We have previously cruised in AQ on Equinox in the Caribbean(see previous review)so I will just concentrate on differences!
Embarkation: Certainly travelling from Southampton (rather than flying) makes life a whole lot simpler - staff collect the luggage from your boot and then it's straight on to the car park. We had a 30 second wait to register and collect our sea pass and then perhaps 10 minutes in the lounge before our group was ushered on board. The staterooms were ready not long after 1pm and by then we'd checked out various elements of the ship for the subtle changes we expected.
Sailing from Southampton also changed the nationalities dynamic. Of the 2956 on-board the US were 816, the Canadians 425(including a party of doctors attending a conference on sea days) and about 1300 UK passport holders - the rest were from around the globe (inc. 32 Brazilians in one party)
Stateroom: Remarkably our room steward, Meninho, was the same steward who had looked after us so well on Equinox (he was one of the Start-up/Opening team that transfers from ship to ship) - it made life easier as he could remember all our peculiarities - and did another fantastic job on this cruise. The cabin was much the same as before but for the UK based sailings Celebrity have added a kettle and two glass cups so you can 'brew your own'. As a downside the Aqua class smoothies have disappeared from the room service breakfast menu. The shelf in the wardrobe above the clothes has disappeared - gives more space below the hanging clothes but I only have so many shoes. That meant we had to use the shelf above the bed - which in turn gives the steward less space to store bedding/cushions after the bed has been turned down. Being a northern Europe cruise and being under the overhang we did not often get the sun on the balcony until late in the evening.
Emergency Lifeboat Drill: One problem we did have was with this. Our muster station was in the photo gallery area, we were there quite early and the crew really packed us in in tight lines. We then had to watch the briefing on the TV screens - most of which were at or below head height so that you couldn't always see the screen for heads. Certainly the people stood behind the screen didn't have a chance. It was also warm and with the crush at least one person had to be escorted out from feeling faint. Last cruise we mustered in the Theatre and that was much easier/comfortable/visible.
World Cup: Celebrity showed ALL the matches on-board (clashing ones had delayed transmission and then all went to on-demand TV)- both in the staterooms and around the ship (USA v England made it to the main Theatre and the atmosphere was really quite good - and friendly! The only downside was they didn't have the score/time showing on screen (cf: BBC or ITV) so that if you came in part way through you had no idea where the match was. An on screen caption came up every 15 minutes so you had to wait it out or catch some commentary.
Blu: It had turned a shade of green! The carpet and upholstery had a green tinge. The roses in the entrance were in green cups (not blue)and the chandelier had been altered to a toning colour. Some of the glassware/plates had also migrated although after the first night I never saw the green water tumblers again.
Sunbed bagging - The Solarium was in demand on those days when the weather was overcast or cool (it is Europe!)and it took a while before the 30 minute elapsed vacancy time was actually actioned. When it did happen and the culprits returned the poor office got a backlash which was undeserved as he was only implementing policy and other uses wishes. As an example on one day 4 beds were reserved by 8am and one of the occupants arrived to claim them at 10:30am - unfortunately just before the written 30 minute time expired. Yes, there were other beds available by then (the sun was now out) but there had been unfulfilled demand earlier. Perhaps an active policy early in the cruise would avoid having to implement a reactive policy later (demanded by other customers.
Calm Seas - I have never known the sea be so calm (especially the North Sea) and a lot of days had a swell of 1ft or less. It was however weird being at the eye of a High pressure area and suffering a sea fret (cold/grey/damp)knowing that Holland to our west and the UK to our east were both sweltering under sunshine.
Map: There is a map next to Customer Relations that shows our route - it changes during the journey as you can't get it all on the same chart. The GPS ship's location on the TV (channel 23) was static for the whole journey and much too small a scale to allow you to relate geographically to towns, islands etc as you pass them. The new Apple system also, unlike the previous one, will not allow you to run the journey-to-date path which I missed.
20 years celebration: One night we were all given 20 year pins and invited to an 11:30pm celebration of Celebrity's existence with the Captain giving the toast. This happened in the main atrium and it was amazing to see every stairwell, landing and viewpoint occupied. People were even going up and down in the lifts looking out of the glass end to see the action. The entertainment crew even managed to then do a number using the staircase having mingled in their Venetian masque costumes earlier.
