Let me begin by saying that we are Celebrity brand loyalists. Which is why writing this review is, not to be dramatic, a bit painful as I am not used to writing much about Celebrity that is negative. Things that felt "off" on this cruise, on lesser lines, would be business as usual for mass market or lower rated premium lines, but Celebrity has always been top notch, excelling in the ultra premium category. So one might argue that I am nitpicking, but my comments are about what seems to be a lowering of standards, small indications that at least on this cruise, were troubling, and I hope not signs of a corporate decision to cut back across the board.
First, the Good, a few highlights:
Embarkation in San Juan went very well - smooth, efficient. In the port building, immediately at check in for the cruise, is a San Juan liquor store - a great location to buy your allowed two bottles of wine that you can bring on board. Although the selection was somewhat limited, it was quite serviceable and the prices were very reasonable, so I wanted to make a note of that for future cruisers.
On board, greeters were there with champagne and mimosas. Our suitcase arrived in our stateroom with record speed. Our stateroom attendant, Gregorio, came very promptly to our cabin to consult. Our cabin was always exceptionally maintained, we were very happy. Since we sailed Aqua Class, we received afternoon canapés delivered daily; we requested canapés with no shellfish so every day, Gregorio made sure we had a rotating, varied, lovely selection of olives, hummus, fruit, chips, pancetta, deviled eggs - to name only a few. He knew that 4pm was our preferred delivery time and after two days, we no longer had to fill out the sheet, he just did his thing, and we were all set. Everything about the room was always top notch.
The entertainment in the theater on Summit we thought was exceptionally outstanding. So much talent in the production shows! We frequent Broadway so I have a reference point and truly, the singers and dancers on board, the choreography, the wow factor, did not cease to amaze us! The Celebrity production cast and orchestra, demonstrate so much energy and commitment, pure raw vitality. The guest performers also we felt were excellent! The entertainment around the ship we also enjoyed, in particular the duo called "5 O'Clock Somewhere", very talented. We also found it very clever, and another testament to the versatile talent of the production team, that Dustin, from the production team, doubled as one of the around the ship entertainers. I think that the singer/guitarist Steve Aubrey did not arrive on board until a few ports into the itinerary, so Dustin filled in the time slots until he arrived - we loved Dustin, fabulous voice and guitar skills! We loved the Sin City comedy show, "late night" comedy. One of the comedians received two Emmy awards for his comedy writing, one Emmy for his work on the famous show, "Home Improvement".
We are Elite so we participated in many of the Elite events. We thought that the Elite cocktail event nightly in the Revelations Lounge on Deck 11 was very nice - lovely appetizers and a special nod to the bartender Iwan who provided exceptional service. The Elite High Tea was also very nice. It was clear that a new crop of servers was being trained by the senior servers, so service was especially attentive.
We ate in Q-Sine, our most favorite BY FAR of the specialty restaurants. The food, the service were as we have come to expect in Q-Sine on the other ships. Loved it, well done, Celebrity!! So fun, so inventive, so whimsical, so delicious! Modern Luxury at it's best in Q-Sine!
The Captain was particularly charming, "Captain Leo", Leonardos Palaiokrassas, or, hysterically, Captain Acidophilus, as one of the brilliant comedians in the Sin City comedy show at night in the Revelations Lounge called him! He could often be seen greeting passengers throughout the ship, once sitting at a table in the buffet for breakfast next to our table. I think it's very nice when the senior officers are visible and accessible.
Now, the Not so Good, a few lowlights:
This vignette I am about to describe, was particularly troubling to me: In the Rendezvous Lounge, a server came to see if we wanted a drink - there was a piece of garbage on the floor, a silver aluminum wrapper type of paper - he looked at it, touched it with the toe of his shoe, and walked away! He did NOT pick it up! This was shocking to us - as stated, we are fiercely brand loyal and this frankly blew our minds. We wanted to report this guy to a manager, but, we didn't. He also was less than enthused when we didn't order a drink - we just wanted to sit and enjoy the performer. But, that, we could excuse, but NOT that he left the piece of trash on the floor! This was not something we saw elsewhere on the ship, at all, but, one wonders, was he not trained well enough? Were the line's standards not imparted? Are people being hired who are not qualified? Again, one episode, but a troubling one when the subject is an employee of a ship in a fleet of an outstanding premium cruise line, one that presumably wants to maintain their business model...……..
Another issue we found troubling was the severe reduction in the Celebrity Life Activities staff - first, the cruise director, Lisa Richard, who is wonderful, but, she doesn't actually count as a staff person for activities, since she is the directing officer, so forget about her for the moment. Directly under her is her right hand who seemed very very new and not yet adept at coherently addressing large audiences (though a good Latin dancer), Luigi, the Activities Manager, we also can't count him, but ok, let's since other than him there were only 2 actual Activities staff people, Mark and some other guy. WHAT? and, WHY? Lisa was the cruise director on our Adriatic cruise on Silhouette in the fall of 2013. Mark was also on the Activities staff that same cruise - both very good!! Our problem this cruise was the REDUCTION in Activities staff. We sail Celebrity precisely because of the number of staff - more staff = more service; we love the Activities team and we love to participate in the activities - you can refer to all of our past cruises - all had huge Celebrity Life Activities teams........which brings me to the activities themselves - on Summit, they were primarily sales events - the Bella Perlina jewelry "event", or the liquor "event" etc - events designed to get us to buy something, not events designed for us to have fun. Yes, they existed, but barely. The vast majority of activities were designed to get the guests to spend more money.
