by Dave Inch
November 23, 2008
Check-in was smooth and easy in Auckland. We checked in a couple of hours early, checked out our stateroom and went back ashore for an hour or so.
Our stateroom was clean, except for some mildew in the shower. Shortage of hangers and no corded hair dryer -- just a wall-mount in the bathroom that my wife can't use, but our stateroom attendant, Santanos, looked after both quickly.
We had Concierge Class service -- fresh fruit and (small) canapes in our room every day. On time and fresh. I have seen reviews that some people did not get these every day, but we did, without exception. Our cabin was always kept clean and neat by the service staff.
We found all staff on the ship to be courteous and pleasant. There didn't seem to be a change in their attitude after the tips were handed out (which I had seen reported in another review). Food got a bit tiresome by the end, but there is lots to choose from. Don't forget the poolside grill and the AquaSpa grill for a bit of a change.
The ship is clean, but not as finished as the Jewel of the Seas we travelled on a couple of years ago. Some things, like draperies and towels, are starting to show their age. The gym equipment is all in excellent shape -- all working and all leather unworn.
The TV picture on every regular TV on the ship was off-colour due to the fact that we were in the southern hemisphere and the TVs were set up for northern hemisphere. LCD TVs in the lounges and gym worked fine.
Our dining room service was nothing short of spectacular. Our waiter, Dimitar, is just about to be promoted to assistant maitre d' so he knew his stuff and advised us of what entrees to avoid and what was really good. He made arrangements for creme brulé for one of our tablemates every night, even though it was only on the menu for one of the nights, and when one of the people at our table couldn't find something they liked on the menu, he got something from the Olympic restaurant for them.
Drinks on board were expensive but we brought a bottle of rum in our checked bags and some wine in our backpack (when we went back ashore in AKL and again in Napier) and no one questioned us, even though the documentation says that they will make you walk the plank if you do bring liquor aboard. No need to go to great efforts to hide it, at least for us. The soda card is pricey at $70. Grab a 2 litre bottle at the occasional port if you don't want to pay $5 per day for soda.
One hidden value for beer is the aft bar on deck 10 where a pint (maybe not quite a pint) of Heineken draft is only $4.75. I recall that just a 12 oz/350 ml bottle elsewhere on the ship was about the same price.
I did take one of the bottles of wine I brought on board to the dining room and paid the $25 corkage. I probably wouldn't do this with a cheap bottle of wine but I had a very nice and fairly expensive wine so it was a lot cheaper than what I would have paid for the same wine on board.
Entertainment was very good. The ship's singers and dancers put on great shows and the string quartet on board was excellent and seemed to play from from late afternoon through dinner and afterwards in various places on the ship.
Shore excursions on this trip were VERY expensive if booked through the ship. Generally 2 to 3 times what you could pay by organizing it yourself. Many ports require a shuttle to get from the port to the main city/town. Celebrity offered a (pay) shuttle bus service but, in most cases, you could use public transit, walk or get a cheaper/faster ride in a cab (if you had 4 to travel with).
We missed Milford Sound due to very high winds, but saw Dusky and Doubtful. Incredible scenery. Make sure you go on deck for these -- it's just not the same from the Cosmos or your balcony.
The itinerary we signed up for showed an 8 AM arrival in Melbourne with a 6PM departure the next day. On our final itinerary papers arrival had changed to 8 PM, which we did not see until part way through the voyage when someone mentioned the loss of a day in Melbourne. We were not happy with this change and have submitted a complaint to Celebrity. This cruise already had 4 sea days in it and the 5th was not welcome, especially since the weather was still a bit cool, just short of the summer down there, and sitting by the pool involved blankets.
Arrival in Sydney is spectacular. Docking is at 7, but you get to the harbour mouth at about 5, so get up for it. I thought 5:30 would be early enough, but it's not quite. Still had the opportunity to enjoy the last mile or so of the entry. The approach to the bridge and opera house are everything you imagine they might be.
The ship parks right between the bridge and opera house at the international terminal so everything is really close by.
In Sydney, make sure you do the bridge climb. It's not cheap, but everyone asks you if you did it on your return. Also, if you're a walker, take the bus from the quay to Bondi Beach and walk to Coogee Beach, then bus back. About a 2 hour walk.
Debarkation was smooth (no extensive customs procedures, and no favouritism for particular nationalities as in FLL or MIA). We had a flight out at noon, so took a train (station at the end of the quay -- a 3 minute walk) that runs every 15 minutes to the airport (15 minute ride) for about AU$20 per person. If you have more than 2 people a cab is about the same price per person.
Oh, we awoke on the last day to no electricity (no light, no water, no flush), a fact which seemed to be lost on staff walking around when I went up to the dining room to investigate. They greeted me like nothing was wrong! The stateroom staff had to download all baggage by hand after about 1am, so I felt good that I had my stuff out by 11. Obviously hot breakfast was out of the question, but the kitchen staff had ample food out in the morning, given the circumstances. Eventually, power was restored, just in time to have a shower and debark.
We had paid a fuel surcharge (US$140 per person), which, at the time of our booking, seemed reasonable, given the price of oil. By the time we sailed, however, the price of oil had fallen to less than 1/3 of its peak and my enquiries about a rebate were not considered. I think a rebate or credit should have been in order.
This is a great trip if you like to walk -- each of the cities visited had great walking self-tours and hop-on/hop-off buses. It is not like a Caribbean cruise, but that was actually quite refreshing. Souvenirs are available if you want them, you are not inundated with hawkers at every stop.
Overall, I'd give the Cruise Line a 6, the ship a 7, food a 7 and the staff a 9.