First a little bit about us so that you can compare your own perceptions to ours (which may be different): We are a family of four - Mom and Dad in our late 40's; a boy and girl - each teenagers. We traveled with two sets of grandparents, and an Aunt and Uncle in their 50's. We tend to choose restaurants that are nicer and have eaten at James Beard award winning restaurants. We prefer staying at well appointed condos with at least two bedrooms when traveling on vacation. Traveling to Alaska will be the 48th state for one member of our family, and we have only traveled abroad a few times (New Zealand, Australia, England, Italy and Greece). We took a short 3 day cruise on Carnival out of Long Beach, CA 8 years ago, but otherwise have not gone on any other cruises. I will break down our feedback into different categories below.
Overall review of ship: We all thought the ship was well maintained, clean, and nicely decorated. I believe that the ship will be undergoing updates in a year or two, but I did not think it was dated at all. We tended to take the stairs and walk around a lot so we easily got 10,000 steps in a day just on board the ship. You can choose close to the elevator banks (one forward and one aft) which bring you to the main activities of the ship.
Cabin: We could not have asked for a better cabin. We had a room with a balcony, and our two teenagers had an inside stateroom right across the hall. There was plenty of room to store all of our belongings, which is a lot considering cruisers need to bring multiple changes of clothes for exploring destinations, dressing up for dinner, hanging around the ship during the day, and sleeping. While we did see a room with bunk beds so 4 family could stay together, I don't know if we could have fit all of our belongings as well. The bathrooms were big enough for one person to use, but all our toiletries easily fit as there were many different spaces to store things. Our cabin steward took good care of the room as it was always clean. We did have Concierge class which meant nicer robes, nightly snack, a welcome bottle of champagne and access to a concierge who could help us with dinner reservations, shore excursions, and other things. We were celebrating a birthday and 50th anniversary during our cruise, so we got a special cake at one of our dinners. I did see people who had signs posted on their room doors wishing them a happy anniversary or birthday, but I don't know how to request those signs.
Dining: We purchased one package for 3 specialty dining restaurants and had room credit to use towards dining in the same restaurants. The three specialty restaurants we dined in were Silk Harvest (Asian and really not worth the extra charge as we can get equivalent food in most towns for take out); Tuscan Grille (Italian steakhouse where the pasta was delicious, the view amazing as it was at the back of the ship, and the filet mignon was soft and tender); and Murano (French inspired where the food is prepared table side. This food was over the top wonderful including a delicious chateaubriand and chocolate soufflé perfectly prepared.) If you are a foodie, I recommend considering dining in Murano and Tuscan Grille, but if you had to pick one, I would pick Murano. We ate in the main dining room a few nights; ate at the buffet; ate at the grille near the indoor pool; and ate at the grille outside by the outdoor pool. My daughter had room service one night and the food was delivered quickly. All the food was good, and I thought there was a good variety at the buffet. We have a teenage son who got to try a lot of different food, and I do mean A LOT! I thought the food in the main dining was good enough, not superior like Murano, but good. The one area that the ship could have done to improve our dining experience was to talk with my husband at the beginning of each meal about the menu as he can not eat gluten or dairy. This never happened without us mentioning it first even though it was marked on our ship reservation, the reservations for dining, and confirmed by the Concierge. Cruisers can make reservations for dinner if they choose Celebrity Select Dining or choose a specific time to eat each night. If you choose to dine at the same time each day you will probably get the same server and wait staff. We made reservations for 10 of us on two nights, but otherwise just showed up when we wanted to eat.
Teen club: Our 14 year old daughter did participate in some teen club events. She could come and go as she wanted and did not need to be checked in. Our 16 year old chose to watch music events more and did not utilize the teen club. Each day my daughter received a note listing the teen events for the day so she could pick and choose what she wanted to do. Otherwise the two had the run of the ship and enjoyed a variety of activities such as the paper airplane competition, trivia, and nightly entertainment.
Entertainment: Our son attends an arts school for music so we are exposed to a lot of musical events. We thought the musicians on the ship were excellent and they allowed my son to play with them a few times. They were kind to speak with him about working as musicians on a cruise ship. Each night there was a show in the main theater and the set designs were engaging each night. Basically the shows were different musical reviews with singing, dancing, and aerial acrobatics. One night there was a comedian who did a family show, and an adults only show. There was a funny comic show, called the Liars Club, which included the captain, activities manager and comedian. The biggest highlight was Brent Nixon who is a naturalist and had many presentations about Alaska and the animals who live on land and in the sea. He also narrated our visit to the Dawes Glacier. As mentioned above there were daily trivia games and other activities. Cruisers could choose to do nothing or everything, and there was something for everyone including scrapbooking!
Service: With the exception of the servers not consulting with my husband at the beginning of each meal, our overall service experience was good. We could not have asked for anything more from our room stewards. The servers in the buffet were patient and cleaned up tables quickly. There were many servers in the buffet to help serve the line food (which was nice to make sure the food hygiene was good). We did have a problem we knew we had to address when we boarded the ship and it was this: We had a classic drink package for two included in our cruise fee (we bought through Costco), but we had two rooms that were required to have one adult in each room. So the drink package for two translated to a drink package for one plus a soda package (not an equivalent value). It took three people to get the matter resolved, but it did get resolved. I thought our concierge was patient and helpful. We did have a special room to hang out in at the end of the trip before disembarking as part of concierge class and that room had some pastries, coffee and tea.
We were happy with the four ports: Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria. It was also exciting that we got to see a glacier with ice dropping off (calving). You really don't need to book an excursion if you don't want - you can get off the ship and tour the towns. In Ketchikan we spent a lot of time at a jazz club where ship musicians sometimes hung out during the day (Creek Street Cabaret). We did zip lining in Juneau (a safe and reputable outfitter); did a bus tour to the Canadian/Alaskan line in Skagway where we also attended a mush dog presentation (excellent); and finally we took a bus ride to a farmer's market in Sidney, Victoria which traveled through the city. We would not have done this last excursion, but would have gotten ourselves to downtown Victoria to hang out instead. My sister did a whale watching tour in Juneau where she got to see whales feeding! That sounded like a great excursion.
Some Things to Know (Especially if you are first time cruiser - sort of like us):
The cruise fares are not all inclusive. Certain restaurants like the main dining, buffet, and grilles are included in the price, but not specialty restaurants. While cruisers can get coffee and tea at these restaurants, there is a charge for coffee items at the dedicated coffee place. Only the tea, coffee, juices and tap water is included in the cruise fare. Cruisers can purchase drink packages which are currently listed at three different price points. I hope Celebrity changes this because it makes it harder to maintain for people traveling together using different packages. As another example, Evian water is charged at $9.50 in the main dining hall and the classic drink package only covers drinks up to $9.00. Gratuities are not included, but are charged to the final bill based on a daily basis.
Something that needs to change: We were accosted (I know this is a harsh word) no less than 5 times the first day we were on the cruise about purchasing a drink or dining package. This took away from a relaxing vacation vibe and made the servers seem like hard core salespeople instead of being focused on serving the customers. I think everyone would be better off if the staff was not asked to do this selling.
Hygiene: Every time we entered the ship or dining areas we were greeted by a person spraying hand sanitizer. When coming on board from ship excursions we were given cups of chicken broth.
If you read through this whole review - you are dedicated ship researcher! I hope the information I provided was helpful. Overall everyone in our party enjoyed the cruise which covered ages from 14 - 72. I couldn't say if I would recommend this cruise for little ones (under 10). Thanks for reading! Enjoy your cruise - whichever one you pick!
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