by Alex Skabry
While not money conscious, like most people looking into Celebrity we enjoy stretching the value of our vacation dollar and hope we can offer some tips to fellow travelers.
About getting onboard: be assured your luggage will take longer than you expect to get to your cabin! Remove the items you will need to enjoy the pool, or if you are prone to fretting, have your evening wear with you. Luggage invariably takes until 5:00 to arrive, and if you don't arrive in your bathing suit can mean a wasted day of needed sunshine. From the grumbling of other cruisers, this apparently is not the case on other ships, although we experienced it once with HAL.
One other thing about arrival: you'll find waiters walking about with "Celebrity glasses" (ala Tom Collins glasses) filled with Bahama Mama's as you stroll around the pool. Be aware those are not complementary drinks, and will cost you $6.95 plus tip.
They also provide you with bathrobes, which of course will be added to your bill should you leave with them.
The Extreme Sports bar was home to numerous parties while I was onboard, especially during the NFL playoffs. Although a bit small, there are enough TV's to suffice and it feels close. If you enjoy hoops, the basketball court is behind and one flight up from here. The pool area is delightful, with the four hot tubs nearly always with someone waiting to talk to you and plenty of room in the pools. Deck space is a little limited directly around the pools, but not tragically so. As always, expect 20% of the chairs to be reserved for use by some idiot that never sits down.
Deck Five is home to the "Galleria" of shopping: DKNY, Versace, expensive trinkets from H. Stern and the like. Good deals can be had on watches on the last day of sailing, and although the liquor selection for sale is not extensive it promises to match any price ashore. Shop there first to save time. The whole deck is wonderful, full of little niches to sit and watch the ocean float by (if you can bear to be away from the sun). Especially nice for me was enjoying a rather nice cappuccino in the Tea room. The coffee drinks are served with an excellent piece of chocolate with which to sweeten your beverage.
Also on Deck Five were the art auctions. I regularly spend a bit of time here, and generally find that Park West offers great deals on fine art. The auctioneer was particularly good on this cruise (Tamara Cannon), informative, energetic and passionate about her vocation. I left with three wonderful pieces. However, Park West is to be chided for cutting back on their brochures which formerly included detailed information about the individual pieces of work and now only includes biographies of the artists; and for cutting back on the amount of art given away gratis.
The Celebrity Theater is on both Decks Four and Five. I'll cover the shows a bit later, but I found on the two cruises we sailed on that seats up front were regularly available in this spacious and modern venue. Grab them if they are, even if there isn't a bad seat in the house, because row 2 will still be better than row 52. Likewise, the dining room is on both decks, at the opposite end of the ship. Another beautiful venue, but no better or worse than the Galaxy. More on this later.
The third deck is the home to the Grand Foyer, and the Olympic Dining Room. Both wonderful. If you are going to stay on an inside cabin, this is the place to be!!! It was easy access for us in most every regard.
Hotdogs, hamburgers, etc. at the Riveria Grill were not worth the effort to eat them. If you see fried chicken anywheres, however, go for it. They bread it on board (and for those of us sick and tired of frozen breaded chicken, this is a revelation), and mine was moist and crispy. The buffet is okay, but there is generally alot of delicious fresh fruit and it almost always features some pretty good meat being sliced off the bone.
Breakfast for me amounted to a croissant, some excellent bacon, and a cup of coffee from the same buffet line. Coffee here is only fair.
Yes, pizza is offered at nite, and its okay, but not if you are from a place where pizza is excellent like NYC, Chicago, or (believe it or not) Buffalo.
If your goal is to enjoy this very popular location more than once as we did (we got in three times in one week), go directly to the Rendezvous lounge upon entering the ship...even before you get to your cabin. You'll find the maitre d' at a table, taking reservations 48 hours in advance- in other words, up to Tuesday on a Sunday sailing. Make reservations for Monday or Tuesday first; then inquire if Sunday is also booked. You may find (as we did) that the room is underutilized on Sunday and they'll take you even though policy seems to be one nite per guest. Pursue other nites with persistence, and they may let you in again.
We had excellent experiences with Harold and Vladimer, and wound up requesting them by name. George, the sommelier, is a knowledgable man, but beware of the expensive selections. Special favorites: Lamb en Croute; steak Diane; the chocolate souffle (beware...it is large!); and especially the goat and parmesan cheese appetizer with tomato coulis.
My wife and I regularly dine alone on board, and request a deuce months in advance. On our last trip, we had to wrangle a bit with the manager to get the desired table (on the Horizon); but on the first leg of this trip we were flatly denied our request, with the Maitre d' saying he had 64 requests for a limited number of tables. It took the special efforts of the Cruise Director, Jim Cannon, to get us our deuce on the second leg. The upshot for you: don't take it as written in stone that you will get what you ask for. Pursue it with vigilance. (Ultimately, the table we did secure was, in fact, phenomenal...clearly the best table for two in the place.)
I know it has been a topic hereabouts to review dress code on formal nites. >From what I saw on both trips, about 40-50% of the guys had on tuxedos, the rest wore dark suits. We saw one full table dressed completely casually that nite, and can only assume (hope) their luggage was lost.
Service, for us at least, was simply incredible. Our waiter was Darko, with Marvin (Enrique) as his busboy, and as a former professional server myself I can tell you his work was always perfect.
We had the opportunity to talk at some length with a dancer during an excursion, and it seems this is a new direction for Celebrity. They have apparently hired a former entertainer to choreograph and produce shows for this ship. In fact, this same new producer happened to be on our (first) cruise and came out to entertain with an impressive act.
The regular shows were also of fine quality, including the (obligatory) juggler. Does every ship that sails have one of these? No matter, his was funny show. Our Boston-based comedian missed the ship in Cozumel, but we heard him on the last nite. Hilarious...just a riot.
Were we moving at a 50% slower rate because the engines weren't working properly? I don't know. I know I had enough time in port to enjoy myself.