This was our second cruise - both on Celebrity. The first was the Equinox so we had expectations of an experience that would be similar in many ways. We were very pleased in almost every way..
Embarkation - We probably got there after the main crush of people (2:30 arrival for a 4:30 departure) so there were no lines. We got smiling faces at the check in desk and mostly smiling faces otherwise. We were surprised that no one ever offered to take our bags and we ended up carrying them up to our stateroom. We assume that our bags looked so much like carry-ons that the staff assumed we had already checked our 'real' luggage. We're going to give Celebrity a pass for that reason. We had already carried them on board our flights so it's easy to imagine staff thinking we did it because we liked it that way. Security was as simple as one might reasonably expect.
Stateroom - We were in Aqua Class and the room was all that one could hope for. The room was clean and made up nicely though there were the odd things remaining from a previous cruiser. Would guess that our cleaning staff were not perfectionists but the standard remains high. This time our bed was closer to (last cruise away from) the balcony. I thought we would have liked it better the other way but we found that we loved this every bit as much or more. There just isn't a wrong way to do this. Our stateroom assignment was on the front of the center hump. I will absolutely try to get this spot on future cruises. The last two staterooms on the diagonal extend beyond the front hump allowing one to see virtually everything forward. Had we been on the very back of the diagonal, we could have peeked around the corner and seen everything back. Maybe it wouldn't strike everyone as prime real estate but I found it delightful.
The beds and the standard pillows were wonderfully comfortable and the curve at the bottom of the otherwise queen sized bed was no nuisance at all - it just encouraged us to play footsies more often.
I found it amazing that staff had such an uncanny sense for when we would not be there. After breakfast the room would be made up. After supper the bed would be turned down. In between times, we would often come in and the bed, where we may have sat or lain some item of clothing, would have been tidied. Chocolates on the pillows twice a day. Talk about spoiling - they certainly spoiled us. One of the entertainers made a joke about getting up in the night to use the bathroom and finding the bed made upon his return. There has to be the possibility of truth to something to make it funny and I had to laugh.
If I could change something, I'd have less stuff on the counters. The tray that sits there with water, enticing you to open and use so that you can be charged for it is a nuisance. Possibly a rack or racks on the wall to organize papers - there is a never ending stream of them - so that the counter could be less cluttered.
Bath - We were impressed with the bath on our last cruise. I just find it hard to believe that a bath so necessarily small could be designed any nicer. We were wrong. It really can get nicer. If you find value in a superb shower then spend the extra for Aqua Class. This boy - who generally finds a reason to put off a shower - found any excuse to be there.' Good way to start the day!' 'Great way to end the day!' 'Didn't I go swimming today?' 'Is it almost time for dinner?' 'Hey, I just saw a flying fish.' Any excuse will do. Absolutely wonderful.
Ship - Beautiful and well designed, Still looks new. We find it amazing that we never felt crowded. In fact, we often wondered how they could have 4000 people on this floating island and it seem so uncrowded. People always friendly. I think that's a natural consequence of such a comfortable environment. To us, it seemed that there was probably little to no smoking outside of designated areas and that the designated areas were reasonably chosen and well ventilated. I don't recall there being any smoke in the casino. If it was allowed, it certainly wasn't obnoxious.
Dining - We didn't eat in Cuvee (the main dining room) this time as our Aqua Class stateroom entitled us to eat at Blu. Our observations on this wouldn't necessarily resonate with others so take it for what it is worth. We missed eating in the MDR where, because we were always seated in the same place with the same servers, we felt like we were the honored guests of the cruiseline. Our food in Blu was great and the staff - those who served us on any given night as well as those who had served us on previous nights - were all friendly and attentive but, somehow it wasn't the same. Our opinion is that the chef in Blu is trying too hard to be unique and, in doing so, has lost the sense of things that naturally belong together on the same plate. I wanted so much to try the food in Blu that we were prepared to spend the extra for Aqua Spa this time but, in hindsight, we wouldn't consider that a benefit that brought a great deal of value. I'm certain that many of our fellow Aqua Spa cruisers would disagree with us heartily.
We did take several of our meals in Oceanview Cafe (the buffet) and though there was a lot of redundancy, there were always a few new dishes and the food ranged from good to incredible. This really is an amazing feat for a venue that probably provides most of 10,000 meals per day. This is good enough that we often chose it over the sit down meals with all their attendant special service. I would put it on par, or nearly so, with the best Las Vegas buffets that I have experienced. No, the tables don't always get cleaned off as quickly as we'd like, and yes, the drinks offered at the Cafe are of a calculated lesser quality to encourage upselling, but I still find this to be a remarkable quality of food and environment. If this was the only food on board, it would not spoil an otherwise wonderful cruise.
Nothing to offer about the other restaurants as this penny pincher couldn't make sense of spending more money when the food was always so enticing at the standard venues. We heard great reviews of Bistro on Five and QSine. You can read other reviews of the others. Only got one negative review onboard and that was of the Lawn Club. DO NOT (I'm talking to you)... I repeat... DO NOT miss the buffet on the last sea day of the cruise. The cruise line doesn't make it a priority to make the guests aware of this. We missed it on the last cruise and this time we had to be proactive about finding it. This is worth being there for and bringing your camera. TIP. Go in through the open doors on the Deck 4 before the buffet opens and you can take pics from above of everything in its pristine state. The ice sculptures are incredible and the display of food amazing. And every server appears pleased and proud to be serving you his special dish.
BTW. For those of you who, like us, choose no alcohol, they do have FRE (a de-alcoholized brand name) onboard and the FRE champagne is really nice, much better than the house brand. There are others to choose from as well. And, if you ask at the right place, they do have ginger beer as well.
Entertainment - Our cruise director, Patti, told us that we were part of a rollout of a new and improved entertainment program. My sense is that they have succeeded in bringing up the quality of the entertainment options. We probably found our way to half of the shows in the main theater and found them to be of a higher caliber than what we found on the Equinox. The comedy had us in stitches (Liars Club) and the ventriloquist and the magician were both amazing. Some shows might have not been to our tastes but we still thought that the caliber was better than our previous cruise.
Crew and Staff- Here is where we can't say enough. The Captain, the Cruise Director, the Food Service Director, the Chefs were all approachable and delightful. The crew and staff mixed with the guests and took many of their meals in Oceanview with the guests. We had a great crew on the Equinox, but here the sense that nearly every crew or staff member enjoyed his or her job and genuinely loved people made this a cruise to remember. I actually got a hug from one. It was like we were leaving a reunion of family and friends. Do they really love their jobs? I'm persuaded.
Disembarkaton - We were surprised at how organized this was. We were able to eat a leisurely breakfast (you will want to do this early as the restaurants close early on departure day) and then be sitting at Cafe al Bacio with coffee and dainties when our number was called. We were called probably 15 minutes later than scheduled but otherwise everything went smoothly until out of Celebrity's care.
On the Whole - A wonderful vacation.