|Tips For First-Time Southern Caribbean Cruisers|
Part I - Precruise
We have visited numerous islands in the Caribbean, but had not yet visited islands in the Southern Caribbean due to their great distance away from most mainland USA ports. I booked the cruise through a reliable Travel Agent (TA) I found some time ago. I might have saved a few dollars booking online but wanted to work with someone I could trust and communicate with locally. We located this itinerary on Celebrity Cruise's website and kept an eye out for a good deal.
Frankly, we MUCH prefer driving to a departure port. Fewer hassles, lower cost, and no luggage weight restrictions. However, to get an itinerary full of Southern Caribbean islands without spending 3 weeks on a cruise, we opted to pick up a cruise which departed from San Juan, Puerto Rico. The cost to fly to Puerto Rico is cheaper in the Autumn off-season months.
B. Cruise Critic
We use the community chat boards on Cruisecritic.com extensively for cruise port hints and information. This review is my way of sharing. A big mahalo ("thank you") to all who posted their comments from prior cruises.
C. Choice of Route
To get to most of the Southern Caribbean islands, you either need to leave from Florida and book a very long cruise, or start your cruise in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We selected an 11-day cruise which included seven islands we had not previously visited (Aruba, Curacao, Grenada, Barbados, St. Lucia, Dominica, and St. Kitts), plus one of our favorite ports (Tortola), for a total of eight great ports.
D. Choice of Cruiseline and Ship
We selected Celebrity as it was generally considered the top of the middle tier cruise companies, and we have enjoyed our previous cruises on Celebrity's ships: Zenith to Bermuda and Nine Caribbean Ports; Millenium to Four Eastern Caribbean Ports; Horizon to Six Eastern Caribbean Ports; and Galaxy to Western Caribbean Ports. We chose Galaxy, frankly, because it was the ship going on this itinerary at a time of year that fit our schedule and price range. Galaxy was our first Celebrity cruise experience and we looked forward to another voyage. Galaxy is smaller than Millenium but larger than Horizon and Zenith. We have enjoyed all sizes of ships in the fleet.
Galaxy is a 77,713 ton ship under the command of Captain Isidoros Karamaounas. She has 14 decks and 10 elevators. Capacity is 2217 passengers plus a crew of 822. There are a total of 954 passenger staterooms --- 220 have private verandas.
E. Choice of Airline
This was pretty easy. We could get nonstop flights on US Air and fly from Charlotte to San Juan in just under 3 hours; or we could have saved $75 per person and spent 8 hours in the air (flying up to Newark, NJ, in the middle of winter to catch a connection back down to San Juan) plus another 2 hours waiting for the connection itself. Flying hints: 1. Don't fly if you have a choice. I suggest driving if you can. 2. Go non-stop if you fly. Each connection increases the possibility of lost luggage and additional flight delays. 3. Consider flying in to your departure port one day early. This can be a major stress reducer! (For this cruise, due to the late 10:00 pm departure, we elected to arrive in the early afternoon of our departure date). 4. Don't select your airline seats without first visiting SeatGuru.com. They have detailed airplane seating plans and hints about each seat for almost every planes flown by the major airlines.
F. Choice of cabin
Generally, the lower your cabin and the more central its location, the less you will feel the movements of the ship. In an attempt to save some money on this cruise, we opted for an inside cabin, #9174 on the Plaza Deck, nicely sandwiched between two other decks with nothing but cabins. (Being immediately above or below an active deck area can be noisy). Ocean-view cabins and cabins with verandas were significantly more expensive at the time we booked. This cabin is located slightly Aft (rear) of Midships (the center) and on the Starboard (right) side of the ship. See our Cruise Ship Dictionary for our quick reference to cruise ship terminology.
When comparing prices, be sure you are being quoted a rate which includes all taxes and port fees. Less than reputable sites will quote cruise rates without taxes and fees. I thought the price we were originally quoted was quite reasonable for our room, ports, taxes, 11-day cruise length, a "Celebrity" class ship, and an embarkation from San Juan. We paid $769 per person (including all port fees and taxes) for an inside cabin, and an additional $371 per person for non-stop roundtrip flights on US Air to San Juan, Puerto Rico. (I include the cost information only because so many folks on the net have asked for it). We were also hit by Celebrity with a fuel surcharge of $5 per person, per day, due to the increased fuel prices. We weren't very happy about it, but we weren't going to cancel over it either.
