This was our 3rd Celebrity cruise, but the 1st one in Europe.
We arrived in Rome 4 days before the cruise and spent the days touring Rome. For the morning of the cruise departure we arranged with 2 other couples that I found through the Cruise Critic Equinox Roll Call for a van with http://italy-inlimos.com to pick us all up at our respective hotels. Fabio was our driver and he was actually about 10-15 minutes early for the pick up. It was totally hassle-free and I would recommend Italy in Limos wholeheartedly.
The check in was quick, being in Aqua class helped, but the regular check in line wasn't too long around 12:30pm when we got there. The Oceanview cafe was open for lunch.
We loved this cruise. We ate most of our breakfasts and dinners in the Blu dining room. The first night we treated ourselves to a dinner at the Tuscan Grill and my wife pronounced the meal the best she's ever eaten. The food was excellent and the service exemplary. Because we were in Aqua class, there was a special (2 for 1) for any of the specialty restaurants for the 1st night only. The only fault I see here is that the only way we found out about the special was from a waiter in Blu during our visit there in the early afternoon on our stroll to get acquainted with the ship. The special wasn't publicized anywhere that I saw.
The ship holds almost 3000 guests, but it never felt crowded anywhere, even around the pool during sea days. There is an adult only pool, which allowed us to get away from the noise. The ship has a beautiful library that seemed to be empty most of the time and was a nice place to just sit and read. We ate couple of our breakfasts and lunches in the Oceanview cafe and it never felt crowded either.
We picked this specific ship for its itinerary. We have never been to any of the ports other than Rome. In most of the ports we arranged for tours privately, though we took a ship excursion on the 2nd day in Istanbul due to the short time we were in port on that day.
In Santorini, we planned on taking the cable car to town and then take a cab to Oia. As we were waiting for the cable car, I noticed a sign advertising a boat ride to Oia, bus transfer from port in Oia into town and then a bus for the return to Fira allowing about 90 minutes in Oia. The cost was only 20 Euros so we went for it. It turned out very well. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of the outfit.
In Istanbul, we booked a private tour with EphesusDeluxe.com for our first day there. We were picked up in port and spent the next 8 hrs with our guide seeing all the major sights in Istanbul. We would have been happier skipping the obligatory stop at a rug dealer, but we got out of there quickly. Our driver and guide was Arda and he was very good. The 2nd day we booked a ship excursion, the Bosphorus river cruise. It was a very nice tour with the exception of the last obligatory stop at a jewelry store. I would have preferred having more time in the Spice Market and to skip the jewelry story altogether.
In Kusadasi, we worked with EphesusDeluxe.com again and had a private tour of Ephesus with a driver and a guide (Selchuk - he was quite good). Again, we were picked up in port and spent about 8 hrs touring the area. The cost of the private tours in Istanbul AND Kusadasi was only $129/person not including the cost of the Turkish rug we bought ;-)
In Athens, we booked a walking tour with Athens Walking Tours. They picked us in the port in a taxi. The walking part of the tour started in the Syntagma metro station and ended up at the top of Acropolis. It was a 3 hour tour after which we had about 3 hrs on our own before being picked up in a taxi and delivered back to the port. We enjoyed this tour very much. Unfortunately, it was Monday and the archaeological museum was closed. Our tour guide was Sofia and she was very good.
The next port of call was supposed to be Mykonos, but due to high winds we were unable to dock there. A stop in Xania, Crete was substituted. We had no tour there, but took a bus from the port into town (3 Euros/person round trip bus fare) and walked around the town. The Venetian port area is lovely as is the Old Town. We found the local synagogue dating back to the 15th century. It was an enjoyable few hours.
In Naples, we joined 3 other couples and shared a van with a driver that took us on an all day trip down the Amalfi coast stopping in Ravello, Amalfi and Positano. This was arranged by one of the couples and we found it via the Cruise Critic Equinox Roll Call. The van was from Guemar Travel. Our driver was Davide and he did a fine job navigating the tight roads of Amalfi coast. The scenery of this area is breathtaking.
Back in Civitavecchia, Italy in Limos was waiting for us for the trip to the airport. We shared the van with 2 other couples and again, this was very hassle-free.
We didn't participate in most of the activities planned by the cruise director staff. We did listen to the various bands, a capella group, guitar player/singer, piano player, etc. and these were very enjoyable. The evening shows ranged from mediocre to spectacular. The mentalist was mediocre, the comic was OK, the singer was OK, the Equinox dancers and singers were very good, the violinist was very good and the "Cirque du Soleil"-like show was spectacular.
What stood out for us on cruise above all was the service. They make sure to call you by name in the Blu dining room. The stateroom steward knew our name and called us by name every time he saw us. Alas, there were no towel animals (except for the night when the beach towels were delivered), but the steward and his assistant were excellent. The one thing that struck me was that while the crew was extremely cordial everywhere, the officers were not as friendly as the crew. Each time we encountered a crew member, he/she smiled and greeted us. Not so with the officers. More often than not, there was no eye contact from the officers. Someone needs to remind them that they are in a customer facing role. The Captain Club events that we attended were very well done - a cut above any others we've experienced on other lines.
The one negative against Celebrity is that the price of this cruise kept dropping after we booked. We did get upgraded to Aqua, which was nice, but I think it's a disservice to those who book early to charge them a higher price that cannot be changed without severe penalties while offering lower prices to those who book closer to the sailing time. While being upgraded is nice, it doesn't provide adequate compensation for spending quite a bit more for the same thing others are getting for less.
Kudos to Cruise Critic for having the ship roll call threads. We were able to get a ton of information and arrange tours with others. Without it, the cruise wouldn't have been as enjoyable. Thank you.