27 April 2012, San Juan
Friends Glenn and Carol invited us to join them on a repositioning cruise from San Juan to Bayonne NJ, which started from San Juan. The ports included St. Maartin, St. Thomas, Tortola, a day at sea, two days in Bermuda, and a day at sea.
After booking our one-way flight to San Juan, we decided to book a couple of rooms at a hotel near the Baltimore airport. Our flight was at 6am. We decided on an early dinner with our friend Mar at the Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia Maryland (http://www.victoriagastropub.com/). This is a popular place with lots of beers to choose from. The food was very good too. We all shared the duck fat fries, which was served in a bucket with roasted garlic aioli and truffle sea salt. I enjoyed the grand marnier chicken liver pate, served with Challah toast, apricot & ginger chutney; and then the smoked duck confit spinach salad with a poached egg and Dijon vinaigrette.
We woke up about 3:50am, caught the 4:30am shuttle to the airport, a quick flight to Philadelphia and then a 3.5 hour flight to San Juan. In San Juan, we took a taxi to the hotel. Tony’s cell phone fell off his holder in the taxi, but we were unable to contact the driver. He canceled the phone service. (After the cruise, the taxi driver contacted us and we were able to get him to mail the cell phone back to us).
After dropping our luggage in Glenn’s room (ours wasn’t ready), we headed out to have lunch. We dined at Racines, a place I read about that serves authentic Puerto Rican food made by “Caguas boys.” My father was born in Caguas, along with his relatives. The waiters/waitresses were dressed in local costume. It’s a touristy looking place but the food was good. I had a chicken dish with rice and red beans, really tasty. Tony ordered a fish and thought it was supposed to be battered and fried. It was served baked or sautéed.
There’s a free trolley that we took to Fort San Cristobal. On the main grounds of the fort was the 7th annual reenactment of the battle of 1797, where we saw many people dressed in military uniforms and clothing of the period. There were several tents, canons, etc. Around the grounds there were people flying kites. It was a pleasant day to be outdoors.
In the center of town we walked along the many small streets, zigzagging all around so I could take photos of the colorful buildings some with pink or purple bougainvillea cascading down the sides. Along the way we saw a bride waiting to go inside a church for her wedding.
At Nono’s (100 Calle San Sebastian) we sat at the bar having happy hour drinks. We met up with a few other cruisers for a pre-cruise get together: Tina and Paul, Barbara, and Linda. We had a great time together. There are three open doors to the restaurant/bar making the place airy. At one point we saw a parade of the reenactors from earlier in the day. Some were on horses.
El Jibarito is a place that serves local food and it was on my list of restaurant options. Our group walked the few blocks to the place. Inside is a large open area with tall ceilings, ceiling fans and colorful walls matching the Old San Juan colors. The food was fabulous!! A few of us ordered the mofongo-filled steak with peppers and tomatoes in a tasty Creole sauce, which was excellent! There was plenty of chunks of the steak and was filling. A small salad came with the dinner too. (280 Calle Sol, 787-725-8375, http://www.eljibaritopr.com/)
Back at the hotel Carol and I went to the casino - I watched while she quickly lost her money ($20). In the meantime the Tony moved our luggage to our room.
28 April 2012, Boarding the ship in San Juan
Bombonera, a place that’s been open for 110 years, was too full to take us. I was sorry we couldn’t get in because the place was due to close permanently a few days later. We ended up at a coffee shop across from the Plaza de Armes eating breakfast sandwiches.
A little more photos ops, some shopping, and then back to the hotel to check out. It was a quick taxi ride (the driver drove really, really fast!) to the Pan Am pier. We arrived to the port at 12:20pm. It took only 15 minutes from getting out of the taxi to walking onboard the ship to receiving a glass of sparkling wine. We had gone through Captain’s Club member elite line and only stood there for a couple of minutes.
The crew was still cleaning the cabins so everyone was directed to the café or other area of the ship.
Glenn and I went to the future cruises booking office to make an appointment for later in the day to book a cruise for 2013. We wanted to book as early as possible in order to get the best pricing and best cabin location.
Our cabin, 9127, was very nice. Tony and I liked the layout of the room. We loved the five-head Hansgrohe hydro panel in the shower (I want one in my house!). There was a large overhang on the balcony that provided shade. Above us was part of the buffet sitting area, but we never heard a sound. Excellent location – just four cabins away from the mid stair case and elevators, and one deck down from the café and aft sunset bar. It made for a longer walk to the spa area, but we didn’t mind at all. Four decks down and we were in Blu, the designated dining room for Aqua Class passengers (including us).
The afternoon sail away get together with fellow cruise critics at the sunset bar was fun. It was great to put names with faces. At 5pm was the lifeboat drill. Our station was in the rendezvous lounge.
