My husband and I (late 20s) just finished our fifth Celebrity cruise and overall we had a lovely vacation.
Precruise: We flew in a day in advance on Porter Airlines and stayed at the Marriott SpringHill Suites in Newark. I can't say enough good things about Porter- I never flew in the good old days but this is what I imagine they would be like! They have an awesome lounge with complimentary snacks and beverages, wireless internet access as well as available desktops, and comfortable chairs. Bonus: you only have to arrive an hour before your (international!) flight since the airport at Billy Bishop is much smaller! They also serve complimentary soft drinks as well as alcohol onboard, and a yummy box lunch when you fly during a mealtime. I would absolutely fly with them again if the city I am going to is on their route.
Hotel: The SpringHill Suites was a nice choice for a precruise hotel as well. They include a complimentary light breakfast and pick up at the airport every 15 minutes 24/7. The rooms are spacious and include a fridge and microwave, and while are nothing fancy, are comfortable and utilitarian. They also offer a reasonable 7 day advance purchase rate.
Transportation: We booked with Dial 7 Car Services to take us to the pier. We were picked up at our hotel at 9:15am, made one stop to pick up a Roll Call friend at a hotel nearby, and then drove to the pier where we arrived by 10:00am. The cost including the stop was $60 plus gratuity. The driver was prompt and there was enough space in the Lincoln Town Car they sent for 3 adults and our luggage.
Embarkation: We were a little anxious about this given the recent reviews we saw, so we decided to get to the pier very early to avoid being stuck in line on the road driving in. When we arrived, there were still lots of people getting off the ship, but it was no problem at all. We gave our luggage to the porters and went inside the building to go through security. Since we were booked in Aqua Class, we were escorted to a separate lounge area to wait until we could check in. The lounge is reserved for suite and AQ guests and had comfortable chairs, television, beverages, and complimentary snacks. It was no problem to wait there until buses were running to the ship.
As for getting there so early, I would not do that if we didn't have a priority waiting area. I kept hearing announcements for people to keep their numbers and wait and it sounded crowded on the other side of the wall. I think I would have arrived at our usual 11am time if we hadn't had the priority embarkation.
Cabin: This was our first time in Aqua Class. We had originally booked a 1A cabin with a triple sized balcony, but when there was a large price drop, we were able to upgrade to AQ and still get money back, so we decided to give it a try since Blu gets such wonderful reviews on this board.
We chose cabin #1552, which has a triple sized veranda near the front of the ship. It is also partially obstructed by the window washing equipment- I will post a photo later. It did not bother most posters here, but we did not like having it in our field of vision while we were relaxing on the veranda. We would book this cabin again, but not if we had a better option available.
The cabin was generally quiet and was located in a great area near the aft elevators, and it was easy to go up one flight to the Aqua Spa cafe for lunch.
We also enjoyed the AQ perks in the stateroom. My husband liked the flavoured iced teas that were in the room every day, and I really liked the fancy showerhead with the extra water jets. The footrests on the balcony were nice, too. I don't think we would have spent as much time on the veranda without the footrests.
Our cabin attendant was Cyril, and he was excellent. We joked that he lived under our bed since every time we were out of the room for more than 5 minutes, we came back and it was freshly made up. He was polite, friendly, and unobstrusive.
Cabin Services: We ordered room service once, and although it arrived on time, it was cold and generally just did not taste good. We did have the broader AQ menu and tried a few of those items but decided not to order room service breakfast again on the cruise. We did try to order room service one afternoon but we were told it would be a minimum of 45 minutes, which seems excessive. We just cancelled the order and went to get some snacks ourselves.
We also used the dry cleaning and laundry services, which we found were priced very reasonably. We got a complimentary 30 piece bag of laundry as an Elite perk, but I suggest making a list of all the items you send out to ensure that you receive them all back. I didn't even notice when we got back our clothes that several items were missing until I was packing on the last night of the cruise and realized that I had no pants at all (I had sent them out to be laundered in the bag). I called the cabin steward and he was able to locate them in the laundry, along with a dress that I hadn't even noticed was missing. I'm still not sure that we got all our clothes back- what if some were mixed in with other laundry or just went missing? But since I didn't record what we sent out, I have no idea. I will be sure to write it down in the future.
