We are a professional couple, no kids, early forties. We had never been on a cruise before and had no experience in this area of Europe so took the advice of friends who had done this exact cruise before and booked in March 2016. We dove into research on the countries, ports, languages, attractions, and cruising in general, which made for a fun six-month wait. The anticipation was a big part of this vacation! Rick Steves' books were a staple of our reading and came with us on the trip.
We flew from Toronto to Rome, arriving early in the morning on embarkation day. We had seriously considered taking the train from the airport to the port, but decided that it was just too important piece of the trip (i.e. do we risk screwing up the train schedule in a foreign city and missing our ship?) to leave to chance, so we booked NCC shared transfer. They met us in the airport and we were in the van very quickly. As it turned out, Rome airport is HUGE and we had been up for about 36 hours by that time - we were glad to not be trying to sort out the train and our bags at that point. It was about E70 which was money well spent. We got to Civitavecchia in 45 minutes and again were glad of the transfer. The port is also very large, and not pedestrian friendly at all. NCC transfers dropped us off right at the ship at around 1030 in the morning. We got a look at the ship - spectacular! - before heading into the dark and smelly tents that were the Celebrity port terminal. There is nothing nice about the port or the terminal. We showed our printed-off tickets, completed the medical form, and waited in the holding area for about 20 minutes before being waved over to check-in. We were on-board quickly and easily by 1100 hours or so.
First impressions were - well - let's just say that the deck 2 loading area is not a nice part of the ship. It's dark and utilitarian with x-ray machines and beeping scanners. But up one flight of stairs we found the Guest Relations area, with a cello/viola duo playing in the lobby. This was very nice. We found our cabin #6221 still being cleaned, but met our room attendant Jose who was very friendly and personable. He let us dump our carry-ons and we headed up to deck 14 to enjoy some fresh air. We found the Sunset Bar staffed with jolly Jamaicans (one wearing a Santa hat and singing bits of Christmas songs....go figure) and settled down with a drink in the sunshine.
"The Upselling" - we had read a lot about the upselling racket on this ship. We had the Classic package included but had pretty much decided we would upgrade to the Premium package at some point. There is lots available on the Classic, particularly if you like simple highballs and Budweiser. We really like martinis, good wine, and craft beer, so when the bartender waved a bottle of Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA at me, I was signing for the Premium package on what was probably that guy's easiest upsell of the week. On the Premium there were lots of excellent wines by the glass, incredible cocktails, but only a few craft beers (the IPA was $11.00 USD so that was the cost of one day of Premium package right there). As you might expect, hot day plus forenoon cocktail plus no sleep plus jet lag equalled fatigue very quickly. We went downstairs to....
The Oceanview Cafe ("The Buffet") - I don't like buffets generally but we were starving and this was the place to grab something fast. There was a large variety, including stations organized by cuisine, such as Mexican, English, Indian, etc. I had some excellent Indian food and my partner found salad and fruit. We ate at the buffet for most breakfasts and the odd afternoon snack and there was nothing bad to be said about it. In the evening it was sad and empty although you could still get a slice of pizza and a few other smaller things until fairly late.
The Cabin: 6221 is a veranda cabin, port side on the flat side of the 'hump'. We had a great view from the veranda and only overlooked part of deck 5. The cabin could have accommadated four people as there was a trundle bed under the couch and a berth that could have swung down from the ceiling but I really can't imagine four people in there. It was a decent size for two and I was pleasantly surprised at the bathroom - there was lots of storage in there and a good shower. There was zero room for two so brushing teeth was a 'my turn - your turn' affair. The cabin was very clean and storage was OK, after we got our suitcases under the bed out of the way. Jose brought us extra hangers, a body pillow, and anything else we needed. One night, I asked him for a shoe shine cloth and came back to the room to find he had polished my shoes....wow. This is butler-level service. The cabin was very quiet, even being next to the elevators and the iLounge. We quickly found this cabin was perfect for us as it was steps from the elevators and stairs, one deck from lounges and restaurants, two decks to the Martini bar and shopping, and very close to the Grand Foyer where most of the nighttime activity was. My only complaint was people who insisted on letting their cabin doors slam. They are steel safety doors and if you let them close, they slam with a "thunk", which can be a drag at 0630 hours. CLOSE YOUR DOOR GENTLY, PEOPLE, PLEASE!!
