This was our 4th New Zealand cruise. We have previously travelled to New Zealand on Celebrity (Millennium), Royal Caribbean (Radiance) and Holland America (Oosterdam).
The ship is beautiful and very good is all areas, however we did find the ship very loud. More of that later as it deserves it own section below.
Ports of call
The Bay Of Islands (Pahia and Russell)
Tauranga (Mount Manganui)
Dunedin (Port Chalmers)
Dusky, Doubtful & Milford Sounds (cruising)
A little bit of history. With just 4 days before our departure we were considering cancelling.
On doctor’s orders following complications from a previous amputation, my partner was confined to a wheelchair. Fortunately, the Doctor had recently sailed on Solstice and understood the ease of access for mobility restricted passengers onboard, and agreed to allow us to travel on the basis that we restrict walking and use a wheelchair at all times.
Our travel agent then advised the airline, Emirates (for travel from Sydney to Auckland to join the ship) and Celebrity of our wheelchair requirements. Can I just say, the system works well and both Emirates and Celebrity are to be congratulated, with only one major “blip” on Celebrity’s part. (see Tendering section below)
Embarkation & airport to ship transfer
Check-in for both airline and ship was excellent with priority lines offered to expedite the queues for wheelchair passengers. Also amazing ground staff at Auckland Airport in the baggage claim assisted with the wheelchair whilst I wheeled the luggage.
We had airport to ship transfers, so joined the line outside the terminal to check luggage back in and take the bus to the ship. The lady from Celebrity checking off names was stressed and quite “frazzled” and could not find our names on the list. She then asked us to step aside whilst she processed others behind us. Turned out the list was in alphabetical order and the name was the first name on her list. No apology though when I saw the name at the top of the page and pointed to it.
There was a significant traffic delay en-route to the ship, so by the time we arrived at the ship it was nearing 4pm. This late in the day the check-in line was almost no existent so within minutes we were aboard and in our cabin (7286 – back of the hump with an extra large deep balcony). We were in the cabin for what only seemed a couple of minutes before the general alarm sounded for Life Boat Muster Drill at 4.45pm.
We attended an informal Cruise Critic catch up at the Mast Bar following the life boat drill.
Cabin & Bathroom
Cabins are modern and nicely decorated.
There is ample storage with overhead lockers, and space under the beds for suitcases.
The bathrooms are well appointed with glass shower screen (not shower curtains that cling to you), plus plenty of shelve space. Cotton buds and cotton wool supplied, but no tissues (bean counters now apparently expected you to request them with your cabin attendant). Tissues didn’t appear until about 4 days into the cruise and only after we had already bought a box of our own in Tauranga.
Cabin attendants – rarely saw either of them, but room maintained well, however they could have had a little more attention to detail on cleanliness. There were finger marks on wardrobe doors and inside balcony doors from previous passengers & they were still not cleaned 12 days later when we left the ship.
Strangely, the teak balcony railings were initially missing from several decks in our section of the ship, but on about day 5 the beautifully varnished railings reappeared on Deck 7, but not those decks above or below. This is obviously an ongoing maintenance program onboard as we noticed the very poor condition of some of the railings that are in desperate need of attention.
OK, this is all very subjective, but for what it is worth here are our comments.
We had Select Dining which is held on the upper level of the MDR – Epernay Restaurant (very Kath & Kim name - just missing Tru and Pru... Only the Aussies will get that joke. ) Overall the quality of food was excellent. We also love the opportunity to meet new people at each meal when sharing a table. Additionally, we had several breakfasts and a couple of lunches in Epernay. All excellent.
Not sure what ever happened to the sea day Brunch that Celebrity used to hold in the MDR, as was looking forward to that. Oh well, the “bean counters” have been busy.
Tuscan Grill – We only had 1 dinner here and loved it. We had a fantastic goat cheese ball salad, wonderful calamari in faux newspaper wrapping and a great filet mignon. The restaurant cover charge is $35.00 pp, but worth it.
Bistro on Five – We ate here twice. It has a cover charge of $5.00 pp. Serving specialty fillings on the pancakes and toasted pannini bread sandwiches, it is just what you need sometimes instead of a heavy meal. They also offered a choice of soups and sweet deserts. Just one deterrent, see our comments on the excessive noise level within the restaurant when there is live entertainment from 2 floors down in the atrium. We ended up having to ask them to turn off the “pipped” music coming from the speaker in the ceiling above us in the restaurant so we could hear ourselves think!
Oceanview Cafe – I’m not sure where I should start.
Overall, the food here I can only describe as below par. Don’t get me wrong here, we did have some nice food here but;
I just wonder if any of the chefs preparing the food ever actually taste it before the send it from the kitchen.
The opportunity to get “hot” food here is almost impossible. By the time you select 1 item, then join the queue at a different food station to select another item, the first item is already cold.
The lack of menu change within each section was almost nil.
Late Evening snacks never changed. Pizza, pasta, rolls with sandwich filling, sweets & cakes.
