Embarkation - We drove down from Orlando in a rental which we dropped off down town and grabbed a short taxi to the port. Check in was nominal with a little wait that appeared more due to the timing of arrival than Celebrities efficiency checking people in. Once checked in it appeared as though we had to walk the length of the ship 3 times before finally boarding, not Celebrities doing but still a little annoying. Once onboard we were greeted nicely and offered free champagne, mimosa, etc. We proceeded to our stateroom and found it ready and clean.
Stateroom - We choose a standard veranda stateroom on deck 7, 7022 to be specific. This room should have been advertised as a partially obscured room, I would not have booked it if I was aware of the forward obscuration. The room was well equipped with a new flat screen TV and the usual amenities. As part of the upgrade new mattresses were installed and ours was no exception, we found it be very comfortable. We had plenty of storage space and the room steward brought us extra hangers. Our smoke detector kept beeping (low battery) and instead of replacing the battery they simply removed the smoke detector and placed it behind the TV and it continued beeping at which time I removed the battery. Also the interactive capability on the TV was not working but that was remedied quickly after a call to ship services. Early in the cruise I noticed that the deck did not appear very clean but a day later it appeared cleaner.
Activities -- We found the activities quite average for a cruise, nothing outstanding. The shipboard lectures were informational and the speakers very good. I particularly enjoyed a speaker from the Smithsonian Institute. We were disappointed that the normal talks on the ports of call were not provided, a little shopping information was given and that was it. Port information is quite crucial and the lack thereof was disconcerting. Although all the usual activities were provided I would have enjoyed more food preparation presentations. Also Celebrity has done away with the movie theater on this ship which I normally take advantage of on sea days to my chagrin. I suppose they found a more cost effective way to use the space where the movie theatre once was.
Entertainment -- We found the entertainment particularly on the first week of the cruise above average and it exceeded my expectations. The Millennium Singers and Dancers are outstanding as is the Millennium Show Band. We had three Broadway style shows and I found them all very enjoyable. The entertainment on other days was for the most part above average for cruise ships. We had an A Cappella group onboard named Full Tilt that were very good and always filled whatever venue they were singing in. There was also a string trio that played throughout the ship that was very talented and which I enjoyed. A few of the entertainers (the usual juggler, comedian, magician, etc.) were just average but the better ones made up for those less entertaining. The entertainment was certainly one of the more enjoyable aspects of this cruise for me.
A shout out, "HI Steve", to our cruise director who made this cruise most enjoyable. He was leaving for the Constellation so those traveling on that ship this summer are in for a treat.
The all-important dining -- Celebrity is known for its fine dining so I was disappointed when it did not live up to my expectations. We had selected the Select Dining option and had made reservations daily for 7:00 pm. On the first night we requested that we be seated at the same table each night but was told by the hostess that that was not possible because the select option is first come first served even though we had reservations (this is not the case on other cruise lines). However one night after being given a particularly bad table we politely complained to the matre d and the remainder of the cruise we were given the table of our choice. I guess I should have been more assertive on the first night.
Unfortunately we found the quality of the cuisine at dinner to be less than expected. To quote a fellow member on the forum for this cruise "At our table there was overcooked and undercooked beef, cordon blu with negligible cheese, dry schnitzel etc. What really struck us, and again it was unanimous among our tablemates, was the "heavy hand" with salt.", all comments to which I agree. On the positive side we found the breakfast and lunch buffet to be excellent, both quantity and quality met my every expectation. Also the buffet area was very easy to navigate, something Celebrity needs to share with their partner RCL.
We also dined in the specialty restaurants Qsine, Olympic and Bistro on 5. All were unique and an outstanding dining experiences. All the food in these venues rate in my opinion with any 5 star restaurant I ever dined in, compliments to the chefs in each. I would highly recommend you try them if the expense does not break your vacation budget.
Service in all the restaurants was exceptional and I am amazed at how hard the waiters and assistant waiters work. However compared to past cruises I believe Celebrity is pushing the limit on the number of tables these hard working individuals can service and should reduce the number to one more manageable even at the cost of a slight increase in cruise cost. The waiters and waitress no longer have the time to stop and share experiences as they did in years past.
Ports and Shore Excursions -- I enjoyed all of the ports on this cruise and found each of them unique. We only used two ship excursions and found them ok but not exceptional, as expected. We mainly booked independent tours and each proved the effort to find them on the internet worth it. I can recommend http://www.cartagenatour.com, http://www.emberavillagetours.com/Embera_Tours.html with Anne Gordon a very unique experience, http://www.costarica-ecotourism.com/Puntarenas-Costa-Rica/6IN1PUNTARENAS.html, and http://puertovallartacruiseexcursions.com/CityHighlightsTour.html. All companies met all their promises and gave very informative and professional tours. I organized several of the tours and kept the groups to 10 or less which also helped in the enjoyment of them. We had outstanding guides and air conditioned vehicles in each.
Disembarkation -- Disembarkation was another disappointment, however not do to Celebrity. Our fine government requires that all foreign nationals clear customs before allowing tax paying citizens to disembark. This meant that although the ship was in port at 7:00 A.M. we had to wait until 9:30 for disembarkation to begin. Once ashore the port or the City of San Diego dropped the ball as there was a large lack of taxis. I would estimate the line waiting for a taxi to exceed several hundred with no taxis in sight. I chose to walk out of the port and once downtown it was easy to hail a taxi. It appears the taxi drivers (4 of 5 I spoke to while in San Diego) didn't know a ship was in port that day.
In summary we found this cruise to be quite ordinary. The entertainment was above average while the dining (with the exception of the specialty restaurants) and shipboard activities below average. All ports were enjoyable and the Panama Canal was an exceptional experience. Service aboard the ship in all areas was outstanding and the ship's crew all deserve above average performance reviews. I would definitely recommend this cruise to anyone wishing to experience the Panama Canal. I will definitely be sailing with Celebrity again even if only to enjoy the specialty restaurants.