At the booking office, I booked two cruises for October 2013. I booked two so that when Tony bids his 2013 vacation schedule this November, he could bid on both cruise dates and (fingers crossed) hopefully gets one of them so we can cruise together. Both are a Venice to Rome Adriatic cruises, one being 11 nights and the other 13 nights. Celebrity had a great offer through 18 May 2012 for Captain’s Club members: $200 Onboard Credit (OBC) when booking an 11-13 night cruise along with $100pp deposit (rather than $450pp deposit). When I booked the two cruises I was not given $200 OBC but $400 OBC for each cruise!! I also received a three-room category upgrade, paying the 2A cabin price for a 1A cabin. I also purchased a $100 Open Passages for a future cruise. Sweet deals!!
Dinner in Blu was great! Blu is a specialty restaurant for aqua class guests. The room is quite elegant with white table clothes, cobalt blue stem-less water glasses, white plates with a streak of blue; blue/clear crystal chandeliers, and the wall opposite the windows was curved with cushioned seats. Tables were usually set for two but if you were more than two, the tables would be pushed together.
The food: Oh my!! We loved dining in Blu!! Celebrity calls the food “clean cuisine”. We enjoyed a very nice variety of foods that were well prepared, nicely presented, and not heavy in fats or heavy sauces. The portions were smaller but we always walked away comfortable without feeling stuffed. Everything was made to order, which makes Blu extra special and worth the additional expense of paying for an aqua class cabin, rather than massed produced foods for the main banquet hall style dining room (although I have to say I’ve always enjoyed the food in the main dining room – Celebrity does a great job).
Dinner: Lobster salad with caviar; romaine soup, fall-off-the bone short ribs, crème brulee; bottle of white wine for Tony and me.
29 April 2012, St. Maartin (8am to 5pm)
The breakfast menu in Blu is the same every day, but there’s a good variety to choose from, including omelets with a dozen different ingredients to choose from, lox and bagels, frittatas, smoothies, fresh squeezed orange juice, etc. The muesli is prepared tableside.
Breakfast this morning: Asparagus frittata (topped with caviar), sautéed mushrooms, fresh squeezed orange juice, and a pastry.
We took a taxi to Marigot, the French side of the island. Most things were closed (being a Sunday) but we enjoyed the small outdoor market that sold locally made products (Carol and I bought pretty shell necklaces for $1) and drinks at a restaurant.
At Maho beach, we had lunch (huge cheeseburger!) at the Sunset Bar & Grill while watching the airplanes land nearby. The end of the runway sits behind a fence and is about 100 feet from the beach. There’s a small 2-lane road in between beach and fence, which traffic is stopped when a plane lands. We saw the KLM (a 747) take off – the landing would have been spectacular to see, as these planes seemed to barely miss touching the top of the fence with their wheels. We watched the idiots hanging on to the fence as airplane took off, while those on the beach got sandblasted. Insane. The bar is on the “sidelines” so we were safe from the sand and wind.
Another taxi ride and we were back in Phillipsburg. We walked along the main street checking out the jewelry on display in the windows. I saw lots of beautiful pieces. In the center of town was a parade of locals, mostly young children, in colorful costumes.
Back on the ship, Tony and Glenn went to the Persian Gardens to enjoy the saunas (an aqua class cabin perk) and I hung out with Carol on the balcony.
At the Captain’s Club social hour (5-7pm in the Revelations lounge) I was surprised to see it was so sparse with people. Even though there were only about 60-70 people, service was very slow in getting a drink. Tony and I snacked very lightly on the canapés since we were having dinner soon after. It really wasn’t an exciting social hour.
This evening was the first of two formal nights. Blu does not require formal wear, one of the perks of not having to bring the extra clothing.
Dinner: Macadamia nut crusted scallops, crab bisque, rack of lamb (two small ribs – will ask for double on the next cruise), and a tasty pear tart.
Evening entertainment: Captain’s gala toast followed by the Celebrity Showtime: “Stars in their Eyes, a tribute to legendary stars and their unforgettable music.”
30 April 2012, St. Thomas (8am to 5pm)
Today we went to Sapphire beach to snorkel. I have a new underwater camera but I didn’t see a lot of fish. The beach and area was beautiful and we found a spot in the shade to relax.
In Charlotte Amalie, at the flea market, I picked up a necklace but should have picked up earrings too.
Glady’s Café (http://www.gladyscafe.com/) was a great place for lunch. The four of us shared the conch fritters - delicious! On the table were four bottles of sauces, each of varying degree of hotness. Our waitress told us to try them all. I had the curry goat with rice, beans, and sweet plantains - the goat was fork-tender and nicely seasoned. I was in heaven! Tony had the jerk chicken, which he said was very good.
At the local flea market, I picked up a necklace made with Larimar or “Stefilia's Stone", which is a blue variety of pectolite found only in the Caribbean. Very pretty.
