Ladies, I know this to be true: cruise travel is not for everybody. If you love nothing more than waking up in a tent and cooking your own dinner at night on a little travel stove and if you don’t mind sweeping the sand out of your sleeping bag, along with a lost spider, then by all means, please do so. I too love active vacations. I love to get up with the sun and run a couple of miles before breakfast. But every once in a while, there is nothing so grand as being completely spoilt, while visiting five countries and eight harbors. In 14 days. There is nothing better than waking up in a new city. To explore a new place. To make new friends every day. And all this while your cabin is getting cleaned, your bed made and your breakfast, supper, lunch and diner are served. And guess what? There is even enough space to run a couple of miles before breakfast. A very extensive breakfast. Besides, did you know that traveling, any kind of traveling, can improve your health in more than one way? Positivehealthwellness gives you 8 reasons to travel. Cruising as medicine, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
My husband and I are not new to cruising and have been sailing with Holland America Line for a while now. But the itinerary we were looking for wasn’t offered by HAL. Israel has been on our wishlist for a long time. So when Celebrity opened an itinerary with 3 days in Israel, we jumped on it!
Ship: Celebrity Silhouette
Route: Israel & Mediterranean cruise
Date: September 24 2016
Departure port Civitavecchia
A quick TLDR on our first Celebrity cruise: Service was impeccable. Food was exceptional, entertainment was nice. Age class seemed to be lower than we have experienced on HAL. Less scooters to run you over. The ship itself had a great deck plan, with a lot of surprises hidden every where. The HideAway was a great place to hangout, so was the Library. The big hammocks near the solarium were my favorite for an afternoon nap. And we never had to look for a lounger, even though we had fair weather the whole voyage. We thoroughly loved to sail with Celebrity and probably will again.
Port of Civitavecchia: a long way from home
We live only 1600 kilometers from Rome so we arrived by car after a nice road trip, one day before boarding in Civitavecchia. We stayed at hotel DeLaVille, one of four Roses hotels in Civitavecchia.
The location of the hotel is perfect, right at the boardwalk to the port entrance. Our room was spacious, even for European standards. Hallway, big bathroom and window looking out over the sea. We could park our car behind the hotel on a closed courtyard, or at the guarded parking of the neighboring hotel. WiFi was free, which was a relief. Lots of chain hotels charge outraging prices for the WiFi. Not at De la Ville. The reception was friendly. The hotel is looking great. The room was clean, as was the bathroom. We didn’t need the hall closet or the in room safe, but if you stay in this hotel for a longer time, there is lots of space for your clothing. Breakfast was great and rivals the one on board of the Silhouette. Everything was available, from fresh fruit to freshly baked bread and a selection of cold cuts and cheese. If we ever cruise again from Rome, we definitely will choose this hotel for a pre-cruise stay. They do provide shuttles to the port. It is walk-able, especially through the fort entrance, but check which pier your ship will dock at, because pier 25, where the Silhouette docked, is not so easy to reach.
We made reservations before we left home for a car park during the cruise. We parked our car at Giammauto Cruise parking. They shuttled us for free to the Silhouette, which was docked at pier 25. The car was parked in guarded area. Cost was € 108 for 2 weeks. They even charged the battery of our car when we found it wouldn’t start on our return.
Embarkation on September 24th was easy. The shuttle of the car park dropped us off at the luggage drop off, which swiftly was taken out of our hands by the porters. We also dropped off three trays of bottled water, which were delivered to our stateroom with the luggage. There were no lines we saw. So after having our picture taken and our sea pass handed over, we were on board at 11 am sharp. The main dining room on the Silhouette is called the Grand Cuvée and here we met our Concierge for the cruise, Niko. The Grand Cuvée was serving lunch for Concierge guests, so after our first quick tour of the ship we dropped down to floor 3 for our first lunch on board of the Silhouette. What a treat! It was just a small taste of all delightful food yet to come. At around 1pm we were told the staterooms were ready, so we could finally check out our home for the next two weeks.
