This was our third cruise with Celebrity (my theory is that if you are onto a good thing, stick to it), and in nearly all ways, our faith in the cruise line was rewarded.
I have posted my trip journal and photos at: http://ourcruises1.shutterfly.com.
The ship was wonderful - as most other posters have said at Cruise Critic -so I won't spend any time describing it, except to say she is big, but uncrowded. There were some times when we felt like we were on a deserted ship which, given there were 2800 people + crew on board, was a pretty significant achievement.
FOOD I didn't want to, but I have to agree that the food in the Main Dining Room isn't quite up to the same standard on our last two cruises - not so much the quality, but the range of dishes. I read somewhere that it was as though they were trying to do complicated menus for the masses, and it doesn't work. There was nothing wrong with the food itself, but I had the grilled chicken breast on one night because I could find nothing I liked. On one night, fish dishes dominated. Service here was good, but quick - we never felt rushed, but we didn't have much time to chat - to be expected I guess given the late dinner sitting is always looming.
What we were surprised about was how people turned up for dinner all through the dinner period rather than being there on time at 6.15pm. No one ever said anything, but it must have made the staff's life very difficult, particularly since some folks turned up at 7pm or after! Ther was one large family group that always turned up at 7pm, sometimes all of them, sometimes only one or two. The other thing I noticed this time was that the first sitting was never full, and on the last night we were in the MDR, one waiter had no customers at all. I'd not seen this before, but with so many places to eat, and so many children on board, it was undoubtedly easier not to eat in the MDR for some.
The first formal night, we didn't see many people dressed up, but the second formal night was much more formal.
The OceanView Cafe was fine - I liked the stations and didn't miss the trays at all. There was a good range of food all the time and its quality was good. Pizzas were a favourite, and sushi one day was a hit. The afternoon tea each day at 4pm was popular, and I was a regular - both small sandwiches and rolls and pastries were available. We never had trouble finding a table, although others reported that at peak hours (around 9am), it did get busy.
We ate at Bistro on Five one lunchtime and it is worth the $5 cover charge. We tried out all three speciality restaurants and we enjoyed them all. Food and service was excellent in all of them, but our favourite was Silk Harvest. I had read mixed reviews about this restaurant, but we loved it. We celebrated our anniversary in Murano and the food was wonderful, but as others have said, rich. We walked away very, very sated. They were alerted to our anniversary by the waitress in the Ensemble Bar who was fantastic (Ivona) and after eating far too much, we were given a small chocolate cake with two candles on top - which we had to blow out - accompanied by a delightful little speech by the Maitre D'. The service here was fantastic.
We at at the Spa Cafe for breakfast one morning, but I have to say there wasn't much there that you couldn't get at the OceanView Cafe so we didn't go back.
SERVICE As I mentioned above, the service was fantastic - I heard no complaints this time, as we did on the New Zealand cruise on Millennium last year. Everyone was great, but our favourite was Ivona in the Ensemble Lounge. We headed in there after dinner on the first night to wait for the show, and returned every night for the cruise. She looked after us, checking our bookings in the speciality restaurant and treating us very well. If you see her, say hello to her from Alan and Maree from Australia.
THE POOL Neither of us are pool people, but we did spent the morning of the last sea day on the pool deck reading. We had a prime position to watch the battle of the deck chairs - and I now wonder why Celebrity bothers with the 'don't save chairs' policy. Given it is not enforced, they should have a first come, first served policy. People saved chairs, walked away for hours and then returned to claim their spots. In some cases, their chairs had been moved, but there were still 'saved'. There were a couple of vocal complaints, and the pool staff did a great job readjusting and putting chairs in preferred positions. I have to say I just don't get the 'let me bake in the 30 degree heat for four hours' but each to their own.
PORTS After Santorini, I decided that this cruise is for 'seeing' not 'doing. On the NZ cruise last year, there were lots of things to do on excursions (jet boat riding, white water rafting, bushwalking), but on this cruise, not so much. This was okay, as we both wanted to see the ruins and historical sites, but walking, being on buses and trains and more walking in the heat was not good fun. We decided never to do a summer cruise again.
I've reported on the tours we did in the trip journal so I won't comment again, except to say that I liked Turkey more than I thought I would and was underwhelmed by the level of tourism (touts, souvenir stores) on the Greek islands, although I'm not sure why I expected anything else. The islands are beautiful in terms of scenery and views and cruising is a great way to see them. I'd like to return to Athens again which I thought was an interesting city, but one which needs a lot more time to explore. Ephesus and Delos (Mykonos) were highlights for us.
It is a port intensive itinerary, so if we do something like this again, I think we will do half day tours to not tire ourselves out! We had early starts most days, and with the heat, it was tiring - afternoon naps are necessary.:-)
The ice water/juice and ice towels provided when re-boarding after excursions were just fantastic, and I hope Celebrity never stops this service.
DEMOGRAPHIC ON BOARD We had by far the most children across the broadest age range on this cruise, but universally well behaved from our perspective. It was northern hemisphere summer and school holidays so this was to be expected, but they did not detract from the cruise experience at all. On a couple of times, we encountered children with the onboard children's program staff, and everyone -staff included - looked like they were having a great time. There seemed to be a wide range of age groups as well, and from many countries.
SHOWS AND MUSIC We only saw a couple of shows, and since Alan likes singing and I like production, we variously enjoyed or were bored by the shows we did watch. I liked Solstice, the circus show, the most. Live music around the ship was great, particularly the String Quartet. The production quality of the shows is good, not great, but as I've said in other reviews, I don't go on cruises for entertainment, so I don't see this as a make or break element of my cruise experience.
CABINS We didn't fill up all the storage space in the cabin or bathroom (there is plenty), and didn't find the safe or the closet too hard to get to. The fittings were five star quality and our cabin stewards were, as always, fantastic. There is also a wide range of movies to watch on the TV in the cabin - both free and pay per view, so we did this on most nights. The quality varied considerably, but it's a great option. The interactive TV service is very good.
OVERALL A fantastic cruise, no complaints, still impressed with Celebrity and have booked on a Baltic cruise next year. Five stars all around for me.