Preparing for a “Celebrity” lifestyle with help from Tony Harrison

I cannot deny it – I like to cruise. I know what you are thinking. Talk about stating the obvious? Well, true. But I have so many cruise lines to sample. When my friends from a far-off land (Northern England) recently sailed with Celebrity for the first time, they absolutely raved about the ship, Silhouette, the service, and I believe they were quite partial to the cocktail menu to. So, in a moment of calculated madness (if that’s a thing), I spotted a rarity on the Celebrity website – a short 3 night cruise on Silhouette leaving Southampton that both fit with school holidays and my partner’s schedule at work. I tapped away like a crazed cruise addict and hit all the correct buttons that secured the cruise. Then, I realized, I knew nothing about Celebrity apart from their reputation, an quite literally seized Tony Harrison, man of the North, Celebrity sailor, and asked for the complete low-down. Here’s what followed…

Celebrity

Tony, as a complete excitable novice when it comes to Celebrity cruises and the Silhouette, what makes this cruise line stand out from all the others in your opinion?

Firstly, I have to say this was my first and only experience of Celebrity Cruises to date, so I only have the Silhouette and this cruise to go off.

My answer would be a lot of (often little) things, all combined together, make Celebrity stand out for me.

Some areas that did stand out were the decor of the ship – very sleek, stylish and not one area or even seat looking tired. The spaciousness of the public areas stood out compared to other cruise lines we’ve been on (P&O, Royal Caribbean). The bars and coffee bar seemed to have more space between individual seating areas, and noticeably more seats in each area as a rule. The buffet seating areas were bigger and there seemed to be more space between the various buffet food areas, which to a large degree helped avoid the usual buffet scramble. The cleanliness of the ship was much better than anything we have ever experienced. Our room was absolutely spotless every day – on other cruises we have usually seen one or two minor imperfections and reduction in cleanliness over the cruise. As another example, most of the time there was a bathroom attendant in the public toilet/washroom area and I never once experienced anything less than spotless in all public areas.

The overall feel of the ship was different to what we have known on other cruises – it was very relaxed. The staff actually played a significant part in that as they did seem happier and more content overall than other ships we’ve been on. 

Celebrity, arguably the ‘posh sister’ of Royal Caribbean, feels completely different. The ‘razzmatazz’ and hype of Royal Caribbean was nowhere to be seen on Silhouette. There was one public announcement per day – the Captain’s 10am daily update followed by the Cruise Director’s highlights of the day from the entertainment programme. There was no hype for bingo or regular announcements about upcoming shows, specials of the day, etc.    

How does the embarkation / disembarkation process in Southampton compare to other lines you’ve sailed, Tony? You know I’m quite impatient!

Embarkation was pretty much the same as other lines. On this occasion, we arrived somewhere around 11am and went straight to the check-in desk. Following that we pretty much got through security within a few minutes and boarded the ship.

Disembarkation was in line with our previous experiences of Royal Caribbean. We have always thought their system works better than what we have experienced with P&O in the past.

Two days before, we got luggage labels and a letter to our stateroom with a 15-minute slot (which is assigned a number) to go to any public area with our remaining hand luggage for disembarkation. There were 15-minute slots from 7am, with unassisted disembarkation (taking your own suitcases and hand luggage off yourself) taking place between 6.30am and 7.00am.  You had to vacate your stateroom by 8am regardless of your disembarkation time.

We left our stateroom on deck 6 as they were calling our number, so headed straight for the gangway a deck below us – there were a handful of people in front of us and we disembarked from the same deck within a few minutes. The system seems to work very well. They must have been ahead of schedule, as they announced all numbers could then disembark at around 8am.

That sounds efficient and would work well for me as I need to head straight to work when we disembark! You have an eye for detail, Tony – what were your first impressions of Silhouette when you first stepped aboard? Was there anything that surprised you?

The impressive decor and artwork really stood out, plus the welcome from the crew – they were handing out glasses of ‘fizz’ as soon as you got onto the ship and you’re free to go wherever you like in the public areas until the staterooms are ready. The buffet was open for anyone to use also.  We went to the buffet and they had a full selection of food. It was fairly quiet at the time.

The atmosphere seemed very relaxed from the moment we boarded the ship.

Tony I think you’ve known me long enough to say with confidence that I love my food! Can you talk me through the dining opportunities on board and, given our short voyage of 3 nights, your top recommendations?

Yes, your love of food is well-known Jamie!