I understand that passports are now required for travel. We brought our passports and experienced no problems with emigration or customs. Hint: if you are a AAA member, you can get your passport pictures for free.
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.
J. Prebooking Excursions
We book almost all of our excursions on our own. We have learned that there is no need to book excursions through the cruiseline UNLESS there is a chance you won't make it back in time to catch the ship's departure. However, it is important that you thoroughly research your excursions and the companies that provide them. Cruisecritic.com strikes again! Based upon the recommendations we got off the Ports of Call threads, we decided to prebook the following: Aruba = Jolly Pirates "Sail, Snorkel, Swim, and Swing" 9:30am to 2:30pm followed by a two-hour private tour with "Bully"; Grenada = Mandoo Spice Plantation Route; Barbados = Glory Tours “Best of Barbados (Option A)” all-day tour with caves; St. Lucia = COSOL Tours Island Tour; Dominica = "Roseau Valley Treasures" tour with Levi; and St. Kitts = Thenford Grey Tour. Complete details later.
Packing Hints came from the CruiseCritic board. We packed for 3 Formal nights (tux / fine dinner dress), 3 Informal nights (suit and tie / dinner dress), and 5 Casual nights (Aloha shirts and Dockers, blouses and skirts), in addition to enough clothing to cover us for 11 days.
Interestingly, the dress code on the ship was defined differently than that on Celebrity's website. Informal and Casual nights were all defined as "Sport shirt and slacks. No jeans" for gentlemen, while ladies Informal was defined as "dress or pantsuit" on Informal nights and "sundress or slacks" on Casual nights. If I knew then what I know now, I would not have packed a dinner jacket or ties for the informal nights.
Among the most helpful "extra items" we packed were: battery powered alarm clock, shoe rack, tape, scissors (under 6"), small bottled water, cards, digital water camera, sunscreen, bug lotion, binoculars, highlighters, personal pillow, 9-inch clip-on electric fan, collapsible dirty clothes bag, beach bag, water shoes, snorkel, mask, and snorkel vest. We also made eleven 8x10 posters for our cabin door (one for each day, "If this is Sunday, it must be Barbados!" and the like) and mentioning CruiseCritic in hopes that someone else on the boards would notice and strike up a conversation. It took us a week to pack, but at least we weren't rushed.
Part II - Embarkation
A. The Port
We flew into San Juan, Puerto Rico and arrived at 2:30 pm in plenty of time to catch our 10:00 pm departure. We had our luggage by 3:00 pm, and all four of our Master Lock "Travel Sentry Certified" TSA locks were intact. You have a choice of buying transfers from Celebrity or catching a taxi. After exploring these options we decided to catch a taxi to the Pan American pier. The taxis are plentiful and rates are per taxi. Many of the taxis are vans or minivans and can accommodate up to 6 or 7 people in some cases. The Airport is located approximately 10 miles from the Pan American Pier and 11 miles from the OSJ Piers. It usually takes about 15-25 minutes in a taxi for the trip, dependent upon traffic. It actually took us 45 minutes due to heavy traffic and a short detour to Walgreen's for a bottle of sunscreen. Look for the orange "Visitor's Bureau" booth outside where you catch the ground transportation and tell the dispatcher the number of passengers in your group and the amount of luggage. He will give you a sheet with a price to hand to your cabbie. The taxi cost is about $18 total plus tip (for up to 5 people) + 50 cents/bag for first 3 + $1 each additional bag. Any more people add $$2.00 per person. Once you arrive at the pier, you'll find porters with the easiest jobs I've ever seen. They don't port anything. You stand in line and hand your bags to the porters who then simply turn around and put your baggage into steel bins for loading onto the ship. We tipped $5 for 4 bags (about $1/bag). Of course, if you don't tip anything you might not see your bags again.
B. Security Processing and Boarding
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 online, 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). There was a quick wait for security screening. Up an escalator and your cruise card is quickly data encrypted with your image at one of two stations. Once they hand you your card you'll find yourself on the 5th floor main lobby of the ship where you are presented a glass of champagne and a Galaxy cabin attendant greets you and escorts you to your cabin. It took a total of 15 minutes from the time we arrived at the pier to our arrival in our cabin.
