Amazing ship, amazing food, great service, tons of fun! Generally, even the areas in which I saw potential for improvement exceeded my expectations, having never sailed on Celebrity before (having only been on Princess).
We are 33 and 29, and this was just our third cruise each, and fourth different itinerary between us. We did a 12-night Med on the Star Princess in Sept 2011 which serves as a good comparison.
Overall service: spectacular. I believe it was about the third day on the ship when I was walking to meet my wife and then told her, "The strangest thing just happened...I walked past a crew member and they didn't ask me how my day was going!" People even stopped vacuuming the stairs to wish me a fun time in port or at dinner or whatever. I might expect that from bartenders and waiters serving me, but not random staff met in passing. I wish I could find even half that friendly of service back home in the US!
Notes about itinerary: Hoping to write a set of port reviews some time, but II wanted to note that I think that the port intensive itineraries (9 out of 11 days essentially) change the on-board experience. We've taken two Med. cruises with that schedule, and on both people were saying how tired they were, which led to early bed times and less dancing, etc. Several people also didn't like the late dinner (8:45) whether or not they then wanted to go to a show or bar afterwards. It was just too late given the early port schedules. The 6:15 dinner wasn't ideal either, because the sail of our Kotor would be missed (so we skipped dinner) and it was a rush to get back on the ship and ready from some excursions or port visits. These aren't complaints at all, just realities you should expect when you take such amazing port itineraries!
We loved Malta, Kotor, and Dubrovnik. Would love more time in each place. Split and Ravenna were nice ways to start the trip as warm-ups for the highlights, but we don't need to go back. The mosaics in Ravenna were nice, and Split was very cute.
Coffee: why does this get a special bullet? Because on the Princess cruise we took, my wife (I don't drink coffee) said the coffee was awful instant. She enjoyed the coffee on the Celebrity ship, which appeared to be brewed everywhere. She was actually disappointed in the one specialty coffee she bought though. Also, the availability of coffee and tea in the HideAway (see later) was a awesome!
Grand Cuvee dining room:
In short, there was nothing not to like about this experience. Our table was near the far back starboard side off of the main atrium part, which was relatively quiet and cozy. We had at table for two that was right next to another table for two and we absolutely loved their company. After a few nights, the servers started treated our two tables as one table, which was perfect--they obviously noticed our camaraderie!
SERVICE: Our waitress Gwen and assistant Marie were excellent. The first 1-2 dinners they were a bit slow to refill my water glass (but all others were great), but that was my only -- and very minor -- complaint. Another assistant in our area (Paula) was excellent, looking out for everyone in our area, even if she wasn't assigned directly to them. Paula was also very friendly at the breakfast and lunch buffets and ice cream station, seemingly making friends with half the ship!
FOOD: There was not a single thing I ordered that I did not really like. Most evenings, there 2-3 entrees that I really wanted, and twice I even ordered two! Things I remember were the filet mignon, the sirloin (nearly as tender as the filet!), the lobster, the lamb shank, the duck (two different preparations), and the sesame crusted tuna. I did not get to try the regular salmon (but our table neighbor said it was good) or the crab stuffed flounder. The stuffed mushroom appetizer (available everyday), french onion soup (available everyday), the NY cheesecake (available everyday--ask them to add chocolate sauce on the side...yumm!), and the creme brulee (available everyday) were all excellent. The other appetizers and soups/salads were good, too. Lobster bisque and crab-stuffed in salmon are the two most memorable right now. The only let down (and probably only in comparison to the high quality of other courses) was the rotating desserts. Most we just "eh", except the one soufflee. However, this was made up for by the variety and quality of ice cream flavors.
In my opinion, the quality of the food in the dining room was on par with the restaurants in Austin where one would pay $25-30+ for steak or duck with no sides. Most of the meals I had would have cost me $50-80 here in our better restaurants. And please don't claim that Texas is not a fair place to compare a steak to!
Specialty restaurants: There was no reason to go to these considering the great food and service in the main dining room. I only note them here for two reasons: they were offering 20-50% discounts in most of them during the cruise, so clearly people weren't going, and second, they do have nice views, especially the Tuscan grill in the aft of the ship. If you have to eat while sailing out of Kotor (we skipped dinner that night), then go there!
This was one of our favorite areas of the ship. We loved the enomatic wine machines, allowing us to taste some different wines and each choose our own varietal for a given night. I tried stuff I normally wouldn't and loved some of it. We enjoyed sitting there sipping wine or just chatting with some new friends. Nice decor, and well located at the atrium but slightly separated from the hustle and sometimes noise there. The wine tasting on the first sea day was fun and a nice value, too.
