May 31, 2004
I was on the Galaxy in the eastern Mediterranean from May 31 to June 11. I enjoyed the ship and the voyage despite some problems. This was my first cruise on the Galaxy, the second with Celebrity, and I have also sailed on Holland America, Silverseas, Windstar, and Renaissance (whose demise I still regret.) I hope that my review will let others have reasonable expectations of Celebrity and the Galaxy.
My chief complaint against Celebrity was poor communications. The ship was to begin embarking passengers at noon, but at the dock shore personnel were handing out letters announcing that due to routine maintenance of the water distribution system the ship would not be boarded until 3:00PM, three hours after the scheduled time to begin embarcation. Crew members later told me the maintenance involved flushing chlorine through the water pipes, and I can see it was necessary and could not be done with passengers on the ship. Since this was scheduled maintenance, however, Celebrity could have told the independent passengers a month or more in advance that boarding for this cruise would be at 3:00PM and we could have made other arrangements. I would have stayed in Rome for a few more hours, for example, and persons arriving by air that morning would have been able to arrange for tours.
To be fair to Celebrity they ran a shuttle from the Civitavecchia train station to the ship, and then took passengers to hotels in the city. (I was hoping for lunch at the ship's buffet, but the hotel provided only rolls, juice and soft drinks.) The letter to passengers announcing the delay said we would be picked up at our hotels at 2:30PM. Shore personnel at the hotel later told us it would be after 3:00PM. Finally, communications broke down completely between the shore personnel and the ship and no one could say when we would be picked up. The busses began arriving around 4:00PM, and we were on the Galaxy before 5:00PM. To compensate us for what the captain described as a "three hour delay" in boarding, we got more hours ashore in Santorini, which I appreciated.
Taormina was one of the ports on this cruise, and even the cruise documents I received about two weeks before sailing listed Taormina as a port. It was not until I was aboard that I found the port would in fact be Messina. To this day the map of this cruise on the Celebrity Cruises web site shows a stop in Taormina (which the map puts on the south coast of Sicily.) The same map shows the Galaxy going through the Corinth canal to Dubrovnik when in fact the course is around the Peloponnesian peninsula.
Guest Relations on the Galaxy informed me that on arrival in Civitavecchia at the end of the cruise there would be a shuttle bus taking passengers to the train station. The day before disembarkation Corey, the Assistant Cruise Director, told me there would be no shuttle bus, and Corey was right.
This was an unusually diverse group of passengers. All ages were represented from at least a dozen infants through teenagers and young adults to spry passengers in their eighties. In my observation the children were uniformly well behaved and the babies got special care from the crew. I enjoyed the company of the adult passengers who seemed to me to be a more interesting group than usual. Foreign languages were heard commonly, and the captain's welcoming speech had to be translated into Spanish, French, German, and Italian. There was even a group of about a dozen deaf passengers who had two sign-language interpreters. One of the interpreters told me that they were paid for by Celebrity as an accommodation to the deaf passengers who had all booked through the same travel agent.
The dress code was generally observed by the passengers, and it seemed that more passengers fell into line as the trip went on. On the first formal night there were some sports jackets on the men, but these disappeared by the last formal night. In my observation most men wore dark business suits on formal nights, but Tuxedos were well represented.
I like the size of the Galaxy. It seems to me that on larger ships everything is a city block away. The ship is attractively decorated, despite a peculiar three dimensional representation near guest relations that looked like a hanging man to me. The upholstered furniture is stained throughout the ship, both in public rooms and in cabins. I doubt there is a chair in the dining room that does not have a stain, and most have more than one. There are some dark discolorations on the china. It is not dirt or a stain, but looks to my inexpert eye to be under the glazing. I thought the rugs were in good condition, but there were a few small mildew spots on our shower curtain and the bedspreads were faded. The windows need washing. This applies to windows in the dining room and other public rooms, as well as to the staterooms I was in. I saw no signs of a regular window washing program on the Galaxy. A couple told me they particularly noticed this failing because they had been on the Constellation last year and were impressed that on that larger ship a crew was regularly at work on the windows and they shone. Mirrors and all interior surfaces were well maintained on the Galaxy, and the linens were clean and crisp.
The main courses on the Galaxy reflected Michel Roux's view of mid-American taste: reliable but unimaginative, no fusion food, few sauces, and a reliance on turkey, steak, and roast beef. This simple approach probably worked best with a delicious lobster tail main course, but I felt that a talented kitchen did not have enough chance to show what it could do. We had duck three times on the cruise; twice it was just a good sized piece of roasted poultry, but when the kitchen made a duck confiture it was a superior contribution to the meal. A duck pate made aboard the ship was not to be missed, and when the kitchen could do something special with veal, it did.
A great strength of the kitchen was the chilled soups. The Gazpacho was among the best I have had outside Spain (where you get to add more to the soup), and I have never eaten anything like the berry soups. They are excellent, and I looked forward to them. But when I ordered a consommé Madrileno my smoothly professional waiter also brought a good minestrone that I ate after just one spoonful of what I had ordered. The consommé had a poor, unclear taste. The wait staff knows that few passengers will eat it, and the kitchen knows it, but the Assistant Maitre d' told me they can't get it off the menu.
Breakfasts were wonderful. Eggs Benedict in the restaurant, and Belgian waffles with berries in the buffet were my favorites, but the eggs, French toast, and baked goods are also good. The Galaxy maintained Celebrity's reputation for an excellent luncheon buffet, but the ice cream bar regularly ran out of chocolate ice cream. I tried the buffet for dinner only once. It was disappointing in food variety and quality. The wine list has a good range of varietals, geographic areas, prices, and familiar wineries along with some labels that I did not recognize. As far as I could judge the wine mark-ups were modest as compared to restaurants ashore.
Efficient and professional attention is what you get on the Galaxy. Waiters, room stewards, and their assistants know their jobs and do them well. The room steward was unobtrusive, as were the photographers, who were also helpful to amateur photographers while ashore. I appreciated that. Cruise Director Dru Pavlov was not only often seen about the ship, he was accessible and open to comments and suggestions by passengers. Dru hosted informal coffee klatches announced in the daily paper. His assistants, Corey and Roxanne, were of similar top quality. Dru and his assistants should be the model for Celebrity in effective and accurate communications.
The Galaxy was generous with shuttles. In addition to Civitavecchia, which I suspect was because of the delay in boarding, there was one in Mykonos from the ship to a more touristy part of the port, and in Dubrovnik to the main gate into Old Town. We did not need shuttles in Rhodes, where we docked near an entrance to the Old Town, or in Santorini where it was only a short walk to the cable car station or the stairs up to Fira. We could have used a shuttle in Piraeus, where it was a 25 or 30 minute walk to the train station.
I usually do enough during the day ashore that I don't go to the entertainment at night, except for days at sea, but I am a sucker for magic shows and can recommend Bob and Sarah Trunell. Bob does a series of rope tricks that I thought were great. I can also recommend a flower arranging talk given by Olesia and lectures on photography. And don't miss ice carving or vegetable carving demonstrations by some of the Galaxy's talented cooks.
We are supposed to be carefree while on vacation, but someone has to look out for our safety and security, and as far as I could see Celebrity did a professional job of this without becoming obtrusive. Persons boarding the ship were screened carefully, and the crew seemed well-drilled in safety measures. I twice brought wine aboard and never had the slightest problem.