Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Posts Tagged ‘cruising’

The Final Journey

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 21, 2015

The Final Journey on the Celebrity Constellation
Day 9, Sunday, December 6, 2015

We arose to the rising sun over the sea, looking forward to our final day of relaxation before we’d have to disembark.

 

We were wined and dined with a wine tasting as Captain’s Club Elite members.

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Later we attended an afternoon tea in one of the dining rooms. Add in breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and we were eating nearly all day.

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As we were strolling by the pool deck, I was startled to see a guest reading my cruise mystery, Killer Knots. What a thrill this gave me! Imagine the chances to finding someone with my book in their hands! I introduced myself and offered to personalize her copy. Susan was kind enough to let me take her photo:

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The rest of the day, we packed our suitcases, lounged around, and enjoyed the ocean view. The trip was almost at an end. We’d had a wonderful time, and the weather gods had been with us. Now we could face whatever waited at home with renewed energy.

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Day of Departure
Day 10, Monday, December 7, 2015 on the Celebrity Constellation
We sat in Ocean Liners with other Elite members waiting for our number to be called. Pastries and coffee were available. We were off the ship by 9am. And so ended our journey. It’s time to plan the next one, after I lose the weight I’d gained.

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Labadee: An Island Paradise

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 20, 2015

Day 8, Saturday, December 5, 2015 on the Celebrity Constellation

Labadee is a beautiful beach hideaway private to Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. It’s at the very tip of Haiti if my geography is correct. The sea is a magnificent aqua color and mountainous terrain adds beauty to the scenery.

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RCCL (which owns Celebrity) supplies chairs and towels for all guests. All you need do is tip the beach attendant to put a chair where you want it. Then you can laze about, swim, or participate in various activities sponsored by the cruise line. Bring sun screen, sunglasses, a hat and beach sandals. It gets hot.

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Plenty of bars and rest rooms are scattered about for your convenience. The peninsula is big enough that you can even ride a free tram around to the various stops. Be aware that swimming is allowed on one side only, at the bay with its multiple beaches. The other side faces the ocean and is suitable for sunbathing and admiring the sea.

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The beach barbecue is always fun. You can choose hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, or chicken plus side dishes and cookies. Free cold drinks are available in dispensers.

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At one end of the place is a zip line and roller coaster up on a hill. Near this at the base is the shopping village, where you can buy lovely gifts for your friends at home. Mahogany bowls, colorful Haitian art, native jewelry, dolls, wood carvings and more all can be yours, preferably for cash. Bargaining is expected.

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This area had grown since I’d last been here, and I lost my cousin Janice among the warren of shops. We reunited later at the tram stop. An air-conditioned indoor section offers a respite from the heat. The marketplace is a good site to pick up gifts for folks back home. Here’s a lovely serving dish I couldn’t resist:

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I could revisit this setting endlessly. The scenery is magnificent; the bay water gentle and warm; the beaches rife with palm trees and lounge chairs. Food is provided, and there are shopping opportunities. What more could you want?

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P1050363Nancy and Janice Trio

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Coming Next: The Final Journey

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San Juan Food Tour

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 19, 2015

San Juan, Puerto Rico
Day 7, Friday December 4, 2015 on the Celebrity Constellation

We took the ship’s Food and Cultural Tour of San Juan for $82.00 per person. It turned out to be a moderately strenuous walking tour so beware if you think about signing up for this one. Having seen the old city and visited the rainforest, we were looking for something different to do. This fit the bill. We got a nice tour of the city along with several food stops.

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Our first stop was for Puerto Rican coffee and a pastry covered with powdered sugar. This coffee is unsweetened but tasted good to me without adding sugar. The pastry was like a beignet, a soft warm concoction that was easy to consume but one that wouldn’t be on my daily diet.

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From here we went to a restaurant where we sat at one long table. We made our own Mojito cocktails: Add 4 to 5 mint leaves to glass and crush with pestle. Add a spoonful of natural or light brown sugar. Use pestle to blend. Pour in 1 shot of rum. Add club soda.

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Using a thicker pestle, we ground up fried plantains then added shredded (pulled) cooked chicken with Creole sauce. This Mofongo was our main dish, served with rice and red beans.

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For dessert, we headed to another restaurant for a flan that tasted more like cheesecake.

