We drove ourselves to Southampton and even though the Boat Show was in full swing there was little traffic around. At the baggage drop off porters eagerly fought off each other to grab the bags out of the car. The car park was located only a short distance away but would have been a bind had it been raining as we had to walk back to the terminal. It was a breeze through security and check-in and was pleasantly surprised that we were told we could board straight away. Snaking our way through the corridors towards the ship we allowed ourselves to relax too early because we hit the buffers big style with big queues on deck with passengers waiting to have their security photographs taken. Why weren't they taken at check-in like most other Cruise Lines, instead of on deck in the cold air?
So we were onboard by 13.00hrs but we were then informed the cabins would not be ready until three at the earliest. Mmm ploy to cash in on drinks sales methinks. Still it was a chance to savour the buffet lunch in the Seaside Cafe. If this was anything to go by we were going to put on pounds over the 12 days.
The cabins were ready at 14.00hrs according to announcements on the tannoy. Immediately going to the cabin we were informed by the cabin stewardess that it was not in fact ready so we dumped the hand luggage and went to explore the ship to pass the time. Our first impression was that the vessel was far too big for us, preferring the smaller 800 passenger sized ships. Sailaway at 17.00hrs saw us at the Mast Bar meeting with other CruiseCritic members. It was great to put faces to the usernames on the Forums.
As we were on first sitting for dinner we dived back to the cabin to change at 17.45hrs. Panic stations, the luggage had not arrived. Chasing the stewardess the bags arrived five minutes later but it was still a mad rush to change and then walk from the furthest point forward on Deck 9 to the San Marco Restaurant on Deck 5 aft. A table for six was the order of the day and the table itself was bang in front of a huge circular window giving great views as we slipped quietly down Southampton Water.
We were joined at the table by a British couple and a Canadian couple. If you are reading this Cathy, Larry, Christine and Roger you were the best dinner companions we have ever had on all of our cruises. You made our cruise that much more special.
Making our way to the Celebrity Theatre for the welcome aboard Showtime presentation we got our first glimpse of the 'Shopping Mall'. We were not onboard to shop so blinkers on we sped through. Our first thoughts about the Theatre were its immense size but considering how many passengers onboard it needed to be. I won't dwell on the entertainment as I will mention that en-bloc later.
The rest of the evening was spent exploring the different venues, blinkers at the ready again for passing through the Casino. The Reflections Lounge was ok but the duo that was singing the first night sounded too 'tinny' for our ears.
The following morning we returned to the Relections Lounge for a Cruise Critic gathering where we met even more like minded travellers. On entry we were met by most of the Senior Officer Ranks, I wonder why! Could it be because of the name of the group somehow?
Having settled into shipboard life again our routine took on its usual stance so I will now go on to the good and not so good aspects of the voyage.
Our cabin as stated was on Deck 9 forward and inside. On the whole the decor was bright with light wood panelling making up the doors to the wardrobes and drawers. At the head of the bed was a wall to wall mirror which made the room feel much bigger than it really was. The bed was two singles pushed together with one duvet. The mattresses were incredibly soft and comfortable. The bathroom was bright and clean. The shower was very good but could have done with a tad more water pressure for my liking. Water temperature control was excellent. Overall the standard of the room was very good but there were little indentations in the wardrobe doors and fridge door which were dust collectors and were obviously missed by the cleaning staff. This was soon rectified by having a quiet word with them. At last a decent sized TV and good interactivity where on demand films could be had and the ability to check ones onboard spend. The biggest downside was the door in-between ours and the neighbouring cabin. It completely ruined any soundproofing that there may have been. Conversations could easily be overheard.
I will mention here the 'Cabin Crawl' that had been organised by a fellow Cruise Critic member. Not having sailed Celebrity before it was a good opportunity to see other grades of cabins. We were not overly impressed with any of the balcony cabins except one on the stern which was huge. Would I pay the extra for it, highly unlikely as we only use the cabin to change and for sleeping?
