Going on a cruise… Sounds like something a retired snob would say? To be straight forward with you, that’s what we thought a couple of years ago. Now, we know better.
Why taking a cruise?
When we were younger (actually up until the age of 26), we only went on so-called “beach vacations”. You know what I’m talking about: booking an all-in hotel in a sunny and warm country, laying at the pool reading a few books, going to the beach to do some snorkelling or take a trip on a catamaran and that’s it. The main goal was to de-stress from the corporate hectic days and counter that with doing the exact opposite: absolutely nothing. We enjoyed this kind of vacation for a few years, but then everything turned and we wanted to get more active. After all, physical recovery is one thing, but restoring the mental state of mind – that’s what it’s all about.
So, we started with some road trips in the US. That was pretty easy to arrange the itinerary of our trip and get ourselves from one place to the other. Also when going to Canada, Australia or New Zealand we do that on our own – when going to South America, Africa or Asia we (so far) count on local operators.
It’s more difficult to get yourself from one island to the other. In Hawaii, we actually did – we took a plane to each of the 4 islands – but that was one of the reasons Hawaii was our most expensive trip so far. Also, I’m not the biggest fan of air travel – it’s absolutely necessary, but it takes quite a lot of time getting on the plane, picking up your luggage (if you’re lucky that all went well and nothing got lost) and going through security and boarder control.
So, the ideal way to see explore unknown places in a luxury setting is to go by cruise. While you’re having dinner, enjoying a show and afterwards enjoy a good night rest, you wake up having arrived at a new island, a new scene to discover. That’s why we chose this would be the way to check out the islands in the Caribbean, in January 2012 (actually right at the time the Costa Concordia wrecked off the coast of Italy).
Which cruise line to choose?
Ok, so we were convinced to take a cruise to the Caribbean. That was the easy part. It got more difficult when we found out there are quite a few cruise companies out there. There are different factors to take into account when choosing the right one for you:
– Budget: of course, as always – your budget is the most important driver, also in picking a cruise. As we have the tendency to look for a good balance between quality and cost, already a few choices were turned down. On the lower end there’s Costa and MSC Cruises; on the upper end there’s Oceania Cruises, Seabourn and Regent. That left us the choice between Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean and Princess
– Target audience: this defines your cruise experience. While Royal Caribbean and Princess are aiming at a younger target audience, Holland America and Celebrity are all about tranquility, increased quality and therefore an older target audience. I have to add that we were not travelling alone. We had both our parents and my godfather along the trip. Knowing this, we eventually settled for Celebrity. My husband and I indeed were amongst the younger ones on the boat, but actually we didn’t mind. We have been on both Princess and Royal Caribbean afterwards and we have indeed found that the quality at Celebrity is generally better – e.g.: more comfortable beds at the pool, quality of food and cocktails and the fact that you can enjoy some quite-time at the pool instead of being asked to participate at every next event. So, it all depends on what you’re looking for…
– Which islands they cover: not every cruise line is visiting the same islands, so the itineraries vary and if you have specific islands in mind, then this could be a defining factor as well. For us, it didn’t really matter, as it was the first time in the Caribbean and we had no preferred islands
So, our first cruise would be with Celebrity and more particular with the “Celebirty Constellation”…
As we have done 3 cruises after this first one (and actually heading to our fifth late August / September of this year), it’s obvious that we enjoyed the first one very much. Here’s a few of the – for us – most important aspects.
The price for the room varies a lot, depending on what you settle for. Because of the pretty high price of a room with balcony and knowing that we were in a group – spending our time jointly in the bar anyway – we chose for an inside state room, without a window. Before going, I was a tiny bit anxious in whether it would feel claustrophobic, having no outside light and knowing that you’re a few meters under water. It never was the case. Ok, it isn’t a ball room, but it’s more than enough, taking into account you only sleep in it. We had enough space to put all our stuff away as well.
We were astonished when we learned that the cleaning staff is checking your room 3 times a day! So every time we entered, the bed was made again. A little too much to be honest, but ok – that’s one of the reasons why everyone is paying more than 10 dollars for tips a day, I guess?
As a side note – on one of our other cruises to the other part of the Caribbean we were really lucky and got offered a room with balcony instead of the inside state room that we booked. We paid for a flex ticket, which means that you don’t choose the exact room and – I guess because of an over-booking, we got a balcony! Man, did we enjoy that one. During that trip it was just the two of us, so we really spent some time in our room and more in particular on our balcony. But paying a multiple of the price of an inside room for that – hmmm, we’d rather spend that money on something else.
Also in this area – a lot of choices! The package choice comes onto your sea pass, which you have to carry along with you everywhere you go. When you order a drink, you show the sea pass and the bartender knows what is included.
