|Tips For First-Time Western Caribbean Cruisers|
Part I - Precruise
The precruise process was both daunting and exciting. I decided to work with an experienced Travel Agent (TA) as opposed to booking online. I might have saved a few dollars online but wanted to work with someone I could trust and communicate with locally. I started by looking in the yellow pages and selecting a couple of major local travel agencies. It took a few tries, but we finally located a great Travel Agent by asking questions intended to flush out an experienced TA.
For our first cruise, we decided on an embarkation ("the starting port at which you originally board your ship") port that was within driving distance. This saves you a considerable amount of money that we might have otherwise spent on airfare. In speaking with fellow passengers on the ship, it appears that the ability to drive to the port was a primary motivator in booking this particular voyage. (For the curious, we left out of Charleston, SC).
B. Cruise Critic
I came across Cruisecritic.com while scouring the net for cruise hints and information. I got solidly hooked. Most of my decisions from this point forward came from recommendations I found in the different threads. A big mahalo ("thank you") to all who posted their comments from prior cruises.
C. Choice of Route
I selected the Western Caribbean cruise (as opposed to the Eastern Caribbean) because my wife once told me she'd like to visit Key West, and it gave us an opportunity to visit three (Cayman Islands, Belize, Cozumel) out of four (and Nassau) other ports we had never previously had the honor to visit. I later found out that she'd also rather visit Puerto Rico than Key West, but she never told me that. Guess I'll have to book an Eastern Caribbean cruise next year. The things we have to do for our wives. As it turns out, she loved Key West!
D. Choice of Cruiseline and Ship
We selected Celebrity as it was generally considered the top of the middle tier cruise companies. Princess is similar in stature, supposedly just above Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Clearly there will be some debate here. A lot of what makes for a good cruise ship company image has to do with your individual cruise experience. We were not let down. Our choice of Galaxy was primarily by default --- it was the Celebrity ship departing from Charleston.
E. Choice of cabin
Wanting to do something special, but not being able to afford the suites, I selected a category 2 cabin with veranda on the penthouse deck (cabin #1083 on the port side of the Celebrity Galaxy). We have never been in cabin with a balcony before. Generally, the lower your cabin and the more central its location, the less you will feel the movements of the ship.
I did not consider a guarantee ("a cabin, usually priced at a slight discount, guaranteed to be at or better than the category you paid for, but you do not get to choose your cabin or location") as I did not wish to risk ending up in an unfavorable cabin location. Note: we have also been very happy with interior cabins which can be a lot less expensive. See our information for Cruising Alaska on a Budget.
When comparing prices, be sure you are being quoted a rate which includes all taxes and port fees. Less than reputable site will quote cruise rates without taxes and fees. I thought the price we were originally quoted was quite reasonable for our room, ports, taxes, 10-day cruise length, a "Celebrity" class ship, and an embarkation from Charleston. I was quite pleased to get not one, but two price cuts from my TA over the ensuing couple of months. My original cost dropped about 20%.
Given that we were visiting foreign countries, we felt it would be a good idea to get passports. Being AAA members, we got our passport pictures for free. AAA ought to go into the driver's license picture business as we were both very pleased with the pictures they took. We then spent 2 hours waiting for a chance to apply for our passports at an overtaxed, but very efficient, post office. It took less than 3 weeks to receive our passports in the mail, and they thankfully returned our original birth certificates which we had to give them along with our applications.
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 10 days of our booking to assure their would be no questions about "existing medical conditions", although I am not aware we had any. Thankfully we never had a need for the insurance. For more information, see our article on Travel Insurance Tips.
I. Prebooking Excursions
Cruisecritic strikes again! Based upon the recommendations we got off the Ports of Call threads, we decided to prebook the following: Cayman Islands = Sting Ray City snorkel, Belize = Lamanai The New River Safari with Celebrity, Cozumel = Jungle Horseback Ride through CozumelInsider. We thought it best to book the 8-hour Mayan Ruin trip through the cruise line to assure my wife that we would not get left behind in beautiful Belize.