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Here we are on the ship waiting to leave port:

 

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Coming Next: Labadee

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Cruzan Rum Factory

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 18, 2015

Celebrity Constellation
Cruzan Rum Factory on St. Croix
Day 6, Thursday, December 3, 2015

Our island tour of St. Croix included a stop at the Cruzan Rum Distillery. Another rum factory exists on the island, and some of the tours go there. That’s Captain Morgan’s place, which our guide said is a newer facility. It’s where they make spiced rum. But the Cruzan brand is more historical and is responsible for much of the rum exported from the island.

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We began at the visitor center, where we bought $8 tickets that gave us the tour plus two drinks. For the same price, you can just get the drinks and hang out at the visitor center, which also serves as a gift shop.

Outside, our tour guide told us about the factory’s history and about some of the buildings.

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Then she led us to a series of vats under a covered structure. A brown liquid swirled around before the fermenting stage. It smelled divinely like molasses in this section.

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We followed the young woman up and down stairs, through twisting corridors, indoors and back outside while I snapped photos everywhere. The catwalks and twisting paths inspired my imagination as did the fuel tanks where I could envision a James-Bondish scene.

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Eventually, we ended up back in the visitor center where we imbibed our drinks, a pina colada and a rum punch. Note how happy my cousin Janice looks. Needless to say, we felt pretty good on the ride back to Frederiksted.

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Booklovers Bench, Dec. 1-18
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Coming Next: San Juan

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St. Croix

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 17, 2015

Celebrity Constellation, Day 6, Thursday, December 3, 2015

We docked at Frederiksted, which at a quick glance, had nothing much for tourists except for a few native market stands and uninviting streets.

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Rather than take one of Celebrity’s island tours for $80 or more, we opted to hire a cab on the pier. We found a booth offering $25 island tours, with a $8 extra fee if we wanted to stop at the Cruzan Rum Distillery. Add in a $5 tip, and it would cost us $38 each. That’s a lot cheaper than the cruise line’s price. We wouldn’t stop at the botanical garden like their tours, but we’d still drive through the rainforest.

Twelve passengers fit inside the air-conditioned van that came with seatbelts and commentary by the driver. We bumped along roads that needed fixing up into the hills with trees surrounding us, until we reached a smoother section of asphalt. Long vines hung down from trees through the rainforest. We drove along hilly roads with scenic views.

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Our first stop was the Renaissance Resort, a beautiful beachside hotel with elegant amenities and clean rest rooms. We admired the breathtaking views from here before scampering back inside the van.

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Our next stop, for a full hour, was in the larger city of Christiansted. Here we scurried around to the souvenir shops, admired the view from the water, and wished we had more time.

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Our final stop was the Cruzan Rum Distillery. I was fascinated by the nooks and crannies in this place, my imagination sending Marla and Dalton here while being chased by a killer. What a perfect complex for an action sequence. I’ll have to set a similar facility in a fictional location for a future book. This place was so interesting that it’ll be my blog post for tomorrow.

During our drive back through the forest-lined roads, I spotted the rear end of a horse sticking out from the trees. Liberated by the rum I’d had to drink, I shouted out: “Look, there’s a horse’s ass.” My fellow passengers were not amused. Wish I could have gotten a picture to prove my point, but we drove by too fast. The scenery was lovely as we headed back toward the ship.

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Once again in Frederiksted, we grabbed lunch at Pier 69 on Kings Street. The native markets didn’t hold much of interest, so we waddled our way back onto the ship for a much needed nap.

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I don’t remember what we ate for dinner that night, but here are the photos from our repast after the sun descended:

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Coming Next: Cruzan Rum Distillery

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St. Maarten

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 16, 2015

St. Maarten
Day 5, Wednesday,
December 2, 2015

I needed to fortify myself with a good breakfast in preparation for shopping, so I ate another omelet with roasted potatoes, bacon, rye bread, and fresh pineapple.

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St. Maarten is my favorite island to visit. I went out on deck to watch our approach.

 

We took the water taxi from the pier into Philipsburg, the Dutch side of this island. It costs $7 cash for a round trip. As you see, many other ships were in dock that day. We went into town early so as to beat the crowds.

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The water is a vibrant jewel green. At the other end, you can shop, dine out, or lounge on the beach, all within walking distance.

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The shops beckoned to us, so we picked up our freebies with coupons from the ship and couldn’t resist many of the other wares. We stopped in the Guavaberry liquor place but didn’t buy anything as we still had a supply from previous cruises.

