I should preface this review by saying that this was our first time cruising with Celebrity and we chose the cruise for the itinerary and length as well as the convenient dates which worked in well with our other family commitments. We have cruised before most recently on RCL Radiance of The Seas out of Sydney on its NYE cruise in Dec 2012 so we do have some comparisons to draw from our experience.
We booked our 14 day NZ/Aus cruise when Celebrity had deals including flights from Sydney to Auckland to meet the ship so that seemed attractive to us and it worked out well.
Day of departure and it was a really early start to catch an 08:30am flight out of Sydney to Auckland. The flight was on time and we arrived a little early into Auckland and were met by Celebrity Staff who helped us label our bags (we had printed the bag tags already just had to remove the airline tags and attach the ships ones instead) and took them for transport to the ship. We then waited around 45mins for other passengers to arrive and we were on our coach for transport to the pier for embarkation. As this was post Xmas there was little traffic and we were at the ship in around 30 mins.
As this was around 3:30pm there were no lines and only a steady trickle of passengers waiting to board so the customs/immigration etc was smooth as was checkin. So we had our seapass cards and were on the ship in around 15mins.
First impressions: An elegant ship, tastefully decorated and friendly helpful crew everywhere to assist us in getting our bearings. Due to our boarding time our cabin was ready so we headed up to deck 10, Concierge Class stateroom 1060 to drop our carry on luggage and then go explore the ship. Not long after we entered our cabin our wonderful cabin steward, Nevis, came and introduced himself and explained he was available at any time if we had issues. Nevis was a gem and kept our cabin in clean and tidy throughout the cruise but whilst we ran into him often in the hallways we never managed to catch him cleaning our room - it became a bit of a running gag with him as we said one day we would manage to catch him - we never did. He always knew when we went out to breakfast or were on a shore tour and in the evening knew when we went to dinner so he could clean the cabin or provide the nightly turn down service. These guys work hard and how they manage the long hours each day I don't know.
Cabin was great, larger than we expected and having the bed near the balcony was great. Bathroom would have to be the best of any cruise ship we have been on over the years. The afternoon canapés weren't always great but a nice touch nevertheless.
We went and toured the ship to get the lay of the land, so to speak, and were quite impressed with the ease with which you could find the restaurants, entertainment areas and of course the pools. Had a bit of a snack in the oceanview café and then went back to the cabin to see if our luggage had arrived. 1 case was there but not the other. Anyway - unpacked that one and went off to the Passport Bar to have a drink. We also purchase the classic non-alcoholic beverage package which came in very handy for bottled water for shore tours and to get proper coffee throughout the trip. I have no idea what they put in those urns labelled "regular coffee" and it is hot and black - but I wouldn't call it coffee by any stretch of the imagination. Anyway back to the cabin and finally the 2nd suitcase had been delivered so we unpacked that one, stowed the empty bags under the bed and we were all set.
Sailaway was at 8pm and we watched this from our balcony and sipped on the complementary sparkling wine provided and met our next door neighbours who were doing the same thing. The weather was a little overcast and cool but it was a great evening to be sailing out of Auckland Harbour.
Off to a late dinner (by NZ time anyway but quite reasonable for us as our bodies were still on Aus time). We had My Select dinning and I had booked the first few days via the web so no issues getting in when we wanted. The first night wasn't busy in the dinning room so we had good service and met Nixon and Michael our waiters who would end up looking after us most nights we were in the MDR. Food was quite good but after a few days we had to cut back as having a 4 course meal each night was just overwhelming sometimes. There were nights when the dinning room was busy and one or two nights where we had to line up for a table even though we had a booking but this was not the norm.
We ate in Tuscan Grille one evening and that was spectacular. We had a table for two at the rear of the ship near the window for sunset. An experience that can't be beaten and with the fantastic food and wonderful service it was definitely a night to remember. We also ate in Murano on two occasions which was also wonderful and well worth the money although the second time we didn't get as good service as the first. The second night was my birthday and my wife, unbeknown to me, had booked and paid some months earlier, for a birthday cake to be brought to our table for dessert. Didn't happen. However, this is where Celebrity excelled in rectifying the situation. My wife went down to guest services after dinner (again I didn't know what was happening) to ask what had happened. Dana Rey from guest services (a gem herself and a credit to Celebrity) took on the problem straight away. She phoned the kitchen to confirm they had the cake ready, she contacted the Murano staff to find our why they had made the mistake when the arrangements were clearly in our booking that night. Anyway to cut a long story short - next thing we know the cake and a bottle of wine arrived in our cabin and about 10mins later the senior staff from Murano were at our door with a bottle of French Champagne (genuine stuff) and an apology for the mistake. They then got me into the hallway and sang "Happy Birthday". What a great way to make up for their error. We couldn't have been more pleased and Celebrity didn't have to go to these lengths to make it up to us. Wow.
Now to the ports. We had booked all our shore tours through the ship so our tickets were in our cabin on embarkation day. Bay of Islands was wonderful and as the weather was fine, warm and sunny I don't think we could have been happier. The Treaty House and Pioneer Villiage was great. Although this was a tender port getting on and off the ship was reasonably quick and efficient. The Celebrity crew had iced water and cold towels for us when we returned to the pier for tendering back to the ship. A nice touch I thought.
