Our first Celebrity cruise. Overall we found some real pluses and some real neutral/negatives.
We boarded in Valparaiso Chile with minimal hassles, despite reading that check in could be a hassle. We had Captain's Club privileges from RC, which might have made check in a little easier but didn't seem to make a huge difference.
Don't expect to come back and peruse the kiosks after you board: if you want to shop for trinkets/coffee etc after you check in, do it right away. From the check in pier you board a bus which takes you to the ship. We had a wait getting off the bus onto the ship because the gangplanks were very steep (choice of two: steep and very steep!) and the crew was struggling to board people who had mobility issues. Having been in that position before, we were patient but also getting too much sun.
Pluses: at first we found the food better than RC, but during the two week cruise we had as many mediocre meals as good ones. Desserts were usually very good and one hidden gem was the fee-based coffee bar pastries. Service was mostly slow, and could be incredibly slow. One night our dining companions got up immediately after the main course so they could attend the show. Cabin service was as good as we've had anywhere.
Shows were good to OK. The magic show with contortionist blew my mind!
Onboard lectures: the history professor (Dr. Palka) was very interesting. "Uncle Marty" was a joke: I never heard if he had any real qualifications other than having lived in Panama, but listening to him (which we tried once and then tried to avoid) was like listening to one's dotty uncle.
Other onboard events: the art class was fun even though I can't draw. Zumba was also enjoyable but held in too small a space for the number of participants.
Minuses: Then we had norovirus. My initial reaction was the management reacted quickly. My second reaction was, quick does not equal efficient. I would swear they had no procedures in place to handle a norovirus outbreak and made up policies on the spot. Buffet service slowed from a crawl to a crawl through quicksand. Want hot tea or coffee? You might get hot water in a cup and a teabag thrown in later (or black coffee), but don't even think of asking for milk, honey, lemon, a spoon, a napkin...each request took as long as getting the cup, and could not be combined in the same movement. Salt/pepper/creamer disappeared from the tables (most but not all of the time!) Ask for salt and you might get someone with a salt grinder who aggressively ground out a teaspoon of salt as you were saying enough!
I developed a cough in the second week and was unable to shake it. Perhaps because I was coughing I noticed how many other people were coughing and complaining about a persistent cough. Not sure where I picked it up but I never got better which suggests something aboard was aggravating it. I came home to a diagnosis of atypical pneumonia.
Coffee was another huge minus. I believe they make the free coffee as nasty as possible to get you to buy the expensive stuff. Someone told us to switch to decaf as it was better, which it was for about two days, and then it too became almost undrinkable without lashings of milk or cream or whatever whitener they could find. I've drunk my share of nasty coffee and can stand it pretty bad but this set a new standard.
On the last night, the cabin steward took away every glass, every amenity except disposable shampoo/soap, so as we got ready to take nighttime meds, we discovered we had no cups/glasses etc. Frustrating. I know they had a short amount of time to turn the ship and get it as clean and sanitary as possible but I felt punished rather than protected by the way they handled the norovirus.
Disembarkation was pretty easy, everything considered, but the line of people hand carrying luggage grows longer every cruise. Apparently even that wasn't really an issue because the crew wanted us off that ship so badly they hustled us off before their shore crew was ready, so we stood in gaggles awaiting a chance to get our luggage. At first I thought it was due to Customs but apparently the wait was due to the shore crew not having the bags neatly lined up and waiting. Another frustration. Honestly, we can find out bags just like we do at the airport.
PORTS OF CALL
Very little information has been posted about ports of call for this area and now I understand why. Each port seemed to have two basic options: city tours and Andes tours with long bus rides into the hills. Many city tours overlapped. Except for Cartagena, we took ship-offered city tours because we had booked so late. In Cartagena, we went on a city tour organized by a fellow CruiseCritic member who had arranged lunch at a local spot. Our tour guide, Dora the Explorer, was as good as advertised, and having a local lunch really made the tour for me.
Each port of call had something interesting about it, but we really didn't have a lot of time in any of them to shop for handicrafts. Lima and Colon were exceptions because of the shops outside the pier. The portside shops outside Lima offered good variety. Overall, we got a good overview of South America's western coast, though, and coupled with Dr. Palka's lectures got a good sense of the culture.