Overall, in all departments, there seemed to be less staff - ie, bathroom attendants - there always used to be an attendant in the ladies bathrooms in the evenings, around the main lounges and the theater - but only once did that happen on Summit this cruise.
And in the buffet, we had problems at breakfast with the opening of the stations. For instance, at 7am, when we were docked in Tortola, the poached egg station was supposed to open, but it did not open until 7:25am. So, big deal, you say? But, this was a PORT DAY - we had to get off the ship, we had a scheduled excursion - so this disregard for the published station opening time was disturbing - we had someplace that we needed to go, and the ship certainly wants to maintain it's business model, which means, doing what it says it is going to do, and it did not. People are on vacation and what may seem like a small thing, really isn't, in this context. So don't give me any grief about First World Problems - this is a review of services that are supposed to be provided.
At turndown, Celebrity used to have high end dark chocolates custom made, with the signature "X" logo. They had lovely flavors like orange, ginger, elderberry, etc - but now, they are using a generic milk chocolate, yes, Belgian, and yes, it is tasty, but still, pedestrian, and now with a smiling moon face, no brand identity - something anyone for any cruise line or hotel, could purchase. No, the new chocolates simply do not present the same image as the old design and flavors.
And in Blu, as we sailed Aqua Class - for the first 2 days, the assistant waiters were not in sync AT ALL with their partnered head waiter - but, that improved as the cruise went on. Someone had said they had heard that this cruise was a training cruise, that there was a whole crop of new employees on board - if true, that could explain a lot, but still not the clear cutbacks in some of the departments.
In Blu, and again, this does sound silly, but remember, my point is that there seems to be a lowering of Celebrity's high standards - the specialty breads in the nightly bread baskets were non-existent. In all of our past Aqua Class cruises, the bread baskets, every night, had a differently featured 'exciting' bread option, a specialty bread - ranging from olive rolls, to focaccia, to very dark richly grained options, etc - this cruise, I think only twice were we offered the dark grain, and that was it, no other options, and only offered twice - primarily, the basket was overflowing with very very boring white bread, in the shape of French bread, but it tasted nothing like it - it tasted like and had the texture of Wonder Bread in a round shape. Yes, the bread sticks we have all come to know and love were there, but the bread options were very sad and severely reduced. AGAIN, on another line, this would be, so what?? But, we have sailed X so many times, we are VERY brand loyal - this is disappointing to us.
On the fitness side of things, we were disappointed that there were no zumba classes.
A very big gaping hole was that there was NO GRAND BUFFET! Every cruise, on a sea day, in the MDR, there is a brunch buffet, gorgeous, the ice sculptures, lots of pomp and circumstance, quite nice - NOT THIS CRUISE. Again, why? We are concerned that Celebrity might be diluting it's brand. We do not need another NCL, another Holland, another Princess. Oh, no, definitely NOT. Modern Luxury. We love that concept and have found that on our other Celebrity sailings.
I am concerned about the apparent cutbacks, as I mentioned previously. I wonder if it is only on Summit, I HOPE that it is only on Summit - I fear there is a biased though not necessarily incorrect perception that people who sail this itinerary may be less discriminating and so the line has chosen to save money on this specific itinerary, and the following one of sailing back and forth to Bermuda ad nauseum for the next many months to come.......I wonder if corporate is putting their money into the Mediterranean cruises, Australian cruises, Asian itineraries, etc, where a generally more sophisticated clientele exists.......In any case, there were several missteps that I detailed and a few which I didn't mention: once after the production show, Lisa Richard, the Cruise Director, said how the group 5 O'Clock Somewhere would be playing on the Sunset Bar - but no, they definitely were not playing, as we and several other couples disappointingly found out - not only were they not there, no group at all was there, and it wasn't even in the schedule that they would be there, so why Lisa said that they would be there, I don't know. Again, on another line, no problem - but we expect more of Celebrity. Also, back to 5 O'clock Somewhere - once during their scheduled time, only the male performer appeared - the female never showed up - he stayed the full 45 min of their scheduled time, but not performing solo - rather, he fiddled with his iPad music directory - he must have felt very awkward, I'm not sure why he stayed! It was very odd indeed, to have him just there, seemingly waiting for her to show up, fussing around with his iPad as he sat on his performing stool.
If we were not brand loyalists due to the many amazing sailings we have had with Celebrity, we would not be at all concerned with the cutbacks we witnessed on this cruise. But we have seen the best the brand has to offer, and this, was not that. The ship? The itinerary? Corporate afraid to raise prices when they need to in order to maintain the level of service that is expected? The latter I think may be true, and I do hope that prices are raised if need be, because the high standards we have come to expect must be maintained - PLEASE.