All I will say on this subject is congratulations Celebrity. The food was amazing, well cooked, tasteful, well presented and if you were minded to have seconds then that was no problem at all. We did not use any of the Speciality Restaurants.
The entire ship was generally kept to a high standard of cleanliness.
Reflections Lounge was bright with plenty of forward viewing area, seating was comfortable. This room was our main venue for relaxing however it had no atmosphere during the day and was generally colder than the rest of the ship.
Cafe De Bacio really was just a bar at the side of the main thoroughfare between the San Marco Restaurant and the Theatre. It was also a wifi hotspot. We used the venue twice to listen to an Acapella Quartet in the evening.
Cellar Bar, Bistro on Five, not used except as a means of accessing other parts of the ship.
Aqua Spa. Now this place had, for us anyway, an atmosphere which made us relax. We used the pool and whirlpool extensively and I indulged myself by spending some time in the sauna which had a huge window which you could look out to sea from whilst sweating off a few pounds. It was also the place where you could obtain a 'healthy meal', light salad and meats.
Onboard Photographer. Hoping for an updated Formal portrait we tried some of the locations. We were very, very disappointed with the results. We saved our money. I will add here how intrusive we feel it is for the Photographer to come round the dinner tables expecting us to stop what we are doing and stupidly pose for them. It's bad enough having to run the gauntlet each time one steps off the ship. Our opinion.
Formal Nights of which there were three saw the majority of passengers dressing up for the occasion.
Celebrity Theatre. A classy venue but not sure about the acts. David Meyer was an excellent musician on xylosynth but not sure if his wife enhanced the act. The singer Daniel Bouchet was not my cup of tea and I departed the theatre at the end of his third song, several other passengers did the same. The regular singers and dancers, the costumes and scenery were very good. I cannot remember her name but the most outstanding singer was the very attractive young lady who took the role of the Wicked Witch in the last performance of the cruise. Not only was her singing great but her acting was tremendous.
We could not understand the change in times of the performances, some days being 19.00hrs and 21.00hrs and others being 20.45hrs and 22.45hrs. the later performances clashing with other late performances elsewhere on the ship.
Michaels Club. A great little bar with plenty of old charm and character. The resident performer was Perry Grant, a singer, piano player and camp comedian who had a large following of passengers. The act did begin to grind on me after watching three consecutive nights performances with very little difference in them. The nightly whisky, bourbon tasting sessions were a pleasure hic! The rumour is that Celebrity is to change the venue into a 'Sports Bar' at the next refurb. Please please please Celebrity leave it alone.
At the Cafe De Bacio the acts performing were a trio of female violinists, a classical guitarist and my favourite entertainers of the whole cruise the acapella group 'These Guys'. Brilliant harmonies with a good blend of music and comedy.
Officers. All Officers greeted you with a smile, nod and hello wherever you were and were extremely attentive and helpful.
Bar Staff & Waiters. Most went about their jobs quietly and methodically. There were a few that really stood out above the rest and perhaps at times too attentive to ones needs by bringing me an opened bottle of beer without asking me if I needed one. I prefer my beer to be very slightly chilled towards room temperature and after a couple of days the regular waiters/barkeeps did not need to be told again. All were keen to stop and chat when time allowed them to do so.
Rest of Crew. Every single one of them from deck crew to engine room to spa attendants was willing to smile and chat making for a very happy atmosphere.
Ports & Excursions
Vigo was the first Port of call. We did a small group private tour with other Cruise Critic members around Vigo and then onto Santiago de Compostela. This was by far the best way to travel.
Porto. We were shuttled from the ship to the Port Gates, a one minute ride, as we were not allowed to walk through the dock area. Immediately outside were three different hop-on hop-off bus companies to choose from. We chose the Red Bus at 11â‚¬ per person. There were two routes to choose so we did half of one into the city then doing the second route in its entirety. This left us an hour to scoff some lunch before jumping on the original bus route back to the ship. For 11â‚¬ and 3.5hrs bus tour with commentary it was very good value for money.