Dining: we love to eat and drink. We had bought the five-dinner package beforehand and had to visit a headwaiter to book our dinners once onboard. Overall we were very happy with the dining options:
Opus: we had Select dining so on the few nights we ate there, we just showed up. It is a huge room and quite elegant. Once we had to take a pager and go drink another martini while we waited....oh no, how will we cope. The menu at Opus was small but we always had good food. The service was good but almost a little too much at times. When you sat down there'd be probably four people buzzing around filling water, serving bread, making introductions, and so on, but after the initial flurry you might have trouble finding someone available to tell about your chipped wine glass. One night we were seated next to the waiter station, which was loud. We asked to be moved and immediately had a quiet table for two in another area. Very appreciated. We never sat with anyone else but tables for two were about 2" apart so it was much like a table for four. Keeping in mind that the Opus kitchen was turning out three-course meals for hundreds and hundreds of people, the food was very good. There was different house wines featured every night and the somm would be opening bottles constantly. No bag-in-box wine here.
Lawn Club: we ate there our first night. On a warm evening it is really nice, next to the (real) lawn and the huge X on the funnel overhead. Somewhat oddly, the "appetizers" were flatbread pizzas.....with the mains a selection of grilled meat. You could cook your own if you wanted to and there was a nice little salad station. The pizza was very good but it was too much for a starter. The grilled items were very good and ranged from skewers to fish fillets to steaks. There were heaters for when the night cooled off, which it did fairly early. It was a fun, casual place for dinner outside.
Tuscan: this is an Italian a la carte grille with a panoramic view aft. The pasta was made on-site and was incredible. Steak was probably some of the best I've had anywhere. Service was second to none. Ignatius knew his service and his wines - we let him choose wines for us to suit the courses and they were spot-on. A fabulous experience. So fabulous we bought another night there and had another terrific meal.
Murano: French cuisine. You could spend a lot of money here, with wine and food flights, $300 caviar, and so on. It was the most formal of all the venues. The food was extremely good and the service was too. The staff were obviously working very hard to keep a high standard. It was not full either night we were there. Tableside service was a nice touch and they really took pride in their work. My only complaint was with the flambe-ing and such going on, the room got a little stuffy and you would want to be wearing a jacket and tie for this place (although you didn't have to - I think dress code was the same for all venues in the evening).
Sushi on Five: I'm not a huge sushi fan but my partner is and she thought it was very good. There were noodle bowls as well, along with gyoza and other items so not just sushi. It was notably empty whenever we walked by. Service was enthusiastic and it was a nice change from the other dining options.
Qsine: I didn't expect to like this but I did. It is tapas, with some really inventive presentations and some fabulous food. Very unique and we had a great time here.
Martini Bar: our favourite, with a frosted-ice bar top and very skilled bartenders. The martinis are very large and very well-made. There was a second bar, I think called the 'Ice Bar' off to the side, which apparently used to be a bar proper with it's own menu (there were many bottles of vodka sitting in piles of ice) but it appeared to be forgotten about and was just another seating area for the Martini bar. After dinner, they set up a DJ station right next to the bar, which seemed a bit out of place, but later the DJ station disappeared and the live house band started up a deck below. One night I asked for a Courvoisier and got a snifter the size of a basketball with about half a bottle of cognac inside.....fabulous.
Ensemble Lounge: another favourite, with live jazz through the evening. Very good table and bar service and a relaxed atmosphere. Tuscan, Qsine, Murano, and Michaels Club were accessed via this lounge.
