I’ve read the three preceding reviews of the Black Sea cruise we just completed, and while I don’t doubt the veracity of those reports or the feelings that prompted them, I’m compelled to present a very different report. In short, we had an excellent experience.
Although the delayed boarding was unfortunate, given that Celebrity was doing its best to cleanse the ship of the Norovirus, our reaction was “take all the time you need.” In fact, we appreciated all of the safety measures taken, and we assume that’s why the number of cases on our cruise was vastly reduced from the previous group. That said, we were among the first to board and had the Oceanview Café to ourselves for about 20 minutes while the staff doted on us (this was the result of chance, not any personal connections or star status on our part).
Our room was very nice and the service provided by Gwen (our “butler”—still loving that, although I would have preferred that he change his name to “Jeeves”) and Suhas (our steward) were unceasingly attentive and immediately responsive to the few requests we made. I can’t imagine any better service than what they provided. In that regard, we were really impressed with the friendliness and service level of every staff member we encountered. A special shout out goes to Natalia in the Gelateria. After Day Two, she would call us out by name (kind of like “Norm!” on Cheers, I suppose) and was fun to talk to while she dished up our latest calorie bombs.
I’d regard the food service overall as very good, even though it started off questionably. We were assigned to dine by ourselves at a location that was hilariously awful: the first table against the wall as one enters the Main Dining Room, and next to the kitchen entrance as well as the Maître D’s stand. At that table, one can dine while heavy laden waiters brush past, expectant diners hover nearby, and an overworked headwaiter deals with the usual issues. While we were waiting for our appetizers, bemoaning our outcast state, I got up and approached the Maître D, and began gently with, “You know, I don’t think this table is going to work for us…”, but before I could finish my entreaty the guy shook his head and said, “That’s terrible. Come with me….” He cancelled our order and took us up to the dining room’s higher level and told the head guy there that he was changing us to Anytime Dining and we should be given the best table available. Never another problem after that.
Over the ensuing eleven nights, we dined multiple times in each of the main dining room, Tuscan Grill (loved the Ravioli Ripieni con Carne Brasata di Manzo and the chocolate and pistachio crème brulee—can’t remember the exact name as by the dessert course I was in a food coma), Ocean Liners, Blu and The Bistro on Five, and enjoyed all of them. The food in the main dining room was only good- to very good, but fine considering the volume they have to meet. And recognizing that after 40 years of marital bliss the conversation can sometimes lag a bit between us, we usually requested dining companions and we were always given two or more really interesting people to dine with. We ended up eating multiple times with a few couples and it was a highlight of the trip.
As a form of repentance, we used the fitness center and track often. The center has a good selection of resistance and cardio machines and a fair selection of free weights. Most users were careful to wipe down after use, and we saw the staff wiping down everything frequently. The track is decent, but best utilized before 8 am or so.
The evening’s entertainment was always good if not particularly great, although the violinist was exceptionally talented and the Man from Mars and his amazingly limber wife (“Okay, I’ll stop staring, honey…”) were very entertaining. One beef: I hate it when Emcees call out things like “Are you having a good time????” and similarly banal inquiries obviously intended to evoke a big round of applause. Hey, if I like the show, I’ll clap enthusiastically. I’d like to organize a group response along the lines of “WELL, IT WAS JUST OK…” but that’ll have to wait for another cruise.
We really enjoyed the shore excursions, all but one of which we arranged privately. By doing so we got to know several couples in advance and developed friendships with several that will endure well beyond the trip. And if anyone doubted that ship-based excursions include a hefty surcharge, consider that for the Odessa Ballet we attended, the ship’s charge would have been around $120 each and seats would have been in the middle or back of the theater (great opera house, btw). Planning ahead, we purchased Row 3 seats for $30. True, my purchase didn't include bus transportation to and from the theater, but we saved 2 x $90 by walking to and from the ship, an enjoyable stroll down Primorsky Boulevard and the Potemkin Steps, much less than a mile.
It was an outstanding itinerary we’ll recommend to anyone interested. And despite a couple of hiccups, which were immediately resolved, we thought Celebrity did an excellent job under difficult conditions. We’ll be back.