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Charming Contessa Commends Classy Celebrity

Charming Contessa Commends Classy Celebrity

Postby Baron » 07 Nov 2011 19:13

We previously cruised with P&O before they went downmarket. Their ships were always suffused with bourgeois, Daily Mail reading “little Englanders”. If that weren’t bad enough, they now also attract holiday-camp and package-holiday clientele. We are not snobs but that passenger mix is toxic. We much prefer the more relaxed, cosmopolitan potpourri of well-travelled and rather more discerning passengers one finds on Celebrity. They tend to be more destination-orientated, focussing on history and culture rather than the “cheap booze and sunshine” brigade who are drawn to P&O. Hence we have just recently returned from our eighth Celebrity cruise and, for us, they still tick most of the boxes.

We decided to take the Celebrity “Air and Transfers” package. Although a little more expensive than independent arrangements, we felt it well worth it as we could quite confidently travel out on the day of sailing. The representative on the coach from Rome airport to the pier was effervescent but utterly useless. She endlessly repeated instructions that applied only to the three passengers on the coach who did not have the Express boarding pass printed out. My wife, the charming Contessa, who is fluent in seven languages including Italian, tried to give her a few pointers but they weren’t well received.

The charming Contessa is my “dearest” possession and I mean that in every sense having, as she does, a penchant for the finer things in life. A fitness and nutrition expert, she is also a superb hostess and talented cook, having attained a Cordon Bleu diploma. With an educated palate that would surpass many top chefs, she is supremely qualified to make definitive observations on the food served: including the quality of ingredients, recipes used and the taste of the finished dishes… more of which later.

No doubt about it, this ship attracts a classier passenger than those UK based ships. Better dressed for sure, with no evidence of Primark or Peacocks penny-pinchers and a complete absence of leggings – never a flattering look, but horrendous when stretched over a “rear end” the size of East Anglia, as so often seen on certain ships. Mercifully there were very also few children aboard and those that were, were well behaved. Quite unlike the feral brats, and their culpable parents, found on ex-UK sailings. Likewise there were very few extremely elderly folk. For the most part very strict hygiene precautions were enforced, with one exception (see below). This meant the risk of a Norovirus outbreak was minimised. Thankfully the ship remained disease free, unlike the recent Eclipse cruise out of Southampton. On a similar hygiene note, signs by the whirlpools state: “no diapers or anyone not toilet trained of any age”. It is worth noting that this rule also applies to “Tena Lady” users. Not a problem on this ship I would guess, but could be quite an important issue on the likes of Fred Olsen, Oriana or Adonia cruises.

Celebrity’s Prime Rib, served on the first night, had in the past always been melt-in-the-mouth tender and delicious. This time it was so tough as to be almost inedible. We immediately suspected it was the quality of beef that was substandard, as opposed to improper cooking. When the steak on the second night was equally disappointing it seemed our suspicions had been confirmed. Later in the cruise, after a number of other disappointing dishes, the Executive Chef was summoned to have an audience with the charming Contessa, who dissected the food failures with forensic precision. The chef confirmed that the beef, hitherto imported from the US, was now sourced from Europe. No doubt a cost-cutting measure but self-defeating if it causes passenger complaints due to inconsistent quality. Let’s face it; America has the best beef in the world. Much of their cattle is grain fed, unlike in Europe. The fact is that the tenderness of meat from grain fed cattle is undeniably superior to grass fed. Some claim grass fed beef has a better flavour, but does that matter if one can’t chew it?

Although we are not big drinkers we had pre-purchased the Premium Alcohol package. This adds to the luxury feel, never having to sign for drinks. Even if we only break even, we prefer this method. One disappointment was that many of the better wines had been bumped up in price and pushed out of the packages. For example the Châteauneuf-du-Pape had gone up from $12 a glass to $18 a glass. There is of course the option to pay the excess over $12, but that kind of defeats the purpose. Celebrity needs to be careful not to ruin the attractiveness of the packages by excluding so many drinks previously included, through further sweeping price increases. We tolerated the limited wine selection from our packages when eating in the Silhouette dining room but frankly those wines were the sorts of plonk you find in supermarkets and which we normally avoid at all costs. When we dined at Muranos and the Tuscan Grill we paid extra for decent bottles of wine not available by the glass and the charming Contessa was very happy with those: trust her, they cost a small fortune…

Celebrity markets their ships as five star and they certainly surpass the mass-market lines quite easily. With invaluable input from the charming Contessa, who knows about such things, may I be so bold as to point out a few areas where their five star credentials fall a little short.

