Just got back from our first and, I fear, our last cruise to Alaska. Celebrity Summit, Concierge Class, one week, Northbound to Alaska, May 2007.
Alaska impressed us beyond words. Celebrity did not.
I'll admit right away that the vast majority of passengers had a wonderful time.
I'll also admit that at a basic level, Celebrity does a very good job: the new, larger ships have a remarkably smooth ride (when they don't break down...we'd originally been scheduled for last year's cancelled Summit cruise to Alaska), even on high seas, the cabins are of good size, with ample storage and nice amenities, the balconies are worth the extra cost, the beds are comfortable, the food is both good (as has been stated before on the Cruise Critic Boards, we're talking high-class hotel catering good, not three-to-four star restaurant good...but I had no complaints here!) and plentiful, the gym was first rate, and most facilities and functions were clean and in working order throughout.
But Celebrity sells itself as more than the basics. Celebrity is about the "experience," about the service and the attitude and feeling like your being taken care of (especially for a Concierge Class passenger).
The service we "experienced" ranged from barely adequate to utterly thoughtless. And this put a serious crimp on what was supposed to be a special occasion.
Our original room had placed us next to a suite on deck 8. Based on reports we heard through Cruise Critic, we became suspicious that this meant a smaller balcony. Celebrity assured our travel agent this was not the case, but we persisted and changed to another cabin. I've now got photographic proof that, in fact, those balconies ARE smaller. Our travel agent was MOST interested in the picture.
Where I come from, we call this "not telling the truth."
That pretty much set the tone from then on.
It started with our air travel: the cruise air plan had us flying home at a bad hour, with multiple stops, for a trip that would have taken almost twelve hours. We were able to cancel this and book through our travel agent, which cut our travel time in half, gave us a full day in Anchorage, and ended up saving us $100 even after penalties.
When we arrived at our hotel in Vancouver (by the way, Vancouver is an AMAZING city...you could easily spend a week there, and we'll post about it on the Boards), we were told that they couldn't give us the king bed we'd requested...this is a 600-room hotel, and we arrived at noon...yeah, right. They at least gave us a 30th-floor room.
Embarkation was a complete fiasco. Concierge Class lists "expedited embarkation" as one of the perks...too bad the folks running the show didn't know which line was which, and held us up while they whisked the folks who HADN'T paid the extra $100 for their room through in record time. I finally accosted someone to find out what was going on, at which point they admitted the error. They were not the least bit apologetic; more like annoyed. And even then, they kept it up for a while before expediting properly. GREAT WAY to start your relaxing vacation.
While the ship is clean and well maintained, anyone expecting luxury needs a dose of reality: this 1900-passenger ship is in constant use throughout the season, with a four-hour turnaround between cruises, and the wear and tear shows. Our cabin had stains on the carpet, wine stains on a robe, the bath mat was visibly frayed, the TV and telephone occasionally malfunctioned, there was litter in the corner of the balcony...and the room STANK of cleanser when we embarked (smelled like there'd been a fire in the room). It took two days to fully air it out.
And let's also be realistic about the staff: most (even the staff members with several years' experience) speak only rudimentary English, which makes anything other than basic requests an exercise in repetition (our next-door neighbors locked themselves on their balcony the first day out, and it took me almost five minutes to explain to the cabin steward that they needed to be rescued). They are not particularly well trained (the sommelier was a joke). And they have an incredible amount of work to do, so while they were very good at responding to direct requests, we didn't have a single instance during the entire trip when someone actually took the initiative to ask us what we wanted, list options that were available to us, or offer a moment's time.
A lot of people mention how, once they request something, it keeps happening for the rest of the trip. Well, yes, this does occur. But that's not service. Service is asking. I had coffee set up after dinner every night after the first evening. I don't WANT coffee every night. No one ever asked my wife if she wanted tea, which she often does. This is not great service. It's MINDLESS service.
