Med Cruise

I had the opportunity to go on a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Solstice departing from Barcelona on April 29, 2012 for 12 nights. It was amazing, a truly an incredible trip. Slightly exhausting, but amazing.  There were only 3 days at sea for the 12 days, and one over-night in Venice. The other days offered visiting a new city each day.

The Pantheon

Any questions that you have about Celebrity’s Europe program? Or cruising Europe in general? Post your questions in the comments below. I would be happy to answer them for you. Cruises to Europe are selling for great prices if you are interested in a quote, let me know! See the about section for my contact info.

Happy Travels!

Celebrity Solstice Cruise – the Final Days

Solstice Honeymoon Cruise

This is my continued post of my winter 2012 honeymoon cruise sailing to the eastern Caribbean aboard the Celebrity Solstice.  If you just started reading, head back to the first post.

We are now on day 6 of the cruise. This day and the following are sea days prior to the dreaded end of vacation on day 8. Of course we started with room service breakfast. We actually had to eat our breakfast in the cabin because it was actually too warm & sunny to eat outside. On the return trip of the Eastern Caribbean the aft cabins get direct sunlight all morning. Because of the aft location of the balcony, there is little wind.

There was a lot to entertain you with on this sea day. To start, it was the day of Grand Buffet Brunch in the MDR (main dining room.)  This is Celebrity’s replacement of the midnight buffet which is essentially now a thing of the past on most, if not all, cruise lines. You really had to search to know it was occurring. I knew to look for it, and our waiter may have told us about it, but I cannot be certain. There is one small line in the Celebrity Today in the dining section advertising the brunch. It really is not to be missed. The food was excellent, and the selection was extensive. They had it all. Brunch went from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. If you want to take pictures of the beautiful fruit carvings you will want to get there early. Tip- if you want to avoid crowds but still eat around lunchtime, get there a little before noon. They had it set up with salads, cheese, bread and desserts in the middle of the room. And on each side of the food area they had the ‘main courses’ laid out. There was a fresh stir fry station, an omelette station, a meat carving station, and a good mix of breakfast and lunch options. The bar offered a special of 2 mimosas for $6.00.

Activities that could have been chosen for the afternoon included: a presentation “Cook This, Not That”, an Oceans Ahead Presentation, and two Beyond the Podium Series. You seriously could have spent the afternoon in seminars. They also offered their infamous “Officers vs. Guests Pool Volleyball Challenge”.

Tonight was the final formal night of the cruise. I had filet mignon shish kabob.  It was VERY good. As has been stated by other reviewers, the lobster in the MDR is not what they are known for. It is like a seafood trio, with only a small portion of actual lobster. The people at out table did not love it. Our waiter gave us the above pictured cake for celebrating our honeymoon on the cruise.

There was plenty to do in the evening of this 6th day of the cruise. The evening show was one of the broadway type performances, “Pulse”. It was great. They had a “Dessert Extravaganza” from 11:15 pm – 12:15 in the Sky Lounge. There was also a “Black & White 80’s Night deck Party” poolside from 10:30 pm – late.  Finally, this was the last night of the comedian’s weekly performance of his show at 11 pm. The comedian for the week was Tony Daro. He was VERY FUNNY, and entertaining. Unfortunately some of the intoxicated guests were so obnoxious with their attempt to be a ‘part of the show’, that we eventually had to call it a night before his show was over. I wished that I had more energy to participate in more events this evening, but I cannot hang.

Day 7  of the cruise – the final full day – A day at Sea

As is with most cruises that I go on, the final day at sea had some cooler temperatures. I am not sure why this always seems to be.  We did not let it get in our way of fun of course. We started our day with room service breakfast on the balcony. We lazed around in the morning, reading and just relaxing. Lunch was enjoyed in the MDR. Although this was a bit of a mistake. As a past Celebrity cruiser, and member of their Captain’s Club, our appreciation party was this day at 1:30 pm. Other lines that I had cruised with did their appreciation event in the evening serving limited and tiny appetizers and offering a few complimentary drinks. Celebrity goes over the top with their event. (The mistake in going to the MDR for an enjoyable lunch was that I was so completely stuffed because I ate more food at the event.) There was a fresh crepe dessert station, a sushi station, meat carving station, fruit station. It was IMPRESSIVE. Their drinks selection had something to satisfy any taste. They had about 8 alcoholic drinks to choose from, plus soda. A note to those attending, there is a dress code and they enforce it. No shorts was the big sticking point. They would also ask you to change if you were too casual. The official dress code was Smart Casual and above. The event should not be missed by repeat cruisers. If you are new to cruising Celebrity- make sure when you return home that you sign up to be a member of their Captain’s Club. There is no charge to join, but you have to sign up.

If you were not a member of the Captain’s Club, there was a variety of Celebrity Life Activities to choose from to occupy you during the day- a Beyond the Podium Enrichment Series, an Ocean’s Ahead presentation, a cooking class, etc. There was not a charge to attend these events.

Dinner on this last night included a turkey dinner option. I should have listened to our waiters grimace- it was not great.  Probably fine, but not the same level of enjoyment that I had with the other meals on this cruise. However, there were SO many amazing appetizers to choose from that I was fully satisfied before the meal even came. I believe I had 3 or 4 appetizers. The fried goat cheese was the stand out! But all of my choices were great.