C. Explore The Cabin
We were in cabin 9174, an inside category 9 cabin on the starboard 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. Our bathroom had a reasonably large shower (no bath), hair dryer, large mirror, sink, toilet, and some pretty decent storage. Hangers and robes were provided in the cabin, as was a number of welcome gifts: a canvas shopping bag, coupons for the casino, and a small box of chocolates. To our surprise, the room safe is located behind the desk mirror, along with several more shelves for organizing your little things. The desk featured a number of informational brochures including Monday's event newsletter "The Daily Galaxy". The cabins also have a TV, phone (but no clock, although you can set your phone for an automated wake-up call), and a min-bar (small refrigerator). Our mini-bar was locked upon arrival and we never asked that it be unlocked. Being Cruise Critic members, we received an invite to the following day's gathering. Our cabin steward did a wonderful job throughout our cruise.
D. Tour of Ship and Search For Food
We found sustenance in the Oasis Grill on the deck 11 for a 4pm 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 exhausting 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 two hours prior to leaving port, we participated in the mandatory lifeboat drill. The drill went smoothly and lasted 30 minutes.
F. Dinner - 6:00 pm Main 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, but we were 15 minutes late to dinner one night. We were seated at table 600 with seating for 10 at a rectangular table on the upper floor (6) of the Orion Restaurant, next to the rear window. Our server and his assistant did a very good job throughout our cruise. We lost four folks after the first night and added three others by mid-cruise. We had a great core group. Late seating was at 8:30 pm. During this particular cruise, many folks we talked to who were not eating at the Main seating wished they were. I highly recommend getting a large table. You will get a chance to make lifetime friends. Not that we had any problems, but if you don't like your table mates, simply inform the Maitre'D and he'll find you another table.
The two-story restaurant has a seating capacity of 1,088 passengers at each seating. Of note: jeans, t-shirts, tank tops, swimsuits, robes, and bare feet are prohibited in the Orion Restaurant at all times. Shorts are permitted at lunch only. We did not observe anyone abusing the dress code in the Orion Restaurant --- indeed, folks generally enjoyed dressing up for dinner.
Part III - Food!
Celebrity has a good reputation for their cuisine. The meals pretty much met our expectations. 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. 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, waffles, smoked salmon, omelets, and an array of pastries.
C. The Best Lunch Items
Hamburgers and french fries from the Ocean Grill. Blackened tilapia from the Orion Restaurant.
D. The Best Appetizer
Escargot! My wife also enjoys the Frog Legs. All appetizers were well presented.
E. The Best Soups
Tomato soup, Chicken Corn soup (thick like a chowder), and Broccoli soup. The fruit soups were interesting.
F. The Best Salads
They were all good. What's great are the salad dressings. All of the vinaigrettes (except the raspberry vinaigrette) were great, as was the Celebrity signature dressing and the roquefort dressing.
G. The Best Entrées
All of the Lamb and Veal dishes, Prime Rib, Filet Mignon/Beef Tenderloin, Scallops, Quails, Duck La'Orange, and Lobster Tails. Note that the Nebraska Prime Rib absolutely melts in your mouth like butter.
H. The Best Desserts
Fresh made sherbets, vanilla-chocolate Bavarian cream, crème Brule, all cheesecakes, bread pudding, chocolate chiffon pie, and baked Alaska on parade.
I. Sushi Bar
There is an excellent sushi bar in the Ocean Cafe. It is open from 5pm to 9:30pm most nights.
J. Room Service
We did not order room service on this cruise.
K. Midnight Buffets
Sorry, due to the port-intensive itinerary, we missed all the late theme nights on this cruise.
L. Draft Beer
Heineken and Amstel Light are now available on draft at most of the ship's bars and in the Orion Restaurant, served in large mugs for $4.75.
M. Special Diets
Vegetarian menus were available upon request, and passengers with special dietary requirements simply needed to speak with their Assistant Maitre'd for assistance.
N. Soda Cards
A "Soda Drink Package" was available at a cost of $5/day plus a 15% gratuity. It entitled you to unlimited soft drinks. It must be purchased for the duration of the cruise, and not on a day-to-day basis. The cost for this 11-day cruise was $63.25. They used to affix a sticker to your cruise card. Now your cruise card is reprinted at the main desk with a soda package notation.