I'm not slagging the staff; they work very hard at a job that is strenuous, monotonous and often humiliating (would YOU want to spend four hours in a fuzzy dolphin costume hawking disembarkation picture, or sit in a men's room that no one visits offering men spritzes of aftershave?). I AM slagging Celebrity, which promises a level of service they don't deliver. Their prime directive is to serve Celebrity's needs, not yours.
Concierge Class does offer some nice amenities (the towels are particularly good), but the cabin steward? Fuggedaboudit. We had one meeting during which we asked for the things that hadn't (and should have) been placed in the cabin, and that was the last we saw of him (beyond the hallway). So no, there were no extra tips on this trip.
Which brings us to the other reality of cruising on Celebrity: relentless, relentless marketing to induce you to spend more money. EVERY conversation with a Celebrity employee seems directed at some additional expenditure which he/she just HAS to bring to your attention. This all led up to the intriguing spectacle of the Baked Alaska Parade (actually Neapolitan ice cream in a gooey meringue) on the last formal night, which was followed by a prolonged spiel from our waiter soliciting extra tips. Waiters actively soliciting tips? Tacky, tacky, tacky.
Of course, this might explain why we got the vouchers for the two bottles of wine our travel agent sent us AFTER dinner on the third night. We bought a bottle on the second night. Wonder when we'd have gotten them if we hadn't.
The one excursion we booked through the ship, a late trip on the White Pass Railway, almost left without a bunch of people. The trains have tracks that extend out near the ships, and the early trips left from there. Ours, it turns out, did not. We passed a knot of people, including a woman in a wheelchair, waiting at that spot. Being suspicious, we continued down the dock to the ship...which is where we were supposed to go. If we hadn't told the White Pass representative (no one from Celebrity was around) about the other people (she was very surprised), and gone back and told them, they all would have missed the trip. Also, the trip started way late, and since there was no one from Celebrity around, there was no way to verify whether or not the ship was going to leave without us. We ended up back on board two minutes before they pulled the gangplank.
Fifth day, my wife opened one of her drawers before bedtime to discover that two plastic bags (one for Scott's bubble wrap and the other for Barnes and Noble) had been put IN the drawer during turndown. Kinda creepy, since WE didn't bring those bags into the room.
We had requested a walkoff disembarkation (Celebrity has a press release claiming this is offered on all cruises). In response to an item in the daily schedule specifically telling us to verify with the Guest Relations Desk if we wanted to do this, we filled out a request....only to be told it wasn't going to be offered. We asked them to double-check this and get back to us, which they did...at HALF PAST MIDNIGHT, waking us out of the first sound sleep of the trip.
When we were assigned disembarkation, despite having told them on three separate occasions that we wanted to get off as early as possible, we were assigned to the LAST group to leave. They did, when we went to the Service Desk, fix this.
The last night, we decided that we wanted to do a room service dinner. Too bad they'd already removed the cabin book so they could update it for the next trip. They told us to use the TV, but it was on the fritz. When I finally, after about three tries, convinced the cabin steward over the phone that we needed the room service menu back, he finally, grudgingly, showed up...with the dining room menu, not the room service menu. This was another example of the English-language problem, but it was also another example of a Cabin Steward who had better things to do that pay attention to a passenger. My wife wanted a pizza, not a pork chop.
Just how far did they go to get you to spend? The hot tubs next to the outdoor pools (the free ones) ran throughout the cruise. The water was never above tepid, and often stone cold. A stone cold hot tub in Alaska? But hey, the hot tubs in the Thalassatherapy room next door were nice and warm. Of course, you have to PAY to use those one....
I could go on, there's more. But you get the drift. If you can look past all this, the cruise is fine. But you shouldn't have to look past this. Celebrity promises more, and they don't deliver. We payed a lot of money to spend a few days with OTHER people taking care of the details...and I'm sorry, cruise prices may have dropped a lot, but this was still a very expensive vacation. And we never felt that we could trust anyone to do anything.
So next time we visit Alaska, we'll take the road. Even though it's a long, and not a very winding, road.