World Class Bar: this used to be a different bar called the Molecular Bar where they made cocktails with liquid nitrogen and so on.....no longer. It is now an ordinary bar with a limited menu of excellent cocktails (if you order an Old Fashioned, they carve a single baseball-size ice cube for you) but they don't serve anything else, so anybody popping by for a gin/tonic had to keep walking. Not sure how successful this model is.
Sunset Bar: as mentioned, great if you want to relax up high and watch the ocean recede. It is also a smoking area. We enjoyed walking shoeless on the grass and sipping a frozen drink.
Passport Bar: a straightforward bar on deck 3.
Cafe El Bacio: a coffee bar with some pastries and cookies. I went here every morning for lattes and brought them up to the cabin. There was also a gelato bar which we never tried.
Upselling to specialty restaurants: We didn't mind this as we got some good deals. Tuscan for 40% off? Yes please. One night we looked at the menu for Opus and weren't all that excited about it. Turn around and here's somebody offering a great deal at Murano. Everybody wins. If we weren't interested they took 'no thanks' for an answer, unlike all of Turkey and much of Greece.....
Casino: appeared to be very under-used. We never spent any time here.
Sun decks - we did not enter any of the pools but spent lots of time reading in the sun. I read complaints that there aren't enough sunbeds....well, maybe if you want a sunbed right next to the pool, directly in the sun, there's a limited number. There are tons of sunbeds on two decks. We enjoyed deck 15 which was very quiet (aside from when people were playing basketball). The Mast Grille had hotdogs, hamburgers, and fries, which was perfect for a mid-afternoon snack. Service was limited away from the lido deck but if a server knew you were there, they would come around and keep your glass full.
Fitness Centre and Spa: We worked out nearly every day and found the fitness centre surprisingly good. My favourite was stretching out on the outdoor fitness deck, which overlooked the bow of the ship with a great view. There were cold towels and enough good quality equipment to get in a workout and feel like I was earning my next meal. My partner had her nails done in the Spa and was very happy with them - not cheap but high quality work.
Solarium: we enjoyed this as kids aren't allowed and you can soak up the sun without the wind. The Aquaspa cafe had some really nice healthy, smaller items, including smoothies.
Library: this was disappointing. I had hoped to find books on Europe, our ports of call, the ocean, and sailing, but instead found a bunch of mostly lightweight fiction. Plus there are only books on the first three shelves, then a bunch of empty shelves, then three shelves of fake books at the very top. It was quiet if there was nothing going on in the Grand Atrium.
Entertainment: we hadn't expected to care for the shows but some were very good. The theatre was top-notch. The Tenors of Rock were terrific. There were several singing acts, including a Michael Buble - esque guy and a female Motown trio. One night they had thrown together a Broadway revue because the scheduled performer had missed his flight, which was very good. The ship's musicians were really incredible. They were all over the place, playing in the theatre backing up the featured acts, playing everything from top-40 to Beatles in the Grand Atrium, playing jazz in the Ensemble lounge, disco by the pool, strings in the Cafe el Bacio. One night, the bandmaster (Sasha), after leading his group through the show in the theatre, sat down at the piano next to the Passport Bar and effortlessly performed Chopin and Beethoven. Wow. The cruise director Maarten was around for the high-energy stuff and he was hard not to like, although we didn't take part in any of the parlour/pool games.
Shopping: we enjoyed browsing in the shops. The second last night was a big sale and you've never seen such a feeding frenzy. I love watches and had a blast browsing the Breitlings and Tag Heuers.
Washrooms: spotless and staffed in the evening. Hand sanitizer everywhere. Excellent.
Photography: We let them take photographs if there was a good backdrop but wanted nothing to do with the costumed guys off the gangway at the ports....we are in Turkey, so you make some guy (probably a prep cook) wear a turban and a silly sword and want us to pose with him? Give me a break. On the last formal night we asked the photographer for some specific poses as we had gotten engaged that afternoon, and they were very enthusiastic and helpful. We ended up buying three of them as our official engagement photos.