Public Areas: The ship is beautiful, although some of the artwork is really weird in my opinion. I am not sure why they chose pictures of children with their mouths open to decorate such a lovely ship, but I guess my taste in art is lacking? I did love the beautiful vases and some of the paintings hanging in the lounges.
One design feature I liked in concept but not in practice is the Hideaway. It's a really nice area with a variety of cool chairs and cubbyholes to just relax and read, or listen to your iPod, or whatever. The only problem is that the Atrium of the ship is completely open, so whatever live music is playing on the interior of the ship is audible in both the Hideaway and the Library. While generally I like an open concept, I think that at least one or the other of the Library or Hideaway should offer a quiet experience in case one doesn't feel like listening to music.
We also noticed that there was a lot of Muzak on the ship when we would have preferred silence. At times, it was hard to have a conversation with the music playing.
The Alcoves were empty on most days when we walked by. We were cruising with friends who had rented an Alcove on the second sea day, but unfortunately the weather was lousy and we were only there for a short time. The furniture was comfortable and relaxing and it was fun to play with the iPad (I don't have one and had never used one before). There is also a phone to call the Alcove attendant to bring you snacks or drinks and whatnot. I would consider trying one of these in the future if I wanted to people watch or relax in a public area, since the Alcove offers a quieter experience than the Library or Hideaway. I think that these would sell a lot better if they were priced more competitively.
We loved Cafe al Bacio. They offer complimentary breakfast pastries, tiny sandwiches in the afternoon, and desserts for the rest of the day. We spent a lot of time here because the chairs were comfortable, the staff are so friendly, and the beverages are great. I'm not much of a tea drinker, but with their large menu of quality teas, I found several that I enjoyed. I also really liked the frozen Iglu drinks, which taste a lot like milkshakes. The coffee here is far better than the regular ship coffee and is well worth the additional charge.
We tried the Gelateria but felt that it really wasn't worth the money when there is such delicious free ice cream in the Oceanview Cafe. Celebrity's homemade ice cream is excellent and I thought the gelato was only average.
The Molecular Bar was one of our favourite hangouts. The mixologists, Sergei and Suzanna, were awesome and kept us well supplied with creative and tasty drinks. The seating area was comfortable and so were the bar stools. The only annoying thing is the slow moving hummingbird backdrop behind the bar. When you have to sit and look at it so frequently, it went from being a nice touch to being a little overwhelming and weird. It did not enhance the ambiance of the venue.
We are not martini drinkers, but we did stop by the Martini Bar one day to try the caviar. Out of the four types available on the menu, they were sold out of three of them and it took us over 45 minutes to receive it. We were actually at the point of cancelling and walking out since the waiter kept coming over and apologizing that it would be a few more minutes. We were almost late for our dinner reservation as a result. However, the caviar was delicious and we really enjoyed it with our champagne.
The casino on Silhouette featured higher gaming limits than we were used to on a Celebrity ship. On Constellation and Equinox in 2008 and 2010, we found blackjack as low as $3 at times, and $5 at other times. The lowest we ever found on Silhouette was $10, and one night I even had to ask them to lower the limit from $15 at an empty table (which they did). They offered two electronic poker tables, $1-$2 and $2-$5 no limit, but I don't believe anyone ever played the $2-$5. The rake is astronomical, at 10% capped at $15. It makes it tough for anyone to win other than Celebrity, but if you just want to enjoy yourself, then you'll likely find a game every night. Bar service in the casino was good as well- ask for Jimmy and he will take good care of you!
We walked through the Ensemble lounge on our way to dinner most nights, but despite the live music there in the evenings, it was just too dark and we didn't find it a venue that we wanted to spend time in. The music also made it too loud to converse with friends.
Michaels' craft beer bar had a great beer selection and a nice seating area, but it was a huge downside that it doesn't open until 5pm even on sea days. What is Celebrity thinking? Many people enjoy drinking beer in the afternoons and I am sure they would sell many more drinks if they opened at a reasonable hour like noon.