The main dining room is Grand Cuvee, which spans two decks. We were on freedom dining and, despite often arriving at peak time, never had to wait to be seated. There is a wide selection of table sizes, including many for twos and fours.

The buffet is Oceanview Café. It has a large seating area with additional seating outdoors, at the back of the ship. You can also pick up snacks such as ice cream, cookies, etc., throughout the day.

Speciality restaurants are Qsine (fusion), Murano (fine dining), Tuscan Grille (Italian), Lawn Club Grill (mostly steaks), The Porch (seafood), Sushi on 5 (sushi!) – all have a cover charge.  In addition, the coffee area (Café al Baccio) has some very tasty cakes and cookies (free of charge with drink purchase).

Blu is the main dining room for Aqua class guests and Luminae is for suite guests.

Other inclusive options are: Spa Café – healthier buffet type options for guests aged 16+, and the outdoor Mast Grill for burgers, hot dogs, selve-serve ice cream, etc..  

We only tried one speciality restaurant – Qsine. It was a unique experience and very tasty. The menu is presented to you on an iPad (given to each dining guest on arrival). You browse through the dishes, add some to your favourites, and a member of staff looks at your initial choices and advises what might be a good sequence of food to bring to you from those picks. Dessert is then chosen from a Rubik’s cube type puzzle, where you discover the options available! There is no limit to the amount of food you can order.

The ship’s speciality dining options are quite expensive at full price, but the staff did offer us significant discounts for quieter nights.

Top 3 – given that we only tried one speciality it’s tricky to give a comprehensive choice.

I heard many guests giving positive comments about the Tuscan Grill and Murano. I’d happily recommend Qsine if you want something different to the norm. The main dining room food was, on the whole, very good, and a small but noticeable step up from other food we’ve had from P&O and Royal Caribbean. I did however have two main dishes that I wasn’t too sure about. My wife is a big fan of steak and beef dishes and commented that the steaks she had in the main dining room were much improved from what she had from other cruises, as well as being cooked exactly to her request every time.

I have also been known to enjoy the odd tipple – which are the stand out bars in your opinion? Did you find prices to be competitive?

Sorry, I wasn’t aware you drank alcohol 😉

Our favourite was The Martini Bar. Situated on deck 4, which is one of the main decks for entertainment. It’s a large oval shaped bar and seemed to be the liveliest bar on the ship. The bar was ‘frozen’ and kept your drinks drink ice cold (which was a surprisingly ingenious idea), as well as being impressive to look at. Surrounding the bar were a number of seating areas, including a selection of secluded seats with sofas and comfortable chairs.

The Passport bar spanned the atrium on deck 3 and was very convenient after boarding the ship from a port day. The bar staff claimed it was the bar that had the widest selection of drinks on the ship. It’s an area situated between the shore excursion desk and guest relations desk. The seating area is spacious, again with some very comfortable chairs and sofas. It is next to the Grand Foyer, which is often used for entertainment i.e. musicians, games.

World Class Bar – a ‘high class cocktail bar’. We tried it a couple of times. They generally charge $14 for a cocktail, which is $3 above the Classic drinks package allowance (you just pay the extra if on that package). Bar staff are highly trained and use superior quality spirits. They have a nice selection of cocktails, many unique to the norm. The quality and level of detail in the preparation and final drink quality truly is a step up, and well worth paying a few extra dollars for. We did, however, find it was situated in an odd part of the ship (next to the high end shops like Bvlgari and Cartier) and somewhere you would not pass unless making a specific trip to the bar or elite shopping area.

The Ensemble Lounge, which is next to the specialty restaurants, is a good-size bar. It’s probably the quietest one, and on an evening they dim the lights right down to create a very relaxed and sophisticated environment.

In terms of pricing, and similar to Royal Caribbean, Celebrity’s prices are a little high in comparison to UK pub prices, and indeed, P&O prices. They do seem to price around making the value of their all-inclusive drinks packages look good. Draught and bottled beers started around the $7 mark going up to around $12 for most beers. I have not seen a price for regular mixed drinks such as gin and tonic, vodka and coke – however, they must have been well within the $11 classic package limit (unless you choose a premium spirit like Grey Goose or Tanqueray). A large range of wine by the glass could be had at $9 to $11, with some varieties costing a few dollars more.  The majority of regular cocktails seemed to hover around the $11 mark.

OK so it appears I need to visit ALL of those bars! What clothes should I pack for a 3 night cruise? I am used to the odd “formal night” but understand Celebrity do it differently?