Travelling with a disabled passenger who is diabetic and on strong medication that requires small snacks at regular intervals with their 6 hourly medications can be a real challenge when suitable food types are not available. No fresh fruit or low fat yoghurt at this time of the day. It would have been nice to get a simple casserole with some plain rice as a late evening option.
I was sure there used to be a special midnight buffet served in the cafe during each cruise. I remember on Millennium there was a special buffet served in the “Cosmos” or “Sky Lounge” one evening during the cruise. (bean counters back again)
Room Service – We needed to order breakfast every morning for 6.00am so medication could be taken. I can only say how fantastic the room service team were. We received a phone call ahead of delivery every morning and right on time, everytime. (Fruit, yoghurt, cereal, toast and coffee/tea).
Aqua Spa Cafe – We only used this one evening when the Ocean View Cafe closed and the Aqua Spa Cafe was used for the late evening snacks. Offering was very basic, and we were surprised to see that they charged for yoghurt, albeit specialty flavours. (bean counters at it again.)
Tendering for wheelchair passengers.
Upon check-in at Princes’ Wharf in Auckland, we were provided a “Tendering Information” sheet which was applicable to wheelchair passengers.
This particular itinerary has 2 tender ports, The Bay of Islands & Akaroa.
Having previously been to The Bay of Islands we did not feel the need to leave the ship, however with Akaroa being our favourite port of call, we decided to go ashore.
My partner was wheeled to a separate staircase, where he had the option to stay in the wheelchair and use the disabled lift down to the pontoon at water level or walk down the stairs by himself which he opted to do. Crew members carried his foldable wheelchair down to the boarding pontoon.
It all worked well, I thought at that point. I was already seated on the tender and they assisted him onto the tender and he sat behind me. I turned to look that his wheelchair was aboard and it was.
There was some discussions going on behind us, and as we pulled away from the pontoon I turned to see his wheelchair sitting on the pontoon. I realised that they had off-loaded his wheelchair without letting us know. At this point I started to shout at the tender driver (Marios) to stop and go back for his wheelchair. Fellow passengers could see the situation and also started shouting, but to no avail. Marios simply said they will bring it on the next tender. Yeah right !!
To separate a mobility restricted passenger from their transportation means is certainly inexcusable behaviour. Knowing that the jetty at Akaroa has no seating I got particularly agitated as my partner, who is an amputee, is unable to stand for extended periods.
The upshot of all this was that once we got to the jetty, we had to sit onboard until the next tender arrived which only slowed up the movement of other passengers wanting to get onboard to return to the ship. The other arriving tender ended up having trouble trying to dock as they had to go to the other side of the jetty, they then had to retrieve the wheelchair before that tender could unload passengers.
If we had been told that they were off-loading the wheelchair we would have gotten off and waited for the next tender.
As timing would have it, upon our return to the ship later that afternoon, Ian the Cruise Director was lined up to get on the next outgoing tender where I unleashed my fury to him regarding the poor treatment of a disabled passenger being separated from his transportation. As I would expect from him, no apology or follow up.
Entertainment & Activities
Loud live music conflicts with piped music throughout the ship, particularly from level 3 in the atrium where it drifts up to all floors.
No pianist in Michael’s Bar. A real missed opportunity for an intimate recital performance space.
Poor string trio. High school level and not able to co-ordinate together.
Most of the shows in the Theatre were high quality. Excellent violinist Jane in theatre.
Loved the presentations by Dr Milos the onboard nature lecturer.
Interesting and provoking historical lectures by Dr Elenor.
The glass blowing demonstrations are fantastic.
Karaoke – takes place in the Quasar, but the set up seems all wrong with guests entering via a front door where they have to walk in front of the performer and blocking the words on the screen. Staff need to have a better understanding of how to operate the electronic equipment. It’s a shame that they don’t list the songs by song title rather than by performer. You know the song you want to sing, but don’t know who sang it, so you can’t find it.
Loud noise throughout ship
Bistro on Five- Loud & intrusive noise from level 3 in the atrium was overpowering 2 floors up. We asked staff in restaurant to turn off the “Piped” music so we can talk across the table.
Of an evening, loud live music from level 3 atrium can be heard in cabins on the hump (we were on level 7 and could still hear it in our cabin 4 floors up.
Entertainers performing in the glass elevators of the atrium and on stairways, very tacky. Guess it works for some passengers.
Ambient music around pool on level 12 is over shadowed by loud “piped” music from level 14 Mast Grill Bar especially when the bar on level 14 is closed.
There was no such thing as a quiet late night coffee in Cafe al Bacio on level 5. Every time the noise from the live performance on level 3 in the atrium was deafening. I’m sure there are speakers behind the curtains on level 5 to amplify the sound 2 floors up.
Good luck if you wanted to read quietly in the Library. It’s open plan to the atrium and all the noise drifts up. Same again with the card room and games area.
This ship needs to conduct a total review of the impact of so many varieties of “noise” on its guests. There did not seem to be any area of the ship that was not affected where you could just sit down in total silence and enjoy peace and quiet. Not even in the library.
Would we sail again on this ship? Probably not.
As nice as the decor, staff and service are, it is just not our style.
The ship is loud, loud, loud.