The lawn was out of commission for parts of the trip, despite the attention they were giving it. It must be tough on the grass to be constantly going from such a cold venue to a hot temperature, but seeing plastic tarps weighed down by sandbags all over the grass when we were on the way from and to Bayonne wasn't that appealing.
We loved the Kinect that they opened in Quasar during the day. Playing the games was a lot of fun! Clearly, this was a popular thing to do as there were frequently lines for the games.
We did not use the Persian Gardens area so I can't comment on that- perhaps someone else on the cruise can chime in.
We received coupons for a 90 minute complimentary internet package as an Elite perk, and had no trouble using them. I read previous reviews talking about rude employees in the iLounge but we never encountered any, nor did we have any problems connecting to the internet. While it was slow, it was not unreasonably slow, and we had no problems logging on and off. I did see lots of people having issues with wireless use on their own devices, but since we just used their computers to check email and Facebook, we did not run into any problems.
Future Cruise Sales: The staff here was hit or miss. Our friends made an open booking, and were told by the staff that "any perks they get for booking onboard, they would get with the open booking" so they assumed they would get the upgrades when they picked the actual cruise. That seems like a very misleading statement to me and I know it's inaccurate. I went back with my friends and we spoke to Francisco, the manager, who was excellent. He agreed that my friends had been misinformed, and cancelled their open booking and booked them on a specific cruise instead so they were able to get their upgrade. He also showed us a really interesting application for the iPad which he developed himself, where he showed you a photograph of the actual cabin you are booking (including veranda) so you would see exactly what you are getting. He is planning to expand it so that you can tap the exterior of the cabin and then get a 360 degree view of the interior of your exact room. I think this is a great tool and all Celebrity sales reps should definitely have this for their customers.
Entertainment: We don't really cruise for the entertainment, but we found it limited. We'd get the Celebrity Today in our room each evening, but often would not find activities that we were interested in doing for much of the day. We miss the days when Celebrity offered more in the way of an onboard experience, like lectures on the history of the ports (as opposed to gimmicky shopping spiels), or tours of the ship without fees. We also liked the demonstrations of cooking and prep, but these were limited on Silhouette. There was lots of Bingo, but at the prices, we chose not to partake.
We did not attend any of the evening shows. We have found that Celebrity's shows tend to be canned and routine, so we would only go if one seemed very appealing (none did).
It was nice that there was lots of live music onboard, and it was enjoyable to listen to. It wasn't the kind of music that you could just sit and enjoy though- it was repetitive and more like background music. The bands told the same jokes and tended to play the same or similar songs each day. We did like the Les DeMerle band when they played in the smaller venues as opposed to the Grand Foyer- perhaps then they were trying to appeal more to jazz lovers than the general passersby.
Beverages/Drink Packages: I thought this deserved a separate blurb. With the relatively new policy that you can now order drinks higher than the $12 limit on the Premium Alcohol package and just pay the difference, I think this is a great value. We don't drink much at home, but do enjoy them on holiday, and we definitely enjoyed the convenience of not having to sign slips and the flexibility to be able to try new drinks without worrying if we wouldn't like them. It was also great to be able to get Evian on your way out into port.
On the downside, some wines we had previously seen on the by the glass selection were no longer available. I had been excited to finally be able to get Cakebread Chardonnay by the glass (as of Dec 2010 it was $15/glass) but it was now available only by the bottle. That is the only specific change I recall but it was a little disappointing. However, we were told by Jordan, the maitre d' of the Lawn Club Grill, that the wine menus all over the ship were in the process of being changed and new wines would be added as of this current sailing. I hope that new cruisers on Silhouette will be able to post these soon as we are very interested in seeing them.
Even if you don't drink much alcohol, the nonalcoholic packages can be a great deal. Between the fresh squeezed juices and smoothies, coffees and teas at Cafe al Bacio, and soda and water, I would definitely recommend one of those packages just for the convenience of not having to worry about getting what you want when you want it. Having these all inclusive packages available really enhance our cruise experience and seriously factor into our decision when choosing which line to book with.
Corkage fees onboard were reasonable at $20. I had read here previously that they were $25 so I guess it has been reduced.
