This was our second Celebrity cruise, with an excellent Princess cruise (Baltic - 10 night) sandwiched in between. Our first Celebrity cruise was Alaska, and was about 8 years ago. We enjoyed that experience and decided to give them another try. We decided to go directly to Civitavecchia and overnight there, hoping to mitigate jet lag a bit before getting on the ship. We visited Rome extensively on a prior trip to Italy.
We flew over on Delta Airlines with stops in Detroit and Amsterdam before reaching FCO airport. It was pouring rain when we arrived in Amsterdam. When we reached FCO, our soft-sided luggage was soaked and much of the contents got wet, apparently sitting on the tarmac. There was no customs inspection or even a passport check at FCO. We collected our wet luggage and exited directly into the terminal near the exits We had booked a transfer to our port hotel with Airport Shuttle (www.airportshuttle.it)for E90.00 for the two of us. Our driver arrived on time with a sign. We collected another couple of Equinox cruisers and were off in a comfy Mercedes van for the ride to the port city, which took a little less than an hour.
In Civitavecchia, we had made reservations at the Hotel Borgo Del Mare'. The Hotel was clean and the staff was friendly and helpful. The place was full of Equinox cruisers from all over the world. The rooms are a bit small, but the Hotel offers an excellent included breakfast with some hot selections, and free wifi service. The staff recommended an excellent and inexpensive nearby (easy walking distance) restaurant for dinner. It was not a tourist place. Rather, it was full of local folks and ordering dinner was an adventure, but the waiter was friendly and helpful as he could be. We were both very pleased with our selections. We got out of there for less than E25.00. Our hotel rate included a great transfer service to the port in the room price.
We arrived at the Celebrity terminal about 11:30am. After filling out some paperwork, we were quickly processed and photographed. They also took our passports, which we had not expected. Fortunately we both had made color copies of the photo page. Apparently they take the passports of all non-EU travelers. It was too late to fight that issue so we went with the flow and were walking up the gangplank before 12:00 noon.
Like other reviewers have stated, the ship is beautiful and very clean. Anybody who has cruised on just about any carriers big ships will have no problem getting around. I bought the Premium Beverage package. I think I saved a lot of money. When they're paid for in advance you tend not to keep count. I think I made a large dent in their Johnny Walker Black Label supply.
We had booked a room with a veranda on deck #6 (6186). It was smaller than some others we have had, and the lifeboat fleet is situated on hoists immediately outside the veranda. This did slightly restrict the view and we wouldn't book a similar room again. The room was spotless clean. Our cabin Steward wasn't the friendliest guy on the ship by far, but he was responsive and efficient when we asked for something.
The food was ok, not great. We booked early-fixed dining at a table (#256) of 8. We were seated with two Scott's, two New Zealanders' and two British ladies. All nice folks and we enjoyed their company all week. The waitstaff was great. Very helpful and efficient without the forced humor we have encountered from head waiters on other voyages. The buffet on deck #14 was a great spot for breakfast. Again the food was ok, not great. We ordered room service coffee every morning and it was served promptly with no problems.
The ship theatre entertainment was so bad the first three nights that we just gave up on it. We did enjoy the live music entertainment in various venues around the ship every evening and hung out as late as we could manage listening. The live music we saw during the day was great as well.
We took two ship tours. One in Santorini (a tender port) which was ok, and one in Istanbul which was not. In every other port, we arranged for significantly less costly private tours with fellow Cruise Critic members. In Ephesus we used "Ephesus Shuttle". They were excellent!
In Istanbul, we did a walking tour the first day with a group we met via Cruise Critic. Istanbul might seem intimidating because of its size and being a Muslim country. No problem! The people couldn't have been friendlier. The streets are clean and safe (at least during the daytime. Public transportation is easy to use and cheap. Restaurants and vendors accepted US currency. Cab drivers and toilet attendants insisted on Turkish Lira. Best to get some before you venture far from the ship. There are cash machines all over, and a couple just outside the port entrance.
In Athens, we used "Paul's Greek Taxi" which was also excellent, and in Naples we used "Johnny's Tours". All were hassle-free, comfortable, safe and conducted in smaller, comfortable vehicles. Google them. You will be happy you did. We shared a ride on Rome Cabs to the airport after the cruise. Also excellent. High point of the trip for me - Athens. Wow. Low point - none really.
Suggestion for Celebrity.... Get better entertainment, put on more stuff that appeals to men on sea-days. I heard a number of fellow male cruisers grousing about the lack of "manly" stuff to do on the ship. We don't want dancing lessons, glass blowing or seaweed facial wraps.. Sports or war history lectures, etc would be a nice touch. Your Internet service is a sad and very expensive joke - on the customers! This is probably the most common complaint I heard the entire time on board. Buy or borrow some technology from the US Navy. Their on-ship Internet service kicks ass!
Bottom line... I enjoyed this cruise, but not as much as I enjoyed our previous one on Princess. We will probably use Celebrity again if the itineraries work for us, but if all things are equal, we'll probably go with Princess.
Recommendations for cruisers - Just one. Use Cruise Critic Roll Call boards to meet fellow cruisers and organize some independent tours. You will never go back to Ship tours once you make the break!