|Tips for Eastern Caribbean Cruisers|
Part I - Precruise
We cruised the Western Caribbean on Celebrity Galaxy for our 20th Wedding Anniversary in 2002. So for our 22nd Anniversary, we selected Celebrity Horizon with Eastern Caribbean ports. We chose Celebrity due to our prior experience and my wife's enjoyment of luxury travel. We ended up on Horizon because we liked the itinerary.
B. Cruise Critic
Cruisecritic.com was once again very helpful in securing key information for all of our ports of call and getting to know some of our fellow travelers before the cruise.
C. Choice of Route
Two years ago I selected the Western Caribbean cruise (as opposed to the Eastern) because my wife once told me she'd like to visit Key West, and it gave us an opportunity to visit 3 other ports we had never previously had the honor to visit. It was a GREAT CRUISE. I later found out that she meant to say she'd rather visit Puerto Rico than Key West, but she never told me that. As it turns out, she loved Key West! Well, this itinerary included Nassau, San Juan PR, St. Thomas VI, St. Maarten, Tortola BVI, and Key West. So I not only covered my bases but added four new ports. This cruise left out of Tampa, Florida.
D. Choice of cabin
My wife lives on the balcony when they are available. The Horizon has but one cabin with a veranda (# 1074). It was a Spring 2004 experiment. Lacking a balcony, I selected a Horizon Suite (Category HS) as a surprise for my spouse. It appeared to be a pretty good value given that we'd be on this ship for 11 days. We were in HS #1016 on the starboard side. It was one of two HS cabins located closest to the midship that didn't have a connecting door to an adjoining cabin. (We have heard that connecting doors do a poor job of blocking sound.) Such a connecting cabin would be a great choice if we had brought our kids. HS for you and Category 4 cabin for the kids.
We paid $1305 per person ($119/day/person) including port fees and taxes (but not including tips and incidentals). Our deposit was paid a full 11 months before the cruise. The Horizon Suite (category HS) has 270 square feet in contrast to the standard and CC cabins at 172 square feet. Note: I only include price information because it was requested by fellow travelers following my Western Caribbean review.
Given that we were visiting foreign countries, we felt it would be a good idea to use passports. We brought our passports which we got two years ago. Hint: AAA members can get really good passport pictures for free at AAA offices.
I insured the trip through Travelex, which I concluded was a good choice due to: relative cost comparisons, ease of access and booking, good disclosures, excellent coverage for what I needed, and especially because their insurance is "primary", meaning that I do not have to involve any other insurance in the claims process. I had no interest in proprietary insurance offered by a travel agency or cruise companies because if either goes under your insurance is worthless and defeats the purpose. We bought the insurance within 14 days of our booking to assure their would be no questions about "existing medical conditions", although I am not aware we have any. Thankfully we never had a need for the insurance. Here are 14 great tips on How to Select Cruise Insurance.
H. Prebooking Excursions
Based upon the recommendations we got off the Ports of Call threads, we decided to prebook only one excursion (privately, on St. Thomas) and we arranged this via email. The rest of our excursions were all privately booked upon arrival in the respective ports.
Packing Hints came from this board. We packed for 3 Formal nights (tux / fine dinner dress), 3 Semi-Formal nights (suit and tie / dinner dress), and 5 Casual nights (polo's and Dockers, blouses and skirts), in addition to enough clothing to cover us for 11 days. Among the most helpful "extra items" we packed were battery powered alarm clock, shoe rack, rounded scissors (under 6"), bottled water, cards, camera, film, sunscreen, binoculars, highlighters, collapsible dirty clothes bag, and a water camera. We also made eleven 8x10 posters for our cabin door (one for each day, "If this is Wednesday, it must be Nassau!" and the like) and mentioning Cruise Critic in hopes that someone else on the boards would notice and strike up a conversation. The cabin doors are metal. We held up our signs with little magnets.
Part II - Embarkation
A. The Port of Tampa
We flew US Air from Charlotte, NC to Tampa, FL with a 10:00 am arrival. The fact that US Air was in bankruptcy (which it was not when we booked) definitely concerned us in the days before we departed. The flight was thankfully uneventful. One-half hour after landing we had our luggage. We then attached our Celebrity bag tags, asked a Yellow Cab dispatcher for a cab, and within minutes were in a van headed for the port.
