I was hopeful that I would be able to give a favourable review of this cruise, as it was to mark a 'special' birthday. Although a seasoned cruise traveller for the last 25 years, I hadn't used Celebrity before and expected it to be at the high end of cruise companies - in reality it was a huge disappointment. Taking the good points first -
• The decor was tasteful - I particularly liked the art deco features and the majority of carpets were stylish, unlike the garish ones on some other ships. Having said that, the vessel is due for refit, so it would be a great pity to 'Americanize' it.
• The staff [workers as opposed to officers] were obliging and although a whopping 18% service charge was imposed, at least all the staff benefit, although Celebrity should pay their staff more and not expect travellers to pay their wages.
Taking the bad points -
• Once onboard and a captive audience, passengers are faced with extra 'packages', due to inflated prices [e.g. a bottle of wine to be consumed in cabin only was $20], so it quickly became apparent that if wine was to be taken with meals outside the cabin it was necessary to fork out on a drinks package, at a huge cost. I misguidedly thought that I could order a dry martini from the Martini Bar, but was told that my Classic Package didn't entitle me to, but that I could get a martini from one of the other bars. [This actually wasn't too disappointing, because the disco music blaring out was deafening.] Internet packages were also expensive and unrealistic and hourly or daily options were not offered. Events which are free on other cruise ships [e.g. tours of the ship, cookery and IT demonstrations etc] all attracted an extra cost. This certainly left me with the feeling that 'the punter was being well and truly stuffed'.
• The quality of the food in San Marco 4 left a lot to be desired. It was a concern that seafood was served that had clearly been under a heat lamp until all moisture had disappeared; my 'green lipped mussels' resembled a husk and were inedible. There was also a limited variety of food on offer in San Marco, compared to other cruise ships. And why any chef uses dried peas resembling bullets amazes me! We chose to share a table at dinner and - to a man - everyone said that they would not travel on this ship again.
• the ports used were so far away from the tour excursion destinations, the cost was not only inflated, but the journey arduous and exhausting, particularly in Bangkok [ship to Bangkok 2hrs, + excursion time on top] and from Da Nang 3 hours. This also removed the option of the traveller to risk arranging their own tours, at a much cheaper price, for fear of not getting back onboard on time. A tour for 1 person to the floating markets was $148.
In conclusion, it is sad that the huge American consortium that has taken over so many cruise lines has dumbed-down and downsized the cruising experience, in pursuit of the 'almighty $'. Whatever happened to formal nights, cocktails with officers, high tea, fine china, flower arrangements, port descriptions - oh, and celebrations? My travelling companion went to a lot of trouble to ensure my 'special' birthday would be recognised and celebrated; Customer Relations assured her that it would and the usual trappings of cake and singing would happen - she waited all evening in vain and we were both very disappointed when nothing happened.
Larger than usual -comfortable and well managed by our steward Brean.