I learned from CC that on boarding day you can pre-pay for a cellar masters' wine card and get a discount. Depending on how much you pre-pay and how well you negotiate, you can get 10-30% off. We did well--don't miss this! It worked out much better for us in price and flexibility that doing bottles or glasses in the dining room or bar. You can get what you want and head into Grand Cuvee or the theater or up to your own verandah (if you have one)...wherever you want.
Perhaps the most unexpected pleasure of the ship. We were just starboard and aft of the HideAway on deck 8 (up one level). I loved the setting and style. Sat here very late one night chatting with other guests. The real reason we loved it was for the coffee/tea station there. We are considering a 10-day Caribbean cruise on the Equinox, but don't know if we can do without the convenient and tasty coffee/tea! May choose to do a 7-night on Reflection or Silhouette just for this and the expanded enomatic offerings in Cellar Master's ;-)
My review of this won't be entirely fair, because I was on my very limited gluten diet. Therefore, the nice looking pasta station (where they'd combine veggies etc for you and heat it up with freshly reheated pasta) and the pizza station were off limits, plus I didn't deal with the breads and soups.
My first reaction was that the buffet was excellent, as there was great variety. Stations included pizza, pasta, Asian, Mexican, Indian, breads/soups, salads, grill, and other hot offering that rotated. Most of these offerings were adequate to good. Certainly not the best Indian I ever had, but it was prepared well (tender meat, no globs of fat, etc.). The variety alone seemed to be enough to make the trip interesting every day. However, they had mostly the same things every day. So after 12 days, it grew less exciting, but still fine for lunch. One of the last days we ate dinner there, too, as we missed our dining room time to watch the sail out of Kotor. Compared to the dining room, the buffet was really a step down. I believe that if I'd have had the additional options of the sandwiches, soups, and pastas, I would have been very happy.
Again, I didn't do the rolls/pastries/cereals type things. The scrambled eggs were usually passable for mass produced, but worthy of avoiding. The baked egg frittatas were nice. I did not try the made to order omelets (available everyday) here (did get one from room service and it was fair). The bacon was really good. I know...it's BACON...how could it not be good? What I mean is, it was good for bacon...very crisp and not burnt. That is easier said than done for large service. Most places will get some to most of the bacon done well, but I probably had 40 pieces on the trip--yikes, did I just admit that?--and there was only one that had a slightly too-hard corner.
I really enjoyed the roasted potatoes [I don't remember what they called them] prepared with some onions available multiple stations each morning. I did not enjoy the hash browns, and the tater-tot-like thing was not worth the grease--I preferred my fat in bacon form!
I enjoyed the turkey sausage more than the pork sausage links (of which there seemed to be two kinds--one early in the trip, one later). Yogurt and fruit offerings were fine.
I really enjoyed the ice cream flavors I tried except the cherry, which was just so-so. The no-sugar added butter pecan was great, especially with added caramel and Reese's pieces! The frozen yogurt was good, though the strawberry was a very fake strawberry flavor that my wife and I both really enjoyed as it somehow reminded us of strawberry candies and things from our childhoods. They were having trouble with the refrigeration system for the hard ice cream, so it was closed more often than normal (I think). With that said, it appeared that it was closed in the mid-afternoon even when there was clearly solid ice cream sitting in it. Not sure if this was related to their problems or if they wanted to force us downstairs for the surcharge gelato.
I loved that they had two hot tubs near the windows (one port, one starboard) in the Solarium. I wish the Solarium pool would have been about 2 degrees warmer. I enjoyed the decor of the Solarium immensely, too. What a wonderful place to relax! The outdoor pools looked nice, too, and the very-padded lounge chairs were great.
Spa: didn't use this
Love the glass elevators and the full height (except deck 2) atrium . Really lightened and opened up the ship. Loved the suspended tree and views of library, pool, hideaway, etc. We actually enjoyed that you could hear the music from the atrium all the way up on say deck 7 at the hideaway. We could enjoy the music (while sipping our tea/coffee) in a more relaxed setting that the busy atrium. Our room was a few down from here, so I can't comment on the noise complaints of other people in staterooms near this.
Most of the time the waits for the elevators were not bad, and my feet (I have some chronic problems) were very worn out and hurting by the intensive port schedule. I imagine people in the far aft of the ship didn't like the walk to midship (no aft elevators). However, the concentration of elevators makes them more efficient once you get to them!
