September 27, 2011 Celebrity Silhouette Cruise Review
Our cruise vacation was in one word fabulous. We began with an Air Canada direct flight to Rome from Montreal, which was incredibly easy and smooth, after a tense week of worrying about a strike canceling our flight. We landed in Rome on time, passed through immigration and retrieved our bags quickly. Roma Shuttle was supposed to meet us in the arrivals hall. After looking for the driver for about 20 minutes, I called the company, and they called the driver, who came a few minutes later. This was a bit annoying after a long flight, but worked out fine.
We stayed at the Hotel Lancelot, near the Colosseum. It was a great hotel. The service was friendly, the room was clean and comfortable, with our own terrace on the first floor (our second floor). We spent the first day walking for hours. The weather was sunny and pleasant. We saw the Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish steps, before taking a free walking tour that departs nightly from the Spanish Steps at 5:30 pm. This tour was very interesting. We tipped the guide at the end for a great experience. The second day in Rome was spent touring the underground and third floor of the Colosseum, on a reserved guided tour, then leisurely walking around, shopping and ending the day with a great dinner at our hotel, where you sit at tables with other guests, and share great conversation and good food.
The next morning Roma Shuttle was early for our pick up to the port at Civitavecchia, redeeming them in our eyes. The driver went VERY fast, which I know is common in Italy, but it did make me nervous. I was very relieved when we arrived a few minutes before 11 am and boarded the ship quickly. The porter tried to take our carryon bags too, but we rescued them and wheeled them on board. Based on reviews I have read on Cruise Critic, we ignored the directions to the Ocean View Caf, from those who greeted us, and proceeded to Bistro On Five for a leisurely lunch before exploring the ship. We were the only people in that venue and felt really spoiled. The food was great and they were able to cater to my daughters gluten free requirements. We were in our cabin a few minutes before 1 pm as soon as they opened the doors to the cabin hallways.
We had Concierge Class C3 cabin that was very nice and comfortable. There is much debate on the value of the Concierge Class benefits, but I enjoyed the fresh flowers, nicer robes, nicer tote bag, re-filled fruit bowl, and beach towels. The footstools on the balcony also made the sitting area more comfortable. Because this was a Mediterranean Cruise, balcony comfort was important. I had made a list of things I wanted from the cabin attendant, which were complied with gradually. I needed distilled water and extension cord for cpap machine. I had requested these by phone and fax before the cruise, and again on my list for the cabin attendant. When we returned to the cabin late the first night there was no cord or distilled water. I called and they promptly arrived. After this our service was great no complaints.
We ate every night in the main dining room, where we found the food to be very good. They were extremely helpful in finding dishes that were gluten and dairy free for my daughter. Our waiters were outstanding. The buffet in Oceans View Restaurant was also quite good for this type of food, although not as outstanding as the Grand Cuvee Dining Room. We did not choose to eat in the specialty restaurants because our dietary restrictions made the extra cost not worth it. I heard comments from other passengers that seemed to be consistent for Murano being truly wonderful, the Lawn Grill very good, QSINE an interesting experience, and the Tuscan Grill less enjoyable. We were so happy with main dining that we don't feel deprived.
The entertainment was very good. With so many early port days we did not go to the shows every night, but particularly enjoyed the Broadway review. Aquadio was very enjoyable, as was the string trio. We were less enthused about Sipra, the dance band. The female vocalist was very good, but their performance often varied by song choice.
We used the spa for a great hot stone massage. It was overpriced, so even though I would have been tempted for more, we settled for one experience. The pools and fitness center were very nice. We never had trouble finding a long chair for reading and relaxing.
Our first port was Mykonos. We originally were scheduled to tender here, but were able to dock instead. This was fortunate because the rough water would have made tendering a bit of a challenge. We arrived at 2 pm, so the only way to see the nearby island of Delos was by a ship sponsored excursion. It was VERY windy making the ferry ride out and back rather rocky and exciting. Delos was very interesting and worth the visit, especially if you like ancient history. They brought us back to the town, where we wandered the windy streets for a couple of hours before taking the shuttle back to the ship. I was glad to visit Mykonos and Delos, but I wouldnt be anxious to see them again.
The next day was Piraeus/Athens. We chose to do Athens on our own by sharing a reserved taxi with another couple to the Acropolis/Plaka area and making use of Rick Steves walking tour. We did not hire a guide for the Acropolis (we had read a lot about it ahead of time ), so were able to see what we wanted up there in about 30 minutes, then proceed to the Ancient Agora, Hadrians Library and shopping/wandering the Plaka. We were satisfied seeing the area without a guide and were not really in the mood to stand and listen to the descriptions. As we passed Syntegmada Square we saw police with shields out in anticipation of protests, so we didnt stick around there long. We were fortunate to be able to see Athens on a day when the taxis and transportation workers were not on strike. Both before and after our visit, there were disruptive strikes. The shopping in the Plaka area proved to be the most productive of the cruise for us.