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We ate lunch at the Barefoot Terrace where I’d been before. I had coconut shrimp, which was six huge butterflied shrimp fried in batter, along with a choice of two sides. Mine were fried plantains and rice with black beans. Janice had coconut curry chicken. Now I have a craving to cook that dish at home.

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By the time we finished shopping, we were tired and ready to return to our cabins. Having visited the island before, we’ve already taken the excursions to the French side and seen the sights. There’s a nude beach somewhere if you’re interested and it still exists. But why pay for a taxi to a beach when there’s one right there where you land in Philipsburg? My conclusion: I still love St. Maarten, and it remains a favorite port.

Dinner in the dining room that night was spinach and cheese turnover, roasted turkey with accompaniments, and a moist chocolate sacher torte. Are you hungry yet?

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Coming Next: St. Croix

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St. Barthelemy

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 15, 2015

Gustavia, St. Barth (Saint Barthelemy)
Day 4, Tuesday, December 1, 2015

St. Barthelemy is a tiny French island in the Caribbean. All prices are in Euros and the language is French. Here we are on the tender ride from the Celebrity Constellation:

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We strode along the main street lined with shops, which are mostly expensive boutiques. However, you can pick up souvenirs for a decent price. Check out the supermarket. Here’s where you can buy coffee, cookies, candy, and more for gifts. This is along the main street off the tender pier and toward the right. There is a drugstore to the left side of the dock, but their items are pricey. Fancy toiletries are available if you’re willing to pay the price.

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Red sloped roofs abound on attractive housing scattered up the hillsides. Streets are narrow and very steep.

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Strolling toward the right, we passed a harbor with boats and an open-air restaurant. We’d hoped to walk to Shell Beach, but it was too far and too hilly. Along the way, we passed some old churches. The scenery is charming with lovely views of the water.

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For lunch, we chose a restaurant called Le Repaire across the street from the pier and toward the right. My husband and I shared a plate of grilled mahi mahi with rice and vegetables for $24 Euros. I had a Planter’s Punch that packed a punch for 10 Euros. The total cost came to 41 Euros, which included one liter of bottled water for 7 Euros. This comes out to more in U.S. dollars. Despite the cost, my cousin Janice and I sure enjoyed our drinks!

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My conclusion? Attractive, upscale island but too limited for sightseeing tours and shopping opportunities. It would not be on my must-revisit list.

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Back on the ship, we relaxed for the rest of the day. For dinner in the ship’s dining room that night, I selected shrimp cocktail, Caprese salad, and Braised Lamb.

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Coming Next: St. Maarten

 

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Celebrity Constellation: The Food, Part 2

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 14, 2015

Celebrity Constellation: The Food, Part 2

Eating while someone else cooks and does the dishes is the best part of a cruise. We are continuing with Day 3, when we dined at the Ocean Liners specialty restaurant, courtesy of our travel agent (Adam Wolf at The Cruise Web). The three of us (I traveled with my husband and cousin Janice) soaked in the elegant surroundings while various waiters attended us. Paintings decorated wood-paneled walls, and the lighting was dim enough so everyone looked good. See that pyramid? It’s butter.

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As a starter came scallops in sauce:

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Next I chose a phyllo baked Anjou pear with Roquefort cheese. Janice had lobster bisque as her appetizer. She went on to order the lobster tail for dinner, which the waiter prepared at a side table. Look how excited she is to dive in:

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My husband and I ordered Chateaubriand for two that came with vegetables. This was prepared tableside as well and served with Bearnaise and Cabernet sauces:

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We were all presented our dinners with the silver covers as above, and then three different waiters lifted these tops from our plates in unison. The service was impeccable, better than any we’ve experienced on land in recent times.

For dessert, I ordered a dark chocolate soufflé with vanilla sauce. We also received this bon bon dish with more sweets. None of us could eat another bite.

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This meal was a highlight of the cruise. Definitely book a meal here if you are on this ship. The Tuscan Grille is another specialty option, but we eat enough Italian food at home that this choice with the extra cost didn’t appeal to us.

By my estimation, I gained two pounds on this cruise. I climbed the stairs and walked around the ship for exercise, plus we did quite a bit of trekking uphill while in the ports. And coming next are the ports of call, including what we ate on those days.