The show for the last night was “Ultimate Variety Show.” We missed this and instead opted to pack our bags as our cruise was ending the next morning. 😦

Day 8 – We hope you had fun, now GET OUT!

Well, the last morning of the cruise. As with all lines, you need to get up early and GET OUT. At least out of your cabin. Unfortunately there is no room service option of the last day. They did at least offer breakfast in the MDR, which started and ended early. We opted to eat in the Ocean View Cafe’.  It was not as crowded as I expected it to be, but not as pleasant as breakfast in our cabin…

As you will read online, Celebrity does not have the embarkation system down pat. From reading cruise critic reviews after the cruise, they appeared to be severely behind schedule in debarkation. We had an 11:30 flight so we chose to carry off our luggage. I over-packed since I didn’t have to worry about luggage fees, and it was a bit of a pain carrying all our luggage off. The elevators were packed. In fact we waited 10 minutes just to get in an elevator with our luggage. The plan for people doing the self carry-off was to be in the 3rd floor of the MDR by 8:30. The line for self-disembark was LONG. You then had to carry your luggage down a flight of stairs to the 2nd floor. In my opinion, this was a mess. A long walk followed to the customs. And another long walk to the private car pick-up. The Fort Lauderdale airport is only 15 minutes away. We had no problem arriving at the airport the requisite 2 hours before the flight.

So, the cruise was over. Boo. But it was a great week! I liked the Celebrity line so much that I am actually going back on the Solstice for a Mediterranean cruise this spring!

If you have any questions that you would like me to answer in the follow-up post, feel free to post the question in a comment or email me.  Happy Travels.

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Celebrity Cruise Day 5 – St. Thomas

St. Thomas in the morning

Day 5 of the recap of my recent Celebrity Cruise aboard the Solstice with my husband to the Eastern Caribbean for our honeymoon.

Today our ship was arriving bright and early in St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Shockingly for those reading this post, we had breakfast on our balcony. And to confirm, we had breakfast in our room each and every morning on this cruise that it was available. Unfortunately there is no option to have room service on the last morning. The choices were just awesome. We truly enjoyed our breakfast in our room each morning.

Our ship was scheduled to arrive in St. Thomas USVI at 7 a.m. I watched us pull in around 6 am, but we weren’t cleared through customs until 8 a.m.  Behind us came two other ships. We were docked at Havensight.

Great things about the port of St. Thomas in no real order:  1.) use US Currency, 2.) those with national service can use their cell phones in port, 3.) it’s easy to get around.

I am not typically a gal who does many shore excursions. I am a big fan of scuba diving, and the Eastern Caribbean is not known for their diving… I typically go on cruises to relax, not to be running from port to port doing activities. However, this was our honeymoon and I was bound to do something different than I typically would on a cruise.  I searched for a shore excursion prior to the trip, and found one that appealed to both of us.  It was a day trip (6 hours) on a sailboat.

To spend our day on the sailboat, we were told to taxi to Sapphire Beach Marina. This is the part that is always an adventure. Trying to get to your shore excursion at the time required. We got off the ship and asked someone in charge of taxi’s for a taxi to the beach. We were put on a taxi that was already leaving the port area. $10 per person and half hour drive in an open air taxi we arrived at the beach.

We spent the day on the New Horizon sailboat. The crew today consisted of a captain and a 1st mate.  There were about 12 people on board with us today- apparently there is typically more. They increase the crew if there are more passengers. The boat was set to make two stops on our day at sea. We boarded and were given a couple of bread options to choose from – chocolate and banana nut. We were also given a choice of juice/water.  We sailed to Honeymoon Beach– on St. John. We were left to snorkel or hang out on the boat. The water was very inviting. We jumped in for a swim and quick snorkel. The water was a bit more fun to swim in than to snorkel, but it was fine. The snorkeling does not compare to that in the Western Caribbean, but it was still fun.  After snorkeling they started serving drinks- mixed drinks, blended drinks, beer and pop.  The crew also set up lunch for us – pasta with meatballs, italian bread, green beans, fruit and brownies. It was a nice spread especially for being served on a sailboat!  We sailed on to Christmas Cove, on Great St. James. More snorkeling and more drinks. It really was a fun fun day!  [Email me if you are interested in booking this shore excursion for your upcoming cruise. christy@packyourpixiedust.com]

As an experienced cruiser, I felt comfortable booking a shore excursion on my own. With that comes the added responsibility of making sure you work out all the details – ship time vs. local time, the logistics of the transportation to the excursion, etc. The one advantage to booking the excursion with the cruise line is they figure all of that out, and just tell you where to meet – typically on the pier or in a lounge on the ship and at what time. Easy.  But some advantages of doing your own excursion are: you usually save money and you can try something different.

We had a couple of hours before the ship departed when we were dropped back off on the ship. We had the choice to do some shopping or head back to the cabin. I had never been to this pier before. The port I am used to has shopping in a normal city. This pier is in a small industrial area has the same shops as usual, but in small stores in rows of strip mall like buildings.  It would make shopping more convenient, because everything is close together. But it was just not inviting.

So, to our cabin we went – up the 10 flights of stairs from floor 2 up to 11. We snacked on cookies and snacks from our butler. If you were not in a suite or concierge class cabin, you could go up to floor 5 and have a snack from Cafe al Bacio (there is not a charge to eat the snacks here, only if you want specialty coffees). The other snack options in the late afternoon can be found at the Mast Grill or the Oceanview Cafe.

