It's a bit long!
Usual caveat, its our view, others will disagree!
We have had 20 plus cruises on P&O, and after two customer service issues last year, decided to try Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, this being our first 'proper' cruise on Celebrity.
As we had been expressing interest in a Celebrity cruise on their website, we were invited to the Cruise Show in London last year to hear all about it. We had an excellent young lady look after us, and we decided to book this cruise at the show. After we booked, we learnt that we could have a night on Equinox, which was visiting Southampton later in the year. We had our night on Equinox, the service, food and ship convinced us we had made the right decision, and after returning from the visit, booked a further cruise on Eclipse, and 2 on the Independence of the Seas.
As we live over 200 miles from Southampton, a journey that takes between 4 and 7 hours, we always travel most of the way beforehand, on this occasion Marks and Spencer's Magazine had a 2 night B&B stay at the Ramada in Newbury for £120, including dinner on the first night. We very much enjoyed our pre cruise stay there.
Its about an hours drive to the port, and after a little retail therapy,arrived at the port gates at 11.30, lots had arrived before us, and we were some ¾ hour getting on board.We had joined the Aqua check in queue, but were directed to the normal check in lane as it was empty, we got our 'sea pass' and a number 8 boarding pass, so had one of the soft drinks Celebrity were handing out whilst we waited to be called.
We were going to have lunch at the Bistro on 5, but had had a good breakfast at the hotel, so opted for a light snack in the Oceanview instead, and around 1pm the cabins were ready, so off we went to find ours.
First Aqua cabin on the hump, with a slightly larger balcony, storage is an issue, but we managed to store everything, using the cases for overflow storage. Cannot think why they did not put drawers under the sofa, would have been a simple solution.All the Aqua perks were there, including the iced tea, which we did not like; our cabin steward soon changed it for soft drinks, fresh every day. When we received our documentation, we were listed as Captains Club Elite status, their top tier. We thought it was a mistake, but in the cabin were vouchers for free internet, free laundry, 20% off a bottle of wine if you ordered two and invitations to all the Elite events! There were always 2 bottles of water, and 3 on port days.
We were second sitting on Blu, and on the first night had to go between 8.30 and 9.30, after that it was Flex dining between 6.00 and 9.30. The first two nights we had the same waiters who were fantastic, but on the 3rd night we got a couple that were nowhere as good, service was very slow, and the food was not to our liking. I had steak and salad, but the steak, although excellent, was only lukewarm. When I commented on it, the waiter told me it is served on a cold plate as it was with salad. Hilary had fish with a tomato base, but the tomato was so salty she was unable to eat it. Our existing waiters noticed we were having problems, and quietly took over the service from there on. Other than that Blu lived up to its reputation, good food and excellent service. After the 3rd night we requested 'our' waiters, a couple of time we had to wait a few minutes for a table, which was nearly always a window, or close to window table for two. With Flex dining you get different neighbours on the nearby tables, and we chatted with most, including some from the suites who were dining in Blu. We also had breakfast in Blu, lots of healthy choices, and some of the best coffee at sea.
One of the places we wanted to try for lunch was Bistro on 5, which we did on a couple of occasions. The first time we had a waiter who really looked after us, made recommendations and chatted to us, made the meal. The second time the waiter did the job, but that was all. It is well worth the $5 pp charge, but it does fill you up for dinner!
At other lunchtimes we had burgers at the Bar Grill, which were excellent, or went to the Oceanview self-service. The layout, food and service are superior to anything we have had before, the only problem, as with most ships self servicerestaurants was finding a table at busy times. And free ice cream all day long…..
The weather was not brilliant, and we are not sunbathers, so a lot of the sea days were spent in the Sky Lounge, a lovely lounge with great views. Not many waiters about so you could relax without being hassled. The lounge was used for the Captains Club Elite daily event, a range of free drinks and canapés available from 4pm to 6pm, which we were entitled to with our temporary Elite membership, can't wait be a proper member!
We were celebrating our 45th wedding anniversary, but at the champagne and cake reception were beaten by lots celebrating 50, and the highest was 56 years. At the reception the CD mentioned there were 23 honeymoon couples on board, and the boat rocks!
We always have a pre dinner drink, and found the Ensemble Lounge suited us, although some found it a little dark. A lot has been commented on the prices of the drinks on Celebrity, but we found them only a little more expensive than the pre cruise hotel. I paid $5 for Heineken draft, about a ½ litre; Hilary's non-alcoholic cocktails were $4.
For us, the ship and layout suited us; we did not find it to big, although some passengers did. The staff and the service excelled and the couple of problems we had were soon solved. As mentioned early, we were invited to some 'Elite' events, where the drink flowed freely, unfortunately, Hilary, who does not drink alcohol, found it difficult to get a non alcoholic drink, and waited 20 minutes for one. After the event I dropped a comment card in at Guest Relations, and by the time I got back to the cabin they were on the phone apologising, at the next event a tray of soft drink was on the bar.
One of the Elite perks was free washing and folding for 30 pieces of laundry, we made use of this service, they came back within 24 hours, and the shirts appeared to have been pressed as well. Another perk was free Internet access; unfortunately, it was very slow, and at times unavailable.
Having been to the ports of call before, we did our own thing, but it was great to be handed a cold towel and a soft drink before you boarded. We loved the entertainment on board, definitely a step up from our previous cruises, we enjoyed the quizzes, never got to the glass show as the weather was not brilliant, so that will keep till our next cruise!
The tipping was different from our previous experiences, no envelope to put cash in, or vouchers to give out, on enquiring we were told the staff get a list of who had prepaid, those who had the tip added daily, and those that had cancelled their tips. We tipped extra to the crew members who we felt deserved more.
Disembarkation, we were asked what time we would like to leave, and asked for 8.00am, but got 7.50. After a last breakfast in Blu, we reported to the theatre at 7.50, and were in the car and on the way home by 8.25.
What a wonderful cruise we had, the staff certainly made the cruise, and we are delighted that we have a further 3 cruises booked on Eclipse (in the same cabin!) For us, Aqua and Blu will be the only choice in the future.Really looking forward to our Venice cruise in October, especially as our waiters will be back from leave and be on board, hopefully they will be in Blu again.
Some we spoke to found the ship to big and to many people onboard, certainly the decks were crowded on sunny days, and the Solarium was crowded at times. Other moans we heard were loud music and too many oldies on board. There were 80 children on board, but it seemed like 8.
There are lots I have missed, Hilary wrote a more detailed diary, so if you have any questions, we might be able to answer them. To those booked into Aqua class, a great experience awaits you.
Oh, and even with Blu's healthy menu, I managed to put on 8lb!