Celebrity Horizon was berthed at Terminal 3 (815 Channelside Drive). The port is just 9 miles from the airport. A cab ride to the port has a standard $20 fare plus tips for the dispatcher and driver. Upon arrival our bags were accepted by baggage handler #85. Our tip sent him on his way. Of interest, The Florida Aquarium was practically next door to the pier.
B. Security Processing and Boarding
We arrived at the terminal at 11:15am. There was a 3 minute wait for security screening. Once through, there were separate lines for suites, Captain's Club and non-CC passengers. All lines fed into a very long table of folks processing your boarding documents. Assuming you had already completed all the documents requested, signing in and getting your ship credit card (which is also your cruise ID) took no more than 5 minutes for us to get processed. They took your credit card for charges at this point. It is a very nice terminal with reasonably comfortable seating in the waiting area. Punch and water were offered. Boarding began with folks that needed special assistance, followed by suites and penthouse. Boarding began at 11:40am with a 4:30pm sailing time. Your cruise card is quickly data encrypted with your image at one of two stations. There was a quick wait for the initial start of cruise photo (which can be skipped). We boarded into the Horizon Lobby (deck 5 - Europa) of the ship where a Horizon attendant greets you with a glass of champagne or orange juice. Cabins were to be ready at 1:00pm, so we were directed to the Coral Seas Café Grill for lunch.
C. Explore The Cabin
We were in cabin 1016, a category HS cabin with 270 square feet but no veranda. We were located slightly forward of midships, starboard side, on the Atlantic Deck (deck 10). The cabin was extremely well laid out. Lots of drawers and enough room in the closets for our clothes. The bathroom has lots of room with a Jacuzzi tub and shower. There is a large unobstructed window just above and between lifeboats #1 and #3. The thick curtains will entirely block out all light when closed. Hangers and robes were provided. Hint: you can secure additional wire hangers from your butler. The desk featured a number of informational brochures including Monday's event newsletter "Celebrity Today". Being Cruise Critic members, we received an invite to the following day's gathering, along with a CruiseConnections pin and a couple of name tags. Our butler and our stateroom attendant did a wonderful job throughout our cruise.
D. Tour of Ship and Search For Food
We found sustenance in the Coral Seas Cafe on the deck 11 (Marina) for a noon buffet lunch. The ship is well laid out with ample sets of stairwells and elevators. Due to the pool on the Marina Deck (11) the midships elevator and stairwell only run from deck 4 to deck 10. The entire week, without exception, we always took the stairs (and pretended that this was sufficient exercise to cover our food intake).
E. Lifeboat Drill
About 30 minutes prior to leaving port, we participated in the mandatory lifeboat drill. The drill went smoothly and lasted 20 minutes.
F. Dinner - 6pm First Seating
We were seated at a table for 8 in the Starlight Restaurant, next to a window. Unlike some other Celebrity ships, the entire restaurant is on one floor --- on deck 7 (Galaxy). Both our server and assistant did a very good job throughout our cruise.
Part III - Food!
Celebrity has a good reputation for their cuisine. The meals met our expectations. Not only was it good, it was downright outstanding on many nights. There was good variety. Nice presentations at lunch and dinner. No one at our table ever needed to send back an undercooked or overcooked item. Our Maitre'D was very friendly and helpful --- the most "hands on" Maitre'D we have ever seen. Meats were cooked to order. Yes, you could even order "rare".
A. Always Available
The following items are available every night (even if they do not appear on the menu): shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, chicken, salmon, and a NY Strip steak.
B. The Best Breakfast Items
Mixed berries, Belgian waffles, smoked salmon, eggs benedict, French toast, sticky buns, and an array of pastries. Hint: big Belgian waffles with several toppings are only available in the Coral Seas Grill at the rear of Deck 11.
C. The Best Appetizer
Escargot and Potato Gnocchi were incredible. The pates were also quite good. All appetizers were well presented.
D. The Best Soups
Cream of Broccoli, Cream of Cauliflower, and the Onion Soup. The chilled Papaya Soup was awesome.
E. The Best Entrées
All of the Lamb and Veal dishes, all of the steak offerings (Prime Rib, Tenderloins), Quails, Duck, and Ox Tail.
F. The Best Desserts
Fresh made ice creams, crème Brule, cherries jubilee, all cheesecakes, baked Alaska on parade.
G. Room Service
We didn't order anything from room service except breakfast once. It arrived on time. All the breakfast items were cooked to order and nothing was missing.
