Celebrity Silhouette - September 15, 2011 Sailing - Holyland
A quick summary before the details: My wife said this was the best vacation she ever had and I'd probably agree. It was our sixth cruise and our first from the Mediterranean. From the standpoint of the ship and Celebrity it could not have been more perfect. Before leaving for the cruise, I was on Cruise Critic daily and while most comments were generally positive about this ship, there were a few negatives, so we were overly sensitive to the earlier comments and were prepared for a less than perfect experience. It was evident when the Captain first introduced himself to the passengers over the intercom; he was aware of "cruise critic" and jokingly commented that we needed to participate in the muster exercise along with everyone else. So he's reading our comments folks! We had absolutely no complaints and felt like we were royalty. There were few kids on this sailing; they were a rare site, so no complaints there. The Europeans that we encountered couldn't have been nicer. No breaking in lines or hogging deck chairs like we'd heard. We immensely enjoyed meeting families and couples from all over the world.
One of the smartest things we did beforehand was to join the "roll call" for our cruise and were able to meet a lot of the fellow "critics" at a sail away party. We met several who have become good friends and were able to join in with them on non-ship sponsored excursions.
And for any of you wondering (as we were beforehand), we had no problems with ports of call changes or cancellations - particularly in Israel. The media sensationalizes a lot of what is going on and while we were in Greece, Italy and Israel, saw no evidence of any unrest or problems. All of these areas are having issues, but it appears for the most part that tourists are pretty sheltered if they are careful. We arrived as the UN was voting on breaking Palestine off as a separate country from Israel and Greece had a general strike the day before we arrived in Athens. We were told by those in the countries that tourists represent a large part of the economy, so if they run us off, things will only get worse.
Upon our arrival a courteous baggage handler took our baggage with no wait or problems. We were then directed to the end of the large tent for check-in. Based on previous cruise critic reports we expected the embarkation process to be a hassle. It took us under 40 minutes from the time we got to the port until we were on the ship. Not our worst experience with cruise embarkations, but not the best either. We prefer the method Princes Cruises uses where each deck is assigned a line and you know where you are in the process. On this sailing, there was a VIP line and an Aqua Class line, and what appeared to be about 90% of the rest of the cruisers were forced into a single line based on the time of their arrival to the port. Once through this single point, the process went quickly. Celebrity staff were there to offer drinks, cookies, etc. to all those waiting. We arrived at port about 1:00 p.m. which appeared to be at the peak of the process as the tent was full of passengers. As you entered the tent, a number was handed out to each entrant for the purpose of organizing the line. A waiting area with chairs is provided until the numbers are called. An intercom would have helped since the numbers were called out by voice only by the attendants and there was no signage to indicate what number was being processed at the time. With such a large tent, it was a bit confusing. The process could be improved at peak times, but I didn't hear a lot of complaints either. I'm mainly pointing this out not for the purpose of complaining, but to indicate that there are probably better ways to handle the peak crowd.
Other than my wife (she has an addiction) wanting more chocolate selection (and I really don't think she was deprived), this was the only suggestion that I'd make for the ship.
We were directed to deck 14 for a quick bite to eat before heading to the stateroom (7318). The attendant as you entered the elevator area advised that some staterooms may not be ready, so we decided to eat first. We were in our cabin thirty minutes later with no evidence that any rooms were not ready. We took advantage of the couple of hours before the muster (emergency briefing) to unpack and relax a bit in our stateroom. The ship is absolutely beautiful throughout and we especially enjoyed the elevators in the central atrium that are glass and open for viewing all decks as you go up and down. In our opinion, it is the best looking cruise ship we've been on in every respect. There were very few intercom interruptions during the cruise, and most had to do with information that was concerning ports of call, etc. There was never a sales pitch offered over the ships speakers and this was a refreshing change from other cruise lines we've sailed. We're in our mid-50s and all aspects of the ship were to our liking. I did miss a wraparound Promenade deck that allowed for leisurely walks around the ship, but only a couple of our previous cruises have had those. The jogging track is in the area of the deck chairs around the pool area, so not meant for midday joggers. The fitness center was first class and always seems to have available equipment. When you're in port, you can mail cards and letters from the ship and they will bill postage to your room.
We've always stayed in the veranda staterooms on our previous cruises with Princess and Norwegian. By far, this was the best stateroom we've had on a cruise. We were in the standard veranda room and it was more spacious than those on any of the other cruises, was tastefully decorated and had ample storage space. We were short about 4 hangers in getting all our cloths hung in the closest and our cabin steward had extras to us within 3 minutes of our call to housekeeping. The bathroom is large by cruise standards. You c an drop soap in the shower and actually have room to bend down and pick it up. Our large suitcase easily fit under the bed for storage along with our other bags. The safe is dummy proof and quite a bit larger than on other cruises. I estimate the safe interior measurements to be about 14"x14"x7". I'd called Celebrity beforehand to inquire of the size and it was not available - so I'm passing this tidbit along for inquiring minds. A few other things that might be helpful knowing are that the U.S. type plug in the bathroom does not have the three prong ground (just a two prong), so some devices may need to be used at the desk and mirror in the cabin with the three prong (grounded outlet). There were two U.S. type plugs and one European type plug next to the desk. We'd brought a small three outlet adaptor which allowed for more convenience in charging cameras and laptops, etc. at night.
