Before going on the special Top Chef cruise we read the reviews here to get an idea of what to expect. Almost everything was different on this cruise from what we had expected. It was my first cruise and her second.
It's very likely that no other Celebrity cruise will be like this, so this is probably a one-off. I'll relate the stuff we liked and didn't like about the experience.
Embarkation: Really easy, almost like an airport boarding process. Probably took us 15 - 20 mins to get on the boat. Even though we requested luggage tags they never sent them. Had to fill them in while outside the terminal prior to boarding. Cabin was ready around 1:30 - 2 PM but we never heard any announcement about it.
Cabin attendants were really nice and incredibly helpful. Anything we asked for they took care of. The way they took care of us was really the best part of the cruise. And they kept the cabin really clean the whole trip.
One issue was that they must have deep cleaned the carpet just before we boarded and the rug stayed damp/sticky for days afterwards.
Our cabin was clean and never noisy, except when a Carnival ship docked alongside and our entire ship began vibrating from their music.
But when loud pool parties happened on our ship there was no noise heard in our cabin.
Because this was a Top Chef themed cruise I think our MDR experience was unlike the normal Celebrity mealtime situation. The MDR menu had a regular section and a special page with Top Chef entrees. We ate at a fixed time but always were shuffled to a different waiter/table. They called this 'Open Seating', which led to some very disorganized meal situations where on one night it took over 2.5 hours to get to the dessert/coffee stage of the meal.
We ate in the Aquaspa cafe most lunches and some breakfasts and really enjoyed the food there. The buffet was sort of like ummmm....ok, nothing special about the food. The scrambled eggs were nasty. We didn't eat in any specialty restaurants.
We didn't take a drink package but brought a bottle of wine with us. Also we located the 24 hour beverage station by the pool where you can get coffee & juice without having to pay for it like you would when ordering it from a bar.
The MDR staff had major problems processing drink orders for our tablemates. Either they got them wrong or failed to bring the drinks at almost every meal. When we ordered wine on the final night I had to remind the waiter at the end that they hadn't asked for our SeaPass cards yet.
We did get a very interesting tour of the galleys with the Executive Sous Chef and learned a lot about how food is prepared on Celebrity ships.
We were told that after our trip the ship was headed to the Bahamas for 19 days for a retrofit to add the BLU restaurant and a few other amenities.
The pools are kind of small, so if you are a big pool person then this ship is probably not for you. And no water slide like on the adjacent Carnival ship. I felt sorry for the Carnival staffer who had to supervise from on top of the slide even when their ship was in port and nobody was using the pool.
Deck chairs in the pool area were OK with padding, but on the upper deck they were stained and missing slats and generally needed a lot of TLC.
The casino was sort of lame, and except when the celebrity chefs were gambling we never saw a lot of people in there.
Cell service was very solid on the ship the entire trip. We had heard horror stories about crummy service on other cruise lines. Having a good cell signal was good because I went all over the ship and never found a WiFi signal anywhere on-board. I was picking up WiFi networks from shore when we cruised off the Mexican coast, but never got one on-board. So I ended up checking email through my smartphone using the slow but usable 1xRTT (2G) signal.
Because of our trip schedule we had very brief port calls, Key West was only a few hours. Just enough to tour the Hemingway House and have a drink at the Green Parrot. Cozumel was not our favorite. Tip: Don't buy any jewelery from the local shops, it's like negotiating at a used car lot.
Disembarkation: Due to late night drinking the night before, many of our fellow passengers could not make it out of their rooms by 8:30 AM, so we had an uncrowded & unhurried trip off the ship and through customs. They warned that federal budget cuts would delay our customs clearance but this didn't seem to be an issue.
We would cruise again, just not in this type of situation. A regular cruise with a normal port schedule would probably be better for us.