Packing Hints came from the CruiseCritic board. We packed for 3 Formal nights (tux / fine dinner dress), 2 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 10 days. Among the most helpful "extra items" we packed were: bungee cord, battery powered alarm clock, shoe rack, tape, scissors (under 6"), bottled water, cards, camera, film, sunscreen, bug lotion, balloons (for balcony), binoculars, highlighters, personal pillow, night shades, collapsible dirty clothes bag, beach bag, and a water camera. We also made ten 8x10 posters for our cabin door (one for each day, "If this is Sunday, it must be Nassau!" and the like) and mentioning CruiseCritic in hopes that someone else on the boards would notice and strike up a conversation. As it turned out, our cabin steward appreciated knowing where we were, and we heard second hand that numerous passengers found our posters helpful. It took us a week to pack, but at least we weren't rushed.
Part II - Embarkation
A. The Port
We drove to Charleston, SC. We had gotten directions to the port and parking lot from the www.port-of-charleston.com web site. You must first go through a guarded main gate and show picture ID, then advance to pay for parking. According to their website, covered parking is suppose to be $10/day, cash, paid in advance upon arrival. We dropped off our bags, tipped the porters, and drove into a warehouse to park. Total time was about 45 minutes. We boarded a shuttle to take us to the passenger processing area. Hint: if you can walk one block, do so, it'll save you a lot of time. Other passengers reported staying at a local hotel where they could leave their car and get a free shuttle to the port.
B. Security Processing and Boarding
There was a 30 minute wait for security screening. Once through, there were separate lines for Captain's Club (CC) and non-CC passengers. Both lines were basically empty and fed into a table of folks processing your boarding documents. Assuming you had already completed all the documents requested, signing in and getting room keys (which is also your cruise ID, and ship credit card) took no more than 5 minutes. There was a quick wait for the initial cruise photo (which can be skipped). Up a short flight of stairs and your cruise card is quickly data encrypted with your image at one of two stations. Once they hand you your card you cross the boarding plank into the 5th floor main lobby of the ship where a Galaxy cabin attendant greets you and escorts you to your room.
C. Explore The Cabin
We were in cabin 1083, a category 2 cabin with veranda on the port side. 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, and the shower was outstanding. Hangers and robes were provided, as was a number of welcome gifts: a canvas shopping bag, coupons for the casino, and a small box of chocolates. The desk featured a number of informational brochures including Friday's event newsletter "The Daily Galaxy". 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. The veranda has a Plexiglas window running from floor to rail, two deck chairs, a small table and a foot rest. Our cabin steward and his assistant did a wonderful job throughout our cruise. We used a bungee cord to keep our veranda door open every night and most of the time we were in the cabin. Great for sea breezes and listening to the waves lap against the ship at night.
D. Tour of Ship and Search For Food
We found sustenance in the Oasis Grill on the deck 11 for a 3pm buffet lunch. We were hungry, but ate lightly since we had the early dinner seating at 6pm. The ship is well laid out with ample sets of stairwells and elevators. With the exception of two excursion days where we returned from shore to the 3rd level deck of the ship, we always took the stairs (and pretended that this was sufficient exercise to cover our food intake).
E. Lifeboat Drill
About 45 minutes prior to leaving port, we participated in the mandatory lifeboat drill. We were pleased to learn that life preservers are smaller (a lot less bulky) and lifeboats are better built (larger and totally encapsulated) than we had previously experienced on older ships. The drill went smoothly and lasted 30 minutes.
F. Dinner - 6pm First Seating
We selected the first seating. It is typically the more popular seating, especially amongst families with children. We did not find that the first seating interrupted our port activities in any way. We were seated at a table for 8 on the upper floor (6) of the Orion Restaurant, next to a window. Our server and his assistant did a very good job throughout our cruise. We had a great group. I strongly recommend getting a large table. You will get a chance to make lifetime friends. If you don't like your table mates, simply inform the Maitre'D and he'll find you another table.
Part III - Food!
Celebrity has a good reputation for their cuisine. The meals exceeded our expectations. Not only was it good, it was downright outstanding on many nights. There was good variety. No one at our table ever needed to send back an undercooked or overcooked item. All of the vegetables were excellent. Always cooked, but crisp. Usually "baby" varieties. Note: it is important that you show up for dinner each night to support your server. We discovered that in Celebrity's culture, the Maitre'D will assume you are dissatisfied with your server if you have vacancies at your table. We had a honeymoon couple at our table who missed a couple of nights in a row to no one's surprise. However, they made clear to the Maitre'D that this was no reflection on our server. Our Maitre'D was very friendly and helpful.
