Service This is the area where Celebrity still continues to excel and even amaze me as a customer. The service throughout every aspect of the ship was nearly flawless. Every detail, from the politeness of the servers to the way they served your drinks and food made it so special. We boarded the ship and received the champagne greeting, and since it was early we ate buffet/grill[ which was pleasant. However, the first area where we received excellent service was in changing out dinner seating assignment when boarded. Of course it would have been better if Celebrity had gotten our table request for 4 right from the start, but the change process was painless. The assistant maitre'd was set up in an area outside the dinning room. When I explained to him that we had two children and that we thought it would be better for the other passengers if we were seated at our own table, he was able to immediately assign us another table. Once we got to our table on the first evening, the waiter, Rosario from India, was wonderfully friendly and very helpful with recommendations.
Next, we met our Sommelier who was the best we've ever had with Celebrity. Not only was he very friendly and helpful, but extremely knowledgeable about the wines that were on board and able to make recommendations in all price ranges. In bars and lounges the cocktail wait staff were extremely friendly and efficient. I don't recall every having to wait for a beverage. Our cabin steward did an excellent job of keeping our room tidy and neat. We didn't have many requests, but any special room service requests or needs were met promptly.
Food The food was for the most part excellent. We attended almost all of the evenings in the ship's two level Cosmopolitan restaurant. Celebrity offers fixed traditional seating in this, their main dining room. We tried the late seating on this cruise so that we could enjoy a more relaxed less rushed schedule when getting ready for dinner. We liked the later schedule.
I enjoyed all of my appetizers, soups and salads. I especially loved the escargot appetizer, consomme soups, and variety of salads. I also had an excellent spring roll and puffed pastry. The entrees were for the most part very good.I enjoyed a charrasco style steak. I also enjoyed several chicken and fish dishes. One night, three of us had the veal, and though it was a hit with my husband and son, I thought it was a little institutional.
Also the Chicken Saltimbocca was stuffed with tons on spinach and the sage was indiscernible. I like the sage to be the dominant flavor in this dish. Though it wasn't terrible, they should have called it chicken stuffed with spinach, not Saltimbocca.
On this particular cruise we dined more often in the buffet/grill area for lunch than we have on previous cruises. Since the ship was not completely full, the smaller amount of passengers made these areas much easier to navigate than on other cruises that were at full capacity. We enjoyed the burgers and tacos from the grill as well as the salads and entrees in the full buffet area. All of the food was flavorful and with a wide variety, there was always something that I liked. In the evenings they offer pizza, pasta and an international station. The international station replaced the sushi bar which used to be offered every night. Now instead they have Stir Fry, Indian or Indonesian, or Sushi. This was a bit of a disappointment to the sushi lovers who could only get their fix every third night, but probably a welcome change for those who are not sushi fans.
For sweet lovers they had wonderful dessert as well as hand scooped ice cream at no extra charge.
Ship and Amenities Overall, I love the size, lay-out and amenities of the Celebrity ships. This ship features a 2 level theater, cinema/conference center, casino, a piano bar, martini/champagne bar, disco and small Rendezvous lounge for quiet music and dancing. We enjoyed the disco/observation lounge during both the night and day. This area was actually one of concern to me as the disco had been redecorated several years ago as the "Bar at The Edge of the Earth" for the joint venture that Celebrity had with Cirque de Solei. One of the main problems with that redecoration was that the draped fabric inhibited the views. While most of those decorations remain in place, Celebrity did remove the most obstructive drapings, thus re-establishing the panoramic views in this room. The ship also has a spa and work-out center and an indoor Thalossotherapy pool. Outdoors they have to swimming pools and four hot-tubs. The indoor pool and spa area are adults only, so we spent our pool time in the out door areas. There were plenty of different public spaces.
