Booking/Air. We booked this cruise probably 3-4 weeks prior to the sailing date because of the great price Celebrity offered after the final payment date. The AirChoice prices were a little bit high, but since the cruise fare was very affordable both expenses evened each other out. Our flight was with Lufthansa and it was so far the best experience. The service was great! The plane was clean and the seats were comfortable even for Coach Class. And the most important thing is - there were no delays: The flight was scheduled at 5:35 PM. They loaded the baggage and the passengers, the door closed at 5:35 PM, and they taxied the plane at 5:40 PM. Wheels up at 5:45 PM.
The cruise was starting in Venice and ending in Venice. We always arrive at least one or two days before a cruise (if time allows then we arrive a week prior to a cruise). Since it was a last minute deal I was a little nervous about finding a hotel in Venice. I really didn't want to end up dragging my suite cases (and I am not a light packer) over the bridges and curbstones or hiring a 100 EURO water taxi. After booking, re-booking, and cancelling three different hotels in Piazza San Marco area, I read a very good advice on CruiseCritic (Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!) to book a hotel in Mestre. With my luck I was able to get a room at Hotel Plaza, which is right across the Train Station. When we arrived to Venice we took a public bus from the airport to Mestre Bus Station. It's only 6 EURO per person. The bus runs every 20 minutes and the Bus Station in Mestre is probably 100 meters away from the hotel where we stayed. What a smart move on my side! I've heard that you would have a better experience staying in Venice, but it was our first time in Venice and we only had half a day. Being jet legged after a long flight, I didn't think we could stay up that late to enjoy Venice at night. Hotel Plaza is conveniently located across the Train Station. You can get the tickets right at your hotel (just don't forget to validate them!) and the cost is 1.20 EURO per ticket. By the way, there is a nice supermarket probably a few blocks away from the hotel where you can get water, wine, toiletries, etc. The trains to Venice go every 5 minutes and it takes about 5-7 mins to get to Venezia Santa LuciaTrain Station from where you can start your walk through the city toward Piazza San Marco. Interesting thing: you have a map given to you at the hotel, but you don't even need a map - the crowd carries you through the streets and over the bridges to Rialto Bridge and then to Piazza San Marco! Since the ship was docked overnight at the end of the cruise we had a chance to enjoy Venice one more day! And I must say - it's an amazing city and it's absolutely beautiful! We loved it and would like to go back sometime soon!
Now the actual review of our cruise....
Embarkation. We shared a taxi from our hotel to the port with two fellow cruisers (Hi, Robert and Jose!) we met on our RollCall. I think we paid 20 EURO per couple. It was the easiest and the most organized embarkation in my experience. There were two lines to drop off your baggage: one for those with luggage tags, and another one for those who didn't have luggage tags and the ship/port personnel was helping to sign and to attach the tags. The lines were moving very fast. I think it took us just about 2-3 minutes to drop off our suite cases. The luggage was immediately taken by the porters and moved to the terminal. No need to tip porters or worry about your luggage. A short walk to the terminal and you are on the second floor where you are met by Celebrity personnel and escorted to the correct line/counter based on your membership or stateroom. We are Elite and there was no line at our check-in counter. The whole check-in procedure took less than 10 minutes. As usual, there were a few stations where they were offering/selling "Beverage" or "Dining" packages. We were not interested in either of them so we headed straight to Oceanview Cafe. To my big surprise it wasn't crowded at all. Usually the buffet area is a mess on the day of embarkation (and disembarkation for that matter!) and we try to avoid it if possible, but this time it was nice, quiet and pretty empty. Our staterooms were ready by 1:45 PM. Oh, one thing that disappointed me was that there was no welcoming Champagne or Mimosas. When I asked about it, the officer who was greeting everybody said that the Champagne would be served during sailaway party on Deck 14, which was very nice, but I still missed that very nice touch of Celebrity's trademark. The welcoming Champagne makes me feel very special and welcome. I could order a glass of wine during sailaway if I wanted to.
Entertainment. One more area where I was very impressed. We saw almost every evening show and each and everyone of them was worth watching. Just amazing performance of Celebrity singers and dancers - great production shows! We just loved stand up comedian Fred Klett, singer Enrico Cifiello and incredible violinist Vincenzo Gentile! There were lots of activities on the ship during "sea days", so you'd never be bored. We particularly enjoyed the Captain of the ship Dimitrios Kafetzis. Yes, he can be featured under entertainment as well. He was very young, therefore very approachable. He also had a great sense of humor; he always cracked jokes on his daily announcements and he was also the first Captain that I know of that participated in the Guest/Officers water volleyball game. And even though he was comical and easy going it was also clear to see that his officers and his crew respected him greatly. We also fell in love with one more person on board - Cruise Director, Alejandro! Once again - the best Cruise Director in all our cruises! I think I use a lot of "the best" words! But he was truly the best - very funny, very entertaining and very enthusiastic!
