We are independent travellers who normally rent a home for a week or two and travel around by car on our trips to Europe. When we first started planning this trip, I read a lot of posts on this site to give us a feel for what to expect. I must say after reading the posts I was a little apprehensive about our choice of vacation. I read complaints about service, food, crowds, you name it! I can honestly say, with few exceptions, we had a nearly perfect experience.
Embarkation & Disembarkation We booked our flights independently but purchased airport transfers from Celebrity. The process couldn't have been easier. As soon as we entered the baggage area we saw agents from Celebrity with placards. After we collected our bags, we were whisked to a waiting bus. Check-in at the port was quick and our cabin was ready when we boarded. It took a couple of hours to get our luggage but we had carried on a change of clothes and essential items so that was no big deal. Disembarkation was as easy. We booked a night at the Airport Hilton on our return and our bus driver actually dropped us off at the hotel even though we expected to have to walk from the airport to the hotel.
Ship A lot has been written about the beauty of the ship so I won't spend a lot of time rehashing this info. I was surprised about how empty many of the public areas were considering the number of passengers on board. With the exception of the main pool area, the fitness center and the Martini bar, venues were rarely crowded. Even the pool area was manageable. We never had an issue finding a deck chair. The Pool Butlers did a good job of keeping vacated chairs cleared of towels. Our favorite areas of the ship were the Solarium and Persian Gardens relaxation at its best!
Stateroom We booked in AquaClass so am not sure if our cabin reflects other cabin classes. I was extremely pleased with the size, layout and comfort of our cabin. The bed was very comfortable, we had more than adequate storage space and the shower panel was the next best thing to having a whirlpool tub. Our balcony was normal sized but perfect for enjoying a glass of wine and room service breakfast. We spent a lot of time on our balcony and will never book a cruise without this option in the future.
Aqua Class Eating in Blu and using the Persian Gardens made AquaClass worth the extra cost. We also appreciated the bottled water provided daily.
Food We were booked in the early seating in Blu. We loved the food but not the seating time options 6:15 is too early and 8:45 too late. We learned early on that you could come as late as 7:30 and still have plenty of time to dine. Blu is a beautiful setting that feels like a specialty restaurant. It was never more than half full at dinner any night. The food was very good and the portion sizes were perfect. I would have liked to see a few more fish/seafood options. My husband, the carnivore, was in heaven.
We also tried all of the specialty restaurants and enjoyed them all. My husband said his meal in Murano was in his top 10 of all time. The only issue I had in any of these restaurants is that we tended to overeat not sure if that was due to our need to "get our money's worth" or the increased portion size. Our favorite option for lunch was the Aqua Spa Cafe it was the perfect interlude to a big breakfast and dinner. The chilled soups were particularly good, especially the pear. I am not a buffet fan so Oceanview Cafe was my least favorite dining option. The variety was great but I thought the food was so-so.
We had room service breakfast twice. Our room steward warned us that on early port days, this is a popular option and that we might not get our food as promptly as we wanted. We didn't have this problem, however, the food was luke-warm. I learned the hard way that you need to write down the number of each item next to your order instead of just checking it. The first time we ordered, we got 2 of everything! We also used room service for appetizers twice. They were hot and delicious especially the Asian Teaser.
Service This was the one area I was most concerned about based on Cruise Critic feedback. The service we received was great. Our room attendants kept our room spotless and attended to all our requests. Our dining room waitress provided us daily menu suggestions and our wine steward was great at suggesting reasonably priced wine selections based on our personal preferences. One service we really appreciated was having cold towels and water at the port embarkation area. The only glitch we had in service was the cancellation of our Roll Call Connections party. Once notified of the error, Celebrity did everything they could to reinstate it but some members missed the party.
Ports I'm not going to go into detail about any of the ports here but can provide a couple of recommendations based on our experience. First, unless you are the type of person who has to see everything and do everything in port, I would recommend that you limit your port visits to a half day. Second, get off the ship as soon as you can to beat the crowds. This is especially important in Santorini where the crowds can overcome the transportation systems.
Summary We thoroughly enjoyed our cruising experience and will definitely include cruising to our future vacation alternatives. While it doesn't provide the same level of local cultural immersion, it is a much more relaxing, less stressful way to see the sights. Celebrity was top notch