Nickel and Diming You to Death For the most part Celebrity is pretty good about not charging for extra things that I believe should be included in the cost of the cruise. This ship has one small specialty restaurant with a $30 up charge. However, we were more than happy with our service and food in the main restaurant, so we did not feel a huge need pay the extra charge and dine there. Those that choose this option raved about the experience in the Normandie. There were a few offerings by Celebrity of which I thought the prices were a bit excessive. The least expensive wine offered by the glass was a white wine for $6, with most of the by the glass wine running in the $8 to $12 range. Beer ran at least $5, and call brand mixed drinks were $8. One evening I ordered a call brand vodka on the rocks for my husband and was given and charged for a double though I didn't order a double. The wines with dinner were both pricey and generally very good. In that atmosphere, I didn't mind paying a bit extra for the wines as they came with such great and knowledgeable service, but I felt the wines by the glass should have been priced a little bit lower.
The other aggravatingly over priced item was the cost of a shuttle into town at several of our stops. The "nominal" charge was $10 per person. I thought that was very high even for a round trip, so I never purchased the fare. However, I heard from another passengers that this was each way and you cold only purchase a round trip ticket. For a family of 4, that is $80 just to get into and back from the port city. Either way whether it was $40 or $80, it was still way too much. Most of these ports were reachable by walking (about a mile or so), so depending on the weather we either choose to stay on board or make the long walk into town.
There were a few extra activities that were offered for a small charge. They had a "Round the World" wine tasting and a "Wine Appreciation" wine tasting that were both offered at $10 per person. We attended and enjoyed both of these events.
Also, we bought two soda cards at $5 a day for my son and husband. My daughter and I choose to forgo the soda cards as we didn't think we'd have more than two a day. However, the two soda cards we purchased for the guys seemed to work no matter who ordered the sodas, just as long as one of the card holders was present.
Also, on Celebrity, the regular coffee in the buffet is free; the fancy coffee in the Cova Cafe is available at an extra charge. I enjoyed one cappuccino one afternoon, as the $4 charge didn't seem like too much for a small splurge.
Destinations One of the biggest surprises of this cruise was the wonderful ports of call we visited. I had done quite a bit of research on the ports and had actually made tour plans and decisions before the trip.
Barcelona was our embarkation port, and I would say to try to arrive in Barcelona at least a day or two before your cruise. We very much enjoyed the city it multitude of art, culture and history.
Our first port of call was Malaga. This was a city in which we had planned to go into town and see a few of the sights near the port. Had the weather been better than cold and windy or the shuttle prices been a bit more in line with what I was willing to pay we probably would have gone into town for a few hours. However, since we'd been up late from the night before, and didn't feel like fighting the cold and the wind, we choose to view the city from the comfort of our balcony.
Our next port of call was the beautiful Island of Madeira. This small garden isle provided us with many sights and landmarks right in the port town of Funchal. We first walked into town from the port which took about 10 -15 minutes. The city is known for its many gardens and we visited two. Then we stopped by the local church where we checked out its unique Portuguese Knot-Work ceiling. We did a little souvenir shopping for things like T-shirts, embroidered items, and Madeira Wine. Then we took a taxi up to the touristy area Monte where we enjoyed some of the gardens and then took the famous guided wicker toboggan ride down the mountain. After the ride we walked down the narrow streets back into town and to the ship.
Our next stop was the Island of Lanzarote where we took our one and only ship's tour. I had done enough research to know that the port was not near anything to see, and that the island's main attractions was the Timanfaya National Park which can only be toured, for the most part, by motor coach. We chose the tour that took us not only in to the exciting "Fire Mountain" portion of the park, but also included a camel ride around the volcanic sand dunes that give the island part of its unique landscape. This tour was fantastic. People of all ages enjoyed the short camel ride. Nearly everyone on the coach was amazed at the formations left by the eruptions on the island that occurred in the 1730's. Because the island receives so little rain, only 1.3 centimeters per year, the volcanic areas are barren and other-worldly looking. The tour also included a brief stop to see the area where the lava from the eruption met the sea and a stop at the unique vineyards planted in volcanic soil and surrounded by semicircular rock walls. I would highly recommend this tour, as national park was definitely one of the most strangely beautiful places in the world I have ever visited.