Ship appearance/Public rooms/Staterooms. The ship is just beautiful! We've sailed on Silhouette two years ago, and she hasn't changed since then: still clean, spotless, and bright! We had a regular veranda stateroom. I had to mention a couple of (very little) things to our stateroom attendant. First, we didn't find the vase with the cotton balls and q-tips in the bathroom. I'm not sure if Celebrity is phasing out free cotton balls and q-tips or our stateroom attendant was just forgetful. Second, we didn't see the cute little chocolates on the pillow on the first night after the turndown service. We "blamed" it on the first night hassle. But on the second night we expected it. What do you know? No chocolates on the pillow again. Oh, and by the way, while walking down the hall to our stateroom we saw the boxes of those chocolates on the carts they use for carrying supplies, towels, clean sheets, etc. It means "some guests" were getting those chocolates. Anyway, it didn't ruin our cruise, but I kindly asked (left the note) our stateroom attendant what had happened to our chocolates? On the third night, little chocolates appeared on our pillows and we were getting them every night along with some towel art! My question is: is this how Celebrity trying to save $$$ - "Don't ask - don't get it"?
Dining. Oh, boy... I don't even want to start here. This topic has been discussed to death and there are so many opinions about the quality and selection of food/dining options. I can honestly give my own opinion. I didn't like (or didn't enjoy) the food in the MDR as much as I used to. It wasn't awfully bad, but it wasn't the same as it was just six months ago when we were on Reflection. We had only one dinner at the specialty restaurant, "Lawn Club Grill". Yes, it is overpriced, but we are not paying for the prestige, we are paying for the experience. You get to make your own flat bread, knit it, roll it, and flip it in the air. The rest of the menu, such as the lamb, the kabobs, the lobster mac and cheese, and the hot cookie desert are especially delicious. It is definitely worth trying at least once, my daughter and I decided to make it a tradition when we are on any of the S-class ships. In addition, it would be more economical to purchase a dining package (35% off a combination of restaurants), but the cruise was so port intensive that I was too afraid to make such a commitment and then lose money in the end. It was simply safer to pay full price and not have the reservations hanging over our shoulders.
Captains Club Breakfast. Add pictures only
Officers/Crew. The crew was absolutely amazing! Always smiling, always nice and accommodating to all our requests! Senior officers were always around in the public areas: in the early morning by the pool or in Oceanview Cafe, by the gangway, on every deck, in the Theater in the evening. It was a very approachable team and it was a pleasure to communicate with them. Every member of the crew we've met was trying to go an extra mile to please us and to fulfill any of our request. Our wonderful waiter, Mohan, and his assistant Alina were bringing an extra basket of multigrain bread every evening after the first night when they learned our preferences. Assistant Metr'd in the Oceanview Cafe made a call to the kitchen and asked for an order of bread pudding when we came back late from the tour after lunch hours. One of the staff from the kitchen brought us a whole plate of fresh fruits late at night. And Marketing manager, Bradley, helped us fix an issue with our cancelled tour and get us a refund. I can go on and on and on about a wonderful experience and great people who made our cruise really enjoyable and memorable!
Ports/Tours. We didn't use Celebrity Excursions so I can't comment on this. But we had private tours in almost every port.
Dubrovnik. Did it on our own. We hired a taxi with another couple from our ship. The original price was 25 EURO for all of us to take us to the top of the hill where the cable car was. But then the driver offered us 1.5 hour drive around the area with multiple photo stops (including the top of the hill). At the end of the tour he would bring us back to the gates of the Old Town. The cost for this ride was 50 EURO for all of us. It was a deal. By the time we got to the Old Town there were no line at the ticket box to buy the tickets to walk the wall. It was a very hot day to walk the wall - I'd rather spend the time swimming or diving, but Dubrovnik is absolutely beautiful! The people that live there are so nice and kind! And we couldn't miss the opportunity to try a desert Dubrovnik is famous for - Rozata.
Rome(Civitavecchia). We've been to Rome before, so this time we decided to explore Civitavecchia's surroundings. This private tour organized together with our RollCall members through the company RomeInLimo - "Orvieto and Civita Bagnoregio". Our driver/guide was more "just a driver" than "a guide", but still it was an interesting tour and very-very beautiful places to visit! Oh, and the wild strawberry gelato in Orvieto - is the best!!!
Naples. One more excellent private tour of Amalfi Coast with RomeInLimo. Our driver Giovanni was fantastic! We skipped Pompeii and had chose the tour of "Amalfi Coast, Positano and Ravello". Along the way our great driver made a couple of stops at the most beautiful hotels on Amalfi Coast: Il San Pieto Di Positano and Santa Caterina. The views were just breathtaking! We also had a short stop at ceramic factory Ceramiche Casola, but the prices were so high that it turned into "just tour". A short lunch stop in Ravello was very relaxing and delicious!!!