Part IV - Entertainment
All the movies were shown in the Cinema. They were mostly releases from about a year ago. We did not watch any movies in the Cinema.
The Celebrity Theatre is gorgeous, with comfortable seating and good sight lines. The tables however provide a very tight squeeze and result in a lot of broken drinking glasses when folks try to pass by. We found most of the shows to be entertaining. The Celebrity Singers and Dancers performed three shows. Only third show (Dance Around The World), and the acrobats appearing in the second show (Elements) was worth the price of admission (free). We have no complaints about the performances. We really disliked the poor costuming and sets, sluggish lighting, choice of musical numbers and the canned music. The shows suffer when the music isn't provided by a live Celebrity Orchestra which we have enjoyed during some other shows on other cruises. All of the guest entertainers were very good (singer Judy Kolba, comedian Jeff Nease, magician Bob Brizendine) to outstanding (singers Jack Walker and Lindsay Hamilton).
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. We gambled on the one night that the casino was designated as smoke free. Wished smoking was not allowed in any indoor common area.
Took a tour. We did not utilize the hydrotherapy pool. I did take advantage of a final day 50% off sale on a "hot rock" massage. While a great massage, I think my masseuse pretty much fell asleep during the final 15 minutes, and my massage came up a good 10 minutes short (even after including a short consultation and a 5-minute cooling down period at the end while they charged my card). I guess it makes sense to schedule spa work for earlier in the day when they have more energy.
E. Outdoor Pools and Hot tubs.
They were busy pretty much all day. We did not use either.
F. Celebrity Orchestra and Other Ship Bands
The Celebrity Orchestra was had a great sound most of the time, but they haven't yet gelled as a group. We experienced a number of sour notes and timing issues. All of the other entertainment is worth your while. Seek out Paulo Brasuca who performs popular, easy to sing-along, songs on his guitar. Charade Quartet plays beautiful string melodies, and Valerie Bouchard plays music and sings. Fusion (the ship's Caribbean band) and 5th Element (the ship's Party band) both liven up the ship.
As part of the Celebrity Enrichment Program, caricaturist Gene Mater was available twice a day, for a little over two hours each time, on most days of the cruise. While engaging you in conversation he drew caricatures of you and your significant other. There was no charge for his talents.
H. In-room TV
There were a number of closed-circuit ship channels and satellite stations (Global CNN, ESPN, Eye on CBS, Cartoon Network, and a few others) 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.
I. Room Service
You can order from a limited menu from morning to late night. We never used the room service on this trip.
Part V - Cruise Critic Get-Together
We signed up for the Cruise Critic Connections gathering 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 10:00 am on Tuesday (our first day at sea). At the appointed time we arrived at the Stratosphere Lounge. In total, about 36 folks attended. We had a great time meeting and greeting our fellow cruise critics. Light refreshments were provided. The Cruise Director and the Captain's Club Manager were in attendance. They made a short presentation and helped kick-start introductions amongst the group. They also explained why the last cruise berthed in Cabrits, Dominica rather than Roseau (overbooking of the port) and why they will keep to the scheduled stop in Roseau this cruise (complaints due to changing ports, cancelled excursions) despite the need to tender.
Part VI - Health Concerns
Smoking was prohibited in the Orion Restaurant, Oasis Cafe, Celebrity Theater, and library. 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. 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 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 San Juan to Aruba, out to Barbados, and from Tortola to San Juan. I understand a number of folks got seasick the first night. 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. I also use the wrist bands. I don't know if they really work, but I was afraid not to use them.
Part VII - Ship Notes
A. Ship and 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. The only thing we really noticed was that a number of windows in the Stratosphere Lounge need replacing (since you can't see though them).
B. The Shops
There was something on sale each day. The booze prices on the ship were guaranteed to be as good as, or better than, shops in the ports.
C. Internet Service
The good news: there are plenty of computer terminals with internet access on the ship. The bad news: it costs 53 cents per minute. You can get your cost down to around 35 cents a minute if you buy a bulk of minutes. The result: They were way underutilized. I never saw more than 2 people at a time using them. Most 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 had maybe a dozen kids on board. They behaved very well. 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.
Here is a Cruise Ship Dictionary.