Dining: We had really looked forward to trying Blu since we had read such positive reviews on Cruise Critic, as well as having our friends rave about it. Unfortunately, it really was a disappointment. Staff members told us that on the previous cruise, Blu had received their poorest ratings on the comment cards, and from what we saw, it was going to get them again. Service was nowhere near what we expect on a Celebrity ship- when we asked for Evian, we actually got an eyeroll and a sigh like it was a hassle for them to get it for us. I ordered a Bellini for breakfast one day, and the drink waiter did not know what it was so I explained to him it was a champagne cocktail like a Mimosa- so he brought me a Mimosa. Close enough I guess, but I would have expected this to be a relatively simple drink order. We also had an assistant waiter with terrible body odor- every time he leaned over the table you had to hold your breath.
The quality of the food was much lower than we had expected as well, and our friends told us that the menu had changed since our Equinox cruise last December. Back then, they told us there were several dishes on the menu each night they wanted to try, but this time they had trouble finding anything. In fact, they actually felt that the quality was so poor on some dishes, that they thought it might have been recycled leftovers from the previous night (i.e. baked potatoes from the night before made into a mashed potato appetizer that tasted bland).
Breakfast meals were generally fine- we liked the pancakes and the real maple syrup. We liked everything we tried for breakfast except for the parfaits, which was just personal preference.
The other issue with food quality in Blu was service related; the staff did not come back to check and see whether we were enjoying our meals. I had nearly finished my entree and my husband had not touched his, before I was finally able to attract our waiter's attention so that he could get something else. His veal was bland, undercooked, and just inedible. We were also never visited by the assistant maitre d' or the maitre d' to see how we were enjoying the restaurant until near the end of the cruise when we opted for a table right in front of the serving station instead of sitting in a section with the smelly assistant waiter again.
As a result of the poor food quality and service, we spent 9 of our 12 nights in specialty dining and felt like we wasted the money we spent on AQ. At only $6 pp/pd more than our 1A balcony, it was still a waste- we could have gone to Bistro on Five or the Porch for a much nicer meal.
We did not try the Main Dining Room at all this cruise. Our friends told us they went there for lunch on a sea day, and it took over two hours to finish their meal. We decided not to go there at all and enjoy Silhouette's other dining venues.
The Aqua Spa Cafe was delicious as usual. This is one of our favourite lunch spots so that we don't ruin our appetites for the specialty restaurants in the evening. Aside from the items on display, the staff would prepare fresh chicken or salmon dishes for you on request.
We also tried the Mast Grill, which we had enjoyed on previous cruises. The staff was back to preparing the burgers fresh which greatly increased the quality of the burger, but I was surprised that the menu was the same each day- only burgers, fries, and hot dogs. My husband tells me he saw a woman successfully request onion rings but nothing was posted on the menu and I never saw any. It's not really a big deal but it was a nice complement to your meal to have things available without having to go to the Oceanview Cafe as well.
Since we don't care for buffets, we did not use the Oceanview Cafe except for a snack one afternoon when nothing else was open.
Bistro on Five was a good value to get a freshly prepared meal for only $5. We ate there twice on this cruise and enjoyed our meal both times. It would be really nice if they had something like a special of the day with a different crepe each day to introduce some variety.
We also decided to try the Porch, and really liked the paninis. Yes, they have free sandwiches at the Oceanview Cafe, but not like these. For $5, I don't think it's such a bad place to go for a nice freshly made lunch and a nice view. They also have some yummy salads, too.
Despite the great reviews here on Cruise Critic, we had not planned to try the Lawn Club Grille since the menu seemed very basic, but got talked into it onboard. We were so glad that we did! The flatbreads were really delicious and we could have made a meal just from those- we liked it so much they wrapped it up for us to take back to our room for later. The cuts of meat and seafood were high quality and the marinades were delicious. It was a relatively simple meal compared to the other specialty restaurants, but it was one of the best meals we had on the ship. Don't forget to finish with a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie and a scoop of ice cream! I hope they add this venue to the rest of the S class soon.