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Coming Next: Ports of Call

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrity Constellation: The Food, Part 1

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 11, 2015

Celebrity Constellation: The Food, Part 1

The coffee on this cruise was the best I’ve ever had on a ship. It was hot and strong with flavor and body. Since I’m a Starbucks fan, this is how I like it. The initial creamer cups they put out were skimpy little things that were hard to open, but about halfway through the trip, they put out decent cups of half-and-half, for which I was grateful. You could get milk in pitchers but not creamer. The fruit juices were too sweet for my taste, including apple juice; orange juice; and fruit punch. Iced tea in the dispenser was unsweetened. Lemonade was another choice.

Free ice cream and frozen yogurt was available at the buffet along with various toppings, otherwise you had to pay at the gelato bar on deck five. There was often a line at the free ice cream station, which was near the exit to the pool. You could get the dessert in a cone or a dish. Flavors varied daily.

Cookies were available here, too. These cookies were crunchy and not chewy. When they are hard, they don’t seem as fresh, and I prefer chewy cookies that melt in your mouth. You could get the same cookies at the buffet, or for free at the coffee and gelato bars on deck five. The specialty coffee lounge also had an array of fresh desserts like a different kind of éclair each day, various cakes, and other treats. There was no additional cost for these food items.

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Portion sizes at dinner were miniscule. For example, a side dish for one entrée was Brussel sprouts. You got one and a half sprouts. Rack of Lamb came with three pieces. Ditto for the shrimp scampi with linguine. You got four shrimps in a spicy sauce. However, when you added in the appetizer course, soups and salads, plus dessert, the meal turned out to be adequate. The presentation was attractive, but the portions always made us grin in disbelief. The food was very tasty with appealing choices each evening. And you could always get the Caesar salad (crisp but no anchovy flavor); French onion soup; shrimp cocktail; or steak.

My only objection was the bread. You got a basket on the table with plain bread sticks or slices of French bread every evening. Butter, cream cheese, and hummus came as accompaniments. We would have liked more variety, like different breads each night. These choices were offered at breakfast but not at dinner. We got tired of the French bread after the second meal.

The dining room service was wonderful. Despite our having no fixed seating, we didn’t have to wait in line to get into the restaurant, and we got the same table each night. So here is what we ate from what I remember:

Day 1, Saturday–Departure

Lunch: Buffet; Rum Cake with Pina Colada Ice Cream
Dinner: Shrimp Cocktail with Guacamole, Salad, Prime Ribs, Apple Pie a la Mode

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Day 2, Sunday—At Sea

Breakfast: Omelet made to order; turkey sausage; croissant, fresh fruit

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Mid-morning, we attended the Cruise Critic roll-call party where they served pastries and coffee.
Lunch in the Dining Room: Teriyaki Duck Breast with rice and sautéed bok choy. The warm peach cobbler was to die for but gave me my dessert calories for the day.
After lunch was the Captain’s Club member party with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and desserts.

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At 4pm, you could get little sandwiches and desserts at the buffet like for afternoon tea. If you’re still hungry, the pizza or pasta stations in the aft sections of the buffet always seemed to be open, and the outdoor grill by the pool serves hamburgers and hot dogs.

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Dinner: Tender Beef Tornadoes with accompaniments.

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Day 3, Monday—At Sea
Breakfast: Green onion and mushroom omelet made to order, nova salmon, roasted potatoes with bell peppers, sautéed mushrooms, fresh pineapple. Later, I snitched an almond croissant from the coffee bar. (And you wonder why I gained weight?)

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Lunch: Roast carved turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, French Fries (thin and crispy without being salty; mashed or baked potatoes were also available). Spinach cheese dish was very good. Look at the whole chickens below at the buffet. Later I tried the Dulce de Leche éclair at the coffee bar.
Afternoon Snack: Vegetable pizza

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At 5pm, we gathered in the Reflections Lounge for the Elite Captain’s Club free drinks and skimpy appetizers (waiters brought them around and gave you one or two bite-sized hors d’oeuvres on a napkin)
Dinner this night was at the amazing Ocean Liners specialty restaurant, courtesy of our travel agent (Adam Wolf at
The Cruise Web). And now I’m hungry, so we will have to continue this in the next blog.

You can see more photos here: https://www.facebook.com/NancyJCohenAuthor

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Holiday Bonanza, Dec. 7 – 21
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Booklovers Bench, Dec. 1-18
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Coming Next: The Food, Part 2

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Celebrity Constellation: Ship Review

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 10, 2015

Celebrity Constellation 9 Night Eastern Caribbean Cruise

Although the Celebrity Constellation is a smaller ship than most of our recent cruises, we enjoyed our experience very much. Everything was super clean and well maintained.

