an open letter to celebrity cruise line

Dear Celebrity,

My very first cruise was on Celebrity.  I was a senior in high school and my friend's mom organized Spring Break on the Celebrity Zenith.  We had a blast.  The cruise ship was beyond impressive, the food beyond delicious and the staff beyond friendly (even when I dropped my entire breakfast tray in the middle of the buffet line).  After my week on the Celebrity Zenith, I returned home with stunning photos, lifelong memories, and ten extra pounds.

Five years later, my husband-to-be and I planned our honeymoon: a Mediterranean cruise.  Finances and dates precluded Celebrity, so we settled for Princess.  It was a lovely cruise, but every time my husband pointed out something great, I replied, "It's nice, but it's not Celebrity."

We took two more cruises over the next few years; timing and cost relegated us to Royal Caribbean and Holland Cruise Lines.  Again my husband complemented our cruise experiences.  Again and again I echoed my refrain: "It's nice, but it's not Celebrity."

Finally this summer we had the opportunity to sail again with Celebrity.  We booked an 11-night cruise on a brand-new ship, the Equinox.  I so looked forward to showing my husband the amazing cruise line that, in my mind, reigned supreme.  And after six months of living in Abuja, neither one of us could wait to be pampered and stuff our face.

We boarded the massive, gorgeous new ship and a waiter handed us flutes of champagne.  Joey looked at me and said, "You win."  We dropped off our bags in our room, impressively ready immediately and gorgeous in its own right, then headed straight for the good stuff: the buffet.  Eyes wide and stomachs growling, we examined the multitude of options: Asian, Italian, Indian, Mexican, salads, meats, cheeses, grilled foods, desserts and more!  We proceeded to the poolside grill station and practically drooled over the burgers, brats, hot dogs, nacho cheese dip, hot wings, french fries, onion rings and acutrements galore.  I hadn't seen fresh, bright green jalapenos in six months and they tasted wonderfully crisp and spicy on my big, juicy burger.

With the giant, fluffy pink margarita I ordered from the poolside bar in hand, Joey and I explored the rest of the ship.  We loved the modern art and the bright, clean spaces.  There seemed more cool bars than days on the ship; but we were ready for the challenge.

Then the cracks appeared.  At dinnertime, we walked downstairs to the main dining room, seating assignment in hand.  A waiter greeted us as we entered, and led us to our table.  Except that table didn't exist.  The waiter kindly asked us to stay put while he figured out our seats, so while the other 1,500 people at the second seating brushed by, we stood in the middle of their way.  After about five minutes the maitre d' finally seated us at a table for five in the corner.

Joey and I always enjoy meeting the other people sailing with us, so we anxiously awaited our dining companions.  And waited.  And waited.  Finally, when it was clear we'd be dining on our own, our waiter finally took our order.  Our meal was delicious and once he finally took our order, our waiter was wonderful; however, throughout our meal several different waiters stopped by our table to pick items from the extra settings there.  First, a fork.  Next a knife.  Then a wine glass.   Obviously I don't need four forks, knives, wine glasses, etc., but it certainly kills the romance when every few minutes someone is stopping by to pilfer from your table.  From our vantage we saw many other tables experience problems of some sort.  Joey and I chalked it up to first night jitters.

The second night we were seated in the same table.  We waited for the other guests to join us again, although this time our waiter was immediately more attentive.  Our other guests never arrived, but our procession of visiting waiters did.  Apologetically, our waiter promised the next night to only set the table for two.

The third day our stateroom attendant delivered a new seating assignment to our room.  That evening the maitre d' escorted us to our new table: at the end of the main thoroughfare for the waiters and diners, and directly in front of the kitchen door.  Bright florescent lights glared from the corner as the door slammed open and shut and waiters shuffled in and out, with the clanging of trays and serving lids and silverware drowning out our attempt at conversation.  Our table was surrounded by so much commotion I opted to forgo dessert (yes, it was that bad), and before leaving the dining room, we requested a new spot from the maitre d'.  He apologized and told us that while the seating was full and we might have to wait a few minutes the next evening, he'd find us a new table.

On the fourth night the maitre d' found what he assured us would be a quieter spot.  He apparently didn't notice the table of ten children under the age of ten seated nearby, who screamed, yelled and threw food our entire meal.  When the neighboring table asked the waiter of the whereabouts of these childrens' parents, he replied, "the specialty restaurant."  The parents deposited their children in the main dining room and left them there, under the supervision of the waiter, and went two floors away to enjoy a quiet dinner.  Are you kidding me?  And Celebrity let this happen?

Joey approached the maitre d' again.  And then when I thought Joey was too soft on the guy, I charged into the conversation.  The maitre d' apologized profusely, explaining that nearly 1/3 of the 3,000 people on board were under the age of 18.  He also informed us that 900 guests were either Latin or South American, which he claimed to be highly unusual and that the cultural differences accounted for the parents' and their childrens' behavior.  (Um, okay?  1. We saw the same families throughout the cruise and every single one of those guests, even the kids, had frequent-cruiser cards, so apparently it wasn't unusual at all.  And 2. How does their ethnicity preclude Celebrity from enforcing a modicum of decorum in the main dining room?)  He assured us he'd find us a quiet table in the future.

The rest of our seating arrangements were amenable, although we were disappointed that we were unable to develop any sort of relationship with our waiters, their assistants, or the wine steward, since we bounced around the dining room for the remainder of the cruise.

Our frustration with the service on-board wasn't limited to the dining room.  After shelling out $200 for a massage and a facial, I spent half an hour of my treatment listening to the on-board announcements read in nine different languages.  My aesthetician merely shrugged and said safety regulations mandated that everyone be able to hear the announcements.  This seemed odd, because I could never hear them in the gym or our room.  One bartender had oppressive body odor and another spent half an hour lecturing Joey and me how Slobodan Milosevic was just "doing what he had to do."  Even our room steward seemed to put forward half-hearted service.

Needless to say, a fabulous new ship and haute food do not a perfect cruise make.  It's the people; the little details remembered by the staff that make the experience memorable.  I was so disappointed by Celebrity's dearth in service, it will be a long time before we consider your cruise line again. 

Here's a link to the pictures I took on the ship: https://picasaweb.google.com/100586084762366858227/Cruise?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCJfB1JevhZDvcA&feat=directlink