Catania/Sicily. This private tour was organized with "Coop. Sicily Life" and included the visit of volcano Etna and some time on our own in Taormina. When is Sicily... It was on our agenda to try real Sicilian Cannoli! Mission accomplished!!!
Valletta/Malta. This tour (and the tour in Split) was organized through Private Guides Team. Malta - what an interesting place: totally catholic with such a strong Middle Eastern or North African influence! The heat was unbelievable (+35 C). And... we were given a vehicle without AC! We sent an unpleasant email to the tour operator and as a compensation we were given 50 EURO discount for our next tour in Kotor. The highlight of our tour in Malta was our guide Rose Fabri - probably the best and the most knowledgeable guide I've ever met. We've learned so many interesting things about Malta, we've heard so many amazing facts about Malta! The excursion included the Tour of Medina - the Silent City, Marsaxlokk - the traditional Maltese fishing village and Dingli Cliffs. And the Blue Grotto - the Sea Cave is a must see when in Malta!
Kotor/Montenegro. For this tour we contacted an independent guide Milo Popovic who was recommended on CruiseCritic. It turned out that he was booked for this day, but he recommended his colleague Nenad. Our 5 hour tour included the visit of Perast, Budva, St Stefan old fisherman village transformed into town-hotel and panoramic ride to Njegusi with a magnificent view of Boka bay. There was a stop for lunch at a not-so-touristy family owned place where we bought locally smoked ham!!!
Split/Croatia. One more tour with Private Guides Team. This time the vehicle was absolutely new, clean, with working AC and with bottles of cold water for everyone. The guided tour included the visit of old town of Split and Trogir - a charming little town on a small island. And our guide Frank was fantastic - tons of information, very knowledgeable, very well organized tour! Highly recommend him.
Venice. The ship was docked overnight in Venice and our goal was to visit Burano and Murano. But our arrival to Venice was delayed till noon due to extremely low tides. That messed up our schedule and plans. We decided to cancel prebooked Celebrity excursions and to go to Murano on our own. If time permitted we would go to Burano as well. Thanks to so many detailed posts on CruiseCritic it was really easy to get from port/ship to Murano. We took PM to Piazelle Roma where we bought vaporetto 12 hour pass for 18 EURO per person. It was a good deal since you could use vaporetto as many times as you wanted during 12 hour period (again - don't forget to validate it every time you board the boat!). Murano is a small charming town famous for its glass business. You can walk it in 2 hours, have lunch and get back to Venice. No need to have a tour - but it's my opinion. We spent the rest of the day in Venice just wondering around the streets and enjoying our time.
Dress code/Formal nights. I know it's the same "hot-button" topic for discussion as food, especially considering the luggage fees and weight restrictions. But we love to dress up for formal nights (and not only for formal nights for that matter). Our life is so busy and we rarely go out to a fancy restaurants to have dinner. And cruise is the only place and time when we can afford to spend two hours of our time to get dressed and actually enjoy that time. But for the reason mentioned above we try to limit our dresses/outfits or bring "little black dress" Coco Chanel once designed and said that every woman should have it in her wardrobe! :-) Unfortunately, the dress code on Celebrity ships is getting more "liberal" (don't want to use stronger word). However, to our pleasant surprise our last cruise was an exception. I haven't seen anybody dressed sloppy during dinner in MDR even on casual nights. And Formal Nights were such a joy! The women were absolutely gorgeous in beautiful cocktail dresses! You won't believe how many women were wearing long gowns!!! As a matter of fact there were so many of them that we looked underdressed in our cocktail dresses. And for our next cruise we decided to bring at least one long gown for Formal Night.
Disembarkation. As easy as embarkation. Since we had a later flight we left the ship with one of the last groups. Took a taxi - the cost is the same as Celebrity's transfer, but I didn't want to be attached to the bus and to the schedule.
And LAST but not LEAST... Private shared tours... We all know that CruiseCritic is a wonderful website and gives us an excellent opportunity to meet people on our RollCalls, to make new friends and to organize private tours. The beauty of a private tour is that it's more personal, less (much more less!) expensive than ship's excursions, you can alter this tour the way you and your small tour group wants and you get to see more. However, there is a risk associated with any private tours. In most of the cases tour operators don't require the deposit. Sometimes they require Credit Card information of the person who organizes the tour. Fortunately, some companies are implementing such an option as "shared tour" when all guests from the group submit their Credit Card info and are responsible for their own "no show" fees. But when it's not a case then, unfortunately, we can end up paying for the guests who decide to cancel at the last moment. I would like to kindly ask our fellow cruisers: if you participate in RollCall group tours - please show up on the day of the tour. If for any reason (and I understand - anything can happen) you or one of the members of your family decide not to show up then please have a decency and pay your tour fees. I think it's just not fair to punish the rest of the group and make them "split the cost 6 ways" because one of your family member couldn't go.
And as our fabulous Captain says OUT.