If you take our itinerary and are physically able, use the stairs to go everywhere in order to train yourself for the 1,500 stairs to get to the fort in Kotor though!
Prices. I really thought the prices were fair on the ship. Pretty sure they were less than on Princess 8 months earlier. They were the same or less than what we'd pay going out in Austin. Basic cocktails were $6.50. Martini's $10 or $12. Specials most days (2 for 1 around pool or at select bars for limited hours, two 50% off ladies' nights, cocktail of the day for $5). Consequently, we bought a lot more than on our last cruise.
Martini Bar: Loved this place and their drinks. Great location and decor, including lighting. Bravo for the sheer curtain separately some of the seats from the traffic corridor around the atrium.
Molecular Bar: no reason to go there, as far as we could tell.
Michael's Club: I was so excited for the amazing craft/world beer selection when I first heard about it. Unfortunately, I had to resume a mostly gluten free diet before the cruise (and I knew I'd be cheating with sauces, etc. in the dining room), so I couldn't really enjoy this. However, I nearly jumped up and down when I saw the Dogfish Head Tweason'ale (gluten free), which I'd never gotten to try in Texas. It was fruity (so not for everyone), but I really enjoyed it and give Celebrity two thumbs up for their selection. If I can go back to a full gluten diet, I would definitely lean towards Celebrity for their beer selection.
SkyBar: nice setting, cozy space, great views. Wish we'd gotten up here more during the day time, but we were often off the ship in the daylight hours or at dinner! Great space.
Ensemble bar: dark and a bit cramped, especially in the time (say 8-10pm) that we'd go since its in the middle of the specialty restaurants.
Passport bar: Got great service and drinks here. Pretty nondescript bar, but like most spaces on ship, was bright and airy. A little less cozy than some, but we got great service.
Could have been a little more organized (e.g., many people who had luggage tags were waiting in a line for people who didn't have theirs), but it worked well for us with standard (no suite or elite) boarding. It probably took 30 minutes from arriving at the luggage drop to being on board, which was acceptable. We were there around 11:30am I think.
We walked off at 4:30am express debarkation. It was a bit crowded on level 2 as people lined up, but we were let off at 4:30am exactly, or maybe 1-2 minutes earlier.
We did not book any Celebrity excursions. The amount of information they provide about them (on-board or on-line) is pathetic compared to what Princess offers about theirs. It was hard to tell in many cases how much time one would have in one location. Fortunately, we were able to do plenty on our own and with one excellent private tour organized by a fellow CC passenger.
Main stage: Ranged for excellent to yikes! The guest performers, especially the West-End singers, were awesome. I'd see them again in a concert. The comedian juggler had us laughing a lot, though a decent number of people walked out on him and some of his humor was "dumb" humor. The Celebrity cast show featuring Broadway songs was very good, though the one female vocal lead was not used appropriately, making her sound shaky and annoying in a few places. Overall, I really enjoyed this show, though I wish they hadn't rearranged the songs so much, like making "Bring Him Home" from Les Mis a duet. That song is very challenging for a single male vocalist, and the opening singer did a great job, but then bringing in harmonies made it a bit shaky. The nit-pickyness of my comments probably shows that overall, it impressed! We did not see the Mentalist, but heard several people on-board raving about it. The "Silhouette, the Show" show was pretty awful. The talent of the acrobats (insane tricks on unicycle, hanging from ceiling gymnastics, etc.) were impressive, but the costumes and music were dreadful. Perhaps it was a matter of taste, but it was very bizarre and repetitive. As 1-2 numbers, it might have been interesting. Essentially, the performers were great, but the production of the show was not to our liking at all!
Other entertainment: We really enjoyed the a Capella group (even seeking out their performances), though by the end of the cruise we wished they had a few more songs. For short sets to catch passing through an area, they were a great addition and very talented. The ship band Kenosis (?) was ok and not-ok. On some songs, the lead singer sounded great, but on others, she couldn't pull it off. There are some songs that basically no one can replicate (think of some Whitney Houston), and therefore no one should try to. I wish they didn't have quite as much music and music-related games at the pool. Was happy there was no "Movies Under the Stars" type screen on deck, and I didn't really need the band out there. I assume some people enjoy it though, and I can tolerate it.
Conclusion: If you made it this far, don't let any of the negatives put you off, as I would do this exact cruise again and be excited for it.