H. Midnight Buffets
All but one (Le Grande Buffet) took place by the pool. Usually served ice cream, an assortment of cookies, lots of fresh fruit, and some great beef ribs. The themes included a Sock Hop, Western Night, and a Caribbean Night. Party Band Phaze 5 provided music for all of the deck parties. Le Grande Buffet took place in the Starlight Restaurant after a 30-minute picture-taking preview. You will marvel at the beautiful ice carvings and food creations.
I. Sushi Bar
Beautifully prepared (very fresh and chilled) sushi was available most nights from 6:00pm to 10:00pm on one side of the Coral Seas Café which they decorated with a Japanese restaurant theme. It is a winner.
Part IV - Entertainment
All the movies were shown in the Palladium Showroom on Port Days in the early afternoon. Our movies included 50 First Dates, Gothica, 21 Grams, and Last Samurai. We would have preferred that the films be shown on Sea Days. There is no popcorn available. This was an interesting omission. Don't know why. Popcorn is cheap, and it usually induces thirst, which leads to bar sales.
We found all of the shows to be entertaining. The dancers were energetic. The singers' voices complemented each other. We were not too crazy about some of the selections or some odd costuming. All of the guest talent were very good: Jeannette Owens (pianist), Tabor Szabo Eva (comedy, juggling, magic), Beni Mason (comedian), and Nicola Loud (violinist). Additional shows included a Newlywed/Not-So-Newlywed Game, Richard Cheatham (as John Rolfe), and two evenings of The Liar's Club.
The Casino Royale is filled with slot machines, one Craps table, two roulette tables, and a few poker and blackjack tables. While underutilized, the Craps table was constantly manned in the evenings. The casino was open while at sea. Closed while in ports. Very smoky. The smoke severely limited the amount of time we could spend in the casino. My eyes would burn profusely. Wished smoking was not allowed in any indoor common area.
Took a tour, but did not utilize the spa or aquaspa. It is located on the Sun Deck (12).
E. Outdoor Pools and Hot tubs.
The giant hot tub looked like fun, but we did not use the pool facilities at all.
F. Celebrity Orchestra and Other Ship Bands
The Celebrity Orchestra was good. Michael Rheanne had limited range. We generally avoided them (although a lot of the older folks could be seen dancing to their tunes whenever they played). Party Band Phaze 5 was very good. Colin Kaday, a piano player from Canada, was awesome. He has a large repertoire and plays without any printed music.
G. In-room TV
There were a number of closed-circuit ship channels and satellite stations available on the TV in the cabin. Pay-per-view movies were also available. You can also order room service and check your current account on the TV as well. Additionally, movies were available on your cabin TV. Both pay-per-view and free (recent DVD releases like Lord of the Rings - Return of the King) were available. It was very difficult to get any football games or scores.
H. Room Service
You can order from morning to late night. We didn't order anything from room service except breakfast once. We even received an item not on the menu which we simply wrote in. It arrived on time. All the breakfast items were cooked to order and nothing was missing. They don't just drop the order off at your door --- they come in and set it up for you. Be sure to tip!
Part V - Parties
A. Cruise Critic Party
We signed up for the Cruise Critic party on the Celebrity web site. We received an email confirmation that a party would take place. On day 2 we received an envelope containing an invitation to the party, set for 10:00am on Tuesday (our first day at sea) in Michael's Club (now a non-smoking lounge), along with 2 CruiseConnections lapel pins, and name tags. At the appointed time we arrived at Michael's Club on the Deck. In total, about 30 folks attended. We had a great time meeting and greeting other "Friends of Walt" (addicted cruise critics). Light refreshments were provided. The Cruise Director Stewart Turnbull and the Captain's Club Hostess, Mahalia, were in attendance. They made a short presentation.
B. Honeymooners and Anniversaries Party
Thursday at 11:30am in the Zodiac Lounge. Picture taken. Free champagne and cake were offered. Several couples celebrating 60 year anniversaries. The longest was 62 years.
C. Captain's Club Party
Saturday at 5:15pm. Choice of 8 different beverages. Met in Palladium Theatre.
D. Captain's Club Elegant Tea
Second Tuesday at 3:45pm. Members were given a "private" tea in the Starlight Restaurant.