· Music Everywhere - it is virtually impossible to find a quiet spot. Inappropriate and, for the most part, excessively loud music is played everywhere day and night, from the open decks to every single lounge and bar throughout the ship. One of the things that the charming Contessa and I used to love about Celebrity was the complete peace and quiet to be enjoyed in the Solarium. They now play so-called “relaxation music” that was anything but. We found it irritating in the extreme and due to the endless repetition we felt it was more akin to Chinese water torture. Elsewhere, we were subjected to a horrendous mishmash of largely obscure music and artists that neither made for easy listening nor created any atmosphere.

· Dining Room Closed Lunchtimes - this is one area that Celebrity really needs to address if they want to be regarded as a five-star cruise line. It is simply not good enough that one cannot sit down and be served luncheon. I have yet to find a buffet where one could have a relaxed and enjoyable dining experience.

· Omelettes Without Breaking Eggs – speaking of the buffet, if you cannot avoid having breakfast there, steer clear of the omelettes. Not considered a challenging task for any cook, but aside from undercooking the filling, they use a pre-packaged egg mix. Obviously another cost cutting measure and it tastes ghastly. On the other hand the fresh eggs used for frying were delicious, with orange, tasty yolks.

· Entertainment - the shows in the theatre were extremely disappointing and, for second sitting passengers, they were nearly all scheduled as pre-dinner at 7pm, which is too early. There was only one Broadway style musical that we found enjoyable. The others were those airy-fairy acrobat/gymnast-based productions and did nothing for us. No headline act made any impression either. The Sky Lounge has a very poor layout and ambience. It could have been better-designed and utilised for additional cabaret style entertainment.

· Cocktail Snack Containers - in the bars the snacks were served in unhygienic open bowls that could potentially promote the spread of Norovirus. This is quite a basic and serious mistake. Such containers ought to be of a design where one pours the contents out of the container into the hand rather than risking cross-contamination from fingers being put into the snacks.

· Self Service Enomatic Wine Dispensers – who thought up the idea of going into a bar for fine wine only to have to serve oneself by inserting ones key card into a vending machine, minimising human interaction? By all means use such dispensers if needed to preserve the wine, but put them behind the bar. A five star experience? I don’t think so.

The charming Contessa and I are a deeply caring couple and we have nothing but pity for the genuinely handicapped, but I don’t think “lazyitis” is officially recognised as a genuine incapacity. There were plenty of wheelchairs in evidence on this cruise but nowadays it seems that some folk use them because they are just too lazy to walk. One night in the Molecular Bar, whilst taking in the theatre and artistry of the cocktail preparation, we suddenly became aware of a fast approaching vehicle hurtling towards the bar. Like a racing go-kart making a pit stop, rapid braking brought the turbo charged chariot to a sudden halt with millimetres to spare. In a seamless, almost choreographed manoeuvre, the supposed “cripple” virtually danced a jig to join her advance party waiting at the bar with a mega-potent cocktail ready to thrust it into her grasping hand!

Likewise we also have the greatest sympathy for the clinically obese whose condition is due to medical reasons. Many blame their obesity on the “I only need to look at a Mars bar to put on weight” syndrome. If that were true, then judging by the unfettered corpulence in evidence on this cruise, there must have been a Mars bar production-line workers convention on board. The reality is of course most of them have brought it upon themselves through overeating, bad food choices and lack of exercise. The charming Contessa knows this only too well due to her professional expertise in this field. They really ought to take a leaf out of her book. She follows a strict 1500-calorie a day diet. By also working out in the gym five days a week she has retained the figure she had as an eighteen year old. The charming Contessa’s tip: for those too feeble-minded to count calories, a similar outcome can be achieved by cutting in half what one normally eats. Simples!