Excursions: we didn't take any Celebrity excursions. We researched and booked tours for Athens and Ephesus, and conducted our own sightseeing for the other ports. Generally, getting on and off the ship was painless, with the exception of Santorini where we had to tender in some quite active seas (see port review below). We erred generously on the side of leaving lots of time to get back on the ship and had no problems. We found running the gauntlet of local taxis, tours, hawkers, and so on very tiring but that's not the ship's fault. The information given about the ports in the little daily newsletter was very limited - we were grateful for our Rick Steves guides and prior research.
Highs and lows: there's an odd thing that happens when everything is at a high standard. Little things become big things because they are an anomaly. But they are still small things. Here's a few we noticed:
High: the ship is beautiful. Low: they used this plastic dark reddish-brown fake wood paneling all over the place.
High: there was daily news and port info delivered to your cabin. Low: very little weather forecast information, either for the port or the ocean.
High: food was very very good. Low: no bar snacks. After dinner, your only snack option was to see what was left at the buffet.
High: bar and wine service was excellent. Low: lack of drink lists.
High: the buffet was a great way to have quick breakfast. Low: no tray, so you have your plate in one hand, cutlery in your pocket, juggling everything to get a cup of coffee, and if you wanted a juice or water, you had to dump everything off and go back.
High: people dressed up for dinner. Nothing classier than old-timers in tuxes. Low: sweaty guy in flip flops with shirt totally unbuttoned, elbowing past people at the buffet to get more bacon.
High: presentations on ports of call and other areas of interest. Low: barely-disguised sales pitches for whatever services or businesses paid Celebrity for the privilege. "You may not be interested in buying a Turkish rug but at least take the time to listen to what they have to say" -Celebrity staff member giving a presentation on what to do in Turkey. Again, give me a break. If you're promoting a business, go ahead, but don't pretend you're giving objective information to people who might be expecting it when you are not.
Ship movement: we were concerned about this as my partner gets motion sickness easily. There was one day and night that we could really feel the ship moving (I'm not sure how the performers on stage managed it as I could barely walk to my seat without holding on to something) but ginger gel capsules were the ticket. My partner had all kinds of remedies but nothing beat the ginger. One evening we could feel a fair bit of vibration in the Tuscan, but generally it was a non-issue.
Disembarkation: we opted to 'walk off' so kept our luggage and were in an elevator by 0645 and in our NCC transfer by 0700. Nothing to it. Again, we had thought about taking the train but had learned there was a transit (bus and train) strike scheduled for that day. As it turned out, we may have been been able to get from Civitavecchia into Rome, but the strike did in fact happen as scheduled so we were glad to be in a vehicle. The best money we spent were those two transfers.
I'm rating four stars but it is a solid four stars. There is probably a nicer ship with better food and service out there but probably not at this price point. Overall we were thrilled with our first cruise and will absolutely do another.
6221 is a veranda cabin, port side on the flat side of the 'hump'. We had a great view from the veranda and looking straight down was deck 5. The cabin could have accommadated four people as there was a trundle bed under the couch and a berth that could have swung down from the ceiling but I really can't imagine four people in there. It was a decent size for two and I was pleasantly surprised at the bathroom - there was lots of storage in there and a good shower. There was zero room for two so brushing teeth was a 'my turn - your turn' affair. The cabin was very clean and storage was OK, after we got our suitcases under the bed out of the way. Jose brought us extra hangers, a body pillow, and anything else we needed. The cabin was very quiet, even being next to the elevators and the iLounge. We quickly found this cabin was perfect for us as it was steps from the elevators and stairs, one deck from lounges and restaurants, two decks to the Martini bar and shopping, and very close to the Grand Foyer where most of the nighttime activity was. My only complaint was people who insisted on letting their cabin doors slam. They are steel safety doors and if you let them close, they slam with a "thunk", which can be a drag at 0630 hours. CLOSE YOUR DOOR GENTLY, PEOPLE, PLEASE!!
