The excitement as you pull up to the pier is uncontainable whether it is your first cruise or your twentieth. The phrase “welcome aboard” rings in your ears and brings an instant smile to your face. The moment you arrive is like no other. The weight of everyday problems falls off your shoulders and is replaced with the “arduous” decision of what your first drink order from the Sunset Bar will be. This is how I feel every time I board a Celebrity cruise. It is a feeling like no other and it is one that everyone needs to experience at some point in their life. But I must warn you, once you experience it, it will become an addiction and Celebrity Cruises will now become a permanent fixture in your life. You have been warned.
My partner Edward and I have been cruising Celebrity since 2010. We have sailed throughout most of the Caribbean, completed several transatlantic crossings, and have sailed in Europe. However, there are still many more destinations to cross off of our bucket list and we’re excited that on November 5th we will embark on the Celebrity Reflection in order to visit two destinations we both have never been to but have always wanted to explore: Colombia and Panama. In addition to several other exotic ports we will also stop in Costa Rica. While I have visited this Central American paradise, Edward has not and I hope he finds it as wonderful as I did.
Before I go any further I’d like you to know that this blog post is my entry into the Celebrity Cruises blog contest for a chance to be featured on the Celebrity Cruises Blog on their website. However, I’d like you to know that all of my opinions below are my honest thoughts but if you’ve read my previous blogs and live reviews from Celebrity sailings you’ll already know that. So sit back, pour yourself a drink, and enjoy!
The November 5th “Ultimate Caribbean” sailing on the Celebrity Reflection is 11 nights and has many wonderful ports. We start with Grand Cayman and continue to Cartagena Colombia, Colon Panama, Puerto Limon Costa Rica, Costa Maya, and finally Cozumel. All these incredible ports would not be complete unless you can arrive in style. Now, any cabin on the Celebrity Reflection is wonderful. We’ve stayed in all types of rooms, but for this cruise we are excited to be staying in a Sky Suite. Access to Michael’s Club (the suite only lounge), Luminae (the specialty suite restaurant), and of course a butler on call 24/7 for anything we need is the way to travel. What is not to love? We really enjoy booking the Sky Suite because on most cruises we still find it affordable. The “suite” itself is not a massive cabin, but it does have a larger bathroom, a larger living space, and more storage. But most importantly, we get access to all the suite amenities and that is what keeps us booking the Sky Suite. It is the perfect happy medium for our budget and how we enjoy being catered to.
As you read this there is one thing that I want to make clear and that is our cruising style. While we love all the wonderful destinations we get to visit and we always want to visit someplace new and unique, our primary motivation behind cruising in the ship and the people we meet. We love the ship but most importantly we love the crew and the people we meet on the ship and that is why we continue to cruise as often as we do. On this cruise, we will be on the Celebrity Reflection, which is our current favorite out of the Celebrity fleet and one that we have sailed seven times. We cannot wait to be back on board seeing familiar faces and catching up with many of the crew from around the world that we consider friends.
So before I talk about destinations lets talk about how we will be arriving. What are we eating on our way to these beautiful places and what are we drinking? My days on board Celebrity are whatever I want them to be, but I tend to have a routine on every cruise so let me share that routine with you. If it is a sea day, or a day we don’t plan to get off the ship for whatever reason, I am typically awake around 8:15am. I read the ships newsletter, known as “the daily,” to see what activities are going on for the day. We might have a light breakfast delivered to the room and we then shower and get ready for the day. My day usually starts at the pool bar with a screw driver. After all, it is five o’clock somewhere right? Always when I travel I write a live blog so people can follow what we’re doing. It also helps me catalogue my trip and forces me to slow down, recap my days, and appreciate what is around me. So armed with my phone or laptop and of course my screwdriver, I do a little writing at the pool bar. Being close to the pool is important, especially in the caribbean, you never know when you might need to quickly cool off. It also makes for great people watching since most people pass by the pool every day. After a drink or two I’ve usually finished my writing and have followed up on any questions from those following my blog. I then find myself talking to someone I’ve never met before at the bar. Edward sometimes gets annoyed by this as I can talk for hours. However, if you remember what I said before, it is the people that keep us coming back. I’m always fascinated to meet so many different people from around the world on a Celebrity cruise. Their stories about life and travel are always entertaining. Whether it is a friendly staff member or a fellow cruiser I always think there is something to learn. See the photo below of friend’s we’ve cruised with multiple times. From the left, Wayne, Jim, Myself, and my partner Edward.
