My background: my 7th cruise, 3rd with Celebrity. Most recently on the Silhouette in Dec 2102. I'm mid 40s, cruised with my 80 year old mother and a couple of friends.
Embarkation: because of Cruise Critic I knew to arrive well before noon for check-in. We arrived around 11:00 and we got number 40 since we were not elite and were not in concierge, aqua or a suite. We were told it would be a short wait and it was. They didn't have enough "special" people to fill the early buses so they jumped to the mid 30s. We were on a bus by noon. The bus ride was fine, very scenic at times. We waited on the bus for about 45 minutes when we got to the ship, which would have been a lot easier to take if a rep had just kept us informed about why we had to do it. A little information goes a long way. Overall I was pleasantly surprised, but the key was getting there early.
We had a great time, met lots of nice people, loved the general feel of Celebrity as usual. Never had an issue with deck chairs, though there were some hogs dropping towels on chairs for the day and disappearing. The pool crew would generally ignore it in the morning but start removing them mid afternoon. We only went to the circus type show, which we enjoyed. The other shows are a little too old school for me. We liked the deck party and the various dance events in the atrium.
Our cabin attendant was the worst I've ever had, but it was all little things that you'd never go to guest services about. Problem is that when something lets you down almost every day, it adds up. It was bare minimum, certainly no "above and beyond". She had this weird thing about uncovering the bible, she moved my stuff off it every day. We had a good laugh about that every night at the bar.
I couldn't wait for my first drink at the molecular bar. What a bummer that the bartender on day one was downright grumpy and gave me a glass of ice with a bit of drink in it. Luckily he wasn't around much after that. There was a girl there for the rest of the cruise who was lovely. She made better drinks than the 2 guys who seemed to be senior to her, and she had a much better attitude. The martini bar was very quiet. Service was adequate there, just nothing special.
The buffet was good, minor gripe about how long it would take for used plates to be taken away.
We did the 3 dinner package. Murano and Tuscan were wonderful, Silk Harvest wasn't great. Next time I'd order all appetizers there, they were a lot better than any of the 4 main dishes we ordered. To be fair it's not my favorite food.
The best service I think was at cafe Al Bacio, though I only went a few times. I was disappointed to never find any finger sandwiches there, I loved picking up a few of those after coming back from shore when I was on the Silhouette. I only ever saw pastries on the Solstice.
My biggest letdown: select dining. So, so rushed, my mother dreaded going there by the end. Second courses were served before some had finished their first course. You couldn't dare put your fork down to take a breather, your plate would be gone. A waiiter got an order wrong and then argued when the guest said it wasn't what they ordered. Food was mainly just ok, whereas on other cruises I've felt that the food was just as good or even better than in the specialty restaurants. We were almost never asked if we wanted bottled water. The sommeliers had no time to spend at each table, at least not for those of us ordering by the glass. Refills were rare or came when the meal was virtually done. It was all very impersonal. There was very little fun or relaxation. One night we sat on the railing and watched how empty the fixed seating was below us from 8:00 on. Hardly anybody showed up for the 8:30 seating. Here's a suggestion: keep one early seating on deck 3, then open the whole dining room to select dining afterwards. Guests and staff would be far more evenly distributed instead of cramming 75% of the later diners on deck 4 with inadequate staffing.
Customs before going ashore in Hilo was a terrible experience, esppecially for the elderly. Why they couldn't have just called groups like they do for disembarkation is beyond me. We went when we were told to go, only to find a huge line snaking outside into the rain, which took over an hour to get through.
We loved our time in Hawaii, especially Hilo and Lahaina. We didn't have any real problems with tenders, though they did a get a little, ahem, ripe by the end of the day. We had the bad luck of returning at the same time as all the busses coming from the luau, so we did have a very long line for the tenders that night. It was very discouraging at the end of a long day but It went faster than we expected, so it wasn't the end of the world. Again, hard for the elderly and no help from staff. At least we weren't on the bobbing tender from Hell.
Disembarkation was very good on Celebrity's end, since customs was already done.
After preaching to everyone I know that Celebrity is so much better than other cruise lines, I had to eat my words on this cruise. My mother enjoyed her Carnival Freedom and NCL Epic cruises more. The horror! ;)
I really hope it was a fluke, I hope the Eclipse and Equinox will restore my faith. But hey, even a less than stellar cruise is better than no cruise!