Concierge C3 Cabin 1180 Deck 10 Aft
Our cabin on the Celebrity Silhouette was a balcony on Deck 10, aft. We had plenty of cupboard space, with enough hangers to hang our clothes. Cruz, our steward, cleared our fridge, so we could store our bottles of water in the fridge. Our three suitcases easily fitted under the bed. There was one European outlet at the desk. We also brought one American charger, and a US/EU converter, so we had no trouble charging our phones, e-reader, camera battery. Everything was immaculate and clean. Cruz, was quick and thorough. One day I noticed I was almost out of shower gel. I planned on letting Cruz know, but I totally forgot to mention it. Next day, what do you know: a new shower gel mysteriously appeared. That’s what I call attentive! The bathroom had plenty of closet space with room to spare. The leg rest in the shower will be a feature we will copy in our new bathroom design. For anybody wondering about tipping: we prepaid our gratuities. But we do like to tip our cabin steward. The cabin steward is in our cabin two times a day, at least. He gets our laundry, makes sure our breakfast is delivered, cleans our mess. I mean, it can get personal. So usually we tip the steward at the start of the cruise and then again in the second week of the voyage, if all works out fine.
Pool deck and solarium were our favorite lounging spot
The solarium was not frequently used and appeared to be mostly empty. It was a quiet spot to nap or just relax, if you wanted to escape the more crowded area around the pool. We felt that the pool area was a great place to hang out though. The weather was exceptionally beautiful, the sun was out the whole trip. There are plenty of chairs, both in the shade and the sun. We never had any trouble to find a lounger. I even got the chance to take a couple of midday naps in one of those massive hammocks near the solarium. What a treat!
Chair hogs: they are everywhere!
We all know the horror stories: fellow guests roaming the sundecks before sunrise to claim their loungers for the day. Only to leave the chairs unoccupied the rest of the day. They are always the talk of the ship. And the dread of the late risers. This cruise, there was one couple that laid out there towels really, really early in the morning. Easily recognizable by their pink plastic flamingos, the brave birds were defiantly daring anyone to try those chairs. Those flamingos must have felt rather abandoned. I never saw the owners. But those were the only chair hogs I ever noticed on the Silhouette. The news bulletin mentioned a couple of times that guests were not to make reservations for chairs and that pool butlers would take away belongings on a chair that was abandoned for more than 40 minutes. But on this trip I don’t think it was ever necessary to enforce. There were always enough lounge chairs available, in the sun and in the shade.
As said already, our steward was Cruz and he was very pleasant and attentive. He always took note of arrival or departures of passengers, greeting them personally and opening their cabin whenever he was around.
Server Harold from Nicaragua and his assistant Courtney from Jamaica served us a couple of nights in the MDR. They worked real hard and tried their best to make our diner experience a pleasant one. Julia from Argentina is the one that stood out though. All smile and attention.
One thing did bother me. Two times it happened that the floor manager (brown suit, big guy, balding, Caucasian) of the Ocean View and Grand Cuvée berated one of the servers in public, in full view of the guests. One evening in the Grand Cuvée I was admiring one of the girls who was escorting other guests with an infectious smile and a friendly word. I believe her name was Mina. When we left the Grand Cuvee that evening, said manager was telling her quite loudly: “This is your last warning. Don’t let me see you do that again!” The girl was almost in tears. Now, I don’t care what she did wrong, he should have taken her aside, not telling her off right in our path. Next day I saw him bully another female server in the Ocean view and the fact that I witnessed this two times in two days made me feel uncomfortable. Sadly I didn’t ask his name or his function and I didn’t see it again, but I felt sorry for the girls. Maybe I should have said something, I don’t know. I never encountered this kind of behavior of a manager in front of guests. But I still feel bad I didn’t speak up about the incident. It could have been handled more discretely.
The live entertainment team was fabulous. Chrystal was our favorite. She was just so energetic and fun. Whatever activity she hosted was a blast, either karaoke, Trivia games or Aqua Dance. Patrick, the entertainment team manager, doubled with her some times and they made a good team. The house band was great and got many guests to their feet, especially in the evening. The band that really blew everyone away though, was The Beatles Celebration. Their shows and impromptu lounge appearance rocked the whole ship. One big surprise for us was mentalist Kennedy.We were very reluctant to attend his show, having bad experiences with illusionists and mentalists alike. He had me in a laughing fit the whole time. His show is short, but very entertaining.