So after a couple drinks, some writing, and a lot of talking I’ve worked up a pretty good appetite and it is time for Edward and I to find something to eat. There are plenty of options. The buffet (which always has a HUGE selection), the mast grill for some burgers or hot dogs, aqua spa cafe for something nice and light….the list goes on! This cruise, however, since we are staying in a suite and have access to Luminae, we will likely visit the Luminae restaurant for lunch on sea days. Their burger is fantastic and definitely not your typical burger. They also have a wonderful shrimp and scallops occasionally on the menu at lunch which we love. Most importantly though, sometime it is nice to escape the sun for a little while and be in a very quiet and cool environment.
After lunch on a sea day there are always lots of activities planned around the ship. There is trivia, there are lectures, there is a DJ and a live band by the pool, there are games on the lawn, maybe a rum and cigar tasting…the list truly goes on. So typically we will take some time during lunch to look at the daily schedule and decide what we want to do. One of my favorite activities, even though it may sound a little cliche is the Officers v. Guests volleyball tournament. This is always a great deal of fun. The officers are clearly having a blast and the guests are usually very competitive. The entire pool deck and upper decks are full of people watching the game and cheering on. It’s always amazing how many guests actually root for the officers!
After our afternoon activities, whatever we may have chosen to do, we then usually go back to the cabin and relax, which usually involves an hour or so nap. After all, we are on vacation right? Plus, we need to recharge so we are ready to go for the evening. After our nap, we then get up and get dressed for the evening. The one thing we’ve always appreciated about Celebrity Cruises is that while the atmosphere is very relaxed we also find it very refined and many people enjoy dressing up in the evening and having fun with their outfits. So usually around 6:30pm we will find ourselves at the Martini Bar and this cruise will be no different. We will take our seats at the bar and order our usual, Ketel One straight up with a twist (of lemon). The bartenders at the Martini Bar are incredible to watch. Not only are they very hard working, but they’re extremely personable, love joking with you and are pure entertainment all by themselves. There are so many Martini Bartenders that we’ve become friends with from Putu to Arya to Boon and Agung….there are truly too many to list. No matter the cruise there always seems to be one who we know well and I feel like I’m sitting at my favorite bar back at home…except this one is floating in the ocean. As the night quickly goes by more and more people fill the martini bar and we find ourselves sharing stories of our life and our travels with perfect strangers, strangers who after a short conversation have us feeling like we've known them for years.
Dinner this cruise will be in, can you guess it? Luminae! I love the atmosphere in Luminae. It is nice and quiet, relaxing and the food is fantastic. We can also order off the regular main dining room menu as well but we almost always find something we truly enjoy on the Luminae menu. Our favorites? We’ve always love the filet in Luminae as its always cooked perfectly and very tender. The short ribs are phenomenal and so is any fish they cook. I really enjoy their branzino but my absolute favorite is their halibut. It is usually cooked and placed over some sticky rice with this incredible miso broth / glaze / goodness. Now we cannot forget about desert. Though, in all honesty sometime we have to because we’re so full from dinner. The souffle is my favorite dessert in Luminae but my favorite dessert for presentation is the chocolate orb. Why the chocolate orb you ask? Well, it is presented in front of you and then flaming brandy is poured on top and the orb opens up to reveal even more dessert inside. It is an incredible show. Just don’t get too close to it!
My favorite Halibut in Luminae
So now that we’ve eaten a wonderful dinner, what do we do next? Go to bed and rest? Of course not! We take a look at our program and we see whats going on around the ship. There might be a comedian in the theater (I love comedians, Edward not so much). There could be a magician or an impersonator. There might be a production show with the on board cast of singers, dancers, and aerialists. Personally, I love the production shows. I always find them fun and entertaining. The singers and dancers really work hard and do an incredible job. Sometimes the story line might not be what you were hoping for, but there is no denying the incredible talent of the cast.
After the after dinner show there are still plenty of things to do. Sometimes we make our way back to the martini bar. Sometimes we hit the ensemble lounge and listen to a small quartet or someone on the piano while sipping some bourbon. My favorite nights on Celebrity, however, is heading up to the Sunset Bar, getting a courvoisier and smoking a cigar under the stars in the company of wonderful friends who we most likely just met. The sounds of the ocean play as a beautiful back drop to our conversation as we share stories, albeit a little tipsy, and take in the night air.
