I think it only fair that I recount the WHOLE experienceboth good and bad so that you can draw your own conclusion regarding whetherthis excursion meets the standards of expectations from Celebrity.
The Celebrity description reads as follows:
Spend a day filledwith sun, fun, and gentle Caribbean surf on private island. A short boat ride takes you to your tropicaloasis, where the ultimate beach day is waiting. Kick back in a beach chair with your toes into the soft sand, or checkout some of the great water sports available. Take a guided snorkeling tour around the island to view its incredible coralreefs. Paddle out into the calm waterson a kayak, or try a Zayak – a surfboard you paddle with your arms thatfeatures a window into the sea. Frombeach volleyball to aquatic adventures, or doing absolutely nothing at all,your island paradise awaits on this excursion.
This excursion was the most expensive of the ones we had at$199.00 per person. Despite theinformation stating it was just a short boat ride, we boarded a bus. Turns out the bus ride was over 1.5 hours andfurther extended because our bus driver missedthe turn to the vunue. We drove severalmiles until he could find a place wide enough to turn around and go back.
This won’t be completely negative as our tour guide,Geronimo, was very thorough on the whole trip explaining all about Colon,Panama. Additionally, the missed turnallowed us to view a fort ruin as we drove by and our bus was very nice, cool,clean and comfortable.
Sadly, aside from the above positives, the long drive canonly be described as heartbreaking. Theextent of the lack of local stewardship of what could be a tropical oasis wasvery disheartening. I understand that itis a poor country but the trash and waste along the roads was nothing shortover overwhelming . It did serve to makeme feel very grateful for the educational campaigns in my home of Texas to “KeepTexas Beautiful”….but I digress…
The total one way drive ended up taking 2 full hours becauseof our unintentional detour. Uponarrival we were offered fresh cut pineapple and told that we should availourselves of the bathroom before we were transported over to the privateisland. No toilet paper in the bathroomswas our first clue that this venue was totally unprepared for our group. As we milled around wondering what came next,we were presented with legal waivers that we had to sign whether we were diving,snorkeling, or just going over to the island to do nothing. Everyone signed the waivers and a couple ofpeople did make arrangements to scuba.. they were assisted immediately. The rest of us were told to stand by andsomeone would pass out fins and masks for those that wanted to snorkel. After 20 minutes of nothing happening, ourgroup got frustrated and we began to complain. Only after that did they decide to just put us directly onto thelaunches that would take us over to the island that was within sight.
The launch ride was brief as promised but as we came closerto the private “tropical oasis” promised our collective jaws dropped. The beach was approximately 100 yards wide,and maybe 60 feet deep consisting of two levels. The “soft sand” was a mixture of grass and courserough white coral rock beach which required water shoes to walk on. The “beachchairs” were approximately 25 bright red plastic Adirondack chairs, some ofwhich were broken and stacked to create one workable chair. The tables were discarded construction spools. At the time of arrival, there was one smallcheap umbrella stuck in a spool. We werein disbelief as we arrived. Seriouslytrying to make the best of our day, we just couldn’t fathom this was what wehad paid for. We asked if there wereadditional umbrellas….they found a few additional rusty & broken and putthem in other spools for shade. We askedabout food and beverages available and our guide Geronimo made a few halfhearted jokes…at this point none of us were laughing. He sent one of the launches back to themainland and it returned a while later with Styrofoam coolers with soda, two typesof beer and water. Our food for theisland consisted of packages of sugar wafers. Again…they were totally unprepared!
As most of us got settled into our plastic chairs, a bravefew decided they were going to move forward with snorkeling. They were given equipment and a launch tookthem to another location.
For those of us still remaining on the island, our guide istrying his best to be positive and encouraging. He offers kayaks and Zayaks to enjoy. The Zayak is nearly impossible to lay on with the required life jacketso the one person that tried gave up. I’mreally trying hard to find a way to make this a positive experience so myhusband and I agree to accompany the tour guide and one other couple on kayaksfor a look around the island. We paddleto the adjoining mangrove area. There werea couple of failed attempts to enter the mangrove area but it had been allowedto overgrow the paddle paths. Finally wefound one and ventured in… this would have been a really cool experience butone of the plastic kayaks had a leak and filled with water until it becameunstable and dumped one of the guests out right in the middle of themangrove. Mind you, we have spent daystalking about the crocodiles in the area so to say that the experience was terrifyingto witness and I wasn’t the one it happened to. To his credit, the guide got out of his kayak and attempted to empty theother kayak and assist the guest back in. I told him that it was filling with water and there was no way that thislarger gentleman was going to be able to get in. The guide relented and helped the guest (as NHRescue Diver) into his kayak, then worked at clearing the leaky kayak andgetting in it himself. After 15 or moretense minutes, we were able to exit the mangrove as a group. As we returned over open water toward theisland “oasis”, the defective kayak filled again and dumped the tour guide intothe water. After multiple failed attemptsto get back in , my husband tied off the kayak and basically towed in the kayakand the swimming tour guide to shore.
By the time we returned to our “oasis” the beverages andsugar wafers had been delivered. We putour plastic chairs in the water and visited with each other and drank ourbeverages until this nightmare of an excursion could end. The snorkeling team returned to add theirstories of nothing to see. They had beentaken to an area teaming with small jellyfish and came back nursing their stings.
I am thankful that I did not need to avail myself of therestroom facilities available on the island. My husband who did described it as one toilet surrounded by a showercurtain and assured me it would not improve my experience.
Finally it was time to return to the mainland for ourlunch. Lunch was good and there wasplenty. We were told that the beveragesprovided on the island were provided at no cost but that beverages at lunchwould have to be paid for.
We returned by bus and arrived just before the deadlinegiven by the ship. Shortly after ourreturn to the ship, we made a point of stopping in to visit with our Concierge,Joao Reis, about our experience. He tookdetailed notes and promised to look into it. In the meantime we are terrified to attempt the scheduled beachexcursion set for the following day without some assurance that someone –ANYONE – from Celebrity had been there and could attest that the facilitieswere adequate. Joao promised to getadditional information and we agreed to meet again after dinner.
There were multiple calls to the Excursion Desk by ourConcierge and while I was only privy to one side of that conversation I feltour concerns and request for information regarding the next excursion werebeing blown off by whoever Joao was talking to and that clearly no one on theship had ever been on that excursion.
I want to say that Joao performed his duties exceptionally,never promising something he couldn’t deliver but promising to get us whateverinformation he could that would allow us to make an informed decision about thenext day’s excursion. It was made clearthat despite the horrible experience we had, we were not going to be allowed tocancel the next excursion. We were toldthat crew had been to the next location, it was nice and in fact there would beseveral members of staff going with us.
After much consideration, we decided to stay with theplanned excursion and I am very glad that we did. It was everything that the prior day shouldhave been!
I know for a fact that at least 4 other couples (nearly 1/3of the guests who participated) also complained about this excursion. Most went directly to the Excursion Desk andwere told they were looking into it. Onecouple was told they already knew of the problems and didn’t need any furtherinformation. After a couple of days wereceived a note that they had reimbursed us 20% of the cost of the excursionwhich still made it equal to the next most expensive excursion we booked. I personally believe that every guest who experiencedthis nightmare should be fully refunded for the cost of the excursion and thatthe excursion should be forever removed as an option. I just cannot fathom that Celebrity wouldevery deem our experience as acceptable.