So, we had our snacks. And dealt with the sale of my husband’s house. (Which had to be done this week. Another reason to make sure you have valid Power’s of Attorney in place before you leave town. With the POA’s, my mother was allowed to sign on our behalf for the sale of his house.)

Dinner tonight was again in the Grand Epernay Restaurant (the main dining room). On the menu were the famous meatballs and short ribs. Since we had meatballs with lunch that day, neither of us ordered those. My husband ordered and enjoyed the short ribs. I had the NY strip steak from the ‘everyday’ menu. It was good. For dessert they served chocolate souffle, which wasn’t on the menu, but was offered.

That night the show was a husband and wife team of comedy and impersonations (Karen and Don Grainger). We did not attend as we were tired from being out in the sun all day.

Stay tuned for the next post – the final days at sea. Until then – Happy Travels!

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Celebrity Solstice Cruise Day 4

Rainbow on our approach to St. Maarten

This is my continued post about my recent Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the Celebrity Solstice.  Click to start from the beginning.

We were mid-trip at this point, and really getting into the swing of things. Our fourth day started as always with breakfast in our cabin. We had to get an early start to the day because we had an excursion planned.  The Solstice was tendered in port in St. Maarten during our cruise which we found out about a month or so before the cruise. Tendering of course meant that you could be delayed in getting off the ship. On tender days, there are 3 ways to get off the ship. 1) have a suite, or be a frequent Celebrity cruiser and receive a priority tender ticket; 2) go stand in line the morning that you will be arriving in port and receive a tender ticket with a number to follow; or 3) wait until the ship announces opening tendering. We had a suite, so we received a priority tender ticket.

We were off the ship by about 9 a.m. ship’s time. This is something to note- Celebrity typically changes its time during the week to the local time throughout the week of the cruise. In the Caribbean, that time would be Atlantic time, one hour later than Eastern time. In fact, I was worried about arriving to my privately booked shore excursion because of the time change situation. But I was assured that the ship would be acting on local time. The first day of this cruise, they advised us that the ship’s time would not be changing for the week. So, local time was 10 a.m. when we arrived on the island of St. Maarten.

Our first impression of St. Maarten was not that great. The pushy people trying to sell us a beach chair on the cruise pier were not impressive. Every 20 seconds we had to contend with saying no to someone that we were not interested in their wifi, or their beach chair, or cheap beer, etc.  If you are interested in that sort of thing- know that it is readily available for you every 10 yeards.

I had a one p.m. scuba diving tour with Ocean Explorers Dive Center at Simpson Bay. The logistics of figuring out the transportation was a bit confusing. Since our ship was tendered, we did not take a water taxi into the port. This means that we were not where our directions told us we would be. We borrowed some local people’s cell phones and called the transportation company (numerous times throughout the morning.) Eventually we were picked up and driven to Simpson Bay. The view was beautiful during the drive. Ocean Explorers is on the beach, adjacent to a little bar called La Bamba. Apparently there was quite the wild party the night before as the place was a bit trashed. We were like 2 hours early for the dive so we went for a walk on the beach- there was a kayaking excursion occurring at this bay. After we just hung out at a table at La Bamba. This must be the norm because no one minded. Dave and I split a lunch consisting of a wrap and fries for about $10.  The food was tasty.  The dive was great. And we returned via the transportation company set up by the dive shop to pier to pick up the tender. A short wait and a bumpy tender ride and we were back on board. The water was CHOPPY all day today.

Back on the ship we headed up to the buffet for some snacks. A portion of the buffet was open since it was a non-traditional dining times. It was not crowded, but I am always amazed by the rude people who tend to appear at buffets. I was waiting in a small line for some cheese and bread. I was the last person in the line. The others got their cheese and off they went. I walked up to make my selection and some older guy came out of the side and just cut right in. And this was not one of those occurrences where he was in and out and I was not to his area. I had to wait to have access to the cheese. And to make things worse, he didn’t even use the tongs. While I am on the subject of buffet etiquette. People- please stop licking your fingers while in the buffet line and then touching the next set of tongs. No wonder noro-virus is so prevalent.  We use anti-bacterial after going through the lines to cut down on the transfer of other people’s grossness on to us.

Dinner was again in the dining room. It was nice to catch up with our table mates to see what they had been up to the last 2 days. It makes the meals so much more enjoyable. By the way- we had a table size of 6, and this to me is just perfect. You can interact with the whole table without having to be too loud. For me, it is the perfect sized table.

After dinner we retreated to the room. We were exhausted. Traveling all day, being out in the sun, plus the diving for me in some choppy choppy water, made it an exhausting day. That night on the ship the show was Ghostlight- The Spirit of Broadway. Celebrating the best music of broadway, past and present. At the end there was apparently a guest performance by the captain! It was enjoyed by those that attended. That night was also the Caribbean deck party poolside at 10:15. And before that they offered Wine & Cheese Concert on the Lawn. At 11 p.m. that night there had the Liars Club as their late night comedy show. All of those events sounded entertaining, I just did not have it in me. I was asleep by 9:30.

Thanks for continuing to read my blog. Sorry for the delay in the posts. I have a full plate with running my law office, and working as a travel agent. Life is full and busy right now!  Stay tuned for Day 5 – a day in St. Thomas.

Happy Travels!

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Solstice Day 3

This continues my review/recap of my 7 day Eastern Caribbean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Solstice. If you missed the first one, click to read it from the beginning.

