We started with pretty high hopes and expectations on this cruise after having had a very good experience on a shorter Caribbean cruise on Celebrity Summit. I think it's safe to say that this cruise exceeded our expectations in almost every regard.
EMBARKATION. We arrived around 15 minutes prior to the listed embarkation time and they had already started processing passengers in. The wait for security and at the counter was very reasonable... perhaps 10-15 minutes max from start to finish. Baggage handling as we entered was flawless and our bags were whisked away for loading onto the ship. Once were processed in, we were told that they would not be accepting passengers onboard for approximately another hour, which was fine. There was plenty of comfortable seating space in the Barcelona terminal. We were also told that the previous cruise had experienced a few cases of Norovirus (which had us a bit spooked at that point), therefore the cabin and ship prep time would likely be longer than normal. We were allowed to board the ship slightly prior to the announced time (12:30pm), however, we were told that cabins would not be ready until later in the afternoon. As it ended up, they took 1 to 1-1/2 hours longer than expected, and we were able to go to our cabins at around 3pm. Again, I can't blame the cruise line for this and frankly we'd rather they take the additional time to minimize the possibility of a reinfection. We took extra care to use the disinfection stations throughout the ship and wash hands frequently as recommended. No issues.
CABINS. We stayed in a Concierge Class cabin on deck 9 and were absolutely delighted with the cabin. It was very well designed with plenty of storage space and felt considerably larger than it was. We also really appreciated little touches like additional plug-ins for computers, iPhones, or other electronics. The bed was extremely comfortable and you were able to choose from a selection of different pillow types. The shower was also a big surprise... roomy, excellent shower head, and plenty of water at a very consistent temperature. May not seem like a big deal, but it is when you're going to be there for nearly 2 weeks. The balcony was adequate in size and comfortable. Don't expect much privacy as there is only a thin panel separating your cabin from your neighbors (if you didn't already know this).
SPECIALTY DINING. We took advantage of an offer for a 20% discount on specialty dining the first night of the cruise and dined at Murano. Our meal was just superb and really got things off to a great start. Everything was very well prepared, but we were very impressed with the table side preparation of lobster that a neighboring table had ordered (we had elected instead for other choices). It looked so good that we decided on a return trip towards the end of the cruise (watch for deals later in the cruise... we got in at 50% off that time). Highly recommend the lobster and for dessert, their souffles (both chocolate and Grand Marnier) are among the best we've ever had. We also tried Silk Harvest, their Asian restaurant. Our dinner was decent quality, however, they stayed close to very familiar dishes (e.g. Kung Pao Chicken, Pad Thai) and execution was more tuned to the average palate with little in the way of creativity or choices you wouldn't find in any Americanized Chinese/Thai restaurant most anywhere. We also grabbed a meal at Bistro on Five, which specializes in crepes (both main courses and desserts). That was very enjoyable and inexpensive and we appreciated the fact that we could customize the crepes in any way we wished by interchanging various protein choices and sauces to our own liking.
MAIN DINING ROOM AND BUFFET. Dining in the main dining room was also quite good, but obviously not quite in the same category as Murano. Service was excellent across the board, though the Sommeliers seemed a bit stretched and at times it was well into the meal before one dropped by our table. The buffet upstairs was a very pleasant surprise (as contrasted by previous cruises on Princess and Royal Caribbean which had far fewer and less palatable choices in their buffets). We particularly appreciated the fact that there were plenty of healthy choices (salads, DIY sandwiches, vegetables, etc.) available if that is your preference. There was a huge choice of items for breakfast, all of which were very fresh if you took a little time to make sure that you picked up items like waffles/pancakes right after they were made. Fruits were surprisingly good, but this may be more indicative of the season and availability of good fresh fruit vs. other cruises we've been on. They also served a very nice selection of sushi at dinnertime, which turned out to be an excellent alternative when the main dining room menu didn't look that interesting. We are big sushi fans and were very pleasantly surprised at the choice and quality of the offerings. You will mostly find familiar fish (Maguro, Hamachi, etc.), however, the quality and freshness is good. Would be nice if size of the fish portion were a touch larger. Ended up having to discard some rice in order to get a reasonable portion of fish.
SHIP ENTERTAINMENT. Generally, we are not enamored with the production shows found on most ships, and frankly, this one was no exception. The talent was fine, however, it seemed overproduced and fairly tired. We watched a bit of one show and didn't bother with the rest. However, the individual performers were generally excellent, including a group of a cappella singers, a flamenco guitarist, and a guitarist/singer. They rotated around to various lounges and spots on the ship, so there was plenty of opportunity to see them more than once if you wished.
Without question, the absolute HIGHLIGHT of the cruise, from an entertainment standpoint, was the hot glass exhibition. This was done a couple of times per day through most of the cruise and each and every performance (2 hours) was unique. 3 artists had command of a full hot glass blowing shop, complete with glass furnace, reheating furnace, and annealing oven. For each performance, they made around 3 unique items, all of which employed different techniques. We were so entranced with this, that we ended up attending 4 or more of these exhibitions. The artists were very talented and readily answered lots of questions and there were opportunities to win one of their creations via a drawing after some of the shows, or a charity auction at the end of the cruise. Don't miss this if you're lucky enough to have it on one of the Solstice class ships.
BARS, LOUNGES, SPACE. Most of the bars were very good, with each having its own specialty. There was a martini bar with a wide variety of different Vodkas to try and unique Martini variants. There also was something called the Molecular Bar, which specialized in very unusual combinations of liqueurs, bitters, essences, and heaven knows what else to make wonderful and very unique cocktails. Surprisingly, these were priced on par with other drinks on the ship and in general competitive with cocktails found in typical bars in our own city.
SERVICE. Service on board was as good or better than what we'd experienced on any other cruise. Really everyone we encountered was very helpful and willing to go the extra mile to help. When we needed help in getting some special medication refrigerated, someone from the guest desk immediately escorted us to the medical center and helped ensure that this was done properly and that the container was properly labeled. Our cabin attendant (Arthur) was superb, and again, always willing to help with any request, no matter how trivial. There were lots of smiles aboard and really no evidence of any attitude or frustration from any of the crew. Everyone seemed to enjoy their jobs and working with people.
OVERALL. We started this cruise with hopes that it would incentivize us to continue sailing with Celebrity as our primary cruise line (this was our second cruise with them). We like their Captain's Club points system, which rewards not only the number of cruises you take, but provides additional points for longer cruises and Concierge Class or above booking. As a result, with only two cruises, we've already reached their second level (Select) and with 2 more, will likely reach Elite status. There are some very nice perks to be had at that level and we're very pleased that this cruise gave us a very strong incentive to want to return to Celebrity ASAP.