We left Sydney on January 20th after touring two weeks in southern Australia. We were ready to decompress and relax. Boarding in Sydney went smoothly, except we were never given a boarding time and got to the ship at 1:30PM only to be told by the porters that our boarding time was 4:30 PM. We walked on board anyway and our cabin was ready! Took a total of 20 minutes or so. No worries!
We had a balcony cabin, deck 6. Our cabin was great. Comfy bed and plenty of storage. The bathroom was huge, Our balcony was disappointing - the furniture was strongly weathered and the sides of the partitions peeling, showing bare wood and metal. As activities on board were limited, days at sea rough, we spent more time in our cabin than on other cruises we've taken and I found myself staring from the bed at the peeling paint. Our cabin steward was competent and invisible. Our cabin was always well prepared without any inconvenience.
Overall the public areas of the ship are beautiful and clean. The decor is modern but not garish. Some of the furniture is worn and needs to be replaced. The Epernay dining room and Solstice Theatre are the most attractive and comfortable of any cruise we've taken. The cruise never seemed crowded, although during days at sea when the weather was bad and the outside decks were closed, finding a place to park your carcass in a comfortable spot was sometimes challenging, but not impossible. We had 8:30 dinner reservations and finding a seat to have a drink before dinner required some planning. The observation bar at the front of the ship was almost always not crowded, but service was poor and it is a distance from the dining room located at the rear of the ship.
We ate at the Tuscan Grill the first night and was most disappointed. We were expecting a specialty dining experience and instead found wooden tables with plastic place mats. Service was efficient, but not friendly, especially the sommelier who explained rather brusquely that our wine selections on the "Classic Beverage Plan" was limited to a cheap sparkling prosecco, chardonnay and a blended red. All unremarkable. Food was OK, but nothing out of the ordinary from the main dining room. Definitely not worth the up charge.
In hindsight we found the "free" offer of the Classic Beverage Package to be a bitter disappointment. The selection of beers, wines and liquor were not remotely acceptable. Many drinks were purposively priced at $7.50 - just over the $7 package limit. I would have gladly paid the difference, but no, you had to pay the full price of the higher priced drink. Sam Adams was the only "craft" beer available and could not be found at all bars. We were mostly limited to Bud, Bud Light, Corona. Except for Sam Adams, not a complex beer in the bunch. Wine was a cheap chardonnay, sparkling or red blend. We didn't have the option of even choosing a variety of wine other than red or white! Martinis at the infamous Martini Bar did not qualify under the plan.
When we complained we were told by the hospitality department that we could always upgrade for $11 more per day to the "Premium" package. The freebie package was no more than a "bait and switch". In hindsight we did not drink enough to justify the $44 per day pp "value" of the Classic Package. For us, Celebrity created more ill will by their drink offer than if they hadn't provided the incentive. We weren't looking for top shelf options, just a better selection of offerings to allow for differences in taste and drinking occasions.
After our Tuscan experience we ate all our dinners at the main dining room. The food was always acceptable and well presented. Some nights better than others. The menu offered daily specials as well as tried and true "cruise cuisine". If you didn't like the offerings you could always resort to the standard escargot, caesar salad, salmon or steak. Portions were not huge which is good! Service was always superb. For our Texas tastes, the food tended to be bland, the kitchen could use more spices! But quality and preparation was never an issue.
The 14th deck cafeteria worked well with a nice selection of food for breakfast and lunch. Bistro on Five is worth the $5 upgrade for a change of pace. The pool grill for hamburgers was a disaster. Grill service was rude and they were totally disorganized and not prepared to handle the crowd. Lines at lunch were long. There was a surprising lack of tables nearby, so you had to take your food elsewhere to eat comfortably.
The Solstice Cast was talented and energetic. The ensemble shows were entertaining. The individual entertainers, except for David Mayer, XyloSynth, were uninspiring and the performers seemed to be on remote control. Beverage service at the theatre was awkward with the waiters not having room to take and deliver orders between rows. Dancing was held in the grand foyer on the marble floor. A somewhat public venue. It also made moving from side to side on deck 3 before dinner a tad inconvenient. The bands and vocalists were generally quite good.
Our crossing of the Tasman was the roughest experience we have ever encountered on a cruise. The two sea days were basically spent indoors with 30 foot waves and 50 knot winds with swells hitting up to the restaurant windows on deck 5. Wine glasses broke in the dining room. All said, given the circumstances, the ship was the smoothest we've sailed at handling the storm. Sailing the NZ fiords afterwards was absolutely spectacular. The scenery was breathtaking with smooth sailing. Only the ocean was rough!
Announcements from the captain were sparse and difficult to understand. The officers were fairly absent during the cruise, but that probably is neither here nor there, as we got to our ports on time and unscathed.
Overall, the cruise was an efficient way to see NZ, a remarkably beautiful and isolated land. The vistas at every turn were amazing and the landscape ever changing. NZ was the star of the show. On board activities were sparse and marginal. We spent more time in our cabin than we have on other cruises and mostly not weather related.
This was our first Celebrity experience, having sailed RCL (2) and HAL (2) previously. Overall, the cruise met our expectations and we would cruise with Celebrity again. Our cruise was very good, but not outstanding.
Disembarkation at Aukland was a breeze.