A. Always Available
We were informed the first night, that 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, pancakes, smoked salmon, eggs benedict, and an array of pastries.
C. The Best Appetizer
Escargot! All appetizers were well presented.
D. The Best Soups
The Masters Fish Bisque, Onion Soup, Gumbo, and Chicken Corn Soup (thick like a chowder). The fruit soups were interesting.
E. The Best Entrées
Lamb Shanks, all of the Lamb and Veal dishes, Prime Rib, Scallops, Quails, and Lobster Tails.
F. The Best Desserts
Fresh made sherbets (especially passion fruit and mixed berry), vanilla-chocolate Bavarian cream, crème Brule, cherries jubilee, all cheesecakes, baked Alaska on parade.
G. Room Service
H. Midnight Buffets
Sorry, we missed all the theme nights except for Le Grande Buffet which was spectacular. We marveled at the ice, chocolate, butter, cheese and vegetable carvings and creations. It really was lots of fun to see. We ate light, opting for the chilled lobster and a slice of cheesecake.
Part IV - Entertainment
All the movies, except one, were shown in the Cinema. Most were shown four times over a 2-day period. Our movies were all first-run movies that had recently been released to DVD. 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 all did a splendid job. The singers were not as splendid.
Our favorite excerpts included the Playbill slap, Chicago, and 42nd Street tap from "Broadway Express", Jim Horner's one man show with the Celebrity Orchestra, Mike Ivy (standup comedian), all appearances by the Chinese Acrobats, Newlywed Game, and the final night's juggling comedian.
Large casino filled with slot machines, one Craps table, one roulette table, 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. Wished smoking was not allowed in any indoor common area.
Took a tour, but did not utilize the spa or hydrotherapy pool. Most who used the pool really enjoyed it.
E. Outdoor Pools and Hot tubs.
We avoided them due to health concerns. We did not witness any babies in the pools or tubs.
F. Celebrity Orchestra and Other Ship Bands
The Celebrity Orchestra was very professional and had a great sound. We did not spend much time with the other entertainment, but didn't hear any sour notes on our treks though the lounges.
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. A VCR is provided as well. Hint: Most folks don't know you can rent VHS movies for free at the front desk. They have a large library of titles available. You can rent up to 2 movies at a time for up to 2 days. You can also order room service and check your current account on the TV as well. It would have been nice to have a geo-positioning channel to keep us informed of our position.
H. Room Service
You can order from a limited menu from morning to late night. We enjoyed ordering late night pizza, milk and cookies. Friends ordered breakfast a few times. When we ordered room service, it took only 20 minutes. The pizza was hot and the milk was cold. 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 - 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. Upon our arrival in our cabin we received an envelope containing an invitation to the party, set for 11:30 am on Saturday (our first day at sea), along with 2 CruiseConnections lapel pins, and name tags. At the appointed time we arrived at the Stratosphere Lounge to find at least 25 fellow passengers had already arrived. In total, about 50 folks attended. We had a great time meeting and greeting other "Friends of Walt" (addicted cruise critics). Light refreshments were provided. The Cruise Director, the Hotel Manager, and a couple other Galaxy personages were in attendance. They made a short presentation. The Cruise Director told us they know we are well connected (to the net) and we got the impression they genuinely try to meet or exceed our cruise expectations. I personally feel they were successful. After the meeting, several groups got together for lunch.
Part VI - Health Concerns
There was no smoking in the restaurants or theaters. Smoking was permitted in the night clubs, casino, the smoking lounge, 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, and were not bothered by smoke on the veranda except when a neighboring cabin (within about 8 cabins) was smoking outside. 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
We avoided them due to published health concerns. We did not witness any babies in the pools or tubs.
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!
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 Charleston to Nassau, and one or two other days. Some folks became seasick and were treated in sickbay with either tablets or a shot. I alternated a half of a patch behind my ears for the duration of the voyage. I had no problems whatsoever for the first half of the voyage, after which I had some very minor problems with blurred vision which I attribute to being patch-related.