Our cruise was scheduled to arrive in San Juan Puerto Rico at 3 p.m. So for most of the day it was similar to a sea day on the ship. We started our day as always with breakfast on the balcony. After breakfast we decided to take a walk on the jogging track on the 14th deck. The jogging track on this ship would be nearly impossible to jog on. First it is terribly windy while the ship is moving. But the bigger problem is that anyone moving around on this deck has to walk through the jogging track- there is no other way to get around. It is also very narrow. And then there is the issue of inconsiderate passengers putting their lounge chair on a portion of the track. So, it was fine for walking, but a bit irritating at the same time. After our walk, we stopped in the Ocean View Cafe for a snack of fresh belgium waffles- they are the best I have ever had on a cruise.

The afternoon involved reading for a bit, having lunch and then sitting out on the balcony as we approached San Juan. Once we saw land, we turned on our cell phones to check for service. We had a text from our realtor asking to call. From this call we learned that my husband’s condo was finally set to close- WHILE WE WERE ON THIS CRUISE. Apparently it could not be extended and it needed to close on that Friday. We learned that we could close by Power of Attorney (POA) which is just another reason that people should have their estate plan up to date before leaving for a week-long vacation out of the country- you never know when you will need it. Our POA’s were at my law office, and my assistant was able to get them over to the realtor.

Finally after doing a little work dealing with the sale, we debarked the ship in San Juan. The Solstice was docked at Pier 3. We headed out to the Coach store to see if there was anything worth buying (there wasn’t.)  Then stumbled into the Linen Shop that is so well-known. Finally, I was craving guacamole and chips (because apparently when I am on a cruise I want to eat every 2 hours.) We asked someone where to go and was lead to Lupis. It was not that impressive. One beer, 1 virgin daiquiri, and an order of guacamole and chips was $19 without a tip. In terms of the ports, it was the least annoying in terms of pushy island people trying to get you to buy things from them.

After walking around San Juan, and up 9 flights of stairs (our attempt to keep moving and help with the weight gain was to take the stairs) we relaxed a bit in our cabin until cleaning up for dinner.

Dinner tonight was at the Tuscan Grille around 6:45 p.m. In hindsight, I would not have ordered a guacamole snack prior to going here for dinner. There was so much amazing food and there was great service. The Tuscan Grille is one of the specialty dining restaurants on the Solstice. It is located on deck 5 (with all of the specialty dining locations) at the back of the ship. We asked for a table by the window, and were lucky to be seated at the last table. Since we were in port, we had a view nice San Juan.

Our meal started with a bread basket and some spreads, one of which was roasted carmelized garlic cloves. They had a roasted red pepper bread that was great. They then brought us an antipasta plate with prosciutto, melon, roasted veggies, mozzarella and olives. It was so good and we still hadn’t ordered yet.  Finally on to the ordering, I did not have room for an appetizer after the antipasta plate, but I was offered a choice of one. For the salad course, I ordered an arugula salad with pine nuts and fried goat cheese. It was definitely the best salad I have ever had. It was so flavorful. My husband ordered the caesar salad made table side which he really enjoyed. We each ordered the filet mignon for our main course. One of the meals offered baked mac and cheese which I asked for. This SHOULD NOT BE MISSED if you like this dish typically. It was so good, a little salty, but GET it!! We were already full, but were not about to miss dessert. We ordered gelato which was excellent of course. We also ordered the fondue, which was also good. We were just so full by the end of this meal.

I honestly enjoyed every bite of food from this meal. It was all so good. I am not sure, however, if I feel it was worth the surcharge. Would I come again? I am not sure… An extra $60 ($30 each person) above what the cruise cost… But I loved the meal, so maybe it is worth it… I don’t know. We received this meal complimentary because we were in a suite. If dining without paying the surcharge, make sure you tip the staff because otherwise they are not compensated for serving you. $10 (for 2 people) appears to be customary.

The evening show was Jason Bishop. According to the Celebrity Today he performs “stunning, state of the art magic and illusions.” I wouldn’t know as I did not attend. But both my spouse and our dinner companions thought that the show was good. My lack of going is one of the things that I enjoy best about cruises- I can decide that I do not want to do something, and my travel companion can attend the event, without any ill-will on either of our parts. Instead of going to the show I returned to the cabin to relax and watch a little tv.

We made it an early night since we would have a full day in St. Maarten the next day.

Until the next post – Happy Travels.

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Solstice Cruise Day 2

This is a continued post on my late January cruise honeymoon with my husband, to see the first post, click here.  The 2nd day of our Eastern Caribbean Cruise on the Solstice was a sea day.

I was up early (woke up naturally at about 6:30) and went out to the balcony to relax and to enjoy the quiet time. It was cool (the sun was just starting to rise) so I used one of the in-room robes.

My husband started the day with room service breakfast on our balcony. I had read on Cruise Critic that ordering breakfast on the interactive tv was not the way to go- you do not have as many options for comments and requests, i.e. crispy bacon please. Instead we used the menu card provided in the room and left it on our door the night before.  The selection was the best I have ever seen on a cruise ship. I will not go into too much detail, since I discussed the choices in my previous review of the suite. One comment that I did not make on the other post was the coffee was served in a nice stainless steel carafe. It was an amazing carafe. The coffee stayed warm for hours. It was even freakishly warm for a long time after being poured into the coffee mug. It was a magic combination.

