautiful scenery from our veranda--the port side was facing the islands of Guadalupe, Martinique and St. Lucia on our way to Barbados. When we saw both Martinique and St. Lucia we went WOW! We would get to Martinique on this itinerary but were immediately sad that we went to St. Croix instead of St. Lucia! St. Lucia looked like something out of South Pacific with the 2 big mountains jutting out of the water! In any case, after experiencing an 'at sea' day we'll be looking for cruises that have more than one! What a great experience watching the world sail by!
Barbados--We went into Bridgetown for the morning and found it rather dirty and not particularly attractive. One guy tried to sell us drugs and hook us up with prostitutes! Too bad he couldn't figure out we were gay! So we had a good laugh about that one. They had some decent shops on the main drag (can't remember the street name) and so we amused ourselves a bit with that. Don't know where they're hiding all these fine British products we're supposed to find there! I guess you could say we were unimpressed. So back to the ship it was for us for more reading books, suntanning, going to the gym and vegetating!
Martinique--Downtown Fort de France has some genuine historical attractions (some churches and squares and that kind of thing) so we explored that in the morning and looked in the shops. Contrary to the popular anti-French opinion we found people to be rather nice. A peppy 'bonjour' said with a smile goes a long way! It rained heavily a bit so we ducked under an awning and had a nice conversation with a native (in French) who was very nice, so learn a few words and be nice and you'll be treated well. We decided to be ambitious and book a shore excursion to take a tour of the rain forest in the afternoon and see the town (St. Pierre) that was wiped out by a volcano in 1902 and see the Butterfly farm. Our taxi driver was very nice, but then again, my partner is fluent in French! The tour people were genuinely surprised that we liked our driver! I guess they don't get that much. Most of them seem to make an effort to communicate in English to the best of their ability though. You drive from Fort de France to Balata, where the small church which is based on Sacre Coeur in Paris is located. That was nice enough. Then your driver takes you through winding mountain roads through the rain forest, which is just spectacular, even if you can't communicate with them. It was dreamy. Then you end up in St. Pierre where you see the Butterfly farm, which was nice enough, but small, and then board a bus to see the ruins of the town and the museum. They don't take you there, but about 50 feet from the museum is this magnificent ruined staircase/amphitheater which is quite interesting--so ditch the group for a couple minutes at the museum and walk down the road and see that! Then you take a good hour bus ride back to Fort de France along the western shore of the island, which was pretty enough. All and all worth the $46/head for the rain forest alone in my opinion! The people in the cabin next to us (they really were nice people) told us an ironic story--they said they thought the people of Martinique were rude but then went on to tell us how a teenage girl helped them find their way back to the ship, going several blocks out of her way, even though she was on her way to meet her parents! That doesn't sound rude to me! Go figure.
Antigua--The port area in St. John's was very well designed and welcoming. The nicest of anywhere we went, and it was right in town. Nice steel drum band playing and all that. We explored the town and there is a very nice old Anglican church there which is beautiful (and which has been destroyed by catastrophes many times over the years.) It is stone on the outside and wooden inside and quite nice--worth a visit. Give them some money for the restoration fund if you go! We found people in St. John's to be very friendly and nice. It was a classy place. We also went to the small museum of the history of Antigua and Barbuda. It was interesting and the woman in the gift shop was very nice. I got some local pottery for xmas gifts! All and all a very good experience in St. John's.
St. Thomas--Yes, the duty free shopper's paradise. There is a huge number of shops right at the docks and downtown Charlotte Amalie is a cheap cab ride away. You could spend many hours looking at everything, but at this point in the trip you've seen all of these stores before, so don't get too excited! But the downtown is well preserved even if t-shirt shops are inhabiting centuries old buildings. At least they haven't ripped everything down! We climbed some of the stairways leading up the hill and just saw so many nice little gardens and buildings. Worth exploring! If you can't find something to buy here then you can't find it anywhere. People were nice too. I got some good buys on prints and of course got my mom another piece for her Waterford Nativity set--no way I could forget that! I took the cable car near the port up to Paradise Point for a spectacular view of the bay and the Galaxy! Good photo op but pricey at $12. We picked up real estate info for there (and several other places.) Hey, it doesn't hurt to dream. Like most other days, we eventually ended up back at the boat to soak up some rays!
As you can see--we're not too ambitious on vacation. Our dining mates Liz and Jon told us they found some great beaches and snorkeling virtually everywhere, so you shouldn't have a problem if that's your thing. They winged it and just rented a cab for cheaper than the shore excursions every day! Just set out early in the day and give yourself plenty of time to get back on ship because they really do leave on time! Some people in St. John's had to take a fast motor boat to get back on board!
So that's about it--I know I am running on and on here! Disembarkation was a breeze. We had # 6 and were in no rush to get off the boat since we were staying in San Juan another day. So we hung out in the stunning Stratosphere Lounge on deck 12 and looked at old San Juan and cooled our jets until we could leave. Other than the breakfast buffet and one or two places on ship everything else closes down--can't get a soda to wet your whistle. We found our bags in the terminal with no problem and hailed a cab to our hotel, the El Caribe Hilton near Fort Geronimo. Customs were no problemo. We were off the ship and in a cab in 15 minutes or less at 9:15 am. We are not morning people in any sense of the word so this was a minor miracle!
The Hilton left some things to be desired. I think San Juan got a good wallop from Hurricane Georges! We had another coupon, for an "executive class" room in the tower. We were not impressed! Hate to see how they treat the regular folks. We had mold spores growing on the ceiling of the room and everything felt damp! So that was a downer, but they had a cute little beach with a cove and nice music playing so we weren't all that unhappy. We went over to old San Juan to visit El Morro, the magnificent old fort there and walk around the very quaint streets. That was a treat. I found an excellent complex of shops that were filled with native crafts of Puerto Rico from carnival masks from the city of Ponce (quite expensive too!) to hand carved Santos which are little wooden saints that are quite the collectors' items. The antique Santos that they had were worth hundreds of dollars! So I bought two new ones--one of the three kings for my parents and one of some unknown Saint for myself. They are beautiful and unique. Affordable art! I'd much rather spend my bucks on something unique like that rather than tacky t-shirts! Not to be too big a snob! :)
In any case, on Sunday we hung out at the hotel beach and then changed our clothes to get to the airport and fly home! It was so sad seeing the Galaxy pull out without us on Saturday night, which we could see from our hotel balcony! We couldn't imagine 'our' ship leaving without us! The flight home was uneventful and we had our lucky seats in business class to ease that nasty transition back to reality!!!