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. The Shops
The shops did a good job of rotating merchandise. There was something on sale each day. The booze prices on the ship were as good as, or better than, shops in the ports. They had great price on Ty Beanie Buddies (the big version of beanie babies) at $10 each.
C. Internet Service
The good news: there are 5 or 6 new computer terminals with LCD screens and Quick-Cams set up in 2 different locations. 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 would 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 sold-out with approximately 120 kids on board. In general, they behaved very well. It was cute seeing the youngest group marching in to the Oasis Cafe to get ice cream cones one afternoon as part of their Ship Mates age-group program. Over 400 kids were expected to be on the 12/23 sailing. Kids tend to be heaviest during the summer, school vacations and especially heavy on holiday cruises. Avoid the holiday cruises at all costs if you wish to avoid kids.
E. Ship Directions
Port is the left hand side of the ship.
Starboard is the right hand side of the ship.
Part VIII - The Ports
Get out and see the island. The ship berths at a pier. We opted to take it easy and just walk around and enjoy some shopping. We started with a very pleasant horse and buggy ride for $10 per person. It was a nice way to start the morning. The old Straw Market burned down. The current location is a bit crowded. Most of the vendors appear to be selling the same merchandise (or junk, depending on your point of view). You can easily get 20% to 30% off the original asking prices if you don't appear too interested in anything you want to buy. Being Sunday, many shops were not open. The ones that were, did a fairly brisk business with 3 ships in port. Postage stamps can be bought in machines in the pharmacies. 68 cents worth of Bahaman stamps for $1 US. You can drop your postcards in the red PO boxes on the street. Several passengers caught taxis and water taxis to the Atlantis Casino. The water taxis will wait until they're way overloaded before sailing, despite the captain's warning that "we are getting full and are leaving right now". We saw one taxi bob precariously to and fro under the weight of the upper deck passengers. We thought it would tip over for sure, but it did not. We bought a cool embroidered t-shirt, made with the new photosensitive thread that changes from white to vibrant colors in the sun, at one of the shops.
This will be one of your favorite ports IF you book an excursion. You'll hate the place if you do not. This fact has been chronicled time and again. Do yourself a favor and book an excursion! The two most popular excursions are the Cave Tubing and the Lamanai Ruins / Jungle River Cruise. Both get rave reviews. Our selection of the Lamanai tour was no exception. More in a minute.
We arrived into Belize a couple hours late to the consternation of those passengers who had booked private tours. On the way to our stop we sighted a mini paradise --- a small sandy island with a grass shack, a pier, and a few palm trees --- out in the middle of the ocean. We also spotted a group of 10 to 12 huge rays off the port side. We anchored well off-shore and required an 18-minute tender ride to get ashore. Tenders were provided by local Belize vessels of all makes and sizes. (We did not feel safe in our two-level wooden tender, but there were no incidents of any kind to report). We sat downstairs between 2 fans and a wall thankfully lined with lifejackets. Our tender held around 80 passengers. We were the first group off the ship. Priority went to passengers with excursions bought through Celebrity. All other passengers needed to secure tender tickets and wait in the Theater for their number to be called. Hint: if you are not on a ship excursion, get in line to get your tender tickets at least 1/2-hour before the announced time. Tickets are passed out early.
Once at the Belize pier we were greeted with a nice Welcome sign. There are only a handful of shops at the pier. I am guessing there were about 90 folks on this tour. We were herded onto 1 of 3 air conditioned buses. Whatever bus you get becomes your tour group, and included a guide that not only narrated the bus tour and answered our questions but also drove our boat on the jungle cruise and lead our excursion of the ruins. Our experienced guide was Vel, and he was breaking in a very pretty young guide-in-training that joined us for the duration of the tour. Our guides were very friendly, knowledgeable, and proud of their country.
Belize is a poor country with great natural and historical assets. One idiot on the bus asked "Why are there bars on the windows of houses?" during an otherwise interesting Q&A about the country. (Answer: they have a crime problem related to a "crack" problem). The housing and habitat reminded us a lot of Waimanalo on Oahu (sans the bars). We learned a lot about the city and country on our 1.25 hour bus tour over a paved 2-lane road to the boat dock. [Side note: from visible signage along the road it appears Pepsi "controls" the less populated part of the country while Coca-Cola "owns" Belize City itself]. Each bus unloaded their groups into a large thatched roof building sporting restrooms and a couple of artisans. Within a few minutes we were loaded onto covered boats with comfortable seats and two powerful outboard motors.
