This was our sixth cruise with Celebrity but the first time on a Millennium class of ship. All our previous five cruises have been on the Solstice class.
For embarkation the drive into Bayonne, NJ is not exactly the most inviting of cruise terminal arrivals. We also had issues coming from our Manhattan hotel and not realising the majority of NYC yellow cabs would not cross the Hudson to go to NJ. So our hotel booked us a car. Traffic at Bayonne was queuing and slow and we waited about 30 minutes before our driver could drop us off. It wasn’t organised very well by the port authority. There was space to park but not being utilised by the port staff. But once into the terminal and onto the ship was very easy and quick. One of the best ever. Having previously uploaded our photos and getting Captain’s Club priority helped. We were on board by about 12.45pm. Going straight to your room door to pick up the cards is slick as well.
This was also our first time in an Aqua room. We only booked it as a treat for our 40th wedding anniversary. Okay so we know for Concierge class you can go to the main dining room on arrival for lunch. But there is no explanation for Aqua guests, so checking with Guest Relations, yes you can go in the MDR. So we got there about 1.15pm to be told, sorry lunch closed at 1pm. So why didn’t Guest Relations say this and why did Celebrity in their e-mail tell us to embark between 1 and 1.30pm? So up to Oceanview cafe on Deck 10 and join the mad rush! The Oceanview cafe seating was generally good with additional stools and tables against the windows but when the weather is bad there is no overflow capacity outside by the Sunset bar, so everyone is inside! And it is cramped and can be difficult to find seating at the peak lunch time period.
Our Aqua room was on Deck 11 at the aft. The staircase/lifts for Aft on Deck 11 is difficult to access from Deck 10 and you have to remember which side of the Oceanview Cafe to go, because one side of the Cafe is blocked off to the aft staircase, with the fire door permanently closed. We had to ask the crew twice for the first time, where our room was. The two doors to forward in both the corridors on Deck 11 had signs on them all the time saying use the door the other side on Deck 11, or go down to Deck 10. Why not put another set of outer doors in to create lobbies? Guess it was done to stop the door slamming for those guests in the end staterooms. The steps down at the door aft to 10 and the outside sunset bar/seating area were very steep. For our complimentary access to and from the Persian Garden Thermal Suite in a bathrobe, meant going down to Deck 9 and then back up to Deck 10, as no bathing costumes/bathrobes are not allowed in the Cafe on Deck 10! The location of our room on Deck 11 was very quiet though with no disturbance from above, or noise via the corridor. One of the quietest rooms we have ever had.
As one who has spent 45 years in property design and construction I felt the new Aqua room layout was not great. Some examples; the bathroom door when opened by someone inside the bathroom, hits the open wardrobe door and also anyone standing in the room in the way of the bathroom door. We had to shout when coming out of the bathroom in case either of us were in the way by the wardrobe. And where have the coat hooks in the room gone? You can't hang wet coats in the wardrobe! The 4 hooks on the bathroom door were too close together. The bathroom is small. The shower cubicle is too narrow with the wall handle in an awkward place when showering and the shower head is not as good as Concierge on the Solstice class. No water adjustments on it. The shower cubicle is narrow with the glass screen and door. The length is okay. The one and half person wide sofa is not good for viewing the tv at an angle - the tv can’t swivel on the wall and projects out by the bed. A number of fellow passengers complained they had hit their shoulders/arms on the tv trying to squeeze through the gap between the end of the bed and the wall hung tv. It wasn’t a huge issue for us. The positioning of the left side light switches for the bedside lights is poor. You have to get out of bed to turn it off! The safe is also too small now in the free standing cabinet. You can hardly fit anything into it. Not even a small Android tablet. There is room in the cabinet beside for a larger safe so why not use the space? In my view the naval architects/designers have not thought all these things through thoroughly on the refurbishment.
Our room was 1111. We will never ever have a room number like that again with all the butt/pocket phone calls we got from the crew; about 10 calls in the first 5 days - two of which woke us up, and one call was at 12.15am. All I could hear then was the crashing of kitchen utensils. We even had a call from another room/passenger (thinking we were guest relations and asking to turn the heating down in their room). Guest Relations response when we complained twice was not great. In the end I asked for the phone to be disconnected, and it was unplugged in the room. That could have been awkward if we needed it for a medical emergency etc but it did stop the pocket/butt calls. Some butt calls went to voicemail. You then have to listen to the entire voicemail message before you can delete it, by pressing 2. Why can’t you press 2 part way through the call? We were told that pocket/butt calls was also an issue for previous guests in this room. Celebrity really need to look at this issue for this room number and possibly on all of their ships? Perhaps this room number should be removed from all their ships?