Well, now that you know what we usually do on the ship, why don’t we discuss some of the destinations and what we plan to do while we are here.
Ah Grand Cayman. Clear waters yet lots of wind. Georgetown, the main port in Grand Cayman is such a beautiful place. The biggest negative here is you need to take a tender boat into port. Because of the local landscape the ship cannot dock, so instead you take smaller tender boats (sometimes life boats) to shore since the ship docks just off the coast. This can sometimes create a line and we all know no one likes waiting in line. But, in my opinion, the wait is worth it. The view of the magnificent ship from the tender boat is worth it alone! Once you get ashore there is plenty to do. For us, we enjoy walking the town and doing a little window shopping. Grand Cayman has some amazing jewelry and if you have money to spend, well, the sky is the limit. Snorkeling is also very common here, but just be careful because sometime the waves and undercurrents don’t cooperate. Either way, no matter what you choose, Grand Cayman is always a beautiful stop with very friendly people and a town that you can explore for an hour or spend the entire day in. Plan an excursion or explore on your own; either way you’ll enjoy it.
Oh I cannot wait to visit this stop. I have several clients who have homes here and have said time and time again that we must visit. To other people I know, when I mention we are going to Colombia, they give me a look of pause, almost concern, as if they fear for my safety. However, this only spurs me more to go and visit Colombia to help break this stereotype.
There are lots of excursion options for this port. We normally don’t pan out long excursions, but if we do, we almost always book through Celebrity. I know we could book on our own, but we like the hassle free aspect of booking directly through the ship so I don’t have to worry about planning a thing! There is one called “The Best of Cartagena” it is only 4 hours long but covers lots of the main tourist attractions such as the fortress, Saint Peter Claver’s Sanctuary, and the Inquisition Palace. If we booked this then we could use what time is remaining to just explore the city on our own.
At the end of the day, I think we will take the suggestions of several Celebrity Cruises crew members who are from Colombia. On our last cruise in April, aboard the Reflection, we were talking with several crew from Colombia and mentioned how excited we were to visit Cartagena. Their eyes lit up as if they were kids on Christmas morning and they immediately started giving us suggestions and even their personal contact information so they could give us only the best places to visit as our cruise came near. It is moments like this why I will say again, we cruise Celebrity for the people we meet. Their kind nature and generosity of spirit is second to none.
One of my best friends and business partners was born in the USA but at just a month old started living in Panama with his parents who were Christian missionaries. He did not leave Panama and come to the states until he was 12. The stories he has are incredible, as are the photos from his childhood. It sounds like such a simple life and while not an easy life, a life that brings you back to the basics. I’m excited to explore this and book an excursion that allows us to visit the outskirts of the main city. To experience the smaller villages that reside within Panama and to truly understand what Panama is. The history here is rich and very diverse as so many nations have wanted and quite frankly needed a hold on a country that was and still is such a major trade route. Commerce and global trade aside, it is the people of Panama we want to visit and their culture that we are excited to learn about.
I took my first trip to Costa Rica when I was 21. Edward has never been, but the country of Costa Rica has always had a special place in my heart. The people here are unlike any other people I have ever met. Their openness and general love of other human beings is paramount in their culture. I cannot wait for Edward to experience this. Sadly, one day in port is not enough, but it is enough to wet the appetite to come back and visit. Quite frankly, that is what many love about cruising, the ability to have a taste of each culture so you know where you’d like to spend time and visit next.
Costa Rica has some incredibly offerings and looking through the Celebrity Cruise planner it looks like there are plenty of excursions. We could do white water rafting or go zip lining. We could learn about coffee or even take a yoga class in the rainforest! So, the yoga is probably not for us, but there is a full day excursion called “Rainforest Extravaganza” which takes you through the rainforest and seems to be quite educational. The last time I was in Costa Rica we took several rain forest walking tours and while it was tiring, it was definitely an experience I will never forget. There is something to see all around you from insects to larger wildlife to beautifully bold colored plants you’ve only seen in books or in movies. If you’ve never visited the rainforest I can honestly say there is no book or movie that can properly prepare you for the experience. Seeing it and experiencing it in person is jaw dropping and no amount of my words or photos you look up on-line can do it justice.
