I flew from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale the day before the cruise and stayed at the Rodeway Inn ($62.50), had dinner at the hotel's restaurant, and had the best prime rib I've had in a long time. The hotel was a perfectly nice place to stay and was chock full of people waiting to board the Infinity and a Holland American ship departing the same day.
After the complimentary continental breakfast, Rodeway personnel urged us to take the early (9:30) shuttle to the Port despite notification from Celebrity that because of the budget sequestration, there would be delays in disembarkation, and therefore embarkation, so we should not show up for boarding until 12:30 rather than 10:30, the time originally scheduled. The Rodeway guys told us that the cruise lines always said that, but that unless the lines notified the hotels to the contrary, we would save a lot of time and tribulation by showing up at the originally appointed hour, especially in light of the fact that four thousand or more people would be boarding the two ships that day.
About 20 of us took Rodeway's advice, got to the Port at about 9:45 and waited for 45 minutes until the doors opened precisely on time and as (originally) scheduled. Because of Rodeway's good advice, embarkation went smoothly. Once past security, which was pleasant compared to what must be endured before boarding a plane, we were guided by Celebrity to the appropriate sections of the waiting area. Boarding started shortly after 11:00. Suite passengers boarded first, then Aqua Class, then Concierge class. I was in a Concierge class cabin and boarded at about 11:15, so don't know the remaining order of boarding.
Because our cabins weren't quite ready, I wandered around the ship to get my bearings and have lunch. After lunch, the cabins were ready for occupancy, and fairly soon after I got there my luggage arrived. Once I unpacked, I opened up my laptop to record my initial impressions, opened the welcoming bottle of sparkling wine----and promptly spilled the glass of wine onto the laptop, putting it out of commission until I could get it repaired after returning home.
I was in 8126, a little aft of midships. Because of the location, such pitch as there was (and there was very little) was barely noticeable. The room was about what I would expect in any veranda cabin, except for the closets and drawers, which were much more spacious than on other ships, and I could easily store my bags, unpacked clothes, and of course the laptop which was now hors de combat. There was a connecting door to 8128, but either the passengers in that cabin were quiet or I made more noise than they did because I was not in any way annoyed or distracted by such muffled sounds as occasionally did come through the door. But Celebrity might consider some way to enhance the muffling.
THE PERKS OF CONCIERGE CLASS:
As I said, boarding was smooth and seamless, at least for us early birds, and Concierge class passengers did have priority boarding after the suite holders and aqua class passengers. Whether that was a significant advantage will have to be determined by reviews penned by passengers lower in the boarding priorities.
Concierge class passengers found a welcoming iced bottle of complimentary sparkling wine in their cabins upon arrival. And--as noted--this was a mixed blessing in my case.
The third perk was a small vase containing 5 or 6 flowers, changed daily, which was nice little--very little--touch.
Finally, Concierge class cabins received at about 4 each afternoon, a plate of six tiny canapes, with two each of three varieties each day. Think of thin slices of cucumber with squirts of velveeta, or small strips of Italian cured meat curled around a small melon ball. Again, a nice little--very little--touch.
Contrary to the mixed reviews I had read before embarking, I thought the food, and the service, was wonderful. The 10th Deck Oceanview cafeteria had pastas, curries, stir fry cuisine, a carving station, fruit--just about everything one could imagine or want. The only exception was the cheese selections, which were few and bland in the Oceanview, but somewhat better in the Trellis, the main dining room, although lacking in "strong" cheeses that I like. e.g., Limburger or Stinking Bishop, but which SWAMBO refuses to have in the house
I ate in the Trellis, the main restaurant, about half the time and the Oceanview the other half. The only specialty restaurant I tried was the United States on the last night of the cruise, and it was excellent. The food was beautifully prepared and the wine pairings were perfect. When one finished one course, and only when one finished the course, another was promptly served, but one did not get the sense that the were hurrying you, but simply pacing the service.