Murano was great as usual. I have very high expectations for this restaurant since we've been visiting the French style restaurants on Celebrity since 2005, and while there have been some cutbacks, the meal is still delicious and service is superior. The staff explained to us that there are fewer staff for the size of the restaurant and so they can't offer the same level of service they did ten years ago, but it is still a great experience. Don't skip the cheese course- well worth saving room for!
Our Roll Call group did dinner at Qsine early in the cruise- there were 13 of us and we were hoping to work our way through the menu. We came close, but gave up with about 5 courses to go and asked for dessert instead. We really enjoyed the food and the quirky presentation and would definitely eat at this restaurant again, but only with a large group. I think it would be very tough to go there just as a couple. We are disappointed that there is no Qsine on Solstice for our next cruise since we really enjoyed it. The only thing I don't understand is why the cocktails at Qsine are not included in the Premium Alcohol package. They are $13, so why not just charge us $1 like they would be anywhere else on the ship? There is no way I was going to pay full price for a drink here when I could have wine for free or almost anything else on the ship. It just didn't seem to make sense.
Tuscan Grille was delicious and we had a great table overlooking the wake of the ship, which was a real treat. Our waitstaff were excellent and they took good care of us. The food was delicious- we really enjoyed the antipasto that they serve you prior to the meal.
Captain's Club: We did not really partake in many of the Elite perks onboard. We had breakfast at Blu, so we didn't go there in the morning, and since we had Premium Alcohol packages, there was no need to go there for cocktail hour. We did go to the Elite elegant tea and really enjoyed that. The scones were delicious! Donette, the Captain's Club hostess, was very friendly and accessible, and although she did not see much of us, after the first day she greeted us by name. We also liked having the quieter disembarkation area at Tuscan Grille with continental breakfast available.
Dress Code: Since we didn't go to the Celebrity Theater or the Main Dining Room, we weren't anywhere that the dress code was enforceable. But I will also say that I was surprised at how some passengers chose to attire themselves. Several times we saw people walking around during the day in their bathrobes, and in evenings we saw men attired in wifebeaters and gym shorts. I wasn't expecting to see this on a Celebrity ship but I suppose that now it is acceptable evening wear onboard.
Ports: We were interested in trying Celebrity's newest ship, so the itinerary was less important to us. We went shopping in St Maarten (great prices on liquor, wine, and champagne!), and listened to a great street jazz performer in St Croix. We walked around a little bit in St Thomas and Antigua, and skipped San Juan.
Labadee was the highlight of the cruise. I contacted the Concierge on embarkation day to arrange for a cabana for us and our friends, and we were assigned B1 right on the beach. It was so comfortable and relaxing and our cabana attendant kept the drinks coming (although I was surprised that they hadn't brought a frozen drink machine to Barefoot Beach, and they actually ran out of everything but Corona with 2 hours left in port). It was so nice to lie on the beach mats and just float in a quiet area- without 4000 of our new friends. The BBQ lunch was great- there was steak, burgers, shrimp and chicken kebabs, salads, and desserts. I would book another cabana in a heartbeat if we are ever on a ship going back to Labadee.
Disembarkation: Quick and easy. We were assigned group 8 and were told to meet in the Silhouette Theater at 8:15, but we went to the Elite lounge instead where Donette announced the numbers that were being called. Our number was called at 8:45 and we rode the bus back to the main terminal and found our bags quickly. Clearing customs was fast and then we just had to wait for the shuttle to Newark airport ($16pp).
Overall: We had a really nice cruise and we enjoyed ourselves, but it feels again like the little touches that differentiate Celebrity from the mass market lines are slipping. The cutbacks in service personnel are beginning to be noticeable, and since service has such an effect on overall experience and labour is cheap, I am surprised that they have chosen this route. We were also disappointed in Blu since it has received so many positive comments here on Cruise Critic, but apparently we were not the first cruise to have issues there with both food and service. However, the specialty restaurants were excellent, and the staff we interacted with on a daily basis were great; especially Karen at Cafe al Bacio who won Service Employee of the Year (again!).
Do we plan to cruise Celebrity again? Yes - we have one booked and an open booking. We like the product, but it seems like we are going to have to adjust our expectations and if we want an experience like what we remember, we're going to have to be willing to pay extra for it.