I think we will have a hard time picking something to do in Costa Rica since I’ve been there before and Edward has not; I’ll want him to experience everything! I’m sure we will come to happy decision or maybe we will just find a way to explore on our own.
Costa Maya has some beautiful beaches and great scuba diving and snorkeling. There are also incredible historic ruins to visit but it takes a little while to get there. Since we’ve both been to Costa Maya multiple times I think on this trip we may sit this port out and simply take the time to enjoy the ship.
Sometimes spending time on board while everyone is in port is one of our favorite things to do. We call them our private yacht days. While that may sound a little cheesy it is the truth. Most people leave the ship and we’re able to explore all areas with very very few people on board! We usually use this time to take lots of pictures of the ship, wander into areas we haven’t been to in a while, and simply relax.
However, I realize that sitting on board isn’t for everyone! So if you do get off in Costa Maya enjoy to its fullest! I would probably personally recommend the off-road jeep journey. You’re driving a caravan of jeeps together through the forest/jungle along the coast. It is truly beautiful and since you’re in a jeep you’re at least not doing that much work!
We’ve been to Cozumel…I think about 6 times now? It is a beautiful island with great beaches and a great national park. You can even swim with the dolphins which we did once before and had a blast. I highly recommend it and you also learn a great deal about the dolphins. I was amazed at how friendly they were and their intelligence definitely rivals that of most animals.
Our favorite thing to do in Cozumel is just explore the town. It is a very walkable town with a lot of shopping right along the water. There are plenty of restaurants and fun bars whether you’re looking to grab a quiet drink or have a few shots. There is definitely a party atmosphere in Cozumel but you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to. You can choose a more educational tour such as a trip to Tulum. I’ll admit this is one thing we have yet to do, so maybe this time around we will book it.
If you are thinking of making Cozumel more of a beach day, stay away from just a typical beach. I highly recommend going to Mexico Park and Chankanaab Park. Celebrity does have an excursion for this but you can also book this on your own too if you want to go on your own schedule. The park here is maintained so beautifully and the sand is pristine. You’re able to still have your beach day, but you’ll thank me for this recommendation because it will be so much more!
Sadly, the cruise must eventually come to an end. The last day is always a little somber. You don’t want to leave. You don’t want to go back home where no one is putting chocolates on your pillow and turning down your bed for you. You don’t want to have think about what to make for dinner. Don’t worry, you can always book another cruise. The one thing that makes getting off the ship tolerable is knowing that we always have another one booked, or maybe more (we have three booked right now).
On the last day I always make sure to have a stack of business cards on me. You might be thinking why. Well, throughout your cruise you will meet some amazing people. The great thing is they might not be the type of people you think you would have become friends with but by the end of the cruise you will feel like you’ve known them your whole life. You’ll want to make sure to exchange information. Add each other to facebook. Grab that e-mail address. Because of cruising we have friends all over the world that we stay in contact with from the U.K. to Sweden to Indonesia and Canada. We’ve met people with opposing political views and people who we agree with every way we think. At the end of the day we had one thing that bonded us and that was our love for travel. We’ve cruised again with many people we’ve met on Celebrity. We’ve met up with them in Chicago (where we live) and even in Florida and NYC for dinner.
When you come home you’ll have the joy of telling your friends and family about all the places you visited. You didn’t just go to one city or two, but you went to half a dozen. You’ll have stories about dinners and shows on the ship and you’ll have incredible photos from scuba diving to exploring the rain forest. When someone asks you how your cruise was you won’t know where or how to begin describing it, it will be that great.
I wrote the above blog for a Celebrity Cruises blog contest. I first heard about the contest through Celebrity Cruises instagram page. My partner Edward and I have been cruising Celebrity since 2010 and it is our cruise line of choice. I would love to win this contest but for those of you reading this I want you to know that everything I said about is truly how we feel about cruising on Celebrity. Each year we spend roughly 30 days or more on Celebrity ships so the crew and the brand have become part of our lives. We’re not compensated by Celebrity Cruises or receive any freebies because my past blogging or social media posting. We love sharing our experiences with all of you because we just enjoy bringing you along for the journey. So if you ever see us on board please do stop and say hi.
I will leave you with this parting thought. You will never be younger than you are today and you will never have more time than you do today. Enjoy life.
Happy Sailing - Paul & Edward from Chicago