We went up after breakfast to the pool for some lounging in the sun… It was windy and warm at about 9:45 in the morning. The one advantage to it being windy is that you do not feel too hot in the sun. Sadly, they had water aerobics for a half hour around 10:30. This was unfortunate because they put the instructor on the loud-speaker to give instruction to those at the pool. I would have probably picked a different location (further from the pool) had I known about this in advance. My husband, being a light-skinned boy, sat in the shade with his book. By noon, maybe a little before, the pool area was PACKED. It was the perfect time to get out of there!

We enjoyed lunch in the main dining room (MDR). I had a visor from my sunning and was asked to take it off upon entering the MDR.  There was at least one person wearing a cap at lunch that I noticed. But I do like that they try and enforce their dress code. We were seated in a 2-top off to the side. [Breakfast and lunch for most cruise lines in the MDR have open seating.] Lunch was enjoyable. It is similar to dinner in that there is a menu that you choose your courses from. Obviously the portions are smaller and there are fewer, but still ample, choices. For dessert my husband was a big fan of the banana creme brulee! He is still talking about it.

After lunch I retreated to the cabin to sit on the balcony. My husband went to the “Beyond the Podium Enrichment Series” on Pirates.His opinion of it was that it was interesting, but the speaker confused some of the pirates. His impression was that if she was unsure about a fact, she just made it up.  After, he came up to the room to find me napping on the balcony. We spent the rest of the afternoon lazily lounging and reading on the balcony.

Dinner again was at the MDR. Tonight was formal night. I cannot recall what the dinner choices were, but I recall that I really enjoyed the dinner.  After dinner we asked to see the dinner menus for the next two nights so that we could decide which night to go to the Tuscan Grille. We decided that we would go to the specialty restaurant on the night with our least favorite dinner choices. A note regarding the dress code- people take it seriously on this line. And the dress code is requested to be followed all night long.

That night the evening entertainment in the Celebrity Theatre was Solstice – The Show. It was a Cirque du Soleil style show. Prior to the show they had the Captain’s Welcome with a champagne toast. The dress code was carried through to the show. The Celebrity Today advised that they would not allow jeans, shorts or flip-flops. I did not see anyone breaking this rule, but I didn’t look that carefully either. The show was great, the stars were so talented! We had a great evening.

Stay tuned for day 3. Check out my facebook page for pictures from the cruise. Happy Travels!

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Solstice Cruise Day 1

In late January 2012 my husband and I set off for a 7 night cruise on the Celebrity Solstice for our belated honeymoon. We were married in June, but, coming from Michigan, we did not really want to go anywhere tropical in June. (Our summers are very nice.) We take a winter trip every year and thought we would make this one a bigger trip since it was our honeymoon. The Solstice was the perfect way to spend the week.  We splurged and booked an aft cabin S2 Sky Suite. It was the perfect decision. For information about our room and to see pictures, click the link.  Our Eastern Caribbean 7 night cruise had 3 sea days and stops in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Phillipsburg, St. Maarten, and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.

We picked this itinerary, travel dates and ship based purely on price. I knew I wanted a Suite on a Celebrity Solstice class ship in late January early-ish February and let price dictate which ship, what date and which ports. I have been on many cruises and was familiar with the ports on both the Eastern and the Western Itinerary cruises.

Our honeymoon started the day before the cruise with our continued splurge and use of frequent flier miles to upgrade ourselves to first class. Travel Tip- when picking your seat, pick a seat in the middle of the first class cabin. With this cabin, closest to the front is NOT better. The first row is out because there is no personal storage space, you have to use the overhead bin, and then have to move every time you want to access your personal items. The second row (our row) was a bad choice because they place the travelers with small children in the first 2 rows. Either the first or second row on many planes have the extra air masks if there was a loss in cabin pressure for a lap child. (Children under 2 sitting on their parent’s lap and not in a seat.) We had a 2 year old in front of us. Parenting Tip: parents please bring something to entertain your child that is not electronic. This way you have something to do with them during the taxiing, etc. The child in front of us opened and slammed the window shade and banged his chair back as his entertainment until electronics could be used. [Edited to point out, that I now have a 2 year old, and my child, which still a kid, and can be a little loud at times, never slams the window shades, nor slams back in his seat. Finally, we have never had to use the phrase, “he’s two” to explain his unacceptable behavior in a plane, unlike the lazy parent in front of us.]  Also, the sound is much more muddled in the rows not immediately in front of or behind noisy rows. Unfortunately there were no other seats that we could move to, so that is where we stayed. The other disadvantage of being too far back or too far forward is you may not get a choice of which meal you are served. On Delta they offer 2 choices, and there are only as many meals as there are seats- so, if they have run out of one choice by the time they ask your row, you are left with what’s left. (On the way to Ft. Lauderdale the flight attendants asked the last row what they wanted to eat first, on the return flight, the front row was asked their choice first.) For those travelers in the middle of the cabin, they received a choice for their meal preference, and were far enough back not to have to hear bored 2 year olds.

Quite a few cocktails and an inflight movie later, we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, obtained our luggage, and were off to stand with the crowds of people waiting for their hotel-provided airport shuttle. There are no shortage of hotels that provide airport shuttles at FLL. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, Davie Rd. For information on that stay, click to see my review.