I had seen a beautiful yellow emerald and diamond ring on the ship and priced it but decided to do some comparison shopping. I didn’t see a single yellow emerald – I’ve never even heard of them. I looked through several stores and ended up purchasing a stunning and unique chocolate and white diamond ring set in 18k rose gold.
As we sailed from St. Thomas, we enjoyed the views of the island and surrounding water while having drinks at the sunset bar.
Later at the elite social hour we met a couple from Gaithersburg.
Dinner: Seafood carpaccio, spinach salad, filet mignon.
1 May 2012, Tortola (7am to 2pm)
Since we had a ship’s tour booked to go snorkeling, we had breakfast in the café. It can take time eating in Blu, as it’s a full sit down service. I had eggs benedict on toasted rye, which was very good.
On a small boat, about 20 of us rode to our first stop to snorkel. Along the way we could see several sail boats. One of the workers passed out masks, snorkels, and fins or our use. I brought my own mask/snorkel that I bought in Hawaii the year before. The water was very comfortable … once you got in. The snorkeling was great! Lots of fish, colorful coral, and clear water.
One of the workers served strong rum punch drinks throughout the trip. As we left the area, we were asked if we wanted beach time or more snorkeling time. I couldn’t believe some were voting for beach time. That’s not what the tour was advertised, so Carol and I voiced strong opinions and we all snorkeled at the second spot. There wasn’t as many fish as the first location but still satisfying. I did see more colorful coral, including some that looked like delicate lace fans waving slowly in the water.
Back at the ship, we shared a taxi to the center of town with Lee and Richard and walked around a bit. It’s a very small town and not much going on. The buildings are brightly colored with potted plants. There was an outdoor market where I bought earrings to go with the necklace I bought the day before.
In the afternoon, we participated in the Cruise Critic connections party in the Revelations lounge. This was sort of disappointing because everyone sat in chairs rather than mingling together. Later we were back at the sunset bar for the sail away from Tortola.
We had a great time in Qsine, a specialty restaurant that’s fun and quirky. Lee and Richard joined us. Just like our previous cruise, we enjoyed the variety of foods, which you select via an ipad. Some of my favorites that we ordered: M’s Favorites, lava crab, lamb chops, treceviche, disco shrimp. We also ordered the Kobe burgers, lobster escargot (they used mushrooms as apparently there’s a shortage of escargot), and filet mignon (overcooked so I ordered a new one). Service was good. The room could have used better lighting. I ended up borrowing the blue flashing cubes (I turned off the flash) that were in the disco shrimp for added light.
Time change this evening – clocks one hour forward.
2 May 2012, Day at Sea
This was our first day at sea so we slept in and enjoyed breakfast later in the café: Eggs benedict again!
At 1:30pm we went to the Captains Club Celebration. Drinks were served and there were a few food stations: Sushi, roast beef carving station (always overcooked for my taste), crepes, fresh fruit, etc.
From 3pm to 4:45pm, Lee hosted a wine tasting party in Michael’s. Not too many showed up, as other cruise critic members were participating in the slot pull. We were nine of us enjoying a nice variety of red, white, and dessert wines. The staff brought two large platters of cheese, crackers, bread sticks, dried fruits, etc. I really liked this smaller size group.
Dinner: Frog legs, blackened tuna salad, halibut.
Evening entertainment was Karen Grainger, a singing impressionist. She was great! She started out singing as Cher. She also did Tina Turner, Lady Gaga, and others.
3 May 2012, Bermuda (1pm)
Blu serves some scrumptious smoothies. I had the mango flavor, along with eggs benedict on top of toasted rye bread. I actually enjoyed it more than on plain English muffins. Nicolus, the maître d', provided a round of complimentary mimosas to our table.
Carol and I went to the 10am “Global Flavors” cooking demonstration. We watched three chefs make various dishes, which small samples were passed out to the audience. We all received copies of the recipes. It was a lot of fun to watch and sample the dishes.
Late arrival in Bermuda! We were supposed to dock at 1pm but we docked at 2pm, as a ship that was in our berth had not left, so the captain moved the Summit slowly to our destination at the Dockyards. We didn’t get off the ship until around 2:30pm.
We were able to buy our ferry tickets and grab the 3pm ferry to Hamilton (good timing) and spent the afternoon walking around town with a self-guided map and information. Walked up to the fortress and got there at 5pm. Sign read, “Closes at 5pm” but we were not ushered out. Great views of the town and port, although somewhat hazy.
For dinner, we dined at Hog Penny, which is a cozy British pub. I had the lamb stew, which was excellent. Tony had the fish and chips.
More good timing, as we were walking to the ferry dock just as the 7pm ferry was about to leave.
