Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Celebrity Equinox - What Happens When A Class Act Meets Highly Discounted Cruise Fares (It Isn't All Bad!)

As I am flying back to the United States after my 13 days on the Celebrity Equinox, I am watching a cute movie about a budget tour group in Greece, “My Life in Ruins”. I think it is appropriate movie when I write about what happens when a cruise line provides a truly extraordinary ship, with wonderful and knowledgeable staff, good to excellent food, a charming, incredibly proud and well communicating captain…and highly discounted fares.

With 2, 800 passengers there are bound to be a few of “them”, but as our cruise entered its second week it became clear that there were many people of various nationalities that lacked the manners and class that is normally found on a Celebrity cruise. Some made it a point that the cheap fares were the reason they took this particular cruise.

Now, I am not just talking about people cutting queues or being a bit too loud or teenagers taking over the whirlpools and the adult solarium. I am talking about packs of British children running wild; two women physically fighting in the dining room; a teenager systematically stealing cameras (like the idiot couldn’t figure out he was being taped); the seeming theft of a wallet from the basketball court – found in a teenager’s pocket (Excuse: Lost and Found was closed. Huh?); two families being involuntarily disembarked in two different ports, with the second family refusing to leave the ship in Alexandria so the Egyptian police had to come onboard to forcibly remove them. ..delaying the ship from departing for 2 hours. (Seriously how stupid can you be? Refusing to cooperate with the Egyptian authorities…and remember my comments about Egypt.)

Obviously the former “minor” issues existed in large part because the latter issues kept the security staff and officers very busy; too busy. And fortunately other than abandoning my usual regular use of the whirlpool and my DW’s concerns over finding a lounge in the sun, those events did not actually affect my holiday.


However, one thing did happen that really angered me...for a short time. We purchased a water pipe in Egypt. Security confiscated it when we returned to the ship. While this puzzled me, it didn’t really make a difference, so I went with the flow. I was told to contact Guest Relations on the last day to recover it. On the last day I dutifully went to Guest Relations and was told that I would not be able to retrieve it until I was walking off the ship (and, therefore, would not be able to properly pack it for the trip home.) I was not pleased and asked why. The reason: I could use it for drugs.

With that I went ballistic. For Celebrity Cruise Lines to essentially accuse me of having drugs onboard the ship was an insult I was not willing to accept. If there was a real concern about my having drugs my cabin would have been searched and, to be sure, I doubt I would have been invited to dine with the Captain, have a tour of the bridge, etc. Clearly, Celebrity really had absolutely no concern that I had drugs onboard and, like magic, about 5 minutes later the water pipe was delivered to my cabin with a very sincere apology and the offer of bubble wrap or anything else I needed. The reason for security’s over-reaction: The inability to differentiate among guests. (It is not that the talent isn’t there, it is that with so many problems it is not very practical. That, to me, however is not an excuse; only an observation.)

This brief event did not, in any substantive or emotional fashion, adversely affect my cruise. It was an error due to the circumstances created by others, the error was recognized and the situation quickly resolved. I give Celebrity credit for that, but not for the event happening. (How many times have you encountered bad decisions being made worse by a person’s refusal to admit his/her error? Kudos really are appropriate IMHO and makes me feel a whole lot better about the event.)

Now, clearly these things are not luxury experiences. And when you hear many people, in different accents, say that this cruise was the most expensive they have ever taken (and it was deeply discounted) you cannot help but conclude that it was “price” not “product” that attracted the majority of the passengers. I will not go into figures, but it was obvious to even the most untrained eye that most people were not spending money. The shops sales were very slow, most of the bars were very quiet in the evenings, wine sales were clearly way off, the slots were very quiet, most of the casino dealers were bored frequently and even bingo was pathetic.

Ironically, the events of which I have spoken really didn’t affect me because I took advantage of Cellar Masters for after dinner drinks (wine and otherwise), Murano, Silk Harvest and Tuscan Grille for many dinners, enjoyed my double balcony, partook in the extra cost wine courses, had two 2 day private overnight tours, etc. So it is, in fact, because I “luxed” up my cruise that I was hardly touched by the problems which plagued this cruise.

To put it in perspective, my children stated that on a scale of 1 to 10, the cruise was a 12. My DW said it was an 8, but solely because of the crowds fighting for and hogging lounge chairs and some pretty poor passenger conduct; not because of anything Celebrity did. For me it was a truly outstanding cruise for which I really could not ask Celebrity to do more (other than the one short and quickly rectified slip up). It wasn't a Seabourn cruise, but to expect same would be both unrealistic and unfair.

While the highly discounted prices caused some issues on this cruise, the fact remains that I still firmly believe that Celebrity provides "The Best Bang For The Buck In The Business".

What I would recommend is that I would avoid the month of August (when all of Europe is on holiday); especially if the cruise fares are so highly discounted…unless, of course, those discounts are so significant that it allows you to overlook the potential for similar problems or, like me, you are traveling with children and don't have much of an option.

Do I recommend Celebrity? Absolutely. The Celebrity Equinox? Absolutely. This cruise? Absolutely. We had an incredible time,met some very nice people, had wonderful dining and enrichment and travel experiences.