F. Aft Thrusters
We most definitely felt the heavy vibration from the aft thrusters at dinner while we were leaving ports each evening, for about 15 minutes or so, but it wasn't terrible. We did not feel them at all in our in our cabin. I understand that folks on lower decks in aft cabins did not appreciate the noisy vibrative thrusters. Hint: unless you want to consider the heavy vibration a great wake-up call in the morning, consider booking a cabin in the middle to forward areas of the ship and somewhere from the 8th level on up.
G. Ship Personnel
Captain = Isidoros Karamaounas
Chief Engineer = Konstantinos Kallnikos
Hotel Director = Damien O'Connor
Staff Captain = Georgios Theodorou
Staff Chief Engineer = Ionnis Tseronis
Food & Beverage Manager = Giovanni Dotti
Onboard Marketing Manager = Manuela Joehnk
Cruise Director = Luke Bonney
Captain's Club Hostess = Princess
Captain's Club Host = Wes
Part VIII - The Ports
We visited eight great ports. We set up excursions ahead of time with highly-recommended tour operators at six of these ports and did our own thing at two ports. All of the land-based operators we toured with have clean, well-maintained, vans. All of our guides made it clear they were there for us and did everything they could to make our tour of their island the best it could be. None failed. They all provided great information all along the tour, and many provided drinks and/or food as well. If you are ever concerned that the tour might not make it back to the ship in time for departure, keep this in mind: the tour operators we selected are keenly aware of the time they need to get you back to the ship. They know if they don't make it back, they will lose an incredible amount of future business. They are professionals. They will make it back to the port on time. It's part of their job. No worries.
A. Oranjestad, Aruba
We prearranged two activities here. First we headed to MooMba Beach on Palm Beach for Jolly Pirates' "Sail, Snorkel, Swim, and Swing" from 9:30am to 2:30pm. You can easily get to Palm Beach via taxi for $10 or via local bus for $1.30 per person. There is a free shuttle from the ship to the cruise ship terminal. To catch a bus, simply exit the terminal, turn right, and cross the street to the Bus Terminal --- an orange building with white columns and benches. Take the #10 "Hotels" bus. Palm Beach has several stops. Get off at the Holiday Inn, walk through the lobby to the beach, turn right, walk about 100 yards to MooMba Beach. Jolly Pirate's office is just behind the large thatched roof beach bar. Check-in for Jolly Pirates was at 9am. It's $53 per person (less a 15% online booking discount) plus tip. We set sail in a pirate ship for three snorkel sites: two reefs and a WWII sunken German cargo ship. We also got to enjoy swinging off the ship into the ocean. We were fed a very tasty lunch which included pork ribs, chicken skewers, pasta salad, slaw, fried banana and a roll. The free bar offering up rum, whisky, Pirate Poisson, Pina Colada, sodas and water, was open the entire trip. Snorkels, masks, vests, and fins were provided. This is a very fun excursion for all ages. Recommended!
We enjoyed drinks and an appetizer at the MooMba beach bar from 2:30pm to 3:30pm. At 3:30pm, our taxi driver, Bully, picked us up in front of the Hadicurari Restaurant next door. Our traveling companions ate lunch here and said the fish was outstanding. Bully took us on a nice two-hour tour of the island and returned us to the pier. His rate is $40 per hour (just $10 per person per hour in our case) plus tip. Recommended!
Hint: if you are just looking for a nice beach, consider Eagle Beach which is on the way to Palm Beach.
B. Willemstad, Curacao
The local currency is Guilders. The quick math is $1.00 US = 1.50 Guilders. It was really closer to $1.59 when we were there. Galaxy was at the Mega Pier, a short 10-minute walk to the Queen Emma floating bridge. We walked around the town in the morning then headed out by local bus ($1 US / 1.50 Guilders) to Hato Caves. There are a couple of bus terminals. We caught a bus from the bus depot located NNE of town, just across a small bridge beyond the round "New Market" building. Note: A taxi to Hato Caves from the Mega pier was quoted at $25 each way. Considerably quicker, but very expensive. Board the "Punda-Hato-Souax" bus. The bus ride to Hato Caves is 45 minutes. (The return was 55 minutes). The bus stops ("BusHalte") directly in front of the caves. Walk to the bar, pay $8.00 US for a guided tour, plus tip, and wait for the next tour to begin. Hato Caves is worth the trip. We were given a very interesting guided tour and history of the cave. This cave has about 300 small fruit bats which will not bother you. We saw maybe a dozen active bats during the tour.