Stayed in Rome for two nights after the cruise. Rome is incredible but we barely scratched the surface. The crowds and lines were unbelievable. We booked a tour of the Vatican beforehand which is the only way to get past the HUGE lineup. The place was absolutely jammed with people beginning to end. We had also booked Colosseum tickets which got us in a little quicker, but again huge lines and pushing past hustlers the whole time. We never got into the Forum. I'd hate to see it in high season. Beware of North Americanized "Italian" restaurants that serve terrible food that make East Side Marios seem authentic. We learned some basic Italian and found it very useful.
The seas were rough and the tender unpleasant (nobody's fault). Options were to stand in a HUGE line for the gondola or climb the donkey trail. We opted for a water taxi to Oia which was one of the worst experiences I've had on vacation. The taxi was very rough (again not their fault) but the sea was so rough it actually couldn't dock propertly at Oia, so they basically backed the boat into the pier and tried to hold it there, engine roaring, and tried to get people out with the boat bucking up and down. It took probably 30 minutes to get everyone off and many were seasick by that point, including me. I was seriously thinking about jumping into the water just to get off that bloody boat. Then we had to be jammed into a bus to get up to Oia, after which we had 40 minutes left to "explore" before we had to get on the bus back to the main town. The town consisted of a main street jammed with people waiting to get on the gondola to get back down. We opted to walk down the donkey path, which was unpleasant even though we are fit. The donkey owners were herding the poor beasts up to the top in anticipation of selling rides back down so people were having to get out of the way of the herd of donkeys.....not fun. We finally got down and sat for some Greek food and wine in a little tavern on the pier, which was nice. I understand that Celebrity tours got tendered to another pier and got to skip the donkeys and the gondola line, which is a cruel joke if it's true. The island is not set up to handle 3,000 cruise passengers showing up at once - again, nobody's fault but I wouldn't go again.
The Acropolis was incredible. A good guide was money well spent and got us past the line. Public bus service (X80) available from right outside the port was a cheap, 30 minute bus ride into the downtown. The plaka was full of food and shopping and we enjoyed it. Two days in Athens was not necessary.View All 390 Acropolis Reviews
Part of the Acropolis tour was a quick bus tour past some of the highlights of Athens. All we needed to see this timeView All 164 City Tour Reviews
Mykonos is a maze and we spent a lot of time wandering around. Lots of nice shops, all of whom had end of season sales. Nice people and a beautiful town. Figured out the bus and went to a local beach, which was nearly deserted. Had a swim in the ocean and a nice lunch. Lots of photos and thankfully no tender.
Ephesus is incredible. The tour was well worth it as it is very rich in history, plus transportation there is not simple. You could spend a week there and not appreciate it all.View All 257 Ephesus Reviews
House of Virgin Mary was a very nice spot. It is either a religious pilgrimage or just an interesting thing to see.View All 81 House of the Virgin Mary Reviews
This was not something we would have chosen but it was a nice little village. Mostly an opportunity to buy stuff.
Generally, we didn't care for the Turkish shopping experience. Vendors are extremely aggressive and do not take no for an answer. You have to simply ignore them. God help you if you actually look at something they are selling. Kusadasi is basically one big bazaar and we found it exhausting. The locals were very nice but mostly I wanted to get away.View All 6 Sirince Village Reviews
St. Peter's castle was really neat. To get there you have to walk a mile through a bazaar, however. See comments for Ephesus, above. We finally caved and did some shopping (the first time I've been served tea while haggling over the price for a belt) but mostly we were glad to get back to the ship.
We figured out the train to Herculaneum, which was an incredible historic experience. We found a pizza place and had some of the best pizza I've ever had, and it was the place across the street from the famous pizza place we were looking for! Some basic Italian was very useful here.