This was our first Celebrity cruise, having previously sailed with Norwegian (NCL) three times and MSC once. Comparison is inevitable, so I will make a few remarks first but please be aware that this is my opinion and different people have different needs.
MSC is a lower-priced, lower standard, 3-star offer. We enjoyed the Red Sea itinerary they offered and the food and service were less good that either NCL or Celebrity.
NCL attracts lots of families with children and many younger guests than Celebrity. Their prices are slightly cheaper and their cabins slightly smaller but the food offer is on a par with Celebrity. NCL's Jewel class ships (incuding Jade and Pearl which we sailed on) were built by the same shipbuilder (Meyer Werft) as Celebrity's Solstice class ships (including Eclipse) and both share similar high standards of bathroom accommodation inluding a decent size of glass door shower cubicle and no nasty plastic curtain!
Celebrity is a more refined offer than NCL and runs at a sophisticated, slow pace compared with NCL's efforts to encourage people to get involved and more "in your face" selling of extras like photos, excursions and other extras. Having said that, we did enjoy the more upbeat, fun aspect of NCL. We also enjoyed the more relaxing Celebrity offer and would happily return to either company's cruises.
Enough of comparison, the rest is all about this particular Celebrity cruise. We booked a "guarantee" veranda stateroom which, at the time of booking cost less than an inside cabin. Our allocated cabin was actually a free upgrade to Concierge Class (1048, deck 10). This provided priority check-in at Southampton (20 minutes from ship side to a buffet lunch on board and could not be faulted). Our cabin was ready at 2pm where our attendant greeted us and introduced himself. The cabin attendant was friendly and helpful and kept our cabin clean and tidy. He also brought a selection of canapes between 4pm and 5pm each afternoon (a Concierge extra - as were the bottle of bubbly and fresh flowers on day one and the higher quality bathrobes and towels. However, although a nice freeby we thought that the usual addtional charge for Concierge class was not worth the money.
Lots of other guests had drinks packages, some included in the cruise price. The Classic drinks package costs about £450 per person for a 2-week trip and I suspect that many who got it "free" paid at least £450 more for their cruise than we did. Unless you intend to have at least 7 drinks per day on average, taking account of days on shore, the drinks package is just not worth it in my view - and I enjoy a drink! We drank wine with every dinner, beers, cocktails and spirits and our combined bill was around £300 ($450)
Because this ship started from the UK, most passengers were British. but there were lots of Americans, Australians and South Americans on board too. Tea and coffee was provided in sachets with a kettle in staterooms but the Maxwell House powdered coffee was dreadful so I opted for the decaffeinated Nescafe instead.
Bars stocked a range of bottled English Ales, which I appreciated, but it was kept too cold and not served well. Staff need to be trained to hold the glass at 45 degrees while pouring slowly!
We only ate in Moonlight Sonata for dinner and Oceanview Cafe (buffet) or room service at other times. We heard good reports from users of the speciality restaurants but paying $45 a head when you've already paid for a meal of excellent quality seemed excessive so we didn't bother.
We like to choose when to eat and not share with the same people every evening so we had Celebrity Select dining. This worked well, with only short delays allocating a table. We shared with some interesting people but had a couple of meals on table for two - the choice was ours each evening.
Entertainment on board was first class and cruise director Sue Denning was good at her job and seen around the ship. There were also lots of activities on board.
We did our own thing in all ports except St Petersburg where we took the 2-day Alla Tours excursion which was excellent. For slightly less cost than Celebrity's equivalent, we had a small group of 16 in an air-con comfortable mini-bus with our own excellent guide who did her best to avoid crowded places, and spoke perfect English. We saw more places than the ships tour and with greater comfort.
All the ports of call on this cruise are well worth visiting, but our favourites were St Petersburg, Tallinn and Stockholm.
Overall, this was a really enjoyable, excellent cruise and we will certainly use Celebrity again.