The verandas do not have a separate light, so you'll need to open the curtains at night to get light out there. My wife and I have a tradition of playing at least one game of Scrabble at night from our balcony on each cruise. (We carry a mini-travel game) Fortunately I had brought a very small hat clip type LED light that you can buy at sporting goods stores. This tiny light puts out a lot of lumens and I was able to clip it onto the door to the veranda and angle it at our game for plenty of extra light. It was also helpful as a nightstand flashlight for getting up at night on both on the ship and at our hotels without disturbing the spouse in slumber.
While we didn't have time to watch any, there were at least a couple of dozen free on demand recently released movies available in the staterooms at any time along with a lot of other shows and entertainment. There was a good selection of TV channels to keep up with world events. We caught the news each night and the ship has a free daily newspaper of world news that you can pick up from the guest relations desk.
For a twelve day cruise, it's got to be a challenge to put on a show each night that everyone enjoys. The Silhouette really did an admirable job here. My wife and I only skipped two shows and we enjoyed all of them. Some were better than others, but it's evident that they've worked hard to keep the audiences entertained. The dancers and singers went all out and at the end of each show greeted the audience as they left the auditorium. The cruise director is a bit nutty, but aren't they all? The captain participated in greeting the passengers and introducing the staff at one of the shows and if he ever decides that being a ship captain is not his thing anymore, he might just make it as a stand-up comedian - he was that good, especially with the "Greek" jokes. We particularly enjoyed the evenings where the entire troupe of singers, dancers and comedians participated. We had early seating for dinner and went to the earlier show, most were full, except on nights in Israel with later ending excursions. There was an a cappella quartet of young men who did an exceptional job with a variety of music who played throughout the ship and in the shows. The band Sipra was also especially good. There were too many other activities and entertainment on the ship for anyone to be fully engaged with all of it which is probably a good thing.
Ed Safer hosted several exceptional presentations on places of interest represented by tours and ports of call. He always presented these before the stop and used slides, maps, and other tools to bring a perspective of an archeologist/historian passing on tidbits that were in my opinion better than any tour guide. The presentations were videoed and available to view from the staterooms at different times. We particularly enjoyed the presentations on Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada, Athens, and Pompeii/Herculaneum. None of Ed's presentations offered a "sales pitch" for ship excursions, etc.
Another presenter gave information on ports of call with a bit more of the cultural/shopping perspective. And another couple of gentlemen gave presentations of what the cruise sponsored excursions covered. There were previews also available for the various excursions offered by the ship that were also informative and available to watch later from the stateroom.
We ate in the formal dining area most nights. We were very satisfied with the food and service and did not dine in any of the specialty restaurants. We selected a table for two and enjoyed this. Our table was a few inches from another couple from London and they were pleasant company for us. At the end of the cruise we took pictures and exchanged emails. Another table next to us was assigned but never had anyone show up. On most excursion days, the dining area was open seating rather than assigned because there were fewer patrons. One note about the seats in the formal dining area; they are very comfortable, but are a bit heavy and overstuffed for some patrons. One elderly couple next to us had trouble moving the chairs once they were seated and preferred more support in the back of the chair. From the first day (and without asking), they were always provided extra help in scooting the chair closer to the table and were provided with small pillows for their backs. I personally had no complaints about the chairs.
The food very good and service was excellent. The presentation of the food matched the best we've seen on a cruise. We ordered many different entrees, salads and desserts and were pleased with every selection. On the last full day at sea, a brunch was offered in the formal dining area and there were a large variety of breakfast, lunch and specialty foods including sushi and chocolate fountains and bars. Ice sculptures, specialty carved meats, cheeses, fruits, etc. were available. Our compliments to the Celebrity staff for this event. The only complaint was the overwhelming popularity caused a shortage of seating when we arrived, but we found a place. This was the best brunch we've ever been to.
Several mornings we got breakfast via room service (especially on excursion days). Some of the comments from passengers on early sailings mentioned mix-ups with food. We never experienced this and always got exactly what we ordered. The food was hot and we got a call from our cabin steward a couple of minutes prior to delivery each day so that we were ready for delivery. I really appreciated this, mainly because we were usually still in bed when he called and it gave us time to get up and clear a space for the food. The empty food trays were promptly removed after breakfast and we appreciated this as well.
The 14th floor cafeteria was a welcome change on occasion for meals. We always found seating there was always a good selection. The free ice cream bar was a hit, had a large selection including soft serve and several toppings including M&M's etc. A lot of folks seemed to enjoy walking away with a bowl of toppings to snack on and the attendants happily obliged. Some other cruises offer 24 hour service in the cafeteria; I think this one closed at about 1 am, which always worked for us.
The grill next to the pool offered standard hamburgers, hotdogs, fries and a self-serve ice cream machine that was pretty popular. We ate there a couple of times and were not disappointed. The fries were excellent.
There was a specialty Italian (gelato) ice cream bar on the 5th deck mid-ship that sold excellent ice cream and toppings. There was also a free upscale desert bar nearby that had a good variety of sweets.
So to finish, it was indeed a prefect cruise for us. I don't really know how it could have been better.