This was our third cruise - first with Celebrity after cruising twice with RCCL. We both turned 50 this year and with children now grown up we seek much of a child free environment on our cruises, lots of daytime relaxation and lively nights. I should also say that the ship is more important to us than the ports of call and the main draw on this cruise was being on a new ship with the added benefit of a great itinerary.
We stayed overnight at Hotel Traiano in Civitavecchia which was okay. We discovered her sister Hotel; the Bremante was much closer to the seafront area and would recommend this more if you don't like to walk too much. Transfer to the ship was complimentary and was pretty well booked up so you need to book it on arrival.
Journey to the ship only took about 15 minutes and we were so excited to see the ship for the first time. No queues for check-in, we went right up to the AQ desk and within minutes were on our way through and on board by 12.30pm, very efficient. We got our glass of "champagne" on entry to the ship and made to feel very, very welcome right from the start. We were directed to the Oceanview Cafe as cabins were not going to be ready until around 1pm. Hand wash facilities were in operation with an attendant insisting everyone used the gel. We did hear people moaning during the cruise that they felt they were being treated like children but we observed people sneaking through without using the gel so it was really necessary. I think it is only considerate to your fellow passengers (and yourself) to ensure your hands are clean before using a self-service area.
Just after 1pm an announcement told us cabins were now ready. We were off like a shot anxious to see what our AQ cabin had to offer. We loved it - not as big as the JS we had on Explorer but more than enough room for us and our belongings. I had read so much about this ship that I felt I knew everything about it and it was just as good as I expected, better in fact.... The photos of the cabins really don't do them justice. The multi-head shower in the bathroom was fantastic, our robes really thick and fluffy and the champagne on ice along with our fresh fruit and flowers added a real touch of luxury. We didn't like the iced tea at all and the canapEs were not worth bothering with (we only had them once). Our stateroom attendant Mario was excellent, he was so friendly but in a nice respectful way and so helpful. He got us extra coat hangers right away on request and as we didn't want to drink our champagne that day he put it on ice again later in the cruise and provided 4 champagne glasses for us so we could enjoy it with friends. We found the storage space more than adequate, the flat screen TV with music built in was really good and we found it fairly easy to operate. Our bed was ultra comfortable as were the pillows - our bed was right next to the balcony which I had hoped for. The balcony was not terribly big but well appointed; I liked the wooden decking and the wooden loungers. All in all I loved the cabin; it met all our needs and more.
So much has been said about this ship so I will just focus on my favourites; as virtually everyone has reported, the standard of the furnishings and the range of comfortable seating / loungers all around the ship was beautiful; Relaxation Room - this is a fantastic place to lie and relax, very underused, I was often in on my own. Soft music, lovely scents, fresh juices and herbal teas complimentary, soft beds and nothing in front of you other than an expanse of ocean. Only problem is that spa staff use it as a waiting area for those getting treatments and this causes some disturbance. We did report it in feedback to Celebrity so I hope they change this as it is a real haven of tranquillity. Persian Gardens - I used this area twice, really enjoyable and great views out to sea. Solstice Deck - a great area for sunbathing on a double bed lounger, very comfortable and was never too crowded. Solarium - I LOVED what I call the clamshell beds, there are only around 8 of them so you need to up early to grab one or stay on board while others are ashore (we did on 2 days). They are made for sharing (but even better to have one to yourself) - lots of cushions to prop yourself up, with my i-pod and a book and my clamshell turned to face the sea I was in heaven, no way did it feel like I was on a ship with 3000 other people. I saw the hammocks and really wanted to use them but didn't get the chance, next time I will, they look great but you would need a hand to get on them to retain your dignity!! We spent a lot of time in the Solarium, didn't use the main pool area as this felt more tranquil but there always seemed to be some beds available if we had wanted to. The Lawn - we played bocce on the grass and really enjoyed it, hard to explain but it feels strangely comforting to have grass around on a ship, I personally really liked it and would not like to see it converted to more seating areas as some people have suggested, it adds yet another dimension to this ship. Martini Bar - our favourite hangout with our special order of a double flight of Martinis with our CC friends Audrey and Tim. The bartenders were great fun, very entertaining and friendly, they really looked like they were having a good time. It did get very busy just before the second dining time but that soon cleared; it was a nice lively area, a great place to socialise. Sky Observation lounge - we went to a Karaoke night up there and had a great time, I didn't really appreciate how beautiful the dEcor and furnishings were until I went back up in the daytime to take some photos. Celebrity has definitely gone the extra mile to make everywhere seem so upmarket and luxurious. Sunset Bar - right at the back of the ship this is a great place to sit for an afternoon tipple, again lovely seating and you can go directly up the stairway to get to the open seating area of the oceanview cafe to get a snack whenever. Downside of the sunset bar, smoking is allowed on one side and if when there were smokers there we really noticed the smell, it just seemed to blow everywhere. This is where CC members met for our Sailaway Party, complete with Mardi Gras beads. Ensemble Lounge - our Connexions party was held here and we had a great turnout of around 90 people. This is a very nice, more traditionally appointed area, very high quality but not as appealing to us. We definitely like the contemporary areas more, but the beauty of this ship is there is something and somewhere to suit all tastes.
Blu - being in AQ this was our appointed dining room and was a real bonus. Food and service were excellent and after going to Tuscan grill one evening we concluded that we preferred Blu. Paulo our waiter was first class and made us feel very special. Once we ordered additional potatoes and steamed veg, he offered them to us each evening. This is a beautiful restaurant, the rose theme and blue colour scheme is gorgeous. The rose wall is even more beautiful than in the pictures I have seen. The restaurant is not too big and this adds to the feeling of a very personal service. Main Dining Room - we went one evening out of curiosity and were accommodated no problem. The food and service were good and we really enjoyed our meal but not as special as Blu. We went to the Mother's Day brunch which was excellent; we had the most delicious fish and chips (real British style) and chocolate fountains with fresh strawberries, yummy. Murano - we had a beautiful Filet Mignon meal here with our sauce cooked at the table, a very nice experience and great service. We still felt that Blu was our favourite restaurant having been here and Tuscan Grill. Oceanview Cafe -we both thought the food here was excellent, lots of choice, we really like going up for afternoon tea around 4.00pm, lots of dainty sandwiches and bite sized cakes. They always had some sugar free deserts as well which felt a bit healthier. We always found we got seats no problem any time we went there.
Ports of Call - not going to go into detail on these as my review is more about the ship, favourite port was Naples as we went to Capri, if you get the chance to go there, I highly recommend visiting Villa San Michelle at Anacapri. Istanbul was also very interesting especially our night out to Sultanas belly dancing club, attended by 38 of our CC friends (we organised this privately). Would recommend this if you are staying in port overnight. We asked for a stop off at the Blue Mosque on our way back to ship which they accommodated and what a sight seeing it all lit up at night. Santorini and Mykonos are simply beautiful, what more can I say. Kusadasi, great fun on a Jeep Safari / visit to Ephesus -very hot and dusty but worth it. Stayed on board at Athens as we had been before, great opportunity to get the Solstice deck almost to ourselves.
We spent 2 nights at the Albergo del Senato in Rome, next door to the Pantheon. Excellent location where we spent our last night on the roof terrace having a nightcap with Joe and Melissa from CC looking out over Rome. A great end to a wonderful holiday.
We had a fantastic cruise; the ship was everything I had hoped for. Our CC group also contributed hugely to a great experience as there were so many friendly people who we met around the ship / in ports who quickly became like old friends. We sail on Equinox in February 2010 and I am so looking forward to sailing AQ again.