Celebrity have ’chic nights’, which replace the traditional formal night of most other lines.  For this you can wear your favourite evening outfits, i.e. best shirts and trousers for men and evening/cocktail dresses for women. In reality, this is more of a licence and encouragement to wear smart clothes that make you feel good, without the formality of a dinner jacket/suit or specific set of dress code requirements. We did see several men wearing DJs, suits and kilts, etc., so the option is still there if people want it.

Other than that, it’s the same as other cruise lines with a smart casual dress code for restaurant dining.

I am sometimes quite hard to please when it comes to on board entertainment. I have often preferred to sit in a bar listening to a talented vocalist, pianist or enjoying a live band rather than watching some of the big performances and shows. Will I be converted on Celebrity?

I’m similar in many ways, but decided to try a little bit of everything as it was our first experience of Celebrity. They have a very comprehensive entertainment programme, which is mostly similar to other cruise lines in terms of content and variety.

One area of difference was how the entertainment team tailored certain events to special occasions and even the mix of passengers on the ship. Celebrity make a point of celebrating ‘Pride at Sea’. They had a lively party in a central area of the ship, which included the entertainment director, ship dancers and DJ – we really enjoyed it and was very well attended. They also had a party for American Independence Day and a private Canada Day party for Canadian guests. They also put on a Latin American dance party, seemingly in reaction to the number of Latin American guests on the cruise.

At the time of our cruise, the football World Cup was in full swing. Every game was screened live in the Celebrity Central area (a mini version of the theatre), Quasar (the usual venue for silent disco and teenager parties), a channel on your stateroom TV and the Casino Bar. (England games were also shown in the theatre on a big screen).

Tony 25

In line with many American based cruise lines, the casino was much larger than what P&O have.

The headline theatre shows – I watched a handful of them, my wife went to more – there were a few good ones and a few I’d class as ‘OK’.

To be completely honest, overall we didn’t feel there was a noticeable step-up in terms of quality of entertainment from the headline shows and day-to-day regular events around the ship versus other cruise lines.

To what extent would you say Celebrity is a true 5 star experience?

It’s perhaps easier to answer in comparison to other cruise lines, though I’ve only cruised with P&O and Royal Caribbean before.

To us, in comparison to P&O (Ventura, Arcadia) and Royal Caribbean (Adventure, Navigator, Brilliance) it was definitely 5 star. Apart from the already mentioned décor, food, relaxed feel, cleanliness and spaciousness of the ship, there were too many little extras to mention and consistency throughout the ship from the atmosphere and the service received from the crew. There were a few nice little touches like the fizz on boarding and on the last evening at dinner, a couple of complimentary cocktails in the main dining room and at the Pride at Sea party, plus a selection of cupcakes delivered to your stateroom one sea day.

The staff seemed just that little bit better trained – more relaxed and less ‘in your face’ than we had experienced before. Another minor detail perhaps – photographers generally do not approach you for photos, i.e. in main dining room (we only had this happen once), or in staged areas around the ship. They are there if you want them, but don’t try and pull you over for photos very often.

And finally, I believe you took part in the silent disco! Can you share your experience (and some pictures please)?!

Ha ha yes. To anyone who’s not experienced it, I can see why it looks a bit crass and ‘gimmicky’. However, following a few drinks to pluck up the courage, I had a go.

 

The first thing you see is people dancing and ‘singing’ along without hearing any music. This does look and sound pretty weird as you can imagine. You’re given a set of headphones with a switch on one side to change the music being played (from a selection of 3 stations of different styles of music). On the other side you have a volume control. Depending on which station you are listening to, a blue, red or green light changes on your headphones.

It really was great fun, and a must-try for anyone despite the reservations!

Thank you, Tony – I knew I could rely on you to be honest and informative as always – much appreciated. I look forward to sharing some pictures, blogs and videos with you all this coming May (2019)!

You can follow Tony’s muses and journeys @tonyhson on Twitter and @allthe3s on Instagram.

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3 thoughts on “Preparing for a “Celebrity” lifestyle with help from Tony Harrison

  1. Another great read Jamie, I am thoroughly enjoying this interview series. I’ve never cruised with Celebrity but I have friends who won’t cruise with anybody else. This is a brilliant review by Tony and I especially liked the photographs. I didn’t know about the “chic” nights which is interesting to know, I do love a formal night but the “chic” concept sounds a little more modern. I look forward to hearing what you think of Celebrity when you cruise with them Jamie.

    Liked by 1 person

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