The poolside entertainment was good. So was the music. I remember from other cruises that we left the poolside as soon as some band started to play. Not so on the Silhouette. I loved the funky, energetic music from Funky T. Their poolside rock show, together with the production cast, was also a blast. Judah Moore was another favorite of ours, he had a more laid back style that suited our poolside mood a lot of the times.
Now the captain is a story all on itself. As one gentleman commented: “That man is a hoot. I hope he is as competent at captaining as he is in stand up comedy!” The first time I realized the Captain of the Silhouette was funny, was during his morning talk at 10am the first sea day. He had the whole pool in a laughing fit. No wonder that the pool side dance party the next week with the Greek Captain – and his brother- was a succes. Everybody on the ship must have been in attendance to witness the Captain dance with his brother as a ritual goodbye to Greece. OPA! We were indeed leaving Greece waters. Next day the theater was packed for a hilarious lecture on navigation and a Q&A with the captain, who again was accompanied by his younger brother, the captain of the Solstice. He had no trouble leaving us with a smile on our faces and full of confidence the ship was indeed in capable hands.
On our way to Santorini, leaving Israel the 3rd Sea day, the Captain showed his serious side when he had to announce there would be an evacuation. The Silhouette slowed down and a helicopter was flown in to take the unfortunate passenger to the nearest hospital. Since this was a sunny sea day, the whole ship seemed to be on deck to witness the evacuation. The following day, the Captain informed us that the guest was stable. We appreciated the update, because life on a ship is no different from the general office building or condo: if the information provided is not sufficient, people will make up everything. And I mean everything! If the passenger was indeed inflicted with all the injuries that were mentioned in hushed conversations, it is a small wonder he was stable the next day.
Breakfast room service
Room service worked like a charm. My husband likes to sleep in, while I enjoy the sunrise whenever we enter a harbor. So, on port days, I tend to wander the upper decks early mornings for great sunrise shots after which I work on my appetite in the gym. Everything to justify that wonderful breakfast, right? I mean, you tend to wake up and promise yourself a “healthy” day. That resolve finds itself easily dissuaded the moment you step up to the waffles station. On sea days I preferred to have a coffee, fresh juice and smoothie on our balcony, in my jammies, while my husband sleeps in. Room service always called ahead, to give me some time to put on a robe. Always on the indicated time. I never smelled any smoke from neighboring cabins on our balcony ( starboard side, aft, deck 10) if anyone wonders about that.
We frequented the Card room at night and it was always crowded. I feel more tables wouldn’t go amiss. Nor would a coffee machine. On sea days especially all the tables would be occupied during midday. For bridge, a puzzle or MahJong.
How I missed my MahJong! Celebrity conveniently left a folder on one of the tables, so we would could all subscribe to either Bridge or MahJong and contact one another. In the Netherlands MahJong is not very big and I don’t know of any tournaments like there are in the US. That’s why I only get to play on ships. And since our last cruise was in 2013, I had a gap of 3 years to overcome. Luckily my fellow MahJong players needed a fourth player and didn’t mind to help me easing back into the game. And, I must say, they showed themselves to be very patient ladies. Such a delight to be playing MahJong again! I don’t know if any of you are on here, but ladies, it was a true pleasure to play with you! Thank you for letting me join your table.
I also enjoyed to hang out in the Hideaway. There are outlets there to charge your laptop or tablet, both US and European. It was a nice touch to find the coffee machine in the HideAway. Personally I would even love it better if one was placed in the Card room. The gym was always busy, if not packed. So different from HAL, where not many people were using it. The stretch lessons, the core lessons and foot massage lessons were quite good. Those are free. I didn’t go to Yoga or Zumba, so I can’t comment on that.
