I have been on cruises every year since 1980 on virtually every cruise line. My last experience with Celebrity was in 2003 and I was very disappointed with that cruise, so it took some soul searching to book with them again in 2013. I was glad I did as almost all of the things that bothered me in 2003 were not present in this latest cruise.
We are a family of four from the U.S. We flew into London a day before the cruise just to make sure we didn't miss the ship. It also helps greatly with the jet lag so you aren't dragging yourself aboard ship which I've done in the past.
The embarkation at Southampton was very smooth. We were booked in Concierge Class staterooms, so they put a little sticker on us which allowed us an express line through check-in. We arrived around 1PM, but I'm sure if we got there around 11:00 or 12:00 it would have really made a big difference. We were on the ship in no time and I found it a little surprising that there was nobody to greet us to point us to our cabin. Some lines escort you all the way to your cabin and some lines have greeters that tell you which way to go, but we just figured it out for ourselves. No big deal.
The ship is a large ship, and we had balcony cabins in the very back. Fortunately, we are in good health, so the walk to the stairs and elevators wasn't bad, but we always had to allow time to go down the long corridor to get there.
The staterooms are nothing special. Pretty much your generic cruise cabin. The TV was nice being a flat screen where you check you account at any time, which I like. We had two connecting staterooms, and the odd thing about how they connect the cabins is that they prop each cabin's door open, then close a set of doors outside both cabins. The outside doors were so heavy that my daughter had trouble opening and closing them. We opted to just not connect our two cabins that way. They did remove part of the partition between the two cabins on the balcony to make a kind of large balcony. We used that as our main method of moving between the two cabins.
The lido dining area (they call it the Oceanview Cafe) was easy to maneuver with the various island stations serving different foods. For example, there was one for salads, one for sandwiches, etc. The only design flaw was that there was a made-to-order pasta bar that required people to stand in a line. That line would back up in front of the pizza area and the area where you wait to have your bread toasted for you. It got a little chaotic at times. This area also operated as a made-to-order omelette line in the morning with the same results.
The biggest problem with the Oceanview Cafe was seating on busy sea days, or days when the ship would leave in the early afternoon and everyone was returning to the ship at the same time. Getting the food was not a problem, finding a place to sit at those times could be a real problem. The staff cleared tables as fast as possible, but the facility just wasn't built for the number of passengers aboard who wanted to use it. Between the four of us, we would eventually find someone leaving a table.
The main dining room was beautiful, and the staff we had was excellent. The food is better than most mass market lines and what we really liked about the menu was the left hand side of the page was items you could order any day, while the right hand side of the menu changed daily. The "order every day" page had the expected steak and salmon items, but what really pleased us was that it had much more than that. There was escargot available everyday which was very surprising and entrees such as Tikka Masala, Caesar Salad, and French Onion Soup. We ordered often from the everyday menu because the items were very good. Almost all of the food was very good, with a few misses, which is to be expected in a mass market line. The service in the main dining room was excellent, but the only issue we had was our server had way too many tables to handle. He tried his best and ran and worked very hard, but you could tell it was difficult to keep up with all the different tables. I attribute that to someone in Celebrity's corporate office deciding that they can save money by making the staff work more tables. I've seen this recently on other lines and it is a sad trend. There were a couple of tables that grumbled about this or that, but there are always those type on every cruise. The vast majority of the passengers I spoke with enjoyed the dining room.
As far as the alternative restaurants, we only visited the Tuscan Grille, which is an Italian/Steakhouse type place. The food was good and the service was helpful and not too intrusive. For a family of four it was worth a visit, but not more than one visit. It was nice, but not worth another $140. There was no problem booking another night if I wanted to. Maybe it was because there are three alternative restaurants and it was a two week sailing, but they were almost trying to sell me on coming back again.
Our kids are 13 and 12 and they are too old for the little kid activities, and we were a little disappointed to find that they dump 12 year-olds in with 17 year-olds in the same group. A high school senior has nothing in common with a child that just finished elementary school. Maybe that is one of those home office ideas that it's just more efficient to lump them all together. My kids checked it out the first day and never went back. They told me that all they had in the teen lounge were board games and three Xbox systems that were always in use by the older kids. There were teen activities daily, but my kids just didn't want to attend.
The general service on board was excellent. The crew is well trained and professional. We were always greeted with a smile wherever we went and almost always had prompt service in bars and lounges. We tended to frequent the Sky Lounge at the top of the ship after dinner. It was a lively, yet beautiful place with a really good Filipino band that played dance tunes every night. The place would get very busy at night and lots of people were dancing. For some reason, they just didn't have enough wait staff at night when it was busy. I would think they would anticipate this, but I guess not. We often had to go directly to the bar to get a drink because there weren't enough wait staff. Some nights, for whatever reason, they would shut down the band at 11:30. The place would be full with dancers on the dance floor, and the band would leave according to schedule. After that the crowds would dwindle and people went elsewhere. I would think that they would schedule them to play a little later knowing the lounge was often full, but they did not.
The entertainment on board was pretty weak. The lounge acts were very good, but the main entertainment was generally pretty poor. There was one exception where on one night they put on the "Eclipse" show which was an amazing "Cirque-du-Soleil" type performance. Otherwise, there was a weak assortment of Dean Martin wannabes, a British comedian whom played pretty well to the British audience, a pianist from one of the lounges, and the obligatory canned Celebrity broadway performance which was painful to watch.
Daytime activities were the usual cruise fare with multiple trivia sessions, cooking demonstrations, art shows, etc. They were well run and entertaining. The best part was that there were no announcements trumping up bingo sessions or over promotion of art auctions. PA announcements were limited which was very pleasant.
We got the Celebrity Classic drink package as part of a booking promotion for the cruise. It was very nice in that I was worried that maybe servers would not like it, but on the contrary, they got a tip for each order, so there was no trouble using it. The quality of the beverages included was decent and sometimes a server would slip you one of the premium drinks, and there was nothing to sign. You could just give them your card and they would swipe it. I don't know if I would have paid for it myself as it is pretty expensive and the break even point is kind of high, but it was nice to have since it was included.
As far as the concierge class idea, I'm not sure that was worth it. The only real benefits I saw from it was that you get priority fastpass embarkation, which is nice, you get priority waitlisted for shore excursions, which helped us a little, you get priority seating for alternative restaurants, which seemed to be fairly open anyway, and that's about it. Your concierge is someone you share with the rest of the ship. She is not dedicated to the concierge class. She was right next to the main guest services desk and there normally was a line to wait for her from everyone else on the ship. Not really sure why they call it concierge class.
The disembarkation was fairly orderly. We were allowed to wait in the alternative restaurant being concierge class although that wasn't much different than waiting anywhere else. We hired a private driver to go to Heathrow because we could get a driver with a car for $110 USD, where Celebrity wanted $110 per person to ride on a bus. So, we saved $330 and rode in a Mercedes to the airport as opposed to loading onto a bus for the same ride. I think they overcharge a little bit for that.
All in all, it was a beautiful ship with excellent service. I wouldn't book it for entertainment or kids programs, but for good food and service, which are the most important to me, it was very nice.