Part VI - Health Concerns
There was no smoking in the restaurants, show lounge, Michael's Club, Library, or Card Room. Smoking was permitted in the night clubs, casino, outside, and the interior port side of the ship. The air circulation in the casino and night clubs was generally poor. All it took was for one person to light up for the air to become very poor. Therefore we generally avoided these areas. Although we are very sensitive to smoke, we could not detect any smoke smell in our cabin. We did not observe anyone abusing the smoking privilege. They had every right to smoke in various areas of the ship, and unfortunately they did.
B. Pools and Hot Tubs
There is one salt water pool and a large salt water hot tub nearby. Both are on Deck 11. We did not witness the one baby on board in the pools or tubs. It was clearly stated that "diapers and pull-ups were not allowed in the pools".
C. General Cleanliness of the Ship
In a word: impeccable. You could not take a stroll without witnessing some type of cleaning going on at all hours. The ship was constantly being cleaned: floors, walls, fixtures, everything! While old, we did not witness any torn carpets or peeling paint. She really is in good shape.
To the best of our knowledge, there was no outbreak on our ship. Kudos to our fellow passengers and Celebrity personnel for their personal diligence.
We had rough seas from Tampa to Nassau, and one or two other days. I alternated a half of a patch behind my ears for the duration of the voyage. I had no problems with seasickness or even queasiness, but I did have some very minor problems which I attribute to being patch-related. My wife had no problems at all.
Part VII - Ship Notes
A. Ship Crew
We were very impressed with the ship and crew. Very friendly and competent. The ship and furnishings were in very good shape. She was very clean.
B. Our Butler
One of the benefits of the Horizon Suite is a butler. The butler can serve complete meals, evening hors d'oeuvres, complementary espresso and cappuccino, fresh fruit, daily news delivery, in-suite afternoon tea service with sandwiches and cookies, shoeshine service, and anything else you might have a question about.
C. Horizon Suite
There are 18 Horizon Suites (and 2 Celebrity Suites) on the ship. In addition to the butler, suites include: a bottle of champagne, personalized stationary, a Celebrity tote bag, 100% Egyptian cotton oversized bath towels, Frette bathrobes, priority check-in and departure, express luggage delivery upon boarding, restaurant seating preference (we had no problem getting our request for the main seating). Orchids were kept fresh. We received a fresh bowl of fruit every day. You also have access to a pillow menu. We ordered a couple of the 4 available pillows to try out. Upon arrival, we had our fridge emptied out. We then were able to keep our kiwis and bottled water chilled.
D. The Shops
Merchandise did not rotate very much. There was something on sale each day. The booze prices on the ship were generally as good as, or better than, shops in the ports, and they will match any printed flyers you bring back from shore.
E. Internet Service
The good news: there are a number new computer terminals with LCD screens set up in several different locations around the ship. (Look in the library and Starlight Showroom for starters). All had internet service.
The bad news: it costs 50 cents per minute.
The result: They were way underutilized. I never saw more than 2 people at a time using them. 90% of the time, no one was using them. I continue to hope that Celebrity will rethink the pricing to find the price point at which the computers will be 75%-to-85% utilized. Passengers will be happier, and Celebrity will end up with more net income, rather than having a wasting asset on board.
Our ship was not sold out. We had maybe 1200 folks on board. We only saw one boy, and one baby.
G. Dress Code
About 50% of men wore a tux on Formal nights. Others wore coat and tie. Did not see any violation of the dress code in the dining room. Did see violations in the casino.
We went through customs in Puerto Rico and Key West. Basically just got in a long line to show our passports and cruisecards to customs officials. In Puerto Rico we received an "exit pass" to disembark. Took only about 10 minutes. In Key West we had to wait on board until EVERYONE passed customs. This took almost 90 minutes as it was necessary to find a couple of passengers who didn't report for clearance like they were told to do.
Part VIII - The Ports
A. Nassau, Bahamas
7:00 am - 4:00 pm. The ship birthed at a pier and cleared us to go ashore at 8:00am. Carnival Fantasy left as we arrived. MSC Opera arrived later to take its place at the pier. Having been to Nassau a couple times before, we opted for a new experience by jumping on the #10 Jitney ($1.00 each way, payable when exiting) to Cable Beach. The drivers are really friendly. Greet them with a hearty "Good Morning" as you board. You can catch the #10 near the British Colonial Hilton (a few blocks to your right after you leave the pier). The trip took about 20 minutes. We got off at Sandals, the all-inclusive "adult couples only" resort. . It was a good thing we had brought our email confirmation of the Day Pass option as there was some confusion at the gate and upon check-in. A Day Pass (9am to 6pm) costs $220 per couple, or $50 per person ($100 per couple) if you view a 10-minute presentation and go on a 30-minute site inspection tour. We opted for the tour.