Tenerife was our next stop in the Canary Islands. Keeping our budgets in mind, I had planned a walking tour of the town Santa Cruz de Tenerife with stops at several museums. The city provided a free shuttle bus for cruise passengers, but had requested that it be for elderly or physically limited passengers. It seemed many people were taking the shuttle, but in order to work off all our big meals we choose to walk into town. Our ship was the fourth in line, so we had quite a walk just to get into the port area. Once in town, we found the tourist information booth and got directions to the first museum. The Regional Military Museum of the Canary Islands was located about a mile from the center of town.
This free museum featured exhibits on the famous British defeat at the hands of the Spanish during a poorly planned attempt to take the island. The museum featured an Oil Painting of the famous British captain, Lord Horatio Nelson, who let the attack, loosing his arm and the cannon that fired the shots that wounded him. Next we did a little window and souvenir shopping in the famous shopping streets of Santa Cruz. Then, we headed over to the Museo de Hombre, a geological and archeological museum of all the Canary Islands that features extensive exhibits, (mostly in Spanish) of all the flora, fauna and civilizations of the Canaries. Our favorite part was exhibit of Canarian native Guanchen Mummies.
Our final stop before making our 5 day journey across the Atlantic Ocean was Santa Cruz de la Palma. We were so exhausted from walking all over Santa Cruz de Tenerife, we thought we might just enjoy Santa Cruz de la Palma from the comfort of our balcony room.
It was a little rainy all day and being tired and sore I thought I'd take it easy. Had the shuttle been a bit more affordable, the four of us might have ventured into town. Other passengers that did make it into town reported that this was the most charming and beautiful of the cities we visited in the Canaries.
After our sea days crossing the Atlantic we spent our final day in St. Maarten. We kept things simple by walking into Phillipsburg, St. Maarten. We enjoyed a snack and some drinks at a beach front cafe. The kids and I enjoyed swimming at the beach and we also picked up some inexpensive souvenirs at the shops in town.
Embarkation The embarkation was very easy as we had already printed out our express boarding pass. All we needed to do was show our passports and our credit card for our on board spending account and we were set. Our luggage arrived at our room early and I was able to unpack most of it before we even sailed away.
Disembarkation I wish I could say that our disembarkation was as pleasant as our embarkation. Our ship had many passengers who were non-US citizens. When entering the US they are required to submit to a finger print scan and a digital picture. Celebrity did not do a good job of briefing them on this procedure prior to our arrival in San Juan. Surely Homeland security knew to expect many non-US passengers disembarking from our ship, but they didn't have nearly enough agents assigned to handle the extra time needed to process these passengers. We were in no big hurry as we were spending the night in San Juan, but it was a bit frustrating that we stood in an un-air-conditioned terminal for over 45 minutes just waiting to clear through. It also didn't help matters that many of the passengers complained and argued with the agents about the entry policy, rather than just getting it done as quickly as possible. Perhaps too, Celebrity could have been more informative to the foreign passengers about this process during the disembarkation talk.
Entertainment Overall, the entertainment on this cruise was very good. The ship provided music and entertainment in almost every genre. Generally the quality was very good, with a few noticeable exceptions.
The two headliners, Singer ,Jack Walker, and Comedian, Fred Klett, were very good. I had seen Jack Walker on my Infinity Cruise in 2005. He is a first class operatic/pop tenor who performs pop, Broadway, and classical pieces much in the line of Russell Watson, Michael Ball, and Michael Crawford. He performed two shows which were some of the entertainment highlights of this cruise. Fred Klett performed his comedy act on the latter half of the cruise. His observational family oriented comedy was fun for all of us. He had all of us laughing pretty hard. His act was clean and for the most part focused on what life was like growing up in a family of 10 kids. The kids liked him so much they pooled their spending money and bought his DVD to take home.
