This was my 11th cruise. In the past, we have chosen our ship and cruise line by destinations rather than loyalty to a particular cruise line and as a result we have been on ships from Holland America, Princess, Disney, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity. Usually we take a cruise because we want to get away from the Seattle rain, and also because we want to see someplace new and different. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have been particularly interested in a cruise up the west coast of the US that stopped in places I had already visited many times. However, when we received an e-mail from a travel agent we had used before explaining the deal he had put together we decided it was just too good to pass up. Celebrity was doing a repositioning cruise to get the Solstice from Australia where it had bee cruising in the Southern Hemisphere summer to Seattle where it would be on the summer run to Alaska. They broke the trip up into 3 segments, the last being the trip up the west coast from Ensenada. I suspect they had a lot of empty cabins and they offered our travel agent some great prices. He offered to fly us to San Diego (air fare included)where we would check in and then be bussed to Ensenada, an outside balcony cabin, a drink package where drinks including specialty coffees, all soft drinks and bottled water, beer up to $5, mixed drinks up to $8, and wine up to $8 glass were all included and unlimited. Then to top it off, all gratuities were included. This was a 10 day 9 night cruise with stops in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Astoria, Victoria B.C. and finally ending in Seattle where we live. The price for all this was $999 per person plus some tax and port fees which came out to a total of just over $1200. We could also leave early to spend extra time in San Diego at no extra charge except we would be paying for our hotel and any other pre cruise expenses. That package deal along with knowing we would be escaping the normal May rain in Seattle was enough to get me to pull out the old credit card.
First, let me say Celebrity does many thing right, but the do some things very wrong. Because of the Passenger Vessel Service Act, an old law from 1886 meant to protect American shipping and American jobs, a foreign flagged vessel can't leave one American port going to another American port without stopping in a distant foreign port. The ship was coming from Hawaii so it couldn't end the cruise in San Diego. Likewise our cruise was ending in Seattle so we couldn't start in San Diego. We had to start in Ensenada. This was not Celebrity's fault but they had to transfer well over 2000 passengers to Ensenada.
Everyone expected the check in to be a bit of an ordeal. Celebrity had never done this before since this wasn't a regular cruise. We had to check in for the cruise in San Diego and then get on buses for a two hour ride to Ensenada. We had to cross the international border with our luggage and nobody knew how long this would take. They said they were going to start check in at noon but we got there at 11:30 and they were already started. When I go on a vacation, I really try not to be upset by the little things and I understand and expect glitches along the way. I do know there was a lot of grumbling from people about how the check in was handled and I will explain what happened and maybe Celebrity will learn what they can do better next time. We got divided up into different lines at the check in. There was a drop off where we left our big bags before we actually started the check in process. These were to be taken directly to the ship by truck. The check in happened at the Sheraton Hotel where they had a huge white tent where people stood in line to get checked in. People who had the more expensive cabins or who had sailed many times on Celebrity got special treatment and got into shorter lines. That seems reasonable and I don't think anyone objected to that. We had sailed on Celebrity before but not enough to get into a short line. Still the lines moved pretty quickly and by 12:15 we were checked in and had been assigned a group number for boarding our bus. We were group 41. They had seats for us to sit with our carry on luggage. Celebrity had arranged for box lunches and water which were to be given out on the buses. I can understand that it takes time to move close to 3000 people but people were getting hungry and some people managed to get their box lunches early and were eating them and others including us were hungry and were told no lunches until we get on the bus. I understand that was a way of controlling who received lunches but as the afternoon rolled on, hunger was a problem. It was ridiculous to make us wait until almost 3 p.m. (when we got on our bus) for our lunch. The second problem was that while we were in groups waiting, there was a steady stream of people who were put at the head of the line. These were frequent cruisers on Celebrity who were allowed to jump to the front of the line and that created a lot of resentment to those who had been waiting. We finally got to board our bus at 2:45PM and got our box lunch. If I was making suggestions to Celebrity, I would say give people their box lunch as they finished their check in. Give people a number to get on the bus then and don't allow anyone the right to jump in front of other passengers just because they have sailed many times before. I didn't mind them having shorter lines for check in but after check in, then people should be treated equally. I also think nobody would mind if there were separate buses just for the privileged passengers but to see people continually allowed to jump ahead offended many who were waiting.