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Our ocean view cabin seemed smaller than most, with a bed, nightstand, desk, and loveseat taking up the space. However, the cabin has enough cubby holes to unpack your suitcase. We didn’t miss a balcony as the ship has plenty of places to go outside and enjoy the view. In our room, we found an umbrella for shore excursions and a tote bag for shopping. The closets had enough hangers and two bathrobes for our use, plus a set of floor to ceiling drawers.

Regarding the bathroom, I loved the shower. It was rectangular rather than the round manhole-cover size on RCCL or the tiny square you get elsewhere. There was room enough to move around in it and the spray was strong. It had a curtain instead of a glass door but this didn’t stick to your body like elsewhere. And there was just enough counter space by the sink to lay out a few items. Shelving provided more storage. The amenities were plentiful: individual bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion; extra toilet paper and tissues; 2 substantial bar soaps; and a shower cap. I hate cruise lines where they give you a dispenser in the shower of a mysterious liquid that serves as shampoo and body soap. It cheapens the experience. Not so here. You feel pampered and supplies are generous.

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Moving on to the lounges and restaurants: These were adequate, but there was a private lounge called Michael’s Club where we went for our lifeboat drill (no life jackets required at the drill). This was a lovely wood-paneled lounge that was only open to an exclusive class of guests. I would rather these distinctions be made some other way so that all guests could enjoy this amenity. Ditto to some of the restaurants, like Luminae and Blu that were only open to certain people. We’d have more dining choices if these were available to all. There’s also a café on deck five that requires a cover charge of $10. It would be nice if this would be an additional dining choice without an extra fee.

All of the Captain’s Club activities were held in the Reflections lounge on deck eleven. This is the top lounge with a full forward view through floor to ceiling windows of the front of the ship. As elite members, we went here every night at 5pm for complimentary drinks. The benefits of being a repeat cruiser are quite good, and as Royal Caribbean owns Celebrity (I think), your points carry over. This lounge is also a good place to read in the air-conditioning during the day where it’s quiet and you have a great view.

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The Celebrity Theater held the main evening entertainment. The production shows were superb. I liked that each one had a theme so it wasn’t a random series of acts. These shows were spectacular, with amazing talent, costumes and sets. During the cruise, we also were entertained by two different comedians and an illusionist. Plus the first and last nights had decent shows as well.

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We never made the later night events but it looked like lots was going on. The Rendezvous Lounge, aft on deck four, is another venue with a live band. A guitarist would also play at the coffee bar or in the wine lounge on deck five, but I thought the latter really would benefit from a piano player. That was lacking on this cruise, and I missed it. I also missed movies being shown in a theater. You could access them in your cabin on the TV, but who wants to lie there and watch television like you do at home? I missed the movie-going experience. They have a big screen at the Celebrity Theater and could easily have shown films there. What else did I miss? While you could get ice cream at the buffet for free, you had to pay for gelato on deck five. I missed the free soft frozen yogurt available on the pool decks of other ships. Also, the cookies available in various locations were crisp and not chewy.

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We did attend a wine tasting and an afternoon tea complimentary with our Captain’s Club elite membership. I didn’t get to see the cooking show or whatever it was, but I like the demos where they give out recipes. Didn’t have that here.

Regarding the crowd, we saw few young children or teens. Most appeared to be adults ranging to thirtyish to sixtyish but not an overt elderly crowd like you might get on other ships. I’d say the average was upper middle class, but that’s just my guess. I didn’t miss the bungee jumping, water slides, zip lines, and other crazy sports activities on the cruise lines that attract a younger crowd. There’s a basketball court, gym, and spa on this ship for those so inclined.

As on other ships, there’s a library and an Internet café. They give group computer lessons for a fee. Internet service is frustratingly slow, but this seems to be the norm at sea. You could access wireless service from your cabin.

All in all, we had an enjoyable experience and I would recommend this ship. Her captain, young and handsome, adds to the romantic ambiance. And I might add that the elevators are the best of any hotel. Four glass elevators with an ocean view whisk passengers fast and efficiently without hardly a wait at any time of day.

The service throughout was great. The pool area was clean, and I liked that they had a covered solarium with a second pool.

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You can also go aft on deck ten and sit outside to watch the ship’s wake. That’s always a peaceful experience.

 

You can see more photos here: https://www.facebook.com/NancyJCohenAuthor

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Posted in Cruising, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

 
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