The Celebrity singers and Dancers performed three full scale production shows and one or two numbers in some of the other shows. Their first full scale show featured mostly Broadway and Movie numbers. I felt that this show was just "OK", some parts very good and others kind of boring. Their next show was "Night of Stars" which featured songs of the most popular entertainers of the 20th century like Cher, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra. However the set was rather one dimensional, the choreography overly simple and almost amateurish at times, and the singing a bit forced. I think the singers and dancers did fine with what the material they had to work with, but this show was just not at the level one would expect from a cruise line like Celebrity.
However, the Celebrity Singers and Dancers redeemed themselves with their final production show. This show featured a multitude of Broadway numbers including ones from Gypsy, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Wicked, Mama Mia, Hair Spray and The Lion King. All of the songs seemed to fit the singers' voices much better than the pop songs in the previous shows. They also had an opportunity to portray the characters from the shows rather than imitate a famous star. Character interpreting seemed to be one of their strong suits in this show. Finally, the costumes for this show were much more elaborate and fitting to the different Broadway shows. During the "Lion King" finale they nearly replicated some of the puppet costumes and sets from the original show. I really enjoyed this show as did most of the audience which they demonstrated through a standing ovation at the end.
The other entertainers included and a'capella group, string quartet, a jazz/dance music ensemble, a piano player in the Michaels club, and a crew talent show. The singing group was pretty entertaining. They performed several times in the theater and in the smaller venues on the ship. The guitar player usually played on the aft lounge on the back of the ship. We were able to enjoy his music from our balcony. We didn't have too much of an opportunity to listen to the ensemble as we just didn't spend too much time in the lounge they played in.
I should also mention that the Celebrity singers and dancers performed songs in the intimate Michaels club. Unfortunately, I was again too worn out from daytime activities to attend this event, but several other guests raved about the performance. The smaller venue and songs of their choosing really gave them an opportunity to show the quality of their voices. The other passengers also said one of the dancers was just as good as the singers.
The string quartet was made up of a group of recent graduates from the University of Indiana School of Music, who looked to still be in their teens but were apparently a bit older. What a treat their music was in the dining room on formal nights. They also performed in the Cova Cafe and presented two concerts in the Cinema.
The party band on this cruise was one of the best we've had a sea. "Frontliners" was from the Philippines, like the bands on our Hawaii and our Alaska cruise. They provided fantastic cover music for all of the theme parties from the 50's, 60's, 70's and beyond. They had two male and one female singer, all with broad vocal ranges. We had a lot of fun listening and dancing to them mostly at the theme parties held in the Revelations lounge.
Our main complaint about the band was that they didn't play often enough pool side. During our warm sunny sea days they only did one 45 minute set. During our final Sail-a-way from warm sunny St. Maarten, they did not play at all. On previous cruises we have very much enjoyed hanging our on the pool deck en listening to the band play as we sail off into the sunset. With so many choices there seemed to be a type of music for everyone.
Activities In addition to the entertainment, the ship provided many daytime activities to keep the passengers time occupied both on sea and port days. The games included Trivia, Battle of the Sexes Trivia, Name That Tune, Pictionary, and Pool Side Game Team Games. They also had a guest lecturer on the music business and Broadway. They had food demonstrations, wine tastings, margarita tastings, and even Martini tastings. They had movies in the cinema and also played those same movies for free in room. They had a water color artist teaching art classes. There were art auctions and fitness classes. There was so much to do, there was no way one could attend all the activities. It was nice meeting with fellow passengers and hearing about their different experiences. One passenger showed me her fan that she had hand painted in the water color class. Another shared with me how much he liked the paella and sangria making demonstration. I did not get to attend as many activities as I would have liked too because they seemed to conflict with some of my other plans. Some other passengers expressed the same feelings about the activities, so I don't know if we were off schedule or the activities were off schedule.
In the evenings they had more theme parties than I can remember from previous cruise. They had the 50's & 60's party, a Disco Party, a White Night (which really wasn't much of a theme party at all, just fun music and dancing), and a Caribbean Deck Party.
Most of these events were held in the Revelations lounge, and during these times the ship usually featured additional entertainment on other parts of the ship.
