Let me start by saying up until the final payment was made I wasn't sure we weren't going to have to cancel. My husband had back surgery in January and his recovery was taking time. This was our fifth cruise -- the third on Celebrity with our two previous cruises being on the Infinity. We thought the ship was beautiful, and while different than the Infinity, set up well and easy to navigate. We especially loved the tree suspended in the atrium outside the elevators. We had a balcony cabin on the 'bump out'.
Embarking: We found it to be about what we expected when you have to process 2800 people in a relatively short period of time. We had the 2:30 check in time but since we needed to vacate our hotel room prior to that, we arrived at the dock early. We checked in our baggage and found a seat to 'watch the world go by'. My husband, who uses a cane, has a hard time being in one position for any period of time so he would sit, then walk, sit, etc. After a couple of hours he noticed the line was very short and approached one of the crew members asking if it were possible for him to board a little earlier due to his discomfort. They directed him to a line right then. We very much appreciated that consideration. He was offered a chair later but we were nearly at the counter. I think we made it through the line in less than an hour and boarded the ship. Our cabin was ready so we were able to drop off our carry on bags and relax. All but one of our bags had been delivered by early evening -- the other later that night.
The ship: Even though there were more people on this ship than we have in our entire town we rarely felt crowded. Waiting for an elevator during busy periods was about as bad as it usually got. While maintenance was on-going we noticed rusty areas on our balcony and our portion of the giant "X" on the balconies was peeling. It did not have any bearing on our trip -- just something we noticed. Our cabin was better than we had expected. We liked the bed next to the balcony door. There seemed to be plenty of storage overall but when you pack for a nearly 3 week trip it's hard to find spots to put everything. The bathroom was well designed and we really liked the shower with the glass doors. There was plenty of storage in there as well. The cabin drawbacks: the one electrical outlet was too far from the bed for my sleep machine and little clock, and the extension cord I brought didn't reach. Our room steward, Gaston, was kind enough to bring in an extension cord. (I'm sure some people are wondering why I brought a clock. It's because the only clock in the room is on the telephone -- hard to see in the dark when you aren't wearing your glasses and in my case, on the opposite side of the bed. ) Another drawback -- no clothes line in the shower. I really missed that. While I don't hold it against Celebrity for wanting us to pay for their laundry services, I feel $1.95 for a pair of socks or ladies underwear is a bit steep. I ended up hand washing a few small items and hung them on hangers hooked to the chairs on the balcony (out of sight). Celebrity needs to understand that passengers are going to hand wash some delicate things and if they don't want 'tidy-whities' hanging from the balcony, a clothesline would be a nice option. We bought a couple of t-shirts on clearance in the gift shop -- they were cheaper than having Celebrity launder the dirty ones. Every review I give Celebrity has the same statement: do what Princess does -- put laundry rooms in. Most people will pay to use a washer and dryer. I'd much rather travel home with clean clothes than have to do 6 loads of laundry when I return. Our favorite place to hang out was in the Sky Lounge. In the morning it was a quiet get-away. Later on in the day there would be activities of some sort there.
Dining: We had the early seating in the main dining room. Due to a mix up at the time of our reservation (in Sept 2011) we ended up at a table for two rather than one of the larger tables. Unfortunately our table was set up against a pole, behind curtains, so it appeared we were out of sight as our waiter and assistant waiter couldn't see when we were finished with one course and ready for the next. Despite being among the first to arrive we often felt ignored after we were given our menus....with the exception of the young lady who brought my husband his bottle of beer each evening. Also unfortunate, we lost our original waiter and assistant after the first night. "Dan" was requested by another guest as she was on a back to back and was upset to discover she was sitting outside of his serving area. Klara was reassigned to a table of German tourists as she spoke German. But Dan continued to help us out and Klara would stop by when she had a free moment to see how we were doing. The food was good -- I loved the prime rib and salmon dishes. My husband had one bad steak -- tough and overcooked. I thought the portions were more than adequate. I guess Celebrity doesn't do baked potatoes for dinner now. I didn't ask but they were never on the menu. We enjoyed the desserts, too. Even though the portions weren't large, I was lucky to even get a few bites down. I was usually over full. The only bad dessert we got was the Baked Alaska (I think that's what it was). It was icy and a bit gummy like refrozen ice cream and the 'crust' was frozen and gummy. I understand making special desserts for so many can be daunting but it was pretty bad.