One of my highest expectations for the cruise was a visit to Ephesus and it did not disappoint. We booked a tour with Ephesus Shuttle for six people (although a tour for two people would only have been a few dollars more). We visited the House of the Virgin Mary, Ephesus ruins, Terrace houses, St Johns Basillica, remains of Temple of Artemis, Sirince Village and all admissions were included. The restaurant we stopped at on the way to Sirince served traditional Turkish food buffet style (included in our tour price). It was very good. We also enjoyed shopping in Sirince Village. I highly recommend Ephesus Shuttle. Several people from our cruise used them and all were very satisfied. They were much less expensive than other companies. I had e-mailed the company ahead of time that we did not want to stop at a rug factory or shop. The guide confirmed that he knew we did not want to stop. At the end, however, he tried to persuade us to stop at a shop for a free drink with jewelry and rugs. We declined and he agreeably brought us back to the ship, from where we wandered the Grand Bazaar nearby before returning on board.
Cyprus was added as a port to replace Egypt for us. I had not been particularly excited to go there, but we spent an enjoyable day visiting Paphos. This was the only Celebrity bus tour shore excursion we took. I really dont like touring as part of a herd, but this seemed the best option in Cyprus. The British influence is still very evident in Cyprus and we enjoyed hearing about its history as well as visiting the charming seaside town.
Truly the highlight of the cruise was our visit to Israel. We docked at Haifa for one night and Ashdod for two nights. From Haifa we took a private 8 person Guided Tours Israel tour of Beit SheAn , Galilee and Mount Tabor. The guide was very knowledgeable and gave good information at each site. I was a bit annoyed, however, that he spent an excessive amount of time on his cell phone during the tour and while driving, so that we missed out on much general commentary en route. I had asked to see the Mount of Beattitudes and all he did was point to it as we drove by. It was only later, when other groups described their visit to the church on the mount, that I realized he had not complied with my request. He did stop at Tabgha, which I had asked to skip, but it was only a few minutes so we didnt mind. We drove up Mount Tabor, which involved hair-raising switchback turns up a very steep road, and were rewarded with a spectacular view of the Jezreel valley and a visit to the church. We returned too late to see the BaHai gardens, which would not have happened if the guide had not stopped to get himself a drink and a snack. He also said water was in back of van, but when he discovered the water had not been included, he made no effort to get some for us. Overall the first day was good, but it could have been much better if the guide had been more interested in us and our wishes. I learned that most of the guides are free-lance, so it is the luck of the draw as to who you get whether through the ship or one of the other companies. Others on our cruise had a fantastic guide through Guided Tours Israel, who really went above and beyond to make their experience special.
From Ashdod we booked a private van tour for 4 people through Celebrity (who booked it with Patra Tours). We visited Jerusalem the first day. The second day we went to Qum Ran, Massada and the Dead Sea. Our guide was very good these two days. We saw almost everything on our detailed requested itinerary, but we were a bit disconcerted to see that the guide had not been told exactly what we wanted to see, and was given an itinerary that differed somewhat from what we requested. It worked out fine because the guide was accommodating to our wishes. We had to alter and take the scenic route to Jerusalem because of a traffic jam and then started with a visit to Vad Yeshem holocaust museum, which had been our lowest priority, but were glad to have made a short visit to it. We then stopped on Mount Sephos for a panoramic view of the city. This stop really helped orient us. We then visited Gethsemenee, the Mount of Olives, the Old City, walking the Via Deloraosa in reverse to the Wailing Wall, seeing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, King David's tomb, and the Church of Domition on the way. We stoppe at shops and ate in the Muslim Quarter. We then stopped for a very brief walk on the ramparts, before a visit to the Garden Tomb. The second day was surprisingly more enjoyable than I expected. The desert was very beautiful and we really enjoyed driving through the West Bank, seeing the border with Jordan, the Bedoin communities and breathtaking views of the Dead Sea. Not surprisingly it was extremely hot on top of Massada. I was very glad to see it, but cant imagine doing it in mid-summer. We had lunch at a chain restaurant called Cafecafe. It was quite good, better than the day before. I was the designated floater for our group, because the others chose not to go in. It was a unique experience to feel the buoyancy. We then drove back to the ship, arriving about 2 hours before sailaway. In retrospect ,I would not ever book a Celebrity Private excursion again. The same guides worked for other companies, that charged much less. I was particularly annoyed to realize that our second day was actually an hour shorter, yet cost $500 more for the four of us. There was some additional driving distance involved, which could justify another $50 to $100 additional charge, but $500 is excessive. I raised the issue with Celebrity, but their response was that we agreed to the price up front. That is true, but we assumed the driving was substantially more and what would be involved would justify the extra cost. In actuality we felt a bit gauged. The tour and guide were great. It was just the cost that I objected to. We could have done the same private tours with Guided tours Israel or another company for less than half of what we spent. Live and learn!
The last port was Naples, from where we took the hydrofoil to Capri. We raced to catch the first Hydrofoil, which we did, and arrived at Marina Grande about 8:45 am. We then shared a taxi to Ana Capri, where we visited the Villa San Michel and later took the chair lift up the mount. It was very windy and quite chilly on Capri with very changeable weather conditions. Fortunately the sky was clear and sunny when we rode the chair lift. Later for lunch, at a favorite restaurant of the locals, we were grateful to be sheltered from the wind. We took the bus down to Capri town and then walked back to Marina Grande to catch the 2:40 hydrofoil back.
In summary, we thoroughly enjoyed the cruise and all of our ports of call. The few minor annoyances did not detract from what turned out to be a fabulous vacation. We will definitely sail with Celebrity again.