We have a message for the couple in the adjoining cabin to ours who were unfeasibly loud and annoying, even by American standards: it may be your constitutional right in the USA to bear arms, and perhaps even to shoot someone for having the temerity to knock on your door in the middle of the night (especially if you live in Texas) but let me tell you that you do not have the right to give me lung cancer by smoking on your balcony. How selfish can you get? I feel sorry for the abuse to which your poor child is also being subjected, not only because of secondary smoking, but also by the bad example you have shown him. Smoking is a lethal pastime pursued by the weak-willed, the feckless and the delusional. It should be completely banned on ships, the same as it is on aircraft. End of!

We had been to most of the ports before but I want to mention an experience in Santorini where, disappointingly, the heavens opened up. As most of you will know, after tendering ashore you have to get to the top of the cliff to reach Fira. This can be done either by cable car or, for the more adventurous who don’t give a fig about animal welfare, by ascending on one of literally hundreds of donkeys in servitude on the island. These beasts obviously have to consume a heck of a lot of food to produce the Herculean strength required to perform their work, and there is one inevitable consequence... I don’t know what normally happens, perhaps they have some sort of “shovellers” on duty when it’s dry, but in these heavy rains there were none. What can I say: torrents of liquefied donkey-poo cascading down the steep narrow alleyways, aerated by the cobbles thereby releasing the full depth of its stomach-churning stench! Unforgettable!

In conclusion, we both thoroughly enjoyed our cruise. We have pinpointed some areas that need attention. Nevertheless Celebrity provides a superior product and the charming Contessa is delighted to give them her seal of approval and her highest possible rating, four stars, as she doesn’t believe a ship exists on which she could not find fault.
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Re: Charming Contessa Commends Classy Celebrity

Postby Janet » 07 Nov 2011 19:35

Hi Baron and welcome from me, what a first post, brilliant, absolutely loved it, will have to re read it cause I was laughing so much,top class review.

Janet.

PS Are you related to any Majors?
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Re: Charming Contessa Commends Classy Celebrity

Postby Fossil » 07 Nov 2011 19:37

Great post. ;)
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Re: Charming Contessa Commends Classy Celebrity

Postby Wansbrough » 07 Nov 2011 19:41

What a first post Baron! A thoroughly enjoyable read it was too. Welcome to the forum. :D
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Re: Charming Contessa Commends Classy Celebrity

Postby Carol W » 07 Nov 2011 20:21

Excellent! More please
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Re: Charming Contessa Commends Classy Celebrity

Postby JollyJill » 07 Nov 2011 20:36

Thank you, thank you Baron for your wonderful review. My OH now thinks that I have totally lost the plot as I was laughing so much.
You are most welcome on this forum and I like your style, which bears an uncanny resemblance to something I have seen before. ;) :D
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Re: Charming Contessa Commends Classy Celebrity

Postby Barrowboy » 07 Nov 2011 20:45

.
Welcome to the forum Baron, great first post.....

Regards.......David
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Re: Charming Contessa Commends Classy Celebrity

Postby Stan Deasy » 07 Nov 2011 22:45

Hello Baron..what a fascinating review. Welcome to the forum,and as you may observe,I am the Ship's Chaplain.I am always looking for people to give guest sermons at our Sunday meetings,and I feel sure that you could "Hold the congregation",so feel free to contact me if you are free anytime. Regards Stan.PS. May I suggest that a theme for your first talk could be "Upholding standards in todays society".
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Re: Charming Contessa Commends Classy Celebrity

Postby grannyM » 08 Nov 2011 09:29

Superb review Baron.

The Contessa is obviously a lady with discerning tastes. Thank you both for your observations. I'm sure Celebrity will be delighted with your input. :D
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Re: Charming Contessa Commends Classy Celebrity

Postby Baron » 08 Nov 2011 09:54

Thank you all for your warm welcome. This really is a fiendly site. Not a flame thrower in evidence!
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