We opted for the select dining, since one of our pleasures of traveling is meeting new people. At first we chose shared tables, but we soon found out that the tables for two were placed rather close to one another, so even at a table of 2 we could share life stories with our neighboring tables. We were not disappointed and met a wide assortment of people, with interesting stories. Never did we have to wait on a table. This could be because we somehow always were ready for diner at 6h30, sometimes 6h45. The lines wouldn’t start until 7h30, as far as we noticed. So, no buzzers for us!
We were supplied with luggage tags and a form, communicating the disembarking procedure one night before disembarkation. Since we had arranged our departure independently and didn’t need to catch a flight or train, we were given the disembarkation time of 09h30. We were told we had to leave the cabin at 7am. Since we were up quite early that wasn’t a problem. We left our cabin at 7am precisely, only to find the Ocean View Café packed. Never during our voyage did we encounter such chaos. Because the concierge guests could wait in the Tuscan Grille until their number was called (we had the last disembarkation number) we headed out to the Tuscan grille to get out of the throng of people still enjoying their last breakfast on the Silhouette. Imagine our surprise when the hostess at the Tuscan grille informed us that all luggage was ashore and cleared by customs. If we were leaving independently, we could disembark immediately. It was only 8am, we hadn’t expected to leave until 09h30. I immediately called to the car park that we were ready for our pick up. Finding our suitcases was a breeze. As promised our shuttle arrived in the port only 10 minutes later.
I can honestly say that our choice for Celebrity was solely based on Itinerary. Not on cabins, not on price, ( well, okay, the price did count), not on reviews. If the Silhouette wouldn’t have offered us 3 days in Israel, we wouldn’t have gone. And we were reluctant. We felt HAL had spoiled us for other cruise lines. We have sailed on the Oosterdam, Noordam, Rotterdam and we loved the ships and the service and the food. The Dutch connection helps, of course. But Celebrity actually succeeded in surpassing all that. It could very well be, that Celebrity now will be our first go to cruise line. That’s what I call a job well done!
And now, for the ports!
The immigration procedure into Israel was communicated very clearly. Every passenger got assigned a time during the first Sea day to report to the immigration officer aboard the ship and the procedure was swift and painless, as one passenger observed. Sadly the timing of the immigration procedure coincided with the invitation for the Cruise critic connection party. We only just had the time to grab a cup of coffee and before we got the chance to read the name tags of our fellow cruise critic members, we had to run out again. That actually signed the deal for the rest of the voyage. I never got the chance to put the faces to the names!
Naples – September 25, 2016
We are do it ourselvers whenever the port allows. Mostly because of flexibility. We like to decide on the spot what suits us best, depending on weather, times in port and our health. So we only booked one excursion through Celebrity during this cruise, in Jerusalem. We had visited Pompeii and Vesuvius cruising HAL. So in Naples we opted for the 15 minute walk into town. The castle near the port is worth a visit. It was a rather hot day we docked in Naples and all we did, was drop down on a terrace for an espresso and some free WiFi. The locals were giving their analyses of the soccer game that was played the night before (Napoli won!), so we had great free entertainment right there.
Ashdod – September 28, 2016 1pm – Tel Aviv & Jaffa
For concierge guests there was a Sail in party on the Helicopter deck of the Silhouette. This marked a nice welcome into Israel. Niko, the concierge welcomed us on the Helicopter deck, with other officers. This was our first ever visit to Israel and the view from the Helicopter deck was excellent. Plus, we all got a welcoming drink, to toast on our arrival in Israel. I saw a lot of posts on Cruise Critic about the fact that Concierge doesn’t add any extras, accept for marketing purposes. But this sail-in was a nice touch for the concierge guests. Together with the embarkation lunch at the Grand Cuvée and the disembarkation lounge, we felt we had a good deal.
Ashdod is a freight port and you are not able to walk in and out of it on your own. You need a bus shuttle if you haven’t arranged an excursion through Celebrity. The shuttle will drop you at the sea mall in the center of Ashdod, next to the bus station. I felt the 20$ pp that Celebrity asked for this shuttle was an outrageous price. It felt like a punishment for making our own arrangement and not booking through Celebrity. I mean, with two persons, for two days, it would cost you $80 just to get out of the port. I don’t even dare to think what it would cost a family traveling with kids. The shuttle was supposed to be driving whole day to and from port, but some people had to wait 1,5 hour before the bus came by to pick them up for the return trip to ship. If you have arranged your own meetup, let them meet you at the sea mall, because the port security is very strict about who can and who can’t enter the secured port area.
