This was our first ever cruise, so with nothing to judge against we were able to come in without any preconceptions. We did the Holy Land cruise on Celebrity Silhouette an really enjoyed the experience.
This was incredible. We had been advised not to arrive at the ship before 2.00 pm as this was when boarding began, however our transfer from the Airport to Civitavecchia arrived at the port around 11.00 am. This was not a problem - we expected a long while of sitting around waiting but this didn't happen. We checked in smoothly, and had the obligatory face recognition photo taken to ease the on board photography (more on this later).
We immediately boarded the Ship and were allowed access to a number of decks, but not yet our stateroom. The first impression of when boarding the ship and going up the elevator was of the suspended tree in the middle of the Atrium a few decks up. Certainly an impressive sight. So, we had a wander around, checking out the Theatre, the pool decks, the lawn club and the sky observation lounge.
We went to the Oceanview Cafe where we had our first taste of Celebrity's food. We were impressed. The multi-station buffet style ensured there were no overly long queues, and the design meant we had a good view out the windows whilst enjoying our meal. The tannoy announcement came that our stateroom's were now available so we found our way there to see our ocean-view balcony cabin and were impressed with the size, design and quality of the finish.
We had an Ocean-View Balcony stateroom, midship on deck 9 (1B). The balcony was a good size, meaning we could both sit outside in comfort. Plenty of storage, though the door for the wardrobe had come off the runner. Not a problem so we left it, though at the end of our 10 night cruise it was fixed, so we could have had the attendant sort it earlier if we had done something about it!
Our stateroom attendant was excellent. Always seemed to be around, very attentive and was always ready with a cheery "good morning Mr ...". In fact, a number of the crew were very attentive and remembered us by name - a nice touch probably made simpler by our easily remembered surname.
We opted for "Select" dining, meaning we were able to eat as and when it suited us in the Grand Cuvee main dining room. This was fantastic, and we didn't have to wait at any time we went for our evening meal. Most nights we sat in the same area, and were attentively seen to by the waiting staff who were always excellent and very attentive to what we wanted. One particular member of staff always remembered the drinks we had and would bring them to our table soon after we sat down. The quality of the food was excellent, and boosted by the daily changing menu which accompanied the standard menu which remained the same for the whole cruise.
One morning I took the guided tour around the galley for the Grand Cuvee and saw a little behind the scenes of this well organised and high-quality operation - would certainly recommend that tour.
We generally ate breakfast (when we got up early enough) in the Sea View Cafe, and with such a large degree of choice this worked really well for us. It was never too busy and we easily found a table for the two of us.
We didn't venture into any of the speciality dining restaurants, but heard from a number of people on our cruise that they were certainly worth experiencing for the small additional cover charge.
I thoroughly enjoyed spending evenings in the Ensemble Lounge, listening to the live jazz group headed by drummer Manny Kellough. The service was quick and we had no problems. The Sky Observation Lounge was another bar we enjoyed spending time in. On some evenings there would be entertainment, including the evening with chocolate fountains, ice sculptures etc.
The music on board was pretty good. The theatre productions were by no means west-end quality, but entertaining nonetheless. Primarily the quality of the theatre orchestra (7 piece band) was a lot to do with that. The Cruise Director was a little irritating in his delivery style, but I could live with that.
There were two nights when the Theatre Orchestra played Big Band style music in the Grand Foyer, which was again very good and we both enjoyed. Manny Kellough's jazz ensemble need a mention, as I really enjoyed their music. Particularly one evening when the guest entertainer joined them for some improv.
The captain (Captain Demetrius) needs a special mention for his dry wit and entertaining daily announcements.
Itinerary / Tours
We chose this cruise in order to visit the Holy land and other significant sites. The added bonus that the ship was practically brand new added to the appeal. We had been due to visit Egypt, but this had changed due to the circumstances in Egypt at the time. However, we knew this at the time of booking so it wasn't an issue. Cyprus was disappointing, but we didn't do any tours whilst there, so spent majority of the day onboard in peace and quiet!
We booked a large number of tours, and were busy every day we were in port (except one as above). These were well organised and we managed to see everything we were hoping to.
This was very smooth. We were given an allotted time and went to the theatre when that time came. After about 10 minutes we were on our way off the ship and easily found our luggage. Our private transfer was waiting for us and that topped of a great first cruise experience.
We really enjoyed our introduction to cruising. Although we were one of the youngest couples on the ship (mid-20s), this was probably due to the itinerary. It didn't take away from the relaxed feel on board, nor the quality of the surroundings, staff, entertainment and food. Would certainly do it again. In fact we are! We'll be cruising on the Allure of the Seas in November 2012 around the Caribbean.