Postcard: Celebrity have removed the 'free' postcard of the ship from the stateroom pack and replaced it with a generic cruise scenes one. The only way to get the card now is buy it for 50c in the shop - and even then it didn't have an 'inaugural season' legend on it.
Boutiques: These are subtly different to those on the Equinox with different brands stocked. Presumably these have been aligned more to the expected clientï¿½le.
A thoroughly enjoyable cruise that was what we made of it - we also managed to leave things in each port to do so that we could come back again (although it would be nice in future to try some new smaller ports too. It was interesting to us that after St Petersburg half the people we talked to said it was fabulous and they could have stayed for ages and the rest were of the 'been there/done that/not coming back' variety. It might mean a problem getting repeat customers for the lines then given that most devote extra time to the port on any journey.
You can't walk out of Zeebrugge port so it is necessary to take the shuttle bus to nearby Blankenberg where you can either wander, catch the train to Bruges or catch the worlds longest tram (down the Belgian coast).
Early away is good - Bruges gets busy with tourists by midday. A good tip if going to Bruges by train is to take a 1st class day return (we were there on a Sunday so it is not much more than 2nd class) - you get more comfortable seats and the carriage isn't as busy.
Again a wet start, and again lots of roadworks/building work - most of the Baltic seemed to be in improvement mode - but eventually the sun did get out. Having done our emails at the Tourist Centre and had an early coffee at the Strindberg cafe on the Esplanade before walking round town (literally) admiring the architecture at the Town Hall, the Railway Station, The Finlandia Concert Hall, the Parliament and saving the Church in the Rock for last. This was quiet whilst we were there and allowed us peace to contemplate whilst listening to a pianist playing.
You could walk the 2.9k into town from the ship but the shuttle bus was more effective in the weather and with all the disruption around. You also have to watch carefully for all the cyclists on their special pathways - they don't take any prisoners!
It turned into a lovely sunny day so it was just lovely to wander round the port and along the seafront when we got back from Rostock by train. The station is unmanned and tickets are obtained via a machine from cash only (so you need Euros). Otherwise you can travel there and back aboard a river cruiseboat. We managed to be in the Rostock Marienkirke at 12 noon to see the 15th C astronomical clock in action (with the parading apostles).
The weather here was the worst of the whole trip with some rain and generally overcast which didn't help the greyness of the appearance.
We took a Cruise line afternoon trip on the Metro which was great fun and a much undersold outing. As well as the Metro ride (with a change of lines included and travel through the deepest part of the system)we were taken to the ????????? (Blacksmith) indoor market. From here we walked past the Dosteovsky museum to catch our bus to near the The Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood where first we were given tea/orange juice/water and a pastry at the Russian Club. Finally we had 40 minutes free time to wander in the area and see the crowds (school graduates, marriage parties and tourists) and the souvenir market.
On the Saturday night with a lot of people out on tours the Inspiration Strings (a classical string quartet composed of 4 Ukrainians) were given the Theatre to give an hour long recital - it was well received (the group had a regular following on-board) and this allowed them to show some other pieces.
On the Sunday afternoon we took the Yusupuv Palace/Canal and River Tour. The former is where Rasputin was killed (a lot of the original contents now reside in the Hermitage. The canal/river boat tour allowed us to see most of the outside aspects of the vast majority of sights in town.
The radio mikes/receivers are a great innovation though and allow you to hear everything clearly - if you start missing out you've wandered too far!
We were in Stockholm just prior to the royal wedding so the palace and the Cathedral were all closed (along with some roads by the end of the day). However as a bonus we did see Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel (as he now is) come out of the Cathedral after the wedding practice.
You can walk to town, catch the shuttle bus or just jump on the hop on hop off water taxi from the quay and beat the crowds to the Vasa museum.
The sailing into and out of Stockholm are beautiful (although watching outbound means you don't have to get up before dawn!)
Another one that is easy to walk from the port itself. There is a lot of building work going on in town currently and again the place gets busy as the day progresses. There were a lot of 'local' tourist groups as well as foreigners - especially up in the old town.
For those that didn't go far there were booths selling souvenirs and linen ware at the dockside.