All in all, we used our first day in port to get on the bus to the center of Ashdod. A friend of ours picked us up right there and showed us around in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. If you ever get the chance to visit the Yitzak Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, please do. It is a beautiful monument. They even let the graffiti wall intact, with messages from mourners. It brought tears to our eyes. Of course we had a lunch in Tel Aviv with kebab and falafel.
Ashdod – September 29, 2016 – 10pm all aboard – Jerusalem & Yad Vashem
The second day in Ashdod we booked an excursion through Celebrity to Jerusalem and Yad Vashem. It was an impressive tour, 9 hours long. Yad Vashem was first on our list and was emotionally exhausting. The way the memorial site is built, leaves you with no doubt about the cruelties and deprivations of WW II. We were not the only ones in tears, after the visit. Afterwards we were taken to a massive festivity hall in a kibbutz for a lunch. The hall could seat up to 1000 guests and the lunch was presented in buffet style. I admire the quality and quantity of the lunch presented. It all looked great, but more importantly it tasted great too. After the lunch we were all shuttled to Jerusalem. The excursion itinerary clearly stated the walk would be strenuous. Still there was one couple having trouble with the activity. I never found out where they disappeared to, but the couple was constantly lost. Several times we had to wait 20 minutes or more for them to catch up. At the end of the excursion our guide was in a panic, because she couldn’t find them anywhere. Now, we all were given a card with a telephone number we could call in case we got separated from the group. After what amounted at considerable more time at the Wailing Wall than scheduled and another desperate search around the square our guide decided to return to the bus.
To life, to life, L’chaim!
We didn’t mind the extra time at the Wall. The experience was mind blowing. We all know the pictures, the stories, but to actually be there was wonderful. There was a whole group of Israeli teenagers dancing and singing in the square. When we asked someone what they were celebrating, the answer was Life! Those kids were celebrating life. It was a wonderful demonstration of resilience. Of trust in the future. Of strength. And we found ourselves in tears and clapping with them. So no, we didn’t mind this last wait on the lost couple at all. But to have to wait so many times on them during the day, was quite disturbing to most of the other 40 participants. In Jerusalem we opted for a guided tour because of convenience and safety, but the waiting on the couple so many times reminded us why we mostly try to venture on our own.
For those of you wondering: the lost couple was found again. At the bus station. They didn’t see fit to notify the guide they were returning on their own to the bus. People: if you feel you’re not able to do a tour, keep your guide in the know of your plans. Especially, if they don’t coincide with the rest of the group! It saves a lot of trouble for the others in the group. The tour guide did her best to give us a great tour and we hardly can fault her for giving so much energy to disappearing guests. The 9 hours were well spent.
Haifa – September 30, 2016 – 6.30am – 10pm
The third day in Israel we woke up to the beautiful view of Haifa. You could see the Bahai gardens from the port and you could see the great layout of the place. From the port it is a long ascending walk to the Bahai Gardens. It takes about 45 minutes to walk up. You can take the stairs or you can take a taxi up. Ignore the taxi drivers at the port entrance. Just walk into town and hail a cab further into town, they will charge a 3rd of what the taxi drivers in the port will ask. We shared a cab with another couple so it only cost us 5 euro per couple to get a cab drive uphill to Bahai gardens. You can easily walk down again to the ship. The gardens are stunning! And they will give you a great view over Haifa all the way to the port. There is a toilet down in the central garden, the part where the shrine is. Just follow the sign.
The gardens have three separate entrances. At the entrance of the central garden the guards will let you in, as long as you’re dressed properly (shoulders and knees covered) and if you promise to be respectful. There is no entry fee, as long as you promise not to eat, drink or be disrespectful while you’re in the garden. No gum, no smoking. If you’re interested, you may visit the shrine, the entry is free and the shrine of Bab is open till noon. You have to take off your shoes if you want to enter.