Sandals: the property itself is undergoing what appears to be the final phases of a hurricane repair. Lots of painting, and some reconstruction. The property should look great come the holiday season. Everyone was quite friendly. They make no effort to differentiate someone on a Day Pass from an overnight guest. You have free reign of the property. We took a speedboat out to Sandals Cay --- their semi-private island --- which includes a pool with swim-up bar, hot tub, hammocks, chairs, and a restaurant. There was less than 12 guests on the island for the first hour --- 24 by the time we left after two hours. The speedboat operators are real pros and a joy to watch in action as they secure the boat to the docks in high wave conditions. We enjoyed a couple of drinks on a hammock as waves crashed nearby. Atlantis could be seen in the distance. Very relaxing. They don't skimp on the liquor here. All quality, branded names, and local beers. Back at the main property we enjoyed a few more drinks, the hot tub, and a conch fritter lunch. Nice laidback day. We would look forward to visiting Sandals again on a Day Pass.
B. San Juan, Puerto Rico
2:30pm - 11:00pm. The RCI Empress was also in port. Upon arrival we immediately headed for El Moro Castle by cab ($5.00 fare, plus tip) for a self-guided walking tour. Our cab driver was not friendly. After El Morrow, we walked to San Cristobal Fortress. Both were really cool to visit. Cost is $3.00 per person for each site, or $5.00 per person for both sites. It is pretty easy to walk around town as places are closer than they appear on maps. Highly recommend visits to both. Although my wife had no interest in nightlife, I had originally planned to take a cab over to the Wyndham El San Juan Resort to celebrate her birthday. They have a large casino, lots of restaurants, and music to enjoy.
C. St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
7:00am - 5:00pm. We had at least four other ships in port today: RCI Empress, RCI Adventure, Golden Princess, and HAL Maasdam. St. Thomas is a major shopping destination. A large number of passengers bought digital cameras at this stop. We privately arranged for an island tour with Godfrey's Tour for $20 per person (plus tip). He picked us up at the ship at 10:00 am and dropped us off downtown. At noon he picked us up for a 2-hour island tour and dropped us off at Coki beach (no beach charge) from 2pm to 4pm. We would have preferred Meagan's Bay ($3 per person), but the majority of our tour mates brought their snorkel gear and were set on Coki Beach with the clearer water and more abundant fish. The downside of Coki is that it is a small, crowded, relatively unattractive stretch of sand maybe 25% as long as the considerably less crowded, more picturesque, Meagan's Bay. $20 rental at Coki Beach for 2 beach lounge chairs (unpadded) and a very large umbrella.
D. St. Maarten
7:00am - 6:00pm. Three other ships in port: RCI Empress, Crystal Harmony, and a Windjammer. This island half owned by the French and half owned by the Dutch. We dock on the southern Dutch side. The northern French side (actually a little more than half) is named St. Martin. We shared a taxi ($6.00 per person when you have at least 3 people) from pier to Orient Beach. Hint: if you only have 2 people, wait a few minutes for someone else to join you. We got dropped off at Pedro's Bar which was empty upon our arrival at 9:30 am but standing room only when we left the beach at 2:30 pm. After walking the beach we settled in at The Pirate Beach Bar Grill. We got two lounge chairs on the waterfront with a 3-inch-thick white chair pad, an umbrella, and two drinks for $14.00. Service by David was great. He'd check on us and reposition our umbrella to allow for more shade or sun as desired. Orient Beach is a beautiful white sand beach with blue and green waters which appeared clearer than Coki Beach on St. Thomas. This is a clothing-optional beach, and yes, folks exercising this option do walk the length of the beach or sunbathe along the beach. This beach had everything available for a price: jet ski, parasail, windsurfing, and more.
Here are some of the established cab rates from the pier for parties of 3 to 7 people: Philipsburg (Shopping Center) $3.00; Dawn Beach $6.00; Maho Beach $6.00; Cupe Coy Brach $7.00; Orient Bay Beach $6.00; Grand Case Beach $7.00; and Marigot (French Capital) $6.00.