We ate at the buffet (Oceanview Cafe) most mornings and afternoons. The food was fine. The special orders were better than the 'sitting' food but that's to be expected. There were always plenty of options. We were usually up for breakfast early so finding a table wasn't a problem. Trays would have been nice but we made do making two trips to get food and beverages. Occasionally one beverage machine would be out of something so it was just a matter of going to another beverage area. Not a big deal -- you have to expect something is going to run out with lots of people getting drinks. Lunch was busier and tables were a little harder to find, but plenty of food and something for everyone. Until the noro-virus hit, we were perfectly happy with the cafe. I loved the ice cream station. We didn't try the specialty cafes but I only regret not trying the Bistro.
Entertainment, Activities, etc: Part of the reason we chose this cruise was for it's down time -- the sea days. We didn't come to be entertained or do 'things'. We came to relax, read, kick back. That being said, we didn't attend any of the evening shows. I think we would have but the timing was off for us. We aren't real 'night' people so the late show was too late for us, and the earlier one didn't seem to work with dinner. Some regrets there but not a big deal. We did, however, enjoy the glass blowing show. Once we discovered it we went to nearly every show. I even won one of the pieces in their raffle at the end of the cruise. We also went to some of the talks about French Polynesia and they were entertaining. My husband went to one of the programs by a sports writer and to be honest, as big of a football fan as he is, he was bored stiff. He said the guy can probably write but he wasn't much of a speaker. We didn't go to any of the art auctions. We have in the past and a lot of the art looked like what we'd seen before. We were disappointed that the gift shop didn't have any Sydney/French Polynesia items. Asking about it we were told those items were being shipped to Honolulu so I guess the passengers continuing on would have been able to buy them. And they'll be clearance items by the time the ship moves to a new itinerary. Too bad. We didn't use the casino but appreciated the library...at least while the books were accessible. We felt the library was pale in comparison to the one on the Infinity -- maybe ½ the books and open to the atrium so it really wasn't quiet. The internet was slow but I expected that. And not cheap...also expected...so our internet activity was mainly used to check in at home to make sure all was going well.
Ports: We were really looking forward to seeing Tahiti, etc. We are more into the sightseeing than beach/water activities and had booked ship sponsored tours in all but Lahaina where we had a rental car reserved. Our tour for New Caledonia was cancelled (no explanation) so we went to the little museum and found that interesting. Other than that, we just walked around town. We were disappointed in Tahiti. I guess we've seen too many movies and expected this pristine, beautiful island. It was beautiful but so much trash everywhere subtracted from the beauty. Our tour was ok....not great. We were on a Tahitian treasures tour -- not overly impressed with it. We liked our tour guide, though. Moorea was better -- more what we expected in Tahiti but still had a lot of trash everywhere. Again, a tour around the island was good for sight-seeing and we had a good guide. Bora Bora was about the same as Moorea....beautiful. We didn't find the people very friendly. Polite usually (but not always) but that was about it. Maybe they didn't like being invaded by more than 2000 people at once. We were shocked at the dogs. Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora had dogs roaming everywhere. None were 'fixed' -- lots of nursing mothers. None looked cared for or even fed. When I finally asked our tour guide on Bora Bora he said that there were few vets and they were expensive so the animals didn't get the treatment they needed. As an animal lover I'm afraid I was concentrating more on the care of the dogs than I was on the islands. Overall, if we were to do a vacation on a tropical island, I think we'd choose one of the Hawaiian Islands.
Crew: I think we found the majority of the crew friendly and hard-working (with the exception of one person -- more on that later). When the virus broke out it looked like everyone was pulling extra shifts. Our room steward and his assistant did a great job of keeping our room and I saw them doing constant cleaning in between the room servicing times. Once my husband asked for ice, it was there all the time. But I missed the water pitcher we had on the Infinity. I think they wanted you to buy water rather than provide it. We just made our own with the ice and tap water. I think we were greeted by just about every crew member we passed. I have nothing but admiration for these people. Our one bad experience was in the clinic. The young woman at the front desk was positively rude. If someone is showing up at the medical clinic they probably aren't feeling well and having someone with the "you're bothering me' attitude doesn't help. My husband was on his second course of antibiotics for an abscess when we left home. His doctor told him that if it flared up after the two weeks' of meds were gone he could get more pills anywhere in the world. A couple of days after he finished his pills, it came back. So he went the clinic to see about a refill. Our greeting upon entering was on the line of 'what do you want'. He said he needed a refill and showed her the bottle. Without looking at it she told him he was 'supposed to get refills before leaving home'. He told her he had and finished the meds but the problem had returned. She glanced at him and told him the doctor would have to see him but not now and we shouldn't be here now and the door should have been locked. Granted, this was after the virus outbreak and maybe she was overworked but there was no excuse for the rudeness. My husband returned at the proper time and the very nice doctor gave him enough pills to get him through the remainder of the cruise (about 5 days). I didn't go back for the second visit but he said she was just as rude that time.