We snaked South down the river to the Lamanai Ruin site. Our guide plying us with information and pointing out numerous birds (including King Fisher, Blue Herrin, Vultures, and Snow Egrets), baby crocodiles, and a huge green iguana, as well as various flora and fauna. We also found the huge termite nests in the trees to be of interest to all. One of the 3 boats experienced engine trouble which slowed us down a bit, but that boat was never abandoned. Our boat held back each time to make sure they were not stranded.
Once we arrived at Lamanai, we ate a hearty lunch of Mayan chicken, rice, coleslaw, coconut tarts, and bottled Pepsi and water. We started our tour in a small museum with interesting Mayan artifacts and continued on by foot through an impressive jungle featuring vines, "Jurassic Park"-sized palm fronds, medicinal trees, and Howler Monkeys. We spent about 1.5 hours exploring 3 large Mayan temples and the remains of a small Mayan town. Our guides provided an enormous amount of insight and kept us moving at a reasonable clip.
We returned to the boats, sped back up the river, and returned to the buses just before nightfall. We arrived back at the docks about an hour after the final tender was suppose to leave for the ship. Our guides, to their credit, had made the decision to give us the full tour --- not an abridged tour --- even though we had arrived late. After all, we were paying the full price of the tour and they weren't going to let us get anything less. It was clear, back in Lamanai, that we were not going to make the tender cutoff time. This began to cause great distress among some tour passengers. Just remember, that if you are on a Celebrity-sponsored tour, there are "no worries!" They were not going to strand 5% of their passengers in Belize. Sure enough, we were met at the pier with a nice large boat that easily and comfortably sped all of us back to the ship, which was beautifully illuminated out on the sea. Our only loss was an inability to shop for souvenirs at the pier as they were all closed. We arrived after first-seating dinner had begun and arrangements were made to seat first-seating diners in the second dinner seating.
Bottom line: take this tour.
We berthed at the far pier at 7am. We had privately arranged for a jungle horseback ride. Exiting the ship at 8am, and making out way though the numerous shops and barkers at the pier, we found a taxi to take us to Los Palimitas Ranch. The email I received from CozumelInsider informed me the taxi would cost $6-$8 dollars. I confirmed this with the driver upon entering the cab. However, upon arrival at the ranch, the driver wanted $14. We paid him $6. The ranch owner looked over our paperwork and cleared up the taxi situation. As it turns out, they really do charge $14 for that short ride, each way. We paid $25 each for a 3-hour horseback ride. Other than the underfed condition of our horses, it was a nice experience. Our guide led my wife and I though the jungle to a road which led to a natural cave and back again. We saw numerous geckos, iguana, flora, large aqua blue butterflies, reddish orange butterflies with a white stripe on their wings, and tiny yellow butterflies, as well as goats, bulls, dogs, and other horses. We were startled by the pack of 4 barking dogs that charged us, but our horses paid them no attention, and the dogs gave up their charade. We enjoyed this tour and tipped our guide. A $14 cab ride back to the ship for lunch and a $6 cab ride took us into town. Everything appeared to be WAY overpriced, and we were turned off by the barkers in front of every store harping at folks to come in and buy. Carlos Charlie's was rocking. Not too surprising since there were 8 ships were in port. Our friends had booked Celebrity's "Catch a Wave" snorkel and booze cruise which they said was worthwhile. They had a fun time and enjoyed the drinks.. (The captain even circled a couple times on the way back to allow folks to get full use of the open bar).