The next morning we took our privately hired transportation to the cruise pier. We arrived around 11:10 a.m. The pier is CLOSE to the airport, if you are flying in on the same day just take a taxi to the pier. Same is true if you fly into Miami and cruise out of Miami. The porters took our luggage and we entered the terminal. We quickly made it through security, and check-in. Our picture was taken, and then we waited for it to be time for boarding. Cruise Tip: Arrive nicely dressed for your cruise. They take your picture in front a back-drop and the photos turn out nice some of the time. There is no charge for ‘sitting’ for the picture.  You only pay if you like it. Most pictures throughout your cruise are printed 8 x 10. Another tip that I learned (too late on our trip to utilize it on our trip) – you can have the picture “re-printed” in a smaller size for the same 8 x 10 price, which is $19.99.  Back to the pre-cruise photo- these pictures are typically $10 -$15 with the date on them. It’s a great souvenir.

At about 11:35 a.m. we were allowed to board. Upon entry we received a glass of champagne or a mimosa. For the non-drinkers, they did not have orange juice for some reason. It was way to early for the rooms to be ready so we went up for some lunch. I wanted a burger and fries (and onion rings, but they did not have any) so our first stop was to the Mast Grill.  They offered hot dogs, burgers and fries. Other lines have chicken sandwiches, but not Celebrity.  After, we headed over to the buffet (Oceanview Cafe) so my non-burger eating husband could get something. They have a HUGE selection in little stations. The food was very good. It was so early in the boarding process that it was not at all crowded. For the first day, if you arrive when loading starts, I would avoid the Burgers- they had been pre-prepared, which helps the quickness, but not the freshness of the food.

While waiting for the rooms to be available we just relaxed in a chaise lounge chair on the pool deck. We had our carry-on bags still so we read, listened to music, and just relaxed. Around 1:30 we went down to our floor and the doors were opened- the cabins were ready!

I’ve covered the cabin in the previous post so I will skip re-hashing that topic. Our luggage was outside our door by 4 p.m. We quickly stowed our belongings before continuing to enjoy our cabin, balcony and the welcome bottle of champagne (included for concierge class cabins and above.)

My dining preference was early seating with a 6 top table- both requests were honored. Something to note, the main dining room has a lot of 2-top tables, but most are located within 2 feet of another table, so you get served with the other table anyway. There are a few tables off on their own, but they are not the norm for a 2-top. Part of the fun is getting a table with other cruisers. It gives you more to talk about during the meal. The beginning nights include where everyone is from, what they do, etc. Then from there you can share and hear about what everyone did during the day. We arrived a little late to the dining room on the first night so as to not wait as long to be shown our table (we are big fans of waiting in fewer lines). You are shown to your seat since you need to learn your table’s location.  Since this is true for everyone the first night, that line can get long.

Dinner was terrific. I happened to keep track of the entree choices for the evening – lamb shank, salmon and spaghetti carbonara – one of my favorite dishes in Italian restaurants. The main meat dish of the night was Prime Rib, which was excellent. My spaghetti was good, but probably not as good as the prime rib. As do most lines, Celebrity offers an ‘everyday’ menu of choices you will see all week, which was listed on the left side of the menu.  On the right side were that night’s selection of the evening. One of the best items on the ‘everday’ menu were the caprese salad, and my husband was a big fan of the caesar salad- which he ate EVERY night. You get to choose between an appetizer, soup or salad option, and the main dish.  If there is more than one thing on the menu that you prefer, the waiter will bring you more than one of the course. The dessert menu comes after dinner. The everyday dessert menu has apple pie a la mode which I chose. It was fine. For my tastes, I enjoyed the desserts better on Carnival Cruise Line. But the entrees and appetizers were better on this cruise than any I had had before.

After dinner there is a short break worked into the schedule to tour the ship, spend money in the shops, gamble, etc. The show the first evening was properly titled, “Opening Night”  – a variety show sampling each of the shows for the week. It is great way to get an idea of what you want to see for the week. It was enjoyable.

After the show, we called it a night and returned to our cabin. The room was ‘turned down’ during our time out at dinner. I was completely impressed with our room stewards- I had made a short list of things that I wanted to request- extra towels, extra sheet, little things like that. They were all in the room taken care of and the portion for the butler (provided for guests in a suite) was torn off the list and had been given to our butler. It was VERY impressive. They also leave you the next day’s copy of Celebrity Today – the little schedule of the events for that day. I always read it to see if there is anything that interests me in terms of activities for the next day. It is also where you learn the dining options and hours of availability during the day. After my review it was time for one of the best parts of cruising – the nice captain gently rocking you to sleep each night. We had a great night of sleep the first night on the ship!

Stay tuned for the next installment of my cruise vacation!

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A Good Pre-Cruise Hotel in Fort Lauderdale

The Holiday Inn Express, Davie Rd, near Ft. Lauderdale was perfect for a one night pre-cruise stay. Clean & comfortable, with a free airport shuttle and wifi. The bed and bedding were VERY comfy. It is in an industrial area, so this is probably not where you would stay for a “vacation.” But for work or a short stay- it is perfect. The airport shuttle was great, even on a busy Saturday night. (The Airport shuttle area was PACKED! You call and let them know you are there, and they will be there to pick you up within 10-15 minutes. Then make sure you look out for the correct shuttle.)  The hotel check-in was fine. There was only one person on duty for our 9:30 pm check-in. There were 4 other rooms of people that arrived with us on the shuttle. As a way to avoid a long line, my husband waited for our luggage, and I went ahead to get us checked in.