We left San Diego just before 3 and were getting off the bus at the ship just before 5 PM. We went right to our cabin and they were announcing the lifeboat drill for 5:30. There was still over a third of the passengers who hadn't arrived. We went to the drill which was really just a video in the dining room and then went off to explore the ship. Since we had just eaten at 3 we were not hungry. We were very impressed with the ship. It is big and beautiful with lots of glitz. My dear wife loves her coffee and we found a specialty coffee place called Cafe al Bacio on deck 5 that serves wonderful coffees all free with our drink pass. We stopped for an iced specialty coffee that was made with espresso and chocolate and whipped cream and was fantastic. We sat down with some folks from Australia and had a great time just relaxing.
A second thing that Celebrity does that I found annoying and dumb was they way they handled the service club meeting. Many passengers on cruises are members of service clubs like Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis etc. and most cruise ships have a time and a place where the members of the various service clubs can meet and talk about what their clubs are doing. They advertise the location and time for these meetings in the daily bulletin. It is a great way to meet your fellow passengers who share interests with you. So, I went down to the customer relations desk when it wasn't too crowded to ask if they were having a service club meeting on board. We had a great meeting on the last Celebrity sailing I was on but the people at the Solstice desk seems to have never heard of it. They said it was against company policy to put announcements for things like that in the daily bulletin. I would think they would do everything the could to get people who are in service clubs to cruise with them. It would be so easy to put the announcement in the daily bulletin for a day at sea. They said they would put a notice up on the bulletin board by the desk but of course very few people would read it. This whole episode just makes me wonder who is really in charge and how bright they really are. The way Celebrity handled this was very poor and I would actually hesitate to sail with them again just because they treated us so shabbily. They put the notice of the meeting up on a bulletin board that few read, and then put the wrong location on the notice. Then they took the notice down to fix their mistake but forgot to put it back up. Not surprising, we didn't get a big turnout. To me, this is just an example of Celebrity missing the boat when it comes to service.
The ship itself was very nice. It was large but never felt crowded. The main dining room was in the back of the ship on decks 3 and 4. We chose select dining meaning we didn't have an assigned table or time. We ate on deck 4 for dinner and usually sat at a table for 8 or 10. We usually had new table mates for each dinner which gave us an opportunity to meet more people. We found many people were from the Northwest and were on the same cruise package deal we were on. The food was very good and we never saw a need to visit any of the specialty dining rooms where there was a charge. The first night, things were a bit confused with very slow service but after that, everything went very smoothly.
Our stateroom was about what I expected. It looked very nice and the bed was comfortable. It had a bit less closet and drawer space than some ships I have been on and the way the closet was situated, it was hard to use. There was the couch set to within about 18 inches of the closet which was really just poor design. Other than that, the room was very nice and we lucked out because we were near the elevator. The room contained the normal amenities like a refrigerator and a safe. We had great cabin attendants who would make up the room promptly and deliver ice. Overall we were quite pleased with the accommodations.
One of the best places to hang out on the ship was the solarium. This was an adults only pool on deck 12 that had a glass roof. It had a swimming pool and two hot tubs and lots of lounge chairs. Even when the temperature was in the 50's on our sea day north of San Francisco, the solarium was quite warm. With our drink card package, we could sit in there and read while imbibing on a margarita or a cold beer.
The shows were very professional. They were at 8:30 and 10:30. The early show was always full and the late show nearly empty. I think they would have been better off to start them at 7:30 and 9:30. There were several comedy acts, a magician and some Broadway singing. Then there was a spectacular show with acrobats doing a Cirque du soleil type performance.
Everyone says to make sure to see the Hot glass show. This is up on deck 15 where they have the lawn. I don't really see the need for the lawn on the ship but they have it. The hot glass show was interesting but it is cold up there and most people watched for awhile and then left. It was ok but not a can't miss as far as I was concerned.
The observation lounge in the front of the ship is normally one of the nicest places to spend your time on a sea day. The lounge of deck 14 was very nice but I was disappointed that they decided to use this space for an art auction on our second sea day. They put art up in such a way you couldn't sit and watch the water. This took up the whole day and since this cruise only had 2 sea days, it meant that half the time the observation lounge was not usable. This again was just poor planning on the part of the people in charge. I know that the art auction makes money for the cruise but I doubt if there were 50 people interested in it out of 2700 passengers and it sure inconvenienced those of us who wanted to sit and look for sea life.
My overall opinion of Celebrity was the ship was great, the food was great, the solarium was great. The cabin was pretty good, and decisions that allowed the art auction in the observation lounge, the lack of putting the service club announcement in the daily bulletin and they way they handled the busing and lunch for Ensenada was down right dumb.