After years of cruising Royal Caribbean I was intrigued to try out our sister line Celebrity and so embarked on a quick 4 day cruise to Cork. As I type this I have mixed feelings, not all of them positive I'm afraid.
Let's start with the good bits. There were areas of the ship which were extremely cleverly put together, be it in terms of layout, finishing materials or concept. Some of those places were a bit swamped because the weather meant not enough people were sunning themselves on the outer decks, but to be fair that would be a common complaint amongst all cruise ships cruising cooler climes.
The one thing I did miss though was a sense of unity. The ship felt like lots of small areas linked together by corridors rather than a flowing entity. This may be down to a lack of central atrium space. You felt a bit enclosed and confined.
The staff were generally superb across the board, often doing all they could to negate some terrible design and planning errors. So thinly were the dining room staff spread for instance that it took an amazing 50 minutes on the first night to be offered a chance to get a glass of wine. On the second night that time was reduced to a mere 40 minutes!
On the formal night I was forced to abandon my meal mid way through at 10.45pm because deserts and coffees had not arrived and the show was starting. To add insult to injury just as the main course was laid down we were encouraged to stand up, scream and shout in honour of the "excellent" dining room service. I declined the cruise director's requests and ate my food before it went cold. If you're going to ask people to jump and shout praise upon you then make absolutely sure you deliver the goods. In this case they didn't and I found it quite insulting.
On the subject of cruise directors I am a little lost for words. "Q" the South African cruise director was shakey in his delivery, rather unkempt when on stage and added absolutely nothing to our cruise other than the most cringeworthy "Chick a chicka" from yello's "the race" at the end of his tanoy announcements. I actually blushed with embarrassment for him every time I heard it. In the final show he used the words "I hope you have enjoyed all the entertainment I've arranged for you". Reality check "Q", you are part of a team which included some very talented performers. I would venture to say they entertained in spite of your presence. Sorry for what might see a bit of a personal attack but I think if you put yourself to be a cruise director you know the rules.
The Oceanview cafe buffet restaurant on deck 14 was another example of staff trying desperately to work round a disaster which could so easily be avoided. Seating was often all but impossible to find. To be fair this is a complaint which could be levelled at the windjammer restaurants on Royal Caribbean during peak hours. But the real problem with sea view was the totally random nature of food positioning and supply problems.
Allow me to highlight a few issues. Breakfast consisted of a cooked English breakfast with cereals and, if you were prepared to queue cooked eggs and toast. But the best I managed was 2 separate stations to get bacon, mushrooms, scrambled egg and beans. I didn't bother with sausages because they were disgusting. You might find all items on one station but the bacon would be crispy fat, the normal bacon didn't have any beans or mushrooms depending on that day's mood. So there was pandamonium as people wandered round aimlessly trying to locate items.
Even something as simple as a bowl of cornflakes proved challenging. The cereals were placed in different tubes each day, sometimes mis-labled and then you had to find milk. It was located around the corner the other side of an entrance doorway so you missed it. When you did find it you had to fathom out what was in the carton from the foreign writing. I watched people spend a minute or so trying to work it out. Were they getting full fat, skimmed or what?
A cup of tea was yet another ordeal. The tea and coffee stations funnelled everyone into a central point where there was often a staff member cleaning up and getting in the way. By the time people had put the tea bag in the cup, waited for it to brew, discarded the bag in the hole in the counter and found some milk to put in their cup they had spent over a minute messing around. Put 4 or 5 people in the queue and it was another 5 minutes faffing just for a morning cuppa.
During lunch I found food location confusing. Where to find fish and chips? In the Indian food section of course! Well, I say fish and chips, what I actually mean is fish or chips because if there was fish the chips had run out, and visa versa with the chips. The same was true of rice and popadoms and the main Indian dishes.
It would be so easy to sort out the sea view cafe but I'm not sure if anyone is interested. The management team seem to be the same ones looking after the other restaurants with no one in overall control.
Show wise there was a broadway style revue show which which
Whilst not my cup of tea was delivered with gusto. For me the Cirque de Solei style circus show was much more enjoyable. Whilst lacking the Solei's 3 dimensionality and humour there were some accomplished acts and I enjoyed it immensely.
On the last day of the 4 day cruise we enjoyed a meal at Murano choosing their wine and food paired tasting menu. Stunning. Service was gracious and yet at the same time friendly, the sommelier added an extra dynamic with his knowledge and explanations. I have to say at this point that eating in fine dining establishments is not an alien experience to me. Many of the places we dine at enjoy a Michelin star so I am not a push over when it comes to serving up a plate of food in posh surroundings. They allowed us to change a couple of dishes on the menu including introducing Lobster into the meal which not only delicious but cooked at the table. Many thanks to all involved.
Like Murano the Martini bar featured in our daily routine. Another stroke of genius in terms of design the staff provided both refreshment and entertainment in equal measure although to be fair they did need a little help in customer recognition on the first night.
For this cruise we bought the "classic" drinks package and I would thoroughly recommend people considering this cruise line do the same. It allows you to wander from bar to coffee shop to restaurant without considering the financial cost of your liquid refreshments. A couple of glasses of wine, some lattes and a few soft drinks and you've covered the cost. If you want to it's very easy to get extremely good value for your money although I'm not sure ripping the arse out of your card is sustainable over the longer term! Having the package elevates your cruise to that of an all inclusive luxury cruise.
So the question is would we go back? On reflection I think we would but I would hope to see some of the problems solved. The Ocean view cafe is an easy one in terms of food layout and planning. Staffing numbers in the main restaurant might be harder to achieve although I wonder if a bit of flexibility between bars, buffet restaurant and main restaurant would help in times of need. In our case the bar drinks guy at our table stepped in to save the overworked sommelier after a couple of days. And if a waiter is fighting the clock to get their food out due to numbers don't insist they abandon their tables to spend 10 or 15 minutes parading round the restaurant waving a napkin. Allow them to play catch up.
Celebrity is undoubtedly a good product, excellent in places but sadly very poor in a couple of areas which prevent me from fully praising it.
A final point with regards the Persian Gardens. As Diamond Plus cruisers with Royal Caribbean we were afforded Elite status on Celebrity and one of the perks was complimentary use of the Persian Gardens on a Port day. Nice enough but woefully undersized if it is to deliver as promised. There were rarely hot beds free and if they were available you couldn't position yourself next yo your partner. The same was true of the relaxation area.