Santorini – October 2, 2016 – 10am – 8pm
My husband didn’t feel well this day, so we tendered to port, anchored ourselves at some café and enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the harbor and we caught an early tender back to the ship to relish in the emptiness of the ship. Free wifi is readily available in port. As are the souvenirs. The cable prize up is €5 per ride. Or you can walk down if you like. If you dare to pass the donkeys, guarding and blocking the path. But if you go up, be aware, all you find are shops and more shops.
Kusadasi – October 3, 2016 – 8am – 5pm
The great bazar is at 5 minutes walking distance of the port and if you’re into that sort of thing, there are some great buys. Be prepared to haggle though! I felt the sellers were less aggressive than I encountered in Tunisia, but still… they will try to sell you anything. The first Starbucks we encountered this voyage, – and the last – we found just at 2 minutes from the port entrance, with a wonderful terrace looking out over the harbor. And more free wifi!
Pireaus, Athens – October 4, 2016 – 6am – 6pm
As suggested by fellow cruise critic members, we easily found the X80 bus to the Acropolis, right outside the port terminal. Because of the morning traffic, the bus took 1 hour to get us to Acropolis, (ride back took 20 minutes, there was hardly any traffic at that point). So when doing this on your own: always take into account that you can get caught up in traffic .Bus ticket is € 4,50 per person and is valid 24 hours.
We absolutely loved our visit to the Acropolis. It was a warm day, beginning October, and I can honestly admit, we wouldn’t have made it on a hot day in July. The hill looks daunting when you’re below it, but the way up is an easy walk. In the shade of the trees, benches are strategically placed if you need to take a rest. Or if your significant other gets herself lost in taking pictures. There were a lot of cruise ships in the port of Piraeus. This meant lots of big groups with their guides crowding the hills of the Acropolis. Be prepared to some waiting time up on top, before you enter the final plateau. Up on top there is no shade at all. Take enough water with you. At the entrance of the Acropolis ( at the ticket shop), you can top off your water bottles with potable water.
All along the walk there are signs with explanations. The 360 view is stunning. You’ll see Athens as never before. Entrance fee is € 20 for the Acropolis, € 30 if you also want to wander the surrounding hills and valleys. For 65 and older, take your passport or your senior card: there is a 50% discount. Students get free entree.
Valetta, Malta – October 6, 2016 – 08am – 8pm
Our last port. We chose this itinerary for Israel, but we found Valetta remarkably charming. It is a 500 meter walk to the elevator up to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, your gateway to Valetta. You’ll pass a lot of horses and carriages. Unless you’re into a carriage ride, take the elevator up. The views on top are again stunning. An operator will assist with the buying of the ticket: € 1 per person. Keep the ticket for the return trip. Valetta offers lovely shopping, beautiful squares to sit back and watch the crowd. And that National library! We just stumbled upon this beauty while wondering around Valetta. On the square next to the Grandmaster’s Palace, you’ll see a statue of Queen Victoria. Behind her Majesty is the entrance to the Library. Just hand in your passport and put your bag in a locker and go up the beautiful stairwell. At the door on the second floor you’ll find one of the first Kodak Eastman Microchip Cameras, dated 1928. Entrance is free. The Library is a treasure trove for researchers. Be quiet and in awe and you’ll have a great visit.
I definitely loved my visit to the Grandmaster Palace. Because Malta will hold the presidency for the EU in 2017, massive renovations are going on in several parts of Valetta. The Grandmaster’s Palace was one of those place, but you still get a great impression of the place. The weaponry is impressive! Entry fee was € 9
And that my friends, concluded the ports of our cruise. 5 Countries, 8 ports, in 14 days. Israel was without a doubt our highlight. As it should be. Most passengers aboard the Silhouette were visiting Israel for the very first time. Like us, it was their main reason to book. Maybe that’s why we connected so strongly with a lot of the passengers. And made friends. This trip was memorable in so many ways and not in the least thanks to the wonderful crew of the Silhouette. It was a blast. And yes…. we WILL be back.