The complementary breakfast in the morning was good.  There selection was HUGE. Literally they had it all. Juice and Coffee of course. Hard-boiled and scrambled eggs. Sausage. Biscuits and gravy (only so so.) Various breads and pastries. And a little machine that made on-demand pancakes, that were GOOD! There was limited seating on busy cruise departure days. And some people just “hang out” taking up precious table space.

As for heading for the cruise pier in the morning, we opted not to use the cruise shuttle (available at the hotel for a nominal per person charge), instead optioning to pay and pre-arranging our own car, so that we did not have to arrive at the pier with a van full of other people- we are always looking to stay efficient while on vacation. If we had chosen to take the hotel shuttle, we would have arrived at the pier with 10-15 other people. We would be in line to check-in with those people. Have to wait for the luggage for all of those people to be loaded and unloaded. They probably made a couple of stops. Having our own transportation eliminated a lot of waiting.

My only complaint at the hotel had to do with other guests and the lack of soundproofed rooms.  At night the people above us were clearly not in the mood for sleep. At 11:30 p.m. you could hear the pitter-patter of feet running above us. There was also jumping, and other noises. As I wanted to sleep, we called the front desk. The noise appeared to stop for a while. However, one hour later, I still heard little feet, and noise.  We called again. Eventually I fell to sleep. But that was annoying. I should have attempted to move rooms earlier. If you are like me and cannot sleep with pounding feet noises, ask for a room on the top floor. The 2nd noise complaint had to do with hearing a little dog bark in a room across the hall.  It would bark randomly at the housekeeping in the halls…  So, the rooms were not very noise-proof.

Within walking distance there is a greasy spoon looking restaurant. A 5 minute walk across the street there is a Piggly Wiggly or some other southern grocery store.  You can ask the front desk for the specific location, but it is the opposite direction of the highway. So, if you are flying (and decide not to check luggage) and want to buy sun block or wine before your cruise, you can walk down the street and get it! They also have liquor if you wanted a little bottle of something for yourself. Be careful taking this on a cruise though as you do not want to be denied entry for trying to “smuggle’ something onboard.  Overall it was a fine hotel and I would stay there again.

Happy Travels!

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Celebrity Solstice Sky Suite

We had the recent opportunity to spend a week in aft cabin 1665, S2 Sky Suite on the Celebrity Solstice from January 29th- February 5th for our belated honeymoon. It was fabulous.

The room was fantastic. For pictures of the S2 Sky Suite on the Solstice, click the link. It feels about the size of a regular hotel room. The storage was great. We had many areas that we did not use. The storage in the bathroom was equally impressive. We had drawers and shelves that went unused.

The cabin is in an alcove on the corner of the 11th floor. PERFECT location. There was a door sectioning off that area and only 1 other cabin was in that section. Perfect. We NEVER heard our neighbors from outside the door.

We did hear loud talkers in the balcony next to ours while we were both on the balcony. Some people do not know how to use their quiet voice. But overall it was a quiet room.

We received the toiletries also given to the Celebrity Aqua Class cabins- separate bottles of Shampoo, Conditioner, Hand Lotion, Bath Wash, a face spray, and chapstick. The smell was lemongrass and very mild. They also included a great sewing kit and slippers for each of us. They think of everything- even q-tips and cottonballs. There were 2 hair dryers in the room- the individual plug in kind- not the crappy vacuum, attached to the wall kind. The room also included a pair of binoculars, and 2 different sized umbrellas.

Because we had a suite, we had a Butler. Ours was Allano. He did a great job. We received afternoon tea, cookies, pastries and sandwiches, as well as canapés, each day. He also brought us a pitcher of ice water daily, as well as a cappuccino for me. Cappuccino and Espresso are included in the suite complementary upon request. We requested the water on the first day, and he brought it on his own each day after the request. Allano also shined my husband’s shoes before formal night.

Each morning we had room service breakfast which was brought by the Butler. He would call about 5 minutes before bringing it. They had a card that you could fill out with what you wanted, for how many, and when you wanted it delivered (within half hour increments). This was the MOST extensive breakfast room service menu of any ship. They offered fresh squeezed orange juice. 2-3 types of smoothies- that were so good. A vegetarian plate of sautéed vegetables with a dollop of goat cheese- yum! Plus of course the normal omelets, french toast, waffles, and continental breakfast choices. We hand wrote requesting crispy bacon on our menu- and when we did that, the bacon was crispy. The first morning the breakfast was not that hot. But it did vary as the week went on.

In theory, because of the suite, we received priority embarkation. But not really. There was no really no line at any of the stations for check-in. In the area of suite check-in, was the check in for concierge and aqua class.  And it was only because of the Celebrity staff essentially saw us continuing to wait for a check-in, did she move us in front of an Aqua Class cabin, otherwise, their line was moving much quicker than our no-line line. Once we made it through check-in, we made it to the “waiting room” to board. [It was about 11:15 am at this point.] We showed our card, indicated that we were in a suite, and were told to wait in a certain area. We waited. Then they called for boarding. The first group that was able to board was Concierge class. The second group to board were Elite Captain Club Members.  We were seated in the group with them, so we just boarded with them.  But this was confusing, and did not feel very “priority” because technically our category was not called.