The noro-virus outbreak: this is the first time we've been on a ship with an outbreak big enough to take major actions. Having suffered though this bug in the past (though not caught on a cruise -- likely caught on a flight going to HI) we took every precaution to avoid it this time....extra-long hand washing and hitting all the hand sanitizing stations. You can't blame Celebrity for it. They can only do their part -- the passengers have to do their part as well. And it looked like Celebrity was doing their best to keep it under control. But it was like a science fiction movie -- every time you entered the Oceanview Cafe or the dining room, something else was missing from the tables. Books disappeared from the library -- anything the public may have touched disappeared. Except the casino...it was still operating. I think some of the crew members were down with it, too. We saw fewer and fewer staff at the buffet. I understand why they took away our self-serve privileges at the buffet. But sometimes it seemed really hard to get just a cup of coffee. As time went on they were less and less likely to offer you sugar (or salt or pepper). Once in a while someone would come around with a coffee pot and offer to refill your cup. But if they didn't, you were back in line for more coffee. Several passengers had a 'me first' mentality. It didn't matter if there were people in a line, they'd walk up and demand service. In cases like this, Celebrity may have been better off with cordoned off 'lines'. I know there is a lot of wasted food when people serve themselves but having to ask for another piece of bread because the 1 piece won't make a sandwich got old. Often you weren't offered more...you had to ask. And there were times I felt like a pig when I was getting some desserts for the two of us. Yes, I would really like two pieces of that cheesecake, please. It was easier for just one of us to stand in a line. At the end, we figured if we were going to have to be served coffee in the morning, we'd have it served to our cabin and just ordered room service. By the way, room service was excellent.
Moving the many, many people: I think Celebrity should take some people moving lessons from Disney. Most of the time it wasn't an issue but immigration day was a major headache. Again, you can't blame Celebrity because the gov't didn't get their agents there timely. But Celebrity could have taken a little more pro-active role in moving people through. Obviously the people with ships tours should have gone through immigration first. But maybe another option was to separate the passengers by 'citizen/non-citizen' lines, too. We were separated by citizen/non-citizen once we got close to the agents -- maybe things would have been smoother if we were broken down prior to then. After about an hour or so in line -- and we got in line at the theater -- we were told if we had confirmed reservations we could go to the front. We had 11:00 car rental reservations (it was 11:30 at that time). I asked a crew member and was told if I had the document to prove it, we could go up front. I got my reservation confirmation from the cabin and we were through immigration in about 10 minutes.
Disembarking: at the last minute we decided to buy the ship to airport transfer. I'm very glad we did. Due to some problems getting the gangway attached to the ship in Honolulu we were late getting off the ship. We were all sent to various areas of the ship to wait. And that's what we did....wait. The information was sporadic and when it came across the loud speakers it was difficult to understand. Again, there was the 'me first' attitude coming through. In fact, one man stated he didn't see any reason HE should have to wait. What people should have learned in kindergarten was apparently forgotten in their advanced years - wait your turn. At one point word was coming down through the passengers that all '20s' were allowed to proceed...never heard anything from the crew but all the '20s' were in the moving line. We finally got off, found our luggage and promptly asked a porter for help. He loaded our luggage on to the cart, led the way to the buses and found the transport to the airport. Without him we'd probably still be there (ok, I'm kidding) but we are very thankful for his assistance. The situation wasn't helped when there was a bomb threat in downtown Honolulu that morning. But we got to the airport in plenty of time and lived to cruise again.
So, will we cruise on Celebrity again? Absolutely - we booked a 'future cruise' on the ship. But we will stick to the smaller ships.