Overall my 15-day cruise to the Holy Land was good with one exception, we never made it to the Holy Land (Israel). Hamas and the Israelis decided to have a rocket contest just long enough to prevent us from visiting Israel. Celebrity decided to skip Israel (3 port days) and go to Istanbul instead. This was acceptable, but I think Celebrity did a poor job communicating the change in plans. Yes, they told us that they were discussing with the Celebrity headquarters and told us the night before our scheduled arrival in Ashdod, Israel that the Israel ports would be cancelled. But, they never explained why we sailed past Santorini, Rhodes, Crete and Cyprus and traveled way out of the way to get to Istanbul. We basically lost one port of call and added another sea day making it six out of a 15-day cruise. In addition, the Ship Officers disappeared from sight once the itinerary change was announced. The passengers came to the same conclusion, Celebrity selected the option that would make them the most money. It is really a shame since the ship, food and crewmembers, excluding the Officers that hide, were really good.
OK, now on to the review. The ship was really nice, only about 1.5 years old. There were 3000 passengers, but the ship never seemed crowded. The common areas were open and spacious. The pool and deck furniture were padded and comfortable. Never had a problems finding a deck chair. There was a common area with a real lawn. They had evening wine & jazz nights with blankets and pillows available to sit on the lawn. During the day they had lawn games like crocket. The lounges, bars and specialty restaurants were nicely decorated and comfortable. The entertainment was hit and miss. Their production shows were good, but they didn't have as many "fun" type of activities as Caribbean cruises.
The food was good but not great. The exception was the specialty restaurants. I went to two, Qsine and Murano. They have a steep surcharge fee, $40 per restaurant, but those two were probably worth the money. Qsine is a wild and quirky tapas restaurant. The menu is an iPad and a rubic's cube. The food presentation is amazing; nothing is served on a dish. Murano was a French restaurant where your meal is cooked tableside. The buffet was better than other ships, but the main dining was similar to other ships with average food. This cruise offered both set time seating and open seating options. I like the open seating option; I met more people and can go eat when I'm hungry. We only had to wait once, during a formal night.
The cabin was nice. I had a guaranteed balcony cabin and they gave me a great location on deck 8 mid-ship with an extra large balcony. It had a nice size flat screen TV. The bathroom was decent size but the storage area was limited.
The "Celebrity Life" was good. Celebrity had two guest speakers that had interesting presentations on the ancient history for the port of calls we visited. Many of the activities had surcharges.
Embarkation/Disembarkation in Rome (Civitavecchia). The port is a long distance from downtown Rome and the international airport, but there are a number of options that a reasonably convenient. The most convenient is the cruise line transfer, which can be expensive. If you have a lot of luggage and want convenience, this is probably the best option. The lowest cost option is the train. There is an express train from the airport to the main station in Rome. I would highly recommend a stay in Rome, one the most amazing historical capitals in the world. Although I have been to Rome several times, I stayed both before and after my cruise. I stayed at a hotel near the station for convenience, since I used the train from/to the airport and the port. There are trains running to the port every hour, some local and some express. Try to get the high speed train that makes the journey in 35 minutes. The local train may by over an hour. The train station at the port, Civitavecchia, is very small. There are three options to get to the ship from the train station, which may be anywhere from 1/2 mile to 3 miles away depending on where it docks. The lowest cost but longest time is to walk about 1/2 mile to the entrance of the port. There is usually a free port shuttle bus that will take you to your ship running roughly every 30 minutes during peak boarding time. Option 2 is take a share taxi van with a flat rate of $40, so the more people in the van the lower the cost per person. Option 3, is taking a taxi and the fare will depend on how far your ship is docked from the train station. The cruise line transfer was $129/person one way from the airport to the ship with a travel time of roughly 2 hours depending on traffic. The train and option 2 for me was $30/person and takes about the same time.
Port of calls
1) Alexandria, Egypt. A trip to the pyramids and Memphis, Cairo or the Egyptian museum is a must. It is a very long day and expensive. It is best to take a Celebrity shore excursion or a third party excursion arranged a head of time. Alexandria can be done on your own with a taxi. The library is worth a visit. Not much by the port except a few shops
2) Istanbul, Turkey. This replaced the Israel ports. A wonderful city to visit. The major sights are close to each other and the Grand Bazaar is a short walk away. Shore excursions are convenient, but you can take a trolley from the port to the sights and bazaar for 50 cents each way. The ship will also have a shuttle to the Grand Bazaar for $15. This was an overnight stay and the nightlife was fun in Istanbul. There are several cafes, restaurants and bars a few minutes walk from the port.
3) Kusadasi, Turkey. A trip to Ephesus is a must. Best preserved ancient town along with Pompeii. The terrace homes are especially nice. There are other ancient ruins in the area along with some Christian religious sites. This port was popular for shopping. The shops are very close to the pier. There are also a lot of seafood cafes and restaurants.
4) Athens, Greece, A trip to the Acropolis is a must. The Arcopolis museum is also excellent. The Plaka area at the base of the Acropolis hill is good for shopping and lunch. There is a subway from the port to downtown Athens.
5) Catania, Italy. The town is nice but most head to Tamarino, a beautiful town perched on a hillside above the Mediterranean. We also went to the mid-station of Mt Etna. It was 70 degrees in Catania and Tamarino, but freezing and snowing at 6200 feet. If you do this tour, be prepared for cold temperatures on Mt Etna.
6) Naples, Italy. So much to do. Pompeii, Capri, Amalfi, Sorrento, Mt Vesuvius and the Naples Archeological museum. It was windy and stormy the day we docked, so the ferries to Sorrento and Capri were cancelled. A railway strike made it difficult to visit Sorrento and Pompeii.