We generally felt the entertainment was geared too much for the American passengers and it didn’t reflect the other nationalities on board including; British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealanders. We have sailed with Rich Clesen the Cruise Director before on the Solstice to Alaska. He was generally good. The back up staff this time were very good though and Nacho (who is a cruise director in the making), Kyle and Rhuss were all very entertaining and were some the best activities support staff we have encountered on Celebrity. When we went to the shows we usually sat in deck 5 for the theatre but found the large thick metal handrails running all the way around that level did obscure the stage view when the cast/performer moved around. The double seating layout with a small drinks table was better though. The Gents toilets/rest rooms by the theatre were very small though and not big enough for the number of passengers in the theatre, especially at the end of a performance.
Because we were Aqua, we always dined for breakfast and dinner in the Blu restaurant. As usual all the crew there were great and hard working. Special mention need to made in the Blu restaurant for the lovely Iva, the hostess who greeted us by our names within a short space of time. Our waiters Tammy, and Jovana served us so well and Sommelier Lenworth whose recommendations of wine were excellent. The Maitre'd, Kingsley was also very attentive. Because it was our ruby wedding anniversary on the first night the Blu staff presented us with a cake and sang happy anniversary! I did find some of the food too fussy and asked a number of times for food from the MDR menu. My wife generally enjoyed the Blu food though.
Because some of the shows were poor in our view, we spent a fair amount of time in the Rendezvous and Sky lounges. We did find though the bar stools were uncomfortable in the Sky lounge. Why not use the same type of bar stool as in the Rendezvous lounge? These were much more comfortable. In the Sky lounge bar, the staff Shaun, Nyoman, I Prutu Padana, and Ermal were all so friendly.
Because of bad weather we missed two ports. Bar Harbor and Charlottetown. Whilst this was a shame, Celebrity did go out of their way to try and make alternative arrangements and credit is due to them. For Bar Harbor they managed to get us into Saguenay in Quebec Province. Whilst this was a lovely setting, the port we docked at (La Baie) was a 20 minute bus ride from Saguenay downtown and Celebrity were charging for the shuttle bus (I understand/believe 15 Can $). It was not practicable to walk in and back. Because of the last minute change of port there were a very limited number of excursion places which sold out quickly, so we stayed local to the ship. Some excursions used school buses.
For missing Charlottetown, we docked at Halifax a day earlier. Because of the ‘weather bomb’ most people stayed on board for the first morning and only ventured out in the afternoon. No excursions were available for that day. Captain Matt did say that no ports had been missed and because of that no port fees were to be re-reimbursed by Celebrity. That was true but the itinerary was not as advertised. Fortunately our travel insurers have paid us for two missed advertised ports due to bad weather. So we have had some compensation for that.
Captain Matt kept us well informed of the change of itinerary due to bad weather and was much better than other Captains we have sailed with. Full marks to him for keeping us out of really bad weather and arranging the port diversions. He is also the first Captain we have ever encountered who was on the gangway at the end of the cruise to say goodbye. Again full marks to him for doing that. We have had Cruise Directors who have done that before and Rich was no exception in joining Capt Matt this time.
Quite why Celebrity bother with the chic evenings is a mystery. In our view there is no benefit for the guests. Celebrity gain with the photo opportunities and bringing in the money and the passengers get lobster on the menu. But otherwise what is the point of them?
I prepaid and had the basic internet package (for web surfing only) for the whole cruise and it worked well and was reasonably fast for satellite. We also had the full drinks package - our classic package was part of the Celebrity deal but we upgraded the $10 (plus 20% tip) a day to premium and felt it was worth it. However the Celebrity app is a complete waste of time. Some fellow IT passengers were also saying how poor it was. It failed to keep up with the change of port itinerary and at other times it took ages to load. The concept is good but it needs a lot more work on it.
Our room was kept spotlessly clean and tidy and our room steward Franz was great and he attended to all our needs and left a lovely 40th anniversary (towel swans and heart rose petals) on our bed for the first night of the cruise! Celebrity gave us a bouquet of flowers on the first night and these lasted the entire 14 day cruise. Thank you to all for this.
Disembarkation has the same issue for Aqua passengers. The news-sheet gives all the alternatives for Captains club elite, Suites and Concierge etc, but where can Aqua passengers meant to go to wait? There is no information about this. It’s as if Aqua passengers have been forgotten about! However, once off the ship (luggage No 8) we sailed through luggage collection, immigration and customs and were out of the building within 10 minutes of leaving the ship.
We took all of our excursions in each port with Celebrity and generally found them very good. The only exception was to a winery in Quebec which we thought was not as advertised. The Canadian host there was also quite rude to some passengers and we did give feedback to the onboard excursions staff after about this. It was also a bonus on the two ports missed by bad weather, that we had an immediate refund by Celebrity to our onboard account.
We saw some amazing scenery and with the leaf fall colours especially in Quebec. It was the right time to go. We also met some lovely people from other countries.
Despite the few niggles (and hopefully for Celebrity constructive criticism), overall it was a lovely cruise despite some bad weather. As said before, this is the first time we have sailed on a Millennium class of ship, we do prefer the Solstice class of ship. We felt the flow through that ship is better. Roll on to the next cruise later next year on the refurbished Silhouette!
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