We have previously sailed with Princess Cruises rated by many as 4 Star. Celebrity on the other hand is marketed as 5 Star and, if our experiences on Princess were anything to go by, this cruise was going to be something really special. It wasn't!
Boarding at Civitavecchia was efficient and uneventful and we gained access to our Stateroom at about 16.30. It was clean and well appointed except for storage space which was somewhat limited. We had an unobstructed balcony view and being close to the elevators, access to the Cuvee Dining Room and Ocean View Cafe was perfect. Our first impressions of the ship were very favourable and a systematic tour of the public areas and facilities confirmed that we had made the right choice. Or so we thought.
It is difficult to be negative when there were so many positives, but the food and dining room experience let Celebrity down. We chose Celebrity Select (Anytime) dining which worked well at first. We had a great experience on the first two evenings, and were told we could reserve the same table and wait staff for the remainder of the cruise. Result! However the following evening we were shunted elsewhere and the experience couldn't have been worse - indifferent staff, noisy location and exceptionally poor service. We waited for what seemed an eternity to get served and had to chase the Sommelier to take the drinks order. After dinner we asked to see the maitre d' and quietly voiced our concerns. To his credit he took on board our criticisms and personally supervised the service on subsequent evenings which was exemplary.
The food however, was another matter. The choice and quality was not 5 star by any stretch of the imagination and failed on all counts to match Princess for choice and quality. (That said the last time we cruised was 3 years ago and perhaps given the current financial crisis all the cruise lines have had to cut back.) We were particularly unimpressed with the meat and the vegetable choice, the former being tough and tasteless and the latter to few to notice. The choices in the Ocean View Cafe were also limited and not very appetizing. The coffee was awful and basics like fresh orange juice were all at extra cost.
We baulked at the premium being asked to dine in the speciality restaurants (some of them at $40 a pop) and so apart from the main venues we only tried The Porch. We had the Paninis and Salad which were very good.
The daytime events and entertainment were quite limited and we only visited the theatre three times to see the 'production shows' which were excellent.
The age range on board was very mixed, quite unlike Princess which seemed to attract an older clientele. There were a few toddlers / children (rarely seen) a considerable number of teenagers and young couples and the rest +40 going on 70! It was quite refreshing and lends the lie to the belief that cruising is for the older generation. Only one criticism though - if you want a relaxing day up on the Solstice Deck forget it. The constant thump of basket balls being bounced on the court below will quickly drive you mad. I had a pair of noise cancelling headphones which were grrr.....eat.
The Shore excursions were quite expensive and like many other guests on the ship we found it just as convenient and much less expensive to use local transport to find our way into and around the various ports of call. For example, it cost four of us 40 euro for the return taxi ride into Athens from the port, and 18 euro each for a city bus tour which stopped at all the main points of interest including the Acropolis. I think the equivalent ship excursion cost about $80 a head!
As for the drinks packages, we debated long and hard whether to take a package costing in the region of $600. I am a moderate drinker and in the end decided to 'pay as you go'. It was the right decision for us. We were off the ship most days and looking at my 'end-of-cruise' bill I would have been out-of pocket just as Celebrity had intended! Besides, one of our party was taken ill and had he taken a pre-paid package he would really have lost out. Be warned.
The Lawn Club is a great innovation and we spent many a happy evening enjoying the sail away and listening to jazz under the stars. The alcoves were an expensive luxury and not quite as relaxing as advertised. We paid around $80 for the privilege and were subjected to a day long barrage of noise from a party of ten occupying the adjacent alcove. Not withstanding the fact that the booths were only intended to seat four, the ship's staff were completely oblivious to the parties drunken behaviour and lack of thought for their fellow guests. Once again, a complaint brought an instant apology and a promise of a free day when the offending party would not be around. And that I suppose sums up the staff attitude, reluctant or unable to anticipate problems, but quick and extremely good at resolving them.
Would we choose Celebrity again? We already have, not because we enjoyed ourselves so much but because we had yet to sail on Silhouette when the booking was made. Knowing what I know now and given the choice I would probably have gone with Princess. Better the devil you know I always think .....