The tables were far enough apart that one did not hear the conversations at the other tables. All in all, the ambiance--and as a recovering lawyer I have been called an ambiance chaser--was excellent.
My cabin cleaners, Joy and Lu, were excellent. My cabin was always cleaned by the time I returned from breakfast, and the bed was turned down with the chocolate on the pillow when I returned from dinner. Again contrary to some reviews I had read, all the crew seemed cheerful and happy to be there. Celebrity apparently treats its employees well, for several of the crew members I spoke to had more more than four or five contracts under their belts, and one waiter was on his thirteenth.
I can't comment on the entertainment because I did not go to any of the programs or watch reruns thereof on the shipboard channel devoted thereto. However, other passengers told me that they enjoyed all the entertainment programs. I also missed the a cappella and string quartet performances and various times and places throughout the voyage, largely because each performance was listed on the daily programs as lasting only about 45 minutes and that just didn't seem to justify tracking the performance down.
The passengers were, as one might expect, a well-travelled lot, many of them having taken two or three cruises a year for many years. WIth some exceptions, they were also younger and healthier than I had expected, again contrary to some reviews. I liked everyone I met, even the lady who took such umbrage at comments concerning a certain politician and that politician's supporters that she abruptly left the table, and the steak that had just been delivered to her, expressing an unwillingness to listen to any more seditious conversation. So we never did get around to religion or sex.
Also as one might expect on a cruise with so many sea days, there were lot of bridge players aboard, most of whom were high intermediate, or very advanced, players. The difficulty was in learning where bridge games were to be held on any given day at any given time.
THE EXERCISE FACILITIES:
The gym was as well equipped, or better equipped than most commercial or country club facilities. The only thing this one lacked was a roman chair
I did not take any of Celebrity's excursions, contenting myself with a brief walk around Ponta DelGada, and a longer walk to the closest cafe in Cherbourg, La Regence, for some wine and cheese. In Zeebrugge, 8 of us had gotten together on Cruise Critic after one couple had contracted a taxi company and engaged a van to drive us to Bruges and return. Once we discovered (on our own, because nobody in the crew had bothered to tell us) that there was a bus that would drive us to the gate to meet our taxi, there was short ride to the main square where I took a canal tour, then a city bus tour, had a late lunch and returned to the ship.
UK Immigration came aboard in Ponta Del Gada and stamped our passports on the ship, so there was no delay or difficulty in leaving the ship. I carried my own bags to the terminal, and found a porter who took them the rest of the way to the train station across the street, for a 07:50 direct train to Cambridge.
THE (MINOR) QUIBBLES:
In no particular order, these are the very few things that might be improved:
1. As noted, Celebrity could at very little cost or rearrangement of space, put a roman chair somewhere in the gym.
2. Also as noted, Celebrity really ought to provide some information to passengers visiting ports on their own, e.g., where one can find a cab or van, how long the walk to town is, whether there are shuttles to the main gate, etc.
3. Although the daily scheduled was delivered to one's cabin, one had to go down to the third deck to the Guest Services area to find the various national news summaries. Other lines deliver them to the cabins and make them available in the main cafeteria.
4. As noted, there is a connecting door between cabin 8126 and 8128, and conversations and coughs (and, I suppose, television--but although I watched my television I don't think the people in 8128 watched theirs) in one room can be heard in the other. Since I was by myself, I didn't worry about my privacy, but I am afraid that the people in the other room were worried about theirs. Celebrity really ought to figure out some way to soundproof the doors.
5. Finally, and also as noted, Celebrity really ought to make some sort of effort to set aside one area for bridge. As it was, most days we had to go to Qsine in the morning between 10 and 12 (one day Qsine was booked for a private lunch, so we played in the United States), and then the port side, aft, area of the Oceanview Cafe between 3 and 5 after lunch service was over.
But all in all, I loved the trip. The weather was great for the first 8 days, the deck officers apparently steering us around occasional squalls, and sitting on the aft deck, I never saw a pitch of more than about a foot or so.