The cab ride from the Dutch side to the French side, past the official border marker monument to Orient Beach, is rather interesting. We saw a large herd of feral goats, a couple of fighting rooster coops, a cockfighting ring, and two bordellos. (We weren't looking for the later. They were pointed out by our driver). Cockfighting is apparently legal on the French side, while the Dutch side has casinos.
E. Tortola, British Virgin Islands
7:00am - 3:00pm. Only a NCL ship was in port when we arrived (although they were tendering from offshore). There is no need to prearrange any excursions here. Taxis line up at the pier to take you anywhere you want to go. Several passengers hopped into taxis and got the exact same tour that other passengers paid double for through the ship. Our sights were set on visiting Virgin Gorda. We got off the ship just after 8:00 am and walked 15 minutes to the red-roofed ferry terminal off to the left of the pier. Speedy's and Smith's both offer service to Virgin Gorda. However, only Speedy's could get us back before our 3:00pm departure. So we caught the 9:00 am Speedy's Ferry over and the 12:30 pm ferry back. Cost was $25 per person roundtrip, including roundtrip Speedy's Taxi service from the Virgin Gorda docks to The Baths. (You will not want to attempt to walk to The Baths from the dock). We brought our mask and snorkel with us. Rentals are available at The Baths. We sat upstairs in the open air seating atop the ferry. Cool winds and great views. 30-35 minute ride each way followed by a 10-minute taxi to The Baths. There is a $3.00 (adults) and $2.00 (children) entrance fee to The Baths which are part of the BVI National Parks Trust. The 5-minute walk down to The Baths was rocky and uneven. At the bottom, single-use-only lockers can be rented for $2.50 each. They are large enough to hold a beach bag or backpack. The Baths are an incredibly fun experience. The Baths were really fun to explore. Highly recommend water shoes, a water camera, and a swimsuit. A beautiful beach with crystal clear waters awaits visitors on the other side of the rock maze. While not the greatest snorkeling site for fish, the coral formations were interesting. The water was nice and clear. We would have liked to stay another couple of hours, and look forward to another visit. Highly recommended!
F. Key West
7:00am - 1:30pm We decided to do our own thing in Key West. We birthed at the town pier. Last time we were in Key West we hopped on the Old Town Trolley. It has 10 stops and you are allowed to exit and reboard at any station. Conch Trains and Old Town Trolley tours of Key West were available for $20 per passenger. Bone Shuttle transportation (without a narrated tour) is $7 per passenger. Hint: if you plan on visiting any of the houses or museums, buy your tickets at the Train or Trolley booths and you'll save a dollar or two per person. This year we visited the Hemingway House, walked around town, stopped in for drinks at Hog's Breath (don't make the mistake I did and order a draught beer. It comes in a small plastic cup as opposed to a chilled glass) and bought a t-shirt at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville Café on Duval Street. There really are 6-toed cats in residence at the Hemingway House. I also found the tour and landscaping interesting. Hint #2: there is a sandal shop called Kino Sandal, located on Fitzpatrick Street off Front Street. It's not easy to find, but worthwhile. They make and sell really comfortable sandals. My wife, who was skeptical and hard to fit feet, tried on a pair and ended up buying two pair (at only $9.00 per pair).
G. Days At Sea
We had almost as many days at sea as we had ports. There was no lack of things to do on the ship. Sea Days actually provided nice rest spites and allowed us to get reenergized. It also helped pace the cruise. Eat, play games, attend art auctions, port shopping briefings (basically a way to kill time watching a talking advertisement), watch movies in the room, attend shows, eat, nap, blackjack tournament, slots tournament, midday snack, cards, pools, bars, eat, trivia contests, read, chat with fellow passengers, eat, board games, darts, shuffleboard, Bingo, eat, rum tastings, shopping, gambling, exercise, live entertainment... the list goes on!
H. Ships in Port
Visit CruiseCal.com to see which ships are likely to be in port during your cruise.