Being suite guests, we also received priority tendering.  We asked our butler for this, and were given tickets with directions to go to a certain room during the morning in port for tendering. ‘Priority Tendering’ only worked going to the port, not returning. You had to go out before they did open tendering for this to work. Which meant you got off early, but not whenever you wanted.

As to the aft balcony. The Suite balcony is twice the size of the standard balcony.  It had a full-sized table- perfect for eating, and two adjustable chairs with foot stools! There was a small overhang- like less than 2 feet.  We were on an Eastern Caribbean cruise, on the outbound, there was only direct sun in the afternoon- after lunch. On the return we had direct full sun first thing in the morning. There was soot on the balcony on occasion, but the room stewards always cleaned it well each day. It appeared to be worse when we were moving at quicker speeds. As to the location and privacy. If you were standing at the end of the balcony against the railing, you would be seen from above and below, and from above if you were sitting in the middle of the balcony. If you sat against the window, you would have privacy.  I thought I would be concerned about this location, but it was not a problem. I also did not have a problem with motion sickness on this cruise. I am generally very car/sea sick. But I had the least amount of problems on this cruise.

One quick note on the tv’s. They do have an HDMI hook-up, however it does not work.  We wanted to watch a movie from the ipad, but no such luck.

Overall we were VERY happy with the room. I definitely want to stay in a suite again. Check out the pictures for the Celebrity Solstice Sky Suite S2. Fun fun!

Happy Travels!

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Cruising with a Toddler!

Editor’s Note: This blog was provided by VbC guest blogger Sara H. Thank you Sara!

Having just returned home from a 7 day Western Caribbean cruise with our 21 month old son, I learned a few tips that may help future cruisers:

Meal Time:

Dining out with young children can be a challenge no matter where you go.  On a cruise, if you choose to eat in the main dining room, meals can be longer than a typical restaurant.  Ask to have your child’s meal brought out with your appetizers.  Hungry children don’t understand the concept of a multi-course meal!  Don’t limit yourself to the kid’s menu.  On my recent Carnival cruise the kid’s menu consisted of pizza, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets.  Your children can order from the adult’s menu!  Spaghetti, baked chicken breasts, fresh fruit, and many other healthy choices are readily available every day.  Also consider bringing some prepackaged foods for your toddler such as favorite snacks, dried fruits, and cereal bars.  Your toddler will appreciate having a little taste from home especially if they are reluctant with trying new foods.

Cabin, Ship & Cruise Line Selection:

Seek professional advice!  Seriously.  We weren’t new to cruising but we were new to cruising with a toddler.  We booked our vacation after doing our own research and didn’t use a travel agent.  That proved to be disastrous when I discovered that the kiddie pool on our ship wouldn’t allow my non-potty-trained son to go in it (yes, even with a swim diaper he still wasn’t allowed in.)  Apparently, “kiddie pool” doesn’t equal “kiddie pool for all kids”.  This was a tragic mistake that I could have avoided by seeking the advice of an experienced travel agent!  Plenty of ships have pools for all age children and some even have elaborate splash pads for the children to play in.  But not our ship.  The whole cruise I heard, “I want that wa-wa”, referring to the pool we constantly walked by.

Choosing the right cabin for your family vacation is never more important than when you have a young child, particularly one that still takes naps.  Get a balcony!  7 p.m. bedtimes and mid-afternoon naps could hold you captive to your stateroom for much longer than you expect.  Having a balcony turns those moments into peaceful opportunities for relaxation and privacy! If you are cruising with others and are okay with an adjoining cabin, that could be helpful as well. You can go into the other cabin with a baby monitor while yours is all locked up and secure while your child is napping/sleeping.

Carefully select your cruise line to ensure it’s accommodating and welcoming for your children.  Some cruise lines are more excited to be sailing with children than others.  If you intend to enroll your children in the kid’s club activities, be sure to get detailed information about the activities and availability they offer.

Random Mommy Tips:

I’d suggest bringing a noisemaker, as the cruise director often makes announcements during the day that inevitably occur during your little one’s nap time.

Although we never needed it, I was prepared with motion sickness remedies for my little one.  We purchased ginger drinks from the health food store and Babies R Us sells adjustable motion sickness bands (intended for nausea relief during pregnancy but they adjust to infant size), they are invaluable if your little one experiences any issues!

Most cabins cannot accommodate any type of bath for a child, so showers are a must!  Practice showering with your little one at home so he’s not shocked by the concept on the ship.  Thankfully, this wasn’t an issue for our son but several other mom’s on the ship were discussing the concern.

Beach toys aren’t just for the beach!  Of course, you’re going to be buying a bucket and some sand toys for your days at the beach.  While you’re enjoying your sea days, fill the bucket with water and bring it out on your balcony.  Our son played for quite a while with the water and toys while we hung out on the balcony together with him.  An easy way to keep them entertained while you can relax!

Don’t forget to enjoy your vacation!  It’s easy to get wrapped up in the demands of parenting on a cruise ship but you are on vacation after all!  My son was perfectly content running around the decks (no, they won’t fall off) or chasing a basketball around the court.  Adding a young child to your cruise vacation definitely adds another element of responsibility to your vacation but it also adds an element of joy and surprise!  My son learned a whole new nautical-themed vocabulary, thoroughly enjoyed watching all the boats from the balcony, and loved the experience of cruising!

Happy Travels!

Feel free to contact VbC to help you book a cruise with your little one. We can point out which ships have outdoor waterparks and other areas of entertainment for your child to play!