As my husband doesn’t drink alcohol, but consumes a lot of soft drinks instead, for him it was clear to opt for the soda package. Again, a difference when comparing to Royal Caribbean and Princess: the sodas were served in the original can instead of getting fountain drinks, which adds this extra layer of quality again.
I like to enjoy a cocktail, some bubbles before diner and wine during, so I was tempted to go for the general alcohol pack. It doesn’t cover the special and more expensive wines or beers (there’re separate packages for those), but includes cava, good wines and most cocktails (again, not the more expensive ones). Still, it isn’t cheap and we calculated that I had to drink about 5 alcoholic drinks a day, to get value out of it. As we were in group (the others enjoy a good drink as well) and as there were a few sea days in the itinerary, eventually one person of every couple got such a package. We could easily order a cocktail with the sea pass including the alcoholic beverage pack and then giving it to someone of the group with a soft drink package only. Same for dinner – the staff was really relaxed about it, so I’m guessing we are not the only ones doing it like this. Oh, I almost forgot: this extended beverage pack also included fresh orange juice, which is a real plus – my husband did enjoy that one!
When looking for a cruise, some of the promotions they offer is actually a free beverage package. For our next cruise, we got the alcoholic one for everyone for free – cheers!
Bars and restaurants
As I mentioned already – the quality of the food is really good. For breakfast and lunch we always went for the buffet – ample of choice – too much actually. Chefs are performing some instant cooking in addition to the buffet dishes, so we ordered our preferred omelette in the morning and whatever they served during lunch. There’s sufficient variety from one day to the other as well, so you don’t end up eating the same course during the length of your holiday. And as it’s a buffet, you can choose when to have breakfast or lunch or even take what you want to the pool and enjoy it there.
Dinner is served in the San Marco restaurant in 2 shifts – one around 6 and one around 8. The concept is designated seating, so you get a table appointed the first evening, which is in principle your table for the entire vacation. Each table has a fixed server and sommelier, so you get to know these guys a little as the days pass. I’ll never forget the name of our waiter: Clodobaldo and of our sommelier: Elvis. They were amazing.
The menu at San Marco restaurant again has a lot of choice. You can choose a soup or salad, followed by an entrance, main course and desert. Of course you can skip a course, but my husband and I never did. There’re some fixed dishes, that you can choose from every night and next to that the menu of the day. The French onion soup (which is part of the regulars) was our back-up whenever we couldn’t choose a salad or soup of the day – soooo good…
There’s a possibility to eat at one of the specialty restaurants as well, but then for an additional fee. Never tried one of those, to be honest – why spending more if the food at San Marco is of such quality?
The bars are really cosy as well. I can’t remember how many there were and we didn’t try all of them, but everywhere there’s friendly staff and you feel really at ease.
Celebirty Fitness area
With all that weight gain from the delicious food, we were happy to find a decent gym room at the front of the ship on the higher levels. We went there every day, before breakfast or before dinner, to let of some steam. Never too crowdie.
There was also a running track on the level above the pool level, so you can enjoy the sea breeze and views even better when working out. But, you know I told you at Celebrity our fellow-passengers were typically a little older – well, they used the track for walking. And there’s lots of them – so running wasn’t always an option, depending on the time of the day.
The outside pool got salty water and was really cold, so I only took one try at it. The others didn’t mind, actually. Although there’s a lot of people on the boat, the pools were never crowded either. The jacuzzi baths on the other hand sometimes were, but as it was hot enough, we didn’t really care.
Like I said, the beds along the pool were very comfy. We were afraid of the typical procedure tourists perform in all-in hotels: getting up early on a sea day to get their towel on the best lounger seat, strategically selected taking into account the position and direction of the ship and the weather, and not letting go for the entire day. But that wasn’t the case, luckily.
Other activities on board
During this South-West Caribbean Celebirty cruise, we had 5 sea days in the itinerary. Next to the fitness area, there’s also a soccer field, basketball field, tennis court and ping-pong tables for the time you feel more active. You can also take part in some tours organized by the staff, for example to see how the kitchen operates. There’s games like bingo or quizzes that are being organized throughout the day and don’t forget about the casino. In the theater room they play movies or documentaries at certain times. Actually, every evening you get a full overview of what’s going on around the ship the next day.
Of course, every evening there’s a show being performed in the theater – again at two times, depending on the time you have chosen your designated dining, you can participate to one of both. At Celebrity they were of really good quality and there’s again variety in what they bring – music, a show, comedy, you name it.
And finally, for the shopaholics there’s some souvenirs and jewelry to choose from in the different shops. There’s also sales being organized, later on the cruise, with some discounted items, which can be interesting.