Evening entertainment: Fred Keltt, a stand-up comedian (very good) and Sue Denning: One Woman Show (also very good).
We finally hit the martini bar and had a couple of drinks. We made new friends too.
4 May 2012, Bermuda (departed 5pm)
I hired Colin Jennings, a highly recommended guide, for a private tour of the island. He made many stops along the way including Somerset Bridge (the smallest in the world – the opening is just big enough for a sails mast to go through), the fortress nearby, Gibbs light house, scenic stops to see the gorgeous blue water and beaches, Flatts (a very pretty town with an aquarium and outdoor pool with six green sea turtles), etc.
In St. George we visited St. Peters Church and Fort St. Catherine. There were a few VIP cars in the parking lot. The minister of public works was on a tour of the fort, as it had been recently renovated. Lee and I walked in and were invited by one person to participate in the tour. We were even served a glass of wine.
Our last stop was to the sea glass beach near the dockyards. Wow, there’s a lot of glass but certainly not old glass. The man that sells his sea glass art work told Tony he’s always tossing glass into the water. Carol and I brought large zip lock bags and took a bunch of glass. It was overwhelming. Do I collect one color? What size? What can I do with them? (I will attempt to make jewelry). We spent about 20 minutes and finally left.
We had a late lunch on the ship and then spent time in the Persian Garden and T-pool.
At 7:45pm the Senior Officer’s cocktail party was held in the revelations lounge. What a friendly group of officers, who spent time mingling with the guests. A couple of officers talked to us for about 15 minutes. On some nights Captain Mantzavinos would walk through Blu and stop by our table (and others) to ask how our day went. He was a very friendly man.
Dinner: A delicious chicken and foie gras appetizer, lobster tails, fruit zabaglione.
Tony and I ended the evening on our balcony enjoying the ocean breeze and our drinks.
Time change this evening, clocks set back one hour.
5 May 2012, Day at Sea
At breakfast I asked for eggs benedict. The waiter told us that it was not available since there was a brunch later in the morning. I decided to eat lightly (blue berry parfait with yogurt and granola) so I could enjoy brunch.
Glenn, Carol and I went to the morning “Beyond the Podium” with Gene Ehmann, who lectured on the Mob, specifically about Joseph Bonanno. Gene’s lecture was quite fascinating. Tony went to a different lecture, ship’s navigation or something like that.
Brunch: Ah, we finally learned to get around the chaotic atmosphere like we encountered on our last two cruises. Go late! It seems that most passengers hit the brunch when it first opens. We arrived around 12:30pm. The food selections were good: Pastries and breads, fruits, cheese and meats, salmon, carved beef, omelets made to order, stir fry made to order, soups, baked fish, chicken cutlets, pasta, chocolate fountain, and lots of desserts. I had some of the beef stroganoff, lobster bisque, sushi, Caesar salad, and a crepe for dessert.
Carol and I went to watch the ‘Star Chefs’ cooking challenge in the theatre. It’s always a lot of fun, as the chefs typically goof off, steal ingredients from their competitor, pour themselves some wine, or try to get a head start of the clock.
I did some packing and later enjoyed our time in the Persian Gardens and T-pool. This was a very nice aqua class perk.
Tony and I went to the elite social hour and sat with fellow cruise critics Larry and Nancy.
Dinner: Wild salmon, salad with mushroom, pheasant, side of fettuccini, chocolate praline cake for dessert.
6 May, Sunday
The ship arrived early in Bayonne NJ. We didn’t have a flight to take (Glenn rented a large vehicle for us to get back to Baltimore), so our scheduled departure time was set for 8:50am. It was nice not having to get up at 5am.
We enjoyed our last breakfast in Blu, although this was the only time we actually had to wait for a table. I had the smoked salmon and asparagus frittata, a side of sautéed mushrooms; mango smoothie, and orange juice. We thanked our waiters for the great service. It would be nice to see some of them on my next cruise.
We went our waiting area, the Normandie restaurant, along with the other Captain’s Club elite members. Inside was a table with pastries, coffee, and tea. We arrived about 8:35am and within 15 minutes the entire elite group was called. We took the stairs since we knew some of the crowd would take the elevators. We were off the ship in another minute and found our luggage once inside the main area. This was one of the fastest disembarkations on any ship I’ve been on.
We enjoyed our cruise, although we felt it wasn’t on par with the other Celebrity cruises we’ve been on. It was nice meeting people from cruise critic, as well as others on the ship. We enjoyed our time on the ship and the islands as well.
Most of the crew were wonderful, especially all of the staff in Blu. We had issues with our cabin attendant but that’s a story to be left for another time.
I’m looking forward to my next cruise on the Silhouette, a 15-night transatlantic cruise from Rome to Ft. Lauderdale; as well as our cruise in 2013…hopefully with Tony.
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27 April 2012, San Juan