Another fun activity was their ballroom dance contest. Male and Female passengers auditioned to compete in a "Dancing with the Stars" type competition. They rehearsed all week with a ballroom dance partner from the Celebrity Dancers, and then competed in a dance off one night in the Revelations lounge. I enjoyed watching the couples rehearse through-out the week, but again missed the dance off due to just being a bit to tired to attend.
They also had two nights of Karaoke in the lounge. There were many participants, including my self, and a large crowd there to enjoy the performances. The activities staff was even nice enough to play my own discs that I had brought with me. Their own collection of Karaoke was rather limited and included no Broadway songs. Several other passengers also borrowed my discs. We were very pleased with this accommodation , but the limitation with using my own discs was that they were not able to change the key on these songs.
However, our first disappointment with the karaoke was that the second night of Karaoke was only for one hour. The hosts told us that they were planning on having one more, longer evening of Karaoke, but that event never materialized. Those of us, that are diehard karaoke performers, were disappointed that they did not host another evening of karaoke, especially when the first two evenings had proved so popular. We just thought that on a 14 night cruise they would have more than two nights of Karaoke.
This also brings me to my other area of disappointment: the passenger talent show. As a singer and dancer, I always sign up for the talent show, and on all but one cruise, they have had enough participants to stage a show.However, on this cruise, they had what they called their "Starring You" awards show. The show was only for passengers invited to participate from the ballroom dance contest and the best three Karaoke performances. They also presented a trivia and a best photo award. I was chosen to compete in the "Best Live Performance" category against two other passengers who had also sung at Karaoke. They did a great job in showcasing the participants with a full audio and technical rehearsal. However, my disappointment came from the fact that this format excluded so many other passengers from having a moment in the spotlight on the big stage. I know there were two other men who participated in Karaoke would have loved to perform in the talent show. There also may have been other passengers that were wonderful singers or dancers but were not invited because they did not participate in Karaoke or the ballroom dance contest.
Sail-a-way The only reason I put the "Sail-a-way" into a separate category is because this was absolutely the highlight of our Hawaiian and Mexican cruises, and such a disappointment on this cruise. Our Alaskan cruise only had one big sail-a-way party, the first night when we left Vancouver, simply because the cold sometimes rainy weather was not conducive to sitting up on the pool deck and listening to the band. On our warm weather cruises the band played great music every day as we sailed away from our port. Usually the sunset, scenery, music, drinks, and fellow passengers combined to make these events the highlight of the cruise. However, on this cruise even when we had beautiful weather leaving our last port of call they ship failed to schedule the party band to play live music by the pool.
Kids Program The kids program for this cruise was fantastic despite the fact that there were only 6 children registered in the program. There were three pre-school age children who only came in the Fun Factory occasionally to play with their parents or grand parents. In the older kids category, they had my two children age 10 and 12, and one other 12 year old boy from Australia.
One might expect that they would not keep the program fully open when they have such a small amount of kids on the cruise. However, they kept the same hours as on all our previous cruise, generally from 9 to 5 with a break for lunch and 7pm to 10pm in the evenings. My kids had fantastic time in the club, perhaps because they could pretty much pick what they wanted to do. Often they choose to play board games or video games, but they could also watch movies are do crafts with the counselors.
Accommodations Our room on this cruise was absolutely wonderful. We had cabin 7199, a corner Family Veranda room. This was the first cabin that we've ever had on a cruise that was really ideal for four people. We had nearly twice as much closet space and storage draws as we would have in standard balcony cabin. The beds were very comfortable and the full king size bed with easy in and out was a vast improvement over the Family Verandas on the Mercury.
One of the nicest features of this room was the huge oversized balcony. We were afforded fantastic views of every port as we sailed away. I rarely noticed any excess motion in this room, also an improvement over the FV rooms on the smaller Mercury. Celebrity usually reserves these rooms for families of 4 or more, however they will sometimes make the available for two if there are not in demand from families.