Bilbao. Well worth the visit. Celebrity put a shuttle bus on from the Port to the centre of town but at $15 per person it was a bit steep. It would have been cheaper by taxi, however the shuttle dropped us a short walk from the Guggenheim Museum which would have been even better if it had of been open. So we took a walk along the river into the Old Town, spending perhaps two hours walking the narrow cobbled streets and viewing the inside of the Cathedral. Finding that there was a hop-on hop-off bus we paid â‚¬6 each for an hour's tour of the city before having lunch in the Plaza Neuva, which was a wrong move as it cost and arm and a leg, before strolling back to the pickup point for the return to the ship.
Le Verdon/Bordeaux. The port was a 2hr coach drive away and we could not justify paying the coach fare that Celebrity was demanding to travel into Bordeaux. We decide to take the complementary shuttle from the ship to the ferry which would whisk us across the River Gironde to Royan. The shuttle bus driver didn't even know the route, ending up in a marina and having to ask a local the way. Eventually we did get to the ferry, costing 3.5â‚¬ each way for a 20 minute crossing which was decidedly uncomfortable. The outstanding feature of the town has to be the church which overlooks the town. Built of concrete in 1958 the exterior is showing serious signs of decay (reinforced metal showing through). From the outside it looks like a modernish concrete building which is exactly what it was. Step inside though and wow it was just one huge room with stained glass windows that shone with the sunlight streaming through. Awesome and needs to be seen to appreciate it.
Le Havre. On arrival it was a mass exodus of passengers heading for an overnight stay in Paris. For the Americans and Canadians this was their opportunity to see the city. For us the excursion fare Celebrity wanted to charge was ridiculous. We can get to Paris from England for a great deal less if we were so minded to do. Once again Celebrity put on a shuttle bus into Le Havre. Boy oh boy $15 per person per day for a journey of less than a mile you're having a laugh Celebrity. Taxis from the gangway were charging 8â‚¬ for up to 5 persons but it was a nice day so we walked. Plenty of shops but being a Sunday a lot was closed. The highlight was a visit to the old quarter of St. Vincent Outside the church on the plaza were local painters selling their artistic works and in the surrounding narrow streets there were market stalls selling all sorts of goods. Locals were also selling second hand goods car boot style. The market etc. is only held on the last Sunday in the month so we were lucky to see that. For 6â‚¬ each we hopped on a Tourist Train which trundled us around the town for an hour or so. The commentary was in French but we were supplied with a booklet describing everything in English.
This went extremely well. We had to state a day or so before our preferred time of departure and I assume we received luggage tags that reflected this. We were off the ship by 08.45hrs and in the car and away by 09.00hrs. But Celebrity still tried to empty our pockets further by offering an 'Extend your stay' package (Using onboard facilities until 15.00hrs) at a cost of $59 per person. A resounding 'no thank you' there.
As previously stated our first impression was that the ship was too big for us. That impression still remains but as the cruise progressed we felt more comfortable. Our biggest gripe is the so called hidden extras like gratuities and shuttle bus fares. We paid 'gratuities' up front so why put more on the drinks. Put it all in one or scrap it altogether leaving tipping up to the individual as it was years ago. Or perhaps raise the cruise price as in 'all inclusive' so there would be no argument, what you see is what you pay.
Our second biggest gripe is Cruise Lines advertising going to 'Bordeaux' say but in fact using a port a million miles away. So Celebrity, Carnival etc. start building smaller vessels that are capable of entering the main harbours stated. Big is not necessarily best.
As an aside I watched the Channel 4 programme Despatches yesterday which put Celebrity on the rack. There may have been some truths told but the programme was heavily biased against the Cruise Industry and to use the UK minimum wage as a basis of their complaint is ridiculous.