Part IX - Tipping
The service personnel on Celebrity receive meager wages and rely on your tips for income. While Celebrity says it is customary to offer gratuities to the ship's personnel who service you on the voyage, it really is expected, and it's something you should figure into your cruise budget. I say it's expected, but the ship's personnel work long hours to service you and the other passengers. They genuinely do everything they can to service your needs. We generally tipped better than the Celebrity guidelines, which are as follows for a party of two on an 11-day cruise: Waiter $77, Waiter's Assistant $44, Stateroom Attendant $77, Butler (Suites Only) $77, Assistant Maitre'D $16.50, Assistant Chief Housekeeper $16.50, and additional tips for room service, bartenders (even though a 15% gratuity is already included in all bar drinks) the Sommelier, and any other personnel who you wish to tip. Here's a really handy Cruise Tip Calculator covering all major cruise lines. Early in the voyage, Celebrity gives you the option of charging all of the tips to your cruise account.
Part X - Captain's Club
If you have taken a previous voyage and are not a member of the Captain's Club, sign up. It's free. Benefits include a CC express line at Embarkation, priority Disembarkation, some small cabin welcome gifts, casino and spa discounts, two cocktail parties, free entrance into the wine-tasting seminar, and a one cabin upgrade. Some exclusions apply.
Part XI - Disembarkation and Customs
Breakfast was served in cabins, on the buffet, and in the restaurant. Disembarkation went smoothly. Earlier in the week everyone completed surveys which were used to prioritize passengers. Clearly those folks needing to catch plane and train connections or who were on escorted tours in Tampa had highest priority. Captain's Club members had priority within their color group. Color-coded Disembarkation luggage tags were issued to all cabins, and passengers were instructed to place the tags on their luggage, and tear off the stubs for bag retrieval. Disembarkation began at about 8:45 am. All passengers were instructed to sit in public areas until their group color was called. We chatted with friends in the America's Cup lounge before our group (White) was called. White was one of the first color groups. We retrieved our luggage in the passenger terminal, handed our Customs Declaration Form to an official upon exiting, and hailed a cab --- all within 15 minutes. Hint: upon exiting the terminal, there are some very vocal folks ushering you to the right, towards large buses, for a trip to the airport. The cost is $9.00 per person and they do not leave until they are full. If you ignore them and walk to your left you can catch a cab for a flat rate of $20 to the airport (plus optional tips for the dispatcher and driver). We spotted a sign on the way out that said you could store your luggage until 4:00 pm at the facility. If you have a late flight, or the time, it might be worthwhile to store it and visit the aquarium or shop.
According to Celebrity, US citizens traveling to the Bahamas and Caribbean are permitted $800 worth of Duty Free goods including 1 liter of alcohol per person. In the Virgin Islands (i.e. St. Thomas), travelers are allowed an additional $400 Duty Free exemption including 4 liters of alcohol and 4 cartons of cigarettes per person. Since we traveled to both sets of islands on this cruise, we were permitted to take advantage of both allowances. All you needed to do was to declare the total value. Anything greater had to be itemized (declared) and a duty paid.
Part XII - Praises, Gripes and Your Questions
Horizon's personnel are very attentive, friendly and helpful. The food was very good to outstanding. The ship is clean and in good shape. Celebrity's Tampa terminal is spacious, efficient, and clean. The terminal's personnel are also very nice and helpful.
We certainly didn't have much to gripe about, although if you got any group of folks together, similar themes emerged: 1. the drink prices were way too high. (The "drink of the day" was $4.95. All other drinks were much higher). Folks said they would drink more if the prices were more reasonable. The bar waiters would also make more in tips if they could sell more drinks. 2. The price of the photos was an outrageous $9.95 per photo. My wife bought but one. At $5.00 (still high) she said she would have bought 5. I really don't understand the mentality of taking tons of pictures of passengers and then expecting us to pay $9.95 for each. We won't.
3. We would have liked a couple more hours in each port, especially Tortola. 4. The price of ship-arranged excursions is too high. Of course, the majority of passengers know this and book their own arrangements easily on shore --- saving at least 50%. Quite a few ship tours were cancelled due to lack of participation. To their credit, Celebrity gave affected passengers at least 24 hours notice of most cancellations.
Information is from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed. The information presented is an opinion intended to assist travelers in preparing for their Eastern Caribbean cruise.
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Feel free to contact me to correct any information in this article or to alert me to additional information one should consider.
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Detailed information on Celebrity Zenith and ports in Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Isle Catalina, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Antigua, St. Maarten, Tortola, and Key West.
Tips for Southern Caribbean Cruisers|
Detailed information on Aruba, Curacao, Grenada, Barbados, St. Kitts, Dominica, St. Lucia, and Tortola.
© 2004 Topher
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