D. Georgetown, Grand Cayman
We tendered into shore using the ship's own lifeboats. Very maneuverable but lacking fresh air flow when full. Hint: sit next to an open doorway. The ship started tendering at about 10am. Our tender ticket number was 4. We were off at 11am. We walked around the pier shops awaiting our privately arranged Sting Ray City / Coral Gardens tour with Native Way at noon. There were 13 folks on our tour. All from the Galaxy. We boarded a small van which took us to a boat awaiting us at the Yacht Club. After some confusion, we were relocated to a larger boat that could hold 50 passengers. We gleefully departed the dock without adding any additional passengers. It took about 20 minutes to motor out to the Coral Gardens reef where we donned mask, snorkel, fins and optional snorkel vests (which made my wife very happy). The snorkel vests provide buoyancy and can be inflated to a level that is comfortable for you. There were no lack of pretty fish here. We then motored 5 minutes out to Sting Ray City, a sandbar in the ocean where the water is only 4-feet deep. Even though the place was crowded, we had a great time. Stingrays with 2-to-4 foot wingspans were in abundance and very tame. Boat captains were catching them and passing them around for everyone to view and hold. Plenty of squid was available for feeding. We were happy to have been on a private tour ($25 each, plus tip). Some double-decker boats were absolutely jam-packed with passengers. Squeals pierced the air every time a stingray glided a wing against someone's leg. We spent about 1.5 hours between the two locations. Plenty of time. It was a very memorable and fun experience. Highly recommended! Upon our return we were driven back into town where we spent some more time shopping and then got in line to board the tenders and headed back to the ship.
Bottom line: Grand Cayman is gorgeous! We would like to return to see what else it has to offer.
E. Key West
We decided to do our own thing in Key West. It was a little cold, but nonetheless very nice in Key West. We berthed at the old Navy pier and were brought into town aboard Conch Trains and Old Town Trolleys. 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. We hopped on the Old Town Trolley. It has 10 stops and you are allowed to exit and reboard at any station. We got the grand tour of the island in about 1.5 hours, and tipped our driver "AL" who we thoroughly enjoyed. 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 per person. We spent some time in Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum which we found educational and fascinating. We headed to Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville Cafe for a late "cheeseburger in paradise" lunch. I can't brag about the burger, but the fries and margaritas were great. We also bought pricey t-shirts next door in his gift shop. Jimmy got the bulk of our tourist dollar in Key West, and we're still smiling! I recommend all the experiences we partook here. The Truman White House and Hemingway House were two popular tours we missed. They both got good reviews from fellow passengers.
Bottom line: We would do it again!
F. Days At Sea
We had as many days at sea as we had ports. There was no lack of things to do on the ship. I thought we would not enjoy the sea days, but I was wrong. They actually provided nice rest spites and allowed us to get reenergized. It also helped pace the cruise. Eat, play games, attend an auction, port shopping briefings with Andre, watch movies, attend shows, eat, nap, midday snack, cards, spa, pools, bars, NFL Football games on big screen TVs, eat, trivia contests, read, chat with fellow passengers and crew, eat, ping pong, basketball, golf simulator, board
games, darts, dance lessons, shuffleboard, Bingo, eat, rum tastings, shopping, gambling, exercise, dancing, live entertainment... the list goes on! Did I mention food?
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 ships 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 2 on a 10-day cruise: Waiter $70, Waiter's Assistant $40, Stateroom Attendant $70, Butler (Suites Only) $70, Assistant Maitre'D $15, Chief Housekeeper $10, and additional tips for room service and the Sommelier, and any other personnel who you wish to tip.
Here is a site to assist you in your tipping calculations.
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
Disembarkation or Debarkation ("exiting of the ship at the end of your cruise"). 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 Charleston 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 8:15 am. All passengers were instructed to sit in public areas until their group color was called. We played cards in the Oasis Grill for an hour before our group (Red 1) was called. Red was somewhere near the middle of the color groups. We handed our Customs Declaration Form to an official upon exiting the ship. We retrieved our luggage in the passenger terminal, and we were in our car 15 minutes later.
US citizens are permitted 1 liter of alcohol and $400 worth of Duty Free goods per person. If under the limit, all you needed to do was to declare the total value. Anything greater had to be itemized (declared) and a duty paid.
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 Western Caribbean cruise.
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Secrets of the Caribbean|
Detailed information, hints, and tips to assist you in visiting popular Caribbean cities and ports.
Cruise Ship Dictionary|
A quick reference to cruise ship terminology.
How to Select Cruise Insurance / Travel Insurance|
Great consumer tips to assist you in choosing the right insurance for your trip.
Cruising Alaska on a Budget|
Detailed information to assist you in preparing for an Alaska cruise on a budget.
Celebrity Zenith and Nine Caribbean Ports|
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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