Tauranga was also great and this was one we were looking forward to as our tour today was to Hobbiton to see some of the Lord of the Rings sets. A great morning and well worth the trip. We were going to wander around the beachfront and shops in the afternoon but rain came in so we ended up going back to the ship.
Wellington was interesting, not windy as we had expected, but certainly cool and grey. We went out to Lindale Farm and the Car museum which was interesting then went back in to town to tour around and then ride the cable car (as most everyone was doing that day).
Akaroa - we didn't go into Christchurch as we felt it would be too depressing and most people we met who went that day agreed. The unrepaired damage from the earthquakes is still very obvious. As an alternative went on a wildlife harbour cruise and saw lots of dolphins and seals as well as albatross. It was a wonderful morning. We spent the afternoon wandering around Akaroa itself, had proper fish and chips for lunch (yummy) and then went back to the ship. The wind had picked up significantly during the day and as this was also a tender port it was quite rough getting back to the ship and took around 40mins. Later in the day it became worse to the point that the tender boats were making hard work of the trip out to the ship. We ended up leaving 90mins late as a result of this. All in all though a place I would love to come back and visit.
Dunedin - cold, cold, cold. Went to Speights brewery which was interesting and we had the chance to pull a few glasses of beer for ourselves which then made the rest of the day slide by. Then out to Lamach Castle for lunch, a haggis ceremony and a tour of the castle. We sat with some Canadians and Americans at lunch and once the plate of haggis arrived to try they seemed really into it until we advised them what Haggis really was.
Dusky/Doubtful/Milford Sound - this day started poorly weather wise. Dusky sound was grey, rainy and windy so we didn't really see much. Doubtful sound was better but the standout was Milford sound. The sun had come out and it was a beautiful afternoon to cruise this magnificent fijord. Seals and albatross were abundant and there were some waterfalls apparent but as it had been relatively dry for the few days prior the larger more spectacular falls weren't apparent.
Crossing the Tasman to Hobart - well the Tasman lived up to its name. Probably the roughest time I've had on a cruise and even the Solstice, large as she is, couldn't smooth out this trip. One morning after we got out of bed and were showing, dressing etc we heard this loud bang and my wife was thrown across the room (luckily on to the bed), I was in the shower and had to hold on for dear life. We found out later from the Staff engineer that a 15m wave had hit the ship and rose over deck 5 which is 12m above the ocean so a little worrying. Anyway after this all open decks were closed including pools so everyone was stuck inside from this point until early the next morning when we approached Hobart. These two sea days we also found a little boring as the number of activities on the daily list was quite light unless you were into spa treatments, wine and spirit tastings or art auctions. Read a book and watched a movie on TV instead.
Hobart - never been before. Want to go back. We had a tour out to historic Richmond and then a wine tasting at one of the local wineries. Great morning. Spent the afternoon wandering around Salamanca markets and Battery point. We certainly filled in the day here.
Melbourne - after another sea day, calm and sunny so good to relax by the pool we were in Melbourne. 42C - hot, hot, hot. Too hot. Spent some time in the city and docklands shopping then went back to the ship and the comfort of air-con. Been to Melbourne many times so we weren't too upset.
Another perfect sea day and we were back in Sydney for one of the most efficient dis-embarkation experiences ever. As Celebrity had Australian Customs on board during our Tasman crossing there was little to do in Sydney except collect our luggage from the pier where it was grouped according to our pre-defined passenger group and handover the customs form at the exit. We were off the ship and on a train home from Circular Quay in around 15mins.
Entertainment - hmmm. The guest performers were excellent. Belinda Marks, as well as an Irish Violinist/vocalist/pianist (can't remember her name) we wonderful. The pair of magicians were average. The Celebrity Performers put on 3 production shows during the cruise - ghostlight, Pulse and Solstice the Show. These are talented guys but of the 3 shows the first was the best and the only one that made sense and at least had some kind of theme/story to hold it all together. The remainder was just a hodge podge of acts to show off individuals. Solstice the show had some fantastic acrobatics and aerial gymnastics but that was it - it just didn't all tie together. The performers in the bars etc were good as well. The only thing I didn't understand was the fact that there was no dedicated pianist on board to play in areas like Michaels Club during the cruise. The first day we met the barman in Michaels Club and asked what kind of entertainment would be in the room during the cruise. He sadly responded that none as no pianist on the cruise. In fact Michaels club was almost empty every time we went past - a vastly under used space.
The Captain and Officers were not as visible nor as friendly as we found on RCL and the Captains Daily briefing at 10am was mostly difficult to understand and quite curt at times. An Aussie Cruise Director as well as an Aussie Executive chef made the cruise interesting. I think some of their humour was lost on a lot of the American and Canadian passengers who were in the majority on this cruise.
So all in all not a bad cruise but the average age of passengers on this ship I think was 55 and over, with some much older. A little above our age group. Whilst there were some children on board we didn't see many wandering the halls or causing trouble around the pools or in the lifts (as some are want to do). Celebrity do also need to look at refurbishing some of the well worn furniture in areas such as the Passport Bar as some of the chair fabrics are worn and sticky from lots of use and little cleaning. The faux teak deck lino is also worn in places on the decks and verandas from weather and all the cleaning they receive.
Would we cruise again with Celebrity - probably not. Prefer RCL I think.