We originally set out to see the caves in the morning and wanted to enjoy Kon Tiki beach in the afternoon, but never made it. If we were to do it over again, we would go to Kon Tiki beach first thing in the morning, return to the ship for lunch and do the Hato Caves in the afternoon. We understand that Kon Tiki is a beautiful protected beach with excellent snorkeling beyond the reef. Only $3 each for a chair and $5 for a thatch roof hut you can lay under.
C. St. Georges, Grenada
We arranged for a 4-hour half-day half day "Spice Plantation Route" tour with Mandoo Tours at $45 per person, plus tips. It ran from 8am to noon plus beach time. The spice plantation route is going to give you a great feel of the island. We visited the Douglaston Spice Depot where we saw a presentation on many of Grenada's spices, and where fresh quality spices were available for purchase. We drove through the lush volcanic mountains to where multiple spice plants, cocoa and bananas plantations were pointed out to us. Great photo shots. We visited Grand Etang Crater Lake where we saw our first Mona monkey. We drove through the rain forest and made a stop at Annandale Waterfall.
At the end of the tour we were given time at the beach and then returned to the ship. We had lunch on the ship and then walked to Fort George, very close to the ship. We exited the pier terminal and turned right. There is a stairwell to the right of a tunnel. Just keep climbing until you get to the top. It's about a 15 minute walk up stone stairs and ramps. This might have been an awesome fort at one time. It has fallen into disrepair and is being used for multiple other purposes. Really too bad. However Fort George will give you lots of photo opportunities from its elevated point. Recommended!
D. Bridgetown, Barbados
We really enjoyed Barbados. We prearranged for Glory Tour's "Best of Barbados Tour" (Option A) $94 per person (after web discount) plus tips which included lunch, entrance fees, and drinks. It was an all-day tour that ran from 9:00am to 4:00pm. All entrance fees were included. There were just six of us on this guided tour that took us all over the island. Our driver, Stephen, took us first to Harrison Cave where were enjoyed a guided tram tour underground.
These caves are spectacular. Then on to Bathsheba on the East Coast for impressive views of the ocean and rock formations. We ate a delicious lunch of Flying Fish, rice and beans, cole slaw, macaroni and cheese casserole, and a coke. We then worked our way to the Wild Life Reserve where we saw an abundance of green-tailed monkeys, tortoises, iguanas, a python, peacocks, turkeys, and other critters I couldn't identify. Stephen then treated us to a Barbados Rum Punch at the bar there. On the West Coast, we took a glass bottom boat to two snorkeling destinations: first visiting a ship wreck, then a spot where we swam with sea turtles (West Coast). Recommended!
E. Castries, St. Lucia
We prebooked COSOL Tours "Island Tour" at $50 per person plus tip. They picked us up at 8:30am and brought us back to the ship sometime after 2:30pm. What an exhaustive tour (and I mean this in a positive way). We toured most of the island's top sites and stopped for lots of local bites along the way, sampling bananas, mango, papaya, sugar cane, coconut, and lots more. Cold drinks were included (COSOL rum punch, Cokes made with sugar, water, and Piton beer --- a nice light lager. We visited a banana plantation, the Tourielle Waterfall and botanical garden, volcano (sulphur springs), a couple of fishing villages, spent beach time snorkeling at the Hilton Jalousie Beach Hotel whose beach spans between the Twin Pitons, and later overlooked Marigot Bay (where the original Dr. Doolittle filmed). There was plenty of time for shopping at the end of the tour. All of the entrance fees were included. Recommended! Hint: there is a lot of driving along mountain curves with drops and climbs in elevation. If you are prone to motion sickness, sit up front.