Evening Dress Codes and Packing For this cruise Celebrity had three formal nights. It appeared that most passengers enjoyed dressing on these formal evenings. If passengers chose not to dress formally there were plenty of options for them including the casual dining area, pasta station, pizza, international stations, and room service. I don't recall seeing anyone dressed extremely casually on the formal nights in the dining room. For the rest of the evenings the dress was "smart casual and above." On these evenings I saw passengers dressed in mostly very nice smart casual to very dressed up but not quite formal. Women wore very nice slacks outfits or dressy dresses. Men generally wore dockers to dress slacks with generally casual collared shirts including prints, stripes and solids, with or with out jackets. There was one group of younger people (maybe late 20's) who really stood out as under dressed in jeans or cargo pants with flip flops and hoodie sweat shirts on the smart casual. They did wear dark suits with ties on all but one formal night. They were not turned away from the main dining venue but I would have felt very out of place had I dressed so casually on what is called "Smart Casual". They were definitely the exception to the mode of dress on this cruise as most passengers tended to dress very sharply in the evenings. We truly enjoyed dressing up on most evenings, especially the formal nights.
The small mistake that our family made on this trip was over packing. We had a little trouble figuring out what clothes we would need as the weather in Barcelona was cold and we weren't sure what to expect on the Atlantic crossing days. It turned out we brought too many dress sweaters for my husband as he generally was able to wear short sleeves or lighter weight shirts in the smart casual evenings. My son actually probably planned the best as he wore mostly short sleeve shirts and then added a solid blue blazer on smart casual evenings. My daughter and I did not wear every evening outfit we packed, and probably could have saved some space by planning on repeating some of the casual evening outfits.
Changes There were a few things that had been changed since our last Celebrity cruise that I found to be a bit disappointing. The smallest item was probably the lack of cloth placemats in the buffet trays. This had no real affect on my cruise, but I noticed it. The next noticeable change was the availability of sushi in the evenings only every third evening. The Grand Midnight Buffet was supposed to be replaced by two events: A grand brunch buffet and a "Staring You" party with carving stations and snacks. The brunch buffet did not compare in any way as a substitution for the grand mid-might buffet and they never held the "Staring You" reception. Another noticeable change was that they no longer had bar waiters coming into the dining room for beverage service. We really noticed this change the first couple of nights because it took some time for our sommelier to handle this for us. One night our waiter was very late in taking our dinner order because he was handling a Martini order for another table. However, once everyone got into the swing of things our sommelier came to the table with our sodas, and other passengers seemed to get their martinis in the bar before dinner rather than the dining room. Another change that I didn't like was the "Starring You" show mentioned earlier. I think the traditional passenger talent shows, bad performers and all, is much better than this format.
Captains Club and Cruise Critic Activities I was very pleased with the number of Captains Club activities, though on this type of cruise I think that most of the passengers were Captains' Club members. We attended the Senior Officer's Cocktail one afternoon and one of three Chardonnay Blending seminars. However, we did not attend the Captains Club Formal night because of the expected overflow crowd. From what we heard from people who did attend, they tried to have everyone enter through one door and show their sea pass in order to get in. When the line got too long and stagnant they opened up another door to allow everyone in. However, the coupons and discounts offered to captains club members really weren't any thing but sales pitches for items or treatments that the cruise line was trying to sell. It would be nice if Celebrity offered something of real value to its loyal passengers.
The cruise director was also very helpful in organizing activities for Cruise Critic members. We had our first little party on the first Sea day where we were greeted by the Cruise Director and some of the activities staff. They also held another get-to-gether for us another day and even offered us a bridge tour and early access to the day they offered visits to the Helipad. We were pleased that the Cruise Director and staff were so eager to do a few small extra things for our group.
Conclusion We had a wonderful and memorable family vacation on this cruise. We had many positive experiences that definitely outweighed the negative ones. Perhaps the best part of this cruise was the friendships we made with fellow passengers. However, after all of our previous Celebrity cruises we have felt that nothing could equal the Celebrity cruise experiences. With the few minor flaws on this cruise, I would have to say that though Celebrity would probably still be my first choice, I would definitely consider cruising with another line for the right price, itinerary, or ship. Read Less