Just returned from a 15 day Celebrity Millennium cruise of the Panama Canal Westbound.
Celebrity was great as were the crew whom out of their way to make people happy. This is their job and they did it well.
This was my wife's and my first cruise so nothing to compare it with really. Overall, we really enjoyed it and will do it again. We wondered if 15nigths would be too long. We found around the 8th day that is was seemingly so but you adjust daily and found by the end, it wasn't long enough. Subjective really.
Boarding the boat was impressive and fast. I think from the time we left our luggage at the dock, it was maybe 15 minutes before we were in our stateroom. Getting off on the last day wasn't quite as smooth. We were up at 5:30am for a 6:15am immigration session with the border security (onboard), made it to our taxi on the peer by 11:00am even though we had a 9:30 departure time. But, we didn't have a flight to catch so wasn't so bad.
Our group consisted of 21 people ranging in age from 18 to 85. Myself, at 52, and not a heavy drinker, was the only one to experiment by purchasing a premium package. The ship won in this regard. The package cost a little over $1000 with the added 15% gratuity. I had pre purchased the package online which was $6 cheaper per day than purchasing on board. However, once on board, they could find no record of my online purchase, (nor could I after spending $6 more dollars to search myself with their very slow wireless), so, I had to pay the onboard price which was an extra $90. Some of us were lead to believe that you had to pre purchase these packages, but we found this not to be true as they'll continue to try and sell you a package onboard throughout the voyage, pro rated of course. For the first 4 days, I attempted to get my daily quota of $59 per day. I went over this limit about 6 days on the entire voyage. I averaged about $45 overall. My wife much less. No one in our group came close to the package total including the drinkers. Excursion days especially as many would drink onshore and have early nights to bed from all the exercise and sun and drinks. With the package, you are entitled to 30% off a bottle of wine and they continually tried to entice me into purchasing some. I didn't quite get the logic though as I could get it at no additional cost by the glass, why by the bottle and pay more? You can take your glass to your room full of wine and didn't have to go far for a refill. The premium package covers anything up to $12 per glass and you have to pay the difference if it is more. I didn't encounter this often in my selections. However, you don't have access to 'every' variety. We found in the Cellar Masters lounge, they had limited varieties of wines on the list to purchase by the glass, more by the bottle and more and better varieties by the enomatic dispensing machines. These machines had several higher end wines I prefer, however, you have to purchase an 'additional' card to get at these. I drew the line there.
The premium package covers specialty coffees, teas, water, juices etc. My wife and I consider ourselves coffee connoisseur's like many, and found we preferred the free coffee and tea's in the buffet over the purchased ones in the specialty coffee shop which were roughly $4.5 per serving. If we do this again, we won't buy a package and will simply get out coffee/tea from the buffet that's available 24/7. They have take away cups there too.
The biggest advantage of the package is you don't have to sign for any drink orders unless it is over your $12 limit. (8$ on the classic package). This isn't enough to justify it though. As well, the receipt you must sign has a space for Additional Tip on it which does occasionally guilt you into it once you've had a few and your server becomes your friend, and they will all become your friend. This isn't a criticism, it's just the business and did enhance our experience.
We stopped in Columbia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico. All great stops.
We booked a few through the cruise line which adds a premium, and was very organized (in most cases). Colon Panama got rained out but we still went and enjoyed it. We then started booking on shore when we docked. The local excursion people will find you no prob and you'll get the same excursion for much less, however, in a smaller bus or taxi. These locals are every bit as concerned on getting you back before the boat leaves as are the ones hired by the cruise line. One example: My wife and I booked an excursion in Cartagena, Columbia, $62 per person. 4 other members of our group walked off the ship, made a deal with a taxi for $50 'total' to which he gave them a private tour (no stickers or flags on a stick to follow) in which they saw more and without the crowd. In Guatemala, 8 of us made a deal for a mini van at $40 per person vs over $100 for the same tour offered from the ship. Some prefer a larger group and feel safer so the cruise offerings are still a good choice. All a matter of preference. One caveate was that we asked the tour guide to take us away from the main tourists stops but, they didn't. I believe it's due to the commissions they get from the purchases made at the shops they strategically stop at. I plan to discuss this in more detail next time, even if the cost is a little more to cover the commissions.
One member of our group fell a little ill with a sinus cold one day and didn't make her excursion. We couldn't give the ticket away so passed it back to the excursion operators at the time it was leaving. They later reimbursed her for it. All excursions were sold out that day so maybe they sold it and reimbursed her as I believe there is a cutoff quite sometime before. Another member had a fall on her way out to an excursion and couldn't continue. Celebrity couldn't do enough for her and reimbursed her for the loss of her excursion.
We didn't try any of the ala carte restaurants which charge a fee but some of our group did and said they were very good. Food in the main dining room was good (not outstanding), and no complaints with the service. We ate 50% of the time in the main dining room in the evenings, and 50% in the buffet. A sitting in the main dining room typically took us 2 hours whereas the buffet had more variety and of course, take as much or as little time as you like. Service was good here too although we did see one gentleman come unglued because they sliced his bread a little too thick for his liking. Dining room is available for breakfast and lunch as well.
My wife used the hair salon and said it was about what she pays back home. She had a bout of sea sickness and tried the wrist bands. She felt they worked but decided to try Acupuncture offered onboard. She said that worked as well and it wasn't overly expensive. I told her not to go in the pool afterwards though or she'd sink.
We didn't require this service but did use it once as mentioned above. Service and price were very disappointing. It seemed possible that they might make more on the wireless service than the casino's. It's .75 cents per minute if you don't buy a package and they had a computer lounge with Mac's to use. You can buy packages that will reduce it to .65, .55 etc depending on how long a session you purchase. (which you can use at you're leisure, at most locations onboard including your stateroom with your own device , disconnecting when you're done to save your minutes). The wireless was extremely slow, not working a lot of the time and most complained they couldn't access a lot of their data or emails whilst they just burned up their credits.. As mentioned above, I knew exactly where to go to check my Celebrity account to see if my booze package was still there but it took me almost 8 minutes using their Mac's in Port. If you can stand waiting, most ports had FAST wireless in their coffee shops, restaurants etc. They ask you to at least buy a coffee in order to use it. Technology is only so good and on a moving ship out at sea, it's gotta be understandably difficult to keep this up and working, however, the excessive fees were a little over the top.
I myself didn't purchase any items on the boat but people in our group felt the prices for watches, duty free liquor etc was pretty good and they have big sales almost everyday. You'll pay quite a premium for chips, toiletries, cold medicine etc and there wasn't a lot of choice. I did buy some cold medicine capsules for $15USD. NyQuil was $18. A trip to the Nurse will cost you $72 and $45 for a return visit. Any services they provide will cost extra. We didn't use this service, but saw the prices posted outside the nurses station.
Our ship seemed to run flawlessly as far as we experienced. One thing I would suggest is the access to the front upper observation deck, deck 12 I think. There is only one stairway to access this. During the passage through the Panama canal, this stairway clogged with people vying for a good view point. This made it extremely difficult for anyone wanting to get up or down and were often frowned upon for doing so. We saw a couple lowering their stroller down over the railing to someone below as they couldn't get it down and then of course had to struggle through with their baby. Either managing with a steward, or placing an awning over the stairs to impede view should help.
Would we book on the same ship again? Absolutely. We loved the layout and all that came with it.