F. Roseau, Dominica
We prearranged the "Roseau Valley Treasures" tour with Bumpiing Tours (Levi Baron). $49 per person plus tip. We tendered into Roseau. Tendering was very efficient. Levi Baron met us just outside the pier and turned us over to Gary, our awesome driver and guide for the day. Gary kept us one step ahead of most of the tours. We started our day at Wotten Waven Sulphur Springs which entailed a short walk to view small boiling pools. Then it was off to Trafalgar Falls which features two large waterfalls in the same area. There was about a 10 minutes walk through a rainforest to a viewing platform where we took pictures and then proceeded past a "Proceed Only At Your Own Risk" sign and descended down to some hot springs where we relaxed and played in several hot pools. We also got some closer views of the falls. From here we drove to Titou Gorge where part of Pirates Of The Caribbean 2 was filmed. It was an easy 10 minutes walk to the Gorge, where we got into cold mountain water and swam a short distance through a cave to a waterfall. (If you go, don't wimp out. It's worth the chill). We instantly warmed in the sun upon exiting and got toasty in a nearby hot spring. We visited the Botanical Gardens where we learned about see different plants, trees and flowers grown on the Island. A short 5-minute drive to Morne Bruce presented us an overview of the entire city of Roseau, and port, from the top of a hill. We ended the tour snorkeling at Champagne Bay, where we hired an snorkel guide for $10 to show us the fish and underwater sites just offshore. There is no way we would have seen as much without our water guide, T.J. The entire tour lasted about 7 hours. Gary kept us well hydrated with Kubuli Beer (the best local island beer we tasted on this trip) and water. Gary was also quick to stop the van for any pictures we wanted to take and often stopped to pluck a leaf, nut, fruit, branch or root for us to smell and identify as one of the many local spices grown on the island. Recommended!
G. Basse-Terre, St. Kitts
We hired Thenford Grey himself for this "Island Tour". The cost was $40 per person and ran from 8:00am until about 2:00 pm with beach time available at Cockleshell Beach at the end of the tour. Thenford first took us through the historic city of Basseterre which was founded in 1625 by French settlers. After the city highlights we stopped at the ruins of an old sugar cane processing factory and Romney Manor-Caribelle Batik which was once owned by Captain Samuel Jefferson, the great, great, great grandfather of Thomas Jefferson. The Plantation House which sits amidst 25 acres of lush tropical gardens, is now a batik factory and store. The gardens feature a large collection of exotic plants, palms and trees from all over the world. We saw numerous green tailed monkeys in the short drive between the ruin and the Manor. We then spent an hour at Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park which sets atop a volcanic cone that is 800 feet high and offers 360-degree panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and neighboring islands. Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park is a World Heritage Site. (The $8.00 entrance fee was included). The Fortress is indeed impressive. I could have easily spent 4 hours exploring this impressive site. A lot of monkeys make their home in the vegetation surrounding the fort. Thenford shared a lot of local history with us as we explored the island. We also saw a live cockfight (two roosters going at each other) in the middle of the street. Our last stop was Cockleshell Beach where we had an opportunity to swim, collect shells, and grab a beer. On the way, we saw wandering goats, cows, and more monkeys. Recommended!
H. Tortola, BVI
Having been to The Baths on Virgin Gorda on our last two trips (HIGHLY recommended by the way), we opted to sleep in a little and then go to Tortola's Brewer's Bay. Taxi service here is on a "per person" basis. Brewers Bay costs $6.00 per person each way for parties of 4 or more. (For the curious, it's also $6.00 per person to beautiful Cane Garden Bay, heavily populated with cruise passengers). What a way to end our cruise! There were less than a dozen folks at Brewers Bay when we arrived at 9am and about 50 when we left at 1pm. This is a spectacularly beautiful bay with awesome snorkeling to the left of the bay. We saw a number our variety of fish including Tarpon (about 4 feet in length), box fish, trigger fish, loads of colorful parrot fish, thousands of interesting little reef dwellers and various coral formations. It was impressive to see large schools of fish descend across the reef devouring whatever morsels they enjoy and moving on to the next like locusts in a field. If you aren't into snorkeling, lay back and watch the dozen or so pelicans plunge into the ocean for fish all day long. They would dive within a couple feet of a snorkeler --- neither bothering the other. Beach chairs can be rented for $5 (loungers) or $3 (chairs) but we didn't see any umbrellas. There is plenty of shade on the left side of the beach (snorkeling side) in front of Nicole's Bar. Nicole's Bar offers mixed drinks and a collection of $3 bottled beer as well as a grill ($6 for a cheeseburger or $8 for shrimp and fries).
I. Days At Sea
We had only two days at sea. All of the rest of the travel was at night. There was no lack of things to do on the ship. Sea days can provide a nice respite and allow us to get reenergized. Eat, play games, attend an auction, port shopping briefings, watch movies, attend shows, eat, nap, midday snack, cards, spa, pools, bars, eat, trivia contests, contests, read, chat with fellow passengers and crew, eat, shuffleboard, basketball, golf simulator, board games, darts, dance lessons, culinary demonstrations, wine seminar, Bingo, eat, rum tastings, shopping, gambling, exercise, dancing, art auctions, live entertainment... the list goes on!
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 11-day cruise: Waiter $77, Waiter's Assistant $44, Stateroom Attendant $77, Assistant Maitre'D $16.50, Assistant Chief Housekeeper $16.50, 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. Hint: tip in cash or prepay your tips through your on board account.
Part X - Captain's Club
On this cruise we received a "Welcome Letter" which invited us to a cocktail party, a "double jackpot" time in the casino, and a future cruise presentation. It did not include a meeting time for the Celebrity Theater backstage tour that was mentioned in our daily program for the day we were in St. Lucia. On prior cruises, as Select members, we would receive almost daily invites to events. We did not receive any invites other than the "Welcome Letter" and the invite to the Cruise Critic Party. The lack of invites was rather disappointing. 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, very minor casino and spa discounts, a $20 "all you can fit in a cleaning bag" coupon to clean your clothes, a cocktail party, possibly a "behind the scenes" tour, 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 San Juan 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. Disembarkation began at about 8:00 am. All passengers were instructed to sit in public areas until their group color was called. We got up late, had breakfast, and played cards for an hour before our group (Light Blue 3) was called. We handed our Customs Declaration Form and our passports to an emigration official upon exiting the ship. We retrieved our luggage in the passenger terminal, spoke to a customs official who accepted our customs claim form and headed for the taxi stands.
US citizens are permitted 1 liter of alcohol and $800 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.
C. Airline Check-In At The Pan American Pier
Until early 2008, US Air had a check-in desk at the Pan Am pier. It was a free service which allowed you to check your baggage and get boarding passes before exiting the terminal. This is no longer the case. If you want this service, you must prearrange for it early in your voyage by signing up for the Baggage Valet Service Program. It is about $20 per person, and covers many of the major airlines including US Air.
D. Transportation Options to Airport
Upon exiting the terminal with our luggage, we were informed that the airlines will generally not accept baggage prior to 2 hours before flight time (I have not been able to verify this however). Therefore if you get to the airport too early, you'll have to sit around with your luggage. When exiting the terminal building for transportation you will see two orange booths. The one on the left is for "Taxis". The one on the right is for "Sightseeing Tours". Here we were, at about 9:45am and our flight wasn't due to leave until 3:20pm. For $25 per person, we gave our bags to the sightseeing tour guide. He loaded the bags into the back of his air conditioned van, and we jumped in, took a seat and waited for the large van to fill. Once full (about 16 or 18 passengers), our driver Hector left the port and headed for Old San Juan. He gave us information about the city, stopped for pictures, allowed us 15 minutes to tour the Capital, 40 minutes to explore Fort San Cristobal, a quick stop at Casa Don Q's (2 blocks from the OSJ docks and across the street from Tijuana's Bar and Grill) for a quick pitch on Don Q rum and free rum drinks. My wife enjoyed a Pina Colada. Hector then dropped us off downtown to shop for 45 minutes. We grabbed a quick trinket and walked a block to the Parrot Club for lunch. Very interesting place. My wife just loves the decor. Our waiter was friendly, very courteous, and efficient. While not inexpensive, the food is outstanding and well worth the visit if you enjoy nice flavors. At 12:40pm we boarded the van and he dropped a few folks (who had evening flights) off at Lupis to enjoy lunch while the rest of us went to the airport. He then went back and picked up the Lupis group to continued their tour. Recommended! This was a great way to spend some free time in San Juan and get to the airport.
E. San Juan Airport
Upon arrival at the airport, we proceeded to the US Air check-in. It took us less than 15 minutes to turn in our bags and less then 10 minutes to clear security. US Air permits two checked bags per person, not to exceed 50 pounds each. One of our bags just made the cutoff at 49.5 pounds while the other three were not as close. The airport is very bright with lots of windows. There are a few restaurants, smaller vendors, and two airport lounges --- run by Delta and Continental.
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 Southern Caribbean cruise.
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© 2008 Topher
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